Should She or Shouldn’t She? Why Ms. Rowling Won’t Shut Up — and Why That is a Good Thing


  1. Arabella Figg says

    I agree, John. I’ve enjoyed the “outside the minicam” information, also what happened to the characters. I’d also enjoy the backstories, timelines behind the action and choices she made and why. I think a Potterillion would be brilliant. It was Joyce O’Dell’s timeline between the end of HBP and DH in WKAD? that first intrigued me as to what else was happening while Harry was tripping over Dudley’s teacups at the Dursleys. We have a real opportunity to have access to an entire world here, similar to Tolkien’s, Isaac Asimov’s and other SF.

    I’d still like to see Hogwarts, A History, though.

    Howliony’s hiding behind the books again…

  2. John, I think you have a good point about Ms. Rowling’s responsibilities as the head of a large industry. It’s not just about her and her own personal money, but bout the people who depend on her work.

    If you’ll excuse me hauling in a reference from my other fan-dom, some people I think were a little nonplussed when “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parents were killed in a tragic accident in 2004, and he continued with his concert tour, not missing a single show– he even performed the same day he was told of their deaths. He was devastated, of course, but he also had responsibilities to 20 or 25 people who had turned down other work to tour with him that summer, to say nothing of the concert promoters and the fans, and he met those responsibilities.

    I think JKR also realizes her responsibilities there. As for the effect on the understanding of her work, it will still have to settle out for a while still I think.

  3. I would guess that the vast majority of the readers of Harry Potter across the world read the books and (probably) see the films, full stop.

    I doubt very much that they are remotely interested in what JKR and those that analyse her work have to say (no offence John!). In that sense the books are not ‘spoiled’ for them, by the post-book ‘revelations’.

    If the books are still popular in 10 – 20 – 30 years time, again my guess is that they will most probably be read as stand-alone fiction.

    To conclude, only a relatively small number of people will feel let down by the continual drip drip of ‘revelations’, and to those relative few John has helpfully suggested that we adopt a positive approach.

  4. John, I know you mean well, but could you please, please, stop suggesting that Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion *after* LotR? The bulk of it was written before LotR came out, and the book we know as the Silmarillion was published four years after his death by his son Christopher, on demand of Tolkien’s many fans (and in a way that Christopher came to regret later, as he admits in the History of Middle-earth). Indeed, Tolkien had no case writing the Silmarillion after the publication of the LotR appendices. But the point is that he *didn’t*.

  5. I changed the offensive paragraph, filit; thank you for reminding me that I should never mention JRRT in a post that I hope readers will share their substantive reflections about. Does JRRT Fandom have membership degrees like Masonry for its Legion Of Obsessive Nit-pickers (L.O.O.N.) as does Harry Potter Fandom? This post should bump you up a notch!

    Seriously, thanks for the correction — and thanks in advance if you have anything to share about the subject of this post (which wasn’t the sequence of your favorite writer’s manuscripts versus things published in his name).

  6. As my Tolkien friends are here and the post on the Potter movies drew far and away the most response last week, how about a Tolkien movie note?

    Jackson Agrees to make Hobbit Movies

  7. I don’t quite understand your point about The Silmarillion, since Tolkien always intended to publish it (and, in fact, had written the bulk of it long, long before Lord of the Rings), and by far the vast amount of its material is not even touched upon in the brief Appendices to Lord of the Rings. There are, quite literally, hundreds of references to stories within The Silmarillion scattered throughout The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings that are made more meaningful with the complete information and backstories; moreover, Tolkien consistently viewed The Silmarillion as his true legendarium and mythology for England. I haven’t agreed with every choice Christopher Tolkien and the Tolkien Estate have made over the years, but releasing The Silmarillion was clearly Tolkien’s intent, just as writing it was arguably his great life’s achievement.

    I’ve stayed out of this debate because I am coming at it from a very different perspective, both as one trained in intellectual history (for whom context is everything, which is why I’ve read all of the History of Middle-Earth texts and other additional works, as well as Tolkien’s letters, to gain a deeper understanding of Tolkien’s work), and as a Rowling fan who purposefully reads/listens to interviews with the author and attended a presentation in order to hear more of this background information. While I don’t disagree that literary scholars can and will see additional influences and themes in her works about which she might have been unaware, I think it is very valuable to grasp fully Rowling’s understanding of the universe she created. I also – as does Ms. Rowling – embrace the idea of sub-sub-creators exploring alternative paths and potentials in her work, which is, I think, why Rowling supports and encourages the creators of fan art and fan fiction. I know that’s why I study fan fiction and other transformative media; because the parent text (and by text, I mean the author’s vision, both within and in addition to the books) is just the “ground floor” for many in the building of participatory storytelling. (On the other hand, many fan creators also seem especially sensitive to the clues Rowling has left in her text, which is why her comments on Dumbledore certainly did not surprise everyone.)

    I’ve never quite grasped the reaction by some readers of not wanting to know Rowling’s full thoughts on her universe, any more than I’ve understood people who were threatened by those who imagine or write alternative stories set in her universe. In the end, each of us, like her characters, have free will to embrace or set aside what we discover. I, for one, want to know all I can about the grand vision that motivated her, and the specific details of her universe. I think any new constructive analysis of her work will have to take into account her thoughts on her creation, as they reflect her motivations, inspirations, and intentions, as well as her creations themselves.

    As you pointed out, the texts have shown us only the tip of Ms. Rowling’s story iceberg. If we like what we’ve seen thus far, why wouldn’t we want to see more?

  8. Thank you, John, for changing that particular paragraph – and for reminding me that comments ought to be about the subject of the post! Answering your question: to my best knowledge, Tolkien fandom doesn’t have the kind of membership degrees you’re referring to, but occasionally the debate flares up between fans who consider the Silmarillion canon despite some heavy editing by Christopher Tolkien, those who claim the texts in the History of Middle-earth are the last word on everything and the people who maintain that only those works published during Tolkien’s own lifetime are sacrosanct, as nobody can tell what changes he would have made to his unpublished materials if he’d lived to be ninety.

    On to the real subject now. If I recall correctly, I wrote in some other thread that authorial comments are fine with me. They can shed light on what was in her mind when she wrote the series, and it can be interesting to compare this with the final product. Backstory is even better. Provided readers are allowed to disagree with Rowling’s interpretation of her own work, preferably without being vilified as Rowling-bashers.

    It would be deplorable if an honest and sensible interpretation of the books would meet with rejection only because people find it wanting when checked against the additional information. Especially as Rowling has been known to contradict herself on occasion. In short, it’s not she who ought to shut up, but those among her fans who insist that everything she says has the same weight as the text of the books.

    So, if Rowling says Dumbledore is gay, I’m inclined to believe he is. But if anyone should claim this is essential for a correct understanding of the series, there is room for debate. The greatest difficulty will probably lie in separating what is purely informational from what is the author’s personal opinion of what she believes she has written.

    Finally, I agree with you concerning the Potter industry and JKR’s responsibility towards the people depending on it.

  9. As for the news about The Hobbit, my feelings are mixed. I’ve outlined some of my reasons here, but the new revelations also beg the question of who will direct, who will adapt the book, and how exactly the “sequel” text will be created using appendices, notes, and other materials. I suppose I’ll have to withhold my judgment until the films hit the theatres. I’m not sorry they are being made – that just means more students in my Tolkien courses! – but I’m not yet breaking out the butterbeer.

  10. I enjoyed listening to the Pottercast with Jo Rowling, but I found it more entertaining than anything else. What I am sorry about is that she seems to need to explain things and I find that to be troubling. I am not one to want the author hovering over my shoulder explaining things to me. Either its in the text or its not. If she wants to keep explaining, then write another book.

    The “mystery” has gone. Can we imagine if Bob Dylan woke up one morning and said, “okay, fans, I’ll explain “Like a Rolling Stone” to you all now. ”

    I of course would love for him to explain it (and you know it’d make headlines) – but at the cost of diminishing the song? No thank you. The best of that song is the mystery. And the best of HP was the mystery. What was left out was left to our imagination.

    I enjoy Jo’s interviews – they are very entertaining! But I wish she’d “explain” things us through her extraordinary fiction writing, not by explaining to us. I think that diminishes her work in the end.

    Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
    They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
    Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
    But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
    You used to be so amused
    At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
    Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
    When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
    You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.
    How does it feel?

    B. Dylan 1965


  11. ZoeRose,

    Thanks for bringing in a Bob Dylan quote. That is great! It fits in with what I’ve said elsewhere, mainly over at Sword of Gryffindor, that Jo has a perfect right to say whatever she wants, but by doing so she’s killing the mystery, the majesty of her own works. It’s as if Carly Simon told us who she’s talking about in Your So Vain. Or Don Maclean giving us his interpretation of American Pie or Bobbi Gentry giving us a detailed explanation of what Ode to Billie Joe meant.

  12. filit,

    I think you’ve said much more clearly & succinctly what I’ve also been trying to say. Jo can say whatever she wants; she can give us all the backstory & tidbits & what not she wants. But that doesn’t make it canon. Not everything that proceeds from the mouth of Jo is canon, as the people over at The Leaky Cauldron seem to believe & trumpet every time Jo says something.

  13. I personally hope that Rowling resists the temptation to write further books.

    I am concerned that “turning on the lights” will not be the kind of treat that John imagines. I view Rowling’s imaginary world not as a painting in a museum but as a stage-set in a theatre. It may look rich and beautiful while the lights are low and you are enthralled by the actors and the drama itself but if you go back stage after the show, you see that it is nothing but plywood and canvas.

    Rowling is firstly a great story-teller and part of the skill of story telling is knowing what to leave out. Trying to fill in more details afterwards risks diminishing her achievement and exposing the gaps and inconsistencies in her imaginary world.

  14. John Says:

    December 19th, 2007 at 8:23 am
    As my Tolkien friends are here and the post on the Potter movies drew far and away the most response last week, how about a Tolkien movie note?

    Jackson Agrees to make Hobbit Movies

    And I came across a few blogs that suggested the reason for this happy news is the fact that Golden Compass tanked at the box office, and the studio so badly needs to put out a profitable movie or two that they made nice with Mr. Jackson and settled their legal quarrels.

  15. Before the last book was written, I felt that anything Jo said about the story and the characters was an extention of the canon from the books we already had. But that was because she wasn’t really explaining all the details that she is now. She was maintaining the mystery by giving information that would point people in the right direction or keep them from wasting their time trying to figure out something that just wasn’t important or wasn’t part of the story at all.

    But once I bought Deathly Hallows and read it, anything she says now is interesting information, but unless it’s clear that it’s part of the story, I don’t count it as canon. I’m finishing reading Chamber of Secrets, and if she had revealed that Lockhart was gay, I would not have felt blind-sided by that at all. The hair, the clothes, the general demeanor of the character is very stereotypical of a gay man. And not one that would make the gay rights activists happy, I’m sure. That description was part of the original canon in the book, and hearing that it was true would have just affirmed what I thought when I read it.

    I always find it interesting when she talks now about Dumbledore that she thinks that it’s only children who would see his relationship with Grindelwald as a strong friendship. I’m 58, and that’s all I saw. Maybe you have to be in your 20s or 30s to get that reference. Hearing her talk this time about Dumbledore, though, made me much more comfortable with the idea. But still, when I read the books, that’s not what I think of at all.

    I think the unfortunate thing is that she is now telling things that don’t clarify some point in the books that confused people–things like what happened to the missing 24 hours or how a Horcrux was made or the technicality of Harry not being an intended Horcrux. That information is helpful, since those are things from the books that we’ve all been discussing since whichever book came out.

    The problem comes, though, when she admits that she doesn’t have an answer but will invent something after the fact to fill in a missing piece. If she didn’t have the answer when she wrote the book, then it says to me that the missing information wasn’t important enough for her to bother with–and I shouldn’t bother with it either. Not to mention that she has given some answers right after the book came out, and has since changed them–like Ron working at the joke shop with George before joining Harry as an Auror. Now she just talks about him going right to the Ministry with Harry.

    It’s the changing canon that is bothersome, and that’s the part she needs to stop.


  16. Arabella Figg says

    Pat, it appears from earlier (admittedly contradictory) interviews that Ron first worked with Harry at the Ministry, then joined George.

    For those impatient with Jo’s babbling, I ask you to remember that she’s had this huge story locked inside her head for 17 years, unable to discuss it with anyone, even her own husband! Can you imagine not being able to share your favorite bits or debate over plot points during all this time? Having such protective hypervigilance over story and for fans? My head would implode.

    Now she can talk, and what a relief it must be, about the wider world behind the books. I think we ought to give her some sympathetic grace. She’s human. She’s excited. She’s a writer and creator who can finally dish. I just wish she’d do some dishing with John on some deeper things. And demand new questions when she’s already covered them in previous interviews.

    Kitties could care less about questions; they have all the answers…

  17. The more Rowling drones on, the more of a lightweight she appears to me.

    David Chase of “The Sopranos” provides the bracing antidote of someone who ended a long-running series this summer with panache and true artistry. He also left people discussing and arguing about meaning, but refused to elaborate, saying simply, “It’s all there.”

    Rowling would do well to take a cue from a master.

  18. It seems to me that what should or shouldn’t be done after publishing is a matter of subjective opinion. It seems like a majority of the people in here would rather not see what JKR has to say anymore. I’m going to throw my vote in on the other side. I find what she has to say to be very gratifying. Since it’s only a story, I don’t care if there are a few contradictions after the fact in some interviews. If she reads this thread, I hope she can take away from it that some people do appreciate the answers she’s giving to these questions. I like it. And yes, I value her opinion on the subject more than the opinion of my friend at work.

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