Mitchell Chapman: Whatever happened to Greylock's Ilvermorny?

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PITTSFIELD — 2016 was an exciting time to live near Mount Greylock, as author J.K. Rowling named it the site of Ilvermorny, the North American school of witchcraft and wizardry in an online story that was released in conjunction with the new Harry Potter prequel movie series "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."

Three years later, we have an annual Harry Potter-themed convention at the foot of Mount Greylock (M.A.G.I. Con, which, while it skipped a convention this year, plans to return in 2020) and the occasional visitor wearing Hogwarts robes, but the excitement for Ilvermorny has largely died down, and it has failed to make a profound economic splash in the area. For most people, it might be little more than an interesting piece of local trivia.

Almost 20 years ago, Harry Potter took the world by storm, being perhaps one of the largest young adult cultural phenomena in the early 2000s across the nation, including Berkshire County, whose residents participated in its famous midnight book launches.

The series' original seven books and eight movies are still remembered fondly today. So what happened?

BEASTS NOT FANTASTIC

The first place to look at why Ilvermorny has yet to add much fire to Mount Greylock's already respectable tourism is the box office returns of the latest Potter-universe films, which serve as a good way to gauge the public's interest in new Potter content in general.

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (2016), the first film of the titular prequel series to the main Potter films in which Ilvermorny is briefly referenced, suffered from its convoluted connection to the original films (the series' protagonist, New Scamander, who is portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, is the author of a textbook that appeared in the first Harry Potter movie) and clunky branding. It was a film no one asked for, and arguably focused on a tale in the Potterverse that didn't need to be told.

Despite this, it managed to earn a decent worldwide box office gross of $814 million, though it failed to attract much interest domestically, where Potter films usually thrive, as at the time it had the lowest domestic gross of any Harry Potter series movie. It also was the first Potter movie since "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005) to not crack $900 million at the worldwide box office.

The second "Fantastic Beasts" film is where the series started to get into real trouble, as it is the lowest earning Harry Potter series movie of all time, earning a measly $653 million at the worldwide box office. Its $159 million domestic gross is also the worst in the series and with a brutal 37 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, it's the worst reviewed film in the series. What we're seeing of the "Fantastic Beasts" films is a series in trouble that is suffering from diminishing returns and shrinking audience engagement, which affects the reach of all other Potter content, especially supplementary works like the Ilvermorny story.

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Aside from the poor box office performances of the "Fantastic Beasts" films, one must also consider how the inundation of Potter content has contributed to the lack of interest in visiting Mount Greylock for Ilvermorny.

Ilvermorny was the subject of a short story on the official Harry Potter website Pottermore (now named Wizarding World) in 2016, but was upstaged later that year by a Potter stage play ("Harry Potter and the Cursed Child") and the first "Fantastic Beasts" film, both of which Ilvermorny wasn't very important to. As a result, Ilvermorny was not Rowling's first priority even in its launch year, which left it underdeveloped and gave locals little to go off of in terms of capitalization and fans little reason to care about it outside of it being a novelty, let alone reason to visit where it is geographically supposed to be.

To this day, little has been done to flesh out Ilvermorny outside its short story, and it might never be in a way the general public will have easy access to, as Rowling's Wizarding World website is being retooled to sell premium subscription content for $74.99 a year — which is about half the price of a year of Netflix; and it is unlikely to receive such treatment in a main series Potter book, as one hasn't been published since 2007.

Perhaps the world has moved on from Harry Potter. Maybe the "Fantastic Beasts" films and the extra Potter content on Rowling's website have not tried hard enough to captivate modern audiences like the original books and movies did. It's also possible that, even if this new content was the breakout cultural success like the original Potter books and movies were, nothing short of an actual Ilvermorny castle similar to the Hogwarts castle in Orlando, Fla., would put Mount Greylock and the surrounding area on the map the way people hoped Ilvermorny would.

NEED REASON TO COME

Two years ago, I interviewed then-Adams Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco about the inaugural M.A.G.I. Con ("First magical convention for Ilvermorny in Adams to be held next month," Eagle May 18, 2017), and his response perfectly encapsulated the local hopes for Ilvermorny:

"The Harry Potter franchise is a billion dollar franchise with worldwide appeal, and now we have a piece of that," he said. "With several more 'Fantastic Beasts' movies coming out we are hoping that Ilvermorny will factor prominently in them in one fashion or another. Communities throughout the country and the world that have popular sites from movies end up getting huge numbers of visitors."

Mazzucco is right in these assertions and his hopes are understandable, but if Ilvermorny is going to have a notable economic impact on the Berkshires, it will first have to be featured prominently in future Potter content beyond a disposable online story, and — locals and the franchise alike — will have to give fans a reason to drive to Berkshire County for Ilvermorny.

Mitchell Chapman is an Eagle page designer/copy editor and freelance writer.


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