Let's talk PotterAnyone who spends significant time around me knows that I love all things Harry Potter, particularly Hermione Granger, who represents all my hopes and dreams for myself. I have been to the Wizarding World theme park, the midnight movie releases, and my personal record for speed-reading is having completed the final book in 14 hours. I am a regular listener of the terrific podcast, MuggleCast. I own a Time Turner. I listen to the audiobooks when I can't sleep.
If you follow any news about the fandom, you might have heard that there are two important projects happening right now in [Queen] J.K. Rowling's world; for one, she has written and is releasing a prequel (about 80 years prior) to Harry's story, which follows the author of one of his textbook's Newt Scamander. The film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be released next November, and I have complete faith in JKR and her team, which includes of lots of HP alumni on the production side.
The second project is a play, opening in London next summer. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child takes place after the closing epilogue of the the HP books, and focuses on Harry and his middle son, Albus Severus. My excitement for Fantastic Beasts has not been matched by this play, as much as I have tried to be excited about a new creation from JKR. I've tried to figure out why my enthusiasm is having trouble getting off the ground.
- One of the best things about the Harry Potter books is the fact that they are so accessible. Books are so basic - they don't require you to travel or have special equipment. If you don't have the money for a book, you can usually get it for free through a public library. Books don't ask much of us - and we receive so much in return.
- Not counting the editors, books are really an interaction between the author and the reader. It's intimate and personal - and there is no one else around to screw things up. A film on the other hand, is dependent on many more variables: the budget, the author's involvement, the available technology, and most importantly, the skills of the actors. Let's remember (and then immediately forget) the hot mess that is Michael Gambon's attempt at portraying Dumbledore.
- Perhaps the thought of a play is concerning to me because I have not always loved the translation of book to film, and theater seems to invite even more fluidity to the Wizarding World. The theater has undeniable merits - the vivid experience, the vulnerability, the aliveness. Going to the theater is a rare and singular treat, and that fact is exactly what causes me to question the stage as an appropriate venue for Harry's world. Every performance, no matter how skilled the actors are, will have its subtle differences. Those fans who are fortunate (read: wealthy) enough to access this piece of the canon will have something that the rest of us can't share.
Regardless of the content of this play, I'm still struggling with the fact that this piece of canon will be released in a less accessible medium. It's similar to the argument that Mugglecaster Selina Wilken makes in favor of a printed, definitive encyclopedia as a opposed to articles on Pottermore and random bits of information on JKR's Twitter feed:
"An officially published encyclopedia would be an edited, indexed, bound, solid, unalterable reference guide to expand the Wizarding World, filling in backstories, adding dates and names to this universe and making it feel more real and tangible. Pottermore and J.K. Rowling’s tweets, by contrast, don’t feel like expansions of the world, but rather like they’re limiting my own interpretations of it."
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So why am I excited for a prequel, but not a sequel? I think it comes down to the fact that one (Fantastic Beasts) is introducing an almost entirely new cast, and the other (Cursed Child) is building on character portrayals that we adore already - and are pretty protective of.
This week, the names of the three actors playing our new Harry, Ron, and Hermione were released. The internet is abuzz because the actress playing Hermione is a Noma Dumezweni, a black actress. I want to be clear that despite my reservations about telling this story as a play, I think that this decision to cast Hermione as a woman of color is beautiful and important. The deeper meaning and merit of this decision is explained really well in this Buzzfeed article - it's just awesome. Hypable also counters a lot of the stupid arguments against racebending this amazing character (who, by the way, is NEVER described as a particular race in the books). In a way, this change from the films might help alleviate one of Selina Wilken's complaints that new information about the world stifles our fantasies; a black Hermione validates the imaginations of many fans. JKR is suggesting that there are multiple interpretations of her canon.
I actually am coming to terms with this play's existence, thanks to a concept from my 415 Information Organization class - yes, the semester is over and I have retained something. I started thinking about the play in terms of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), which is a conceptual model for relating information sources. The most memorable aspect for me was the idea of [Group One] entities: work, expression, manifestation, and item. In a normal model, a work would be Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; an expression, or the intellectual realization, would be the text in its American English translation; the manifestation would be its physical embodiment (print book published in 1999), and the item would be the singular copy that I have on my shelf at home, with my name written in the cover.
The way that I can rationalize this play is by thinking about the FRBR entities and their relationships. What if, rather than Prisoner of Azkaban being the work, we think about the entire world of Harry Potter at the work level? Beneath that, we could imagine that everything JK Rowling creates is an expression of that work. Book Hermione, Emma Watson's Hermione, and Noma Dumezweni's Hermione are related conceptually, not chronologically.
Clearly I am abandoning FRBR, but this is what I picture as a conceptual model:
- W1: Wizarding World
- E1: Hermione Jean Granger
- M1; as written by JKR in the books
- M2: as portrayed by Emma Watson in WB films
- M3: as portrayed by Noma Dumezweni in Cursed Child
- M4: as portrayed by Lindsey Lohan on SNL
- M5: as portrayed by Bonnie Gruesen in A Very Potter Musical, A Very Potter Sequel
- M6: as portrayed by Meredith Stepien in A Very Potter Senior Year
- M7: as portrayed by Potter Puppet Pals
Ultimately, having Hermione as someone who looks so different alleviates my concerns that this play would be an inadequate attempt at continuing the trio we already know. This Hermione, and this story, will be a new and original manifestation of the fantastic expression that exists only in JKR's world. Just because Emma's version of Hermione was so lovable does not mean that she is our only Hermione; in fact, fans have imagined her as a woman of color for years. I am so grateful to JKR for leaving Hermione's physical description, other than her bushy hair and big teeth, open to interpretation; Hermione's most important trait has always been her intelligence and resourcefulness, and all women should be able to see themselves in her. We are all Hermione.
Noma Dumezweni can and should create her own vision of Hermione Jean Granger, and, if the play ever comes to the States, I am excited to watch.