I was going to title this Post “reality bites”, but decided to play nice.
A rousing discussion got me thinking about the Why of a celebrated author receiving 1 Star Rankings from a staggering 42% of people over on Amazon. Are people just vindictive little howler monkeys — yeah, I used that phrase over in the comments elsewhere, but loved it so I’m using it again — and eager to tear down something they’ve built up because it’s become too successful?
Perhaps. Oh, okay. Probably.
But I think it’s a bit more complex than that.
You see, for the last hundred years or so, JK Rowling has been carried by a once in a lifetime marketing juggernaut not seen since Jesus was body slammed into immortality on the back of the Bible (a very clever bit of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th century PR if there ever was one).
Am I overstating things? Yeah, but a point is being made. Bear with me.
Having left the Potter Universe, the door of Hogwarts closed and locked behind her, she’s now trying to create a new universe. Give new people life. Dazzle with a new story. Mesmerize us in unexpected and, more importantly to her, different ways.
But it doesn’t seem to be working.
You see, if we look at things realistically, the success of Harry Potter was less about the brilliance of the Writer JK Rowling than it was her talent as a storyteller. It was the boy Harry Potter tapping into the angst and struggles and difficulties of being different and disliked. For being hated because of who he was, his scar forever branding him as an Other. It was about being trapped by a Fate others couldn’t understand. And being punished for it despite the fact you were going to save the world and the butts of everyone who now hated you. And beneath all that it was about the world not recognizing just how special and unique you were.
For YA audiences — a genre that was forgotten and on the verge of death before Potter came along — it was the equivalent of hitting their G Spot. Over and over and over again. They were Harry and Hermione and Ron. And so were their friends. Even if you were an adult, the books spoke to you, the hapless Potter and his wand exorcising your adolescent ghosts.
And that’s where the juggernaut comes in.
But it wasn’t about the writing. It was NEVER about the writing.
Now JK is asking that it be about the writing. And therein lies the problem.
No longer insulated by the success of the Potter Universe, people are rediscovering the WRITER JK Rowling and not the Hogwarts storyteller. And many aren’t liking what they see.
Which could be a good thing for her in the long run.
THE CASUAL VACANCY will be a hit based on the curiosity factor alone. But, if early reviews are to be believed, it won’t be beloved. In fact, it might even be universally panned as the worst steaming pile of dog dookie since 50 SHADES. Which lowers the bar for ol’ JK. Which makes the feverish excitement surrounding the release of the book after this a bit less daunting. Having been disappointed by her last one, people will expect less. Expecting less, they’ll go in with an open mind.
And that gives her a chance to start from scratch, really break the bonds of Harry, and have people rediscover her as a Writer who writes and not the woman who created Harry Potter.
Five books from now, will we remember the 42% who hated her first foray away from Potter? Probably not.
But I guarantee you we’ll be looking at JK Rowling as more than just the woman who brought us Hogwarts.