Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property, Fantasy/SciFi » Why J.K. Rowling Should Walk Away From Harry Potter Forever

Why J.K. Rowling Should Walk Away From Harry Potter Forever

20 September 2019

Note: This post is a few years old, but PG thinks it might be useful for authors writing in a variety of genres.

From The Legal Artist:

The other day, J.K. Rowling gave an interview with Matt Lauer about her charity Lumos and mentioned she probably wouldn’t write another story about Harry and the gang, although she wouldn’t foreclose the opportunity altogether. I don’t know whether Rowling will ever return to Harry Potter but I do know that she shouldn’t. In fact, I think she should relinquish all rights to the Potterverse before she messes it all up.

Okay what? Messes it up? J.K. Rowling is a goddamn international treasure and I should be strung up by the neck for thinking such heretical thoughts, right? Well maybe, but first let me say that I have nothing but admiration for Rowling’s skill and artistry. The books and films stand as towering achievements in their respective fields and the world is undoubtedly a better place with Harry Potter than it would be without. And that’s exactly the problem.

We revere authors and creators of valuable intellectual property. We assume they know what’s best when it comes to their work. And sometimes that’s true! George R.R. Martin certainly believes it. The general sentiment is that his voice is the only one worthy of steering the Game of Thrones ship. The same probably would have been said about J.R.R. Tolkien and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But as fans, I think we’ve been burned by too many Special Editions/ Director’s Cuts/ sequels/ prequels/ sidequels/ reboots/ and preboots to feel anything but trepidation when a creator remains involved for too long with their own work. I get it. It’s your baby, and it’s hard to walk away from something that you poured your heart and soul into. But I’m a firm believer in the Death of the Author, and I’ve stated on this blog several times that when a work takes on a certain level of cultural importance, it transcends the law and becomes the property of society at large, not just the creator. That was the original intention when copyright protections were baked into the Constitution. Remember too that history is replete with authors who aren’t the best judges of their own work; George Lucas is a prime example of how far from grace one can fall simply by sticking around for too long. And I want Rowling to avoid that fate.

. . . .

Obviously the law allows Rowling to do whatever she wants. Copyright law, particularly in the U.S., isn’t equipped to consider the cultural importance of works like Star Wars or Harry Potter. The result is that all art, regardless of quality, is treated the same, which can be a good thing because it prevents systemic discrimination. The downside to that approach is that financial reward becomes the only measure of success. And that just makes it harder to let go. It’s easy to convince yourself that you and only you are capable of maintaining the integrity of the work over the long haul. It becomes even easier if there’s a lot of money to be made by doing it. The law incentivizes you to stay. And because copyright terms last for so long (life of the author plus 70 years), Rowling’s great great grandchildren will be able to profit from her work.  And I think it’s a shame to keep something like that so closed-source.

To my eyes, the seams are already showing. Three years ago, Rowling publicly stated that she wished she had killed Ron out of spite and that Hermione really should’ve ended up with Harry. The fact that she admitted this publicly is problematic enough – it shows a tone-deafness to the effect her words have on the fan-base (which is surprising considering her generosity to her fans). It also suggests that she might not have a full grasp of what makes the story work (i.e. that Harry’s arc isn’t about romance).

Link to the rest at The Legal Artist

Copyright/Intellectual Property, Fantasy/SciFi

15 Comments to “Why J.K. Rowling Should Walk Away From Harry Potter Forever”

  1. I’ve stated on this blog several times that when a work takes on a certain level of cultural importance, it transcends the law and becomes the property of society at large, not just the creator.

    If it is indeed society’s property, and not Rowling’s, how does society prevent Rowling from writing another Harry Potter book? How does it prevent her from selling it?

  2. I’ve stated on this blog several times that when a work takes on a certain level of cultural importance, it transcends the law and becomes the property of society at large, not just the creator.

    Nope. Nice try though.

    • Looks like the OP needs to take a Law 101 class.

      • I think OP meant it in some kind of weird moral sense, not a legal one.

        As you can probably tell, I don’t buy that argument–even though I think Rowling needs to stop writing things in the HP universe, because the more she does, the more obvious it becomes that her worldbuilding skills are terrible.

  3. The argument is just hot gas but the idea of diversification has some merit.

    Enough that Rowling is actually doing it. Not giving Potter away (yeah, right!) but writing other things. Her general fiction didn’t set the world on fire but shegot it out of her system and her mysteries are quite competent and pretty good in their own right. If she hadn’t been outed, her alter ego would probably be a best seller in his own right.

    Writers that stick with one series or even one story, over and over and over are stunting themselves. Some do a mix–big series to pay the bills, standalones for the joy of writing or to stretch themselves.

    It’s a common approach in acting, too: some of the biggest names in blockbuster movies make a point to take on “lesser”, often uncredited roles, or live projects, to exercise their skills and highlight that they are actors first and movie stars second. Not doing it can be costly. Burt Reynolds being a classic example of it, with his string of action comedies being so successful for a time, a lot of people forgot he could act, afterwards, until he signed up for EVENING SHADE on TV.

    Lots of the old time big name genre writers played in multiple arenas. With pseudonyms if they had to, to get through tradpub pigeonholing. And many took their series to a point of their choosing and moving on, even when they could still milk it for easy sales.

    It’s not safe being a one trick pony. In writing or any other business.

  4. It’s too late I’m afraid. Rowling has been canceled by the Potter fandom, at least according to my daughter (who follows these conversations on Tumblr, fan-fiction sites, and elsewhere). Her post-publication revisionisms have got up their collective noses so much that they’re shunning her in the old-fashioned Amish way.

    By any measure, it’s meaningless to Rowling, but it’s meaningful to the Potter fans who gather online.

  5. Having seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which Rowling didn’t write but was involved with, I have to agree: she should stop while she isn’t any further behind. As a stage spectacle, it was great, but the fan dislike of the way the characters were handled (Ron a buffoon, but necessary for Hermione to be happy; a good-hearted, straight-arrow character transformed into a Death Eater just by being made to look ridiculous in public) was justified, IMO.

    Even the last Harry Potter book was an example of what happens when a creator becomes too big to say “no” to. It would have been a lot stronger if it had been cut by two-thirds.

    And don’t even get me started on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit.

    Still, just because there’s a phenomenon where creators go off the deep end when they become too successful doesn’t invalidate their earlier work or mean there’s anything we can, or should, do about it. Except make a mental note not to fall into the trap ourselves, should the opportunity present itself, I suppose.

    • Most stories have a natural end.
      Best to move on after that.
      Conan Doyle had the right idea.

    • It would have been a lot stronger if it had been cut by two-thirds.

      Could be. But I just read it for fun. Didn’t even notice it was weak.

    • …doesn’t invalidate their earlier work or mean there’s anything we can, or should, do about it. Except make a mental note not to fall into the trap ourselves, should the opportunity present itself…

      Exactly.

      Even the last Harry Potter book…would have been a lot stronger if it had been cut by two-thirds.

      A great example of YMMV. The last book was my favorite in the series. 😀

  6. Her inability to keep her mouth shut about what she should have written is a bad thing because it muddies her legacy. The main thing her comments about Dumbledor’s sexuality has done is p*ss off fans who consider the Potter books kids’ book where adult sexuality has no place and anger the other fans that she never went far enough in showing his sexuality. No win either way.

    The utter rubbish writing of her FANTASTIC BEAST movies where she’s writing novels instead of screenplays isn’t helping her legacy either.

    Writers who continue to rewrite remind me of a story I was told about the landscape painter JMW Turner who was so obsessive about getting each painting perfect that he wouldn’t stop. His agent would sneak in and take them to sell so he wouldn’t starve to death.

    • Leo had it right, centuries ago:

      https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/leonardo_da_vinci_380290

      “Art is never finished, only abandoned”

      Or, as Kenny Rogers put it;

      “You got to know
      When to hold ’em
      Know when to fold ’em
      Know when to walk away
      Know when to run”

      Letting go and moving on is hard but necessary. Absent a time machine, what’s done is done and endless focus on what’s past is useless and often counterproductive.

      • > “Art is never finished, only abandoned”

        All that means is that the artist doesn’t know where he’s going, and doesn’t recognize the stopping place when he gets there.

    • Her inability to keep her mouth shut about what she should have written is a bad thing because it muddies her legacy.

      Why should she keep her mouth shut? Fans don’t like it? So what? Some don’t like her revealing her thoughts on Dumbledore. So what? Some folks don’t like her sceenplays? Again, so what?

      Her life is hers, not ours. She lives it. We don’t. She has no obligation to conform to a legacy selected by someone else.

      God Bless Rowling, for she stands up and speaks for herself.

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