How Harry Potter Was Nearly Very Different
It's the small decisions along the way that shape major successes - and Harry Potter had lots of potential turning points...
This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
Spanning a series of books, films, merchandising prospects, an amusement park, a spin-off film, and West End show, Harry Potter is one of the most iconic franchises in the history of fandom.
But things could have been very, very different…
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Spoilers lie ahead for the Harry Potter series.
1. What if Harry Potter had never been published?
It’s been well-documented that JK Rowling struggled to get her first book published.
Almost a dozen houses, including Penguin, TransWorld and Harper Collins, rejected Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone outright.
When a first chapter arrived at Bloomsbury Publishing, it was destined to remain in the slush pile until its curious black binding caught the eye of a lowly assistant. On a whim, Bloomsbury CEO Nigel Newton gave it to his 8 year old daughter, Alice, to read.
“She came down from her room an hour later glowing,” said Newton in a rare personal interview with the Independent. “She nagged and nagged me in the following months, wanting to see what came next.”
First edition copies of the book now sell for tens of thousands of pounds, but Bloomsbury bought the rights to the original manuscript for the princely sum of £2,500.
And the rest is history.
2. What if Harry’s parents had lived?
Child protagonists are an unfortunate lot.
In a bid to set their proteges on a path to independence, authors will resort to drastic measures to set them free of adult supervision. Packing your protagonists off to boarding school is one way to get them out of the shadow of boring grown-ups.
Double homicide by an evil wizard is another.
JK Rowling’s mother was struggling with the later stages of multiple sclerosis while the author was drafting Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone. Anne Rowling died six months later, without ever knowing about the book her daughter was writing.
Rowling told Oprah Winfrey that she knew then that Harry would be an orphan, and that her grief helped shape the story: “If she hadn’t died, I don’t think it’s too strong to say that there wouldn’t be Harry Potter. The books are what they are because she died.”
Themes of loss echo throughout the series, and it’s fair to say the story would have been unrecognizable had Lily and James lived.
3. What if Ron had died?
In an act of “Potter heresy,” J K Rowling recently admitted that she “wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfilment,” and that she didn’t think the pair’s combative relationship would have survived into their adult years.
But the Hermione/Ron relationship might never have made it past puberty had things gone differently, as Rowling considered killing one of them off in book five.
“Midway through, which I think is a reflection of the fact that I wasn’t in a very happy place, I started thinking I might polish one of them off, out of sheer spite,” she told Daniel Radcliffe in an interview after the film series ended. “I did seriously consider killing Ron.”
4. What if Harry had been American?
Daniel Radcliffe almost didn’t play Harry Potter. Despite being a favorite of producer David Heyman, after finding out that filming would take place in America, Radcliffe’s parents decided that the job would be too distracting for their 11 year old son, and pulled him out of the running.
Steven Spielberg, who had originally expressed an interest in directing the first film, had his sights set on Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment. Jonathan Lipnicki and Eric Sullivan had also expressed interest in the part.
The Harry Potter films would have looked very different had Spielberg directed them: he had planned to animate them, with Robin Williams playing Hagrid!
After Chris Columbus took over directorial duties, American actor Liam Aiken was signed on to play the boy wizard. “I flew to England, and a week later I had the role. Then the next day, I didn’t,” said Aiken. “But I understood; like James Bond, Harry has to be British.”
Aiken went on to play Klaus Baudelaire in A Series Of Unfortunate Events.
It was only when filming was confirmed to take place in Britain – apparently due to J K Rowling’s insistence that British actors play the lead roles – that Daniel Radcliffe’s parents backed down and allowed him to take the part.
5. What if Sir Ian McKellen had played Dumbledore?
It’s long been established that Sir Ian McKellen was offered the part of Dumbledore after O.G. Albus, Richard Harris, died before filming on Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban began.
McKellen turned down the role, having already played one iconic wizard in the Lord Of The Rings films, after Harris dragged him in an interview. “Seeing as one of the last things [Harris] did publicly was say what a dreadful actor he thought I was, it would not have been appropriate for me to take over his part,” said McKellen.
Harris’s family urged filmmakers to offer the role to his old drinking buddy, Peter O’Toole, but it eventually went to Michael Gambon.
Other alternate universe casting choices include Hugh Grant, who was originally considered for smarmy lothario Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, but had to pull out due to scheduling conflicts. Helen McCrory, who went on to play Narcissa Malfoy, was originally cast as Bellatrix LeStrange, but had to pull out after becoming pregnant.
JK Rowling herself was originally asked to play Lily Potter in the Mirror of Erised scene in the first film, but turned it down: “I really am not cut out to be an actress, even one who just has to stand there and wave. I would have messed it up somehow.”
The Harry Potter films could have looked very different indeed!
6. What if Emma Watson had quit?
When her contract came up during the filming of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, Emma Watson seriously considered turning her back on the series to concentrate on her studies.
“I would have been public enemy #1, I think, if I hadn’t continued,” Watson told MTV News in 2010. “But I did think about that.”
Producers moved the Harry Potter filming schedule around to fit with Watson’s A Level exams. And it’s a good thing, too – the studious star scored a hat-trick of three As, and went on to graduate from Rhode Island’s prestigious Brown University.
7. What if Dean Thomas had been a major character?
On her pre-Pottermore website, JK Rowling said that Chris Columbus, director of the first Harry Potter films, was taken aback by the amount of surplus information the author was able to give him on the peripheral character.
Ostensibly muggle-born, Dean’s heritage formed part of an earlier working of Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets. “Dean’s father, who had never told his wife what he was because he wanted to protect her, got himself killed by Death Eaters when he refused to join them,” Rowling wrote in an FAQ about Dean. ‘The projected story had Dean discovering all this during his school career.’
An easter egg alluding to this ghost plot” – Rowling’s own term for story threads that never quite made it into the books – appears in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. When asked if he was Muggle-born by the Nazi-esque Snatchers, Dean responded he wasn’t sure: “My dad left my mum when I was a kid. I’ve got no proof he was a wizard, though.”
Dean’s loss was our gain, though, as his story being nixed meant that a fan favourite came to the fore: “I suppose in some ways I sacrificed Dean’s voyage of discovery for Neville’s, which is more important to the central plot.”
An early illustration – which Rowling shared on her website – shows Dean, then named Gary, with Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville, sneaking out of bed to encounter Fluffy in Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.
8. What if Peter Pettigrew had never betrayed the Potters?
Rowling revealed on her pre-Pottermore website that early drafts of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone were very different to the one she eventually settled on.
Betraying Rowling’s Gothic sensibilities, the very first draft had the Potters living on a remote island, with Hermione’s family – then known as the Puckles, before Rowling changed them to the less whimsical Graingers – living nearby.
It was Hermione’s father who discovered Lily and James’ murder.
Rowling also revealed that, in early drafts, Peter Pettigrew never existed.
“There were various versions of scenes in which you actually saw Voldemort entering Godric’s Hollow and killing the Potters and in early drafts of these, a Muggle betrayed their whereabouts. As the story evolved, however, and Pettigrew became the traitor, this horrible Muggle vanished.”
9. What if Michael Jackson had written a Harry Potter musical?
Long before Harry Potter And The Cursed Child – the two part play which makes it’s West End debut later this year – JK Rowling was approached by the Prince of Pop.
“Michael Jackson wanted to do a musical,” Rowling told Oprah Winfrey in an interview celebrating the end of the series. “I said no to a lot of things.”
10. What if Harry Potter was made into a TV series?
Since the last film was released almost five years ago, fans have championed a Harry Potter TV series.
And, with the likes of Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Outlander riding high in the ratings, book-to-TV adaptations are proving an increasingly popular prospect.
it would seem like a Potterverse serial would be an easy win, but Rowling nixed the idea when questioned about it on Twitter.
Asked “where is our TV show, J K Rowling?”, the author responded: “Right after the opera, Potter-on-ice and the interpretative dance version of Beedle The Bard #NotActuallyHappening”
Probably a good thing, too. What are we leaving our children to reboot?