Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two. Or ‘HP 7.2’ as a particularly obsessed friend of mine terms it.
Although many people like to criticise HP – What’s the point in something that’s not real? – is one of the more common taunts, I really do love it. For me, the point of HP is as simple as pure enjoyment. Critics point out that the books are badly written and the films are badly acted and I suppose that might lead the cynically-minded to ask, what’s enjoyable about that? Well, it’s the perfect escapism of the stories. HP is another world, linked to the one that we know, but where everything is a bit different – and a bit better.
As a friend pointed out, after we watched the film, the photographs in HP move. It’s the perfect example of something that’s similar enough to feel familiar, to be understandable and not totally alien, yet it’s different enough to be just a bit better and more than a bit desirable.
Other than those naysayers who refuse to get involved with HP (and, honestly, I do understand – it does require a terrifyingly huge investment of time), those who are HP fans, are HUGE fans. I’ve yet to meet someone who says, ‘Harry Potter, I can take it or leave it.’ It’s like Marmite. Fansites are extensive, offering all sorts of content ranging from secret facts (such as Ron and Hermione’s birthdays – 1st March and 19th September, respectively) to ‘death clues’, essay topics and recipes.
What’s particularly enticing and appealing about the books is how thoroughly they’ve been imagined. We don’t read about some half-baked world in which Hogwarts is hard to visualise and the meanings of spells change. J.K. has said that she set herself several rules and stuck to them. She planned out the books before writing them. For her forthcoming Pottermore website, which, as well as being the sole platform for the HP ebooks, will also offer a great deal of extra content, she said she ‘had more than half of the new material already written or in note form. I literally dug some out of boxes’. Apparently there’s going to be 18,000 words of new content up there. To have an extra 10,000 words of Potter notes just floating around, unused, is indeed impressively thorough.
I suppose it’s Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory all over again:
If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.
J.K. has done this with great aplomb. I suppose the tension with the iceberg of HP is that several readers desperately want to see more of the iceberg than the tantalising tip. Hence the proliferation of fan sites and not-in-the-books-but-leaked-in-interviews trivia and the excitement about all the new content that will go up on Pottermore.
The ebooks sound as though they will be spectacularly interactive – with gaming elements added to each chapter. The reader/player gets to try on the Sorting Hat, choose a wand, get galleons from Gringrots, mix potions for their house and visit friends who are making their own journey through the book. This sounds fun and I feel more than a bit excited. (I might have just signed up to Pottermore, but not sure I should admit to it.)
But, and here’s the rub, Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory works on the premise of seeing that top eighth and that top eighth only. If we are given all this new content, isn’t there a risk of it all somehow imploding? At what point does all the HP geeky trivia become too much and risk overwhelming the actual story? Perhaps when it’s inserted into that text.
J.K. says the following about trying on the Sorting Hat:
If you are not sorted into Gryffindor, if you go into one of the other three houses, you will effectively get an extra quarter of a chapter. You will go off into your own common room, meet your own prefect, and find out what the true nature of the house is.
Just supposing I get sorted into Ravenclaw. Do I really want to go and meet the prefect? Do I want to find out more about Ravenclaw? Well no, not really. Surely the important house for HP in terms of the plot, pace and excitement is Griffindor? If you can’t read the books without being given lots of new information – which isn’t strictly relevant to the plot – then one can’t help but wonder if the books might paradoxically lose something in pace and interest by gaining something in content.
Just look at the existing books and how they’ve grown from the slim 223 pages of the first one to the massive tomes of the latter volumes – 607 pages for the Deathly Hallows. Did anyone, honestly, read the last one and not feel bored by all that guff about the wedding at the beginning? (And this from someone who is actually planning a wedding.)
The detail in Harry Potter is incredible, imaginative, brilliantly realised, but perhaps enough is enough. Extra content can happily exist outside of the books, and the fansites show how popular this bonus material is. The danger lies in inserting this extra content into the already-written stories and bloating them. It risks changing the existing stories into fatter, slower book-game hybrids. And no, I’m not sure of the spell for that.