Friday, August 12, 2011

One Thing J.K. Rowling Wrote that She Totally Wish She Hadn’t

Having written about artistic momentum in a previous post, I'd like to turn this theory towards a book series that I love, a book series I get into arguments about all the time. You see, I get into fights with other Harry Potter fans because some enthusiasts subscribe to a belief that J.K. Rowling knew down to the sentence what she wanted to do with the whole seven-book series.

Over the next few days, I’d like to discuss three aspects of the early books that overrun their boundaries. Three aspects that J.K. Rowling more or less dismisses, overwrites, undercuts, or avoids talking about in the books to come. They’re kernels of ideas that slowly accumulate momentum — and have to be squashed in later novels.

1) Quidditch

This one is practically a gimme. Rowling designed quidditch in the first book — and designed it poorly. Imagine a game of soccer where everyone on the team plays for 1 point at a time, except for one team member who runs around looking for a four-leaf clover. Oh, and the four-leaf clover is worth a million points. That's the Seeker!

It’s a brutal misbalance that turns every game into a question of “can Harry find the Snitch first or not?” She had to find new gimmicks every book: the dementors in book 3, the Tri-House Tournament ended the quidditch matches in book 4, and Luna as announcer in the later books. You can tell Rowling got bored with the sport long before the series was over. She doesn't even bring it up in book 7.

The rules are particularly depressing because Rowling doesn’t get so much as a chance to do what every inventor of every sport gets to do: change them. If we were playing basketball by the original rules, we’d be fishing out the ball out of a basket every time; if we played golf as it was played in the 15th century, we’d be playing 22 holes instead of 18

In real life, games evolve towards greater balance, greater tension, greater interest; in a novel, you can only approximate that process of evolution. Harry's stuck playing Quidditch, a renowned wizard sport with centuries of fine-tuning behind it -- but I bet Rowling wishes that she could have adjusted the rules in the later books to reflect a more exciting sport.

A lot of Muggle Quidditch teams still work with the clumsy 10/150 pts set-up, but leagues that have played a bunch of games show some evolution already: for example, the Savannah Muggle Quidditch League makes a point to adjust the Snitch point value down to 50. Another team stipulates that the Snitch cannot be released until halftime, in order to give the other players a chance to play. 

Evolution at work! The precise evolution that you don't get to enjoy when you're inventing the rules of a game on the page, rather than on the field. While soccer played on flying broomsticks is an excellent idea and is now part of our cultural memory, it's those finer details that I bet Rowling had a chance to adjust, revise, and fix.


Next week: Time-turners and Marauder Maps and all sorts of rule-breaking. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ryan,

    My name's Kate, and I'm a newly-agented YA writer from Utah. Great post! I agree she sort of dropped the ball on Quidditch, although I think the point system makes sense in that the chasers seem to score rather easily.

    Anyways, looking forward to more posts!