A Detour Down Knockturn Alley: Manipulating J.K. Rowling’s Remarks on Harry, Hermione, and Ron
Unless you’ve been hiding deep underground in a high-security Gringotts vault, you’ve likely seen the recent media blitz following remarks author J.K. Rowling made on her three main characters: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasley.
Following an article posted in the Sunday Times, which lent a preview of an interview of Rowling by Emma Watson, the Internet exploded with news posts, followed by countless thought pieces and open letters, all surrounding the perceived idea that Rowling had turned her back on pairing up Ron and Hermione and that Harry and Hermione were the better couple.
Day after day, there was no shortage of coverage on the topic, from print media to cable news broadcasts to radio commentary. As more and more Harry Potter fans, and even casual readers, read up on the story, the passionate responses reached incredible levels. Supporters of the Ron and Hermione couple were furious; Rowling had destroyed their perfect romance. Meanwhile, those determined Harry and Hermione backers were overjoyed; the author had given them vindication.
But wait a second. Had Rowling actually done those things? Had she actually admitted to regretting pairing up Ron and Hermione? Was she now telling millions of Potter fans worldwide that she had given them the wrong story? Had she doomed Ron yet again to falling short of happiness?
Well, to put it simply, no.
Instead, news outlets took the author’s remarks completely out of context… before the full context was even available. We can assert that even more now, with the full interview now available. Eager keystrokes fired away to the tune of Rita Skeeter’s Quick-Quotes Quill, creating a firestorm before Rowling’s full remarks were even known – drawing an uncanny comparison to the practices of the author’s fictional Daily Prophet.
The story explodes with a single word that J.K. Rowling never used herself.
Through her Potter books, and even in her latest novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling under pseudonym Robert Galbraith, Rowling has frequently warned us about the power of an imprudent press. Still, many fell victim during this latest news run.
The Sunday Times did a rather poor job with their preview of the interview, titling the article “JK admits Harry should have wed Hermione.” Rowling never claims this in the actual interview. Following that, most of the sensationalism can be attributed to the misuse of a single word: regret.
“J.K. Rowling regrets Ron and Hermione’s relationship”
“Regrets over Ron/Hermione pairing?! An open letter to JK Rowling”
“J.K. Rowling Says She Regrets Matching Ron And Hermione”
A quick search will turn you up several articles that are very similar to these actual headlines. Some news outlets have since changed these headlines, but long after the damage (and their spike in site traffic) was done.
These news organizations, either complicity or unknowingly, misrepresented the truth of what Rowling was actually saying about her characters and story. Not only did they take her remarks out of context, but they also used a word she never even used herself, eliciting a specific connotation that was never there. Readers of these stories quickly shared the headlines across social media, and the misinformation spread like wildfire.
Before long, people with very high social media followings – including other popular authors – were directly or indirectly criticizing Rowling for her “revisionist comments,” when now we know it was merely a reflective moment for an author who was, for the most part, giving us insight into her reasoning for writing things the way she did.
The widespread poor journalism presents an alarming case study.
Outlandish editorials and commentary are nothing new, especially in the Potter fandom. Fans have frequently criticized or questioned aspects of the series, and that is perfectly fine. In fact, it’s wonderful. It’s the power of any form of art.
But something entirely different happened here. A couple of entertainment news sites took it upon themselves to report the story in a very particular way, injecting new words and context to make it a controversial read. In some ways, we shouldn’t be too surprised. Sensationalism sells. The part of this latest run that is rather jarring, though, is how major, reputable news organizations picked up the story and also ran with faulty language.
NPR, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, the Independent, and other news outlets used the word “regret” to headline their stories, which led to analysis pieces on how Rowling was admitting she got it all wrong. Of course, Rowling never said anything of the sort. If you put their articles side by side with the preview image from the Sunday Times, you might wonder just how they came to such a final edition.
The important thing here is legitimate news sources – sources that also report on domestic and foreign policy – simply did not fact-check when it came to the Rowling story. This is alarming. Harry Potter fans deserve better, but more importantly, the general public deserves to be better informed.
While it’s true the full interview did finally come out, exposing these pieces for the poor reporting that they hold, it does not undo all the damage or erase some of the very troubling responses to the news.
Everyone deserves room for reflection and perspective.
J.K. Rowling has been unfairly criticized over the past week. Of course, the author is no stranger to this type of attention and has likely built up a thick skin to such scrutiny. But it doesn’t ameliorate the bigger problem of how we respond to an author’s reflection about his/her work.
Yes, books belong to their readers. Art belongs to the audience. But this should not close the door on an author’s ability to talk about his/her writing process, the development of his/her characters, and the subtext of certain scenes. We should welcome that from an author.
Some writers took this opportunity to call out Rowling on previous remarks on her series, branching beyond these purported declarations about Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Several list-style articles popped up, presenting nothing but lackluster commentary juxtaposed with flashy subtitles and GIFs.
Other articles came in the form of open letters, where some thought it prudent to issue out a list of grievances of what they disliked in the series. One point that was upsetting to see mentioned in a negative light more than once was Rowling’s revelation that Dumbledore is gay following the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The troubling commentary included claims that since Dumbledore “never acts or appears gay in the books,” Rowling had no right to add this fact to what we know about the character, as well as the accusation that the author added this fact later to come across as more “gay-friendly.” Both are horrible arguments and fully expose the neglect of recognizing a very important and justified remark about the series.
There is nothing wrong with engaging in debate about different aspects of the books, but using out-of-context reports as a launching pad to claim Rowling wrote the series “wrong” is not only ignorant but also offensive – to both the author and her readers.
The story doesn’t change.
Rowling never set out to revise her own writing in this interview. Poor journalism that botched this story from the start not only blew Rowling’s remarks completely out of context but also ruined what should have been a wonderful moment for the Harry Potter fandom. Both Rowling and Watson share incredible insight through the interview, not just talking about the three fictional characters but also challenges that we all face – a truth that has always spelled out the true magic of this series.
One wonderful line came from Watson in discussing Ron’s character, on how he always felt the pressures of being second-best:
I think life presents to you over and over again your biggest and most painful fear – until you conquer it. It just keeps coming up.
Rowling praised Watson’s incredible insight:
That is so true; it has happened in my own life. The issue keeps coming up because you are drawn to it and you are putting yourself in front of it all the time. At a certain point, you have to choose what to do about it, and sometimes conquering it is choosing to say: I don’t want that anymore, I’m going to stop walking up to you because there is nothing there for me. But yes, you’re so right, that’s very insightful! Ron’s used to playing second fiddle. I think that’s a comfortable role for him, but at a certain point, he has to be his own man, doesn’t he?
So we finally reach a point that should satisfy all true Harry Potter fans: The story does not change. Hermione still ends up with Ron. Harry still ends up with Ginny. Yet we get a very powerful set of responses from Rowling in which she recognizes the difficulties Ron and Hermione would face and acknowledges the possibility and practicality of Harry and Hermione as a couple.
But in the end, it was Ron and Hermione. Nothing Rowling said changes that. Her remarks do not sell short the relationship between the two, but rather make it more realistic. Nor do her responses take away from the Hermione and Harry moments, such as the “What are we doing?” tent scene Rowling discusses.
On Hermione and Ron’s future, Rowling even responds in a way that those fiercely clinging to “books belong to their readers” should appreciate:
Oh, maybe she and Ron will be alright with a bit of counseling, you know. I wonder what happens at wizard marriage counseling? They’ll probably be fine. He needs to work on his self-esteem issues, and she needs to work on being a little less critical.
She doesn’t settle the debate firmly, but merely tosses out the idea. What happens between the couple, and all the surviving characters, is still completely left up to the reader’s imagination.
Most of the initial coverage of this story represented remarkably bad journalism, and the out-of-context analysis that followed was even worse. There is always room for differing opinions and ideas, but this fandom is above giving the Rita Skeeters of the web too much attention and credence. J.K. Rowling taught us so much better than that.