Transcript is below the jump. Links are at the very end.
If you’re at all in touch with Harry Potter fandom, or if you’re close to at least a few people who are still in touch with Harry Potter fandom, you may have heard lately about an interview that JK Rowling did with Emma Watson, in which she supposedly revealed something shocking about the primary romances in the series.
The headlines in the news have been pretty sensational, saying things like: JKR Regrets Ron and Hermione’s Relationship, or, Hermione and Harry are Better Suited to Each Other.
So, in case you’ve gotten the impression that Ms. Rowling did a total 180 on the way she paired up the characters, I’m here to burst your bubble.
I’ve read the full interview, and as someone who spent several years knee-deep in the Great Relationship Debates of Harry Potter Fandom—for example, I wrote a few very widely circulated essays in support of the canonical relationships—I can assure you that the interview itself is…really not that shocking. There’s been a lot of very irresponsible *reporting* on the interview, which makes it appear a lot more sensational than it is, and not just in the sense of exaggeration. It puts statements in Ms. Rowling’s mouth that aren’t even implied.
Some headlines on the interview before its full text was released include:
JK admits Hermione should have wed Harry
JK Rowling Says She Got Harry Potter Romance Wrong
The Author Says Harry, not Ron, Should Have Married Hermione
An Interesting Admission of Error by JK Rowling
“J.K. Rowling regrets Ron and Hermione’s relationship”
“J.K. Rowling Says She Regrets Matching Ron And Hermione”
This is a good way to get page clicks, I suppose, but it’s not good for journalistic credibility. For those expecting the interview to prove that Everything You Thought You Knew About Romance in Harry Potter Was Wrong, the release of the full text between Ms. Rowling and Ms. Watson was, I have no doubt, a huge disappointment.
In my blog post, I have linked to the Mugglenet page with the interview copy/pasted in full, so you can see it yourself.
What she says about Ron and Hermione’s relationship is quite nuanced. She characterizes her investment in their pairing as “wish fulfillment.” To the extent that she uses Hermione as a proxy for her younger self, Ron is the representation of the guy that J.K. Rowling always wanted to be her partner. She admits that maybe this was not the best literary way to approach a romance, but the relationship was important to her for personal, emotional reasons.
So now I’m sitting here, asking: This is a big, scary departure from the canonical relationships HOW, exactly?
You see an author saying she got a particular pairing together as a form of “wish fulfillment” on behalf of her awkward youthful self, and that’s supposed to mean she now admits the error of her ways and should have done something completely different? Really? Let’s keep in mind that she also says, in so many words, “the attraction itself is plausible,” which is not exactly an about-face from the way she wrote the books.
Regarding Harry and Hermione, there is one point in the interview where Ms. Rowling says, “In some ways, Hermione and Harry are a better fit and I’ll tell you something very strange…” This is where some really irresponsible quote-mining comes in. She says Harry and Hermione are a better fit IN SOME WAYS, in the middle of an interview in which she says a lot of very nuanced, sympathetic, complex, but not really game-changing things about the characters’ relationships, and some media outlets take that sentence fragment and turn it into a headline. They quote, “Hermione and Harry are a better fit,” full stop, as if that’s the takeaway message of the interview. This isn’t an oversimplification, it’s a falsehood. At no point does Ms. Rowling ever say that she should have put Harry and Hermione together instead of Ron and Hermione or Harry and Ginny. The interview is totally silent on Ginny, in case you’re wondering. “They’re a better fit, IN SOME WAYS” is something that can be said about a lot of people who are good friends, but never experience any attraction to each other.
She and Emma talk about that scene in the seventh movie, when Harry and Hermione dance together in the tent, and at no point do either of them say anything to the effect that their dancing was an expression of attraction. Emma ultimately describes the scene as, “in the moment they needed to be together and be kids and raise each other’s morale,” and JKR totally agrees with that description. I saw the movie and thought that scene was perfectly innocuous. It reminded me of a couple of straight girls dancing together, in the sense that there was no hint of sexual tension on the horizon. It’s just a couple of friends who want to make each other feel better, and the reason why their morale is suffering in the first place is that Ron isn’t there with them. So then JKR goes on to talk about why Ron wasn’t there in the tent at that point, and it’s certainly not because Ron wasn’t a good enough friend to Harry or to Hermione. He was battling his own demons and he needed to put some space between himself and his friends so that he could, eventually, as Emma says, “make a choice and become the man that Hermione needs.”
Meanwhile, JKR tells us, Ron and Hermione would have been okay with a bit of marriage counseling. They would have gone to the wizard marriage counselor, where Ron would have addressed his self-esteem issues and Hermione would have worked on being a bit less critical, and they’ll probably be fine. This is how an author, with the benefit of some distance from her work, deals with her sense of adolescent wish-fulfillment. It doesn’t exactly lay waste to all that she’s written when an author suggests that a relationship doesn’t crystallize when the couple is eighteen years old and living at the center of a war zone. We already know where they are at thirty-seven, and it appears to be still contentedly married, so now we can assume that the involvement of a family therapist helped them get to that point.
She doesn’t “regret” anything. The word “regret,” or any synonym, never comes up.
So: don’t believe everything you see in the online media.