On Sunday, J.K. Rowling “admitted” that she married off the wrong characters in her still monstrously popular Harry Potter series. Ron/Hermione, she said, was wish fulfillment and literary bad form. Alas, alas, it was cliche. Instead, she should have changed direction mid-series, and hooked up Harry and Hermione instead.
Our writers had a few things to say about that.
What was your first thought when you read/saw/heard about JKR’s comments?
Jamie: I kind of blinked and went “hm…okay.” I don’t recall other authors going public with their feelings about stuff that has long since been published or finished, but it’s her ‘verse. She’s allowed to change her mind.
Carolina: I felt as if J.K. Rowling had said, “Maybe I should have written a book about knights, I don’t think this wizard stuff is literary enough.”
Kathleen: I was a little startled, but mostly just thought, “Well, okay, I can see that.”
Ashley: *shrugs shoulders* Meh. I mean, I started reading the series at 11 and continued every year until the final book, but, I think I kinda lost touch with the HP fandom since then.
Megan: I laughed.
Ivy: I didn’t believe it was actually real. I saw the Tumblr fury before I saw the actual article, so I kind of wrote it off as everyday unfounded Tumblr rage. But then I was like, “Okay, J.K., ret-conning your own universe seems…questionable.”
Maddy: At first I felt alarm, and then I laughed at the juxtaposition of the headline and the movie still they chose. Then a little annoyed, I guess.
How do you feel about what actually happened in the books vs this “maybe I should have done it this other way” thing?
Claire: I read Philosopher’s Stone when I was eleven, which is more than half my life ago, and I never un-expected Ron and Hermione to fall in love. I was like, “obviously they already did.” I waited ten years to see them grow to their best selves and get smooching, and that was cathartic. Now the creator-deity of the universe they inhabit is like “lol wrong,” and that is… I don’t have academic thoughts about it beyond, “this is a stupid thing to do, what are you playing at,” and I don’t really care with the parts of my brain that are used every day, but there’s something very subconsciously itchy about it. Like, ffs, haven’t you had enough from me that you gotta force your way back in through vandalism? lol ~feelings~
Jamie: I didn’t mind Ron/Hermione. Earlier in the series, I thought Harry/Hermione was better. After Cho Chang, I was indifferent to Harry ending up with anyone except Ginny. I find the Harry/Ginny pairing creepily, creepily, revoltingly Oedipal. But I was a rare case in the fandom there. Everybody I know thought Ginny was just the perfect one for Harry, to the point of poor Cho getting so much hate. On the other hand, Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny meant The Trio all ended up as part of the giant extended Weasley family, which I admit is kind of sweet.
Carolina: As Claire said, the Ron/Hermione romance was built since the very first book. Is it a cliché? Yes. The dumb-but-funny boy and the smart-but-friendless girl who have a love-hate relationship. Possibly it is this cliché that makes J.K. Rowling feel embarrassed about it years later, now that she is more “literary”. But anyway, it is a big thing, not just a detail. If she was to edit the books to make Harry end up with Hermione, she would have to change a crazy amount of stuff, ending up with a different series than the one we know. So, if she wants to fulfill her literary ambitions, a wiser way would be to write other books (which she is doing) and leave the past behind. Also, I totally forgive the Ron/Hermione cliché. Except for the epilogue (ugh), it doesn’t compromise Harry Potter to me.
Kathleen: I agree that Ron/Hermione was something that was being set up from the beginning. I always sort of expected it to happen and wanted it to, for a long time. Ultimately, I was happy they were together, even though in some ways I did feel like Hermione was settling for Ron. I don’t think Harry would have been a better match for Hermione (but then I also don’t have any love for Harry and Ginny as a pairing). All of that said, I have no issue with JKR having said this–it doesn’t change what’s in the books, and it doesn’t change how I view the characters or their relationships. I actually like knowing this kind of thing and find it more interesting than irritating.
Ivy: When I was younger and reading the books for the first time, I was pretty adamant that I didn’t think Hermione needed to end up with either dude. She was obviously ten times more capable than both of them. When she and Ron got together, I assumed it was just because audiences like to see loose ends neatly tied up. So I don’t think she should be with Harry either. Hermione don’t need no man.
Maddy: Earlier on, I sincerely thought Harry and Cho would end up together eventually, and although I wish it wasn’t written in such a way that so many people came away with negative feelings towards Cho, in the end I was okay with JKR. Of course, I do wish Ginny could have spent more page-time acting, rather than us gleaning a lot of her character from things we had been told. As far as Ron and Hermione are concerned, I think it was pretty much spot-on? It always felt like one of the more ~real~ relationships, in that it wasn’t perfect, but it worked for them. And their war-time House Elf-inspired kiss in front of an awkward and exasperated Harry was perfect, as far as I’m concerned. If she didn’t want to be with Ron, I don’t see her going for Harry, who is way too much of a little brother for her. (And I love that there is that familial relationship between them, since neither of them have siblings themselves.)
Where do you think this is coming from on JKR’s part?
Jamie: Possibly the fact that she had to crank out those books as fast as humanly possible given how fast they started making money. She may not have had time to consider alternatives or different endings as thoroughly as she would’ve liked. Though Carolina has a good point: that it could be she just feels weird about the cliche that she contributed to propagating. TV tropes could go on for days about the love-hate relationship.
Claire: Her arse.
Carolina: Her pride, but it happens to us all. Who hasn’t looked back on a work made years ago and thought ashamedly of how silly it was and how much better you could make it now? It means you are growing as a writer (or whatever else you do), but if you want my advice, just try your best to keep it to yourself.
Kathleen: I think, as Jamie mentioned, there was a certain amount of pressure on JKR when she was writing, both in terms of speed and in terms of what the audience/her publisher/etc. wanted to see. There were certain things that were expected payoffs. A few years removed from writing the books, and with the movies now finished, she’s got some distance from it, and I can understand how that might give her time to rethink things and enough separation from the audience’s expectations that she feels it is now okay to voice some of the things she’s been thinking about for who knows how long.
Megan: There’s a tendency to take the regrets of genre writers more to heart–my ships, oh no–but it’s common for writers to look back with regret. Like Carolina said, it’s a sign of growth. I think it’s natural for authors to be dissatisfied with past works, and we as readers shouldn’t take it too seriously. The books remain as they are.
Ivy: Her fear of slipping into obscurity after the critical failure of “The Casual Vacancy?”
Maddy: Yeah, I agree she was under pressure to write the books on a certain timeline. But I feel like she’s definitely being unfairly critical of herself. She’s probably thinking about her level of ability as a writer now, given that she’s written a couple more books. She tried to publish the first book of a mystery series anonymously, but was outed and thus it became a bigger hit than a normal first-time author would have had. Maybe given more time she’ll come back to like HP more. I feel like it’s a cycle that a lot of creative types go through.
If this info hadn’t come out, what would you have expected her to regret instead?
Claire: Ginny and Hermione’s weird Veela-hate? “Cho Chang”? The gross phase that she went through in Chamber of Secrets (many bogies)? Mentioning Harry’s adam’s apple like five times in Order of the Phoenix? What is with the adam’s apple? And there could have been less body judgement.
Jamie: Slughorn’s cowardice? (I think the Veela hate was just the typical response of girls around supernatural girls with supernatural girl sexiness.) The weird way Harry died and went to not-quite-heaven? KILLING REMUS AND TONKS?!?! ahem, sorry.
Carolina: Although it is just a small passage in the book, I never got over how there was a “girl” corner in Fred and George’s store, with cute, pink, fluffy things and love potions. Pink stuff, how original. And love potions? Those are girl things? Cause they are creepy and um, by Muggle law, rape tools. The twins shouldn’t be selling those at all. In my head, the Weasley twins are so much better than this.
Kathleen: The epilogue. It could have been so many things, and instead we got Albus Severus.
Megan: I actually hated the Weasley twins up until the last books and have never had a high opinion of their characters. They’re brave and loyal to their family, yes, but they’ve always been jerks. Anyway! I don’t know that I’d expect JKR to regret anything in the series. Minor mistakes and characterization choices are natural regrets for authors, but I don’t want to project my own dissatisfactions onto her. As the series got closer to its resolution, and it became clear that Harry, like Lily, was going to save the world through the power of his innate goodness (~love~), I disconnected from it emotionally. I’m one of the few Potter fans who has no feelings about the epilogue–my bugaboo comes much earlier on, and the epilogue fits a lot of what she set up in that last quarter.
Ivy: Maybe that entire epilogue? Or killing Remus and Tonks. That was hella dumb.
Maddy: Remus and Tonks. I get that she felt a war inevitably orphans childrens, so poor Teddy Lupin had to lose his parents off-screen, but ugh, what a way to go.
Do you think her comments suggest a weird focus on marriage/hetero-normativity/pairing up characters in a happily-ever-after ending?
Claire: I don’t know that that’s such a weird focus. Everybody (okay not EVERYBODY) likes shipping, you know? I think it’s weird to talk about pairings that are bad in literary terms (what does that mean here? do we have access to the full interview?) and I think it’s annoying to make spoken-word Official Fanfiction when you’ve put the world to bed. Like, play fair, author! People have probably got married in Ron and Hermione cosplay. Don’t shit on their embodied fantasy.
Carolina: Yes, in the sense that every major character HAD to end up married with another major character of the opposite sex and have children, because everybody wants to have children, right?
Jamie: Not a weird focus as such. But you have to remember how the fans put shippy pressure on her. But to set it up as THESE people end up together in THIS configuration, and ha-ha look, Malfoy’s gone bald, because he started out bad even though he grew out of it, just smacks of thumbing the nose at the shippers who had other ideas. Didn’t sit well with me. The last few books honestly seemed rushed to me, and that caused my fannish devotion to wane a little.
Kathleen: I definitely think there’s a focus on wrapping it up and giving people a happily ever after. And I can understand why you would want to give that kind of ending to a series like this (people were bound to keep asking her to write more in the ‘verse–giving an ending like this meant she could say “look, it’s done!” even if fanfiction has well and truly proved that isn’t the case). But I don’t like the focus on the idealized traditional nuclear family, and it seems clear that one way or another that’s where JKR was heading, whether Ron/Hermione or Harry/Hermione. I just think there are so many ways that we could have had a satisfying wrap up that didn’t involve this kind of “all of the high school sweethearts are still together and have 2.3 kids named after everyone who died” thing. But then I still sometimes think that maybe Harry should have died at the end of the books (sorry?).
Megan: As I said above, I disengaged with the series about 200 pages before the epilogue, so I can’t say that I felt put off or validated by it. What I think the epilogue was trying to do, was invoke a kind of after-the-war pastoral. A good fantasy example is Lord of the Rings. After they’ve tossed the One Ring and the elves have picked up stakes for Heaven-across-the-sea, the humans settle in Humantown, the hobbits settle back in Hobbitville, and everyone gets married and begin producing babies. It’s not about the marriages per se, so much as it’s a symbol of Middle Earth’s healing and restoration. Now, it’s a trope that needs unpacking because it does carry with it absolute cissexism and homophobia (by the hetero body we are restored). And the purpose of the epilogue would be just as served with queer pairings, or scenes of family and friendship–the reign of the nuclear family and the centrality of marriage is over. Tolkien himself undercut it with Frodo’s story–having lived through war, he was all too aware of how personal and social scars mar all happy endings–but JKR’s big mistake is that she doesn’t. The fly in the ointment–that the house system continues at Hogwarts–is so minor, and so glossed over that it can’t serve as a useful counterpoint. There’s no balance in the epilogue.
Ivy: Yes, and I remember thinking that at the time. It would have been a nice opportunity to break free of some of those tropes. See my prior comments re: Hermione don’t need no man.
Maddy: I think JKR is/was really invested in the idea that getting married and having kids was the ideal way to demonstrate these characters are moving on with their lives, and putting some of the fear and trauma behind them. The Marauders’ generation was wiped out and led generally unpleasant lives, for the most part. Harry was orphaned, neglected and abused as a child. So instead there’s a kind of “mending” of those multi-generational battle wounds–Teddy Lupin is orphaned but probably has a pretty good childhood, and Harry gets to be a part of the kind of family he never had, etc. But at the same time, having a few same-sex pairings in there (even if just on the periphery–oh hey, it’s Dean and Seamus and their kid!) would have been nice.
What’s your opinion on “death of the author” in analyzing the canon, when the author is very much alive and still mulling over what she wrote?
Claire: Don’t look back in anger, JK.
Carolina: Whatever she says, I’m not gonna change my already very well established vision of the characters and their relationships.
Megan: It’s an interesting question–how much should the average reader care about an author’s opinions? How much should a critic care? Or an academic? I don’t discount the author entirely–I love a good, in depth author interview–but for the average reader, she’s not so important as all that. We experience the work on its own, first, and then we engage with the cultural phenomenon and the author. For most, JKR is a Santa figure, more than a person. As a critic, I’m very interested in looking at what creators think they’ve done vs what they’ve actually done, and there’s valuable context to be found in a creator’s life and history. In this case, well, it’s a very minor point and not something that turns the whole world of Harry Potter on its head.
Kathleen: I think this is just something that happens when you’re looking at something that is such a huge cultural phenomenon and that has an author who is still alive and still engaged with it. But then, I think that the reader has a choice on whether to incorporate that information into their view, or to ignore it and take the text as it is–though fandom and the internet in general definitely impact the ability to ignore things like this as well as how we engage with these stories, the author, and the conversations around them.
Maddy: As long as she doesn’t go back and re-write the damn thing, I’m okay with her sharing her views, even if my reaction is, “Hmm, no, you’re wrong.” Also, like Megan said, this issue is kind of a minor point overall. Despite HP fandom’s passionate interest in shipping, I never felt like romance/romantic love was central to the story. Love was a central theme, but it tended to be all-encompassing, not narrowed down to one kind of love.
Poor Ron. =(
Claire: Just, why cannot a lady love a poor, supporting character without the repentant author falling over themselves to re-do things in the normal way?
Jamie: I think Ron deserved to win something, since he was set up so downtrodden: the youngest boy of the Awesome Weasley Family and the best friend of The Boy Who Lived, and I was satisfied with Weasley is Our King. But — I think putting her with Harry would’ve been an even worse case of “the hero gets the girl” trope than her ending up with Ron was. I honestly think Neville, who is studious and hardworking, would’ve been a better match for Hermione than either of her two best friends. But why did she need to end up married off at all? If she had to wind up with someone, I also wouldn’t have minded seeing her with Krum — who seemed to genuinely have affection for her. He was pretty much left as an open ending. We got to see Fleur married to Bill, but poor Krum was just abandoned as a plotline after Hermione promised to write him (did she ever?!). It seemed like she just used him to make Ron jealous, which is something I disliked. Hermione being a manipulative witch *cough* is another rant altogether.
Carolina: Harry and Hermione have such a strong relationship, but saying that they should end up married feels like saying a boy and a girl can’t be friends and love each other in ways that don’t revolve around sex.
Ivy: Even though I am usually the “Hermione” of any given group (come on, we all know which HP character we are in our friend unit), I always had a special fondness for Ron. I never saw him as the “dumb” one, and to be honest, this does make a little tiny bit sad because it means he didn’t come out with much at the end of the story. But more importantly: J.K. Rowling should most regret not making Neville the star of the books because obviously he is the best one.
Maddy: Ron gets such a bum rap, and I kinda blame the movies for this, in part (*shakes fist at Steve Kloves*). He’s the underdog, and I always kind of identified with his insecurity. But there is so much to love about the character, it bothers me that he often gets swept aside or reduced to a punch line. Not that his entire value as a character is wrapped up in his ability to be in a relationship with Hermione, same as Hermione’s value or destiny as a character should not be wrapped up in her romantic relationships. WEASLEY IS OUR KING!