Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Loves of Harry Potter (SPOILER ALERT)

I learned an important lesson about being an author this week; once your book is complete and published, you should really KEEP ANY SECOND THOUGHTS YOU HAVE TO YOURSELF!! 
I’m referring, of course, to J.K. Rowling’s infamous announcement that she regrets pairing Ron and Hermione. Really, what possible purpose could such an announcement serve? It’s not like she can go back and ‘fix’ the books so that Harry and Hermione get together instead. All it does is introduce a disconnect in the minds of the readers, who now will have a harder time getting caught up in the romance because they’ll be thinking “but the authoress thinks it should have been different…maybe I shouldn’t enjoy it so much…” Likewise, if you shipped Harry-Hermione, you’ll be even more focused on how much better that would have been, and so you will also have a harder time enjoying the story, because the criticism you already had will have been sharpened. A little of the readers' enjoyment of the books has been taken away.  
Besides which, I think she’s wrong. I love the Ron-Hermione romance, and I can’t imagine the story without it. Ron in particular would have virtually no character arc at all.
See, Ron’s deal is that he’s always gotten the short end of the stick in pretty much everything; poor, second-youngest while the youngest is the girl his mother always wanted, picked on by his elder brothers, obliged to use second-hand-everything, not especially smart or talented or popular, and so on. He’s always the runner-up: second-best in everything, eternally overshadowed, and it’s a source of constant torment and shame for him, which ironically stops him from making good use of what talents he has. He’s come to expect to fail and be overlooked, and so at the slightest hint that he might be, he panics and becomes defensive or angry, thinking ‘Of course: here we go again.’ In short, he’s nearly lost his capacity to hope.
Then he makes friends with Hermione, and they grow up together, and Hermione, of course, excels and surpasses him, just like almost everyone else he knows. But Ron doesn’t feel overshadowed by Hermione (as he does by Harry) because she’s good at things that he admires, but isn't really interested in. He can tease her about spending so much time on homework or reading or being a ‘know-it-all’ because has no ambitions in that direction himself (he never teases Harry about being good at Quidditch, for instance, and note that when he fights with Harry, it’s out of resentment, but when he fights with Hermione it’s over some specific felt injury). He’s able to enjoy her talents without jealousy, which is something he’s probably never experienced before. Then, as they grow older, Ron slowly realizes that Hermione is becoming a beautiful young woman and that he is falling in love with her.
Now faced with the one thing – or rather one person – that he wants more than anything else in the world, he panics. So he does stupid things and makes rash choices because he is so terrified by the idea that he can’t actually succeed in winning her, which of course makes it all the less likely that he will.
For her part, Hermione is sensitive to criticism and afraid of failure. She takes refuge in her studies and overcompensates on them due to a lack of confidence mixed with a deep desire to succeed. She has a tendency to be overly serious or driven or wrapped up in her own head. Ron helps her counterbalance this tendency by both interjecting a voice of calm and good-humor into her life and, equally importantly, by being a constant source of reassurance to her. He’s always reminding her of how brilliant she is and how hard she works. True, he usually does it in a teasing or mocking manner, but he means it and she knows it (note the scene in the sixth book where Ron launches into a boastful description of how brilliant Hermione was at their apparition lesson). Besides, his treating it humorously helps control her fears and self-doubts. He laughs at her at the same time he compliments her, which is just the combination Hermione needs.
This sort of thing is a sign of something Ron doesn’t show much; he has deep wells of kindness and compassion. They’re often lost in the storm of his darker emotions, but he loves and cares for other people very deeply. This is shown in scenes as disparate as his losing his temper whenever Malfoy taunts his family or friends, his grief when he thinks his pet Scabbers has died, and even his regret over the state his backfiring wand has reduced Gilderoy Lockhart to. Hermione, being sensitive to that sort of thing, recognizes this and loves him for it. It isn’t his sudden, brilliant idea of breaking into the Chamber of Secrets that finally breaks her resistance; it’s his concern for the safety of the House Elves.
As I said, by the time he realizes he’s in love with her, Ron has almost become afraid to hope for anything that he really wants. The fact that Hermione already has two ostensibly superior possible beaus – Viktor Krum and Harry himself – only exacerbates the situation. It confirms the suspicion in his mind that he really doesn’t have a chance with her (note he always becomes grumpier when Krum is mentioned, and learning that Krum probably kissed her sends him into his worst temper yet: it makes him think again about how much his supposed rivals apparently outclass him).
Basically, Ron needs to learn to hope; to make the effort even though he doesn’t see much chance of succeeding. The key point in his transformation is when he saves Harry’s life in the seventh book and fully understands what Harry has been trying to tell him all these years about that sort of thing being less impressive from the point of view of the person actually doing it. That’s when he realizes that, even though he doesn’t think of himself as being as good a catch as Krum or Harry, Hermione might not see it that way. That’s when he starts to hope again, and he pursues her quietly, but steadily for the rest of the book (in contrast to the fits and starts that characterized his pursuit of her in prior books). It’s this learning to hope that forms the backbone of his character arch. Ron without Hermione, it seems to me, would be a fairly pointless character.
Hermione without Ron, on the other hand, is, well, boring. She needs him to take her down a peg, to needle and tease and hold a light to her flaws. Without him, she’s simply ‘the smart one:’ there to provide exposition and teach Harry what he needs to know. Consider the films, where Ron is constantly sidelined and Hermione emphasized. The result is that Hermione, in the absence of Ron’s affectionate ribbing, becomes utterly insufferable: just a solemn, bossy know-it-all. Picture Mr. Darcy without Elizabeth and you have an image of what Hermione is like without Ron (the catastrophic mishandling of those two is the main reason I don’t like the films).
Besides which, I really can’t picture a romance between Harry and Hermione. They don’t complement one another at all, and their interactions aren’t nearly as fun as Ron and Hermione’s. Note that whenever they’re alone together, they find they really don’t have a whole lot to say to one another. In the two periods where Harry and Ron aren’t speaking, Harry finds life with Hermione as his best friend to be quiet and rather dull. They love each other, but like brother and sister: there’s no fire or spark or merry duel between them, and never could be (judging by the narration, Harry barely even registers that she’s attractive, requiring us to gather it from the reactions of other characters). There’s a level on which they simply don’t connect. It’s almost as though he’s a straight line and she’s a wavy one; there are contours and depressions in her soul that he doesn’t and can’t respond to.
Now, I can imagine the books rewritten so that Harry and Hermione could reasonably get together, or that Ron would have a character arc apart from his romance with Hermione, but that would require a very different story than the one we have. Mrs. Rowling might just as well have said “I wish I had written a different book series than the one I did.” It's her business if she feels that way, but she shouldn't have mentioned it. It has no effect on the stories themselves, and if it has any effect at all on the readers, it can only be an effect for the worse.
And in any case, I respectfully disagree with her.


Vivat Christus Rex!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this! Totally agree.

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