A Few Thoughts on J.K. Rowling, Wish Fulfillment, and Harry Potter

If you’ve never read the end of the Harry Potter series and want to be surprised, stop here.  Spoilers ahead.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series is back in the news with the announcement that she thinks she made a terrible mistake in the romance department of the novels.  Rowling apparently feels she should have paired off heroine Hermione Granger with Harry Potter instead of Harry’s best friend, Ron Weasley.

Because I take novels much too seriously for my own good, and because I cannot read Rowling’s mind and get acquainted with the characters in the omniscient way Rowling, as their creator, is able I have to turn instead to the published novels.  Doing so, I cannot see how Rowling could possibly pair Harry and Hermione without a serious bit of rewriting from the third novel onward.

In any event, to me, the romance was never a major part of Harry Potter.  I like that Rowling included it, since I think crushes, heart flutters, and break-ups are part of being a teenager, but I’ve never seen it as a focal point of the story.  It irrationally irritates me that seven years later, the whole brouhaha strikes me as Rowling essentially reducing her well-written, tightly crafted coming of age series to Twilight, complete with “Team Harry” and “Team Ron”.

This isn’t the first time, however, that I’ve quibbled a bit with Harry Potter and its author.

I remember clearly reading the end of the sixth novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and wondering how, exactly, Rowling planned to get out of the corner she appeared to have written herself into.  I was pretty sure that Harry was going to have to die to defeat Voldemort, but I also very badly wanted to see Harry live.

Rowling managed a delicate, tricky metaphysical dance that both allowed Harry to die and to live happily ever after.  That she managed this – and even more, that it’s believable – is an incredible feat and points to the skillful writing that makes Harry Potter as a whole series so successful.  However, in the final pair of lines in the final novel is what I’ve come to see as the tiniest missed step in the otherwise amazing dance.  They read: “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years.  All was well.”

If I had read Harry Potter when I was a teenager or a college student, the ages the novels are intended for, I have no doubt I would have completely loved the ending and missed what makes it so problematic for me as an adult.  One of Arthur’s friends from college made the point recently that for those of us raised in western middle or upper class culture, we are given to understand from early on that we can expect certain things from life so long as we work hard and do what is asked of us.  She listed that these expectations were generally: a happy marriage, children, a rewarding career, and financial stability.  She then went on to point out that in reality, these are actually incredibly difficult to achieve and that if you manage to have all of them at any given time, you have essentially won the life lottery.

She’s right, of course, as even the most cursory look at basic statistics bears her out: around 50% of marriages end in divorce, around 12% of people will deal with infertility, and simply reading any news today will point out recession, unemployment, and the housing bubble.  In other words, even as modest and reasonable as they sound on the surface, it’s often a set of expectations that won’t be achieved all together for plenty of people despite hard work for various reasons.  The Ward and June Cleaver 1950s ideal doesn’t exist any longer, if it ever actually even did.

So at the end of the Harry Potter series, Harry has essentially managed to achieve that ideal: a loving marriage to Ginny, beautiful children, financial security, and although Rowling doesn’t explicitly state it, probably a fulfilling career.  He’s also, based on the fact that his scar no longer pains him, managed to usher in through his defeat of Voldemort an age of peace in the wizarding community.  This is as it should be, right?  All is well.

Those lines are, in short, what I thought I wanted to read at the end.  I think they’re what most readers of the novels want, and what Rowling wants for her beloved creation.  They signify a truly happy ending – in short, the deserved reward for all of Harry’s toils and travails.  As a reader, Harry sort of stands in proxy for me, that somehow I too will get my deserved rewards.  And my scars won’t even pain me.

Except for one inconvenient little problem: life is rarely that simple or fair.  New evil rises, wars start, relationships break, homes get foreclosed on.  A person who has worked for years at a job comes in to find him or herself escorted out because the company no longer needs them.  Or in my case, those babies are not forthcoming.  And what’s really strange is that throughout the novels, Rowling makes mention of such difficulties in the lives of her characters and even uses them to advance various plots – right up until her neat, tidy ending.

Even if I can accept that Harry has managed to escape all these ordinary disasters of life in some sort of cosmic payment for his heroism, I sometimes wonder about the other line in the pair.  Does his scar really never pain him?  Is he one of those truly lucky people who manage to completely overcome their demons, who has come to terms with everything he has gone through so completely that he can remember without feeling the old ache at all?  Does he never see the place at his in-laws that should be set for Fred as empty?  Do Ginny and Molly Weasley never cry for their lost brother and son respectively?  Does he never think of something he should talk over with Lupin and sigh as he realizes he will never have that conversation?  Does he never think of Cedric Diggory again?

For me, this ending is the real fiction and wish fulfillment of Harry Potter.

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3 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on J.K. Rowling, Wish Fulfillment, and Harry Potter

  1. Hi, here from the round up.
    Impressive dissection of that last line you did over here. 🙂
    I must admit that I was a bit disappointed by the last paragraphs of the saga. I felt like they were written by someone else, a teenage version of JKR. I can explain myself the painless scar by the absence of Voldemort, who was the physical source of pain. Probably nothing that usually comes up in an ordinary life could compare to what the seven years at Hogwarts meant for Harry, so the mundane must have meant that all was well. After all, he was on the upwards side of life, up until middle age, life is beautiful, and offers love, marriage, children, career, friends to celebrate it all with. After 40 or so, we have to deal with loss, ours or of people near and dear, of parents, of spouses, of friends, of dreams and so on. So yes, compared to what comes with middle age, all was well for Harry. Right? right?!?
    I assume that he had no problems finding a job, even if he dropped out of his last year at Hogwarts. Most probably he got awarded NEWTS in virtue of having dealt with Voldemort. Ginny seemed alright, and their love seemed to be the real deal. They got their rounded-upwards 2.5 children. He had money to begin with, and also inherited a house in London from Sirius. Not too shabby. After finishing off Voldemort, he had everything offered to him on a silver platter. With golden handles. And a cherry on top. So perhaps it makes sense that his ending seems written by someone else. We’re not used to Harry having anything easy.
    I try hard to convince myself that the way it is written makes sense. Because I do not want anything to spoil the joy reading these books gave me. Incidentally, I am rereading them right now. 🙂
    Glad to find I am not the only one taking this seriously, as if it were true. 🙂
    Best of luck to you. Luck is what we need most to have our dreams come true. Because this world we live in is surely not a meritocracy, no matter how much we might want to convince ourselves.

  2. Thank you so much.

    And I hear you about the whole idea that it’s strange to have Harry have something come easy because of all his struggles – good point.

    I’m not sure anything can spoil the joy of these books – I may not love the end, but I just enjoy them despite that. Too many other wonderful parts :). I hope you are enjoying your re-read.

  3. I have always considered the ‘all was well’ to confirm that Voldemort was truly gone. I never considered it to sum up the entirety of 19 years of life, marriage etc

    I’ve also just realised I have won the life lottery, for the time being anyway 🙂 I always work on the principle of appreciating what you have and not taking it for granted, for tomorrow things may change.

    Great article, interesting and thought provoking 🙂

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