09 February 2014


On J.K. Rowling and the "Book Boyfriend" Wars

Read about West Leavitt and other Book Boyfriends
@ Stuck In Books

Whoever is doing J.K. Rowling's publicity should be earning his weight and then some in Gringotts galleons. That latest promo of an interview in which she says she regrets not having let two of her main characters end up together has got Potterheads newly buzzed, and everyone just has to toss his two knuts into the pot. In my opinion, no one will top my friend Otepoti's analysis that Rowling may be "projecting issues around her own failed first marriage onto her fictional creations," but that just takes the pressure off me as I write my own post on the matter.

These opening paragraphs are very vague, just because I'm conscientious--even scrupulous--about spoilers; but I do let them all rip after the jump, so if you haven't read the entire series yet, consider this your last warning! =)

Viktor Krum
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J.K. Rowling

. . . Harry liked Hermione very much, but she just wasn't the same as Ron. There was much less laughter and a lot more hanging out in the library when Hermione was your best friend . . .

Viktor Krum was in the library an awful lot, too . . . Hermione often complained about Krum being there--not that he ever bothered them--but because groups of giggling girls often turned up to spy on him from behind bookshelves, and Hermione found the noise distracting.

"He's not even good-looking," she muttered angrily, glaring at Krum's sharp profile. "They only like him because he's famous! They wouldn't look twice at him if he couldn't do the Wonky-Faint thing--"

"Wronsky Feint," said Harry through gritted teeth . . .

Hermione Granger and Viktor Krum aren't exactly a predictable couple. He may be a world-famous Quidditch star, but she can't even be bothered to get Quidditch terminology right. Still, as any girl can tell you, it's really something when a guy who could successfully ask out all the other girls in your school wants to spend time with you--especially after three years of apathy (at best) from the boys in your school.

What Rowling is trying to do here is obvious. The girl best friend who gets overlooked by her closest buddy, until a romantic rival's presence lets him see what is right before his eyes, is a common enough trope. And both of Hermione's buddies have been dragging their feet for a while. What Rowling actually accomplishes, however, is a bit more than she was prepared to follow up on. Because something extra significant happens when Viktor steps up to do what both Ron and Harry haven't even realised was a possibility for over three years: he helps Hermione to turn into a swan.

. . . she didn't look like Hermione at all. She had done something with her hair; it was no longer bushy, but sleek and shiny, and twisted up into an elegant knot at the back of her head. She was wearing robes made of a floaty periwinkle-blue material, and she was holding herself differently, somehow--or maybe it was merely the absence of the twenty or so books she usually had slung over her back. She was also smiling--rather nervously, it was true--but the reduction in the size of her front teeth was more noticeable than ever; Harry couldn't understand how he hadn't spotted it before.

. . . Ron, however, walked right past Hermione without looking at her.

If all Rowling had wanted to do was to develop Harry, Ron and Hermione's friendship, then she should have brought in a different sort of rival. Maybe a nice Ravenclaw boy, one year older than they, whom Hermione also gets to know through the library, because they both keep checking the same books out. If Harry and Ron must be especially riled by him, the rival could even be on Ravenclaw's Quidditch team. (Yes, I do write FF, but not HP FF.) Instead, Rowling uses one of the youngest professional Quidditch players of all time, who also happened to have caught the Quaffle at the last World Cup final--someone whom girls (and boys--LOL!) from all over the world are fawning over, but who needs a few weeks of hanging around the library to work up the courage to ask her out!!!

Not only is the effect more romantic than Ron and Harry have ever been with Hermione, but it is also more magical, in the sense that Viktor's interest in her is the amorous equivalent of a Hogwarts letter. For just as a place at Hogwarts showed Hermione that her destiny could lie beyond her family and the entire non-magical world, a possible relationship with Viktor hints that it could also lie beyond her school, her country, and yes, even her current circle of friends.

Incidentally, this fits my theory that modern-day Cinderellas wish they could go to school. Of course, in that case, Harry and Ron would be the disgruntled stepsisters. (ROTFLMAO!) Anyway, I don't know if Rowling fully grasped what I'm saying here while she was writing The Goblet of Fire, but the way she dealt with it was the second lamest trick in the book.

Hermione was now teaching Krum to say her name properly; he kept calling her "Hermy-own."

"Her-my-oh-nee," she said slowly and clearly.


"Close enough," she said, catching Harry's eye and grinning.

Read between the lines: it's not the obvious thickness of his accent that's so off-putting, but the implied thickness of his head. And sure enough, after this point in the novel, Viktor always comes across as a big, dumb lug. While that's plausible for a professional athlete, it's also damning to Hermione's eventual romantic arc. For what disqualifies Viktor as a possible love interest for Hermione is his being not as smart as she is even dimmer than Ron.

As for the general issue of Rowling's regrets . . . I think most authors can look back at their writing with clear eyes and see things they could have written differently; but there's something too jarring when one says so after making half a billion pounds in royalties. The least that authors can do is to be authoritative. But if they won't, then it is left to us readers to stick up for ourselves and to say that What Has Been Written will always have more dignity than What Shall Always Be Regretted. In short, if she's not going to kill this particular darling in a rewrite, then she's not going to be allowed to say it's dead.

Image Source: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling


NoelCT said...

This kinda surprised me when it came out, as Rowling doesn't seem like an author who gives into easy and obvious parings like, say Stephenie Meyer, who's abandoned entire installments of a series because she wants everyone to remain happily ever after.

I agree with some of the points raised about how Hermione and Ron are so unlikely a mix that they probably wouldn't ultimately work out, but pairing her with Harry isn't an appealing alternative. Just from a narrative standpoint, it's a very easy and obvious route to have the male lead and the most prominent female end up as the power couple. By not going that route, she not only made a more interesting story in the long run, but provided a very positive example of a boy and a girl who remain platonic friends, even during those hormone fueled teen years. Pairing them up would also mean sacrificing the sudden rise to prominence of Ginny and the strong relationship she builds with Harry.

I can understand the appeal, but I ultimately think this would have made for a weaker series of books.

Ellen Alwaysyaatheart said...

Great pick!

Jenny said...

Honestly the only thing I have to say about this whole new reveal on J.K's part is this: The woman has enough money. Why doesn't she write something new instead of drudging up drama and publicity for HP? Ugh!

Enbrethiliel said...


Noel -- Like you, I also don't think that the male lead and the female lead necessarily should end up together. But Rowling kept her circle of three as tight as the 90s Friends sitcom kept its circle of six, and it is difficult to see Hermione seriously dating someone whom Harry and Ron don't also want to share their adventures with. The first lost opportunity, if you ask me, was Neville Longbottom: after the way the first book ended, I was certain that he'd be one of the gang in the second book--and was flabbergasted that he wasn't. Luna would have also been a great part of the gang, and an inclusion handled well wouldn't have made her seem like "Luna-come-lately." The only "outsider" who ever successfully made the transition to "insider" was Fleur Delacour . . . but that's another story!

As for Ginny, I never really cared for her. =( I found her more memorable as the Harry-infatuated little sister of the first two novels than as the level-headed and capable heroine she grows up into. But perhaps I need to reread the last three books . . .

Ellen -- Thanks.

Jenny -- In fairness to her, she did try to write something new as Robert Galbraith, before her cover was blown. =/

And I think the publishing industry has gone the way of the music industry: those who want to succeed can't just be very good musicians or writers, but must be highly marketable brands. I daresay that Rowling isn't doing extra publicity for the money as much as she'd doing it for her personal brand. She wants to be perceived as a certain kind of author, and I think she'd do it even if it meant she'd lose money.

Belfry Bat said...

Perhaps the interestingest contrast between my reaction and yours, O Enbrethiliel, is that I (despite protestations of Harry's-story-isn't-about-Harry) immediately argued why the *Harry*-Ginny match makes more thematic sense than any hypothetical *Harry*-N. match (and in particular Harry-Hermione); while you immediately argued why the hypothetical and the canonised *Hermione*-matchings both are not up to your own standards for Cinderelae. Sometimes I can't see around my own prejudices, even when I should know they're there.

On the subject of Luna... I don't think any of the Hogwarts crew are really suitably competent for her, not even Harry; she's simply delightful but needs (I think) some minding. I thought Neville would be nearly the best for her, but apocrypha seem to suggest a tradition that she marries one Rolf Scamander, son of Newt.

I'll allow there's some artifice to Ginny that most of her own character development is well into the told-not-shown category — we hear Slughorn praise her bat-bogey hex, we hear R and Hm talk of her Quidditch prowess; even when she's there she's off-screen (in the books, anyway; don't know nuffink about the films.)

Enbrethiliel said...


I focussed on Hermione because Rowling and Emma Watson were discussing Hermione! Dear Harry was an afterthought. =P

When I said that Luna could have become an "insider," I was not talking about romance, but about friendship. Harry, Ron and Hermione never expand their tight circle, even when one of them drops out for a bit and the other two could presumably use the help. Luna, in particular, would have made a great companion during the search for the Horcruxes in The Deathly Hallows.

We could say the same thing about Ginny. I know that she's a year younger than the rest of them, but even after she joins the Quidditch team and becomes closer to Hermione, she doesn't really become an "insider."

I can't help comparing Rowling's core group to Rick Riordan's core group in the Percy Jackson series. Percy goes on quests in four of the books, but he never has the same companions each time. There is never any doubt that the "Big Three" of the series are Percy, Annabeth and Grover, but Riordan doesn't rigidly tie them together. There's a sense that they could still drift apart, with no hard feelings on anyone's part, and this makes it more realistic.

love the girls said...

Miss writes : "There's a sense that they could still drift apart, with no hard feelings on anyone's part, and this makes it more realistic."

Realistically, if Percy were to drift apart from Annabeth we have every reason to believe her feeling would be more than hurt.

Percy's giving up immortality for Annabeth also suggests otherwise.

As to the Harry and wife is concerned, if he hadn't been such a fool he could of had Cho Chang, a character far more attractive than the Ginny.

Enbrethiliel said...


I was not clear. What I meant was that at different points while the series is ongoing, they could drift apart. For instance, Percy could have decided to date Rachel Elizabeth Dare instead. There's no obvious author's hand trapping this "Big Three" together.

As for Cho Chang, I'm afraid that I find her even more unimpressive than Ginny. The most memorable thing she ever did was cry over Cedric Diggory in Harry's arms. Or something like that.

Sheila said...

I was mad at Rowling for trying to change history. My view is that once a book leaves your hands, it's just not yours anymore. You have to accept it as written, just like everybody else. If she was projecting her own relationships on it, it makes some sense .... I know I have rewritten stories with altered romances because I got over the crush that made me write it the first way. But a published book? Nope, doesn't work that way.

I liked the way it finally turned out. I loved that, unlike most book romances, it wasn't a foregone conclusion since book 1. I actually *wondered* if Cho Chang or Victor Klum were going to work out. Most romance plotlines are so predetermined and predictable, you never wonder.

Harry and Hermione together would have been too easy -- and really, would they have worked out? I never saw any chemistry there. And as someone I read pointed out, marrying Ginny means that Harry gets to join the Weasley family at last. It's also in line with the British romantic tradition (I am thinking of Brideshead Revisited, Tennyson, and I'm sure others) of marrying your best friend's *sister.* Not necessarily so much for the sister (though hopefully for her too! poor woman otherwise!) as to finally become part of the family, to be as close to that Oxford friend as you possibly can be.

That's a little unsettling, I suppose, but luckily Ginny does have lots of her *own* merits going for her too.

Enbrethiliel said...


Although Viktor made me wonder, I also felt that Rowling had committed herself to making the Ron-Hermione romance work out. And I never thought the Harry-Cho romance had a chance of getting off the ground. But yes, rewriting history just doesn't work. Especially when you're the one who wrote the book in the first place!

That's another good point about the British romantic tradition. There's a lot of that in modern American romances, too--the difference being that these books depict such a pairing as "forbidden" in some way. Apparently, in the US, pursuing a relationship with your best friend's sibling seems to be one of the worst things you could do to your friendship!

Sheila said...

Hm, I can't say I have heard of that. I just don't know anyone who dated their friend's sibling at all. I suppose that would be more of a thing when people went to single-sex schools and it would be hard to meet potential mates -- so school vacations at a friend's house could be a good time. Here, your friends' siblings are more like adopted cousins .... so yeah, I guess I see how it could be weird. But I think I had a crush on every friend of my brother's I ever met. I didn't meet a lot of guys, I guess.

Enbrethiliel said...


It's a trope I've seen lots of times, especially among NA (New Adult) Romances. I could get you a list of titles if you're interested! ;-)

But now to check whether that trope has any basis in actual American culture! If one of those brothers had ever reciprocated your interest in him, would either of you be worried that you were betraying your friend?

Belfry Bat said...

What Enbrethiliel means is (obviously) "if any one of those friends had reciprocated interest, would it have felt like betraying one of the brothers?"


Just because, it seems worth considering: if you marry someone who has affectionate siblings, you'll want to be friends with those siblings after, of course? I somehow have never had any friends who had sisters of any chemistry. (This isn't surprising; I'm quite shy and reserved, out in the Real World)

Enbrethiliel said...


Actually, I got it right the first time. If any brother of one of Sheila's (presumably female) friends had reciprocated interest, would it have felt like a betrayal of the friend whose brother it was?

There's no way that the siblings would be brothers, because if Sheila were the female lead in an NA Romance and the best friend were a boy, she'd end up with him instead of with his brother! QED! =D