Monday, 10 February 2014

Monday Musings: Death of the author/The author rises again

JK Rowling’s recent statement that she should never have written Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger as a couple has sparked dramatic reactions from Harry Potter fans on Twitter. Personally, it’s taken me right back to my mid-teenage years, when I spent many happy hours posting on Harry Potter forums and occasionally discussing my preferred relationships for the characters, although I was never as into ‘shipping’ as many fans were. At any rate, I never liked any of the relationships in the actual books, but neither was I a fan of popular ships such as Harry/Hermione (Harry/Luna and Ginny/Neville were more my cup of tea) so there wasn’t so much for me to get invested in. Nevertheless, I’ve been watching the fallout with some glee.

Ron/Hermione fans have been quick to turn to ‘death of the author’ as a defence, and of course they’re right. Rowling has finished the Harry Potter series, and Ron and Hermione unequivocally appear as a couple in the books themselves, turning up in the infamous epilogue with two children. In general, ‘death of the author’ is a concept that I have a lot of sympathy with. Once the text leaves a writer’s hands, he or she is just another reader – and the problem with an author’s interpretation of the text is that it often ignores all the unconscious things that are written into it. Especially with genre fiction – to generalise horribly, it tends to be less precisely planned and edited, perhaps because of the tight timescale that genre authors have to stick to - the things that get into a novel without the author’s explicit ‘consent’ are often the most interesting. As I wrote last week, discussing Holby City, it’s the gaps and fudges in a text where the real work gets done, and an author can’t plaster over those by issuing her opinion years after the work is published.

And yet. I think the reason I feel quite so gleeful is that there was always an attitude among some Harry Potter fans, including some Ron/Hermione shippers (not all by any means), that their preferred relationships were better because they were gloriously right – proved right not only by the books themselves, but by Rowling’s own statements. These fans were happy to point to interviews as further proof of their rightness, and to shoot down ships such as Neville/Luna because Rowling stated in interview that these two never got together. So it is somewhat ironic to see them grabbing at ‘death of the author’ as a defence now. What I take from Rowling’s statement is not that Ron/Hermione shippers have somehow been ‘proved wrong’, but that the author herself has now suggested an interesting avenue through which to explore the texts, if fans so choose. Personally, I have no investment in Harry and Hermione (or Hermione and whoever) as a couple, but I do think it’s interesting to read texts against the grain, to spot the cracks and the gaps, and for this, it helps to know if the author had conflicting intentions when she was writing, even if you don’t agree with her eventual conclusions. In these awkward links, the author ‘rises again’, because her intentions once again become a guide to the text, although not perhaps in the way that she would have wished. 

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