Last month, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered in print and on stage, picking up where we last left Harry Potter, as a middle-aged dad sending his son Albus off to school (Hogwarts, of course) for the first time. Earlier this week, J.K. Rowling announced she’ll be releasing Pottermore Presents, a trio of e-books that promise to delve further into the “dark side” of the wizarding world. One person likely celebrating that news is Dave Thier, who in 2011, lauded the ways the films embraced the dark melodrama that the books merely dabbled in. That, Thier writes, is how the movies succeeded more so than the books. “The Harry Potter books were not built on Rowling’s ability to craft a narrative,” he wrote. “They were built on her ability to craft a world.” As more parts of the Harry Potter story come into play, it will be interesting to see if that still holds true — or if things only get darker from here. Perhaps it’s best to prepare your Lumos charms now.
Seven years ago, the Harry Potter series seemed like it was going to be hard to put on screen. Rowling’s books were long, endlessly complicated, and full of things like butterbeer, grindylows, fizzing whizbees, and boggarts.
But early reviews of the eighth and final installation of the Harry Potter series are in, and the word is that director David Yates and his cast have managed a task with near impossible expectations, to the tune of a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It looks like the new movie, like the rest in the series, hasn’t just managed to yank a couple more million out of some blockbuster novels. It’s been able to take the Harry Potter story and turn it into the epic Rowling couldn’t manage.
It's rare that the movie actually fixes problems from the book, but in this case the simplicity and narrative drive of a Hollywood script was just what the series called for.
The basic story in Harry Potter is an old one, and a good one. The boy of destiny is plucked from ordinary circumstances and becomes incredulous when he’s told the truth behind his real identity. Some training, trials, and a crisis of self-confidence later, he emerges as the true hero ready to defeat ultimate evil.
But the Harry Potter books were not built on Rowling’s ability to craft a narrative. They were built on her ability to craft a world. The most memorable moments were never plot developments, but rather things like the introduction of Hogsmeade, the Quidditch World Cup, or the first reveal of Diagon Alley.
Rowling’s writing had that endlessly obsessive quality required of a true world builder, but her storytelling couldn’t stack up to her setting. With every book from three on, she talked about how the stories were getting “darker.” But while “darker” things happened—some characters died, terrible monsters appeared, and schoolyard quarrels evolved into wars of racial purification—the tone could never quite catch up to the circumstances.