Archive for February 2014

1000 Words on Ron, Hermione, and the Widening Class Divide Between Them

February 3, 2014

SOOO JK Rowling just stated (in an interview for a magazine Emma Watson guest-edited) that she regrets pairing up Hermione and Ron, and that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead. (As always she apparently didn’t have anything to say about Ginny.) This vexes me on multiple levels, and whether an artist can break through the fourth wall from the outside and change a piece after everyone’s already appreciated it (a classic philosophy of art debate question, and fwiw I think the reader’s agency/free will must be respected as well) is the -least- of them. ACCIO ESSAY:

1. To be honest I don’t think Rowling should have paired ANYONE up.
A. Aesthetic Reasons: Harry Potter was awesome when it was a fun magical detective story with plentiful parodies of modern life that starred good-hearted, well-rounded characters. As I wrote six years ago ( the first three books are the strongest because they’re the leanest and most faithful to the series’s natural strengths. The romances as she wrote them distracted from rather than strengthening the story’s themes, made the characters seem thinner rather than deeper, and should have been cut down or left out. (Protip: don’t get famous until you FINISH your fantasy series unless you have insanely incorruptible artistic integrity like Tolkien.)

How fun would it have been to go all the way through the story with flirting between all the characters and then let the fans keep chatting about who worked best together after that? When the author forces closure by tying together unnaturally, she limits the readers’ imaginations.

B. Moral Reasons: It’s so 16th century to think everyone needs to be paired up by the time the story’s over. Any of these characters could have had a perfectly fulfilling life as a single person as well (like Hagrid or ::cough:: Dumbledore), or met a special someone from the Muggle world off-camera. Students especially, the target audience of HP, are already full of anxiety about having to find someone to love by the time they graduate and these books reinforced that. Quick romantic pairings in epilogues also give the impression that love is easy or just happens when you’ve got things figured out when it’s actually a whole other huge lifelong adventure.

2. That said, she did pair them up, so what really makes Rowling’s new perspective depressing is how classist it is. Harry Potter and the Specter of Social Stratification? Harry Potter and Elite Self-Segregation? I know she doesn’t think of it that way but, especially after reading the Ross Douthat class warfare article from yesterday, this is how it looks to me:

What changed here is not the characters but JK Rowling herself. Once a single mother who wrote stories on napkins, she has now been one of the richest and most famous people in Britain (always a more stratified society) for 15 years, which means she’s spent years immersed in a totally different, wealthier world than the world from which this series sprang up. In other words, the J.K. Rowling who wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone no longer exists.

When the Muse wrote the books she chose Ron-Hermione and Harry-Ginny (now Rowling is making it look like she created Ginny just to give Harry a girlfriend, which is capital-T Terrible, but let’s move on.) 2014 Rowling describes Ron-Hermione as “wish fulfillment” that she wanted to be true but which couldn’t actually work. Harry and Hermione could definitely have worked! But so could Ron and Hermione. There’s enough chemistry and space between the lines for either relationship to be fulfilling, and for either one to be “wish fulfillment”.

What this latest statement looks like to everyone who reads it is “Ron isn’t good enough for Hermione (and Ginny isn’t good enough for Harry)”, not least due to its Hermione-centrism. How are Ron and Ginny not good enough, though? That case looks really classist to me:

Hermione is a genius and the only child of a pair of dentists. Harry grew up poor but is now a wealthy heir, a sports hero, and The Chosen One. (Also an only child.) Ron is the youngest son of a big, poor-and/but-happy (Catholic?) family and has a serious inferiority complex. Ginny is the youngest child of this family, is painfully shy, and isn’t “the best at anything” either.

The two elites in this group, in terms of achievements, money, as well as character traits associated with success, are obviously Harry and Hermione. But is the closest match/complement in these characteristics what matters for a relationship?

Not to be too maudlin, but I think of how loving the Weasley household is and how comfortable Hermione was staying there all summer (I wanted to be there too!). How Ron isn’t too intimidated of Hermione to make fun of her, but also how much he admires her and is supportive of her. How much integrity both Ron and Ginny had. Ron and Hermione had communication problems but so do people in every relationship! Who’s in love with each other? That’s the unpredictable and way more important thing, and if Ron and Hermione loved each other in JK’s imagination she doesn’t get to say years after the fact that they shouldn’t. (Besides, Adult Ron with things figured out would be at least as awesome as Young Adult Rupert Grint, right?

Why does all this matter? Because while the increasing intensity of social and economic stratification is undeniable, more and more “successful” Americans are looking for romantic partners who are their equals in these same categories and limiting their associations with those in the lower classes.

And even if, like me, you think success is defined by how far you carry a cross and not having nice jobs in the Ministry of Magic and sending your kids to a nice school like Hogwarts, you find that society perpetually pressures the “less successful” partner in a relationship and you appreciate any relief from that stress that you can get.

So, motion denied, J.K.