The Christmas break seems a particularly good time to enjoy those very long texts one has never time for. In this occasion we have chosen to see the complete Harry Potter film series, the whole eight movies in a row and in just five days. My partner had previously stopped at number four (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), finding details hard to remember from one film to the other, and I at number five (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), disappointed with the hurried pace and the low emotional intensity (particularly in relation to Sirius Black’s fate). I forget to mention my partner has not read the seven volumes. I have. Twice…
Seeing the films is for me work rather than just leisure, as I have always wanted to teach an elective subject about Rowling’s series (published between 1997 and 2007). Yet, this is already 2013 (tomorrow) and I wonder whether by the time I manage to programme that elective, say in two years time, there will be any student left who remembers Harry Potter. I hope so. I know that fantasy readers’ interest is now focused on George R. R. Martin’s exciting series A Song of Ice and Fire but, to be honest, I haven’t started reading it yet out of a concern that ageing Martin might die before the promised final volume materialises (I have seen season 1 of the TV adaptation, though, and enjoyed it very much).
The academic interest in Rowling’s series, by the way, has not yet peaked out. MLA mentions 442 sources, with 57 entries for 2003 in comparison with just 7 for 2012 (obviously, not yet completed; there are 32 publications for 2011). Um, this quite surprises me, as I assumed that interest would be ebbing by now; then, of course, academic publishing moves slowly and the original child readers are now becoming young academics. I myself, not in that category at all, have not yet written my Harry Potter essay, started a few years ago and still waiting to be finished, quite daunted by the massive bibliography.
Back to the films, I must say that the experience of seeing them one after another is much better than seeing them on their own (except that plot holes are more conspicuous). I think that this adaptation is quite a prodigy in terms of production design: I keep on telling myself ‘yes, that’s exactly so.’ Also in terms of casting, to the point that I’m beginning to wonder whether Rowling had particular British actors in mind when writing a character (yes, I know that Ian McKellen should have been Dumbledore instead of Richard Harris but he had already been chosen to play Gandalf; also, it’s obvious that Michael Gambon is not Harris, whom he replaced as Dumbledore when poor Harris died). It’s quite funny, of course, to see the younger members of the cast grow from one film to the next one but this adds to the charm of the series.
The pity is that it’s just a superficial charm. Non-readers, as I see from my partners’ reactions, remain quite untouched by it, as it operates on the basis of reader’s recognition of the books’ content. When I consider certain scenes from his point of view, even I wonder what all that fuss was about… This is, in the end, a reminder that literature (yes, I said literature) cannot be replaced by any other media. What makes Rowling’s series memorable is the gusto she tells her story with. The story is dark to a point few parents of young readers realise but also absolutely gripping in Rownling’s ability to mirror how a growing child like Harry feels. A child in great danger, persecuted by a truly hideous villain.
Yes, I know how this ends: with me returning to the print volumes a third time around. It might even become a regular habit. I very much doubt that Rowling’s first adult novel, An Unexpected Vacancy (2012) can generate so much pleasure.