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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Rowling's Bad Matchmaking

I was one who detested the pairing off of the bland high school couples into bleakly lifelong love matches as the final gesture of the Harry Potter novelplex -- a bit of magic less plausible than any of Rowling's spellmaking elsewhere in the Potterverse, unless imbibing some kind of imprinting potion is part of magical marriage ceremonies. Such matchmaking should be left to the shippers for the most part, it seems to me, who are always much better at it.

Recent news that J.K. Rowling retrospectively regrets pairing off Ron with Hermione seems to me a case in point -- especially since she seems to think now that Hermione should have ended up with Harry of all people.

I am fond of Rowling's Harry but I judge him rather as Snape did -- as a decent but thoroughly conventional person. I happen to consider this a great strength of Rowling's myth-making: the messianic Harry of the first books, the tortured hidden prince who happens to have lucked into piles of gold and arbitrary quidditch jock talents and the coddling devotions of brilliant personages is one of the more unbearable plutocratic patriarchal cliches of the science fiction and fantasy literature to which I am otherwise devoted.

In the latter books, when Rowling actually starts designating Harry "the Chosen One" explicitly, the citation seems quite ironic. We discover that the choice was made by Voldemort himself as an expression of his paranoia, as much as it was made by Harry's mother as an expression of her love.

More subversive still, we discover that Hero-Harry is structurally paired with Neville Longbottom, another candidate for the subject of the prophesy of Voldemort's downfall, born of parents killed by Voldemort, also sorted by the Hat into Gryffindor for valor, but always narratively produced as a conventionally kindly if rather magically inept sort, inapt for conventional heroism (that the filmic Neville blossomed so unexpectedly in adolescence complicates this a bit).

There seems to me little question that the half-blood Hermione is the thematic center and heroine of the series, a heroism that seems to me to include a refusal to inhabit the position of hero. Hermione is incomparably smarter and more sensitive and more ferocious than anyone but Luna in the Rowling universe, and had Rowling's regrets been about not matching Hermione with Luna I guess that might have made a certain kind of sense to me.

Otherwise, I think Ron is both demonstrably smarter and braver, not to mention funnier, than Harry, and of the two a perfectly legible object for Hermione's affections, especially considering the dynamic produced in the crucible of their shared distress over the seven years of the whole narrative.

Obviously, I think few to none of the Hogwarts pairings would have properly lingered on into the late adulthood of the epilogue, and that goes for Ron and Hermione, too, who seemed driven in radically different direction once the accident of their shared adventure ended...

I do think it is rather nice that the magical world of Hogwarts itself was not destroyed in the destruction of Voldemort -- another fantasy cliche Rowling rejects, but not quite as completely as I would have liked -- but I think the reunion of friends at Platform 9 3/4 should have been thronged with the strangers (to readers) that such an abiding world would inevitably conjure, partners, colleagues, friends we never met, looking upon the debris of adolescent crushes, romances, divorces as much as upon the children moving to fill Hogwarts with their new magic.

If Rowling has regrets about her matchmaking, I would rather they be about the bleakly reproductive heterosexual monotony of her magical world when it comes to it -- all these bourgeois marriages with their burgeoning broods is not exactly what I would call a magical tableau -- and the theft of passion from the final volume's flashbacks of the tale of Dumbledore and Grindelwald is much more regrettable and unforgivable than saddling Hermione with a gentle joking loyal loveable doofus for life.

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