31 August 2007

The Sayings of J. K. Rowling

When it was announced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have an epilogue, I, for whatever reason, expected it to be a comprehensive rundown of many characters' futures. I thought Rowling would compile a complete "Where Are They Now?" special, with discrete paragraphs for each major name.

Instead, it's a single scene set nineteen years after the rest of the book, paralleling Harry's own first departure for Hogwarts in HP1. Without going into specifics (yet still at the risk of spilling ***SPOILERS***), the epilogue lets us see that:

  • Harry has found a loving family to replace the one he lost as an infant.
  • The home away from home that Harry found at Hogwarts School remains much the same as it was before.
  • Harry's four most prominent classmates--Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Draco--and Ron's sister Ginny are doing fine.
The epilogue has become just as notable in what it doesn't tell. We don't see Harry's actual home, his profession, or the profession (if any) of more than one of his peers. We don't learn about the future of any series character besides the ones I've already named, and we don't learn much about them. The epilogue offers a thematic conclusion to the series, not a factual one.

But it's clear from the questions that fans had for Rowling that they wanted facts. Rowling's interview with NBC, parceled out on the Today and Dateline shows on 26 July, produced these revelations:
  • "Harry and Ron utterly revolutionized the Auror Department in...the Ministry of Magic. . . . And by the time [of the epilogue]--19 years later--I would imagine that Harry is heading up that department."
  • "Hermione, I think she's now pretty high up in the Department for Magical Law Enforcement."
  • "Luna Lovegood...is now traveling the world looking for various mad creatures." [This tidbit appears only in an article promoting the Today interview.]
Then in an webchat through her British publisher on 30 July Rowling elaborated further:
  • "Ginny Weasley stuck with her athletic career, playing for the Holyhead Harpies, the all-female Quidditch team. Eventually, Ginny left the team to raise...children....while writing as the senior Quidditch correspondent for the wizarding newspaper, the Daily Prophet."
  • "Hermione Granger, Ron's wife, furthered the rights of subjugated creatures, such as house elves, in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures before joining the magical law enforcement squad." Furthermore (this is the only loose end in the whole book that bothered me) "she brought [her parents] home straight away."
  • "Luna...ended up marrying...a fellow naturalist and grandson of the great Newt Scamander (Rolf)!"
(Is the man's name Rolf, or was this a typo for "rofl"?)

Already there have been difficulties and differences in how to interpret these remarks. For example, some Child_Lit readers took Rowling's statement to NBC that "McGonagall was really getting on a bit" as meaning that professor never became headmistress of Hogwarts. However, the context shows Rowling was answering a question about Hogwarts at the time of the epilogue, not immediately after the preceding book. Prof. McGonagall may well oversee the rebuilding of Hogwarts ("The Slytherin common room will be reserved for Peeves for the next five years").

As another example of overeager interpretation, this site interprets Rowling's webcast statement that George Weasley has "a very successful career, helped by good old Ron," as meaning that Ron went to work in his brother's joke shop instead of in the government. Of course, someone like George would probably benefit from the help of good old relatives in law enforcement.

There are also some gaps. I don't think anyone in Rowling's audiences asked about Hagrid, for instance. (After all, his personality is so consistent that it's pretty easy to figure out what he'll do in any given situation.) And while people asked about the Dursleys, nobody really seemed to care.

I'm most intrigued by the question of how Rowling's remarks fit into the Harry Potter "canon." Those factual statements aren't in the books, at least not yet. She colored her first remarks with a tinge of doubt: "I would imagine...I think..." Some of her later statements about characters' futures seem to have been developed to assuage fan disappointment with her earlier ones, as in giving Hermione a civil-rights career before "the Department for Magical Law Enforcement." I suspect that Rowling realized between these two dates what sort of things her fans wanted to know, and became more definite in her answers. And how could she be wrong about her own creation?

Based on the early response, I anticipate that Rowling's fans will take all her remarks of this sort as authoritative. They'll be catalogued on websites and perhaps in books, and Harry Potter fan fiction will have to adhere to these statements to be considered deuterocanonical.

The best analogy I can think of is the Islamic hadith, sayings and anecdotes attributed to Muhammad and written down a century after his death. This body of literature is not the Qur'an, which Muslims believe was dictated by God. However, some adherents consider some hadith to be directly inspired by God, though expressed by Mohammad, and most Muslims (though not all) take the hadith as essential teachings of their faith.

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