Harry Potter scholar John Granger, AB’83, on the franchise that lived.
Sean Carr, AB’90
Heady days in the wizarding world. In July J. K. Rowling revived the Boy Who Lived for the London stage in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This November we’ll finally hear an American-accented alohomora when the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—an HP prequel–spin-off hybrid set in 1920s New York—apparates in theaters.
The Potter faithful are torn. Some are delighted to have new stories and revelations; others are crying Phantom Menace.
So what does the “dean of Harry Potter scholars” (according to Time magazine) think?
“For a fundamentalist such as myself, it’s just the seven books,” says John Granger, AB’83 (right). “The rest is distraction and dissipation.” He notes this kind of debate about sequels dates back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s post–Reichenbach Falls revival of Sherlock Holmes. “You don’t have to get very far into geekdom to hear people become emotional about what is and is not canon.”
Granger should know. A classics major in the College, he has built a cottage industry out of explaining how Harry Potter draws on the Western canon—and the continuing cultural influence of the series—in books such as Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books behind the Hogwarts Adventures (excerpted in the University of Chicago Magazine in 2009), How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling’s Bestselling Books, and The Deathly Hallows Lectures: The Hogwarts Professor Explains the Final Harry Potter Adventure. That last title is a nod to Granger’s stewardship of the HogwartsProfessor.com website.
What surprises Granger (no relation to Harry Potter heroine Hermione Granger) is how few of Harry’s adult fans have followed Rowling into her less-than-secret pseudonymous career as Robert Galbraith, author of three (and counting) books about private investigator Cormoran Strike. “They’re really good,” Granger enthuses, adding that the Galbraith series uses the same slow narrative release that made the Harry Potter books such a phenomenon.
He and other Potterphiles believe the Strike novels are a book-by-book commentary on the Harry Potter series—essentially making Rowling a high-profile interloper in their world. He doesn’t want to spoil any surprises for those who haven’t read the first three books, but just as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire featured the Quidditch World Cup and Voldemort’s return, the fourth Strike book is predicted to involve the London Olympics and mark the arrival of Strike’s much discussed but never seen father—a “cross between Tom Jones and Mick Jagger,” in Granger’s description.
Nonetheless, he says, Rowling’s “loyal fans have very little interest in anything that’s not wizard related.” The books “sell very well for mysteries, but they don’t have any midnight releases.” In fact, on his way to a speaking engagement at a Harry Potter conference last fall, Granger stopped in the airport bookstore and discovered 10 copies of Career of Evil, the third Strike novel, which wasn’t due to be released for another week. “If that had been a Harry Potter novel,” Granger says, “it would have been on the cover of USA Today the next day.”