Every era of history produces some kind of myth or some kind of cultural hero and it is not unknown for a select number of these to ‘echo.’ In simpler terms they take on a life of their own and get reinterpreted and re-adapted to suit the tastes and needs of each successive era. From the fall of the Roman Empire we got King Arthur. From the Anglo-Saxon era, Beowulf- Although in the last hundred years or so that one has fallen out of favour, however. Post Norman England brought us Robin Hood whilst the late Victorian period gave us Sherlock Holmes. The evidence is out there for the retooling and re-adapting of each of these. Arguably Beowulf is the one that has been retooled the least but we see it happen frequently with all of the rest. Even Sherlock Holmes, though only just over a century old, has been reworked time and again. He’s been an action hero, a Nazi fighting morale booster, a mouse, a human front for Doctor Watson, a monster hunter and a modern weirdo. There’s a lot more and it will go on, indubitably. Sherlock Holmes will snowball, eventually, to Robin Hood and Arthurian levels of mythology. He’s almost there already. But what from our own era, from the twenty first century, will do the same?
It’s going to be Harry Potter, in my opinion. There’s something about the series that makes me think ‘the boy who lived’ will never die. In our own lifetime we’ve already seen it become a massive phenomenon. Even though it’s almost ten years since the last book was published and the story (we were told) completed, ‘Pottermania’ shows no signs of letting up. This year alone there’s been a new stage play sequel and an upcoming movie expansion based on a spin-off book. The stage play keeps selling out and it’ll be a complete surprise if the new movie bellyflops… I know Warner Bros. hasn’t been doing very well when it comes to hit movies this year, the ones they’ve released so far have been a bit divisive, but Fantastic will probably be its biggest hitter solely thanks to it being Potter related.
The series has infiltrated popular culture in a very short space of time. There is the official side of things, of course, the books and the movies and the play, but then there is the rest of it. The series has seeped into the wider public consciousness and people all over the world have taken it to their hearts in a big way. The most extreme example of the way this has happened is with Quidditch. Quidditch is now a real sport. Just think about that for a second- QUIDDITCH… IS… A REAL… SPORT! People run around a field with a stick of wood between their legs and play by the same rules as in the books. The difference is, of course, it’s played without magic. It is as absurd as it sounds. There’s even an International Quidditch Association for heaven’s sake. Another example is Platform 9 ¾. Thankfully King’s Cross haven’t added another platform but they have stuck half a trolley in the wall and a sign over the top of it. Hundreds of travellers passing it by can’t resist stopping and taking a photo of themselves pushing it through. Those two are only scratching the surface of how Harry Potter has been taken into the bosom of the world. Do I really have to mention the Potter Puppet Pals or A Very Potter Musical? I’d rather not, quite frankly.
I sound like I’m being dismissive and really I have no right or need to be. I love Harry Potter- I grew up with the books and I saw all but two of the films in the cinema (five and six, if you want to know.) I’ve dropped references to it in my own work- One scene in Spawn is a direct homage to the bit in Philsopher’s Stone where Hermione is attacked by a troll. Recently I couldn’t resist putting the words ‘Winguardium Leviosa’ into a story.
Despite what literary critics and snobs may say much of the the story is a solid, well written one. I went back to the books for the first time in years not long back, intending to work my way through them as slowly as I could, just a gentle stroll with an old friend. I couldn’t help but notice how clever they were, how brilliantly they were written. There’s a lot of stuff in there, particularly in the first few books, that makes you realise how well planned out the whole thing is, like how she initially painted Neville as this goofball but still sowed the idea that he was just as much a Gryffindor as Harry, Ron or Hermione- If you look carefully you can see that in the first book he’s even more deserving of his place in the house than Ron is. There are all the little bits that seem inconsequential but play a larger role later on, like Snape wanting the Dark Arts job or the mention of where Hagrid got the flying motorbike. It’s all there and even if she had never written anything else, Harry Potter alone places J.K Rowling very close to the top of the list of greatest 21st century writers. It places her high on the list of all time greats, really.
If Pottermania had never happened the books would have stood the test of time. In fifty, one hundred years time they’d be for sale as Penguin classics and be ranked alongside C.S Lewis and Tolkien and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and books like that. The single fact remains is that Pottermania did happen, is still happening. Even before the Fantastic Beasts film, even before Cursed Child, the flame was very much alive. It didn’t die out after the books and movies ended, which in most cases does happen. Twilight, anyone? Harry Potter has had such an influence that it is impossible not to see how that will continue. It will grow, continue to grow. Cursed Child will be like The Mousetrap, it will run and run and run and run and never stop. I know JKR keeps a tight lid on official stuff and adaptations right now but give it a hundred years and we could well be seeing a situation similar to Sherlock Holmes- Reimaginings and reinterpretations and versions where all the characters are mice (How would that work in terms of Pettigrew?) It is already so ingrained into our culture that it will be very difficult to shift and there is a strong possibility it never will be shifted. That will be proven when Quidditch becomes an Olympic sport.
The books might go out of fashion in the same way that Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransom have done, sure, but there’s a big difference between their books and Harry Potter. Their books belong to a particular time and the things their children do aren’t what children do these days. They’ve dated horribly. Children don’t go on jolly adventures and drink ginger beer anymore which pushes the books towards irrelevance. Harry Potter doesn’t have that, firstly because it is a fantastical series and secondly because some elements of the books are eternal- Cruel teachers and wicked adults, school, etc. Being a fantasy means that most of the books won’t date. Only some of the bits in the Muggle world will do that, and not too many of them at that. It will be so easy to imagine Harry attending a Hogwarts in say, 2020 or 2200 or 2525 for instance.
Given what we have already witnessed, I believe that there is a strong possibility that Harry Potter will be the boy who lived… Forever!