Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Rowling Fanfics Herself

Harry Potter readers were abuzz over the weekend as news leaked out of an interview with J. K. Rowling scheduled to be published later this week in which the author says that she regrets arranging the relationships as she did in her bestselling books:
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.

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.”
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.

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.


Otepoti said...

The only plot twist that could have rescued that whole turgid Wagner libretto would have been if Neville had turned out to be The One (the prophecy hinted as much) and Harry had turned out to be, so to speak, John the Baptist.

MrsDarwin said...

Otepoti, I agree. I remember the terror I felt, reading the fifth book after it had been leaked that someone would die, and thinking the whole time, "She's going to kill off Neville!", and how relieved I was when it wasn't him. Neville should have been the hero of the piece -- what an adjustment for Harry if, after all those years, he actually wasn't The One.

Also, what a weakening of the story it would have been for Hermione to end up with Harry. Something I found refreshing and true to life about the books was that there was no love triangle. Most people don't dither between two love interests. Most people are lucky to find one person they can love. I appreciated that in book 7, when Hermione and Harry were thrown together for weeks on end, they were both completely faithful to Ron, not in the negative form of fighting against temptation, but in the positive form of constancy and fidelity.

Enbrethiliel said...


I still think that the wasted opportunity was a romance between Hermione and Viktor Krum.

On a more general note, I think that authors who reveal that they've made mistakes should be held accountable for them. Rowling owes it to everyone who still thinks the sun shines out of her rear end to rewrite the series so that what she says should have happened does happen. Which is, as you've just pointed out, Darwin, what Dickens and Tolkien had the decency to do.

(Well, no, I'm not totally serious. =P But I am a little disgusted that she can get away with saying she wrote the story badly after she became a millionaire from everyone who trusted her to tell it to the best of her ability.)

Otepoti said...

What I find slightly repelling is the idea that in the author's mind the characters had choices other than the ones she gave them. It might just be the pre-destinating ex-calvinist in me, but they're puppets, not people.

Rowling's claim that Ron was not, in retrospect, right for Hermione makes me wonder if she is in fact projecting issues around her own failed first marriage onto her fictional creations. And even though I'm the one who wrote the downer fanfic about Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelley's nasty split, I'm not volunteering to review any forthcoming Hermione Karenina that might spurt from Rowling's copious inkwell.

I used to think I owed Rowling for the several very peaceful weeks she gave this household as the older children ploughed their way through the corpus. But then I had read those endless f*ckers aloud to the intellectually disabled younger two, and the gloss went off, fast.

If Ron and Hermione seem a slightly ill-assorted pair, that makes them the more believable. In CS Lewis' "That Hideous Strength", there's this: "In his company she had that curious sensation which most married people know of being with someone whom (for the final and wholly mysterious reason) one could never have married but who is nevertheless more of one's own world than the person one has married in fact."

If Rowling can't see that most marriages, and not necessarily the ones that break down, are ill-assorted, and that her first fictional and dramatic instinct ran true in putting Ron and Hermione together, then I'm surprised at her. She should own her authorial decisions.

Enbrethiliel said...


Otepoti, I love you. <3

Otepoti said...

And I, you, dear E.

Darwin actually made all my points better, though. :-)

Lauren said...

I ignore all of Rowling's post Potter pronouncements. Like George W actually ends up with Angelina Johnson, as if! Obviously he comes to America and hooks up with a fun loving Muggle girl who looks a lot like me. :)

sciencegirl said...

Maybe she's watched the movies too much. The movies tended to give any brave or intelligent Ron lines to Hermione, leaving Ron to be the hilarious doofus best friend, with occasional outbursts of pettiness and jealousy. I think a little of that spilled into the books, with Hermione taking more and more of a leadership role, and Ron focusing more and more about typical teenage things like Quidditch and snagging. After a while, it's hard to see what Hermione sees in Ron, and I was a little disappointed in how he was written. I think maybe Rowling ended up making them too volatile to let the romantic tension build, but showed them fighting too often, and now thinks they need to communicate more healthily. She wasn't very good at showing romance in a convincing way with any of her couples.