Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no wifi, or were just so ensconced in your weekend Oscar ballot that you could think of little else, then you heard last week’s announcement that J.K. Rowling will be teaming up with Michael Pietsch at Little, Brown (and the UK’s David Shelley) to release a new novel, this time for adults.
Even non-Potter fans can imagine the mass hysteria that has ensued.
I saw the news unfold yesterday at lightning speed from my desk at work, in the way that tight-lipped news usually does: people repeating, over and over again, the same two known facts and quotes that the story has to offer. Jo is excited, Little, Brown is excited, and no, this book will NOT in any way be connected to Harry Potter. Add to that further discussion of the as-yet-to-be-revealed Pottermore and Twitter declarations like “Anything written by JK Rowling is a literary masterpiece,” and you begin to get the full picture of what fervor any Rowling release will cause.
If it’s not already obvious, I’m as big a fan of Harry Potter as I am of food and shelter. He is pivotal, integral to my self-definition, simply because I can’t remember being more excited and anticipatory of anything else across the span of a decade (or 14 years, if we count the movies, which we obviously will). Midnight release parties, costumed movie debuts, countless family parties spent speculating and quibbling with my 20 Irish cousins about who Jo would allow to die in the final chapters and who RAB might be. My Harry Potter story is, of course, like anyone else’s: we were captivated by something in a way that stuck, in a way we hadn’t yet been ensnared before and didn’t know was possible. Even if Where the Red Fern Grows didn’t stimulate your tear ducts, Rowling’s “Battle of Hogwarts” surely would. Whether you read the books or loathed them, it is indisputable that Rowling is a master of the young adult fantasy genre. This is true in a way that readership and sales statistics alone can’t prove; if they could, then we’d have to concede that this woman is also guilty of mastery.
This is all to say that it’s perfectly understandable why we’re all so excited. Rowling’s past body of work is so earth-shattering that the news of future productions was bound to be. But can we judge her foray into a new genre and a new demographic with any accuracy until we actually see the thing? She’s going to be the most scrutinized sufferer of a potential sophomore slump that’s ever been known to the literary community and far beyond it. The way I see it, three roads are possible:
POSSIBILITY A: World waits on edge for Rowling’s follow-up. Upon its (likely midnight) release, World is outraged to find that the book is overwhelmingly “normal”: no magic, no trademark flashiness, some but not nearly all of the character development that seven novels in a row can create as opposed to a single one. World is instantly upset that this book has left a bitter taste in their post-Potter mouths.
POSSIBILITY B: World waits on edge for Rowling’s follow-up. Upon its (likely midnight) release, World finds that the book is overwhelmingly “normal”: no magic, no trademark flashiness, some but not nearly all of the character development that seven novels in a row can create as opposed to a single one. World is ultimately disappointed, but is desperate to foster a post-Potter Rowling’s efforts, and consequently overcompensates in its praise. World extols the virtues of this new novel on levels that demand the literary canonization of its author.
POSSIBILITY C: World waits on edge for Rowling’s follow-up. Upon its (likely midnight) release, World finds that the book is overwhelmingly “normal”: no magic, no trademark flashiness. World considers this a welcome and refreshing change, and the book is actually as well-crafted as any of her previous serial seven. World either admits openly or secretly notes its surprise that Rowling may just fit nicely into the modern literary community, content to no longer be a standout, but one in a fine line of commercial authors just trying to do what she loves.
Is it unreasonable to think that all of these options are equally likely, and that a cocktail of any or all of them may result? Either way, the as-yet-untitled book will sell hundreds of thousands of copies by virtue of its byline, and because of that sort of just-add-water success, we’ll have to be even more careful to assess the book for what it is. How much will it lean on its topically unrelated wizardly predecessor, and how much will it speak for itself? I’m excited to find out, and I think my biggest duty as a Potter enthusiast is to promise to read it at face value – with a sturdy admiration already in place, admittedly, but with the level head that superfandom often eschews.