Dear Ms. Rowling,
I just read Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. And I was a little disappointed.
To start with, I do appreciate the format: plays are rather fun to read, and a nice change of pace from the novel. It’s not something we see every day, especially in YA or fantasy literature. It’s obvious that—with a careful and creative hand—this could be a really fun production to watch live (if one had the $10,000 necessary to buy a ticket at this point). And I’m sure that the production will inspire and excite those who did not grow up with Harry Potter, giving them new characters—such as the protagonists, Albus and Scorpius—to identify with.
Additionally, I should applaud you for continuing to set forth important virtues and thematic concepts in your work. Since the beginning of the Harry Potter series, you’ve talked about the importance of membership and friendship: suggesting that no one person, however talented, can (or should) ever act alone. The characters in your book are supporters of the idea that men are social animals, that “a cord of three strands is not easily broken,” that familial relationships are important, no matter how torn or fraught they might be. And these themes are refreshing in our increasingly solipsistic, solitary world.
But the praise ends there. Because this work is such a poor offering in contrast to the literary greatness and sparkling prose of your previous books, it’s really not worth mentioning in the same sentence.
To some degree, I understand why you’d want to keep proffering Harry Potter works to your fans. They’re loyal, dogged fans. When you created Hogwarts and the Harry Potter universe, you created something truly special and unique, and the millions who’ve read your books just don’t want to let go. You have continued to answer their questions and speak to their yearnings for Harry Potter creations over the past nine years, whether on Twitter or via Pottermore or in various interviews.
That said, I think you should stop—now.
I think your series will always be a classic, on the level of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But only if you cease and desist from publishing mediocre fiction to supplement the original greatness of the Harry Potter series. The seven volumes were unique, sparkling, creative, and endearing. They were about as perfect as a seven-volume children’s series could get: aging with their audience, developing complexity and thematic intensity as Harry, Ron, and Hermione grew. The books were engaging for old as well as young (my father-in-law just finished reading them, and loved them), and the characters therein grew to be as loved and admired as any in the classical canon.
But whether for love of fans or fame (or both), you’ve continued to spin tales associated with the original seven books—keeping yourself ever in the limelight, proffering viral comment after viral comment over the past nine years. There were your notes about Dumbledore’s sexuality, your suggestion that Harry should have wed Hermione, your prediction of the drama surrounding Draco’s wife, your discussion of the fate of the Longbottoms, your revelation that Ron almost died, etc. etc. Then you helped create a film about an American wizardry school (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, set to release in November), wrote a short story about the 2014 Quidditch World Cup, helped assemble this new play about Harry’s son Albus, and released three new books about the world of Harry Potter.
Here’s the problem: although it’s impossible to know how excellent Fantastic Beasts will or will not be, the rest of your revelations have been decidedly mediocre. They’ve done little to accent or highlight the best of your written work—instead, they’ve served mainly to provide you viral attention and literary limelight every few months. And that’s frustrating and saddening to those of us who truly love the work and world you’ve created in the Harry Potter books, and don’t want to see it cheapened or degraded in the name of pop-culture praise.
Perhaps you’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. It’s true that The Casual Vacancy received decidedly lackluster praise—it was a decidedly lackluster book. The Cormoran Strike novels (written under the pen name Robert Galbraith) began to garner attention only once it was revealed that you were, in fact, the author. The books don’t come close to the greatness of others in their genre. The Harry Potter series alone remains excellent, memorable, enjoyable. It’s one of the most bestselling series of all time.
For that reason, I don’t think you’re necessarily doing it for the money—after the success of the first seven books, it doesn’t seem you’d be all that worried about producing more blockbuster hits. But surely, after bursting onto the literary and cinematic scene with such resounding, celebrity success, it must be difficult to let go.
But let go you must.
It would be one thing if the additional works you were creating were of the caliber of Tolkien’s accessory works to The Lord of the Rings. Some consider The Silmarillion to be as good as or even better than LOTR; some prefer the joyous, childlike wonder of The Hobbit to the darker, more intense nature of his other works (and to be clear and avoid the wrath of Tolkien fans, The Hobbit was published before LOTR). Regardless, one thing is certain: Tolkien was fastidiously careful in crafting these works. They’re masterpieces in their own right, interesting and detailed works with characters and plots that speak to the detailed genius of their author.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is no such work. As other countless fans have pointed out, the writing of the work is mediocre, at best—full of clichés and halfhearted character development, with a plot that is absolutely riddled with holes. Many of the original characters (especially Hermione) are not true to their original selves, serving as two-dimensional copycats.
So what does the book do? Well, it keeps the Harry Potter series alive and in the limelight. It serves to inspire new fans to return to the original books. And it definitively makes money—lots of it. But that’s the extent of its virtues.
I caution you, because I think there’s a point at which truly excellent authors know how to say “enough.” Their fans can content themselves with the simplicity and beauty of a finite offering (be it one book or seven). Limiting the scope of a fictional creation enables it to stay mysterious, enchanting, and delightful. Limiting the scope of Harry Potter serves to inspire and foster the imagination of its fans more than coughing up another 20 volumes ever would.
Some will disagree with me here: they’ll point to the world of Star Wars fan fiction, perhaps, and argue that these creations—while some are better than others—continue to inspire and delight fans of the universe that George Lucas created. And that could be true, to some extent. But Stars Wars isn’t on the level of The Lord of the Rings. And if you want your work to be more of a Star Wars, that’s great—I just think it could be something better, something more important and lasting in the literary canon. If you let it stand on its own, without any more additional works or Twitter revelations or viral interviews.
You keep saying that’s what you intend—and then you keep changing your mind. I would urge you to stick to your word on this one: for your own sake, and for the sake of Harry Potter’s lasting legacy. Because I’m a huge fan, and love the world you created in the Harry Potter series. And I want it to remain extraordinary and beloved for years to come.