Can Writers Be Wrong About Their Own Stories?
*Spoiler alert if you have not finished the Harry Potter series. You have been warned.*
So, apparently J. K. Rowling shocked the Muggle world today by admitting that she is second-guessing Ron and Hermione’s relationship:
“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling says in the interview. “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.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she adds. “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.” (via CNN)
So, apart from the fact that this interview will probably be the cause of much consternation amongst some of my students, it also got me thinking.
1) First of all, though I have some reservations about the series, I have always been a big fan of Ron, Hermione and their relationship. They seemed to me to be two of the most lovable and best-drawn characters–surpassing Harry himself by far. Their relationship, too, always struck me as endearing and authentic.
2) What never seemed authentic to me was something even more central to the plot: the whole Harry sacrificing-himself-at-the-end-and-dying-but-not-really. It seemed like a very poorly executed semi-Jesus-like resurrection that had none of the gravity and devastation of the real thing. The way the Potter series built to its final climax, especially within the context of its semi-pagan magical universe, it seemed proper for Harry to die for his friends, and stay dead.
In fact, I believe the series would have been much better if Harry had died. (Most of my students protest vehemently).
3) I think Rowling is wrong about Ron and Hermione, and about Harry’s cheap resurrection at the end of the series.
4) But can authors be wrong about their own stories?
I am usually inclined to say no.
On the one hand, I despise any kind of literary criticism that attempts to explain a story in terms of its author’s own psychology, history, and sexual/social/economic/political anxieties. Furthermore, I am usually much more aligned with the New Critical school’s attention to the dignity and authority of the text itself than most other approaches that seem to foist their own agendas on a text.
But Rowling herself seemed to apply the very sort of literary criticism I hate to her own work:
“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling says in the interview. “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.” (emphasis added)
So, according to Rowling, she was wrong about her own story. She gave into personal wishes and ignored the demands of “literature” by putting Ron and Hermione together.
I think this personal wish fulfillment (or, perhaps, pressure from her readership?) was much more obviously the case when she resuscitated Harry from the odd limbo-esque train station.
But apart from all of this, what about the real question?
It first occurred to me in a meaningful way in college when I was reading Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. There’s a strange moment in that story when I really thought Woolf might be wrong about her own character. I was afraid to say this outright in my paper, so I raised the question and moved on without really answering it.
I add this because I believe Woolf to be a far superior writer to Rowling (obviously) and I don’t think the answer is simply: mediocre/bad writers are often wrong about their own writing, good writers never are.
There’s a curious relationship between a human author and his text that reflects something of God’s own relationship to creation that, I suspect, is involved in all this.
More to come.
See also Leah Libresco’s take: “Fantastic News! (with one bitter note)” over at Unequally Yoked
And Elizabeth Scalia’s take: “Harry and Hermione, Agape and Narrative Thrust – What Do You Think?” at The Anchoress
Oh so many thoughts.
See the really long comment I added for this post, in which I copied and pasted a bunch of awesome thoughts from friends who commented on this on Facebook. I plan on replying and incorporating some of these into my next post, so I thought it only fair for you to see the lively discussion.