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An observation on HP theorizing

February 2nd, 2004 · 3 Comments

I’ve read several longish-to-uber essays on HP canon lately, theorizing about everything from Ron=Dumbledore to Traitor!Ginny to the intracacies of the wizarding political structure in the past little while. A gathering of HP-Utah on Saturday contributed more theories. Some are, of course, better than others. The Knight2King theory, while obviously well-thought-out in some ways is completely implausible in others, and has failed to convince me. On the other hand, Alec’s amazing 10-part Expecto Patronus essay is incredibly detailed and, in most cases, not only plausible but highly likely, although even Alec sometimes moves beyond interpretation into mere speculation. Even the best of theories employ a certain amount of guesswork.

Theorizing is fun, and a wonderful way to pass the time. There is certainly something to be said for looking for clues, trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. Rowling invites it, as a matter of fact, in her very style of writing and in interviews. All good writers employ foreshadowing of some kind, especially those who deal with any kind of mystery plot, which Harry Potter certainly is. Figuring out the mystery before the characters do is one of the joys of reading mystery works. Shipping is obviously a part of this whole thing, but anticipating events is certainly not limited to shipping.

The problem comes not in theorizing itself, but in they way that it’s done. You see, there’s a difference between noting trends, examining characterization, etc., and taking a small detail and developing an elaborate theory around it. Unfortunately, most HP theories at the very least take a button and sew a vest to it, at worst they’re made up of whole cloth. Theories of this kind are often colored not by canon but by personal perceptions of canon, and contain very little evidence and lots and lots of emotion. They’re based on wishes and not logic, and as such can even be destructive, since if you set your heart on a theory that ends up becoming completely uncanonical you’re bound to be disappointed. I have a feeling that much of the fandom depression post-OotP was because of such things– people found JKR’s ideas inferior to their own and became disillusioned. Always a risk when playing in someone else’s world.

After 3 years of picking apart every little detail in the first four books of canon, OotP still blindsided every single one of us. I’ve been a bit wary of HP theories ever since. I was hoping that some of the more outlandish theories which were formed pre-OotP would die a swift death after so many of our ideas proved to be groundless, but alas! It seems as though JKR’s surprising us all has only led to more wild speculation– if she surprised us once, she surely can again.

The biggest problem I have with this kind of reasoning is that the series is yet unfinished. It’s rather easy to look at an Agatha Christie novel or at Emma and, after having completed the book, pick out which were true clues, which were red herrings, and what was just fun atmosphere for the story. The outcome is known. But while we can look at certain things and wonder “why is Rowling doing this?” we can’t be absolutely sure about her reasons until we’ve finished reading the last page of book 7. Something may be important, but for a different reason than we foresaw. Authorial intent is key in interpreting unfinished works– your own ideas have absolutely nothing to do with what JKR has planned. It doesn’t matter if you think Snape is sexy, or Ron is annoying, or Draco is misunderstood, or the Weasleys are disfunctional. What matters is that JKR, thus far at least, thinks Snape is a greasy git, Ron is one of the best friends Harry could ever have, Draco is a small-minded bully and the Weasleys are her ideal big family, and she will write her books accordingly.

I would love to write my master’s thesis on Harry Potter, but I will not feel qualified to do so until Rowling’s masterpiece is complete. Anything I could write about it would simply be conjecture until we see her entire plan in panorama. I’ll probably keep reading the theories with interest. I’ll weigh them on their merits–but excuse me if I hold off on accepting any of them until I put my copy of book 7 down and sigh.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lu // Feb 3, 2004 at 10:50 am

    Can you send me a link to Alec’s, Peach? Haven’t seen that one yet.

    I agree wth the Knight@King statement. Very well written and thought out but I wasn’t convenced either.

    Book 7…I’d just settle for a tidbit of 6! If it were book 7 then where does that leave all of us? Once the production is over and the cast party calls it quits…there’s no place else to go but home. I’m not ready to go home yet. :c

  • 2 Emily // Feb 3, 2004 at 11:50 am

    Alec’s is posted in 10 parts on his Live Journal (that RJA created for him when all of our badgering to do so did absolutely nothing. :P). It’s amazing. Definitely going to be incorporating his ideas into my Albus fic. :D

  • 3 LizardLaugh // Feb 4, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    hmm… I disagree about what the theorizing leads to (disapointment), at least in my case personally. If Ron isn’t Dumbledore and the whole K2K thing is crap, I’d actually be rather pleased because it would mean that JKR has thrown me for another loop.

    I had a few of my pet theories dashed in OotP, but I had a few of them work out exactly as I thought they would (Room of Requirement, most notably). OotP is, hands down, my very favorite of the books. While I LOVE thinking about future plot developments and what I think might happen next, I am not emotionally invested in a way that would make me disapointed should my pet predictions not come to pass. Quite the contrary, in fact, I want to be surprized and go back and pick over the clues I missed or mis-interpreted. Being right or wrong isn’t all that important to me, I just like figuring out puzzles. JKR will write what she wants to write, and I’ll probably love it, even if I was wrong about every single thing.

    There were a lot of people disapointed with OotP, but I have to wonder why they thought everything would/should go the way they thought it would. The fans were right about a lot of things… they were also wrong about a lot of things… such is following an unfinished mystery, lol. I didn’t get the disapointment or the ‘it’s like fanfic!’ comments at all.

    I think the attitude you have with looking at the theories and enjoying them without getting emotionally invested is a good way to go about it. The bottom line is that none of us know how it will shake down. I look at shipping in a similar way. I have my favorites, I have the ones I KNOW will never happen in canon, the one I hold out for despite being a long shot, but ultimately, I have no idea how it will turn out. I kind of like that way :-)

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