Food for Thought: On Author Intent (Second Take)

Hello everyone~ Fenrir here with a quick bite of some Food for Thought! Sweeping headlines, blogs, and rattling the Harry Potter fandom into a general uproar is a shocking announcement made by HP word-of-God herself: J. K. Rowling. In a recent interview, the writer behind a book series that may (or may not) have defined a generation just dropped a bombshell.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Get ready to have your ship sunk

Basically, she regrets pairing up Hermione and Ron. Perhaps the inconsequential stuff of shipping fuel and hooplah to the outside perspective, but to some folks it means serious business–and for very good reasons. Blame it on nostalgia, on an actually refreshing take on the “hero-always-gets-the-girl” trope, or love of an individual character–but there are fans out there pretty miffed about this announcement. Fortunately with our good friend, the literary theory of authorial intent, we can take a step back, put down the pitch-forks, and maybe get to the bottom of why this bit of “news” really isn’t out there to destroy the series.

For a bit of a quick refresher, as a voracious book-lover and literature student, I very, very much prescribe to William William K. Wimsatt Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley’s theory behind authorial intent–and why it basically is a moot point when discussing literature. To summarize quickly, authorial intent argues that we cannot use external evidence–including statements, letters, diaries, interviews, notes–to judge a literary work. What is explicitly stated within the book is fair-game for critics to well critique and draw their arguments from.

Hence why, back in April, a student made a viral slam-poetry piece speaking out against what she reasoned as a caricature of a character based on evidence in the books. Whatever the author intended to do with said character is a moot point when it comes to the explicit presentation that the student analyzed and then slammed–actually we’ll be going back to this idea that readers inhabit a unique space separate from their author in just a moment.

Anyroad–with that in mind, let us quickly examine what exactly JKR had to say about pairing together Hermione and Ron, a very beloved and in fact refreshing  take on the “hero always gets the girl” trope. In Rowling’s words:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment,” she says. “That’s how it was conceived, really. 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 continued, “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.”

The Harmony fans might have won this round, it seems

The Harmony fans might have won this round, it seems

So there you have it! For whatever personal reasons she had, she paired Hermione and Ron together, and thus launched a thousand ships. And for whatever personal reasons she now has, she more or less regrets pairing them together. But whatever these “reasons of credibility” are–thanks to our good old friend the theory of authorial intent–it remains a moot point.

Her work is now a very public utterance that has more or less taken on a life beyond her control. Readers and critics alike have the tools at their disposal to pick apart and analyze as they please–for the written text explicitly ends up with the Ron/Hermione ending. So fans who see something refreshing and maybe even classic/nostalgic of your childhood, never fear!

ronandhermionewithkids

I mean come on, “babies-ever-after” wins the day and it’s canon!

Ron/Hermione will forever be a Thing within the confines of the printed books that we can continue to scrutinize to our hearts content. Plus, since Harry Potter is very much a public thing, it also has its own realms and spaces that the author cannot barge in and police.  And while there are some writers out there who do try to police their fans, fandom in all its various shapes and forms (including all the good and bad) is its own space that is up for theory, debate, etc. etc.

So basically JK’s quote is not a personal attack on her fans; in fact, I believe like many authors before her, she can regret and re-examine her own work. It won’t of course change the endings, but it is an interesting bit of external errata to see someone contemplate their work. After all, we’re only human, aren’t we?

Still, I can sympathize; it can be really upsetting and disheartening when a creator “backlashes” against their own fans–or seems to, anyway. JK’s position as “word-of-God” for the HP series does not trump what textual evidence fans can use to support Ron/Hermione, especially with that cringe-fest of an Epilogue thatreassures us that Mrs. Granger-Weasely is very happily married, thank you.

Theories abound that this entire hooplah is actually a type of marketing hype to bring back a lively debate around Harry Potter, but whether or not it was meant to rile fans it certainly has tongues a-wagging and–perhaps unintentionally–it has hurt people. To which we can take comfort in the notion that an author’s work lives beyond their personal wishes, once it becomes such a public utterance–and that ultimately whatever fanon you have regarding Hermione, Ron, their relationship or lack thereof will ever remain as yours, since we’re all basing these ideas on internal, textual evidence.

Annnnd that’s all there is on this episode of Food for Thought! Although now that we’ve gotten to the end of all of that, I would like to ask you, dear readers: are writer reflections like this important for your reading of a literary work? Does it matter if the author in question does a “take-back” on something that otherwise seemed untouchable? (For instance, did you know Tolkien wanted to make a more “serious” version of The Hobbit after reflecting on it? And that Arthur Conan Doyle reallly wanted to kill off Sherlock Holmes for good?)

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Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

Latest posts by Fenrir (see all)

Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

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