Harry Potter fans were outraged this weekend to learn that author J. K. Rowling regrets pairing up Harry’s buddies Ron and Hermione. She told readers that she stuck with the pairing because it was part of the plan all along, but looking back at how the characters evolved, she realized that Ron and Hermoine might not be the best for each other’s long-term happiness.
I love this news.
For an author, having two characters end up in a mismatched or potentially unhappy romance shouldn’t have to be a cause for regret. After all, fiction would be very dull if every character made the right choices and loved the right people. In fact, many authors gleefully torture their characters for their bad decisions, or just for plain fun (I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin). Making bad things happen to your characters is necessary to advance an interesting story, no matter how painful writing those things might be for the author. And they can make for a deliciously addictive tale (I’m still looking at you, George R. R. Martin).
But I like how, despite that, J. K. Rowling still wants the best for her characters. She admitted that Ron probably wouldn’t be able to make Hermione happy. I don’t think that’s the credibility issue she says it is (people wind up in mismatched, unhappy pairings all the time in real life) but I do think it’s refreshing that she seems to care about whether her characters will wind up happy.
It reminds me of Stranger Than Fiction, the movie in which an author’s fictional creation fights to defend himself from the author’s plans to kill him at the end of her novel. More recently, Cabin in the Woods seemed to be Joss Whedon telling horror-movie creators, “How would you feel if the horrible things you did to your characters happened to you?” Both movies imply, at least a little, that some creators are getting tired of stories that treat characters like props to make The Author’s Big Point, or objects that exist to titillate.
Why is this important? Because audiences do want to engage with characters as if they were real. And when creators dehumanize characters, that attitude gets carried away from the theater or reading chair, and contributes to the dehumanization of people in real life. The more callous we become about the unhappiness inflicted on characters, the more callous we become about real people’s unhappiness.
Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for caring so much about your characters, even when it lets down a few fans. Treating characters like real people can introduce some much-needed positivity into a pretty nihilistic arts landscape.