BBC: Rowling Says Two Potter Books Need Re-Writes (2012) — Which Ones?

In a 2012 interview with the BBC about the publication of Casual Vacancy, her first post Potter work, Rowling said that there were two times during Harry’s seven years at Hogwarts (and the eleven years, 1997-2007, it took to get his adventures into print) that she wished she’d had more time to polish the work in question:

I’m proud of [Casual Vacancy], I like it, and if you can say that, however nervous you are on publication day, you’re streets ahead of the game. Because to put out something you’re not that happy with or that you think “God, I wish I’d had another year to rework it”, and I have been in that position, is very different.

When were you in that position?

There were a couple of the Potters and I definitely knew that they needed another year. There’s one towards the beginning and there’s one towards the end, that I definitely felt that about. I had to write on the run and there were times when it was really tough. And I read them, and I think “Oh God, maybe I’ll go back and do a director’s cut”. I don’t know.

After the jump I’ll share my best guesses about which two books these are and invite your counter selections!

Our big clue is “There’s one towards the beginning and there’s one towards the end.”

The Potter books were published in two waves: the first four 1997-2000 at a breath taking book-per-year pace and then the last three every other year beginning in 2003 after Harry’s “three year summer” between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. Rowling’s beginning and end note suggests that there is one book she’d like to do re-writes for in books 1-4 and one in books 5-7.

We know from previous interviews that the rush to finish Goblet of Fire almost gave her a nervous breakdown. She learned in her hurry to complete it that her planning had a major hole in it that required massive re-writes.

Q: You mentioned something in a recent interview about a flaw in Book 4. . .
A: Did I? Oh yes. . .I repaired it! This is why Book 4 nearly caused me a nervous breakdown – because for the first time ever I lost my careful plot – which I’ve had since 1994, I think. I really should have gone through it with a fine toothcomb before I started writing and I didn’t. I had a false sense of security because all my other plans had held up so well. So I sailed straight into the writing of Four, having just finished Azkaban. I had written what I thought at the time was half the book – it turns out now to have been about a third of the book – and I realised there was this big hole in the middle of the plot and I had to go back and unpick and redo. That’s part of the reason it’s longer than I thought it was going to be.

Rowling’s three year’s delay in writing Order of the Phoenix is understandable in light of those comments because she was recovering from the first four years’ effort and making sure the planning was right for the record of Harry’s fifth year.

Goblet has to be one of the two books she’d edit or rewrite then, right? I think so. Not only do we have The Presence’s comments to guide us here, there is also the bizarre quality of Goblet, a real writer’s nest of invented complexity where, if the characters were real people a much simpler approach to getting Harry to the Little Hangleton graveyard would have sufficed. A reader in the UK recently wrote me to say that Goblet was her least favorite Potter piece because she thought all Faux-Moody had to do was get Harry into his office for a spot of tea and make his cup into the necessary portkey…

If we’re going to go only by Rowling’s comments in this search for the second book needing edits, then, oddly enough, Order of the Phoenix is the most likely candidate even if she had a much longer time to plan and write it than any of the others. From the Spartz-Anelli interview in 2005:

Q: If you had the opportunity to rewrite any part of the series so far, what would it be and why? 

JKR: There are bits of all six books that I would go back and tighten up. My feeling is that Phoenix is overlong, but I challenge anyone to find the obvious place to cut. There are places that I would prune, now, looking back, but they wouldn’t add up to a hugely reduced book, because my feeling is you need what’s in there. You need what’s in there if I’m going to play fair for the reader in the resolution in book seven. One of the reasons Phoenix is so long is that I had to move Harry around a lot, physically. There were places he had to go he had never been before, and that took time — to get him there, to get him away. That was the longest non-Hogwarts stretch in any of the books, and that’s really what bumps up the length. I’m trying to think of specifics, it’s hard.

Reading that response carefully, though, it is less an admission that Phoenix needs re-writing than it is a defense or apologia for its length and complexity. If not Phoenix, though, which of the last three books would Rowling like to re-visit? 

Deathly Hallows remains her favorite book of the series and for good reason; it was a masterful finish to a series of books all written to bring us to the Battle of Hogwarts and our two visits to King’s Cross Station. Nothing to regret there.

Which leaves Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. What might she want to fix in the penultimate novel, one she has said really leads immediately into the finale? In her infamous ‘Wonderland’ Interview with Emma Watson she said she regretted the match-up of Ron with Hermioninny:

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. She is part of me, although she is not wholly me. I think that is how I might have appeared to people when I was younger, but that is not really how I was inside

It was a young relationship. I think the attraction itself is plausible but the combative side of it… I’m not sure you could have got over that in an adult relationship, there was too much fundamental incompatibility. I can’t believe we are saying all of this – this is Potter heresy!

What I will say is that I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really. 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 with Ron.

This is ridiculous, frankly, and I count among my very best Potter Pals the leaders of the Harry/Hermione ‘shipping community (speaking of whom, see here for Linda McCabe’s comments about ‘Wonderland’). The “reasons having to do with literature” for Ron/Hermione are critically important, namely, the relationship of Ron Bilius Weasley, alchemical sulphur, and Hermione Granger, whose name is the feminine of Hermes or Mercury, whose initials are Hg, and whose parents are dentists. They are the alchemical ‘Quarreling Couple’ and their catalytic bickering as sulphur and mercury is a large part of what makes the hermetic transformation of Harry from Philosophical Orphan to Philosopher’s Stone what it is. Not to mention the King Arthur/Queen Guinevere aspects of Harry/Ginevra that are in play.

What I hope Rowling really regrets about Half-Blood Prince were her unfortunately crass and insensitive comments in the Spartz-Anelli interview in which the two fandom representatives and their celebrity guest laughed at the Harry-Hermione shippers and tagged them as “delusional.” Her ‘Wonderland’ comments went a long way, I thought, to admitting that her behavior in that interview was unfortunate.

But that’s not really a problem with Half-Blood Prince as a book, which as Lin Manuel-Miranda has said in explaing why it is his favorite novel, is a masterpiece of reprise. Rowling’s response to his tweet includes a note that she “always feels” Prince is “overshadowed by” Deathly Hallows. That doesn’t sound like she feels the need to re-write the book, does it?

So… We’re left with Order of the Phoenix, by far the longest book of the series and one which critics have from the start complained needed a much heavier editing hand than it received. I’m with Rowling on this point, by the way. If you get the structure of Phoenix, there’s not anything obvious you can cut without losing the “reprise” moments or ring echoes built into the turtle-back scaffolding — and that’s no small part of her artistry.

Rowling, however, may still have felt the need to satisfy those critics at the publication of Casual Vacancy, hence her 2012 comments. My bet is that she wouldn’t say this in 2019; the success of the Cormoran Strike novels, the ‘Cursed Child’ “collaboration,” and her return to the Wizarding World as a screenwriter no doubt have made her much more confident about her writing decisions (or just indifferent to critics).

But these are only guesses, of course. What are your guesses for the two Potter novels Rowling said in 2012 she’d like to re-visit? Why are my choices stuff and nonsense? Click on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by the post’s headline and let me know what you’re thinking!


  1. I agree – as much because I think GoF was the hardest book for *me* to get through, and I know OotP was the slog book for some friends. Whatever extra polishing the other books got is what makes them read SO easily. (I actually think GoF and OotP are probably not that hard of reads, as much as that they stand out as harder to get through than the other books in the series. If these were all standalone books I don’t think you would notice it.)

    Books it absolutely cannot be: HBP. I think that’s the only one I’d say I think it cannot be, unless JKR is just super hard on herself. Otherwise, admitting that what she sees in a book (and what she thinks she could have done with it) is likely very different than what we see in it, I think it could be any of them really.

  2. Melissa D Aaron (Moonyprof) says

    I think one of the books has got to be CoS. That’s the one which almost got its title swapped with Half-Blood Prince. It has so much undeveloped potential material. Some of it was still being spun as “children’s literature,” some hit the cutting-room floor, and frankly, she got better. I’m sure there are things she looked at later and saw all the things she could have done, but didn’t.

    It can’t have been Prisoner of Azkaban. That book is close to perfect.

  3. The Philosopher’s Stone and the Half-Blood Prince

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