Why J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' play is fantastic news for fans
What a year it’s been for Harry Potter fans!
First, author J.K. Rowling wrote a novel in secret, The Cuckoo’s Calling, just nine months after her previous novel for adults, Casual Vacancy. Then she dropped the bomb that she was returning to the Harry Potter universe with a film trilogy devoted to the jazz age wizarding world of Fantastic Beasts.
And early Friday morning she made it official on Facebook: She’s putting Harry on the stage.
Rowling will be a collaborator and co-producer on the production, which will focus on Harry’s childhood:
What was it like to be the boy in the cupboard under the stairs? This brand new play, which will be developed for the UK theatre, will explore the previously untold story of Harry's early years as an orphan and outcast. Featuring some of our favourite characters from the Harry Potter books, this new work will offer a unique insight into the heart and mind of the now legendary young wizard. A seemingly ordinary boy, but one for whom Destiny has plans...
Fans around the world immediately responded with joyous outbursts:
Screengrab via MuggleNet
Screengrab via fools-game/Tumblr
Screengrab via Facebook
Screengrab via everythingisbetterwithbisexuals/Tumblr
Huh? What’s going on here, fandom?
Fan complaints about the news seem to take three different themes. The first is that Harry Potter’s childhood years as an orphan living with a cruel muggle family are depressing and no one will want to sit through two hours of that in a theatre.
To quote knitmeapony on Tumblr:
… the depressing, abused, non-magical parts of his life???? Really, you think that’s what people want to read about?
A subthread of this complaint is the idea that Harry’s story has been explored enough already. At Mugglenet, commenter aimee_pond was passionate on this subject:
I DON'T WANT THIS. I like the beginning of Harry's story, and to be honest, I like the ending too. I want it to stay, unchanged. I would love to see other wizarding world stuff, like Fantastic Beasts. I would love to learn more about other characters like the marauders or anyone really. However, I do not care to see another story focused specifically on Harry, especially if JKR isn't writing it herself. Also, I hope they somehow make this available to the rest of the world because lots of people can't get to London to see it, but would love to hear the story.
The second theme is that fans really, really, really want a story set in the Marauders’ Era, one that further explores the complex dynamics between Harry’s parents and their generation of friends, enemies, and frenemies. Marauders fans are aplenty, and in their eyes, Rowling keeps denying them their fair share of the HP story. Cantstopthesignal on Tumblr sums up this point of view:
how are we getting ANOTHER thing about harry when we still know jack all about the three times his parents defeated voldemort? or about Remus at hogwarts? or the Marauders at hogwarts? Or anyone who isn’t Harry at hogwarts?
All I want from life is to know the story of James, Sirius, Remus, Lily and yes dare I say even Peter (knowing exactly what drove him to betray them would be nice).
I’m done with Harry. Bring me one of the millions of things you mentioned but never properly explored.
The final theme is that Team Starkid, the amateur university theatre group from Michigan whose “Harry,” Darren Criss, became famous and eventually went on to TV stardom for his role in the viral hit, already put Harry on the stage... and did it better.
To each of these fans, we have this to say: Cheer up. There’s all the reason in the world to expect that this play will be every bit as charming as the rest of the Harry Potter world.
For starters, it's not going to be a depressing play about child abuse, unless you think that Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are depressing stories about child abuse. If there’s one thing British children’s literature has excelled in for generations, it’s satirizing and softening the trauma of childhood in ways that appeal to kids of all ages. The early scenes of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are clearly influenced by Roald Dahl in particular. We can't imagine this play will be any different.
We also find it interesting that arguments against the play seem to be simultaneously running along the lines of “a fan group, Starkid, already did this, so why should we care about the official version?” and “Why haven’t we gotten an official version of a story that fans who love the Marauders have already been beautifully exploring for years?”
Team Starkid made a satirical musical, nothing like what Rowling is apparently planning. And there’s some great Marauders fanfiction out there, maybe so much that Rowling thinks she doesn’t need to go there, at least just yet.
While we can’t know what’s in Rowling’s head, we do know one thing for certain: Rowling prioritizes her youngest fans above all else, because she’s a queen. If she’s taking the step of dramatizing the early part of Harry’s life, it’s probably because she’s spent a decade listening to fans tell her how much that part of his story resonated with them. Giving even more detail to that part of his life may bring even more hope to kids who shared in his experiences.
And she’s probably thinking ahead, to the ultimate reason to create a play—the reason we should all be cheering: Eventually, kids all over the world will have a chance to see, and maybe even audition for and play the part of Harry on a stage near them.
Think about it. Harry Potter created a reading revival across the world, so it’s not much of a stretch to imagine kids lining up to go to the theatre. Then there’s the fact that a play will give us the opportunity to see Harry represented by kids from every race and class around the globe. We can’t see any bad here.
The play’s producers, Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, are veteran theatre producers whose recent successes include The Book of Mormon and bringing Tom Hanks and Nora Ephron together in Lucky Guy. Harry’s story is in good hands.
So cheer up, Harry Potter fans. Harry’s story is universal. It’s time he came to a stage near you.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons