There used to be a time when, once an author finished their last interview and gave their last reading, they would move on to their next project. They might write a sequel or (book gods forbid!) a prequel. Then time would pass and the critics would have their turn at explicating the author’s work. Even more time would pass and it would be the English majors’ turn. No more. At least, no more in J.K. Rowling’s case.
|Harry Potter and the Author Who Wouldn’t
Leave Well Enough Alone
First, there was the revelation that Dumbledore was gay. Then, this week, Rowling dropped the bombshell that she regretted who she paired up at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. When I first read the story in The Guardian, I was reminded of George Lucas’ edited re-release of the original Star Wars series*. The Harry Potter series is gaining the iconic status that Star Wars and other beloved series have. There are fans that known the stories so well they can quote passages, answer the most obscure trivia, and come up with incredible ideas about what might be happening outside of the explicit text.
As I tried to adjust to the idea that Rowling changed her mind about the pairings at the end of the series, it was this last point that stuck with me. I can’t think of any other author who has regretted something like this about their books**. It’s her story, of course. What bothers me is that these revelations take a lot of fun out of the series for readers. By telling us what the subtext really is, readers aren’t allowed to freely exercise their imaginations. In a sense, it’s like watching the movie adaptation and getting the actor’s face stuck in your head instead of being able to imagine what the character looks like.
The other problem with Rowling’s revelations is that it opens her up to conflict with the massive Harry Potter fan base. Like Ray Bradbury arguing with fans over the meaning of Fahrenheit 451, we now have the awkward situation of readers responding to an author by saying they are flat out wrong about the characters they created.
I have always though that, when an author is done, a book really belongs to the readers who love it. Which means, authors, when a book is published: no take backs.
* Han shot first.
** I’m sure there are cases; I just don’t know about them.