Memo to Rowling: Please Don't Kill Harry!

by Caitlin Servilio

Ah, the life of a celebrity . . . it really is cruel. Fans always knocking down the door and camping in the front yard. Greedy agents, managers, publishers looking for the next big break. Paparazzi intruding on personal time. We’ve seen the fame phenomenon far too often in recent years, from J.D. Salinger permanently retreating from the spotlight, to Chris Martin of Coldplay flipping out on photographers left and right, to Lindsay Lohan drunkenly driving away from paparazzi. It seems a month doesn’t go by without the pressure of world fame growing too much for a celebrity. (And of course, there's Britney Spears too. For more on this blog's take on her, please see: "Britney Spears & The Anxiety Closet.")

But this year might mark a first: the first time fame’s grown too much for a fictional celebrity.

Harry Potter, boy wizard, age 17, may be the world’s most beloved child star. Earnest, kind, and clever, he’s responsible for rescuing the Sorcerer’s Stone, defeating the Heir of Slytherin, and encouraging countless people from elementary school to old age to pick up novels and read — among other things. Fansites, clubs, awards, bestseller lists; there seems to be no limit to this kid’s fame. Britney wishes she could gain that kind of notoriety from shaving off her hair. Fat chance, Britney.

But that’s okay, right? It’s all right for the Western World to obsessively love Harry, because he isn’t real. There’s no actual Privet Drive for network vans to park on, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Boy Who Lived in his Bathrobe. There’s no real Hogsmeade for photographers to lurk in alleyways trying to get the scoop on who Harry’s dating, and there’s no real Platform Nine and Three Quarters (okay, so there is one now) where fans can hold a vigil each August attempting to get Potter to autograph their cloaks. So, it’s okay, right?


J.K. Rowling has strongly hinted that this summer Harry may join the ranks of British celebs tragically taken before their time. On an episode of British literary TV show Richard and Judy, Rowling stated, “I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author, who thinks well, I'm going to kill him off because there can be no non-author written sequels, as they call them."


Rowling might kill Harry so people won’t pester her to write more books about him. Or she might kill him so no one will resurrect the franchise when she’s not around to protect it. In either case, it boils down to one unsettling fact: if she killed him, it would be because we (and I include myself in this) care about Harry too much.

It’s a terrible paradox. Every author wants her characters to strike a chord with readers, for readers to identify with and sympathize with her hero. Most struggling writers would kill for a chance to create their own Harry. But Rowling’s actually done it, and now it seems she’s not happy either. Now that everyone’s emotionally invested in Harry Potter, she wants us to simmer down a little bit. “Calm down, guys,” she’s saying. “He’s just a character, and I’m his creator, and I can kill him if I want to.”

Yet it still feels like a betrayal. I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was a mere tyke of 11, and I’ll be 19 when the Deathly Hallows comes out this summer. It’s no exaggeration to say I grew up alongside Harry and Ron and Hermione and the rest. My generation has known few stronger influences.

So if Harry Potter dies, did we murder him? Is this just another aspect of us, the members of the Millennium Generation* always wanting too much of a good thing? We kill our bodies slowly with fast food calories and our brains slowly with crap TV. Now we’re even killing our fictional heroes with too much devotion.

So please, J.K. Rowling, I understand that if Harry lives you’ll likely get several thousand tons of junk mail pleading for an eighth volume. And I understand that if Harry lives someone might get around those pesky copyright laws and mess with your boy after you’re dead and gone. But please don’t add the death of our favorite wizard to our burden of guilt, because let’s face it, my generation’s already emo enough.

*Some call them the Millennium Generation or Millennials. And some have other names for the current college-aged generation. Please see the older posting, "Generation HP," for more.

(Promotional poster for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows from Scholastic Publishers. Please see below to watch the entire interview with Rowling on Richard and Judy from the U.K.)

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Jeff Siegel said...

Rowling is far from the first author to contemplate killing a character. Arthur Conan Doyle was so sick of Sherlock Holmes that he killed the detective in The Final Problem in 1893. Faced with a revolt by readers and editors, Doyle was forced to bring Holmes back in The Adventure of the Empty House in 1903. (The Hound of the Baskervilles, though written in 1901, takes place before Holmes' death.)

Caitlin Servilio said...

Yes, though as you say, Conan Doyle was sick of Holmes by then. He had been writing those stories for so long. If J.K. kills Harry, I think it would be less because she was sick of him, and more because she doesn't want anyone else to warp her creation or try to persuade her to write more books. Maybe I'm showing my inner idealist here, but I think that those kinds of factors, that relate to the outside world, shouldn't have so much of an influence on what happens in a fictional world. It makes me sad.

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