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Rowling's kinda, sorta return to 'Harry Potter' gets a kinda, sorta response

Gloria GoodaleThe Christian Science Monitor

J.K. Rowling has broken her promise not to reopen the "Harry Potter" saga – kinda, sorta.

And perhaps to the surprise of those who remember the near-hysteria surrounding the arrival of each of her seven book installments, these words could also be applied to the general response to her effort this time around. Fans are kinda happy and sorta surprised. 

Admittedly, the new work is a piffle compared with the doorstop tomes of the seven books. The tale is a mere 1,500 word newspaper article penned by Harry’s nemesis, Rita Skeeter, covering his appearance at the 2014 Quidditch World Cup.

Nonetheless, back in the day when Harry’s tale was still unfolding, Ms. Rowling generally couldn’t move or speak, let alone write, without her words  ricocheting around the globe. Families (this writer’s included) have vivid memories of long lines awaiting the arrival of each book in the local bookstore.

This time around, the digital article simply appeared unheralded on the official Pottermore site, awaiting discovery by fans.

Some found it within seconds and devoured it. But many, such as 17 year-old Annie Zalon, have yet to get around to finding and reading it. “I’m definitely a fan,” she says, noting that she has read all the books, some multiple times. It’s just that, well, as a recent high school grad, she has other things on her mind. “It sounds cool, but I’m pretty busy getting ready for college right now.”

And then, there are the serious scholar fans. Nancy Nicholson, professor emeritus of Miami University where her "Harry Potter" seminars were in constant demand, says she was not even aware of the new article. She is finishing up several books and articles and says she just hasn’t kept her professional finger on the "Harry Potter" pulse.

“But it sounds good,” she says, as she admits to taking the call on her cellphone while she is in her stables mucking out a horse stall. “I’ll have to go look it up.”

Serious detractors have dogged Rowling from her earliest days, so it should come as no surprise that scolds lambast the author for messing around with what, they say, should be a closed book.

“First Harry Potter was 'the boy who lived,' " writes Caitlin Dewey. “Now, courtesy of the bottomless, soul-sucking nostalgia of author J.K. Rowling and her legions of fans, he may be 'the boy who never died.' Ever. Even when common sense and narrative structure suggest – nay, demand! – that someone cast a killing curse and put him out of his misery.”

Now, that’s the kind of passion the books usually elicited, if over on the happy side of the spectrum. But, here again, polite respect of Rowling’s right to pick up the thread of a beloved character and see where it leads her seems to be the more widely heard response this time around.  

“Rowling clearly doesn't want to leave Harry Potter behind, but longs to write in this world she created,” says Craig Svonkin, executive director of Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association at Metropolitan State University of Denver, via e-mail. He notes that this is a familiar syndrome with authors like Rowling who are what he calls “world-builders.” After all, he adds, “Tolkien never really left Middle Earth.” 

Nonetheless, some have suggested that commercial – not literary or storytelling – interests are driving this gambit. The new Orlando, Fla., theme park attraction based on the wizarding world of Diagon Alley just opened Tuesday, and a feature film based on "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" – yet another derivative Potterverse work, with the screenplay penned by Rowling – is in the works.

Perhaps the best way to sum up this chapter is that Rowling herself is in a kinda, sorta, half-in, half-out relationship with her now-iconic creation.

Fellow author Lois Leveen shares the feeling.

“We authors can be just like our fans – there are characters in our novels that we adore so much it's hard to let them go,” she says via e-mail.   

So she understands the impulse behind the return to writing "Harry Potter." 

“Rowling's experience writing series fiction was tremendously successful, and I suspect it must ultimately also have felt very confining," she says. "But now she's experience what's much more common to novelists, the mixed feelings of moving on from well-loved characters. Or, of trying to find a way to feed your fans' (and your own) love of 'past' work while wanting to create entirely new worlds inhabited by entirely new people.”