It’s happening, and it’s all over the internet!
According to some reliable and some notoriously unreliable sources alike, the stage play will be a collaboration between mega-author J.K. Rowling and theater busybody Jack Thorne. It will open on West End in 2016. But, we don’t know much about it yet. The show’s official website currently features write-ups on the creative team, concluded by a bio of musician Imogen Heaps, who we can assume will be involved in some way.
The play will be an account of “what happened to Harry’s parents — Lily Evans Potter and James Potter — before they were killed by Lord Voldemort, forcing an infant Harry to be raised in miserable circumstances by his mother’s sister, Petunia, her horrid husband Vernon and their spoiled son Dudley” (The Daily Mail), but Queen Rowling herself has stated on twitter that the show will not be a prequel. To many, myself included, this seems like a huge contradiction. I mean, if the Harry Potter series starts eleven years after the deaths of Lily and James . . . it only makes sense that a play about them would be considered a prequel. My main concern is the inevitably emotional content this subject will bring back to the surface. Rowling is opening a huge can of worms in re-opening the Harry Potter storyline, and there will be some very unhappy fans because of it. Which brings me to my next point. Kate Erbland of filmschoolrejects.com writes:
At a certain point, popular pieces of culture cease to “belong” (not, like, legally) to their original creator. Or, at least, it can feel that way. Harry Potter is so huge, so beloved, so essential, that it seems simply bigger than Rowling’s — extremely big — imagination. It’s taken on a life of its own, but Rowling still maintains a special kind of control over it, one that she’s continually used to expand the series’ universe. The results aren’t always great, and they’re definitely not necessary.
There’s not much that can be argued against this set of statements. We saw it with Buffy and Whedon years ago – Buffy the television series continued on in the form of a comic book series, executively overseen by Whedon himself. This offered “canon” material in fans who wanted to see what was next for Buffy and her friends, but was also a drop-off point for fans who were content with the end of the television show. It certainly wasn’t necessary, but we need to be careful when we use that word to talk about creative endeavors.
Clearly in this case, J. K. Rowling feels like she still has stories to tell about Potter, and that she is dedicated to putting out into the world. When series switch media like this, their stories and characters are opened up to so many more creative possibilities. They become more appealing to a certain group of people – fans of live theater – while inevitably becoming less appealing to another group – traditionalists who think that the Harry Potter franchise will somehow be cheapened by this expansion, or another expansion such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
For Buffy, this transmedia story model worked – at least in my opinion. And it’s still working – Buffy’s story continues in comics to this day. There are a number of factors which contributed to that success, some of which are similar to what we see in the Harry Potter fandom right now. Other factors, of course, are very different. So, who knows if the new Potter play will actually expand the world that exists in the books? No one, yet. Erbland ends her article by saying that we shouldn’t hesitate to ignore the hype if the stage play does not appeal to us as fans, “(unless everyone says it’s good, and then…).”
In other words: to some, it only matters if it’s good. For many, “good” will mean a faithful companion to the books, for others, it will have any combination of different meanings. But will Harry Potter go the way of Buffy and become a fandom-immortal, constantly evolving story? Only time will tell.
The trans-media process is a bit like creating portals or doors to new worlds. You get to the end of one story (like for example, the Potter books), and eventually come across a door into a new story. You can either stay where you are in the story and be content with the closure, or you can choose to go through that door into a more ancillary storyline. And if you don’t like that ancillary storyline, you’re free to go right back to the old world.
I also want to just say, that many people seem concerned that their own interpretations of the books and their characters will be challenged by “The Cursed Child.” But who says they have to? Seriously, just because Rowling is messing with the traditional rules of storytelling does not mean that your own reactions and initial readings of the series are any less valid. That’s what fandom is all about: discussing and analyzing material intelligently from the beginning. Maybe your opinions will change after the debut of this play, but no one is taking away your fanfiction.