Thursday, February 13, 2014

Post-Wonderland Interview: Both sides of the shipping debates are winners

An open letter to the Harry Potter fandom:

The full Wonderland interview conducted by actress Emma Watson with J.K. Rowling has been published and its contents can be read on various websites including Hypable.  This was published a week after a teaser article in The Sunday Times had the eye grabbing headline of:

JK admits Harry should have wed Hermione

This set off a firestorm in the Harry Potter fandom as more and more news outlets worldwide reprinted the conclusions of that Sunday Times article.
Did J.K. Rowling actually use the term "regret" anywhere in that interview? No, she did not.
Is it a fair conclusion that her comments in that interview indicate that she now regrets pairing her characters Ron and Hermione together? Yes, it is.
During the interview, Emma asked Jo Rowling if she had a new perspective on Hermione. It was an open-ended question, one where Rowling could have gone in a myriad of directions, and she chose to bring up the romantic pairing of Hermione with Ron. She said their relationship was written as "wish fulfillment," she was "clinging to the plot as I first imagined it" and the choice was made for "very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility."
That implies that the Ron/Hermione relationship is not credible.
Rowling went on further to say that there was too much "fundamental incompatibility" and that "in some ways Harry and Hermione are a better fit".
Those phrases are what I think led to Claudia Croft's conclusions in the Sunday Times article that Jo Rowling admitted she should have paired Hermione with Harry.
Rowling and Watson had seemed a bit nervous once the discussion dealt with incompatibility of Hermione and Ron. 
Jo then said,
"I know, I'm sorry, I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I'm absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people's hearts by saying this? I hope not."
"I can't believe we are saying all of this – this is Potter heresy!"
Jo and Emma went on to discuss the tent scene in Deathly Hallows:

JKR: ...I'll tell you something very strange. When I wrote Hallows, I felt this quite strongly when I had Hermione and Harry together in the tent! I hadn't told [Steve] Kloves that and when he wrote the script he felt exactly the same thing at exactly the same point.Emma: That is just so interesting because when I was doing the scene I said to David [Heyman]: "This isn't in the book, she didn't write this". I'm not sure I am comfortable insinuating something however subtle it is!JKR: Yes, but David and Steve – they felt what I felt when writing it.
Emma: That is so strange.
JKR: And actually I liked that scene in the film, because it was articulating something I hadn't said but I had felt. I really liked it and I thought that it was right. I think you do feel the ghost of what could have been in that scene.

At the end of Watson's interview, Rowling attempted backtracking by saying that perhaps Ron and Hermione would "be alright with a bit of counseling."
Wow. Now that's a ringing endorsement.
They also discussed Ron's self esteem issues and Hermione's "weakness for a funny man."
This allows a shadow of a fig leaf for the Ron/Hermione shippers to cover themselves and feel confident after having the author and the actress who portrayed Hermione in the films discuss the romantic pairing in unflattering terms. Jo did not come out and say "I should have written things differently" nor did she say "I am thinking of re-writing the last book with an alternate ending." Therefore, we can assume she was just being honest in an interview, but does not currently plan on changing anything.
The websites for Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron were quick to provide their own interpretation of the full interview in an attempt to reassure nervous Ron/Hermione shippers that there was nothing to worry about. 
Mugglenet gave the headline "The TRUTH behind the J.K. Rowling 'Wonderland' interview."

"WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? Well, in our view, all J.K. Rowling has admitted was to feeling that the scene in the tent was a shared vulnerable moment between two characters that revealed an intriguing degree of compatibility between each of them, emotionally. In saying that Ron needed to get over his self-doubt, Rowling is mentioning a key component that readers would agree could certainly cause some trouble in an adult relationship. However, by the article's end, Rowling and Watson have both found a value in Ron that Harry doesn't possess: Ron's humor and his ability to level Hermione's character. Thus, for all of this talk, the result is that the characters end up safely nestled where they were before, inside the canon of the Potter books."

Similarly The Leaky Cauldron's article was titled: "Full 'Wonderland' Interview Reveals Ron/Hermione Shippers Can Relax."
"The full text of the Wonderland issue that caused a Ron/Hermione vs. Harry/Hermione shipping riot this week is now out, and rumors of the death of the canon pairing have been greatly exaggerated. J.K. Rowling repeats previously made comments that there are certain characteristics between Harry and Hermione that may have them better suited, but does not indicate a wish to pair them off or any regret over how she wrote the books. Emma Watson and J.K. Rowling simply discuss the hypothetical post-Hogwarts world and what Ron and Hermione's relationship might have looked like."Rowling said that regardless of their issues, Ron and Hermione "would probably be fine."


An excerpt of the interview published in The Sunday Times on Feb. 1 caused a controversy when Rowling said she "wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment.""For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron," Rowling said.Many fans took this to mean that Rowling had changed her mind and would have preferred Harry and Hermione as a pairing. It resulted in shipping wars intense enough to give some of us flashbacks to 2005."

I have a little quibble with that analysis, and will cite in part a subsequent interview Melissa Anelli had with Jo Rowling that was published in her book Harry, a History

"I tried very hard to soften it, I suppose," Jo said. "Just because someone had a view on Harry/Hermione didn't mean they weren't genuine, or that they were necessarily misguided...Steve Kloves...after he read book seven he said to me, 'You know, I thought something was going to happen between Harry and Hermione, and I didn't know whether I wanted it to or not.'...There are two moments when [Harry and Hermione] touch, which are charged moments. One, when she touches his hair as he sits on the hilltop after reading about Dumbledore and Grindlewald, and [two] the moment when they walk out of the graveyard with their arms around each other...
"Now, the fact is that Hermione shares moments with Harry that Ron will never be able to participate in. He walked out. She shared something very intense with Harry.
"So, I think it could have gone that way."(snipped for length)

The difference is that Jo Rowling pointed out two different scenes to Melissa that she felt were charged H/Hr moments and neither were the tent scene that she discussed with Emma Watson. Jo Rowling has now admitted three separate charged moments in book 7 where Harry and Hermione were pulled to one another. That means that the Wonderland interview wasn't just repeating previous comments, but instead it represents an extension and revision to her previous remarks on the subject where she concluded "it could have gone that way."

I now want to analyze the major differences between the 2014 interview and the one in 2005 performed by those two websites Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron. Emma Watson's interview was civil and polite. Jo Rowling was candid and was not in an atmosphere colored by partisan fandom politics. Watson is without vested interest in making herself seem "right" and others be "wrong." Back in 2005, Emerson Spartz and Melissa Anelli were hand selected by Jo Rowling to be representatives of the Harry Potter fandom and to ask her questions after the publication of her sixth novel Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
That interview caused a lot of heartache for fans of the series. Here is a link to my analysis of that online interview and why I felt insulted by it.
While I did not appreciate being called delusional, the biggest insult for me was being told by Jo Rowling to go back and re-read the books because I must have missed clues. I hadn't missed clues, I had studied the text so well I was seeing sub-text and evaluating clues that weren't intended by the author to be clues.
That off-hand remark made me step away from the fandom that I had enjoyed for several years, and I have only read the sixth and seventh book once whereas the first five books I know forward and backward.
After reading that 2005 interview where Jo Rowling categorically stated she was going to write Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione as the love pairings in Book 7, I wrote my concession messages on a few boards. I also abandoned the writing project I had been working on which was detailing the arguments used in the Harry Potter Shipping Wars. I was partnered with a R/Hr and H/G friend, who had served as a beta reader for my novel length fifth year fanfic. We were putting the common arguments into a manner that was easy to navigate for newbies while trying to make it as free of invective as possible. The project was rendered moot not by the content of the sixth or seventh book, but by an interview.
The aspect that bothered me the most was the tone of that interview and how it made the author look bad. I feel J.K. Rowling was done a disservice by the fandom representatives she chose. They knew that shipping was the most controversial and divisive issue in the fandom. They could have tried to make peace in the fandom by trying to metaphorically put baking soda on a stove-top fire, instead they threw gasoline on it and watched the flames scorch the ceiling.
Four years after that interview I was a speaker at the Azkatraz convention held in San Francisco. I live in Northern California so getting to San Francisco is a day trip. I decided to dip my feet once again in fandom waters, if for no other reason than to meet up with some friends I hadn't seen in a few years. 
A few days before the symposium, I sent a message to Melissa Anelli and asked to meet with her. I wanted to give her my thoughts in person about that controversial interview.
I wasn't just a random run of the mill Harry/Hermione shipper asking the webmaster of a major Harry Potter fansite for a few minutes of her time. No, she knew who I was and we had met, albeit briefly, at the first HP symposium in Orlando in 2003. I had participated in a live ship debate and was the second chair of the Harry/Hermione side. She even mentioned me in her book.

Here I am giving a speech at the 2003 Nimbus Symposium supporting the Harry/Hermione ship.
I honestly thought I would have only about ten minutes (at most!) to tell her my thoughts on the matter, that she would nod, listen and then make me feel as if I had been heard. I was surprised when she engaged with me on the topic. We talked for about an hour and I felt at the end that nothing I said could make her recognize how her actions as a R/Hr partisan in the interview did not serve the needs of the fandom as a whole, and especially how hurtful it was reading her editorial comments inserted into the text such as: [All laugh; Melissa doubles over, hysterical, and may have died.] 
I felt that they were laughing at the expense of others. It was akin to gloating or spiking the football and doing a dance in the end zone.
She was a professional journalist and I had expected more from her. I had expected her to be an ambassador from the whole fandom and not as a partisan shipper. I compared it to reporters covering political candidates and trying to keep their personal political opinions out of their news coverage, unless they are writing editorials.
She did not like that analogy because she thought the difference was reporters inserting their opinions in electoral politics might have an impact on elections and that her interview covered fiction and what had been written. So it wasn't going to influence anything. Therefore, yes she had her opinions and to not mention them in the transcript would have been dishonest.
She considered the transcript she compiled as an accurate chronicle of the interview, and Jo Rowling approved the transcript before it went online. Therefore it was fine. She also felt that it wouldn't have mattered what was said because Harry/Hermione shippers were going to be mad because their side lost. I disagree with that opinion. I was mentally prepared prior to the 2005 interview to be told by JKR that she was planning on the R/Hr and H/G pairings, but I was not prepared to have my shipmates ridiculed in the manner that we were. 
My conversation with Melissa was cordial, and we left on good terms, but I continue to feel that Jo Rowling would have been better served if she had chosen different fandom ambassadors for such an important interview. 

Here is proof that we spoke at that conference.

Me and Melissa Anelli after we spoke at Azkatraz in San Francisco, July 2009.

Now, nine years later after the interview by The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet, we have the same fandom members who interviewed JKR in 2005 having found themselves in the uncomfortable and unexpected position as to worrying for a few days about what Jo Rowling said in an interview regarding shipping and whether or not she has changed her mind. After the full interview was made public, they have chosen to only focus on certain aspects of it and try to minimize or ignore others. 
It now appears JKR recognizes and acknowledges that the Harry/Hermione pairing had canon support and possibly, quite possibly, could have been a better fit for her heroine.
Yes, in the full Wonderland interview, Jo refers to Hermione as her heroine.
"I know that Hermione is incredibly recognisable to a lot of readers and yet you don't see a lot of Hermiones in film or on TV except to be laughed at. I mean that the intense, clever, in some ways not terribly self-aware, girl is rarely the heroine and I really wanted her to be the heroine."
Hermione was not referred to as a side-kick or as a best friend, but the heroine of the series. Pairing the hero and the heroine of a series is not an unusual or delusional pairing by any means.

I would like to see, nine years after the interview that caused so many hard feelings in the fandom, a joint statement of recognition written by someone on the staff of The Leaky Cauldron and/or Mugglenet. I would like it to read something like this:

"We recognize that Harry/Hermione shippers are loyal fans in the Harry Potter fandom who have provided spirited support for their ship before and after the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Now, seven years after the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Jo Rowling admits she might have followed another direction if she followed her muse, but she stuck with her original plot line. So recognizing that we were all right in some aspects of this series, we should put aside our differences and embrace our common interests, namely our love of the Potterverse. Those who prefer H/Hr might be inspired by this latest interview to write more fanfic with their favorite ship, and we shall hopefully put this divisive topic behind us. We want to take this opportunity to apologize if our celebratory actions in 2005 made you feel alienated from the larger fandom."

Instead it seems both websites' analysis of the full Wonderland interview was designed more to maintain the position that the only thing that matters is the Ron/Hermione ship sailed and the Harry/Hermione ship sank. I do not think it would hurt their credibility in the full fandom to show a little respect for those with an alternate point of view and say, "as it turns out, your opinion had some merit."

 In the grand scheme of world and life events, betting on the wrong couple in the Hogwarts Love Sweepstakes isn't a catastrophe. It is good however, when people can be civil with one another. We should not be casting aspersions about people's intellect or morality because they came up with a different interpretation while reading literature. Especially when those romantic pairings are validated by the author. Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny were what J.K. Rowling planned and wrote. Now that J.K. Rowling has had time to reflect on her series, it appears that Harry/Hermione might be what she wishes she had written. That means both sides of the most divisive topic in the fandom can claim to have merit to their position.
My last point, in 2012, J.K. Rowling was quoted as saying that she would like to go back and re-write two of her books.  Imagine if she were to really regret pairing Ron and Hermione, she might decide to change more than just syntax and sentence structure to please her inner critic. I'm sure Bloomsbury and Scholastic would be willing to have new releases in the HP franchise and bookstores would love to have the Harry Potter money pipeline turned back on as well. Should she choose to change her romantic pairings then the H/Hr shippers wouldn't just have to settle for alternate universe fanfics, it could actually be "new canon."
I asked my teenaged son if he would be interested in reading a new Harry Potter book if it was re-written by J.K. Rowling. Without hesitation he replied, "Hells yeah!" I imagine that there would be many fans of the series who would also be interested in buying any new canon if it were written and published.
So please R/Hr shippers, take this opportunity to make peace with us, since we all profess to love the series and we can all claim to have support by the author. In other words: both sides won.

After the Nimbus live ship debate, the two ships were smiling for the camera. 
Proof that we can all get along.


Linda C. McCabe AKA Pallas Athena (or just Athena)
Second chair for the Harry/Hermione ship debate in Nimbus 2003.
Yeah, eleven years ago I debated this subject in person in front of a ballroom full of people!
Author of the First Readers' Choice Award on for the novel length fifth year fic, Secrets, Lies and the Daily Prophet as well as a few H/Hr themed short stories.
Author of an epic historic fantasy set in the time of Charlemagne, Quest of the Warrior Maiden, including flying hippogriffs. Yes, it was inspired during my ship debating research days.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

J.K. Rowling, belated Harry/Hermione shipper

My friend John Granger clued me into a story about an interview with J.K. Rowling and how these revelations are burning up the internet and being posted and re-posted as news.

Now, I readily admit that this story isn't hard news.   It does not impact the world economy, ameliorate climate change or make any movement toward establishing world peace.

Nope. It is simply a human interest story, and there is a lot of interest in it. I believe this story is more important than detailing the legal troubles of Justin Bieber (My thoughts: deport Bieber) or anything having to do with anyone with the last name of Kardashian.

I feel this story about an author's change of heart in regard to the romantic pairings of her fictional characters *is* newsworthy, if for no other reason than due to the sheer popularity of the series.

The Harry Potter series is one of the most popular series in literature with millions of copies sold worldwide in many different languages. (I don't even want to take the time to verify what the current numbers are, but I know it is mind boggling how many copies sold which made her a billionaire.)

The series served as a refuge and escape for me back in the early 2000s. I began reading the Harry Potter novels in November of 2001 at the time that the first movie was released. I was impressed by the intricate world and bizarre cast of characters in the Potterverse.

I read the first four novels in a short span of time, then began re-reading them and then searching the internet to find out more information. That is when I discovered the online fandom.

The attacks on September 11, 2001 were recent and I found news from the real world to be painful and hard to bear. It was a nice diversion from news about world terrorism to instead attempt to decipher clues with other adults in the Harry Potter series.

I became a member of the Harry Potter for Grown Ups (HPfGUs) list serv and engaged in discussions looking at the smallest turn of phrase that might be helpful in predicting where the series was going and which characters were EverSoEvil! or ESE! Literary criticism with other nerdz was fun. I enjoyed reading wild and inventive theories and spinning my own with others who loved the series as much as I did.

I started reading Harry Potter fan fiction and became inspired to try my own hand at writing in order to flesh out my own wacky theories. It was in the process of writing my fifth year fic that I started really questioning the characters' motivations and I came to believe that Hermione was in love with Harry. That she was devoted to him, but knew he didn't feel the same way about her. So she kept her feelings to herself lest he begin to feel uncomfortable about her hanging around him all the time. "Eww, I don't like you in that way. I want to just be friends, but..."

She might get frozen out of being a part of the Trio and then it would just be Harry and Ron on the grand adventures.

So Hermione loved Harry, but kept her feelings close to her vest. That's what I thought. That's what I wrote and had a fic where at the end of the fifth year the two characters became a couple.

After finishing my fic, I began posting on the HPfGUs list serv again. This time I posted my thoughts on shipping. I made what I thought was a simple post about Hermione and Krum showing how it was pro Harry/Hermione or H/Hr. That post wound up being noticed by other shippers and after a request to reprint portions of my post on a debate thread on, I found myself being lured into the great H/Hr vs. Ron/Hermione (R/Hr) shipping debate.

Later, I wound up participating in the only live H/Hr and R/Hr shipping debate which was held at the first Harry Potter Symposium in Orlando, Florida in 2003.

The Shipping Debates were a big deal. JKR didn't know it at the time, she learned about it later. She was shaken by the intensity of the arguments when she stumbled upon the online debate threads.

Then she toyed with the fandom by making posts on her website that mentioned shipping and teased her fans about it. Then after the publication of the sixth book she invited two well known people from the fandom to interview her. That was when she unequivocally stated that the romantic pairings were Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione. The tone of that interview was not what I had hoped. There was laughter and mirth about the shipping choices and the word "delusional" was used to describe Harry/Hermione shippers. My full thoughts on that interview as well as quotes from JKR on her website about shipping can be found here. 

 (JKR's website has been revamped and those shipping quotes from 2006 and 2007 are no longer online, but they are in my blog post.)

The last volume was published in 2007 and many of her new fans have no idea of the debates that raged when the series was incomplete.

Therefore, as a recovering Harry Potter fandom addict, I welcomed learning that J.K. Rowling now feels that Hermione should have been paired with Harry Potter over Ron Weasley. Check out these quotes:

"I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That's how it was conceived, really," Rowling says in the interview. "For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron."

"I know, I'm sorry," she adds. "I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I'm absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people's hearts by saying this? I hope not."

Those quotes make me feel that I and my shipmates did not deserve being called "delusional."

Rowling also says that Ron and Hermione would have needed “relationship counseling.” 

Counseling. Ron and Hermione would have needed counseling.


Yeah. I didn't think the manner in which Ron taunted Hermione showed a depth of compassion, but instead a manner of trying to control her.

I wrote a post which detailed my dislike of this relationship and described how unhealthy I thought it would be due to Ron's underlying disrespect for Hermione. It reminded me of emotionally abusive relationships.

It was my reaction to the text and explaining why I did not need to see quotes from the books repeated on the bulletin boards again. I knew them, I had read them, and having someone reiterate the same points wouldn't make me stop and go "You're right. There is something's going on there." I could tell that Ron was possessive toward Hermione, but I didn't see that she had a similar interest in him. Instead the possessiveness and cutting insults (including Hermione's insults toward Ron) made me feel uncomfortable if a romantic relationship came from that dynamic.

My post became known as the Abusive!Ron theory, but it wasn't a theory at all. It was a lengthy discussion about my response to the interactions between Ron and Hermione in the text and why I thought it would be unhealthy basis of a romantic relationship if Ron didn't change his behavior toward her.

I felt that the politics of house-elves best demonstrated the problem of the Ron/Hermione relationship. I had also written an extensive post on the politics of house-elves and why Ron needed to change his underlying attitude toward the oppressed magical species or there would never be a chance for Ron and Hermione to be a successful couple.

As it turned out, Ron and Hermione finally became a couple when Ron made a mention in the thick of defending Hogwarts Castle by mentioning the welfare of the elves at the end of Book 7.

That plot point helped me feel somewhat vindicated, but these articles showing teaser quotes from the full interview (and I will want to read the full interview!), makes me feel even better.

Yes, I will admit there were anvil-sized clues pointing to R/Hr in the series, but I was a careful reader and saw subtle hints to Hermione caring for Harry. Maybe it was JKR's subconscious inclusion of the Harry/Hermione loyalty dynamic that led me to think H/Hr was a better romantic fit.

The problem was H/Hr went against JKR's the planned symbolic following of literary alchemical formulas.  Here is where we go deep into symbolism, and I credit John Granger's numerous writings on literary alchemy:

Ron represented elemental sulfur and Hermione represented mercury. Both are necessary in creating gold through alchemy. 

Yeah, I know how weird that sounds, but that was what JKR was doing. Harry's girlfriends had the following hair colors: black (Cho), white (one date with Luna), then red (Ginny) which correspond with three stages of alchemy: nigredo, albedo, rubedo. There was no room for a brown haired girl for Harry. Yet JKR subconsciously wrote Harry/Hermione as a relationship based on trust, loyalty and devotion. I was hoping that Jo while using alchemy as her underlying plot structure would not feel totally constrained to have follow it completely. I was hoping she might alter it to fit her own dramatic needs and have Harry/Hermione as the final romantic pairing and not Harry/Ginny with Ron/Hermione.

Now in retrospect, she is looking back at her story and the characters as they evolved during her story telling and she admits that Harry/Hermione would have been a better way to go!

It would have been emotionally satisfying to have her hero become romantically involved with his best friend who had been by his side from the beginning of his magical adventure, but it would have made Ron and Ginny jealous. There would have been a big love triangle within the Trio, and many, many Ron/Hermione shippers simply couldn't bear to think of Harry hurting Ron in that manner.

Yeah, and Jo thought of killing Ron. 

Had she done that, I think Ginny as a romantic partner for Harry would have disappeared altogether.

Anyway, I feel vindicated by this admission by Jo Rowling. Perhaps the Ron/Hermione shippers who gloated when they did their victory lap might remember some of the arguments that I and my shipmates posted years ago and consider we weren't  as wrong, wrong, WRONG as they thought we were at the time.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts on this human interest story.


Linda AKA Pallas Athena