So this week has become a Harry Potter week after the publication of the three Pottermore Presents e-books. Because of this, I thought that maybe I would do something a bit different for today’s post. Instead of doing one of my usual reviews, this post is going to be about some of my thoughts about the implications of the continuing expansion of the wider Potter world, with a focus on Pottermore Presents.
I grew up as a Harry Potter fan. I was one of those children who would go to the midnight openings of the later books, devour the newest release as fast as I could, and then go online to read fanfiction and fan theories to tide me over until the next book came out. Potter was my escape and my inspiration. When the books ended in 2007, I naturally wished there was more but was reasonably satisfied with the ending provided (especially if I ignored some of the more awful aspects of the epilogue). JK Rowling said that she was done with Harry and, with its ending, the Potter world was effectively handed over to the fans. It became ours to pick apart and theorise about. We built our headcanons and formed the world around our own needs – Harry’s limited view gave us a lot of space to build in. And now that is being chipped away.
For me, the problem I have with things like Pottermore Presents is that it is no longer clear who the text belongs to. Who controls canon? While a text is still on-going, like the Songs of Ice and Fire series or Potter before Deathly Hallows was released, I will automatically defer to the author’s ideas. If they turn around and say a character is dead, well then, the character must be dead. Once the series ends though, that’s when I fully fall into Barthes’ Death of the Author theory. Quick sum-up – author intentions have little to no importance, everything is about reader interpretation. The text is no longer the author’s to control. But the original Potter series ended in 2007 and yet it hasn’t been left alone.
Like I said before, I’m a fan of Harry Potter. I pay attention when news filters through, especially when it expands my understanding of this imaginary world I love. And at first I really enjoyed the little drips we were getting. When JK Rowling outed Dumbledore I thought it was a nice titbit, explained a bit about the character, but didn’t really change anything. I felt much the same way when she released the family trees to the world. Interesting to know but didn’t really effect my reading. I wasn’t really bothered because what she was saying didn’t really affect the way I read the Potter books. It was just fun little facts that didn’t change this world I had built upon.
Then came the first chip into the Potter series (in my opinion). Rowling tweeted saying that Ron and Hermione should never have ended up together. That their relationship was wish fulfilment on her part. Never mind that she had spent the entire series building up their relationship! Cue a seminar-wide discussion in one of my university classes, arguing about whether or not we should listen to her. She was the author – did we have to take her word as law? Even when she was squashing what has been considered canon for at least seven years by that point? It was the beginning of the confusion within the Potter world.
Now, two years on, we have had lots more content released about the Potter-verse. There’s been more (often frustrating) tweets from the author, the play, more films coming, and all the Pottermore stuff. As a fandom, we’ve been drowned in information. And I think that this is ruining everything. The story had been handed over to the fans and now it has been snatched back. Any theories and headcanons developed in the nine years since the release of the last book have either been squashed or are stuck in this suspended state, waiting for verification or devastation. It means that the Potter world feels like it’s trapped in flux and is no longer welcoming.
So, if the story doesn’t belong to the fans then surely it belongs to the author, right? Not so with Potter. Content is being released that she didn’t write but has her seal of approval. Like the Pottermore Presents e-books. She has little bits that apparently come from her but the bulk of it is some of the unknown Pottermore writers. This creates further questions. Are these books canon because they have Rowling’s approval? How much control does she have over her own creation? Why did she block the Harry Potter Lexicon to protect her intellectual property when she was just going to hand the canon to other people later?
Add all these problems with the validity of canon to the money-grabbing nature of the Pottermore Presents e-books and the Potter bubble is sure to pop. The three new e-books contain lots of content that can be accessed for free online and yet they’re still expecting money from fans. Apparently the intention behind the e-books was to allow fans to access some of the best Pottermore articles offline but I honestly don’t get it. Those fans that would most need offline content are probably those with limited internet access. But you need the internet to get these e-books. Is anyone else seeing a problem here? If they had been physical books, sold for charity like the other shorts Potter books before them, I would have no problem with the repeated content. They’d be cute on my bookshelf, my money would be going to good causes, and those without internet access would be able to read them. Instead, I’m left feeling used.
It’s a frustrating situation that taints the Potter name. Seeing Harry Potter stuff come up on my newsfeed no longer fills me with joy – now my stomach sinks with dread as I wonder what new part of my childhood is going to be destroyed. It feels like it has become a purely money-making exercise (especially with the Pottermore Presents stuff). Fans are being exploited and eventually they’re going to hit their limit. And I think that’s coming soon.