Fan Entitlement Syndrome: Shipping Wars Redux

Melissa Anelli has a few bon mots from her Rowling interviews that she didn’t include in Harry: A History. She has been sharing these online in periodic installments at the book’s website on a page called “The Vault.” This week’s entry is, sadly, Ms. Rowling and Miss Anelli comparing notes about how demanding and rude readers can be. I say “sadly” because, in revisiting here the unfortunate “delusional” comments made by Emerson Spartz and Ms. Rowling about Harry-Hermione shippers in the 2005 Leaky-Mugglenet interview, I’m left with the impression that both women think that the outrage expressed by the “deluded” had nothing to do with Mr. Spartz’ comments and Ms. Rowling’s agreement with same.

I had no dog in the shipping fight. I have good friends, though, who were leading Pumpkin Pie shippers, both of whom FYI are working adult professionals “with a life” and anything but delusional. I winced both for them when reading the “Interview from Hell” and for Ms. Rowling. As a remarkably generous and charitable woman, her insensitivity and lack of charity to a large group of serious readers on the night the Shipping Wars all but ended was especially striking. That even now, instead of an apology or reconciling gesture to the losing side in the shipping wars, she continues to suggest those H/He partisans were all loose wing-nuts suffering from Fan Entitlement Syndrome leaves me scratching my head.

JKR: The moment that Emerson said what he said [in the 2005 interview], on tape, I knew….

The fallout touched me, as well as Emerson. I had some pretty nasty letters but, you know, by that time I’d become used to the fact that people were so invested in this world, and felt such ownership of this world that I was not on a pedestal at all in their eyes, I was right in the thick of the fight. And it’s uncomfortable on and off the pedestal, so you get used to it.

MA: You even joked about a shipper leading Emerson down a dark hallway.

JKR: [Laughing] Well yeah! I mean, he’s totally unapologetic. Emerson enjoys a good fight. I’m not someone who goes looking for a fight, but I am someone who, if a fight comes to me, I will not duck it. So, if people want information on my characters, then they have to accept that I’m going to give them the information on the characters. And if they don’t like it, that’s the nature of fiction. You have to accept someone else’s world because they made that world, so they probably know a little better than you do what goes on there.

I was not at all new to the concept of fan entitlement because that had now been going on since, I think, around 1999. As the Snape Debate hotted up, I would occasionally receive mail from fans that was instructing me on my characters. And you know what, that’s very endearing when it comes from a younger person, and it’s less endearing when it comes from an older person….

Oh, it’s just ludicrous. I had a letter from a grown man, a very articulate letter, who said, “Well, pardon me for thinking that you’re a better writer than you are.” That’s literally what he said. “I assumed you were giving us subtle hints about Harry and Hermione, but no. Turned out you were being really crass and obvious.” What are you going to do? This is what I mean by ‘slightly less endearing.’ [Laughter]

Well, maybe the “grown man” thought “crass and obvious” were at least as apt describers for her writing as Mr. Spartz’ and her “delusional” was for serious readers caught in a MacGuffin or false trail. What am I missing here? Why this blind spot about her boorish comments to two fans?

I received the url to this new page in Ms. Anelli’s “Vault” in a note from an All-Pro (thank you, Nicole!) asking if Ms. Rowling’s comments here about her knowing more about her world than her readers means she accepts the usual fandom definition of canon (“everything by Rowling”). I don’t think so. I think these comments are asserting only that she had the right to write her story as she wanted and fans that thought they knew better were loony. Our canon discussions — and the preference here for “text only” or “text first” — are all post publication and do not question her authority as author.

Her statement, though, can be construed in a way that is helpful for closed canon advocates. She asserts that she knows best in the apodosis of a conditional sentence following the protasis “if people want information on my characters.” “Text only” and “text first” readers are not asking her for any more information on the characters than we have in the seven books. Canon closed.

In this interview fragment, though, it is clear she is complaining about readers whining that they don’t like aspects of her story as it unfolded rather than about readers resisting here and elsewhere her re-casting the story even partially post-publication. That era of Harry: A History, the one recounting the persecution (?) of Big Name Fandom-ers because of unkind remarks during the unfolding story and the Age of Speculation, is History.

All that is left from that time before Wizard Rock became the heart of Fandom and before the still incipient academic assault on the merits and failings of the books themselves are happy memories and the bitterness some feel about one of Ms. Rowling’s few missteps in public life. Her recovery after the times she has fallen out of her shirt have been prompt and graceful. Here’s hoping, as overdue as it is, that someday she acknowledges in similar self-effacing and humorous manner the mistake she made in not correcting the young Mr. Spartz.

A young man being unapologetic for picking a fight or for his simple, self-important meanness, if not endearing, is understandable, even excusable. “And it’s less endearing when it comes from an older person” who certainly knows better. As Dumbledore might say, an apology isn’t anything that will foster Fan Entitlement Syndrome; it’s good manners.


  1. Thank you John.

    I know that you had only an academic interest in shipping and were without emotional attachment as to how the romantic subplots resolved themselves.

    I engaged in the ship wars because I thought that Harry’s romantic love would prove the key to his survival against Voldemort and that solving the shipping question was integral to the overall underlying plot.

    That is why I was a H/Hr shipper and spent many hours analyzing the text looking for subtle clues. Because I thought she was being oh so clever and not patently obvious. I had mentioned many times during those online debates that I could be wrong and that only JKR knew for sure where she was going.

    As it turns out, I was wrong.

    One thing that I have never seen JKR asked is whether or not she intentionally wrote the text in a manner that could be read with ambiguity as to Hermione’s true romantic feelings.

    Did we all just imagine things that JKR never intended or was she trying to sow seeds of doubt just to keep her readers guessing?

    Regardless of authorial intent, I was offended by Emerson’s callous remarks and the commentary embedded in the transcript of that Interview from Hell.

    To this day that interview colors my appreciation of the series as a whole. Not because my shipping predictions were proved wrong, but because I felt mocked and insulted by the author.

    It is nice to know others recognize that as well.

    Linda McCabe

  2. Methinks you are a little harsh! In Harry a History Rowling does say that the Harry Hermione supporters had grounds for their view:

    “I tried very hard to soften it, I suppose,” Jo said. “Just because someone had a view on Harry/Hermione didn’t mean they weren’t genuine, or that they were necessarily misguided. In fact, I will say this, Steve Kloves who has been the script writer [on the Potter films], who is enormously insightful on the series and a very good friend, after he read book seven he said to me, ‘You, know, I thought something was going to happen between Harry and Hermione, and I didn’t know whether I wanted it or not.’

    “I had always planned that Harry’s true soul mate, which I stand by, is Ginny, and that Ron and Hermione have this combative but mutual attraction. They will always bicker, there will always be rough edges there, but they are pulled together, each has something the other needs.”


    “[Kloves] felt a certain pulll between them at that point. And I think he’s right. There are moments when [Harry and Hermione] touch, which are charged moments. One when she touches his hair as he sits on the hiltop reading about Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and [two] the moment when they walk out of the graveyard with their arms around each other.”


    “Now the fact is that Hermione shares moments with Harry that Ron will never be able to participate in. He walked out. She shared something very instense with Harry.

    “So I think it could have gone that way.”

  3. John, I don’t think you’re being too harsh or unreasonable about this. First off, in Anelli’s book, the comments of Jo about the Harry/Hermione moments & possibilities almost seems like a sop thrown to H/Hr shippers. Why? Because Melissa spends most of the book crowing about her partisanship on the other side of the ship wars. She’s not as obvious about it as Emerson but she still twists the knife a bit too much on this subject.

    As for JKR, I’m not sure she’s ever offered a full apology to her fans for the Interview that must not be named. Certainly she can’t control what Emerson said, & he seems like a, well, I should be nice I suppose. And she can’t retract what she said in response, but she could jolly well apologize for it directly.

    Otherwise, the impression is given & left on the table that H/Hr shippers were indeed delusional & that they were so delusional that they kept trying to tell her, the author, how to write her own characters! (John Updike & Stephen King did the same thing! Begging her not to kill Harry, but she didn’t slap them down.) The impression left is that the main problem in all this was the H/Hr shippers & not their just reaction at some asinine remark made be a teenager & left uncorrected by an adult.

    And if you, John, & I feel this way when we didn’t even have a hat in the shipping wars ring, then I can only barely imagine how H/Hr shippers felt & still feel about it. I’m very sorry for Linda, that to this day this whole incident affects her reading of the series.

  4. Thank you, Linda and SeaJay, for these helpful comments and correction. And happy birthday, Linda, in anticipation!

    To seaJay’s assertion and evidence that my call for an apology from Ms. Rowling was a “little harsh,” I plead guilty and apologize. I have not read Harry: A History and missed these comments in defense of seeing a H/Hr relationship that the author has made. As is probably inevitable in a post accusing someone of being uncharitable and self-important, I fell to those exact failings.

    Having said that, I wonder how a reader like Linda feels seeing Ms. Rowling acknowledge that serious readers did think an H/Hr relationship was in the offing right through Deathly Hallows? Does this amount to an admission that the story was crafted with ambiguity about Hermione’s ultimate affections — or is it just another “some of my best friends are H/Hr shippers, mistaken as they were in understanding what I was after” bit of bone throwing to appease the mob? Only the offended Pumpkin Pie shippers can answer that one. Certainly if Ms. Rowling wanted to clear the air she could have been more explicit about the shipping design.

    I should be very clear (and will be) that this kind of revelation is exactly what I do not want from this author or any other. I don’t want to see the witch or wizard behind the curtain or hear from him or her the meaning of their artistry. Such explanations, besides being risibly undependable, shut down meaningful discussion both of individual reader’s experience and a multivalent or layered understanding of text.

    I’m happy that Ms. Rowling has shown the restraint she has in discussing her artistry and very impressed by her good works and adjustment to wealth and fame. I do think her comments in 2005 were unfortunate, if understandable (as Janet Batchler has explained elsewhere) in the context of the red carpet night of HP5’s publication. Rather than complain about the mean letter letters she received then in response to her behavior, an apology would have been the gracious thing to do then as it is now.

    I apologize for the lack of charity in my post and for the hyperbole consequent to being ill informed (I will need to read Ms. Anelli’s book someday if I’m going to descend to this sort of discussion…). Thank you again Seajay and Linda for your comments and correction.

  5. John, I am not so sure you need to apologise! Especially as I agree with you that JKR could have handled Emerson’s combative/dismissive attitude better.

    All I was attempting to do was draw attention to the fact that JKR has more recently made amends.

  6. Arabella Figg says

    I’m going to comment from canon alone. In CoS, I wondered if Harry’s rescue of Ginny and her shyness around him was an indicator, but as the series progressed, too thought it seemed to be H/HE, especially in PoA. But the fierce argument between Ron and Hermione at the ball in GoFshowed she had wanted Ron to ask her to it and his jealousy about her being with someone else, whom he admired and felt inadequate to. To me this was a strong clue, albeit not a given.

    When Harry and Ginny got together in HBP, it felt so right to me and made perfect sense. Harry needed someone entirely different from Hermione, a woman who was healing, who could bring laughter and fun (not to mention, permanent family); who shared his interests and personally understood his most harrowing moments (possession by LV), but could bring a light, loving touch to his heartaches and bring him out of himself. Ginny was a refuge Hermione could not be to Harry, by nature of her personality. He needed someone, in fact, very like his mother. R/H and H/G both demonstrate the “guys marry their moms” thing.

    Whether the H/HE was a red herring or not, Rowling’s artistry showed the messiness of human relationships and romance. However, for people to feel demeaned–I agree it would have gone a long way to soothe feelings and acknowledge publicly, as she did in the interview quoted above, that there was a canon basis for believing in H/HE.

    And there goes Hairy Plotter following Ninny down the hall…

  7. Oi vey! Everyone overstates their case on occasion, John. Penance would have to be reading the book, I suppose! ;>) Something you advocated in LFGIHP to which I am listening. But only once, I suppose.

    On the other hand, the author has a point to express and she does it firmly. Now, she gets held to the TEXT ONLY as does anyone else. An impaling sword if ever there was one.

  8. Thank you Revgeorge. I appreciate the sentiment you expressed.

    I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


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