What Rowling Did Wrong: On Respecting the Rights of Readers

Last month J. K. Rowling started a hullabaloo when she questioned the suitability and long-term viability of Ron and Hermione’s relationship.

I personally wasn’t fazed by the whole who-should-be-with-who argument. What did concern me was that Rowling had overstepped her bounds as an author by casting doubt on a storyline she had already finished. 

The Harry Potter series had (and still has) a huge impact on the literary world, which means that Rowling has a huge impact on the literary world. She is currently the most well-known example of what it means to be a writer—and that’s why her comment irks me. It disrespects the relationship between writer and reader.

I know some of you disagree with me. You say that Rowling clearly identifies with Hermione and is more musing on her own life than on the lives of her characters. But here’s the thing:

You’re absolutely right.

The Potter characters obviously mean a great deal to Rowling. In a 2012 interview with Oprah, she said:

When [Harry Potter] ended, I was in a slight state of shock. Initially I was elated, but then there came a point [when] I cried as I’ve only cried once before in my life and that was when my mother died. It was uncontrollable . . . For 17 years I’d had [these books], through some very tumultuous times in my personal life, and I’d always had that. It was an escape for all these children; you can imagine what it had been for me.

And when Oprah said, “But you know what happens ever after,” Rowling replied:

Yeah, I do. I couldn’t stop. I don’t think you can stop when you’ve been that involved with characters for that long. It’s still all in there. They’re all in my head still. I mean, I could definitely write an eighth, ninth, tenth [book].

Let me clarify.

I’m not saying that Rowling doesn’t have the right to portray her characters as she sees fit or that she doesn’t have the right to vicariously portray herself through her characters. I would’ve had no problem with Rowling’s Ron/Hermione comment if she had written those ideas in an eighth, ninth, or tenth book.

But once a writer puts down her pen, she’s handed over the imaginative rights of her story to her readers, and it’s disrespectful to take that back and say, No, this is actually what happens, no matter how you imagined it.

Just after finishing the final Potter book, Rowling said:

It gives me a certain satisfaction to say what I thought happened and to tell other people that, because I would like my version to be the official version still even though I haven’t written it in a book. Because it’s my world.

Part of me agrees with her. She did spend years writing Harry Potter and it is her world . . . but then there’s another part of me that says, Isn’t that selfish, though?

Rowling insists she’s done with Potter, yet she won’t allow her readers to keep the story alive in their own imaginations and in their own ways.

In the end this argument boils down to one simple question: where does a writer draw the line between her rights as creator and her responsibility to readers?

I firmly believe that the best books come from writers who have the utmost respect for their readers; they’re driven to create better stories, better characters, and better worlds because they have too much respect for their readers to give anything less.

And yes, Rowling has done that in so many ways . . . I just have to disagree with her on this one.

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Letting Go after Publishing: Why Rowling Shouldn’t Have Commented on Ron and Hermione’s Relationship

Have you heard the latest buzz in the Muggle world?

Hermione-actress Emma Watson interviewed J. K. Rowling for the British entertainment mag Wonderland and some of Rowling’s quotes have made quite a stir.

The magazine itself doesn’t hit newsstands until next week, but snippets of the interview have leaked, wherein Rowling claims she made a mistake pairing Hermione with Ron instead of Harry:

I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. 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.

She goes on to say:

I know, I’m sorry. 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.

She also adds that Hermione and Ron will probably end up in couple’s therapy.

Not surprisingly, Potter fans have taken sides on the issue. Personally, I’m for leaving Hermione and Ron alone, and here’s why:

Rowling finished writing the books.

That’s it. That’s my only reason.

A writer will always have the itch to go back and change things. Words are permanent and you want everything to be perfect, I get that, but I’m coming from a reader’s perspective.

Any time a writer tries to dial back the clock and correct or clarify something that’s already been published, she pulls apart her intricately woven story and exposes all the ugly wires underneath. She reminds her readers that it was “only a story.” Not real people in a real world trying to solve real problems but just some characters slapped on a page.

To write an enthralling story is to create an illusion—a magic trick—and every time Rowling steps in and says, Oh wait, I should’ve done this instead, the illusion is spoiled.

Furthermore, by questioning Ron and Hermione’s relationship, Rowling violated the rights of her readers. Check out my next post for more on that.

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