Friday, February 14, 2014

Some Thoughts on 'Shipping

If you're in literature circles, have read lit news, or have any interest in the Harry Potter series at all, then you've no doubt heard the news that JK Rowling dropped a couple weeks ago.

For anyone not already in the know, it seems she regrets not pairing Harry and Hermione in the series, instead writing Hermione with Ron (and Harry with Ginny).
“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 ended up with Ron.”
[JK admits Harry should have wed Hermione]
I'd seen the news here and there, on Facebook and dA and such, but didn't really think much of it. So J.K. had second thoughts on her writing, big deal.

It wasn't until I read an article on Bookish that I realized what everyone was getting out of sorts about. In it, Kelly Gallucci explains that this revelation was not only yet another change to the series' canon, but one that changes everything about reading it at all:
J.K. [...] I think you’re overstepping your bounds by adding a book-altering element of canon. Dumbledore being gay changes nothing: There is no wife or children who disappear, or dates he goes on that would not exist. But, reworking two of the most essential couples in the series (Ron/Hermione, and by extension Harry/Ginny) clearly would influence the actual narrative—and that is what I have a problem with.
[‘Shipwrecked: Rowling Rewrites ‘Harry Potter’ Fandom One Too Many Times]
This new opinion changes everything about that couple. Readers will never again be able to read the books with the Ron/Hermione pairing. Everything we ever knew was wrong!!!

But is it really?

Gallucci seems to think that authors are retroactively ruining their novels by talking about them:
No matter which side of the ‘ship you fall on, the issue that I struggle with is that Rowling (or any author) can continue to rewrite their books after they have been published and put into the universe. Imagine the teen fury that would be unleashed if Stephenie Meyer revealed that Jacob, not Edward, was meant to be with Bella. If Jane Austen decided that Elizabeth belonged with Mr. Collins, not Mr. Darcy. I don’t feel dramatic in saying that it does entirely change the reading experience—regardless of how the book actually reads.
I don't doubt that there would be a lot of backlash if those authors had said something to that effect, however I fail to see how this effects the reading experience at all. Even as a Harry/Hermione 'shipper, Rowling's 'new revelation' doesn't phase me in the slightest.

Let me back up a bit.

Back before I started analyzing, critiquing, and reviewing, I was a very passive reader. If I read something, I typically went along with it. I admit that I 'shipped Harry/Hermione, but after books 6 & 7, I took the canon pairings as my own accepted pairings and went along with my life. Now that I've been reviewing, critiquing, asking why, perhaps I would have been more adamant in my opinions, but really its hard to tell.

However, even back then there was one pairing that I had a harder time accepting. One of the very first YA romantic series that I read was Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet in which there is a love triangle between the main heroine and two very charming young men. At the end of the quartet, Alanna chooses one of these men and marries him, and I was disappointed that it wasn't the one I'd picked.

Some years later, I came across Pierce's website on which she's posted an extensive Q&A section (spoilers). One of the questions she answered was why she picked/wrote Alanna marrying Guy #1 instead of the other. She responded that in her original manuscript (written as an adult novel), she *had* paired Alanna with Guy #2, but it felt awkward and just not right. She then goes on to explain how Alanna had been written, her motivations and goals, and how marrying one would have conflicted with those goals, while the other supported them. I'll admit, after reading that, I was less disappointed in her decision.

How is what Pierce did different than what Rowling did? Obviously you have Pierce writing in support of the decision she made, while Rowling is speaking against what she wrote. Rowling has made statements 'altering' canon before, while Pierce hasn't made many/any additions to the canon outside of published works. And by and large Rowling has a much larger spotlight on her than Pierce does.

But really, there's nothing different in what these two authors did. Each voiced her opinion concerning decisions made in her writing. Neither can go back and erase their statements, just as neither can change the published words. Just ask George Lucas, who tried to release a 'digitally remastered' original Star Wars trilogy and insert an extra blaster shot before Han Solo killed Greedo.

So what is all the drama about?

If revised editions including Harry marrying Hermione are the worry, then the previous example should quell any fears about that. Revisions of popular works rarely go over well, so I highly doubt we'll see new versions of the books with Harry and Hermione dating. All the Hermione/Ron romance, kisses, marriage, and kids will still be there the next time you pick it up or buy it new in the store. If canon is described as the written/published media, then the canon of Harry/Ginny and Hermione/Ron will not change.

Let's be real about this: readers will read what they want no matter if its canon or not. Go onto any FanFiction forum, or search dA groups and you'll find just about every pairing under the sun: Harry/Luna, Harry/Cho, Harry/Draco, Harry/Snape, Harry/Voldemort, the list goes on an on. Sure, the Harry/Hermione (or Harmony) 'shippers got a bit of support from the author, but I don't see that changing how readers think any time soon.

Even for those who take all of Rowling's post-publishing statements as law/canon, if you really think about it, the only part of the books JK's statement "rewrites" is the Epilogue of the 7th book. And if you go by the polls, most fans ignore (or at least hate) that chapter anyway. Without that chapter, for all we know, the two pairings that exist at the Final Battle could very well have dissolved and reformed afterwards, as teen romances often do.

Which is really why I don't see this whole debacle as anything more than drama. At stake is fictional pairing between fictional teenage characters. Take out all the "fiction" and you've still got teenagers. Logic rarely dictates what teenagers do or who they love, so making statements about 'logically better matches' does little in regards to matters of the heart. And even if we take the Epilogue into account, who's to say how maturity, affection, and cooperation may have effected relationships. It's anyone's guess with no right or wrong answer.

As for an author's power, I do agree with Gallucci and John Green: “Books belong to their readers.” Authors will continue to introduce pairings, love triangles, and even a few more complicated shapes than that in their books. Readers will form opinions, see what they want to see, root for their One True Pairing (OTP), and either be happy or disappointed with the results. An author can control what they write, but never what others read.

So while I think Rowling and the rest of us would have been happier had she kept this opinion to herself, I don't think anyone is really any worse off. So long as you remember that the author holds no more power than you give her, I think everyone can go on supporting any pairing they want, whether it be canon or not.

So what do you think?
Are you happy for Harmony? Still 'shipping a different OTP?
Is the drama real? Are there more implications than what I see?
Feel free to share your thoughts below.

And here's hoping for a happy and fairly drama-free Valentine's Day to you and your loved ones.