Why J.K. Rowling Should Stop Amending The Harry Potter Books

j.k.rowling harry potter

For those of you who aren’t aware (anyone who’s been living in a cave for about 20 years), J. K. Rowling, one of the world’s most famous living authors and creator of the Harry Potter franchise, has made yet another amendment to her original books.

The initial series spanned seven books, which are among the best children’s fiction ever written, in my humble opinion. They grow with their readers and offer them a unique glimpse into a magical world where you can be pretty much anything you want with a little bit of courage, a lot of determination and a big dash of kindness. Rowling’s hero and his friends overcome adversity whilst at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where they are learning magic.

Thanks to the international appeal of the series, and the pretty much all-round failure of her other ventures, Rowling has continued, over the years, to add to her books and work hard to keep them in the public consciousness. As part of this she set up Pottermore, a website where fans converge and read new short stories, essays and insight into their beloved childhood characters.

However, she has been using the site, and her social media platforms, over recent years to add increasingly outlandish and maddening details to her books. For example, she recently said that before the introduction of Muggle plumbing wizards would simply relieve themselves where they stood and then magically vanish the evidence.

Most recently she has claimed that Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay and in a deeply passionate relationship with a dark wizard barely mentioned in the books, but whose character has developed as a result of her new franchise Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which was also devised to keep the Harry Potter universe current and brining in money. The idea of the character being gay has been mentioned before, but now sexuality is also bought into play with the notion of a ‘passionate’ relationship.

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that I don’t believe fully subscribe to the notion that ‘the author is dead’, however I do think that Rowling needs to leave her creations alone. Although she devised the world and wrote the books, they belong to everyone now, and they are deeply entwined with many childhood memories that she is trampling on by constantly embellishing her work over two decades after she first published it.

Another issue I take with her changes to her books is the fact that she is clearly trying to add inclusivity, presumably to bring them up to today’s standards. The fact is, the Harry Potter books were progressive for their time, with a lot of female characters revoking traditional stereotypes, and many differently-abled characters proving that anyone can stand up for what’s right. Despite this, she has felt the need to change this since the publication of her books, for example when she declared that one of her protagonists Hermione could have been black, despite the fact that she is described as pale throughout the books.

Rowling’s most recent revelation, that Dumbledore was gay, comes despite the fact that the character does not have any sexual relationships with any other characters, either male or female, throughout the books. As such, whilst the addition of a gay character into the books would have been really great, the fact that Rowling drops this information after her books are published and popular allows her to seem to progressive but not actually address this in her work.

Alongside the new films in the latest spin-off franchise, merchandise is another key area in which Rowling continues to make money from the Harry Potter series. I recently wrote a post about the issues this poses and why I feel like it doesn’t encourage more people to read, and as such I feel, perhaps a little cynically, that it is simply a money spinning exercise. I understand the need to earn a crust, but I personally feel like it cheapens the books themselves, which were beloved by so many and are a key part of a whole generation’s childhoods.

At the end of the day, Rowling doesn’t need to enhance her books any further; the series is already a worldwide hit. What she should do now is sit back and let her readers carry on her legacy by using their own imaginations to do the work rather than tainting it by constantly adding to it. Also, in a literature and film market saturated with remakes, sequels, prequels and a general lack of imagination, it would be great if Rowling could use her considerable literary talents to create something completely new and inspiring to rival Harry Potter rather than just constantly going back to it. Her detective series and standalone works have not been successful so far, but there is so much more she could do, and perhaps a return to children’s writing in a new series with a new idea could bring back the magic to her work.


The Beauty Of Re-Reading Old Favourites

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Recently a friend and I got into a conversation about re-reading books. She is adamant that, with so many new and exciting books in the world, there is no point in revisiting an old one when you can check out something new and exciting.

My own opinion, however, is pretty much the exact opposite. Whilst I love reading new books and discovering something completely unexpected, I feel there is definitely some to be said about re-reading books you particularly like or ones you don’t think you fully understood or appreciated on the first go.

After all, you can pick up nuances in the text which you didn’t notice the first time. Also, I personally can’t remember books I read years ago in great detail, so re-reading is a great way to reconnect with books whose beauty and majesty I’ve forgotten.

For those who struggle to finish books they don’t like or simply can’t connect with for whatever reason, re-reading can be great as you know you’re going to definitely make it through and enjoy the book. I often get the same way with films; on some weekends when I’m busy and I only have a couple of hours to watch some TV before going out I tend to re-watch something rather than check out something new as I know I’ll love the film I’ve already seen, whereas I might not like my new choice. I know I’ll be able to check the new film out when I have more time, but when I’ve only got a set number of hours I tend to focus on making sure I definitely enjoy myself. Sometimes it’s the same with books, and that’s OK.

Personally I try to revisit certain books, such as Pride and Prejudice and Colin Dexter’s best novel The Way Through The Woods at least once a year if I have chance, whilst at the same time making sure that I read new books afterwards and before so that I get a good mix of new surprises and old favourites. There’s nothing wrong with re-reading books and frankly, as long as you’re reading anything then you’re doing great in my book.

Memoirs: The Truth Is Often Stranger Than Fiction

Michelle obama becoming

For Christmas, as some of my regular readers may know, I received Michelle Obama’s amazing memoir Becoming, which I only got around to reading recently. The book is spectacular in every way, detailing in elegant prose her personal rise from Chicago kid to hotshot city Lawyer, right the way through to becoming a pioneering First Lady of the United States of America.

Many of the passages in the book are truly incredible, including her detailed description of the presidential motorcade, which is something I cannot get over. The book got me thinking about how I need to read more memoirs and autobiographies; after all, some stories just cannot be made up.

Previously, I had only really read the autobiographies of comedians, and that of Dick Van Dyke (he met my nan so I wanted to know if she got a mention), mostly for the funny anecdotes and when I simply needed to read something that wasn’t crime fiction for a bit. However, over recent months I have begun to see the value in reading more non-fiction, in particular memoirs.

The same is true of my viewing habits; as previously I only watched films or TV series, with the occasional reality TV show (usually involving food) thrown in. My favourite genres are fantasy, thriller and crime, as I really love to escape reality and delve into something make-believe. However, recently I have been checking out a few documentaries on various topics, including an awesome one on Netflix about Canadian cat shows, and, on the other end of the spectrum, the disturbing true crime documentary Abducted in Plain Sight.

Viewing these documentaries and delving into Michelle Obama’s exceptional book have shown me that there is something in reading beyond my traditional scope, which is something I have been keen to rectify for a while now, and have even made into my New Years Resolution for 2019.

With this new focus in mind, I have a couple of great blog tour reviews coming up which are getting me reading some books that are out of my comfort zone but definitely well within my sphere of interest. The first is Rose McGowan’s memoir Brave, which I am incredibly excited to read as I am a massive fan of her ideas and her fierce commentary on how women are treated in today’s society. The second is A Perfect Explanation, a really awesome fictionalised account of the life of Enid Campbell, granddaughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll by Eleanor Anstruther. Both blog tour posts are coming in March, Brave on the 8th and A Perfect Explanation on the 11th, alongside The Widening Gyre by Michael R. Johnston, so watch this space!

Merchandising Literature: Have We Gone Too Far?

Harry Potter Merchandise

At my day job (sadly I don’t get to review books all day, but there’s booze on the last Friday of the month so it’s still pretty decent) I sit next to a fabulous colleague who is obsessed with superhero movies. As a result, her desk is literally covered in Funko Pop vinyl figures, pictures and a range of other memorabilia.

One day, I decided to hit back, and went out to get myself a Funko Pop figurine. I’d literally never heard of them before the day my colleague decamped from her previous desk and moved her menagerie next to me. I’m not a big one on superheroes, so I decided that, since I’d recently been re-watching the Harry Potter films and was about to re-read the books, of which I had been a super fan as a kid, and remain in love with, that I’d get myself a Ginny Weasley one. She’s my favourite character in the books- my other colleague says she’s not cute but I don’t listen to her. I was utterly astonished, on entering the shop, by how many figurines there were, and also how many Lego sets, toys and posters there were for various book series as well as TV shows, films and even singers.

Despite this, I don’t personally believe that the merchandise is making people want to read. I’ve already written about why I think we should ignore the hype and marketing and focus on the Harry Potter books in a previous post, and I stand by that sentiment, as in my opinion the merchandise does nothing to encourage reading, and simply lines the pockets for whoever has the trademarks for the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Hunger Games characters, or the symbols and ideas from any number of books or series that people get obsessed with today.

My housemate, for example, is a big fan of the Harry Potter films, and enjoys playing the games on consoles and even has a house mug, but when I offered to lend him a copy of the first book after he confessed to never having read them, his reply was that he “doesn’t read books”. The same goes for another friend, who adores the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films but wouldn’t ever even think about reading them.

Fandoms, often online spaces where fans get together, can be great, as they encourage the reading of fan fiction and related articles, which drive fans of movies, TV shows and book series alike to read more. Reading more, of any form of literature, is vital for improving literacy and helping empower people to make informed decisions.

However, the merchandising that often comes about as a result of such fandoms just acts a marketing tool for firms to sell kids endless stuff. I understand that this is the marketing firm’s jobs, and that without the selling of this merchandise many films and books would be impossible to fund, but for the most part it does little or no good, in my opinion, to create obsession in books and films.

Instead, I think that writers should strive towards a greater focus on fan fiction, supporting readers to use their characters to craft their own stories. I myself got into writing initially by writing Henning Mankell fan fiction when I was younger, and it’s a great gateway into further reading and writing. It’s also not a field of endeavour that pays well, if at all, and as such it’s not often taken up by or encouraged by writers, but it should be, less as a means of making an actual living, and more as a way of honing the craft.

After all, bits of plastic, toys and posters aren’t going to stimulate fans intellectually, but writing and using an author’s creations to their own ends will. It also might just get them into reading more books by the same author, or by their contemporaries, which is never a bad thing.

Crime Fiction: It’s Not All About Sequence

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When reading detective stories, or any kind of series featuring a recurring character or characters, it seems sensible to start from the beginning and work towards the end. But does it have to be that way?

This idea came into my mind recently when I was talking to a friend about lending her books for her holiday. She is going snowboarding and has a lot of gear to take on a small luggage allowance, and as such I was thinking of small, short books I could lend her (spoiler alert: she said no to all my mad offers).

I was desperately scouring my brain for short books, but the majority were Maigret novels (Simenon’s books are all around 200 pages in length), but I suddenly thought that she had never read the first in the series. Which got me thinking: is that really necessary?

After all, most crime fiction novels, whilst following a certain pattern with regards to characterisation, usually have stand-alone plots, and as such it doesn’t make sense that people feel the need to read them in order. Also, feeling the need to read books in a set order may put people off: for example, there are around 75 Maigret novels, and if you read them in order it would take you ages to get to a specific book you might have started specifically for. I myself haven’t read them in order and have lost no understanding or enjoyment because of it.

Another series I didn’t read in order was the Frank Merlin series by Mark Ellis, an exceptional historical crime series set in London. I actually read the third book, Merlin At War, first for a review, and loved it so much I went on Amazon and immediately ordered the first and second to fulfil my love for this dogged, roguish yet honourable detective. Had I felt the need to stick rigidly to the series I probably wouldn’t have bothered reviewing the third book and simply left the lot alone, which would have been a real shame.

In all, I think that whilst it is often advisable to start at the beginning, it doesn’t have to become your mantra. You can always go back to the start if you feel the need, but at the end of the day don’t restrict your reading for anything, not even the sense of order you feel when you read a series in sequence (I still remember finishing the Harry Potter books in sequence and feeling incredibly triumphant). Reading should always be a pleasure, not a chore, so you do you, and try to read as widely as possible!

Got The Cold Weather Blues? Great Books To Cheer You Up

cold reading

You may or may not have noticed, but pretty much everywhere it is freezing. And I mean proper cold, where even the air seems to be frozen. In the UK some lucky buggers even got snow (not the Midlands though, sadly).

For the sensible among you are tucked up safe and warm now is a great time to get some good reading in and power through some of the books you were given for Christmas but haven’t got round to yet.

If you’ve already powered through your Christmas present books, or just fancy a trip to your local bookshop, there are some great options to get you through this cold snap. You may have already seen my Top Five Books To Get You Through The Cold Weather, but alongside the classics there are some great new books on offer.

One book I would definitely recommend is reading Becoming by Michelle Obama. Whilst not everyone agrees with her husband’s policies or politics, it’s safe to say this is one of 2018’s greatest publications, and with millions of copies sold over Christmas it’s definitely a must-read. Normal People by Sally Rooney is a great new fiction book, which encompasses the rich tapestry of life and condenses it into an extraordinary love story.

For those who enjoy a classic but don’t fancy re-reading, there are plenty of authors reimaging old favourites, such as Sophie Hannah’s collection of Poirot novels or Ben Schott’s new Jeeves and Wooster novel Jeeves And The King Of Clubs.

Rereading is, on occasion, a good thing, and with a sequel coming up now is also a great time to revisits Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you’re into fantasy, there’s also a new George R.R. Martin novel out, Fire and Blood, which is another timely choice as the new series of Games of Thrones is due to air in April. There’s also the screenplay to The Crimes of Grindelwald if you’re a Harry Potter fan. I recently treated myself to The Cursed Child play script and was incredibly impressed, so Potter fans should definitely check it out if you haven’t already.

In all, there’s loads of new books out there and plenty of classics to keep you going through the cold snap right through to summer, when you can laze around on a beach reading instead of having to snuggle up in a blanket at home!