The chatter-plex is rife with discussion about JK Rowling’s latest project: a prequel to Harry Potter. As we are all aware, Rowling has had nothing but hit after hit since writing the extremely profitable Harry Potter series, writing… um… The Casual Vacancy, an article for The Times, and some psuedonymous works. Oh, and a bunch of Harry Potter tie-in stuff.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to hear that Rowling is writing more Harry Potter tie-in stuff. All the great artists go back to revisit their most profitable franchises. Homer felt that there were more adventures to tell after The Iliad and so wrote the chick-flick novel, The Odyssey. St Luke felt that we needed to know more of the stories about the people who knew the Christ and so followed up his best-selling Gospel with Acts of the Apostles. And, of course, George Lucas followed up his Indiana Jones trilogy with Willow.
Speaking of George Lucas, it takes a particular kind of money-supported courage to return to your most popular franchise to write a prequel. Lucas knew what his fans wanted: a blow-by-blow account of how Anakin Skywalker went from being a plucky young ten-year old to being the cyborg Dark Lord we met in The Trilogy. But Lucas went there, Jar-Jar Binks and all, just to prove how much disposable income Star Wars fans have.
And now Rowling is heading down the same path. Everybody here at OnlyTheSangfroid.WordPress.com wish her fans the very best of luck, and I look forward to hearing about all the hilarious ways people spoil the books for you.
Here are my three reasons why we don’t need Harry Potter prequels:
1. Harry Potter is shit: the plot is stupid and JK Rowling can’t write
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that people are stupid for enjoying the Harry Potter series (even though I could have said that because it’s an accurate thing to say), but the Harry Potter series is emblematic of the cancer that’s destroying literacy. Everybody has a novel inside them, we’re told, and the value of your literature is what the market will pay for it. The novels are constructed badly, and several are in desperate need of a real edit. The writing is sloppy, lazily deployed to convey information about the ‘plot’ without inspiring anything more meaningful.
Try this a different way. Think of some of the great novels in English, and then think of the key quotes that were so sharp, so clever, and so brilliant that they enriched the story without necessarily conveying much about the story. There’s none of that in Harry Potter. I read three of the novels and, despite having one of the sharpest memories I know, I struggle to remember any quotes that weren’t people stating some fact. ‘You’re a wizard, Harry.’ I remember ‘Harry thought about’ appearing far too often than it should have, and the death of Sirius Black being such an anti-climactic nothing, but no phrases that fill the air with the joy of Rowling.
The plot relies on having unbearably stupid characters who act contrary to their own interests in order to advance the story. With the exception of Harry, the characters lack inertia. ‘What were you doing all this time, Dobby?’ ‘Oh, I was just waiting out of scene until I’d be needed again for this part of the plot.’ ‘Goodo.’ The net result is that characters constantly repeat old errors (especially Dumbledore), and obvious solutions to problems from the characters’ past are forgotten (most notably, the funking time-turner).
2. We are bad at prequels
What should a prequel do and why were the Star Wars prequels so bad?
The Star Wars prequel trilogy is probably the most famous, but there’s also been an Underworld prequel, a Silence of the Lambs prequel (which I enjoyed, I admit), Wicked could be considered a prequel, and, in video games, Knights of the Old Republic and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. What these prequels do to varying degrees of success is provide information that hasn’t yet been made available to the audience. The original material took place in a world that had been established: the Empire was ascendant, Lecter was in prison, and the Triforce had been separated, and whatever the hell was going on in Underworld was going on. The ones that have worked best is when there has been a stand alone story to be told in the series’ past. In a sense, it didn’t matter that there was some future story that had already been told: we were telling a story that just happened to occupy a space earlier in time. Thus, Knights of the Old Republic didn’t interfere (much) with the story of Luke Skywalker, and Ocarina of Time explored a legend that formed the backstory of the original games.
Wicked is probably the best example of what we would like a prequel to do, but is just terrible for a whole host of other reasons. Wicked provides details about the story world that makes us question what we have assumed about the original story. Had it been successful, we would have viewed the story of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz quite differently.
Similarly, The Clone Wars has made us realise that Yoda is living with some heavy-duty levels of regret. When we find him on Dagobah, he’s changed from being quite an arrogant, self-assured Grand Master of the Jedi Order to a former leader who is grappling with the consequences of war. (If you haven’t seen it, check out the final season of The Clone Wars where Yoda encounters a race of supreme Force-users who compel him to undergo some self-assessment)
What new information could change the way we view Harry Potter? The stories themselves contained all the background information that adjusted our views of the characters. Dumbledore used to hang out with a Nazi; we don’t need to go on that adventure with him. Snape spent his entire life living in the friendzone; we don’t care. And Voldemort was a baffling prick who couldn’t get what he wanted in life; goodo.
3. Goddamn this
Now here’s three prequels that we would actually like to see:
1. Avatar: The Legend of Kyoshi
A background character to Avatar: The Legend of Aang, the series suggests that there was some kind of weird political tension arising from a conquering war lord and a deeply unpopular king. Resolutely committed to the transcendent idea of justice, she agrees to help neither of them; causes the death of one and then forces the other to bend to what we might anachronistically call the ‘rule of law’. She’s like a Batman without the modern qualm about causing fatalities, and who empowers victims of crime rather than overpowering the perpetrators. If it were done well, it would add more to the story about how Aang and Korra dealt with questions of justice and power.
2. A Wizard of Oz prequel that doesn’t suck
The problem with Wicked is that it’s a terrible story, but the idea is interesting. It’s the same idea that was floated in Oz: The Great and Powerful but fell into a ‘my ex-girlfriend is a real witch’ territory.
There’s something fundamentally weird about the world of The Wizard of Oz: how does a fraudster like the Wizard manage to shield himself against the genuinely powerful Wicked Witch of the West? Dorothy lands in the middle of a weird social situation and then intuits her way through her journey based on who looks the nicest.
But whose story needs to be told here? The ‘villain was just misunderstood’ trope is tired and done, but the Wicked Witch feels like more of a protagonist than the Wizard.
The Stargate series (the movie, SG-1, Atlantis, and the one with Robert Carlyle) has played with the idea of opportunity versus threat. Here’s a piece of inexplicable technology that both connected mankind with the rest of the galaxy and exposed mankind to the threats of the universe. The philosophy is anthropocentric and struggles with ideas of imperialism: when Americans go out into the universe, are they a force that improves the lives of those they meet, or do they bring problems with them? Ultimately, it was about the spread of liberalism and science, even to species who were far more advanced than humans (such as the Asgard).
But there’s a reverse story: the way that the Stargate network homogenised the galaxy and facilitated the rise to power of the Goa’uld. Far from being the technological wonder that brought the world closer, it made the ancient world more average. Why are there so few other species in the Stargate universe? Because ancient humans wiped them all out. Why is there political turmoil in the Stargate universe? Because the Ancients (a superpowered advanced race) interfered with the world, and then did a ‘Mission Accomplished’ and left the locals to clean up the mess.
And I suspect the Ancients or the Asgard wiped out the Furlings.