Friday, October 19, 2007

Pottering around Potter

I never wanted to like them. I never asked to get involved with them. I thought the first one was rubbish—a rip-off of The Worst Witch—re-appropriating magic for boys. I thought it was badly written and actually boring. And after the first I resolved with righteous indignation never to jump again on this bandwagon and would look down upon it from a great height instead, making sweeping judgements about the marketing power of corporate commercial gimmicks, and our human inability to resist memes.

Then somehow a few years later I accidentally went to see the first film at the cinema. By some incredible coincidence, I then also accidentally went to see the second film, and although I admirably avoided the third film when it was released at cinemas, I accidentally fell into HMV at the airport on our way to Angola and bought it on DVD.

As far as the books are concerned, I blame India. It’s India’s fault that the train journeys were so long that Eran and I read all the books we’d brought with us within the first week. It’s India’s fault that they have a thriving pirated book market and produce all the big British titles for a fraction of the price. It’s India’s fault that they have a book-loving nation that pack numerous little bookshops into even the most far-flung little towns throughout the country. Though I suppose it’s JK Rowling’s fault that the books are so huge they look like they’ll be just the perfect size to fill a 2-month backpacking trip in India—I guess I can’t blame India for that. It's definitely her fault that our first day in Agra was spent scouring every bookshop in the town for a copy of the fifth book, while doggedly ignoring the shadow of the Taj Mahal towering over us, which had been relegated to no.2 on our list of Things To Do in Agra!

So, yes, utterly against our will, Eran and I ended up reading The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix in quick succession in India. And our investment didn’t pay off, because they took two weeks to read, not two months, and we’ve been hooked to Harry Potter ever since, goddammit!

I just finally got around to reading and finishing The Deathly Hallows, and now there is the same Harry Potter hole in my life that seems to be shared by a huge proportion of the population. I had thought I was a bit older than the core Harry Potter generation, and maybe as a reader I am, but as a wannabe writer, I definitely am not.

The cultural phenomenon that is Harry Potter, where every book has (or will have) its film doppelganger, and where the characters exist in literal and visual form and where, whether Rowling intends them to or not, the books and the films thread into and out of each other, so that they cannot exist as separate entities, has changed children’s literature immeasurably.

Books that are published now will have to have film adaptation potential before they are even considered for their potential as a book—a book is not a book if it cannot also be a film—and they will probably have to be constructed at least as a trilogy, if not a series, as well as have a media-friendly author. The layers just within a book are not enough any more. Consumers (and they are consumers, more than readers) want layers that unfold into real life, with the lives of people—of actors—merging and combining with the lives of the book’s characters who they will play in the film. We want to know what a book’s characters look like—we want to know, not imagine—and we want to know what they do between the lines of the text, when they are off camera, when they are not included in a chapter. If you’re trying to write a children’s book these days, you may as well start collating the soundtrack and holding auditions in kids’ theatre groups for the casting of the lead role…

This post is dedicated to the Shakespearean tragedy that is Severus Snape—the real hero of the Harry Potter series…

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