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Should J.K.Rowling still be messing with Harry Potter?

7th Feb 2014

Should J.K.Rowling still be messing with Harry Potter?
Harry Potter is back in the news this week with author J.K.Rowling's shock revelation that she wishes Hermione Granger had ended up with the Boy Who Lived, instead of Ron Weasley. We're taking a look at Rowling's habit of messing around with Harry Potter and asking if any of her retrospective changes are worth paying attention to?

It’s The Fandom That Lived. Nearly seven years since the final book was released, and after the last film came out in 2011, the Harry Potter love-in is going strong because… well, because we don’t like to let it go.

Now author J. K. Rowling has come forward in a new interview to state that she regrets one of the biggest payoffs of the series. Hermione Granger, she says, should have married Harry Potter.

The immediate reaction from many Potterheads was fury. These fans are heavily invested in the couples that did (or did not) happen – for Rowling to announce this out of the blue creates a whirling vortex of broken childhoods.

But is it so bad if an author changes something retrospectively? Is it worse because it’s Rowling?

Hogwarts: A History (of Rowling’s revisions)

This is not the first time that Rowling has flung out a character change after publication. In 2007, Rowling stated that she felt Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay.

Some were enthusiastic; others were sceptical, even angry. And why shouldn’t they be? Dumbledore in no way indicated who his relationships were with – contrast that with the many overt heterosexual relationships scattered throughout the books and it starts to look like tokenism.

Why no queer characters in the central bunch? Why no adult same-sex couples? Rowling even spoke about cardigan-sporting teacher Remus Lupin’s narrative as a way to show how people treat individuals with deadly or contagious illnesses. Specifically, Lupin’s lycanthropy has been read as a metaphor for HIV (see the excellent Space Crip blog entry for one reading of this).

On a lighter note, Lupin and Sirius Black send Harry a joint Christmas present, which is just about the coupliest thing you can do without, you know, being a visible couple.

In a series as influential as this, queer characters would have been welcome amongst its diverse readership. The online community liberally creates queer headcanons on sites such as Magic Queers. It’s a sandpit where fans feel safe to play, to bring out the representation they feel they need.

Rowling’s queerbaiting edits, by contrast, seem to do more harm than good.

Limited Choice

The books succeeded in all sorts of areas regarding trope-smashing. Ron, the “nerd” of the main three, became valuable (and later, desirable), giving girls everywhere some light out of the dark tunnel of school bullying.

And then that nerd married a close friend, Hermione, and had babies. Okay, THAT was a bit too neat and saccharine but for a primarily young audience, such an ending was probably needed after the rollercoaster of character deaths.

Is there really anything that terrible about changing Hermione’s husband? Well, yes.

Why did Hermione have to end up with one of the two? Pairing her with Ron might have been too cutesy, but Harry is especially problematic. As a straightforward hero, he wins at the end – including getting a wife in the form of Ginny Weasley. Having Hermione become part of that package is reductive.

She shouldn’t be swapped between the two. In fact, she shouldn’t have to be coupled up to live happily ever after. When we start thinking that, “Hermione SHOULD have wed X,” we lose sight of her as an independent, intelligent figure.

So are we just trying to cast Hermione into a modern role that she was never intended to fit?Why Did Hermione Conform?

Reading back over the books now, there are faults galore. Our sense of what is appropriate behaviour has altered drastically. Snape, portrayed as a hero making amends for getting Lily Potter killed, is actually really unpleasant. (Obsession with a disinterested/dead woman? Ew.)

So are we just trying to cast Hermione into a modern role that she was never intended to fit? Well, no. From the start, Hermione’s entire narrative was unconventional. She’s Muggleborn yet clearly above her peers in classes. She’s a girl but is anything but “just a girl,” surviving torture as well as the hardships suffered by the boys.

Hermione had the perfect opportunity to become a career witch – she never seemed like the type to conform to what seems like magical tradition of marrying not long after leaving school.

It would have given Rowling the chance to vary an uncomfortable trope in the books – that of how she treats the non-family oriented woman.

Umbridge and Aunt Marge are clearly demarcated as savage and single, devoted to animals instead of children. Rowling used Bellatrix’s motherless fanatic role to go head to head with Molly Weasley’s mother love, demonstrating how the latter is triumphant.

There are softer examples – Professor McGonagall, for example, has no family mentioned and is very successful at what she does. But Hermione could have been the first clearly single, job-focused character – she certainly would have contrasted with family guy Harry.

Accio Critical Thinking!

Of course, no one has to listen to Rowling. She might be the biggest influence we had on our formative years, but she’s still an author. And that means, technically, she’s dead.

Back in 1967, literary critic Roland Barthes instigated the idea of the death of the author. At its simplest, that means a book and its writer are separate – personal intentions of the author need not apply. So there we go. You might be angry, but since Rowling’s not going to accommodate fandom anger, you’re all free to ignore all present and future Potter alterations.

Unless Rowling goes ahead and redacts Albus Severus, aka the second Potter sprog. We are all praying for that day.

Which Harry Potter pairings would you like to see confirmed? Were there any you disagreed with?

Comments

  • Siobhán says:

    Well put. I hated the epilogue to Deathly Hallows; it was unnecessary and served only to close down potential post-book meanderings in the minds of the fans, and JK Rowling is just late to the game in wishing it unwritten.

    The HP nerd in me is honour-bound to correct your last point, however. Albus is Potter sprog numero dos: older brother James Sirius came first.

    • Beulah Devaney says:

      Ahhh that was my mistake (Features Ed), not Kristina! Editing it now.

    • Kristina says:

      Hi Siobhan! I absolutely agree. It was an abrupt way to make sure all loose ends were chopped off, if not neatly tied off. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to someone who DID like the epilogue…