Nathan Bransford, Author


Monday, February 3, 2014

3 Things Writers Can Learn From J.K. Rowling's Second-Thoughts About Harry and Hermione


Every newsfeed in the land was abuzz with J.K. Rowling confessing to second thoughts about how she wrapped up the Harry Potter series, and specifically about whether Harry and Hermione should have gotten together. The full interview has not yet been released, but that hasn't stopped the Internet from having a collective freakout, with some people agreeing and some people thinking everything turned out just fine thankyouverymuch.

From the quotes that have been released, it sounds more like she felt like she forced the Ron/Hermione relationship more than flubbing the Harry/Hermione relationship.

Count me in the camp that feels that a lack of chemistry between Harry and Ginny was a bigger problem than an unfulfilled desire to see Harry and Hermione get together, but setting that aside, there's a lot that this reveal tells us about the writing process.

1. Even J.K. Rowling has second-thoughts about her plotlines

Writing a novel can be such a confusing mess. At the end of the day you have to just pick something and go with it, but those nagging second thoughts might never go away.

By the time you read a good book it feels like canon, like it sprung forth fully-formed from its writer. You get lost in it and don't think about all of the difficult choices the author had to make, all of those times when the author went with their best guess about what would work with no prior knowledge of whether it really would make sense and be the best plot.

Second-thoughts and doubts are totally normal. You might feel like you're barely holding things together, and you wouldn't be alone.

2. It's hard for authors to see their works clearly

It's hard to get a sense of the forest from the trees when you spend hundreds of hours getting one inch of bark right at a time. Authors are so deeply immersed in their worlds, see them on such granular levels, that it's hard to have the distance to make the right choices. Or, even if you make the right choice, you might not even be quite sure why.

This is why editors exist. They can take a more objective look and see the forest and help guide writers to make the right choices.

In this case, whatever her second thoughts, I don't know that Rowling was wrong about how she ended up writing the books. Even many years after the series closed I'm sure it's difficult to see things clearly.

3. Authors and readers and books have an uncomfortable relationship

The other day, John Green tweeted that books belong to their readers. Which is true as it goes, (especially if they have purchased them), but books also belong to their authors. What J.K. Rowling says about her works really does change how we look at them.

When Rowling said that Dumbledore was gay that carried a whole lot more weight than if anyone else had said it. Nothing changed in the text, but it certainly changed how people interpreted the books.

The reading experience is ultimately up to the reader, but what the author thinks and says about their work really does matter.

What did you think about this revelation?







39 comments:

Isaiah Campbell said...

I've always had an uncomfortable relationship with John Green's adage. I get it, I do, and I can see how it is a bit liberating as a writer to take the stance that, "it's out of my hands now." But I think a more accurate statement would be, "Stories belong to their participants." A story is equally owned and managed by the teller and the listener. Therefore, the author still has input on the evolution and collective understanding of the story, even after it has spread to the corners of the earth.

Ted Cross said...

I think this is funny because my wife and I both felt the relationships of Harry with Ginny and Ron with Hermione never felt right, especially on the screen. We've watched the movies with our kids many times, and we like to debate who would have been best with whom. Harry should have been with either Hermione or Luna.

Inkling said...

Rowlings likes surprise plot twists. I'm amazed she didn't create a flash romance and marriage with Harry and Hermione at the very end. It would have delighted most of her readers.

Brit said...

It's been a while since I've read the series but I always felt the Ron/Hermione relationship was set up well, emotionally appropriate and never felt forced. Harry and Ginny is another story. I think that Luna would have been a more appropriate match for Harry, she is his equal in many ways and helps him to see things more objectively. Hmm, maybe Harry will have a mid life crisis and they will get together

Brit said...

It's been a while since I've read the series but I always felt the Ron/Hermione relationship was set up well, emotionally appropriate and never felt forced. Harry and Ginny is another story. I think that Luna would have been a more appropriate match for Harry, she is his equal in many ways and helps him to see things more objectively. Hmm, maybe Harry will have a mid life crisis and they will get together

The Happy Amateur said...

I think Harry should have wised up and payed attention to Luna.

Christi G said...

I thought the Ron/Hermione relationship was actually pretty essential to the plot in Book 7 -- it laid the groundwork to make Harry feel lonely even when he was with his friends, to make his task that much harder. I also really liked the Harry/Ginny relationship; she was charismatic, smart, and grounded AND had an awesome family. Of course, the movies portray both of these relationships poorly. At least we are reminded that even JKR has doubts.

Maya Prasad said...

Ditto on Harry + Luna! I would be sad if Ron didn't end up with Hermione. One of my favorite scenes is when Ron overcomes the horcrux and his jealousy of Harry. I think JK did the right thing in the books. Ron and Hermione never felt forced to me, but Harry and Ginny did.

Maya Prasad said...

Oh, and I agree that the movies portrayed the relationships differently/poorly. The scene where Ginny ties Harry's shoelaces for him...ick! And Harry and Hermione had too many intimate moments.

Guilie Castillo said...

Every work of creativity, when it's made public--sculpture, painting, film, writing--has that dual persona: the one that the artist created, and the one the public will see. Perhaps this is the root of why artists and critics will never see eye to eye, and it's also a reason why individual feedback, whether positive or otherwise, shouldn't be the full stock of validation an artist seeks. I've heard several authors make the comment that if they rewrote earlier books they'd certainly do it differently, so it's only natural Rowling feels the same way. In a sense, though, any creative production is a snapshot of a moment in the author's life. It is what it is because of who its creator was during the moment of creation.

Matthew MacNish said...

It doesn't bother me very much. I thought Ron and Hermoine's relationship was genuine and authentic, and I still to this day love how it worked out, but the fact that Rowling still isn't sure is okay too.

Anonymous said...

I'm dealing with that now. But in my case I know how I want it to end but I'm not sure readers will like it. So do you write what you want? Or do you write what you think readers will want? I still haven't decided.

(I write genre romance and readers can be very interesting if they don't get what they want)

robin said...

I also agree that Harry and Ginny had zero chemistry (in books and movie) -- and part of that was because Ginny was shuffled to the back while Harry, Ron, and Hermione solved the world's problems...I never understood how Harry could be happy with someone who'd missed the largest parts of his formative year(s). That said, it's interesting that Rowling is starting to reveal these kinds of things now, years after. I do think that she had the picture of her entire series in her head for so long that she almost stubbornly clung to it...but good writing (and lasting characters) do seem to take on a life of their own. I definitely agree with John Green that the author no longer has full ownership. Regardless of what Rowling says, I have my own strong feelings (and beliefs?) for what happened to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the other characters -- and it's nothing like the epilogue. :) It doesn't matter what Rowling says now -- *my* version is truth for me.

Bryan Russell said...

Harry should have had nobody. I mean, does everyone stay with their high school sweetheart and live happily ever after? Certainly not everybody. People tie too many loose ends. Most people live most of their lives in adulthood, and it would be nice to see that reflected and give young readers the hope that something valuable might happen, you know, sometime during the rest of their lives. The peaks for all things do not occur at age seventeen.

Sarah Hipple said...

I actually see a lot of my own relationship in the Ron/Hermione relationship, so I took it rather personally that she didn't think it necessarily worked out. I've been happily married to my husband for years, and he's a bit of a Ron, and I'm a bit of a Hermione.

However, I did think J.K's comments were very interesting, and I think you're right that she was saying more that Ron/Hermione wouldn't necessarily have worked than she was saying Harry/Hermione should definitely have been together.

I think what most of us object to in the Harry/Hermione potential pairing is that they had a wonderful friendship, and I don't like that her statements have hurt that for me. A honest to goodness boy-girl friendship with nothing more is rare and wonderful in literature.

Also, I like the points that you pulled from this interview - especially the point that even with time the author can't necessarily see things clearly.

RJ Crayton said...

I find it so interesting that she had these doubts. I initially didn't like the Hermione and Ron pairing, but in the end I liked the way it filled out the story, that Harry truly--as a son-in-law--gets to be a part of the Weasley family, and so does Hermione. As a big-picture thing, it's nice, but it did sort of come as a shock, character wise, as there wasn't a lot building toward that in the first books.

The fact that she's second-guessing it shows that it was intense for her as a writer, this plot line. But, ultimately, what's written is what happened, and at that time in her life, that's apparently what needs to be written.

I think we all grow as writers and people, and what you write at one time is not necessarily what you would write later. The JK Rowling of that time needed Ron & Hermione to be together. But the fact that the JK Rowling of today might have done it differently is just a testament to her change in circumstances, not the ultimate plot of the book, I don't think.

Patty Blount said...

I'm upset by her revelation. One of the things I loved most about the Potter series is that it teaches children that boys and girls can become friends and remain friends without sex, without love factoring into the equation. I'd always adored how Harry and Hermione had a relationship built on mutual respect of their abilities and natural talents.

To hear that she thinks they should have ended up together negates all that.

That's a damn shame.

Shawn said...

Simpsons Comic Book Guy, "Aquaman, you can't marry a woman without GILLS! You're from two different worlds!"

[looks up to see an ICBM coming right at him]

"Oh. I've wasted my life."

Mary Holland said...

The Ron/Hermione relationship was set up in the first book, and the tension in that relationship was the uncertainty. She could have taken it either way, but as other people here have pointed out, so much of the ongoing plot was based on that relationship. I can see why she never changed it and I think it was the right decision. What I find annoying is the assumption on the part of some fans that she is admitting a 'mistake' and therefore the books are somehow 'wrong'. As Nathan said, authors make choices about plot threads. You cannot take all paths, choosing narrows your possibilities.

Theresa Milstein said...

It's an interesting time we live in because authors' thoughts are more accessible to the masses than ever before.

While I never felt the Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione relationships seemed quite believable, I have a bigger issue with her breaking up the twins at the end. Rowling possess many strengths, but I think her romances were her weakest bits.

Laura Shabott said...

It's absolutely great that authors and writers are also readers that care about other people's books.

The fun is in being engaged and it's great to know she had second thoughts. Thanks for a great post, Nathan.

janflora said...

Well, I was APPALLED, but do think she was going through some writer remorse, second-guessing herself (and may have been pressured a bit by Emma who would have loved to have been the main Love Interest, imo). Sounds like she did want Ron & Hermione together, so all those headlines saying she "regrets" it are sensationalizing her comments. Though I disagree (respectfully) that Harry + Hermione would have added more "literary credibility". I've rarely seen a couple more meant to be in Lit than R/H. I remember reading the first book to my son and Just Knowing they would be a couple, before any of the films existed. The films played up H/H, but the books trump that.
You are so right that it is comforting to think even Jo questions and mentally revises her work. Her brain has to be on constant overdrive.

Julie Musil said...

I'm not a Harry Potter fan *gasp* but I like what you said about authors in general…that they all second guess their work, and that doubt will never go away.

adan said...

"You..don't think about all of the difficult choices the author had to make, all of those times when the author went with their best guess about what would work with no prior knowledge of whether it really would make sense and be the best plot." - so nicely said! Thank you! ;-)

Decisions are made, or the work isn't finished.

There's always room and time for a sequel or follow-up story, thank goodness ;-)

http://ericksongypsycaravan.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/friedrichshafen/ said...

Excellent post, Nathan.

Another view is that when writers come up w/ story ideas, develop characters, plot, suspense, and tricks of the trade, their mind set is important.

As we age, evolve, mature, an author's mindset also changes. We can look back and say, 'Oh, I don't believe that way; I'd change the plot or character in a fashion that makes more sense to me now.'

Books are static; our personal story evolves.
At least in this age of digital publishing, we can go back and make those changes.

But that would take more time; best to move on.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I think a lot of authors mentally rehash their work, and consider alternative storylines, even after publication. The Harry Potter series happens to be iconic enough that people are interested in all these musings and second-guessings and such that go on in JK Rowling's mind. But I'd be surprised if she would actually rewrite anything now if given the chance. I view all these statements as a creative mind at work, thinking about what might have been and how else it could have gone, rather than as a definitive "errata sheet" for her published work.

wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wendy said...

In my (confused) memory Hermoine did marry Harry, and I really like that concept. But I suppose Hermoine ending up with Ron makes sense, too, as she was infatuated with him through most of the story. But Harry with Ginny is not something I can believe, really, as wasn't he always fairly passe about her? Hermoine was the one he admired and who always had his back.

Dumbledore as gay....hmmm...that doesn't work for me, either, as his character the way it was written never gave the slightest indication of such preferences or traits.
I've worked with many gay men over the years.

Books belonging to their writer or their reader....? Perhaps during the course of their creation, they belong to the author, but when the story grows up and goes out into the world, it belongs to the ones who love it.

Bruce Bonafede said...

I was shocked that Rowling admitted this. Harry and Hermione didn't have to end up together, there were other options that would have been both organic and satisfying, but instead she chose endings that diminished both characters. A huge, huge error. But now she's not only betrayed her characters by not letting them reach their full fictional potential, she's questioning what she did to them. Weird and kind of upsetting somebody with such talent would be so blind.

thewriteedge said...

I actually really appreciated Rowling and admired her for having Ron and Hermione end up together. In most stories the main boy always gets the main girl, and I felt like Rowling made an excellent choice in bucking the norm. I felt a few moments of letdown in the book when she confirmed that it was going to be Ron and Hermione, but having Harry and Ginny together tied everything together in a nice way that made it all go against type. Something that she did with the series as a whole.

Having said that, J.K. Rowling is, after all, human, and she has the right to second-guess herself and her choices as much as anyone else. The fact that her books turned into worldwide blockbusters and she has millions of fans voicing their own opinions probably adds another layer of complexity to how she feels about her stories and characters.

lora96 said...

While I would have liked a Harry-Hermione pairing, I respected Rowling's choice to have her end up with Ron because I thought (and this is only my interpretation as a reader) that she did so in part to prevent Hermione's character from being reduced to "Love Interest". It honored the power of her character to keep the relationship with the lead a platonic one and made their loyalty to one another all the more admirable and even childlike (as they were children together in the beginning).

Maya Prasad said...

Anon at February 3, 2014 at 11:03 AM:

Write what you want! But make sure that you're setting up the ending all the way through. You're the one with the power.

The truth is, the whole series would have been different if JK wanted Harry to end up with Hermione. She's a great writer so she provided a lot of setup to the R+H relationship. If she had gone another way, we wouldn't have had so many hints at how Ron liked her. Hermione wouldn't have been jealous of Ron's gf who called him "Won-Won."

GuyStewart said...

Does anyone else think this might possibly have been a publicity stunt? Her last book met with less-than-stellar reviews and she's writing a play about Life Before Harry...

Call me a bit of a curmudgeon, but I'm just a little suspicious about this whole confession...

Jan M. Leotti said...

I'm just wondering why an author would do this to her own series. I think it's cruel to the fans. I think she should have kept this to herself. If she's having doubts, okay fine, but why get the fans all upset? It's been brought up several times about this being a publicity stunt, and while I'm not sure I agree, I can't help but wonder.

But publicity aside, she has to know that her story has become a classic, and I feel you just don't mess with that honorable place in history. In the collective mind, I believe, it's a sacred place and should be respected by the author.

Yes, let the fans debate the issue--that's healthy for a book's longevity. But to have the author question something like that publicly...I'm not sure it's good for the book/s. Doesn't it pop the bubble of the dream, take the reader out of the story? Forever more readers might think, "Well, the author thought this or that should have happened...hmmm, so why didn't she write it that way?"

Writers will always have doubts, and it's fine to admit to before the book is in the hands of readers. But, I'm just not sure how admitting this is good for Rowling's legacy...

Peter Dudley said...

TEAM LUNA!

Anyway, I agree that second-guessing is a natural part of a writer's life. My favorite part of writing, though, is the moment when I say a story is done. It frees me to move on to the next work.

I imagine, however, that such an extensive time in one world, with so many people dragging the writer through it for ever, would bring all that second-guessing back, magnified a hundred times.

Jan M. Leotti said...

Here is someone who understands that sacred place once your story becomes a classic. She said it better than I did, but same idea: http://popwatch.ew.com/2014/02/03/j-k-rowling-ron-hermione-harry-potter/

Maybe Rowling will return to the series and write a When Harry Met Hermione parallel universe story.;)

Karen Clayton said...

I think she made the write choice. This way Harry was finally part of a family just like he always wanted.

RickM said...

Just lurking around and found this and I must say this is a great piece. It's refreshing to see a thoughtful post instead of the "shipping wars" going on in the comment section of mainstream sites. I'd like to see more analysis like this.

Soon enough well have these quotes in context. I'm tired of seeing the headlines meant just to get clicks and the articles mentioning things that so far have not been said.

The way the books are written and the character arcs of both Ron and Hermione (but especially Ron) leave no doubt in my mind that there relationship would last. Ron is not the same person at the end of book seven as he was at the beginning of book six. He experienced the loss of his brother, had to hear the girl he loves being tortured, had to listen to and see his deepest fears manifested (in front of his best friend no less) and taunt him but he finally wssvable to destroy them both literally and figuratively. The fact that Rowling had him breakdown and sob afterwards shows she wants us to know just how much they effected him. Hermione finally got to know she was "the one" after he was poisoned. She watched as the one she loved walked away from her on that stormy night and got to hear how it was her voice that brought him back. She saw Ron begging for Bellatrix to take him instead and focused on his voice as she was tortured. But best of all, she got see Ron care about the elves. The both saw there best friends body being carried by Hagrid.

For me, the pages that had Ron and Hermione on them just popped. If it hadn't been for their cliche'd but oh so fun to read romantic comedy-like subplot, I don't think the series would have nearly as fun.

Sorry I went on so long. I really just wanted to nice, thoughtful post but got carried away.

Cathy said...

The way I see it, once the story is finished, it belongs to its characters.

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