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.