January 19, 2017


Harry Potter Cinematic Guides: Harry Potter; Hermione Granger; Ron Weasley; Albus Dumbledore. Scholastic. $8.99 each.

Harry Potter Magical Places & Characters: Poster Coloring Book. Scholastic. $24.99.

Harry Potter Magical Places & Characters: Postcard Coloring Book. Scholastic. $9.99.

     The recent release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the earlier opening of the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, have together expanded the “Potterverse” created by J.K. Rowling in ways intended to reach out to audiences that may not have grown up with the original seven books and eight movies about “the boy who lived.” At the same time, the new entries are intended to revive the flagging interest of people who did grow up with Harry, Hermione and Ron and have now, as adults, presumably moved on to other fantasies and other entertainments.

     It is largely for this second group, or perhaps for the children of its members, that Scholastic has released a series of very well-done reminders about the original Harry Potter films. Each slim hardcover book uses multiple scenes from the movies and brief connective copy to remind readers of key film events and how they tied into the overall story of Harry, his friends and their adventures. Every Cinematic Guide follows this pattern, and all are well done within their self-imposed restrictions. The one about Harry mentions his survival as a baby when Voldemort killed his parents and provides cinema stills of Harry, his parents, Hagrid straddling the motorcycle on which he brought Harry to the Dursley home, the detestable Dursley family – and, later in the short (64-page) book, highlights of Harry’s time at Hogwarts, portraits of some of the people with whom he interacted in the film sequence, and his eventual final duel with Voldemort. The Hermione Granger book focuses on her intelligence, some of the unexpected difficulties she encounters at Hogwarts, her cleverness in helping solve various mysteries (including several stills showing the effects of the identity-disguising Polyjuice Potion that she proves adept at making), her role in the final battle against Voldemort, and her eventual pairing with Ron Weasley – one element of the books and films that many fans found rather hard to accept. The guide to Ron does little to explain what the whip-smart Hermione sees in him: it shows him as the pleasant, rather feckless hanger-on who is a good person to have with you in a pinch (as Harry repeatedly discovers) but who has altogether less personality and less depth of character than either Harry or Hermione. However, the book about Ron does a good job of summing up his and his family’s involvement with Harry and with the dramatic story arc of the films. And then there is the guide to Albus Dumbledore, who was played in the first two films by Richard Harris and in the others – after Harris died – by Michael Gambon. In some ways this is the most interesting of these guides, because it gives some prominence to matters that are on the incidental side in the other books: Dumbledore’s brother and sister; his first meeting with the student who would become Voldemort; his relationships with Snape and with his former friend, Gellert Grindelwald; his death and the larger plan that it sets in motion; and more. Taken as a set, these four books provide a handy, if surface-level, overview of the Harry Potter films and their main characters: they will help fans familiar with those films to remember them and will provide some useful background to anyone for whom the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which is intended to last for five movies, represents first contact with Rowling’s created world.

     For those of an artistic bent, some additional entry into the world of Harry Potter is available in the form of one large coloring book and one small one. Each contains 20 black-and-white scenes from the films, including some overlap between the volumes. The scenes are not identified, so these are books for the real Potter-film enthusiast. The smaller book, for that matter, is best for people who know what traditional postcards are and who still send them: each perforated page is exactly the size and shape of a card, with room on the back for an address and blank space to wrote a few words. The poster book, much larger and more elaborate (and thus considerably more expensive), is best for a really committed Potterphile artist: some of the scenes, such as one of Diagon Alley and one showing Hagrid sitting on the steps in front of his house in the woods, are very intricate indeed, and will try the patience of anyone not fully committed to this imaginative world. What the coloring books provide – and what the Cinematic Guide books offer in different form – is a chance to re-live one’s entry into the Harry Potter world as it appeared on film, and (in the case of the coloring books) the opportunity to reimagine the appearance of that world in one’s own way, using whatever colors one likes so as to highlight the characters and settings in the poster and postcard volumes. Whether or not the theatrical and cinematic expansions of the original Harry Potter franchise are worthwhile is arguable and is in fact being widely argued – but whatever disputes those extensions of the original novels may create, what is not in dispute is the fact that Rowling created one of the most fascinating and apparently durable fantasy worlds of modern times, one that garnered many millions of now-adult young fans and has the potential (through the new film entries) to bring in even more. Certainly these various guides and coloring books “exploit,” in a sense, the popularity of Harry Potter’s adventures. But it is hard to argue that that is an inherently bad thing, given the pleasure that Rowling’s writings – and the films made from them – have brought to so many, and the likelihood that the purchasers and readers (or colorers) of these books will relive the events that brought them enjoyment and maybe even get some additional Potter-themed gratification for themselves and perhaps for the next generation of Potter fans.

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