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Harry Potter and the Battle of Adaptation



At the beginning of her 2007 article, “Adapting Children’s Literature”, Deborah Cartmell encouraged us to remember the complementarity and mutual admiration that should exist between cinema and literature as two narrative arts. At this time, adaptation theorists such as Brian McFarlane and Linda Hutcheon had done much to temper an oppositional point of view when comparing film and literature. Seeking to find other ways of studying adaptations than merely by the question of fidelity, they had argued strongly for intertextual analysis. Cartmell thus supported this approach to adaptation studies at the beginning of the article, but she quickly recognized that there still was a degree of tension between cinema and literature, especially from the point of view of the audience. Framing her own case studies in the metaphorical context of a ‘battle’ between the arts, she stated that the winner was the one which appeared dominant on screen. Cartmell seemed to argue that children’s literature was a particular field in this respect since fidelity remained especially important to this audience. Among her examples she quoted the case of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), deciding that, here, literature had won.
This may not be so sure. This contribution aims to reconsider Cartmell’s evaluation of this film, as well as to examine how the discussion of fidelity discourse has developed in recent years. We will ask if the Harry Potter (2001-11) series invites us to think about adaptation differently. We will also question the validity of the ‘battle’ notion in this case and consider what developments Henry Jenkins’ 2006 concept of ‘transmedia storytelling’ has brought to the debate since.

Keywords: Harry Potter, Fidelity, Children’s Literature, Transmedia Storytelling, Participation

DOI: 10.24193/ekphrasis.22.7