11/20/2015

Harry Potter and the author who can’t let go

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When J.K. Rowling started up her Twitter account, she only used to sporadically pop in and essentially have one tweet put on loop: “This is the real me, but you won’t be hearing from me often, I am afraid, as pen and paper is my priority at the moment.”

These days, Jo has been using her Twitter account, various interviews, and Pottermore.com — the strange online extension of the Harry Potter world — to drop truth bombs about her beloved characters. The first big bomb was that Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay, to the shock and praise of many readers. The thing is, this is amazing information that could have been infinitely more helpful to the LGBTQIA+ youth that grew up reading Potter, as well as some adults, had it been included in a more obvious way in the actual series. For all the fan fiction that has resulted from her books, there actually hasn’t been a canonical queer character in the Harry Potter series, as far as the narrative is concerned. Sure, now you can read the subtext between Dumbledore and Grindewald, but let’s be real: what interactions haven’t we read into?

Since then, Rowling has revealed little bits and pieces of characters and circumstances, including a little bit about why the Dursleys hate Harry so much. I understand that, at the end of the day, Jo has complete control over her own characters. They are of her making, after all. However, I do take issue with how the revelations of her “canon” are playing out.

Sometimes, her canon feels a little bit like an afterthought. Other times, her characters come out seeming a little less nuanced than what her fans have imagined them to be in their “head canons.” Many aspects of Rowling’s series are simplistic, relying on stereotypes and parallels to drive a point, and over the years, fans have found a way to make it richer by filling in the blanks, adding gravitas to otherwise two-dimensional background people. In a way, each new piece of canon from Rowling negates these imagined realities, sealing her version as the gospel truth. I understand the desire to set the record straight, especially if readers constantly get your characters wrong. I don’t even like Hagrid, and now I’m supposed to believe that he, the wizard Dumbledore entrusted with infant, Harry’s life, can’t produce a Patronus because it’s a “difficult spell”? Somehow, she also has Dumbledore weighing in on the Palestine/Israel conflict.

I am, perhaps, most bitter about her insistent rejection of Draco’s redemption, as though it were an impossible feat to see any semblance of good in Harry Potter’s foil. There is no longer room for playing and even less for imagination, without feeling like you’re overstepping some kind of line that hadn’t been there before.

The slow trickle of Rowling’s (mostly underwhelming, slightly disappointing) canon has a lot of fans scrambling — especially those invested in Marauder-era and next-gen/post-Voldemort characters who have thus far only gotten glimpses of them — seemingly casting a protective spell around the characters they’ve built for themselves.

Sure, Jo admitting that she probably wouldn’t have had Ronmione as endgame, that she wrote it only because of “wish fulfillment,” sent my anti-Ronmione, garbage heart into a celebratory frenzy. But in its own little, minuscule way, doesn’t this admission mean that even her own judgment is flawed?

To me, it’s a bit like Schrödinger’s cat: do I really want to open this metaphorical box? Do I really want to know everything, definitively? Do I want to see all of the shoulda-woulda-couldas (which often turn out to be my personal preferred outcomes)? And perhaps, more importantly: Do I even like JKR’s version of the Wizarding World outside Harry’s narrative?

For the longest time, I had been waiting for the semi-promised Wizarding World encyclopedia full of facts and backstories. I imagined it to be more colorful and complex, with perhaps a little more on Regulus Black (my favorite minor character). But seeing how things are playing out, I’m not even sure if I want it anymore. Maybe I’m alone in thinking this, but much of the beauty of Rowling’s world seemed to stem from its ambiguity and the ease at which one could project their own truths onto it. At least, for the most part, that’s what had made it most real for me.

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