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Revisiting Harry Potter

The author is dead. But somebody forgot to tell JK Rowling.

JK Rowling’s now infamous interview with Emma Watson isn’t even officially published until Thursday, yet I don’t think there’s a single person on the internet left who doesn’t know what she (apparently) said within it. She regrets pairing Ron and Hermione, calling it “wish fulfilment,” and now thinks she should have paired up Harry and Hermione instead. Cue internet meltdown.

It’s lucky, for all our sakes, that ship war discussions don’t really have a place on this blog, especially since it seems the teenage Ron/Hermione shipper in me hasn’t faded away entirely over time. But JK Rowling’s announcement has brought out passionate reactions from not just Tumblr (where passionate reactions are par for the course) but seemingly the internet at large, including from celebrities, authors and other internet professionals. Clearly, Harry Potter still means a lot to those of us who grew up with it. And that’s left me with one major question: can we critically revisit something that means so much to us?

JK Rowling has, I think, experienced something that we all experience when we return to stories after a few years or decades. She’s come back to it as a different person, with different experiences, and so, like many of us when we reread books, her reaction to and understanding of the story has also changed. The only difference is that she’s the creator of the story, rather than a consumer, and so her changing opinions have the power to implode the internet.

And that internet implosion is one reason I now feel slightly uncomfortable with JK Rowling. As the author of my favorite childhood series who has always seemed kind and generous, who has written articles about feminist issues and social change, who donated so much of her Harry Potter earnings that she’s the first author to ever fall off the billionaire list due to charitable giving, she seemed some kind of infallible idol. And turns out, she is fallible. She can make mistakes. Whatever your opinion on Harry Potter shipping, the emotional internet reaction shows that she should have left the issue alone. And suddenly seeing my childhood and writing idol as fallible leaves an uncomfortable space for other kinds of realizations about the Harry Potter series.

Already, the resurgence in discussion of Harry Potter over the weekend has sparked questions in my brain, revealing flaws that I was semi-aware of, but never really thought about before. How about Fleur being badass enough to be the Beauxbatons Triwizard Champion (which was not only a girl’s school, thanks, WB) and so family oriented that the thing she loved most was her little sister, yet being hated and mocked by Mrs Weasley and Ginny because she’s elegant and pretty? And Ginny’s mockery of her being presented as a kind of character strength on Ginny’s part? What about there only being two other Gryffindor girls in Harry’s year (beside Hermione), and both of them being presented as rather shallow and frivolous? Or the fact that Tonks is an awesome, funny, vibrant character until she gets into a romance with Lupin, after which she loses all personality? And why is Snape considered redeemed for his Death Eater ways because he felt unrequited love for Lily Evans?

That’s not to say that the novels don’t have amazing characters and messages. And these questions are based entirely on faulty memory (I haven’t reread all of the books since 2007). But they already make me uncomfortable, and discomfort with Harry Potter is not something I particularly enjoy. Part of me wants to reread the books, to explore them critically and see the ways that they inspired me as a kid. But I’m also afraid that they won’t stand up to the scrutiny. Is it a generally inclusive, powerful, feminist story that may have occasional blips (like any work of this size might have)? Or if I poke it, will it all fall apart?

The question is in the front of my mind now. But I don’t know if I want to look and find out.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

8 thoughts on “Revisiting Harry Potter

  1. I think the best is to keep the parts you like and ignore the others. Rowling created a story many people enjoy and did her best. I’m sure she would do again and that she would learn from people coments.

    Of course Harry Potter has flaws and there’s some sexism in it. It’s normal since we have internaliced sexism. The important thing is the big picture. It’s an improvement. Also, if you analice to seriusly the books, you’ll wonder, why the director put all school in danger so often? I mean, it’s not only the dead eaters, quidditch, the irresponsible hiring, consistant favoritism, classism… Point is, we can’t apply the same standards. Any way, always thought that MC Gonnagal would have been better principal. hahahaha

  2. I always thought Ron and Hermione made sense since there was never indication that Harry liked Hermione as more than a friend. We have 7 books with Harry’s pov, so there should be lines and/or passages that hint at a Harry/Hermione relationship. I never understood why people wanted Harry and Hermione other than having the main character end up with the main female lead (or thousands identifying with Harry and having a crush on the Hermione character).

    I thought all 3 main characters had flaws, but Ron’s were the most obvious (insecurity, jealousy, short temper) despite Hermione having similar flaws. I always saw Harry as a bad friend toward Ron and Hermione. I thought he was very self involved and ignored Ron and Hermione’s problems. Its true people were trying to kill him, so his problem were on a larger scale, but that didnt mean he could dismiss their problems as insignificant.

    Rowling always says something to get attention. She was going to kill Ron in OotP. Dumbledore was gay. She had the endgame planned from the start.

    1. Interesting that you say that Harry was a bad friend, because I have always had kind of an off feeling about Harry. He just… annoyed me, so much, sometimes. When I think about Harry Potter the story, I rarely think about Harry Potter the boy, because I think he just wasn’t that intriguing to me. And what’s with all this stuff of him mostly putting his father up to the high skies, while leaving out his mother? Did anyone else notice this or was that just me? I dunno, I guess over the many rereads of the books I more or less just started seeing him as a narrative to everything else around him. Weird.

  3. I thought this was well said. Harry Potter was my childhood and still continues to hold a special place in my heart, but it wasn’t until I became a feminist as an adult that I look back and realize that there are a lot of underlying sexism in it. And also what it means. I agree with you with your Ginny assessment and Gryffindor having only 2 other female characters. And it just really sparked my thoughts on all her other female characters. Like, how all the great story arcs and plotlines and development are to men (Snape, Dumbledore) and how the only female Defense the Dark Arts professor is the one the fandom hates the most (how much of that had to do with pink, do you think? How would Umbridge have been taken by the fandom as a man?). How even the great Founders Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw could have been taken out of the equation almost entirely (when Hufflepuff was all about equality, it was Gryffindor who opposed Slytherin). And don’t even get me started on all the female character hate (Cho Change, Lavender Brown, even Ginny Weasley). I don’t know. Reading this article sparked a whole bunch of pent up thoughts I had been keeping in that had been floating in the back of my mind. And makes me scared to really analyze a series so beloved as well.

    1. Well, while I agree with most of what you said, like Helga and Rowena taking out of the picture, I don’t agree with your opinion about Umbridge. I mean, she was a sadist who used physical punisment, like when she made write with the quill that uses the user blood. If you compare her with Slughorn, who was selfish and elitist, but not so bad, of course people hate her. She was by far the worst,but because her actions. I always thought that the pink and all that was a way to show how hypocrit she was. Tonk had pink hair and she wasn’t as hated. And McGonnagal was well liked. So no, the Umbridge hate is understable.

      What is surprising is that people liked Snape, who was a bully os forgive Dumbledore for putting everyone in danger.

      And it’s a shame that female characters didn’t were more developed.

  4. JKR is hardly infallible, and although I love the Harry Potter series, I’d like to point out that her compromises started at the very beginning. Hermione was the real hero of the series, smart and brave and forever having Harry’s back and saving him from ruin. And yet, the series is “Harry Potter”. Why? JKR was a savvy enough businesswoman to understand that boys don’t read books with female protagonists. Full stop.

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