I am a devoted reader and admirer of J.K . Rowling, and it honestly pains me a bit to say this, but from a literary perspective, she’s out of control here. Her abundant generosity with information is surely a response to a vast, insatiable fan base that does not have a high tolerance for never-ending suspense, ambiguity or nuance. As she told the “Today” show’s Meredith Vieira back in July, “I’m dealing with a level of obsession in some of my fans that will not rest until they know the middle names of Harry’s great-great-grandparents.” Rowling naturally wants to provide answers for these heartbroken obsessives who perhaps are too young to know the satisfying pleasures of perpetual yearning and feel that they must must must know how much money Harry makes and whether Luna has kids.
It would also be understandable if, after more than a decade of telling stories about this world and these characters, Rowling is unable to stop. She has been a great and comprehensive builder of a fictional universe, and she’s famous for keeping reams of folders containing the back stories and astrological signs of every major and minor character ever to appear in her pages. One of the things that made the Potter books so good was the sense that Rowling had utter mastery over every corner of her realm. Who could blame her for wanting to keep the kids happy by doling out bits of it? It’s not as though Rowling would be setting a precedent: J.R.R. Tolkien spent much of his post-Middle-earth life tinkering with the details of the world he created, and delighting and gratifying his adherents by providing them with additional information about it.
But when too much of the back story (and, more disconcertingly, the future story) gets revealed –- especially in an age in which an author is not simply sending letters to readers as Tolkien did, but making utterances that will be disseminated and analyzed by a global network of Web sites — it seems to have not so much a gratifying effect as a deadening one.
On one level, I completely disagree. As Neil Gaiman points out, sometimes, there are these great details and scenes that you want to put in your stories but they just get in the way and so get cut. You want to share them and that’s a good thing. I like the idea of having a novel that, like DVDs, has extras, all those little bits and pieces you wanted to add but couldn’t for the sake of story telling. A blog would be handy for just such a thing.
But. Wizards, like Genni, cannot be put back in the bottle, or the closet. And while the politically active side of my brain says, “Wahoo! Good for Dumbledore! Way to go!” there’s a part of me that sees what Rebecca Traister is getting at. As fun and geeky cool as knowing that Harry and the gang all turn out fine, there’s something to be said about a little wiggle room that feeds the imagination. Spelling out all the secrets removes that wiggle room. Your vast, expansive universe is now a tailored suit that only fits one way and starts popping seems if you breath to hard or gain more than a few pounds.
So, in this instance we have exciting confirmation of a detail that was there in subtext all along, if you know where to look for it. But let’s not go too far and spell out everything. Hopefully, Rowling will leave something for the fan’s to drool over and imagine for themselves. Otherwise, Harry Potter will suffer the same leaden fate as Star Wars and become so bogged down with unnecessary details that the story and characters suffer form too much exposure and it all becomes about the niggling factoids, Midi-chlorians and all.