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Seven years after the last book was released, J.K. Rowling has published additional Harry Potter material. This comes after a children’s book featured in the series, the launch of Pottermore and news that Rowling would write a feature adaptation of “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them," which is already planned as three "megamovies" for Warner Bros.
Harry Potter is a beloved, impeachable pillar of pop culture (and rightfully so), but with this onslaught of additions, Rowling is now being compared to George Lucas. The author adding on to "Harry Potter," however, is just the latest infraction in a much bigger trend. Consider the top box office hits from the last 14 years: every film, with the exception of “Avatar," was a prequel, sequel, reboot or adaptation. ("Avatar," meanwhile, has spawned three sequels, the first of which will hit theaters in December of 2016.) Our nostalgic tendencies allow our most beloved cultural phenomenons to get shamelessly re-harvested to the point where they are robbed of their initial value.
Adding on to a story always alters it in a way that can never be fully distinct from the original. There are shifts in our understanding, when things are deliberately changed (such as Rowling outing Dumbledore long after completing the series or George Lucas patching in those infamous technology updates). The same goes for reboots and additions. Once we have to interpret new material, we begin to relate to the original work differently (and that creates a more painful transition if the update is crap). Yet, whether good or bad, re-evaluation threatens the sanctity of the original work. In the case of Harry’s grey hairs and marital struggles, that is certainly the case.
Nostalgic art carries such power not just because we loved it once, but because it marks a certain period of our life. As Jon Heder (who surely understands this phenomenon at least as well as anyone else) put it in an interview with HuffPost Entertainment: "You could have seen a movie only a few years ago, but it still holds a special place if you watched it when you were young -- once you reach adulthood your timeline becomes more flat."
Obviously, nostalgia is nothing new, but it feels like a trend in this moment, because we’re hyper aware of it. Loving a work -- especially a cult classic -- lends itself a sense of unity. Being able to quote things or even just expressing shared admiration creates a feeling of community, of being part of an in-group with other fans. The way that unity is shared across social media gives the things we love major box-office power when they are regurgitated, reinvented or made into live action films more than five decades later. (Disney just recreated “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sleeping Beauty,” and there’s already a teaser trailer featuring a minute-long look at Cinderalla’s animated shoe that has managed to go viral. Sorry in advance to the anthropomorphic elephant who will be cast in “Dumbo.”)
This is not to stay stop loving all of that stuff or -- Dumbledore forbid -- suggest that we just get over Harry Potter already. We couldn’t if we tried! But someone like Rowling has a little more control in the matter. Just because she can wave her wand and generate another set of films (and accompanying merchandise, and theme parks and children's books) doesn’t mean she should. We’re culprits in the ease of that bloating process, where reboots, prequels and sequels are tacked on as a greedy extension of the beloved original. The question is: how much is too much? Our enduring penchant for nostalgia is the reason that, holistically speaking, it seems like Hollywood is bereft of new ideas. We complain, but if the box office numbers are any indication, we’re more than content to dwell in prostitution of the old ones.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca