J.K. Rowling: from author to authority

Curator's Note

Harry Potter has been shaped by its roots as a best-selling global literary phenomenon. From 1997-2007, Rowling’s publishing schedule gave her solitary control over the development of the narrative. The Warner Bros. film adaptations, 2001-11, developed alongside the books and often co-opted her authorial influence by emphasising Rowling’s creative input throughout the production process.

Since the culmination of the seven-book, eight-film saga, however, Rowling has remained central to the franchise’s narrative and world-building initiatives. She is credited, for example, as co-creator of the original story for West End theatrical production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which extends the narrative beyond the epilogue of the books and films) and screenwriter for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the five-film prequel saga that translates the wizarding world into 1920s New York, Paris, and beyond). The trademark ‘J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World’ has been associated with all of these recent productions, indicating Rowling’s transition from literary author to multimedia brand guardian and content creator.

Rowling is not only useful in constructing a sense of authenticity and artistry for new Potter projects, then; as an author – and authority – figure, she obscures the messy webs of commercial and creative relationships underpinning the continued success of the global transmedia phenomenon. Despite the reality of collaborative media authorship, Rowling’s voice is persistently the loudest. Her ability to frame meaning and value, and to mediate the ways in which fans engage with the franchise, has only grown stronger: she announced that Albus Dumbledore was gay at a 2007 book tour, but in 2016 she alters wizarding world canon in a single tweet.

Rowling’s authorial evolution is arguably unique in the entertainment industry. Its closest corollary is perhaps George R. R. Martin, writing A Song of Ice and Fire alongside its TV adaptation A Game of Thrones; but where Martin relinquished details of the narrative to producers, Rowling’s involvement remains crucial to the sustained legitimacy of the Harry Potter – or, should I say, Wizarding World – franchise. It remains to be seen how this might develop in the years to come.

Comments

Emily Truman's picture

Challenging the author's authority...

Great thoughts Cassie, thanks. The extent of Rowling’s authority in relation to the Harry Potter world is indeed far reaching (and to add to your list of examples, this includes input into the flavour of the food items available at the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando). Your point about Rowling’s ability to continue to “mediate” fan experience is well made. It made me think as well about fan interactions with the texts that challenge the author’s voice and/or view point, such as Brad Neely’s alternative audio soundtrack to the first HP film (“Wizard People, Dear Reader”, 2004) and the popular podcast “Witch, Please” made by two Canadian academics (Hannah McGregor and Marcelle Kosman) who purposefully read the books and films separately from authorial intent. These examples and your piece above make me wonder what Rowling herself thinks about fan interventions with the texts that challenge her authorial position.

Cassie Brummitt's picture

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Hi Emily - thanks for reading and commenting. Rowling’s taste-testing is one of my favourite examples of her complex and often bizarre authorial role! I agree that it’s interesting to consider what Rowling thinks about fan interventions and these fan-based challenges to her authority. I’ve been thinking about Cursed Child a lot lately, and it occurs to me that A Very Potter Musical offers an interesting fan-led comparison!

Amanda Firestone's picture

Really Great Thoughts

This is really important to discuss and consider. Rowling, as author, receives both praise and censure for her continued persistence in shaping the Potterverse. Where many authors seek to move on to other projects, Rowling appears to wallow in her wizarding world. My friend and colleague, Leisa Clark, and I are collecting chapters for a book about Potter 2.0 post-canon books/films. I would love for you to submit a proposal about Rowling’s continued efforts to publicly expand the universe. If you’re interested, please contact me at: ConvergencePotter@gmail.com.

Cassie Brummitt's picture

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Hi Amanda - thanks for reading and commenting. The Harry Potter universe is indeed such a cultural behemoth that I can see why she would seek to remain so entrenched in the world. I think her role provides a kind of security as well; in the face of other franchises that often face reboots or instability due to industrial forces, texts/experiences endorsed by Rowling are imbued by a sense of authenticity. I did submit a joint proposal to your book with my colleague Kieran Sellars, but on a different topic I’m currently working on (Cursed Child). Thanks!

Lauren Camacci's picture

Definite Overlap in Our Posts

Thanks for writing, Cassie. These questions have factored in heavily in the SWPACA discussions, andI also saw some great papers on this topic at the HPC@CHC in October too. In my longer paper on the five-part canon split, I engage the heck out of Barthes, because how do we reconcile the “death of the author” in the era of Twitter? Let’s keep prodding the conversation along by challenging the monolithic definition of “canon” and finding space for this new form of authorship!

Cassie Brummitt's picture

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Hi Lauren - thanks for reading and commenting, and also for the heads-up about the SWPACA. I’d love to attend in the future. I can see the overlap in our posts too; I think Rowling is so crucial not only to the creation of texts/experiences but also to how canon is perceived. Great to hear you’re using Barthes too - I’ve often wondered how he (and Foucault) would account for someone like Rowling, and for the entertainment industry of today!

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