J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is some of the finest writing available to anyone. It’s a series that can be picked up by anyone and appreciated. Mrs. Windale and my cover artist Jenny Johnston are Harry Potter fanatics. How could they not be? There is such rich storytelling encompassed in that series and so many incredible emotional sequences that if you don’t find yourself wholly invested in one or two characters then I’m not entirely sure you’ve been paying attention. For my own part Mrs. Windale says that I would have been sorted into Hufflepuff and I’d be in very good company with the likes of Neville Longbottom. That said, being in EMS I have an affiliation for the under appreciated and unsung heroes and like many people Professor Snape grew on me.
I’m not always satisfied with what I write. Whether it’s a blog entry, a short story, or a novel I often have some lingering regrets after the fact. Twenty-Five at the Lip is no exception to this, but here is the kicker: You don’t get to know what I wish I had done differently.
Every now and then J. K. Rowling comes out of left field with a statement about the texts that catches me off guard. It’s almost as if she is trying to redirect the outcome of the saga after the fact. Much like history, you can’t change what happened after the fact because once you hit “submit” (or however those fancy professionally published authors make their work available to the public) the story is done. The only exception to this in my mind is non-fiction where newer editions are put out that sometimes refute elements in the previous texts. This is especially common in medical texts. I was able to get around the progress of medicine in Twenty-Five at the Lip by stating at the beginning that the story takes place in 2007.
What I can’t understand is the lack of satisfaction that J. K. Rowling has in the universe she created. This is a woman who came from the bottom of the list of destitute persons and clawed her way to best-seller lists on every continent. There were parts of Harry Potter written on napkins and supposedly toilet paper as well. It was written on moving busses I’m also told, not (initially anyway) in an expensive and luxurious home. It might be an American way of thinking, but if I own something it’s mine and I’m proud of it regardless of the issues that might be present in it.
Of course I’m not saying that she isn’t proud of her work. It’s an incredible series that rivals the greats like J. R. R Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, and
Stephenie Meyer. All right, I was just making sure you were paying attention.
A few years ago J. K. Rowling made it known that everyone’s favorite Hogwarts headmaster was gay. Initially when I heard this I had to ask myself why that was even relevant to his character. The fact of the matter is that it’s not, and according to J. K. Rowling she had only made this known during the shooting of the sixth film when she noticed something in the script about Dumbledore having a former female love interest. I appreciate the fact that they left this little tid-bit out of Dumbledore’s character, no not because I hate homosexuals as the liberal narrative will lead you to believe, but because his sexuality isn’t relevant to his character.
Do you have any idea how much stuff this guy has going on? He’s the headmaster of a secret school that teaches young students to be witches and wizards. Even for the most conservative mindset the man’s sexuality pales in comparison to that fact. He has little time to sleep, never mind carry on a romantic relationship. To be honest, I sort of feel that this came out (no pun intended) because of a plant in the audience. That aside, if his sexuality isn’t relevant to what he does or why he does it leave it out of the narrative. I personally never had a cause to ask myself what Dumbledore’s sexuality was because it never came up. Now I’m left feeling as though we are trying to make a late-inning socio-political stance on something that has no bearing on the text, regardless of the text being written to encourage acceptance. I have to ask the all important literary question: SO WHAT?
Twenty-Five at the Lip has two very strong gay characters: Snuffy and Benny. Snuffy had to be gay because there was no other way to write her. She’s based on a real person, a real EMT, and her sexuality is relevant to the development of her character. Benny the ER nurse is an example of two things. The first is that sexual harassment in EMS is real and used (right or wrong) to blow off steam. The second is that it also reinforces the idea that in EMS sexuality matters about as much as whether or not you want cheese on your burger. These attributes are important to the characters, but introducing them after the fact doesn’t enrich the character for me any more because now I just get the feeling that you’re catering to a social construct. Many of J. K. Rowling’s readers were gay before they knew they were gay, and still were able to appreciate the characters for who they were.
Harry’s relationship with Cho Chang matters because it shows his first real crush, an instrumental moment in a young person’s life. His full-out relationship with Ginny is important because it creates an even stronger bond with Ron, and also Hermione.
Oh, about Ron and Hermione. J. K. Rowling also made a statement that Harry and Hermione should have gotten together, instead of her and Ron. She said that a time distance has made her think that a better match would have been preferable in the storyline.
I’m sorry, what? Mrs. Windale has very strong feelings on this issue saying that Ron needs someone like Hermione and I tend to agree with her. Hermione is one of the strongest female characters in contemporary literature and she is an example of what young women should strive to be like. She is independent, intelligent, and fiercely loyal to her friends. She can chose to be with whoever the heck she wants which leads me to my final point, but first…
She’s says she is sorry for killing off Fred in the Battle of Hogwarts. I’m sorry he’s dead too, but if you’re a writer and you can’t own the fact that you killed off an important character in order to give your young readers some sense of what loss is, why did you do it? You can’t expect me to believe that a family the size of the Weasley’s wasn’t going to come out even a little unscathed. I know that the Harry Potter series took a great number of extremely important and beloved characters away from us, but it’s in their deaths that we learn how much we valued them. In real life death doesn’t make a great deal of sense, especially when it comes under tragic circumstances. We have to make that death relatable to us in our own way in much the same way that funerals and cemeteries are for the living, not the dead. Some people cry out that his death wasn’t necessary in terms of the storyline, but I would contend that a violent death like that doesn’t have to cater to a storyline. It simply is what it is and as long as it doesn’t detract from the story on the whole it’s fine literature-wise. He was killed though, not given an accessory character trait long after the fact.
His death was a tragedy and he was certainly missed as a character, but I myself have killed off several dozen wonderful characters in my writing, particularly in You Can’t Go Home Again. As much as I want to change that some days, I know that there is no way for the story to go where I need it to otherwise, and killing the character is the best thing I can do for them. A co-worker who read Twenty-Five at the Lip stopped by after reading a pivotal moment in the book and asked me, in almost a distraught manner, “How could you do that to ____?” I had to remind him that the real story in that scenario was much worse, and the scene in Twenty-Five is comparably tame.
You don’t have to like abusing your characters, but you do have to understand that you are only a medium between the story and the page (or computer). You have some creative capability, but the fact is I’m not that creative. This stems from the concept of the muses of Ancient Greece. I have a muse myself, and she’s fickle as hell, but then again that’s the way she’s always been and I love her for it. She makes me feel a certain way and all I can do is transcribe it onto the page. My characters, and J. K. Rowling’s, had their fates sealed the minute they popped into my head, because that was the only plausible result for them. If you deny your character their fate, say you’re sorry for it, make stuff up after the fact, or even change it afterwards, you’re not giving your characters the respect they deserve. Your characters know themselves better than you do, and it’s your job to translate them to the world, not make excuses for them. Own your work because it’s not just your work, it’s their fate.