On 27 September, a little over a week ago, The Casual Vacancy was released. The first novel by J.K. Rowling set outside the Harry Potter Universe. The book had been announced for months. Its cover, in itself, set people talking [I am one of those who does not like it much]. There was a build-up, and excitement, and everything that was to be expected of the author of possibly the biggest series in the world releasing a new book into the world. The puzzling thing is that this Harry Potter fangirl wasn’t all that excited.
It is not so much the setting, the story in itself, the sex or the strong language that made me feel mostly apathetic about this release. It wasn’t even the endless stream of “this is not Harry Potter” warnings and interviews and reviews popping up everywhere (although I do admit that after reading that for the third time, I sort of got the message). I like the idea that Rowling is exploring new waters. I like the idea that she’s writing again and willing to show it to the world despite the fact that she’s probably made enough money to never write again. So really.. Why did I care so little for The Casual Vacancy’s release? Why was I more apathetic than exited (which I feel I should have been)? Well, there’s the rub: I don’t really know.
This is what I have been pondering about the past 10 days. I’m not sure I have any answers, but I did come up with a possible suggestion as to the why – which only left me feeling more puzzled in the end.
Because here’s the thing: Perhaps my apathy really is a case of The Casual Vacancy not being a Harry Potter book. Now, you might think that that is no surprise in itself, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what you think I mean when I tell you that. You see, it’s not that I wanted her to write another Harry Potter book. I think the series is pretty perfect as it is. I’d be okay with there never being another Harry Potter book released, even though the idea that this series is over fills me with nostalgia. It’s the fact that Harry Potter is not equated with J.K. Rowling in my mind.
It was only on the book’s release date that I somehow came to the realisation that the quality of the Harry Potter series is really the quality of J.K. Rowling as a writer. Somehow, in my mind they always were somewhat separated. To the point where I might think to myself that Harry Potter means so much to me, its universe, its story, its characters, I love them all. But, somehow, that never made me think of Rowling as a favourite author, or an author whose writing I really enjoy for the writing in itself. This does not mean I do not appreciate her as a person, as much as the next one I like her interviews and I had tears in my eyes when she appeared at the premiere of the last Harry Potter movie.. It’s just that somehow I’ve never equated my love of Harry Potter with J.K. Rowling’s qualities as a writer. Undeservedly, I now realise. But it’s true nonetheless.
In a way this is a compliment, I think: it means the world of Harry Potter feels so real to me that I believe in it as a separate entity from the author. To some extent, I feel the same about Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking Trilogy, with the difference that I’ve already read a book by him set in a separate universe which means I’m better at acknowledging his quality as an author as opposed to a single series. In a similar vein, it means The Casual Vacancy will be Rowling’s chance to convince me that she is a favourite author of mine, instead of the creator of a universe I love. That in itself is quite exciting, isn’t it? Perhaps this post will convince me to feel a little more anticipation for the book that’s currently lying on my desk in a reminder that it’s there, ready to be read. (Because yes, for all my apathy, I did pre-order it at the last minute).
I’m left to wonder if I’m alone in this. If when you say you have a favourite series, book, or author, the book(s) or the author takes priority? And if the books are more likely to take priority in case of a series, especially with authors who’ve written only one series to date? I somehow feel it was easier for me to decide Margo Lanagan was a favourite author based on the one book, Tender Morsels, I had read by her, than it is to acknowledge Rowling as a favourite despite my growing up with Harry Potter as one of my favourites stories ever, so much so that I felt justified in exclaiming on twitter that Harry Potter was my teenage life. Perhaps this is because a stand-alone book ultimately makes you accept in advance that it will be the beginning and end of the created setting, whereas that’s different with a series? Which leads to the question if this changes once an author has released more? I don’t know, I’m just playing around with ideas here. In a way, series or books perhaps do not make a difference. Perhaps it’s really the idea of knowing an author can create separate worthwhile universes?
I really hope any of this makes sense.