Hey Drew, do you think you could go into detail and explain your feelings on the recent Harry Potter debacles (The Cursed Child and also what Pottermore has become)? Your opinions usually mirror mine but I'm having a hard time putting it all together. Cheers! Hope you're doing alright (I think you live in Florida?) watch out for that nasty, nasty weather.
Hey there! Let me see here. I’ll try to express my feelings, I’ll be eager to hear from you to see if you agree!
So basically the current expansion of J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world breaks down into three categories: Pottermore, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the Fantastic Beasts series. I’ll take them one at a time.
Pottermore started out as this amazing addition to the Potter fandom. We were all so excited to be officially Sorted into our houses, learn what kind of wands we might receive, and delve deeper into the world of Harry Potter. Pottermore was excellent at the start when we were learning more about Jo’s writing process and fun facts. Why were Hufflepuff’s colors yellow and black, for example. Even the character biographies we got at the start were thoughtful and creative and felt like an extension of the universe that was already there. Pottermore has deteriorated as we’ve moved further and further away from what Jo already had written down and we’ve gone deeper and deeper into material invented for Pottermore. Ilvermorny is obviously the biggest example here. The American copy-and-paste version of Hogwarts is so clearly an afterthought developed for a quick name-drop in the Fantastic Beasts movie. It truly makes no sense as an actual American school for reasons that plenty of people smarter than me have expanded on – the trivialization of Native American culture, the absurdity that one school would suffice for the entire United States, the dismissal of the canonically established Salem Institute. The inclusion of “houses” is particularly frustrating for me. I’m sure we have private schools in the States that have houses but in general it’s an extremely British concept that doesn’t translate here. More importantly, the Hogwarts house system is so incredible. The house mascots and colors, the association with the four elements, and the values prescribed to each category all come together in a truly beautiful way. Our generation in particular has come to adopt the Hogwarts houses as core elements to our personality. It’s our way of discussing our values – the morality of ambition, the importance of loyalty, the discussion of mind versus heart or knowledge versus instinct. The Ilvermorny houses belittle the brilliance of the Hogwarts houses and it honestly infuriates me.
As a tangent to this, I think Jo also insults her own system by continuing to sort the “good guys” into Gryffindor and the “bad guys” into Slytherin. Celestina Warbeck would have been a great good-Slytherin but Jo says she’s a Gryffindor. Dolores Umbridge would have been a fascinating bad-Hufflepuff but Jo says she’s a Slytherin. Remember that meta about how Hagrid’s house is never identified in the books and how it makes way more sense for him to be a Slytherin than a Gryffindor? The houses have so much depth to them, Jo even talks about how Hufflepuff is her favorite house, but she treats them in such a superficial way.
My frustration with the Fantastic Beasts series is not dissimilar to my frustration with Pottermore. Mostly my feeling with Fantastic Beasts so far is a lot like my feelings for Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: it’s beautiful, it’s amazing, but who cares? I don’t care about Newt Scamander and I don’t care about Gellert Grindelwald, especially if we’re going to continue to avoid Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality in telling this story. I wouldn’t mind all of this extra history if I had the history I want. I want Marauders! I want Founders! We know more about the founding of Ilvermorny than the founding of the school we actually care about! If we already had the stories that we’re all deeply fascinated by, I think we’d be more invested in these additional stories. Instead, the Fantastic Beasts series feels like a distraction so that Jo doesn’t have to tell the Marauders and Founders stories. Plus, including the abuser Johnny Depp in the cast is disgusting and infuriating.
Now we come to the ultimate insult to the Potter fandom: Cursed Child. I almost don’t know where to begin with this one. It is unfathomable to me that Jo, who cares so much about her characters, signed off on this and said it can be considered canon. There is just so much wrong here. The characterization of our existing characters, particular the Golden Trio, is so off. Hermione is a shadow of her former self; Ron seems to be based on the film interpretation rather than the book; and while portraying Harry as a misguided father is certainly an interesting choice and could be argued as a plausibility given the fact that he grew up without James and with Vernon, it is certainly the sadder choice, especially considering the wonderful father figures he’s had in Lupin, Sirius, Hagrid, Arthur, and even Dumbledore. It seems like this character choice is only there to serve up drama with Albus.
Next up, perhaps the most absurd piece of the Cursed Child puzzle, is Delphini Diggory. She might as well be named Ebony Darkness Dementia Raven Way. Delphi is the worst part of the entire Harry Potter universe. Her very existence makes no sense - not only would Voldemort have absolutely no need or want for a child and no need or want to have sex with Bellatrix, it also doesn’t fit into the timeline as far as I know. On top of that, she is so illogical as a character, underdeveloped in every way and uncompelling as a villain.
The story itself is aggravating because it seems to be entirely manufactured as fan service while simultaneously letting the fans down. The time turner storyline is clearly all about allowing the play to show us scenes and characters from the original books, yet the scenes we go to are the Triwizard challenges where very little actually happens to advance the Potter story. It’s such an odd choice. And so much centers around the Diggory family, who we hardly know anything about and it’s not like we really learn any new information about them except that apparently if Cedric hadn’t died he would have become a Death Eater, which is so absolutely ridiculous. They clearly just wanted to show us some of the old characters and that’s where this story came from. Even in the present story we see how fan service affected the writing - Jo has said the McGonagall wouldn’t be headmistress by the time Albus got there, and yet here she is. I haven’t even touched on the concept of returning to the night James and Lily died and forcing Harry to watch this trauma or the various stupidities of the alternate timelines like Ron and Hermione’s loveless fates if they aren’t married to one another.
Also, I have to mention that Jo establishes some very clear laws of magic that this story just decides do not apply. If we all just believe hard enough, we can make Harry look like Voldemort! I know there were other cases of this, but it’s been a while since I’ve read the play so I can’t quite remember them off the top of my head. I could say though that this is probably the aspect that makes the whole thing feel so much like fanfiction (along with Delphi). The Potter world has rules and Jo sticks to them very carefully. The play’s disregard for these rules is sloppy.
The final issue I have to discuss regarding Cursed Child is, obviously, the relationship between Scorpius and Albus. It’s been discussed to death, I know, but any criticism of the play is incomplete without mentioning it. These two boys are great characters on their own. Albus living in his father’s shadow is compelling. Scorpius in particular is a wonderful character. I also have to applaud the choice to sort these two protagonists into Slytherin, finally breaking the mold I talked about earlier. But the queer baiting in this play is blatant and painful. Honestly, it wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t forced Scorpius into asking out Rose at the end of the play. I get it, fourteen-year-olds don’t always understand their sexuality, and maybe you could even say attaching Rose to Scorpius is part of that, but the play certainly doesn’t imply it that way at all. It’s particularly hurtful because Jo is amazingly progressive in her politics and actively talks about LGBT rights, feminism, Black Lives Matter, and so on, but she does not demonstrate all of these powerful values in her books, especially when it comes to LGBT characters. The only character she has identified as anything other than straight is Dumbledore, and even that is never mentioned in the literature, and if you know it’s there it’s still only implied as a tragic barely-there subplot. The wizarding world struggles with diversity across the board. Jo’s made steps. Casting black actresses as Hermione and Rose is absolutely incredible. We’re starting to see characters of color appear in the Fantastic Beasts series, although way too slowly in my opinion. But despite all of her politics, Jo is dragging her feet when it comes to LGBT representation, and denying us even an implied future relationship between Albus and Scorpius is just… frustrating. I could go on and on about the details of their relationship throughout the play and how the writing clearly indicates feelings between them, but others who know the text more thoroughly have already been there and done that.
Basically it all boils down to this: Jo is giving us an overload of information that we either don’t want or don’t care about and denying us the stuff that we do. Maybe she should have quit while she was ahead. Goodness knows the Potter fans have enough creativity to fill in their own blanks. I can only hope that as Pottermore and the Fantastic Beasts series continue to grow, maybe she can do better.