J.K. Rowling's Torturous Short Stories

“There are celebrities – and then there are celebrities.”

– J.K. Rowling as Rita Skeeter in the Harry Potter Sequel, “Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup Final”

image from: http://www.hypable.com/2013/07/14/how-was-jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-calling-revealed/
image from: http://www.hypable.com/2013/07/14/how-was-jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-calling-revealed/

 

If there’s one thing J.K. Rowling not only seems to really love to do, but is also exceptionally good at, it’s torturing her fans. And I don’t mean killing the innocent owls and house elves we’ve loved since our early childhoods, no, I’m talking about the infrequent, random and unsatisfying teases that give fans extra glimpses into the world of Harry Potter without actually providing anyone with a full-on view through a novel.

 

I could talk about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, two short-books (novellas without plots?) published in 2001, I could also talk about The Tales of Beedle the Bard, fairy tales of the Wizarding World published December of 2007. Perhaps I could mention the upcoming Harry Potter Prequel Stage Play, or the slowly approaching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film trilogy, or even the extra content found in places like Pottermore or Wonderbook: ‘Book of Spells.’ But no, as this month is short story month here at The Book Wars, I’m going to review those two magical and torturously intriguing short stories, the Harry Potter prequel and sequel.

 

The Harry Potter prequel was written by hand on a card for charity in 2008, (learn more here), and is followed by a strict explanation “from the prequel I am not working on.” Readers are given their tease, handed a small ounce of hope for a marauder prequel novel the entirety of the Harry Potter Generation and half of tumblr have been waiting for, only for this hope to be ripped away with a refusal to be provided more. Talk about catastrophic torture.

 

But the story itself is not only enjoyable; it’s really quite interesting. Granted, perhaps it’s unfair to critique a story that was written by hand (perhaps hastily) for a charity auction, but it’s J.K. Rowling so nothing’s going to stop me.

2010-harry-potter-hitches-royal-enfield
The pale blue Royal Enfield motorcyle and Watsonian sidecar which features in the seventh Harry Potter movie- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Image from: http://ultimatemotorcycling.com/2010harry-potter-hitches-royal-enfield/

The prequel is written (primarily) in a third-person limited point of view of Sergeant Fisher, a muggle police sergeant working with his partner, PC Anderson as they chase down and attempt to apprehend the riders of a speeding motorcycle. What is exceptionally wonderful about this story is not only the muggle point-of-view of the wizarding world (like when the two police officers think the wands are drumsticks, or when a spell is described as “something incomprehensible”), but also the police officers’ ignorance where the readers are knowledgeable. Most keen readers of the prequel are able to determine that the two boys on the bike are the teenage Sirius Black and James Potter, Harry Potter’s godfather and father respectively, before this is stated outright later on.

 

As a prequel this story works well. Though no plot points suggest much the readers don’t already know, what is especially wonderful is the general smart aleck sassiness James and Sirius depict that would later be inherited by Harry Potter. But the three men on broomsticks are quite intriguing, leaving the reader assuming these wizards are Death Eaters and this is a miniscule peek of the early Order of the Phoenix. This is, of course, overwhelmingly exciting, and causes most die-hard Harry Potter fans to beg for more, which, of course, they do not get.

 

Not only am I, a Harry Potter fan (obviously), left wanting more, I’m left with questions. Where are the rest of the Order of the Phoenix? Why is this just James and Sirius? Why not Remus or Peter? Or Lily, or Alice and Frank Longbottom? Rowling could have picked any number of people, but she chose James and Sirius. The obvious reason for this, perhaps, is the meaning James and Sirius later have for Harry Potter as a member of the revived Order of the Phoenix, though I don’t think this gives enough credit to the roles Remus, Peter or especially Lily play in Harry’s development as the Chosen One.

 

While I can get over the fact that Rowling chose to exclusively present James and Sirius, it is quite striking to me that literally every single character in this short story is male. Every single one. Even the three unnamed wizards on brooms are all men. While Anderson’s gender is never mentioned, nor is he ever given identifying pronouns, both Anderson and Fisher are described as policemen, rather than something more gender neutral. Rowling is known for writing strong female characters, so the complete lack of them in this story is not only surprising but also highly disappointing.

 

Another critique that I cannot ignore is Rowling’s inconsistent point of view. Primarily, this story is written in the third-person limited perspective of Sergeant Fisher, until suddenly, just over half-way in, we get “both policemen imagined,” and from that point on the story is less focused on Fisher specifically, and more on both policemen generally. Can we forgive Rowling for this minor mistake while writing a story by hand for charity? I think so. But if I’m going to write a review I can’t let this lack of a cohesive technique go unsaid; forgive me if I can’t help feeling like the most successful author of our time should be held to a slightly higher standard.

 

Overall, of course, I am just thrilled we are given something of the early Order of the Phoenix/ Marauders. It’s exciting to see James and Sirius interact, see the friendship that lead to the former choosing the latter to be the godfather of his son, while riding the motorcycle that would eventually bring said infant son to Privet Drive one scarring night (see what I did there?) However, was I, like many, left for years wanting more? Of course, but luckily something new has arrived, and it’s left me more desperate than ever for a Harry Potter sequel series.

image from: http://insider.pottermore.com/2014/04/which-team-will-you-be-supporting-in.html
image from: http://insider.pottermore.com/2014/04/which-team-will-you-be-supporting-in.html

 

The Harry Potter sequel short story was released on Pottermore as part of the 2014 Quidditch World Cup and is written as a Daily Prophet gossip column by Rita Skeeter entitled “Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup Final.” As this story is set very specifically during the 2014 Quidditch World Cup, it is set seventeen years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and therefore is actually set before the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue. So not only do readers get their first glimpse of Harry Potter and co. since the publication of the seventh and final book in 2007, (seven years ago exactly only two days ago) but this is also our first glimpse of Harry Potter and co. as characters since The Golden Trio spoke to the portrait of Dumbledore after the defeat of Voldemort.

 

With new insights into the wizarding world like the “controversial American wizarding band The Bent-Winged Snitches” (why are they controversial?! I need to know!) and an entirely new spell called “Bridging Charms,” J.K. Rowling works her expert world-building magic to give readers more teases into what they’re not getting (and probably won’t ever actually get.)

 

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of this sequel is the descriptions of The Golden Trio. Harry Potter is described to have “threads of silver” in his black hair, and a “nasty cut over his right cheekbone.” It is also confirmed for us, (as we all assumed) that Harry does indeed become an Auror as he intended to be. His introducing James and Albus to Viktor Krum shows that same supportive father seen in the epilogue, and the reference to the Goblet of Fire character is unsurprising both because this story is written by Skeeter who also appeared in said book, but because this story takes place at the Quidditch World Cup. However, I’m left wondering where seven-year-old Lily Potter is, and why she isn’t being included here? Ginny, as we can see, has become a reporter, and is reporting on the Quidditch World Cup. Her relationship to sports is unsurprising, though I’m disappointed to see she hasn’t become a Quidditch player herself. Skeeter suggests Ginny’s success, however, is because of her last name, and further suggests that Harry’s new scar is a result of domestic abuse. I can’t help reading this as typical Skeeter speculation, and I am left wanting to learn more about Harry’s Auror battles and get insight about his private family life. It is nice to know, at the very least, that the Potter family are city folk, and reside in London (and probably not in the suburbs).

 

I was thrilled to see that Ron and Hermione “have always refused to talk to the press” about Harry, and have received much deserved “plaudits and awards for bravery.” To me, they sound like loyal war veterans more so than celebrities, and indeed present two different post-war experiences for veterans. The heartbreaking description of Ron Weasley is almost too much to bear, and while I would like to think Skeeter is twisting the truth, I reckon her gossip gets more credibility when supported by facts. This leaves me believing that Ron really does quit being an Auror only two years after starting, and while Skeeter is honest about the fact that she is speculating whether or not Ron is traumatized by the events of the war, her question “is this suspicious?” begs the reader to no longer question her, but rather question the situation. Of course, this is the intended outcome of the question, and could be a cruel but intelligent technique of Skeeter’s, but it’s certainly left me concerned and curious. The description of Hermione Granger, however, presents the other side of the coin, she is the successful war veteran who is able to move forward a great deal rather than back. As the “Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement” she is literally Harry’s boss, and as she is “now tipped to go even higher within the Ministry” I can’t help but hope she’ll one day be the Minister of Magic. While Rowling rips out reader’s hearts with her description of Ron, she gives a not-so-subtle nod to the fandom in her description of Hermione. First, by keeping Granger as Hermione’s last name, I am reminded of when actress Emma Watson argued Hermione was likely to do as such, while the comment about Hermione’s terrible hair is likely an inside joke about how Emma Watson’s hair in the Harry Potter films was often much better than that of Hermione’s in the books.

 

Now, as I have said, Rowling is infamous for giving delicious tastes without full meals, short peeks with no chance of later satisfaction. However, I can’t help but notice that many parts of this short story feel very very much like introductions to a new book or even series. Let’s not forget, Rowling herself said in the Year in the Life video that Albus is the character she is “most interested in” (see 31:41-31:51), and that only leaves me to assume that one day this character is going to demand she write him a story. Characters tend to do this kind of thing, after all, and frankly I think it’s a very good idea.

 

The view of a drunk Professor Longbottom with his wife, the Matron of Hogwarts, gives readers a very clear image of two loveable, perhaps complex characters that could be further portrayed in a new Albus Potter series. The same goes for the unnamed (perhaps still developing) twin sons of Luna Lovegood (let’s not ignore the mention of Newt Schamander, the protagonist of the new films Rowling is writing, and what this may or may not imply). And of course there’s the mention of blue-haired Teddy Lupin and beautiful Victoire’s dark adventures and romance – which of course would make an excellent read. This is an interesting cast of characters that we are only given the briefest encounter with, despite the enormous amount of potential presented (though I should point out that literally every child of those in Dumbledore’s Army is a pure-blood, which is a problematic contrast with the main themes and messages of the Harry Potter Series). Is my hope for a new series clouding my vision? Probably. But I’m sticking to my guns here, I’d bet money something’s coming – two years from this September, Albus Severus Potter boards the Hogwarts Express, the question is – will we be joining him?

 

There are clearly many parts of this story that I find absolutely fascinating, one being the overwhelming fame of Harry Potter and the members of Dumbledore’s Army. With Harry still being known as the Chosen One, his family being called “wizarding royalty” and Skeeter writing that, “anyone closely connected with Harry Potter reaps the benefits and must pay the penalty of public interest” it is overwhelmingly clear that Harry Potter and the members of Dumbledore’s Army are extremely famous. The story even begins with the line, “there are celebrities – and there are celebrities.” This isn’t altogether surprising, they defeated Voldemort, of course they’re famous! So why do I take issue with this? Because of simple line in the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Continuity is important, and we don’t have it here when Harry’s son asks Harry “‘why are they all staring?’” (607) as he boards the Hogwarts express two years after this sequel. Albus may be young, but he would have to be extraordinarily stupid to not realize his family is excessively famous and has always been starred at.

 

The relationship this story has with the “Nineteen Years Later” epilogue is furthered in more minute ways. Percy being the “Head of the Department of Magical Transportation” makes his talking “loudly on broomstick regulations” (604) in the epilogue make much more sense. However, Ron’s Confounding of the driver’s test examiner in the epilogue (page 604) now has a darker spin. Is his inability to work muggle technology a continued adorable quirk, or is the man who could drive a flying car across the country at the age of twelve now too traumatized to drive? There is only room for the same kind of speculation that Skeeter would want, but Rowling is successful in leaving me wanting to know more.

 

I should say again, however, that as this story is written as a gossip piece by Rita Skeeter, notorious for lying throughout Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, everything written in this story should be taken with a grain of salt. The question this leaves readers is: should any of this story be trusted? Is this what actually happens to our beloved characters, or is it all untrue? The fact is, we don’t know. We can only guess, hope, or hope not. There are moments that seem more reliable than others, but the fact is that this story is primarily nothing more than an overwhelming tease. Readers are left wanting to know more about a great deal of topics and characters, but instead don’t even get what they do know as confirmed canon. Frustrating isn’t quite a strong enough word, so I’ll stick with what I said earlier, it’s torturous.

 

Congratulations J.K. Rowling. You’ve written two stories that, despite the odd hiccup, are wonderfully written and have kept your readers on their toes. We sit at our computers in anticipation, waiting for the news. The news that you haven’t been torturing us for no reason, but rather preparing us for something new – something big. I can only assume that that’s what you’re doing with stories like this, because if this is all I get then you aren’t just the most successful author of our time – you’re also the most sadistic torturer to have ever lived.

 

Give me liberty (ie – a new HP book) or give me death!

image from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9567476/JK-Rowling-joins-the-set-of-adult-and-childrens-fiction-writers.html
image from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9567476/JK-Rowling-joins-the-set-of-adult-and-childrens-fiction-writers.html

 

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print.