Having recently been on a “Harry Potter” kick, the eight movies to be precise, I might like to offer some thoughts. It’s a good enough story and all that, and the films are entertaining, even if the only one that made me go “Wow! That was great!” was “The Goblet of Fire”.
“Harry Potter” and J.K. Rowling’s “Wizarding World” has never been my favorite franchise, and I’m quite a casual “fan”, so perhaps my advice should be taken with a grain of salt, but if I were to re-do (dare I say “re-imagine”) the story, I have some ideas for what I might have done differently, which I’d outline here.
Magic High School? Ugh…
Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of the whole premise; a child is inducted into a magical world, finds out he’s the famous chosen one within it, and ends up…going to a boarding school. High school, even with magical trappings, isn’t my idea of a good time.
But fair enough; without Hogwarts it isn’t really “Harry Potter”, so I’d have to keep that in my version. Though considering we never hear or see of a wizarding equivalent of a university it would be nice if some university characteristics (for extra Britishness use the Oxbridge-style tutorial system) were blended in, instead of it being quite so high-school-like. That would have been considerably more interesting.
A darker Hogwarts?
Even more interesting is if the observation of the fans that the wizarding world is hidebound, in decline, and subject to tyrannical rule by the Ministry, indeed almost dystopian, was made canonical from the start, perhaps with it seeming superficially awesome in the first couple of books but with cracks showing in, reaching a crescendo at some point in the middle when Harry realizes there are deep-seated problems with wizarding society.
This opens up the darker possibility of Hogwarts itself being a villainous and evil organization beneath the surface, albeit in not as bad a way as Voldemort or something. Voldemort should remain more or less as-is, an arch-villain and the counterpart to Harry Potter.
A loonied-up Harry Potter
Harry himself has always struck me as quite a dull and uninteresting character, so my version of Harry would have really played up the similarities to young Tom Riddle we are teased with sometimes, with Harry being more subtly lusting for power over his own life at first and then the wider world as he grows and matures. Along these lines it would have been much more interesting if he had indeed been placed in the House of Slytherin; having the “villainous” house be the house of the heroic protagonist would add more of a contrast to the premise.
My version of Harry would also be much more eccentric and “loony”, which makes him an excellent match for Luna Lovegood, who would replace Hermione (a tiresome character in my view) in the main trio. I’d put none other than Draco Malfoy in Ron’s place (Ron is also a dull character), so instead of Harry, Ron, and Hermione we’d have Harry, Draco, and Luna.
“Join Me, and I will complete your Training!”; Woops, wrong Franchise! 😉
In my version Voldemort would have been more of a deceiver, getting to Harry and impressing the case that he’s really on Harry’s side and that the reports of his villainy have been greatly exaggerated, that Voldemort’s cause is Harry’s cause. This over time corrupts Harry in a sense, prompting him to join Voldemort as a Death Eater and as something of an apprentice.
High on joining the dark side to remake the wizarding world and wiping the slate clean from the hidebound oppressive institutions that have been holding society back, it takes time for it to become clear to Harry just how evil Voldemort is, that reports of his villainy were in fact not exaggerated, as he takes him deeper and deeper into the dark side.
Love, the Good Side, and a Heroic Puppetmaster
Perhaps Harry hides his Death Eater affiliation from everyone except Draco (who’s basically a Death Eater already courtesy of Lucius) and Luna, who by this point has a romance with Harry, and harbors an undying belief in his goodness.
Harry, however, doesn’t, perceiving his destiny is inextricably linked to Voldemort’s and becomes increasingly fatalistic, giving in and giving up to the dark path, but Luna’s loyalty and love keep the fires of goodness burning in him, and at a decisive moment Harry breaks with Voldemort.
Reuniting with his beloved on the good side doesn’t make him any more favorable to the Establishment, however, and armed with his rapidly growing magical powers he plots diligently and succeeds in executing a manipulative master plan of Palpatinian proportions, letting Voldemort take over the Ministry and Hogwarts like he did in the real story, then using that takeover as a pretext to get rid of all of them, wiping the slate clean, freeing all wizards from their grip.
By this point all the good wizards have no one else to turn to but Harry, and they join him, destroying Voldemort (perhaps Harry has gathered the horcruxes except for himself and Nagini at one secure location, and destroys them at a key moment before he strikes at Voldemort in the final battle) and wiping the slate clean for a new order: decentralized, anarchistic, the equality of all wizards replacing the Ministry, with self-directed education replacing things like schools.
A much more Slytherin-ish Harry
That would have been a story much more suited to my own sensibilities anyway. Playing up Harry’s affiliation with Slytherin, I would make him have a close relationship to snakes, perhaps even taking a serpentine companion, a mirror image of Voldemort’s Nagini. The parts where Harry speaks Parseltongue in “The Chamber of Secrets” are some of the coolest in the whole series, and I would have liked to see a lot more of that.
Cosmopolitanism: a logical Necessity?
Another thing that’s curious about the “Harry Potter” setting is how wizards can travel anywhere in a flash and have presumably been able to do so for untold centuries, yet not only do we see very little traveling to other parts of the world and very little of other schools, the wizarding world is still divided by nationality in much the same way the muggle world is; logically the students should be far better-traveled and the demographics should be much more cosmopolitan.
Even if, as seems likely enough, wizards retain distinct national identities, the nationalities should be scattered globally; any given concentration of wizards, like Hogwarts, should have many different kinds of people from all over the world, even if British and especially European students are over-represented at a British school. For once someone creates a popular fantasy setting where “diverse casting” actually makes sense, only to squander the chance! Oh well.
Medieval or Renaissance Style! Bring it!
In terms of aesthetic and vibe, J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, at least in the movies, is a blend of medieval and modern styles, which admittedly does make sense (just look at the Catholic Church, a real-world institution with a strong medieval heritage), but nevertheless I would have tipped the balance much more toward the medieval or even a 17th century pretty-boy look; think long hair on everyone (“The Goblet of Fire” movie is the closest we got, and is the only time Harry’s hair looks striking as opposed to just there), beards on the men, and medieval-style robes and dresses instead of modern clothing.
I might have also made big balls and dances a much more frequent occurrence, but as a huge fan of the ball in “The Goblet of Fire” and a dancer myself I admit I’m biased. But it makes sense when one considers that the use of magic obviates needing to work a job like muggles do, so this combined with the medieval mentality the Wizarding World exhibits should lead to a culture much like the old-time English gentry, where the social calendar and leisurely pursuits (like quidditch), not careers, are what frame everyday life.
At least it would have been much more interesting than the “go to a good school and get good grades so you can get a good job, but magic-style” we tended to actually see, but then again what do I know? It’s not my franchise, it’s J.K. Rowling’s, and despite these critiques I think we did well getting the books we did and especially the movies we did; seldom is a book series brought to life as lavishly and as faithfully as “Harry Potter” was.
Sure, the movies could probably have been adapted better; “The Goblet of Fire”, despite being my favorite of the movies, was obviously a “skim the high points” adaptation of the book, lending it a fast pace (good!) and confusing a viewer who wasn’t already familiar with the book (not so good!), and this with a 2 hour and 37 minute runtime, a bit long for a movie even now, let alone in 2005.
That’s only 4 minutes shorter than “The Chamber of Secrets” movie, which takes its sweet time to tell its story, and although it’s not really draggy “The Chamber of Secrets” feels a lot more than 4 minutes longer. “The Goblet of Fire” could have easily had a full hour added onto its runtime and not felt draggy. If a nearly 4 hour movie was too risky for the theater it’s too bad we couldn’t have had extended editions a la “The Lord of the Rings”, but what’s done is done.
Well, that’s about all the thoughts I have on that topic for now. It’s sort of in the same vein as my Star Wars (a first, second, and third one!) and Star Trek posts, but for an entirely different franchise. For all I know I might take some of these quibbles I have with “Harry Potter” and use them as the basis for making a fantasy story of my own, but I think I’d make mine much more otherworldly than “Harry Potter” was.
2 Replies to “Some Thoughts on Harry Potter”
What you’re suggesting sounds like a Saruman-like Harry, learning about the big enemy and appearing to cooperate with him in order to overthrow him. That can easily go badly, as it does with Saruman. It certainly would be an interesting story.
It’s strange that boarding schools are the centers of power in the Wizarding World. Hogwarts is more powerful than the Ministry of Magic in the end. World-building was a weak point in the series; there are only isolated hints of organized magical activity outside the UK, and as you said there’s little international travel. The HP series draws on the genre of boarding-school novels, such as Erich Kaestner’s _The Flying Classroom_, and it strains when it tries to push its boundaries beyond that.
Ah, yes, Saruman-like would be a good description; it would make for a much darker atmosphere, but if anything an even nobler and more hopeful message, not to mention a more interesting story.
As for boarding schools being the centers of power, it’s really not all that weird when one considers that Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, and (the closest analogue to Hogwarts) Eton are all powerful institutions in real life.
And Harry Potter definitely draws on the boarding school genre, to the extent I’ve read that J.K. Rowling’s real literary achievement was not writing a children’s (well, not exactly children’s, especially in light of the later books, but whatever) fantasy series or getting kids to love reading but rather reviving the boarding school mystery genre, which was at the time generally considered to be dead.
This is perhaps most obvious in The Chamber of Secrets, whose story additionally has a horror-movie vibe to it, what with children mysteriously becoming “petrified” by an unseen legendary monster from a room under a boarding school, the threats being written in blood on the walls, a creepy voice coming from said walls saying “Kill, time to kill” that only one boy can hear, not to mention the culprit ending up being a girl entranced by an undead dark wizard (who lives in a book) intent on draining her life force in order to resurrect himself.