Novelist Naomi Alderman and children's writer Frank Cottrell Boyce debate whether another Harry Potter would be too much of a good thing
NO – Naomi Alderman, novelist
Listen, JK. (You don't mind my calling you JK, do you?) Although we've never met, and you probably made more galleons and knuts last week than I expect to see in the next 10 years, you've always seemed approachable and honest, not the kind to stand on ceremony. Don't do it.
The thing is, Harry Potter's story is finished. He's defeated Voldemort. Friends have died, lessons have been learned, Draco Malfoy is all grown up with a child of his own, and Mrs Weasley said the word "bitch". It was beautiful. And now it's over.
I understand the temptation to revisit old triumphs. It feels dangerous to step away from ground where you know you've been successful. Imagine if you wrote something that wasn't quite as good! Or something that didn't capture the imagination in quite the same way. Well, what then? Creators all know that the most dangerous thing isn't to try and fail, it's to stagnate. Maybe not every new world or new set of stories you make will enjoy the huge success of Harry Potter – but a worse fate would be to keep on ploughing the same old furrow, not able to try anything new.
I don't say you even have to invent a whole new world. The world of Harry Potter is evidently vast and you've barely scratched the surface. What about – and I know this is a radical notion – a novel for adults in the same imaginary space? What's going on in the Ministry of Magic? What's up with those dragons in Romania?
If you're still tempted to add to Harry's story, I have two words for you, words that ought to terrify any creator thinking of revisiting a finished opus: Star Wars. The first three Star Wars movies (1977-1983) aren't perfect but they're complete just as they are. Watching just those three, we're left to wonder how a young Jedi could ever have become Darth Vader, to imagine gleefully the history between Jabba and Solo. We didn't need to have those blanks filled in for us – part of the joy of a great fiction is being able to do some of the invention yourself.
If I were able to wipe from my mind all memory of the ghastly travesty of the Star Wars "prequels" and the accompanying "remastered" originals I would. It became ludicrously, painfully clear that George Lucas hadn't understood anything that made the first movies great. Where the first three were grimy and realistic, the worlds of the prequels were ridiculously clean. The dialogue was dreadful. The explanations of the mysterious power of the Force took away all its interest and magic.
JK, I know you're thinking, "I'd never do that. I know my characters, I know my world." But why take the risk? Your legacy is assured. Instead of retreading old ground, with all the dangers that you might uproot what's already planted there, why not take the opportunity to experiment?
Having said all that, if you've got a new book growing in your head, I know you're right – you have to write it. That's what happens. Like wisdom teeth pushing up through the jaw, a book is unstoppable, and will only cause you pain if it can't grow right to where it needs to be.
If you have to write it, then write it. But, just a thought, and without any criticism of the wonderful Harry – maybe the plucky hero could be a girl wizard next time?
YES – Frank Cottrell Boyce, children's writer
It's not as if eight volumes is overkill is it? There are probably eight volumes of Victoria Beckham autobiography by now and when did she last face down a basilisk or foil an ogre?
It may seem a strange thing to say, given the unprecedented sales and the generation-defining excitement her books generated, but I think JK Rowling is vastly underrated. The scale of her success means that it's unfair trying to compare Harry Potter to any other book series. Even the most popular writer can usually find somewhere quiet to think about what happens next. Rowling wrote the last five Harry Potter books right in the middle of the Potter phenomenon, with fans and the media second guessing her next move everywhere she looked. It's hard enough to come up with something. To come with something that no one else has come up with – that's formidable. The only people who have been in that situation are the big, highly paid teams of writers and directors who work on franchises like Batman, Shrek, or Pirates of the Caribbean. Almost always they screw up. Ten minutes into the second Pirates of the Caribbean film, for instance, you knew it was dead. The people making it hadn't the slightest understanding of what made the first one so exciting.
Rowling on the other hand went off on her own, kept her nerve, refused to be distracted and somehow kept surprising and challenging us. The list of people who have managed to keep a character alive that long is very, very short. Anne of Green Gables for instance is, I think, a truly great novel. But does anyone read the other eight Anne books? Sherlock Holmes is probably the only real comparison but it's a telling one. What we want of Sherlock is more of the same. Sherlock himself never changes. Harry on the other hand is a rich, complex character who has – like his first audience – grown up.
I admit it's hard to imagine her writing more about Harry himself. It's one thing to bring a hero back from the dead – that's what heroes do – it's quite another to bring him back from marriage and children, which is where she left him at the end of the seventh and (to date) final book. In my opinion the series' most compelling character was Snape, and it would be interesting to see him resurrected. Yes I do know he died in the books but so did Sherlock once upon a time. In these touchy feely days, it says a great deal for Rowling's skill and courage that she ever gave a central role to such a chilly and morally complex character as Snape.
Usually in these circumstances, people resort to a prequel. I really hope that she doesn't. One thing that distinguishes the series is that patina of history, that feeling that the characters know more than you do, that they have a bit of a past which you might not ever know. Again this is a quality that Potter shares with Holmes. Watson often refers to stories – such as the case of the giant rat of Sumatra – which you will never hear told, or he makes grandiose hints about adventures that must remain secret for reasons of state or heart. If you spell those stories out then you banish the light and shade, and scrub off the charming patina.
The very fact that I can't imagine what form another Potter book would take is the best reason for saying she should write one. I can't imagine it. And isn't that what writers are for? To take us to places we can't imagine.