JK Rowling can't rid herself of the Harry Potter hangover: The perils of nostalgia as cash cow
JK Rowling is not celebrating her birthday alone. 31 July also marks the birthday of The Chosen One, the lead character of the famous children's novel series and film franchise. But birthday wishes apart, I have suggestion for Rowling — it's time to move on. It has been over a decade since the launch of the final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows. Ever since then, she has not been able to rise above the Harry Potter hangover and has constantly flirted with the idea of Harry Potter being a continuum, rather than a full stop.
Sure, Rowling created the world of Harry Potter and thus enjoys authorship over the material. But that is exactly the problem. Since she possesses ownership of the material, she can toy with it any time.
And so she claims that she has 'regrets' about certain angles and moves in the Harry Potter universe. For example, she claimed she did not pair Harry up with Hermoine Granger, and chose his best friend Ron Weasley instead, because of personal reasons (she based Hermoine's character on herself and that of Ron on her childhood friend). Similarly, she has dished out similar 'regrets' annually, like killing Fred Weasely in the Battle of Hogwarts, not being explicit about Albus Dumbledoere's sexuality, orphaning Teddy Lupin in the Battle of Hogwarts, and not saving Dobby for the climactic battle. She explained that she took decisions strictly based on how she imagined them first, but went on to have a different take in retrospect.
On the Oprah Winfrey Show, Rowling explained how difficult it was to part ways with Potter after the seventh book. "It was a bereavement. We know the people we love are immortal. We know we are immortal. So I knew the whole thing. I even knew how it'll end. So when it ended, I was in a slight state of shock. There came a point where I cried. It was only once I cried once before, when my mother died. It (Harry Potter) had stayed with me for 17 years and then it just ended. It was happening when I was going through a very tumultuous time personally. If it can be an escape for these children, then you can imagine what it would have been like for me. And not just an escape to that world. It disciplined me as a writer, and gave structure to my life. I knew I would be writing. But I had to mourn Harry."
And here we are, years later, as JK Rowling tries to maintain relevance through nuggets of new information about the Harry Potter franchise. As a writer of fiction for adults, under the guise of her pen name Robert Galbraith, she has failed to achieve similar success, if we are to consider the fate of her (or his?) books The Cuckoo's Calling, and most recently, Silk White. Unfortunately, she could not conjure up the same universe like she did with Harry Potter. It is clear that she is therefore trying to hold on to her most successful work, the Harry Potter franchise.
Most public figures who are known for only one thing their whole life, make several attempts to rise above it and constantly try to reinvent themselves. Not JK Rowling. She has constantly been releasing "revelations" around the series, as recent as 2018 film Crimes of Grindelwald.
Before it became fashionable, JK Rowling milked the cash cow of nostalgia. But now, she has been surpassed by Disney, which is remaking all its animated films of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The most recent example is Jon Favreau's The Lion King, which is a frame-by-frame remake of the original. It has now defeated the original to become the first Disney film this year to cross the $1 billion mark. Also, it has become the fourth Hollywood film to cross the Rs 100 crore mark in India. Back home, T-Series has dethroned Pewdipie as the biggest YouTuber around the world with over 100 million subscribers. A large part of T-Series ' music also relies on nostalgia as it rehashes popular music from 1990s. While these attempts are legit money-spinners, the criticism is also free-flowing.
Great creators share the quality of knowing when and where to stop. They know exactly what stories they want to tell, and then move on to what is next. For example, even though rumours of a Friends reunion resurfaces every now and then, there continues to be no plan. The makers as well as the cast have moved on to other projects, the most recent being Jennifer Anniston-starrer Netflix film Murder Mystery. Recently, a still of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul had triggered the rumours of a Breaking Bad reboot. However, it only turned out to be an alcohol ad.
As a '90s kid, here's where I will stand up for my rights. Nostalgia is a precious gift we have given to ourselves. And Rowling should avoid poking into it.
All images from Reuters.
Updated Date: Jul 31, 2019 16:16:41 IST