Always J. K. Rowling is happy to have author S.P. Sipal join us for this exclusive post which highlights her insights into Rowling’s writing style and how the Harry Potter books in particular have made their mark on modern literature. Sipal maintains the Harry Potter For Writers blog and has been a contributor to the Wizarding fandom for years, including appearances at both fan and academic conferences. Her popular book A Writer’s Guide To Harry Potter was recently re-released as an updated 5th anniversary edition, available in paperback and e-book from retailers everywhere. This fascinating guide, good for writers and curious readers, now includes Sipal’s insight on both the new play and the upcoming screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from a writer’s point of view. Enjoy this post and stay tuned for details on how you can win a copy of her guide along with a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!
Harry Potter: From Story to Myth
How One Woman’s Story Became a Generation’s Myth
Harry Potter started out as JK Rowling’s individual story. She conceived it, nurtured it, wrote it, submitted it for publication, and carefully revealed its mysteries for twenty-six years (having been inspired in 1990). Rowling is famous for having guarded the secrets of her world so tightly that her fans were surprised each time to read who lived, who died, and what Harry would have to do to defeat Voldemort.
But once a work is released into the wild, any author loses full control over their beloved newborn. We cannot regulate a reader’s opinion of our story, nor can we control how they reinterpret it and interact with it in their own way…as long as it remains legal.
Even with Rowling’s first concession of her wizarding world – when she accepted the film production deal – she still retained as much control as possible, more so than most authors faced with a film adaption. She insisted on a British cast, and though she may not have had contracted script approval in the early films, she definitely had script consultation.
Rowling achieved these concessions because she had clout. Fan clout. Almost since the inception of the series, her passionate readers engaged in innovative play with Harry and friends to heights rarely reached before in fandom. Fans flooded online forums as well as real world gatherings with fanfiction, fan art, wizard wrock, cosplay, and even musicals of their own creation.
Rowling encouraged her fans in these creative pursuits, such as with her earlier fansite award and praising fan parodies like “Dark Lord Funk,” while still retaining full control of her canon world. She even established Pottermore to self-publish her e-books while fully engaging her fans post-Potter (which, in retrospect, wasn’t exactly post).
But when a story creates such impact as Harry Potter, it achieves a life of its own and eventually outstrips the vision of the original author. From ancient myths that grew and varied as they spread across regions, to pseudo Shakespeare plays written to appeal to his fanbase, to the still popular parodies of Pride and Prejudice, stories that have deep emotional appeal last. Powerful stories, those that tap into the collective unconscious, have always been transformed by fans other than the original storyteller.
Thus, a story that has reached this mythic level loosens the reigns of one person’s control. Even myth makers of yore recognized the living essence of Story by allowing it to continuously grow and change. While the initial story may have been shaped by one individual, as it was recited orally from clan to clan and then village to village, new storytellers chimed in, adapting the emerging myth to accommodate the beliefs and times of the new audience.
Today, we have a similar transformation with comic books that continually add new characters and storylines written by fresh authors to adapt to changing times, and films that achieve such heights of popularity as Star Wars. The franchise even encourages the adaptions of its characters and plots through their licensing of books and comics from multiple authors. And, of course, fanfic has always embodied the transformative power of the fan’s engagement with the story.
For the first time with Potterdom, however, we have a new authorized story, a BOOK that is not written by the author herself. Rowling collaborated on the Cursed Child production, she may have written the original story the play is based on, and she likely read and approved every sentence of the script. But the script book we hold in our hands today, the one available to the public, was written by Jack Thorne. In reading it, you can tell the difference in style and tone from Rowling’s own work. Yet it is considered canon.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is thus a dramatic departure from everything that Rowling has released before. It is the first time she has sanctioned someone else in the creating of a new Potter story. Perhaps she is acknowledging that the baby she birthed and brought into this world has now achieved adulthood and seeks a life outside her home. We shall watch to see if it shall truly become a modern-day myth.
As in olden days, stories that made the jump to myth did so because they spoke to the shared dreams and universal truths across generations and cultures. By the evidence of fan passion and fan engagement from all ages and corners of the world, Harry Potter has definitely achieved mythic proportion. Now as his story is entering a new phase, of being retold by storytellers other than its author, we shall see if the Boy Who Lived will live eternally through generations to come as they spin their own versions of this contemporary myth.
S.P. Sipal is a writer, editor, and international speaker who has presented the material in A Writer’s Guide to Harry Potter for over a dozen years. Her writing workshops, school and college lessons, and numerous fan conference presentations have been met with enthusiasm and repeat requests. Having lived with her husband in his homeland of Turkey for several years, she is now back in North Carolina on their small farm with their two kids. You can find her on Twitter @HP4Writers, her website at SPSipal.com, and her blog at HarryPotterForWriters.com.