In honor of the release of the second-to-last
cash cow film in the Harry Potter franchise, I figured now would be a good time to get soapbox-y about J.K. Rowling’s inability to write believable romance. Please be aware that spoilers for the series follow. If you really don’t want to know, now is the time to turn back.
For those who need a refresher/primer, the Harry Potter books revolve around the titular character who discovers at age 11 that he is not just a normal, everyday human (or Muggle, as the books call them) but a wizard. And not just any wizard – he is the sole miraculous survivor of an attack from the greatest dark wizard ever, Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry’s parents (themselves a witch and wizard). The books then chronicle Harry’s adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy, a British boarding school for those with magical abilities. During his time at Hogwarts, Harry becomes best friends with Ron Weasley, a good-natured boy of modest magical ability from a very large, very poor wizarding family, and Hermione Granger, the class brain whose parents are Muggles. Each book increases in scope and complexity, as details about Harry’s past are revealed and Voldemort’s return becomes an ever-increasing threat. The seventh and last book of the series climaxes with Harry’s final confrontation with Voldemort. (Harry wins in the most anti-climactic ending ever for a supposed epic villain, and I still think that Rowling was using some pretty shaky logic to get to that ending.)
Anyhow, as the characters age – the series starts when they are 11 and ends when they are 17 – romance naturally enters the picture. Harry ends up with Ron’s younger sister, Ginny, and Ron himself ends up with Hermione. (The epilogue of the final book has both couples at the train station, sending off their children to Hogwarts.) It’s all very tidy and sickly-sweet. Orphan Harry gets to be a part of a big, jolly, loving family, and the Weasley family gets to be progressive and open-minded by embracing Muggle-born Hermione as one of their own. (Muggle-born vs. “pure-breds” is one of the ongoing themes in the books and is one of Voldemort’s motivating factors.)
Which characters would pair off was a subject of hot debate among fans. Some fans felt that Harry would end up with Hermione, who was always Harry’s biggest supporter and Girl Friday. Others noticed Ron and Hermione’s constant bickering and guessed that it would be Ron and Hermione in the end. Since the books were written from Harry’s limited third person point of view, there was no way of accessing the other characters’ thoughts, nor actions apart from Harry. It wasn’t until the sixth book was released that the debate was settled once and for all: Harry suddenly notices that Ginny is popular, gorgeous, athletic, magically gifted (unlike her brother Ron), sassy, and bold, and he spends the majority of the book lusting after her. Meanwhile, Hermione sulks because Ron hooks up with the class bimbo. If that didn’t make it clear enough, in the final book Rowling actually had Harry say that he had only ever thought of Hermione as a sister. Your objections are denied!
As someone who favored Harry and Hermione, I resented Rowling’s psychosocial gymnastics to put the two couples together. I never understood what Hermione, a highly accomplished and perfectionist witch, saw in Ron, who was completely average in every way and tended to be subordinate to Harry in their friendship. In fact, I’m not sure Rowling ever knew, either, considering that she gave Ron a very hasty injection of athletic ability in book 6 and heroism and magical ability in the book 7 so that Hermione could finally admire him for something. Okay, so Ron was a late bloomer. It happens in real life, why not in books? Well, not only was Ron up against his own mediocrity, but I still have no idea how he could have believably overcome Harry’s pure status game. Because Harry was the only person who had ever survived an attack by Voldemort, he was already famous in the wizarding world and entered Hogwarts a celebrity. Additionally, Harry had exceptional athletic ability – he was invited during his first year to be the seeker for his house’s Quidditch team, an almost unheard-of honor. He was also rich – his parents had left him mountains of wizard money at the bank. And he was humble about it, too, never flaunting his status, athleticism, or wealth. Oh, and he was adventurous – always taking risks, always embroiling his friends in a new adventure…and always relying on Hermione for help. How could any of this not be intoxicating to a young girl?
I suppose that’s part of why Rowling worked overtime in the sixth book to present Ginny as an alpha female uber alles. She had to make it inconceivable that Harry could possibly end up with anyone else, not when such a choice babe was in the building. The glamming up of Ginny – who up until then had been a tertiary character with a girlish crush on Harry that left her speechless whenever he was around – essentially forced Hermione into the role of Harry’s beta orbiter – and we all know that loyalty and devotion are never rewarded with romance.
To be fair, Rowling never wrote Harry as acknowledging any possible attraction to Hermione, other than being surprised at how pretty she looked at a school dance, and in hindsight you can see her dropping hints for Ron and Hermione in the earlier books. Still, Hermione was extremely loyal to Harry, even more loyal than Ron, and deeply admired Harry, and the two shared some intense emotional experiences over the years. Sometimes just proximity is enough to trigger an attraction, and who was more proximate than Hermione?
The more I think about it, though, maybe Rowling followed reality after all. Harry and Ginny were the Hot Ones, and Ron and Hermione were the Not Ones. Occam’s Razor, ho!