“Harry Potter” and the never-ending universe expansion

BY RILEY GUERRERO '20

More than just a children’s story, the “Harry Potter” series became synonymous with childhood itself for many people around the world. I remember when I unwrapped the seventh book on Christmas nine years ago, my heart racing with anxiety over what I was sure was the final chapter and my last glimpse into the magical wizarding world.

Oh, how wrong I was.

J. K. Rowling recently announced that there will be five movies coming out in the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series. The movies are not the Marauders-based prequels some fans had been hoping for, nor are they sequels to the existing series, but instead are simply set in the same universe.

This upcoming blockbuster release is partnered with “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a play that has a tedious relationship with the official canon content, and that has largely been taken as more of an insult to fans than a much-desired epilogue expansion. It also has been met with a Pottermore.com expansion to the wizarding world, with the introduction of the new school of Ilvermorny, which features four new houses that borrows extensively, and often disrespectfully, from Native American legends and lore. Ilvermorny is also an addition to the seven wizarding schools “scattered” across the globe, but primarily scattered across Europe. In fact, despite the entire continent’s relatively low population compared to, say, Asia and Africa, Europe itself has three wizarding schools. The continents of Africa and Asia each only have one school, despite their diversity of cultures, languages and far longer histories of organized civilizations.

The ahistorical, now-obvious allegories of “Harry Potter” made sense when the series came out, when many of us were too young to know about imperialism and the depths of racism. But with the primary fanbase of Harry Potter now getting jobs, college educations and some higher standards for suspension of disbelief, Rowling’s consistent effort to keep churning out material to keep us engaged is severely curtailed by that same material’s depth. Even when I was nine, I thought there were hundreds of wizarding schools across the world, and with the write-ups for the seven currently in the HP universe, I think even as a fourth grader I would have had some serious questions.  With Rowling’s new additions to the universe, she swallowed the metaphorical unicorn blood she herself invented: “Harry Potter” lives on after it has long since stagnated, but it lives a half-life, a cursed life — it’s now a mere shadow of what it once was.

Though “Harry Potter” will always be a part of many of our lives, I personally feel the need to reassure J.K. Rowling that it doesn’t have to be an ongoing part of my life. The only thing that can dampen my enjoyment of the series is, ironically, the additions to it. Instead of being able to place its oftentimes lacking representation into the vague category of “I read it when I was too young to know X was an issue,” as adult fans, we’re forced to qualify Rowling’s writing, come up with explanations in her place and inevitably add so many disclaimers to our enjoyment of the series that it’s barely worth talking about as the counts of racism, bigotry and false representation keep compiling ever-higher. 

This series gave me my first solid taste of fantasy and of being a true fan of a piece. It connected me to people in my school, around my state and all over the world with a shared experience and in a common language of a passion for magic and all things beyond our understanding. Am I still a fan of “Harry Potter?” Always. But I believe in what it used to be: A conceptually brilliant work that put children’s literature on the map, not in this new, ever expanding, yet ever shrinking, fragment of the soul it once had.

Mount Holyoke News

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