In some circles of people I know, admitting you’re an adult Harry Potter fan is like fessing up you suck your thumb and stroke a blankie. Too many of my family or friends fail to see the appeal of what I consider to be a great series of books and films. Not perfect books, not flawless films, but very enjoyable and a treat to read or watch anytime.
I used to be a voracious reader, devouring a few books on a weekly basis, from classics to contemporary fiction. If this point needs driving home, when I moved to the UK ten years ago, the first thing I did was get a library card. (Libraries, remember them?) Next on the list was getting Internet access.
Now, in my mortgaged adulthood, I’m lucky if I have time to read anything away from the PC, usually limited to what fits on a tin, packet or box. Harry Potter changed that for me. I saw the first film and bought the books, all of them available at the time. They seemed relaxed, easy reads and I was guaranteed a long run, with films to follow. As a consequence, I’ve tried to squeeze reading back into my life ever since.
I never like to boil intangibly impressive things down to their facts and figures, but I suspect that the series has done the same for many people and if the stories led kids, or adults, back to books, even briefly, that’s a good thing. No matter that they’re not Tolkien or Steinbeck.
Why did I like the books so much? Shortly and sweetly, they reminded me what it would have been like to discover the series at nine years old and imagine you could perform magic. Better than that, they made me feel nine years old, in a way that reading the books or watching the films of my youth could never do now. It’s not nostalgia. It’s new discovery. Even at this late stage.
A part of the Potter series is genius, really. Not literary masterpieces, but they chimed a familiar tune with readers everywhere. Who hadn’t fantasised in their approaching or full-on pubescence that they were a changeling or must have been adopted, surrounded by a family that just couldn’t have shared their genes, they seemed so alien to them? How perfect to be swept away some stormy night to a place that really appreciates you and knows you’re destined for incredible things?
But the brilliant bit was the magic had to be taught and learned. It wasn’t gifted and auto-controllable by a certain birth date or moon cycle, allowing any reader or filmgoer to fantasise the possibilities were still dormant in them, just like Harry, Hermione and Ron. And it was a message of earning through effort that didn’t use too large or heavy a hammer. It’s subtle. I like subtle.
Yes, many of the elements in the stories are derivative of other stories. How many truly unique ideas are there, really? We forgive that in many, many books and movies when they bring other good stuff to the page or reel.
The mix and the set up in Harry Potter were just right, with stories that take a progressively darker turn with each volume, so that they keep up with the maturing reader. As an adult, I can see and appreciate that. For the intended, (supposed), readers, all that’s invisible. Like magic.
So, there’s the appeal, but the witty bit went further. JK Rowling kept her head when movie rights loomed on the horizon and the promise of riches shone there. It was she who reportedly insisted that the cast of any movies based on her Potter books were British. With the stories anchored exactly where they should be, with the proper accents, dialects and slang, they keep all their charm, for audiences here and well beyond Britain’s borders.
With the single mistake of falling for ill-conceived marketing claims, underestimating the American audience and renaming the first book and film Sorcerer’s Stone instead of the Philosopher’s Stone, the films are pretty faithful to the books, where it matters most. And I admire that. It happens so rarely.
I can only hope there are no loopholes in studio contracts that would allow the films to ever be remade and set in California or New York in a cheerleading university or performing arts high school.
The films as they exist today, and will hopefully continue through to the end, have, like another effects-laden work likes to quote, “spared no expense”, with exceptional CGI and SFX work – and lots of it – in every film. I don’t think a single fan was disappointed with the perpetual changing staircase, the fantastical mythical creatures and the living portraits. (Which reminds me, have any among you turned a digital photo frame into a Potter-style moving portrait? If I owned one, it’s the first thing I’d try!)
The best of the best actors have been drafted in for the adult roles as well: Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Julie Walters, Alan Rickman and many others as main recurring characters and the likes of David Tennant, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson, John Hurt, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, evil in pink, Imelda Staunton, and legendary stars like Julie Christie in supporting or single film roles. I doubt fans outside the UK realise what high-quality cream the films have been topped off with. And I think in the UK we’ve taken this cast list for granted to some degree.
It’s also a credit to the films that they could lose such a substantial and talented major player in Richard Harris on his death in 2002, and successfully fill the role so admirably with Michael Gambon.
The Washington Post accused the books of “cultural infantilism” and childishness. And many criticisms have been aired about reusing ideas and elements. But, clearly there’s more meat to those allegedly picked over bones to make a meal of a series of very successful films.
And frankly, as an adult with the stresses most adults take on every day, a little escapism to childishness is a welcome retreat.
DoG has poked fun at Harry Potter, good naturedly, in the past – more of a tickle, really, and I’ve pointed to the films’ shortcomings myself recently. Of the three young leads, only Daniel Radcliffe had any prior, credited film acting experience. It was first gigs for Rupert Grint and Emma Watson and it shows.
But I do want Harry Potter to succeed. I want the marketing people to stop messing with the fans. Not because I need my own personal Potter fix – I do know what’s going to happen, after all – but I’d like there to be no doubt that series like Harry Potter, given the attention and financing they deserve, can do well.
Harry is carrying a mighty big torch championing children’s books series to movie successes and I don’t want it to be doused or fizzle out. I’d like to see Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series completed before its cast needs a time machine, magic potion or plastic surgery to be available and age-appropriate in their roles. And I’d love for other choice fantasy and sci-fi geeks-in-training children’s novels to have a shot. Perhaps The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula Le Guin or Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet.
I’m looking forward to the next Harry Potter film. I’m very curious to see how the rest of the books will be realised onscreen.
Would I camp out on the street before the release of any book? No, I’d order it online when I got around to it.
Will I join queues of fans circling theatres days before the next movie’s finally released? There’s about as much chance of that as my signing up to be Paris Hilton’s next Best Friend.
I’ll watch for lines to die down at the one tiny theatre in my town, if it plays there, and I’ll check cable schedules in months to come. I’m sure I’ll buy the DVD when it comes out. But I won’t stand out in the cold or rain for any entertainment. I’m a Muggle, not a mug.