As the final film in the record-breaking, Harry Potter franchise opens Friday in the US, the great and obvious question that looms over a generation is: What now?
With no new book or film to anticipate, librarians and movie marketers have their own answers – hoping that the franchise can become a gateway to new books or other films targeting the same audience. For some, it might. But the answer that rises from the heart of the true Potter devotee appears to be be simpler. They will go back to the books – and the websites they have spawned – again and again.
“What we find is when the kids finish reading the last book or go see the latest movie, they go back and start reading the series again,” says Susan Ei, Pequot Library children’s librarian in Southport, Conn. “We may have a lot of great recommendations for what else they could read, but,” she says with a laugh, “my 16-year-old daughter has read the books at least 70 times.”
In some respects, the books’ continued vitality is a function of the online community that has given fans more ways than ever to remain within the Harry Potter narrative. Websites such as the Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet offer podcasts, articles on themes and plot points, as well as fan fictions.
Then there is the mother of all Harry Potter websites, Pottermore, run by author J.K. Rowling and scheduled to open to the public in October. (It is in a closed beta beginning July 31.) Ms. Rowling has committed to unleashing her decades of research, thoughts, history, and stories that underpin the Potter universe – and share the material in an interactive, collaborative, online storytelling milieu.
Yet some educators suggest that when the smoke clears from the final film, the books will have worked a magic in the Harry Potter generation that extends beyond the franchise.
“I see this willingness to engage with a multiple-book series over many years with thousands of pages as an excellent precursor to the classics,” says Daniel Bonevac, philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He says he read the Harry Potter books with his own children, “and then we progressed to ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey,’ ” he adds.
The series also provided great support for his children to dive into contemporary classics, such as “The Lord of the Rings,” he says.
Movie studios hope that Potter fans will open their hearts to other films based on current young-adult works, such as “The Hunger Games,” says Grae Drake, film critic for movies.com. Earlier efforts to migrate young adult fans to other franchises, such as “The Golden Compass,” or “Lemony Snicket,” were “not very successful,” she says.
According to the teen Harry Potter afficionadoes gathered in an Orlando hotel room Thursday for the Leaky Cauldron’s LeakyCon 2011, the real problem is finding the right material. While they all agree that they are in a perpetual state of re-reading the Harry Potter series, they have also become voracious readers of other books – and they credit Harry for that.
“When I was in fifth grade, I pretty much thought books were stupid,” says Nathan Durham. “But my best friend pestered me into reading Harry Potter, and I loved it.” Now, he says, he is in the middle of “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus and calls the Potter series, “the gateway to my reading.”
Rebecca Kalant, 18, has just finished reading “The Lord of the Rings,” and “Looking for Alaska.” And fellow conventioneer Lily Zalon says she just finished “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”
Her father first read the Harry Potter books aloud to her, but once she dove in herself, she says, the books ushered in her love of literature. She will attend a literature camp later this summer, she adds, where “we will read books and learn about new ones.”
But, she cautions, publishers and movie studios may never be able to profit from film versions of new franchises, she says, “because there will never be another Harry Potter.”