On character ownership…

Recently, the question of who “owns” the characters in a book entered my head.  Initially, of course, the answer is the author.  He or she has created these characters, knows them (and their narrative world) the best, and probably has more to say about them than what is included in the text.  However, the funny thing about books, is that most authors want them to be read.  And after this transaction takes place, the characters often go off to live in the head of the reader.  They are like old friends that you can revisit once you open a book for a second time.

Personally, I’ve read books where I honestly feel like I know the characters.  I look forwarding to “hanging out” with them in the evening* and at times feel a bit lost when I finish the book, and our relationship has ended.  I am also a person who rereads some of my favorite books, so I look forward to visiting these characters again.  Sometimes, even, I imagine a future for the characters after a novel has ended (did I go too far there?)

As such, I can understand all the fuss that J.K. Rowling has recently caused when she wrote that Harry should have ended up with Hermione.  Rowling is no stranger from controversy when it comes to the untold lives her characters lead.    (Remember when news hit that Dumbledore was gay?)

In order to create such a series, Rowling created an entirely different world and the characters to inhabit it.  Not everything can fit in the books and so Rowling also has the companion site, Pottermore, where fans travel through the novel and are rewarded with background stories and additional texts not included in the originals.

I think all of these background stories are great for fans, it’s a way to let the world Rowling created live on and the extra information adds depth to the characters as well as an interactive element to the text.  After all, who doesn’t want to know about Prof. McGongall’s childhood or how Vernon and Petunia met.

However, I’m going to draw the line at background.  I don’t think Rowling should conjecture about the futures of her characters or what she thinks should have happened, they already live on in the minds of the millions of readers.  She no longer owns their fates.  If she wanted Hermione and Harry to get together and thinks that Ron and Hermione would have to see a relationship counselor, then she can write another book, and regain that ownership.

Personally,  I think the Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione combinations are just fine.  I imagine the happily-ever-after version, where they have a double wedding (a-la-Jane and Eliza in BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), and live as neighbors near Ron’s parents, or something like that.  But, then again, I’m an optimist, and still have not resolved the fight with my friend from high school over what happened at the end of the movie Brokedown Palace (my version: after Claire Danes sacrifices her freedom for that of Kate Beckinsale’s, Kate and a powerful team of lawyers return to free Claire and on the flight back to the states they all talk about how they learned not to trust strangers who ask you to carry their bags at the airport.  My friend’s version: they never escape—despite the movie showing Dane’s sacrifice to serve both sentences– and all die miserable deaths in a prison in Thailand).

To each her own.


*I mean when I’m reading, it’s like I’m hanging out with them, I don’t actively hang out with imaginary book characters


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