I went and caught the last “Harry Potter” movie (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) the other night. I don’t really need to review it since everyone knows whether they’re into JK Rowling’s books or the movies that Warner Brothers made out of that series or not. Given the box office results, I’d say that there’s a devoted legion of them out there. All the same, I felt that, by itself, it was extremely weak. Splitting this movie in half will allow it to make more money but, unless you are willing to sit down for a 4+ hour “Deathly Hallows” marathon, this doesn’t make as much sense and relies entirely on your feelings for the franchise to connect with you. If you bring all your “Potter” experience in, you’ll have a blast. But that’s not what I wanted to discuss.
A few weeks back, there was an announcement on Rowling’s website of a new website that would debut called “Pottermore.” It ended up being a website that would sell the books in audio and electronic format along with an encyclopedia of facts and a forum for fans of her work to connect. But for a brief time, the fear/wish/hope of many was that it would be a sign of more “Harry Potter” books from Rowling, who has not released a book since “Deathly Hallows” was released in 2009. It’s not like she needs to ever write again. Rowling has become the richest woman in England and one of the most successful authors of all time based on her series of children/young adult wizard novels. She can spend her days in comfort and luxury and never pen another word and know that her place in the literary world is secure.
Obviously, there’s an attraction for many to keep the adventures of Harry Potter and his friends going. They’re a pleasant exercise, with comfortable surroundings and well-known friends. It’s a world where the streets are well-travelled and the audience knows the sign posts.
And that’s why Rowling should never do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the “Harry Potter” series. I get why it’s so popular. Rowling took the traditional “Hero’s Journey” and combined it with a coming of age tale that grew and expanded as it went. She built a world that combined all the old myths, legends and traditions and made them accessible to a new audience. Most importantly, she made her heroes’ growth mirror that of her audience’s. As Harry, Ron and Hermione awoke to the larger world around her, so did her audience too. By the time “Deathly Hallows” rolls around, the kids are aware that the grown-ups don’t have all the answers and that they must share the burden and responsibility of making their world a better place. And they have accepted it.
But all of that is built towards a key point in the movie. Joseph Campbell called it the “Atonement Stage.” It’s the moment where the hero is allowed to see the totality of the plan that’s been guiding him. Everything has built up to this moment and everything that follows descends from this moment. For Harry, this occurs when he takes the dying memories of Snape into the Pensieve and is allowed to see how he’s become a horcrux of Lord Voldemort. In there Harry finds that truth behind the night when his parents died and how the kind old Albus Dumbledore has been holding onto him to prepare him for when he should be killed by Voldemort.
This is the moment that all heroes’ travels take them to. It’s when the decision is made to be more than what they are – to live and die for something greater than themselves. Luke Skywalker does this when he throws his lightsaber away and spares Darth Vader’s life. Frodo Baggins reaches this when he steps forward to bear the Ring to Mount Doom. For Harry, this moment comes when he walks into the Enchanted Forest, faces Voldemort and willingly allows his death to happen.
(Aside: the step after “Atonement” is “Apotheosis”. It’s a period of rest – maybe even a period when the hero dies – where the hero is allowed to feel compassion, bliss and love. Sound like a moment you saw in the movie?)
Here’s my point: you can’t duplicate this. Yes, I know it’s easy to write another “super-evil, death-defying, all-powerful monster madman” that Harry can rise to defeat again. But you wouldn’t want to. For one it would cheapen the story that came before. JRR Tolkien tried for years to write a sequel to “The Lord of the Rings.” He couldn’t. Where do you go after your heroes have defeated ultimate evil?
Look at what’s happened to the “Star Wars” merchandising empire. Series after series of books, comics, games, TV shows and the prequels that all fall short of the three original movies that were released in the 70s-80s. Why? Because they keep repeating, rehashing, remaking and re-adapting the same scenario as laid down by the first three movies. A band of rogues versus a powerful evil villain. A super-weapon or two. Everything in the universe coming down to a hero versus a villain wielding lightsabers against one another. In the years since the movies, the people in charge have given kids to all the major characters, had the kids suffer and fall onto the dark side and been killed or tortured. Do you really want to see Harry battling his eldest son when he decides he wants to be the next Chosen One/Voldemort?
So you say “Maybe Harry Potter doesn’t need to fight some super-villain like Voldemort! Maybe we can just follow him as he grows up and becomes an Auror (a dark wizard tracker/fighter)! Plenty of excitement happening there!” But can that suffice? What new lessons can be learned from this point on? We know the heroes will pick the side of good. Do we need to see them do it again and again? At what point does it become parody?
The great thing about “Deathly Hallows” is that it allows the story a perfect way to bow out. The characters have faced their demons and come out the other side better for it. The world they were born onto is not the one that they have helped make – it’s gone and replaced by a better one. Isn’t that the best lesson to impart on a young audience: Stay strong, bear the difficulties of life, face the darkness around you, struggle to improve the world around you and good things will happen?
Yes, no story is ever truly over. But if we keep stretching the story over and over, then we rob that ending of its power. The sacrifices are robbed of their meaning. The tale becomes less interesting. Is that really what you want?