Rowling Publicly Confirms Ring Composition? Pretty Much

When the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD was released earlier this month, I received several emails with the strong recommendation that I buy a copy with the ‘extras’ because of Ms. Rowling’s revealing comments about her story circles. I’m not a movie-reader, I’d already seen Warner Brothers’ DH2 last summer, and, really, the DVD  extras? I broke down, though, and bought a copy before the long drive to Virginia this week so my children who hadn’t yet seen the film could watch on the 24 hour ride from Oklahoma City to Front Royal.

That was a hit with them and last night we watched the three extras in our hosts’ lovely home. Sure enough, there were three moments in which Ms. Rowling made reference to something like the necessity in her story telling to complete circles, one signature of Ring Composition.The first reference was in her interview with Daniel Radcliffe, which, forgive me, was painfully long and only for the most serious of fans (and I mean by that “fans of the movie franchise”). When Ms. Rowling mentioned that Professor Dumbledore was “John the Baptist to Harry’s Christ” and Mr. Radcliffe could only repeat the phrase — to note that he understood there was something of depth there? — before going on to his next question, I confess to just dropping my head in something like bewilderment.

In this interview Mr. Radcliffe asked if it were true that she’d always had the epilogue and last chapters written, chapters that she’d kept locked in a bank vault, etc. Ms. Rowling allowed that the lock-up aspect of the legend was “rubbish” but that Harry’s entry into the forest with “ghosts’ for lack of a better word” and the story to its conclusion in the epilogue had been written very early on in her writing (“the first year”) and shaped the other books in the series.

This she had said before. Here she added that she did make changes, most notably that Lupin had been in the original epilogue but his death had meant he was cut out of it. Mr. Radcliffe, praise God, followed up on this with something like a lamentation about Lupin’s demise, which Ms. Rowling said was inevitable because of the author’s having a “chip of ice in her heart.” More to the point of this post, however, she elaborated that the death of Lupin and Tonks was necessary because of the need for there to be casualties in the war to make her point about war’s painful consequences — and their deaths were in parallel with the deaths of Lily and James at story’s start and Teddy Lupin as orphan is an echo of Harry’s condition in Privet Drive, Philosopher’s Stone, chapter one, ‘The Boy Who Lived.’

In the same interview, she allowed that Hagrid “could not die” though his death would have seemed even “natural” (forgive me for wondering if this wasn’t a Rubedo reference) because she had “always planned” to have Hagrid to carry Harry’s seemingly dead body out of the Forest in Deathly Hallows, again, in parallel with his job at the beginning of the series carrying Harry from Godric’s Hollow to Privet Drive.

Last, in the extra titled ‘The Women of Harry Potter,’ Ms. Rowling made an extraordinary point about Narcissa Malfoy’s protecting Harry from the Dark Lord in the Forest being “the closing of a circle” in which, just as a mother’s love saved Harry from the Dark Lord at story’s start, so it did at story’s end.  This echo she said was “quite deliberate.”

I’d note three things about Ms. Rowling’s comments to start our conversation:

(1) The author is here insisting in public that the formal structures of her story required what might otherwise seem arbitrary, even merciless plot points.

(2) The structure she refers to repeatedly are qualities of a Ring Composition, notably, completed circles, events in parallel, and echos.

(3) The notes she makes are entirely about the series structure and the importance of Stone-Hallows connections, beginning to end.

My conclusions from this?

Well, I am cheered that she came out of the closet, if you will, as a structural artist rather than insisting as she has in the past that her stories are all “character driven.” Her stories feature and have as their principal strength characters with whom readers identify easily and profoundly, but this is not what is usually meant by “character driven” stories. These are tales in which the author follows the direction of characters; Ms. Rowling, in contrast, killed off and preserved characters according to the demands of her story forms and structures.

It is important to note that the connection of Stone-Hallows is one of the most obvious of Ring points; it is only about the series structure and about the completion of the story loop on that ‘macro’ level. She said nothing that I picked up about the internal parallels among the books and less than nothing about the books themselves as individual ring stories within but independent of the larger series ring.

Take Lupin, for example. In Deathly Hallows, the chapters in which he appears at the House of Black to ask if he can join the trio and his appearance at Shell Cottage are in parallel in meaning as well as placement. He announces Teddy’s conception and birth and the circle of his rebuff/rebuke by Harry in the house of Harry’s godfather to his asking Harry to be Teddy’s godfather are the “reverse echoes” that are signatures of a ring.

In the DVD extras, Ms. Rowling says nothing of that kind of artistry, while allowing, even insisting on the fact that Lupin’s death was not a function of her just being the Ice Queen, enamored of arbitrary loss and grief.

So, we are left largely where we began. Yes, Ms. Rowling confirmed what her texts already revealed, i.e., that her principal artistry is formal or structural and that these forms shaped her plot point decisions both in the sense of what happens and when they happen. At the same time, she says very little about the depth of this artistry and the demands it made on her in each book as well as in the events of the finale.

I doubt very much, to tell the truth, that she will ever “go there,” certainly not if the depth of her interlocutors continues to be the level of questions from friendly actors whose knowledge of literature is akin to the tourist in an art museum who “knows what he likes.” Which is fine. The texts themselves, as I demonstrate in Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle‘s charts and chapters, are more than sufficient to make that case and it would be inappropriate, even heavy handed for the author herself to insist on. The dog barks; Ms. Rowling needn’t bark for him.

It’s Thanksgiving Day. I have a daughter flying in from Rome and another about to be married so I hope you’ll forgive me for closing my part of this discussion here. There’s more to say about Ms. Rowling’s comments in the extras — I think especially of her oft repeated statements about the “requirements” of the Logic” of her stories’ magic and her reference to meeting Little Women‘s Jo March  (Dumbledore’s favorite book?) as an important event in her life — but that will have to wait. Happy Thanksgiving to y’all from Virginia and thank you in advance for your comments and corrections to this hurried post.


  1. Fascinating post. I wonder to what extent any author is conscious of her/his craft. Some very self-aware writers may deliberately inhabit/utilize the world of ring mythology or of alchemical symbology, but others may simply absorb those ways of thinking/creating on a subconscious level. Perhaps JKR is one of the latter type. I am more attuned to art history than to literary history and there is no doubt in my mind that in the visual world we humans absorb and re-transmit aesthetic norms in an almost completely unconscious way.

    I suspect that it matters little whether the author/artist has made (or made public) a conscious decision to use a particular visual or literary trope. The reader or viewer enjoys the freedom to experience any work of art in a personal way that may often transcend the author or artist’s original intent.

  2. Thank you, Professor, for highlighting the Radcliff/Rowling interview. I am still waiting to view the “extras” as they are Blu-ray editions and we do not own such a device, nor a PS3. Oh well!

    Hope your Thanksgiving holiday/reunion/wedding event was everything you could have hoped and more! God’s blessings on your family!

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