Friday, July 06, 2007

With the final installment in the Harry Potter series about to hit bookstores, and in the wake of the controversial "The Sopranos" finale, I've been thinking a lot about what, if anything, the creators of a popular saga owes to their audience.

Last year, Stephen King brought to a close "The Dark Tower" saga--like Harry Potter, a seven-book series--and plenty of his readers felt let down by the ending. (To me, the ending was perfect, but the final two books didn't match up to the others, particularly the first four.) King, however, has always stressed that he goes where the story takes him, and the few books that he plotted out in advance are, to him, his worst. King brought this point home in "The Dark Tower" series by creating a fictional version of himself who, in the final two books, was manipulated and directed by the characters he had created. (A gambit that many readers didn't exactly appreciate.)

Of course, no one wants a writer or artist to pander to the audience. If David Chase had ended "The Sopranos" in a hail of bullets, or with Tony led away in handcuffs, a large contigent of the show's viewers--myself included--might have been disappointed. I liked the idea that Tony was caught in a purgatory of his own design, always having to keep an eye on the door.

Still, when an audience's vision of a story veers dramatically from the artist's, the results can be ugly--as demonstrated by fan reaction to the first two "Star Wars" prequels. It wasn't just the wooden acting and leaden dialogue that doomed those two films. As one critic put it, "The Phantom Menace" was like watching C-Span in outer space. Trade Federation? Taxation policies? That's not what "Star Wars" was about. Of course, if one watches these excised scenes from the original film, you'll realize that George Lucas probably stayed relatively true to his vision for the story. One of the reasons that "Revenge of the Sith" received a warmer reception than the first two prequels was that it portrayed many of the events that were referenced in the first three films, and had much less of the additional mythology that most fans could have cared less about.

Like Lucas, King and "Sopranos" creator David Chase, J.K. Rowling is bound to disappoint some fans, regardless of whether Harry Potter gets to ride his broom off onto the sunset--or whether he goes to that great Quidditch match in the sky.

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The NYTimes had a hilarious set of contributed endings (well, takes on endings) for Potter yesterday. I think we moved automatically into post-Potter cynicism (or maybe post-post Potter something or other), although when I say “we”, I’m not sure who I mean by that.. The funny thing to me is that the new film seems to have captured the media’s attention far more than the book, even though, by definition, the movie can’t have anything new or interesting in it. I can’t remember which is coming first, but I would bet it is the film.
Slate had a "Sopranos"-inspired Potter ending:

I wonder what how fans will greet the final film if they hate the ending of the final book.
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