“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
Today we all know that the tragic, yet necessary, fate of Hogwarts’ beloved headmaster was indeed death. But upon completing the seventh book, after leaving a message on a marble statue saying Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had been finished in room 552 of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, JK Rowling should’ve, in a literary sense, died.
The Death of the Author
I’m not wishing actual harm or death upon the writer who turned millions of children, born at the end of the twentieth century and after, into book lovers –myself included. I’m talking about the symbolic death discussed by literary theorist Roland Barthes in his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author.”
According to the French critic, a text does not belong to the author, for they are dead. It’s an entirely deconstructionist idea that transgresses regular literary rules. Barthes would argue that Rowling should avoid being too personally immersed in her texts, since the author’s identity should not serve as context for the work.
It’s hard not to think of Harry Potter as the work of a low-income woman who used writing as a means to break free from severe depression, which she depicted as the dementors in the novels. There are several other details we have learned about the author’s personal story and their direct relationship to the books. But that might not be for the best.
The original ending
Harry Potter ends 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts as he, along with his friends and wife, sends off the next generation of students. It was a satisfactory ending that left millions intrigued, and wanting to know more about what happened to the characters. Little by little Rowling revealed some well received secrets. Harry fulfilled his dream of becoming an Auror, as well as Ron. Hermione fought for the rights of elves and won bureaucratic, as well as intellectual, battles against the Ministry of Magic. There were even family trees of the main characters and the families they started. But, just like marketing exploits a great film and turns it into a money-making franchise, the pressure put upon Rowling to keep the Harry Potter universe alive, took her too far.
Refusing to let go
Through Twitter we were able to find more and more information on Harry Potter. Shortly after, the Pottermore website was launched as a response to the several fanfiction, theories, and speculations that existed on the internet. The website was a curated account of life after Hogwarts, to be considered as the “official story.” It seemed as if JK Rowling’s universe was expanding to compete with its clearest and direct reference, Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. As time went by, more details, legends, biographies, and other tidbits were added on the website. Some fans relish each time something new is posted. But as we acquire all these details, we run the risk of diluting the essence of the seven books.
Barthes proposed the reader should be the only relevant element in the text, while the author should be kept as far as possible. The author is dead, since a text is an ensemble of previous ideas that are not the sole property of one person. This is why elves, dragons, wizards, and other magical beings were already a part of The Lord Of The Rings, which J.R.R. Tolkien also took from other authors when tasked with creating Middle Earth.
J.K. Rowling should accept her death and leave the world she created alone. The great irony in this situation is that Barthes’ theories play into what has become of the young wizard’s saga. The aforementioned fanfics support his idea that there is not one author. Each story is a new perspective of the universe Rowling created. Some texts have reached such high status that many fans consider them part of the official story (canon).
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (WARNING: IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE PLOT OF THE PLAY, SPOILERS ARE AHEAD)
The irony of Barthes and Rowling is that she left the new story in other hands. In an effort to keep with the “official story,” Jack Thorne was tasked with writing the stage play. This is when many took the decision to symbolically axe the author of Harry Potter and remain with the story of the seven books. If the author does not die, the reader is free to choose their death in order to avoid further transgressions of the original work. The Cursed Child transforms Rowling’s epic tale into a bizarre sitcom we might find on TV. Harry is afraid of doves, Ron is a flat character only serving as comic relief, and Voldemort, the villain who is incapable of love because he had his soul ripped apart, has a daughter.
It’s impossible to judge the finished product based on the script alone instead of the complete experience at London’s Palace Theatre. One thing that appears notable is how the play is more of a continuation of the movies than the books themselves. But the script published nine years after the last publication, which many agree presented Rowling’s best literary work yet, seems like a bad joke or even an insult to those who grew up reading the story of Harry Potter.
It might sound as an exaggeration but the literary theory backs the fact that J.K. Rowling has taken this too far. It’s understandable how the business Harry Potter represents has sprouted videogames, theme parks, action figures, clothing brands, and more. However, when turned into a mere merchandising ploy, the artistic endeavor loses its value.
Rowling has given us a story full of teachings we will cherish for the rest of our lives. The value of her work will always be great because of its worldwide impact. But perhaps it’s time to leave it be before the jokes on the internet about her obsession to spill secrets becomes a reality.