After reading an interview with author J.K. Rowling, senior Kezia W. was inspired to write about the attachments readers and authors develop to the characters in a story. Kezia takes Creative Writing at 21CCCS and is taking a Journalism class as well. Mrs. Vice thinks we might see Kezia’s name at our local bookstores someday!
As some of you may know, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, recently released an interview for Wonderland magazine in which she reflected on the happiness of two Harry Potter characters who ended up married to each other. (21CCCS posted about it on the school Facebook page.) If you haven’t yet read Harry Potter and you’d like to keep the minor spoiler of who the main characters end up marrying, then skip the next few paragraphs. The same goes for those who’d like to keep their enjoyment of Harry Potter untainted by the author’s opinion. It’s not really that big of a deal, but it did make some waves in the news.
So now that I’ve got your curiosity piqued, I’ll briefly go over what Rowling said in the interview. Rowling stated that she believes she made a mistake in putting main characters Ron and Hermione together as a couple, and that Harry and Hermione are a better fit in some ways. The basis of her decision to write them together was a “form of wish fulfillment. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me [Rowling] clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”
Rowling went on to say that although she is persuaded that she’d made an error in coupling Hermione and Ron in the series, she also thinks that in the end, they’d be okay together, with perhaps a little marriage counseling.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all of this, wondering if there’s a point to me ruining your view of the limited romantic portion of the Harry Potter series. And there is, believe it or not, a point. Not to ask you if you agree with Rowling or not, or if Rowling should have shared her opinion in the first place knowing it might ruin the series for some fans, but to pose to you a literary question that I flatter myself borders on the edge of deep and philosophical (even though I know it isn’t, really).
The question is this: How much does the author’s opinion, habits, or lifestyle factor in to your assessment of their work? Should literature be taken and judged on its own merit, or subject to the controversies and opinions of its creator? And why do we, as readers, want our authors to agree with what they’ve written?
How much does Rowling’s opinion on her own characters factor in to your appreciation of her stories? Will you change your opinion of Ron and Hermione primarily due to the fact that she changed her mind? And if you do, is it because she made a valid point, or because you hate to read the book with the knowledge that she disagrees now with what she wrote then?
And if that’s still confusing, here’s another example:
You’re all, I hope, familiar with the literary detective Sherlock Holmes. He and Dr. Watson have been around for so long and have been so wildly popular that they’re well established as literary characters, movie characters, and television show characters, along with the innumerable character spoofs and cultural references.
I for one am a Sherlock Holmes fan. I love reading the mysteries, and I love being blown away by Holmes’ interpretation of data and deductive reasoning. But when I found out that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’ creator, after he had grown to dislike the character, whom he believed diverted attention from his other, more “serious” works of literature, intentionally killed off the detective so that he’d be taken more seriously as an author.
Of course, this backfired on him, as the public had grown far too fond of Sherlock Holmes to allow him to die with Professor Moriarty at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls. Eventually, Conan Doyle brought Holmes back, probably due to a combination of needing a reliable source of income and the outrage of the detective’s fans.
I discovered this while I was in the throes of a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, and I admit it caused some disillusionment for me. I could hardly enjoy the stories as well as I once did because I knew that the author that wrote them didn’t even like his own character for a certain period of time. It cast shadows on how I perceived the character in my head, and whether or not I ought to have let it bother me remains a mystery.
And so I ask again: should we as readers allow such revelations from the author to influence our opinions of their work? My opinion of the Sherlock Holmes stories didn’t change because I knew Conan Doyle didn’t like them, it just put a slight damper on my enjoyment of them. And my opinion of Ron and Hermione’s relationship hasn’t changed much either after Rowling’s comments; it only served to persuade me that I was perfectly happy with how the series ended despite Rowling’s misgivings.
But if it happened that one of my favorite authors did something that I didn’t agree with morally, could I still take their writing the same way? I think it comes down to what the writing is and what it means. I could love a story for its writing style, for its ability to conjure words (some of you are aware of my weakness for good writing), but the essence of most writing isn’t in its quality, but in its ultimate meaning to the life of its reader. So if the morals of an author’s work disagree with my own morals, no matter how much I like the writing or the way the author told the story or made the point, ultimately my opinion of its core material depends on how much I agree or disagree with it.
That, I think, is the core of the matter. Because Sherlock Holmes and Hermione Granger are fictional characters, I’m free to have whatever opinion of them that I want. Their authors shared them with a community of readers, and therefore gave up any control over them. Now that the “facts” have been published, we’re free to interpret and think and discuss them as much as we want. The author’s opinion on the work no longer matters more than the average reader’s, though it does hold considerably more sway, just like a judge’s opinion is of the same value of anyone else’s, but has more power to make changes.
Ultimately, in regard to literature, John Green (you might know him as the author of The Fault in our Stars) puts it this way:
“They [his finished books] belong to their readers now, which is a great thing–because the books are more powerful in the hands of my readers than they could ever be in my hands.”
I guess that about sums up the answer to this problem. It’s up to the reader to decide how he or she will interpret the work. A book is a thought, a human opinion, and because of that we’re free to agree or disagree with it, depending on our personal beliefs and thoughts and convictions of right and wrong, and all those trivial opinions in between.