Deconstructing Harry: J.K. Rowling on The Casual Vacancy and Perfecting Potter's Flaws

J.K. Rowling/Photo © Featureflash/Shutterstock
J.K. Rowling/Photo © Featureflash/Shutterstock

“My one regret is that I’m not someone else,” Woody Allen famously joked. Of course, as the preeminent neurotic of our time, fretting over what might have been is built into the job description. But for most people in the public eye, discussing one's regrets has become something of a third-rail topic. Think about it: How often do you hear anyone of any degree of wealth and/or power -- from world leaders to reality show flunkies -- come clean about the things they woulda, coulda, or shoulda done in hindsight? We'd argue that it happens only under extreme duress.

Who can blame them? Conventional showbiz wisdom says that indulging in rueful reflection might undermine the illusion that fame and power are awarded only to those who are working with proprietary information about the future for which the rest of us haven’t been credentialed to access. Fortunately, it's become apparent that  J.K. Rowling didn't get this memo. In interviews leading up to today's release of her first post-Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, Rowling has offered a refreshingly candid assessment of her regrets about rushing through certain passages and the revisions she'd like to make to her series of bestsellers we need not name. “I had to write on the run and there were times when it was really tough,” she told the BBC yesterday. “I read them and I think, ‘Oh God, maybe I’ll go back and do a director’s cut.’”

Rowling has emerged from the self-imposed seclusion she sought in the midst of Potter-mania with a striking vulnerability and confidence that makes her new adults-only novel all the more intriguing. After spending the past fifteen years on a magic broomstick ride to unfathomable heights of mesospheric success, Rowling breezily bypassed the usual bout of performance anxiety that often dogs any author fresh off a blockbuster bonanza. Instead, Rowling charged into the decidedly unfamiliar and more pedestrian terrain of a provincial ensemble piece about the social machinations in a small English hamlet following the unexpected death of one of the town leaders. Often funny and occasionally profane, the novel touches upon a whole host of real world afflictions, from heroin addiction to suicide to rape.

Whether or not The Casual Vacancy conjures the kind of popular and critical acclaim to which Rowling has become accustomed is kind of beside the point. Rowling has clearly proven she’s a writer capable of much more than magical thinking. Still, that likely won’t stop Potter fans from engaging in a little wishful thinking about diving into a series of seven “author’s cuts” at some point in the not-so-distant future. However, as with most things, pondering the mystery of which passages she’d most like to revise might be more fun than the reality of plowing through the series a second (or twelfth) time.

So with that in mind, let the speculation begin. We’ll get things started by suggesting that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix could use a little tightening. Which Potter passages or characters do you nominate for a do-over?