In a new interview conducted by Emma Watson, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling drops a bombshell: She’s not so sure she should have put Ron and Hermione together.It's not unprecedented for famous authors to make changes in their already published works, either for reasons of story continuity or due to the reaction of fans. Charles Dickens famously re-wrote the ending of Great Expectations to mollify fans who were incensed with the original, in which there was no sign of Pip and Estella ever getting together. Dickens substituted a new ending in which suggested an eventual happier outcome.
The shocking revelation came in the new issue of Wonderland, of which Watson is a guest editor this month. The comments were obtained by The Sunday Times.
Rowling says that she should have put Hermione and Harry together in the Harry Potter series instead of Hermione and Ron, according to the publication’s headline, which reads, “JK admits Hermione should have wed Harry.”
“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment,” she says. “That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she continued, “I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.”
Watson didn’t seem shocked by these comments and agreed with her. “I think there are fans out there who know that too and who wonder whether Ron would have really been able to make her happy.”
Rowling also says that Ron and Hermione would have needed “relationship counseling.”
In a somewhat different example, J.R.R. Tolkien revised his already very popular The Hobbit while he was in the course of writing The Lord of the Rings, realizing that if the ring that Bilbo gets from Gollum were The One Ring, Gollum would not willingly give up the ring even if he fairly lost the riddle game. Tolkien revised The Hobbit for future editions, and included the change into the story by having Bilbo lie to Gandalf, and his own memoir, about how he got the ring.
Precedented or not, however, Rowling's revelation, and the reactions to it, bother me for a couple reasons.
First, it seems like a problematic way for authors to go about discussing their work. One of the things about fiction is, of course, the it involves things that didn't really happen. In the reader's mind, the characters have a sort of real, living existence. We fill them out based on the bits of their characters revealed in the text by the author, and thus give them a move fully rounded form ourselves. An essential part of maintaining this illusion is the author behaving as if the world of the story actually does exist in some sense, rather than simply being a working out of the author's whims and desires.
Of course, readers will often have their own ideas of how things should have worked out. But even this is, in a sense, an example of how what the author does show suggests a character which goes beyond the limited events and characteristics actually on the page. When Leah Libresco writes that Harry Potter should have ended up with Luna Lovegood, it's because each of these characters has become fully rounded enough in her own mind that she thinks she can see what would have been a more appropriate match -- just as many relatives are often at pains to explain who exactly they think their loved ones would have been better off marrying instead of the oafs and oaf-ettes they chose.
What bugs me with Rowling's backtrack is that it spoils the illusion of fiction by pointing out that, at the end of the day, the characters do whatever the author makes them do. When she says that she wishes she'd paired the characters up differently, and that the way that she did things was really just wish fulfillment, she makes the books seem less like a world and more like an elaborate role playing game.
Of course, this wouldn't be the first time that Rowling has addressed her own works as if the text doesn't matter. She is, after all, the one who created waves with the "Dumbledore is gay!" revelation, which constituted a revelation because however much it may have been in her mind she never bothered to include any hint of it in the text.
Secondly, on the merits, I have to say that I don't find the proposed change all that interesting. It's not that I'm deeply invested in the existing pairings of Harry Potter characters. The characterization of the books didn't strike me as at a level to give one strong feelings about which relationships "worked" and which didn't, unless it was because one identified with certain characters. But the sense in which the Ron-Hermione relationship worked in the context of the structure of the books is that one of the dangers the books always faced was that the entire fictional world was All About Harry. If, out of the three main characters (Ron, Hermione and Harry) you paired Hermione and Harry in a romantic relationship, this would make the tendency even more extreme and you'd find yourself wondering why Ron is bothered with as a character anyway. He'd become an accessory: Comes with loyal best friend!
The fact that Harry is an outsider to their relationship (and that his primary romantic connection is with a fairly minor character) helps to balance Harry's outsize place in the world that Rowling created. Make Hermione fall in love with Harry instead of Ron, and the books become more of an exercise in Harry-worship than an ensemble story -- with Hermione being validated as an important character by being allowed to pair up with Harry.