Belinda Huang ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Earlier this month, J. K. Rowling, bestselling author of the Harry Potter series, revealed that she regrets pairing Ron and Hermione together, to the shock and outrage of Potterheads all over the Internet. Though Rowling acknowledged that she may be “breaking people’s hearts,” what does this collective reaction say about the greater question of ownership in creative work?
After all, this isn’t the first time that new information about the characters and their relationships has come to light. In 2007, she confirmed Dumbledore’s homosexuality (never explicitly stated in the books) generally calming the fans’ “is-he-isn’t-he” gay furor while opening the discussion about the representation of homosexuality in the media. However, this newest interview has generated the most controversy to date because it doesn’t confirm, but actually rewrites, major plot and character arcs of the series.
In a special issue of Wonderland, a UK based pop culture magazine with a circulation of around 65,000, Emma Watson interviewed J. K. Rowling about her newest venture in the Harry Potter universe, a screenplay for the movie based off the spin-off book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the course of the interview, they naturally discuss Watson’s character in the series, which leads to speculation about Ron and Hermione’s relationship as described in the Deathly Hallows’ epilogue. Both women agreed that Ron and Hermione were not necessarily the most compatible match and that Hermione and Harry would have had a more equal relationship.
For some fans, these are fighting words. But whatever your thoughts about Ron and Hermione’s relationship, does Rowling have the right to express her desire to make her own corrections, clarifications, or additions to the series now that it is over?
First, we must recognize that unlike many other authors, Rowling has the privilege of being alive while her books are popular- Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and Sylvia Plath enjoyed little literary or financial success in their lifetime. Instead, their work has achieved a longevity that shields fans and readers from the possible regrets and second guessing of the authors. J.K. Rowling still holds public control of her fictional universe, even as it expands and evolves without her.
The Harry Potter universe has expanded from just the original books and movies to spin-off books like The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Fantastic Beasts, an upcoming West End stage show, theme park areas like “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando,” as well as online worlds like Pottermore and unofficial parodies like A Very Potter Musical and Potter Puppet Pals that have disseminated via the internet. The series has printed over 450 million copies of the books in 73 languages during a time when technology has allowed online fan communities to become more active, more voracious, and more connected. This means anything Rowling has to add will affect a whole network of fans and products.
Of course, everyone has the right to change his or her mind. In 2005, Rowling told Harry and Hermione shippers that they should “go back and re-read” the books: obviously time has changed her opinion on that front. As the author, writing this story as a form of “wish fulfillment,” Rowling has an undeniably intimate and personal relationship with the text and its characters. However, as the omniscient narrator of the series, Rowling had the ability to shape the story as she pleased while she was writing – it’s time to let them go now, to stop publicly editing her canon.
Sure, under US copyright law, the books belongs to the author for the duration of his or her life, plus seventy years (though Universal Studios may own rights for longer.) But the experience of reading these books, of internalizing and loving the characters that so many of us grew up with, has given us an almost proprietary emotional investment in the characters and their well-being. Fans feel like a are part of the Harry Potter universe now – we grew up waiting for our Hogwarts letter, creating makeshift wands of spare twigs, remaking scars into a symbol of power. It feels a little petty and a little insulting for the author to change her mind now.
Granted, Rowling admits that Ron and Hermione would “probably be fine” after some “wizard marriage counseling.” But that’s small recompense for a loyal fandom that’s stood by Harry, Ron and Hermione through seven books, eight movies, and over a decade of magic.