February 7, 2014 6:43 pm

Harry, Hermione and the midlife crisis

‘A story for the Potter generation as it hits midlife . . .The terrors remain, but now they are boredom and disease’
Illustration by Lucas Varela of Hermione Granger in therapy©Lucas Varela

It may not have been the greatest literary bombshell of all time but, as far as the fans are concerned, it was up there. JK Rowling told them that she may have misjudged the ending of her Harry Potter saga and should have fixed Hermione Granger up with the eponymous hero, rather than let her moon off into the more lethargic arms of Harry’s sidekick, Ron Weasley. Rowling suggested that her heroine had settled for the safe option and foretold sessions of marriage counselling in later years.

Potterphiles were agog but, at home, the spawn were not unduly troubled by this shocking revisionism. In any case, they always regarded the romance as a tiresome distraction from the magic and the fighting. The boy observed acidly that pairing off Hermione with Harry would have been a cliché – a damning verdict from a child who likes to polish off his English assignments during the break before morning registration. The girl had even less time for Rowling’s moment of hindsight, noting simply, “She’s wrong”.

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Robert Shrimsley

This seemed rather unfair, failing entirely to recognise the author’s status in the debate. After all, if Rowling says Harry should have ended up with Hermione, ought that not to count for something? Or should her view carry weight only while the plot is in play and she still has power over its outcome? Rowling has form with what-happened-next interviews. We know, from her, that Neville became a professor of herbology at Hogwarts and that the dementors were all sacked; we know that Luna Lovegood resumed her earlier career as a 1960s porn star and that Draco Malfoy landed the role of the albino priest in the film version of The Da Vinci Code. This info is interesting – well, to those who are interested – but afterwords are not the same as revisions.

It raises the question of how much characters belong to an author after the books are finished. They may do legally but, in the minds of readers, ownership has passed. This is probably just as well. We don’t want writers constantly popping back to unpick outcomes they later regret. It is well-documented that Shakespeare came to regard the end of Romeo and Juliet as “a bit gutting” and wanted to change it so that the couple lived on, heading north and opening a small ski chalet outside Innsbruck.

Then again, this might be the genesis of a whole new saga – Hermione Granger and the Goblet Half-Empty. I do worry for Hermione and her looming midlife crisis. We all know that relationships forged in adversity are inherently unstable and, as her kids head to boarding school, it is easy to see her suddenly wanting more.

You can imagine how it goes. Ron takes her for granted; he hogs the TV remote, never unloads the dishwasher and spends too much time in his shed. Their attempt to forge new interests by joining a golf club fail to satisfy her. She resents his time in the pub drinking butterbeer with the unemployed dementors and dwells on all the things she has never done.

Using the time-turning device that allows her to be in several places at once, Hermione heads to a commune in India to find herself. She also embarks on a destructive affair with Malfoy, to whom she is drawn after her book club reads Fifty Shades of Grey. She senses hidden good in her old enemy but he is just after a bit of Muggle blood on the side and it all ends messily.

She and Ron do indeed go for marriage counselling, at which Hermione admits to the contempt she feels at his inability to perform even the most basic spells with samphire and that she fantasises about a bespectacled wizard in accounts called Barry. Ron admits to checking her mobile and following her when she goes out. They agree to try a date night once a week and she takes up wizard’s chess. Perhaps she moves on; perhaps they patch things up after Ron’s mum falls and needs a hip operation.

This, then, is a story for the Potter generation as it hits midlife; a tale of bitter, disappointed wizards yearning for the thrills of their teens. The terrors remain, but now they are boredom and disease. It is darker, sadder and with far fewer magical beasts. But that’s middle age, isn’t it?

robert.shrimsley@ft.com; Twitter: @robertshrimsley

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