Here’s the thing: I have no ship in this fight. Because although I like seeing relationships unfold and romances blossom just as any other girl raised on romantic comedies and 90s Disney movies, I don’t think that it’s even half the story. There is so much more to life, to characters, and to books than who loves whom. And to be honest, most of me is insulted by these debates, by the idea that Hermionie has to “end up” with someone, and it should be one of the two boys, because what girl doesn’t fall in love with her guy friends? Why can’t we talk about how brilliant Hermionie is, and how driven, and how sacrificing, and how much she cares? How she was the one who willingly gave up her family for Harry’s mission, and did it in a completely rational way? It makes me mad that the romance is always what gets discussed, what grabs the headlines.
But it does grab the headlines, so here we are. And here’s the other problem I have with all the romance in Harry Potter. Because I am not much of a fanfic reader (except for The Shoebox Project, which you really must read if you haven’t, it’s a beautiful novel on the Marauders), I’ve accepted that Ron and Hermionie fall in love with each other, and that Harry and Ginny do as well. I have not, however, accepted the fact that they get married and live happily ever after, and send their five kids off to Hogwarts 19 years later.
Why? Because I refuse to think of the epilogue to Deathly Hallows as canon. I pretend that it does not exist.
Forgive me, Jo, but your inner fanfic writer took over that day, and turned out a very mediocre chapter. The writing is bad, the whole scene is packed with forced emotion, the jokes are terrible, and the name-dropping of the next generation is so obvious it hurts. I know why you wrote that chapter--you wanted to show that Harry, years later, had put the events of his childhood and teenage years behind, and was living a normal, perfectly happy, incident-free life after the war against Voldemort. And I get that, I really do. But that in itself is also a form of wish-fulfillment, and I’m starting to see now that wish-fulfillment isn’t just a one-off problem for you, it’s chronic. You wanted Harry to be happy, and you created for him your version of happiness. And it’s quite a limited, confined version.
As the author, Jo does get to write her story. The epilogue does exist. But I also have the right to be incredibly dissatisfied with it, to believe that the woman who gave us such great books and such great childhoods can do better. To quote Alyssa Rosenberg:
For a series of young adult novels, the most childish idea in the series is that everyone ends up with their first love, or ends up alone...There’s no question that some people do meet the loves of their lives as teenagers. But not everyone does. And Rowling’s refusal to acknowledge that has the effect of freezing a part of all of her characters in their adolescent years, at a moment when their emotions are most intense and their perspective on love is most exalted. That’s a mode of dealing with the world that’s in keeping with epic fantasy, with its absolutist approach to political conflicts. But it also means that there’s something flat at the heart of many of Rowling’s characters, an area in their lives that’s somehow immune from the kind of grand complexities that defines their approach to magic, to technology, to racialized politics, and even to their friendships. Maybe it’s meant to be an act of mercy, a place in the characters’ lives where something is simply a source of joy. But it’s a way of telling love stories that to me, does a small disservice to the characters that Rowling created, who can be selfish, temperamental, close-minded, hysterical, hypocritical, and beautifully silly.
This is exactly what has always bothered me. In this day and age, very few people meet their significant others in high school. Just because these four were dating when they were 17, that means they’ll automatically get married and have families? It doesn’t seem realistic to me. But maybe I’m too feminist, too modern, too metropolitan, and too chronically single to see anything else. My friend Michi Trota has reminded me that it does happen to a fair amount of people. And she points out that another fair amount of people have that expectation--that the person they love at 17 they will love for the rest of their lives. She’s right--there is definitely still an ideal to find your partner early on. Considering Jo’s generation, that’s probably an ideal that she grew up with, even if it wasn’t one that manifested itself in her personal life.
But she’s writing for a new generation, and such a thing is not half as common now. It’s far more common that members of the Potter Generation won’t marry until they’re in their thirties--and that’s if we choose to live a heterosexual monogamous lifestyle. But again, books are a reflection of their authors, and clearly Jo sees a happy marriage and parenthood as the ideal in a stable life. And that’s fine. Not having experienced that, I can’t speak to the joy of either. But if she wanted to create that, she could have made it real. A longer scene, one that is filled with less cheesy lines and name dropping, one that speaks to the simple pleasures of love instead, one filled with details, with realism, with plausible world-building.
Parents often say they just want their children to be happy. And as noble and understandable as that is, I often think that’s a shame. Because someone should--and will--experience more in a life than happiness. They should experience struggle and sadness as well as joy. I love when my friends are happy, but I’m even more pleased when my friends feel fulfilled and accomplished. Happy seems rather simple, rather unrealistic, rather flat. And in Jo’s maternal desire for her characters to end up happy, she has taken away their character. They arrive 19 Years Later with families fully-formed, adult personalities matured. Because Jo wanted them to. And for her, happiness means lack of tension or conflict or emotions that might make someone look bad.
Yes, writers can write what they want. But you’d be a fool to say that the richest and most popular author on the planet doesn’t have some kind of responsibility--not necessarily to her fans, but to the characters themselves. The fact that it’s just now occurring to her that a relationship she cemented with marriage might not at all work out is a problem. Additionally, the way that it didn’t occur to her that differences in personality could be worked through until the end of the interview is also a problem. It definitely speaks to the fact that for all her complexities in plot and character, Jo views romance very, very simply. Her wish fulfillment is the proof of that. And that wish fulfillment does a serious disservice, to Jo, her characters, and her story.
I imagine that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ended with Harry up in the headmaster’s office, talking to the portrait of Dumbledore. Because back then, the story was strong, the writing was believable, the characters were well-rounded, and their fates were in their own hands, not in a passing whim of the author. As John Green has said about books that he has finished:
They 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 believe that we, the HP generation, the fandom, and all those who have ever read these books, deserve to hold our own canon. Let’s stop wishing for more details, and be content with what we have. Let us write fanfic, dream dreams, and fantasize about all the things we want. These books are in our hands now. And we have known for some time--we are a powerful force, to be reckoned with. We are the ones who keep these books alive.