Those of you who know me will recall that I am a Potter fan.
Fine, `fan’ does not cut it. That generation whose teens coincided with the most productive of JK’s literary experiments have no shame in our worship of that near-holy franchise (sorry DK9). And while Tolkein’s universe is a greater work of fiction by sheer clout of detail, it is useless to deny that JK had a way with words.
But words are only a part of good fiction. PG is great not just because of that distinctively Wodehousian language, but also because Wooster, Psmith, Emsworth and Nottle are sterling characters. Ayn Rand was, by contrast, near horrid with words (there, I said it), but Gail Wynand is still one of my favourite characters, not to mention Rearden, who was the only reason I might not have given up Meta. And of course, Tolkein has Bilbo, Gamgee and, naturally not the least, Gollum/Smeagol.
JK has her great characters. One word- Snape. Another one, just to try to show that what I have to say is not completely biased- Dumbledore, before his snivelling transition in the Order of the Phoenix. But lest we forget, the books are the Harry Potter series, not the Redemption of Severus Snape, nor Dumbledore’s Divine Deeds (overkill?). The persons the protagonist is closest to are his friends, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. Everyone knows Granger got her due (guys, I know what you are thinking, and no, I am not talking about Emma Watson). Ron, on the other hand, has always been the outsider.
Case to point: Book 2. The cave has to collapse so that Harry faces the spectre of Tom Riddle and the Basilisk alone. Ok, maybe that was the manner in which Rowling set up the book 6 romance, but still. Book 3, it is Ron who gets his leg broken, and cannot make the journey back in time. Which is weird, considering that Book 1 established him as a master strategist. Come on, anyone who can play chess against a computer (yes, I am comparing magic to a very powerful chess computer, so bite me) has to be some good. Perhaps most damning of all is the book 6 extract:
`Harry glanced down Ron’s grades: There were no “Outstandings” there. . . .’
Oh, way to kick him in the you-know-where when he is down, JK…
Add to this, of course, that he was the one who abandoned Harry’s quest to destroy the horcruxes, etc. etc., and you know for sure what Rowling had in mind for Ron as soon as she put a pen to paper for the first time. He was never going to be even the corner of attention. He was very definitely second-best. That’s unfortunate. You know what they say: “…if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. The only problem is, as the series went on, every possible river or source of water was delicately poisoned for this fish. Never too bad, but never good. That is a horrible situation. Sure, the character acted as a fine comedic foil, but let us borrow another quote, this time by Chandler Bing:
“That’s what I want. A roommate I can walk around with and be referred to as ‘the funny one’.”
Perhaps I should have put in a `Warning: Heavy sarcasm to follow’ sign before that.
It is not as though this was unavoidable. My personal characterization for Ron would have been funny and reasonably smart. Steering clear of academic indicators for `smartness’ would have been a good idea, but couldn’t Rowling give him a couple of redeeming qualities? Admittedly, his averageness plays a part in his character. Always the bridesmaid, the youngest brother who inherits robes, the one with nothing to accomplish, since it has all been done before. But just saying that he is there because he is friends with the titular character is the worst sort of put down. `You are important. If you were not there, how will the kids know that they should laugh every once in a while when reading the books?’. The funny one indeed.
I do not know how to make Ron `better’. The series is done and dusted. Ron is set in stone. And he will forever be a sign to other authors what not to do with a sidekick. It is very unfortunate, actually. The books are, as I said, and with some exceptions, delectably good. And Snape more than makes up for bad characters in the next couple of thousand books to be published by Rowling. Still, I like things perfect, and it physically hurts to know that this work of art is not. Sorry Ron. Looks like I am even more useless than you were. Oh wait, that steals your thunder there too. Pity.