Monday, November 01, 2010

Should JK Rowling write another Harry Potter?

Novelist Naomi Alderman and children's writer Frank Cottrell Boyce debate whether another Harry Potter would be too much of a good thing

The Observer, Sunday 31 October 2010

NO – Naomi Alderman, novelist

Listen, JK. (You don't mind my calling you JK, do you?) Although we've never met, and you probably made more galleons and knuts last week than I expect to see in the next 10 years, you've always seemed approachable and honest, not the kind to stand on ceremony. Don't do it.

The thing is, Harry Potter's story is finished. He's defeated Voldemort. Friends have died, lessons have been learned, Draco Malfoy is all grown up with a child of his own, and Mrs Weasley said the word "bitch". It was beautiful. And now it's over.

I understand the temptation to revisit old triumphs. It feels dangerous to step away from ground where you know you've been successful. Imagine if you wrote something that wasn't quite as good! Or something that didn't capture the imagination in quite the same way. Well, what then? Creators all know that the most dangerous thing isn't to try and fail, it's to stagnate. Maybe not every new world or new set of stories you make will enjoy the huge success of Harry Potter – but a worse fate would be to keep on ploughing the same old furrow, not able to try anything new.

YES – Frank Cottrell Boyce, children's writer

It's not as if eight volumes is overkill is it? There are probably eight volumes of Victoria Beckham autobiography by now and when did she last face down a basilisk or foil an ogre?

It may seem a strange thing to say, given the unprecedented sales and the generation-defining excitement her books generated, but I think JK Rowling is vastly underrated. The scale of her success means that it's unfair trying to compare Harry Potter to any other book series. Even the most popular writer can usually find somewhere quiet to think about what happens next. Rowling wrote the last five Harry Potter books right in the middle of the Potter phenomenon, with fans and the media second guessing her next move everywhere she looked. It's hard enough to come up with something. To come with something that no one else has come up with – that's formidable. The only people who have been in that situation are the big, highly paid teams of writers and directors who work on franchises like Batman, Shrek, or Pirates of the Caribbean. Almost always they screw up. Ten minutes into the second Pirates of the Caribbean film, for instance, you knew it was dead. The people making it hadn't the slightest understanding of what made the first one so exciting.

Rowling on the other hand went off on her own, kept her nerve, refused to be distracted and somehow kept surprising and challenging us. The list of people who have managed to keep a character alive that long is very, very short. Anne of Green Gables for instance is, I think, a truly great novel. But does anyone read the other eight Anne books? Sherlock Holmes is probably the only real comparison but it's a telling one. What we want of Sherlock is more of the same. Sherlock himself never changes. Harry on the other hand is a rich, complex character who has – like his first audience – grown up.

Read the full debate at The Guardian.

No comments: