Chapter the First, A Few Blasphemies
I once saw Harry Potter described as “the Star Wars for a new generation”, and while some might consider it an odd form of blasphemy to compare the two, I think its quite an apt description. Throwing out the plot similarities and the whole “extremely detailed escapist fantasy world of whimsy and wonder” thing, I do honestly believe that Harry Potter has ascended to that plane of artistic work that has become so popular or important it transcends its original setting, context, and creator and becomes part of the culture writ large, making its way into the very fabric, indeed even the DNA of the collective culture we share; becoming a common touchstone that you know even if you’ve never actually read or watched the work in question. This is the realm of Shakespeare, Twain, Superman, and the Bible. And there’s another blasphemy, so let me go ahead and say: No, Harry Potter and Star Wars and Superman aren’t on the same level as Twain and Shakespeare and the Bible, but they are on a similar plane of cultural importance. You probably knew that Jesus rose from the dead, Moses lead the Israelites to freedom, Romeo and Juliet die, and that Darth Vader was Luke’s father before you were even able to actually grasp or understand the stories that lead to those events. It just so happens that Harry Potter is the latest addition to that canon. Wether or not HP deserves such a place is a moot point, because its already gained its place through being the story that resonates and inspires a generation. Of course this also means fame and wealth and quite probably immorality for Rowling, which by any standard is an amazing deal. And yet…
Chapter the Second, A Prequel
This is the story of a bold, innovative visionary who created a world that resonated with and inspired a whole generation, making them a creative force that would be remembered throughout history. Indeed, they would shape their very medium in ways impacting artistic history itself. Within thirty years they would be considered a washed-up has-been with no talent that had sold out and couldn’t create for shit. This is of course, the story of George Lucas, and I tell his story because just as Harry Potter is the next Star Wars, Rowling is the new Lucas. Its gotten more obvious as time has gone on, especially that whole latter bit about being washed-up and selling out and running your creation into the ground. Expect Rowling has maintained a level of quality apparently. But that’s not entirely the point. The conventional story of George Lucas is that he well, basically lost all talent, or never had it, Star Wars succeeded in spite of him rather than because of him. And I’ll concede that the Prequels weren’t all that good, and Lucas can’t write humans or direct for shit or yadda yadda, insert the geek orthodoxy here, but ultimately I view Lucas’s career as a tragedy. Not in material terms, lord knows George Lucas is rich and happy as he can be and he’s doing just wonderful and amazing and doesn’t really deserve anybody’s pity, BUT in terms of the relationship between creator and work, Lucas, and now Rowling, are both tragic tales.
Chapter the Third, A Prisoner in One’s Own Palace
I mentioned that Star Wars and Harry Potter are on the same plane as Twain and Shakespeare. Let me repeat that one more time: Star Wars and Harry Potter are on the same plane as Twain and Shakespeare. Notice what I didn’t say: Rowling or Lucas. And that’s where the tragedy lies for them. Shakespeare exists above his plays. We care about him because he wrote MacBeth and Romeo and Juliet and Othello and Julius Ceasar and A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, but notice that we talk about Shakespeare himself and group the plays around him and how we even have the term “Shakespearian”. Again notice, that we talk about Twain and not simply Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer or A Connecticut Yankee in King’s Arthur Court. Shakespeare and Twain are creators who stand above their work, they are important because of it, but are also more important than it. Rowling and Lucas, however, were not so fortunate. Rather than having Harry Potter and Star Wars be remarkable debuts to bold careers, both stories instead become so big, so popular, so well loved, that they ended up consuming their creators. Instead of moving on to tell other stories, Rowling and Lucas became trapped in their own creations, unable to escape or tell new tales, until the point where both finally gave up and simply embraced the fact that they could never get away. And so here we are. Two amazing, creative, detailed worlds that inspire and resonate with loads of people perpetually being used to turn out new stories, expect not quite new stories, more narrative-as-product, in an attempt to drain as much money from a global phenomenon as possible, while people eat it up just to get more.
Chapter the Fourth, The Villain Unmasked
Of course the irony is that this tragedy is hardly tragic for either Lucas or Rowling. Rowling just recently released a book that’s a script to a West End play and the first in a trilogy of movies she’s writing comes out later this year. Lucas sold off his company for billions and is trying to build a museum. They’re both well, well, well off and don’t deserve or need anybody’s pity or sympathy; and they definitely don’t need random blog posts about their billion dollar ideas imprisoning them in golden cages of eternal fame. But then again, this whole thing isn’t really the Tragedy of Rowling and Lucas, its the Tragedy of the Artist and the Fanatic. While The Princess Bride revels in the power of true love, Romeo and Juliet shows even something as seemingly pure good as true love can have tragic consciences; and Lucas and Rowling’s story is perhaps the most visible, though by no means the worst, example of the dark side of the creator-fan relationship. Its us fans after all that built the golden cages. Its our insatiable desire for more that’s given us the prequels, The Force Awakens, The Cursed Child, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and prevents Rowling from moving on. Instead of leaving a finished story be, we demand more and more and more and in turn are spoon fed more and more until the money well runs dry. We end up asking the artist to be a dancing bear, a defanged beast forced to preform at our demand. Needless to say, this is a very unhealthy relationship, yet this seems to be the relationship Rowling has with the Harry Potter fandom. Which isn’t to disparage HP fans and fandom in general or say that you can’t get upset and angry about fictional things or excited over movies or that you can’t have opinions and criticism of art (in fact you should have complex thoughts on art and culture). Rather all this is to say there’s a very long, very hard conversation to be had within fandom about the relationship between fans and creators, and the careers of Lucas and Rowling illustrate the need for this conversation. Two visionary, imaginative creators found themselves constrained by the success of their creations because we couldn’t just let it go.