Books Belong to Their Readers

Tonight, the internet is all abuzz about the love life of our very favorite know-it-all bookworm: the one, the only, Hermione Jean Granger, who — according to the much-debated epilogue of the Harry Potter books — marries Ron Weasley and gives him a pair of kids named Rose and Hugo.

According to the Sunday Times, however, a recent interview of J.K. Rowling (by none other than Emma Watson) has revealed that Rowling’s not so sure Ron and Hermione would have worked out after all. She goes so far as to say that Hermione should have ended up with Harry and that if Hermione and Ron had gotten together, they would have needed “relationship counseling.”

Now, I’m not going to say she’s wrong.

Ron’s a volatile character at best, and a petty, vindictive one at his worst. He’s never had patience for Hermione or shown that he values her as anything other than a problem-solver and a homework-doer. A relationship between them seems riddled with problems right from the get-go. Maybe they could’ve made it work. But the massive body of fanfiction that starts with Ron doing something stupid and ends with Hermione with someone else suggests that many of the series’s most devoted have always had their doubts.

So while Jo’s probably right about them, it’s more than a little frustrating to hear her comments on them.

John Green tweeted this tonight:

And while it’s entirely possible that it’s not a response to Rowling’s comments, it also fits perfectly into a discussion about them. Because, really, Rowling’s a bit of a control freak.

Don’t get me wrong! I love her to death! I love her books, her characters, her invented world, her real-world causes. But the way writing a book works is that, eventually, you let the things you’ve written go. You send them off into the void, off to be read and interpreted and overanalyzed. And then they’re only kind of still yours.

Maybe it’s our fault. We kept asking her for more and more details. Tell us what happened to these characters, we said. What’s the origin story of that one? we asked. And she always had them! She knew exactly what happened to the characters, what their histories were, and their favorite foods, and their Patronuses.

But the thing about stories is that sometimes we don’t want all the answers. My creative writing professors always said that the end of a story should open up a whole new realm of possibility, should turn the piece on its head and offer up a different way to think about it — an ending should never, ever close a story down. As readers, we want to be left with a few loose ends, to toy with like a cat with a piece of string.  That’s what makes a book stick, what gives us a hangover, what keeps us thinking and imagining and loving it long after we’ve closed it and set it aside. If she wants to write a sequel series or a prequel series, fine! Then her word can be law. I’d love to see her explore another part of the Potter world! (For instance, I’m very much looking forward to Fantastic Beasts.) But if she’s not going to write more, then I don’t just want all the answers thrown at me like the key to a multiple choice test: all those As and Bs and Cs and Ds are meaningless without the context, without the stories that lead up them. If you, as an author, are not going to write another book, then surrender your characters to your readers’ imaginations.

I think that ultimately, that’s what was so frustrating about the epilogue to Deathly Hallows. Rowling knew the answers (who gets married, how many kids they have, where they work) and so she gave them to us. But they didn’t satisfy, because they closed the ending down. She drew us a picture in black-and-white where she could have left us a blank page — and then she told our imaginations to color within the lines.

So I’ll say it again: books ought to belong to their readers.

It takes remarkable courage to give a story away to a scary, faceless horde of readers. The characters, the world, the plot, the turns of phrase — they’re your children and you’re sending them out on their own. But once you do, they belong to everyone they meet. They belong to the people whose lives they’ve changed.

Like I said, I see the problems inherent in a Ron/Hermione relationship. And maybe I agree that they wouldn’t have worked out, that they would have been unhappy. But nonetheless, it is canon. It’s Han-shot-first. It’s what’s on the page. It’s what we’ve pondered over and worried at for years before finally deciding that, yes, it does makes sense. It’s what we’ve come to accept as the truth in this crazy world of falsehood that readers desperately, gleefully navigate every single day.

Don’t mess with it.

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1 Comment

Filed under Books

One response to “Books Belong to Their Readers

  1. I completely agree. Once an author or painter or director creates something and puts it out into the world they can’t go back and fiddle with it. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and hearing that news made me really depressed! Great post 🙂

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