New Harry Potter play to hit the West End

Next summer, a new Harry Potter story will be revealed to the world in a theatre in London. What is the appeal of this phenomenally successful series? Does it really need a new chapter?

On the 18-year anniversary of the publication of the first book in the Harry Potter series, author J.K. Rowling announced the news that fans have been dreaming of for years: another chapter in the story of the Boy Who Lived. However, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will not appear in bookshops or cinemas; it will open at the Palace Theatre in London next summer.

According to Rowling, theatre is the ‘only proper medium’ for this ‘untold part’ of Harry’s story, which she has developed with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. Despite rumours that it will show Harry’s orphan years living under the stairs at the Dursley’s, Rowling has insisted that it is ‘not a prequel’.

2016 is sure to be a big year for Harry’s fans. Just months after the opening of The Cursed Child, the first instalment of a spin-off trilogy starring Eddie Redmayne is set to be released. The films will tell the story of Newt Scamander, author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

The legend of Harry Potter’s success has become almost as famous as the story of the boy wizard itself. The first book was mostly written while Rowling, a single mother, was living on welfare benefits. She had meticulously planned all seven books before the first was ever accepted by a publisher; in fact, it was rejected several times before finally being picked up by a literary agent who sold the books to Bloomsbury.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone soared to success without any official marketing, passed on instead from playground to playground by word of mouth. When the fourth story was published, it broke the record for the fastest selling book in the UK — a record which was broken three more times by each subsequent sequel.

Eight years have passed since the final book was published, but the stories have clearly not lost their appeal. There are at least one million members of the website Pottermore, and over 700,000 Harry Potter stories on one fanfiction website alone.

Back to Hogwarts

Some people are sceptical of Potter’s success. The books tell an enchanting children’s story, but as literature they leave much to be desired — the imaginative details mask gaping plot holes and the clunky, formulaic sentences make Rowling’s writing painful to read. It may be entertaining, but it is hardly a classic.

But fans are united in their belief that the series possesses a magic which elevates it beyond mere prose. It is a vast, complex world with a history and an internal logic which feels almost real for millions of people. The books also teach valuable lessons about love and evil while introducing the power of reading to children around the globe. Its literary ‘worth’ was never the point.

You Decide

  1. What might The Cursed Child gain from being a play rather than a film or novel?
  2. Many think that sequels and adaptations take attention away from original content. Does Harry Potter need new stories?

Activities

  1. Write a short story based on the Harry Potter series, or another book that you have read recently. Which characters do you focus on? How do you tell your own story in another writer’s world?
  2. ‘Harry Potter changed the way we think about children’s literature.’ Plan an essay responding to this claim.

Some People Say...

“Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.”

Rowena Ravenclaw

What do you think?

Q & A

How can I get tickets?
They will be on sale in Autumn this year, and they are sure to be in high demand as the theatre only seats 1,400 people. You can register for updates on the official website — but be sure to ask your parents’ permission first!
Can I write about Harry Potter in English classes?
There are probably more valuable books to study at this stage in your education, although of course it is up to your English teacher. But the books that we enjoy in our own time will always inform our worldview in some way, which is why reading a diverse range of texts is so important. Having said that, some universities do offer modules on Harry Potter; students at Durham can study its ‘social, cultural and educational context’ in a course called ‘Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion’.

Word Watch

Palace Theatre
The theatre opened on Shaftesbury Avenue in 1891. It has been home to the Royal English Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar and Les Miserables.
Jack Thorne
The award-winning writer has an impressive catalogue of hits on the stage and television, including Let the Right One In, This is England and Skins.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Newt Scamander’s textbook was mentioned several times throughout the Harry Potter series and was published in 2001 with ‘annotations’ by the main characters to raise money for Comic Relief.
Literary agent
Acting as a ‘middle man’ between the author and the publisher, literary agents represent the writer’s interests and negotiate the fees for their work.
Pottermore
This illustrated interactive website allows users to be sorted into one of the four houses and travel through the Harry Potter series. It includes extra information and backstories which did not make it into the original books.
Fanfiction
Since Star Trek in the 1970s, fans have been writing and sharing their own stories set in the worlds of other writers.

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