Pottermore and the problem of time travel
So those following know that the final seven chapters of Prisoner of Azkaban went live on Pottermore within the last few days, which means more new information for us to enjoy. This is wonderful, and the biography of Lupin in particular is absolutely lovely (and makes me want to amend my character portrait of him to add some of the new information!). But there’s another entry that makes me want to cry. It comes when Jo tries to give more information on the Time-Turner.
Her insights on the problems it caused her as an author were very well done, and her explanation that traveling back more than a few hours messes with the fabric of time and can’t be attempted is a stroke of brilliance. But there are two passages that unravel much of the beautiful simplicity of the one chapter of the books that actually contains time travel. Here’s the first:
What is more, her five days in the distant past caused great disturbance to the life paths of all those she met, changing the course of their lives so dramatically that no fewer than twenty-five of their descendants vanished in the present, having been “un-born.”
Sigh. Repeat after me: this is not how time travel works. I recognize the temptation to think of it this way, but when a person travels back in time, they do not change the past. They merely become another person who is part of the past, exactly as it took place.
When Harry and Hermione stood in the hospital wing and spun the time-turner, Buckbeak had already been saved and Sirius Black was already flying away. There was no “version” of the past that was altered when they went back; there is merely one linear span of time that exists the way it does. Dumbledore sends them back because he already knows there was an extra Harry and Hermione that saved Buckbeak. And if Eloise Mintumble changed things in 1402 so that somebody failed to have 25 descendents, it is no different from my changing the present so that someone in 2013 fails to have 25 descendents over the next five centuries. The descendents are not un-born, because the events that happened in 1402 (with Eloise present) are the events that always happened in 1402. Nothing. Else. Makes. Sense.
Here’s the other quote that drives me crazy:
Secondly, I had Hermione give back the only Time-Turner ever to enter Hogwarts.
You could argue on a technicality that this single Time-Turner is one that various students over the years have shared, but I don’t think that’s what Jo meant. I think she meant that Hermione is the only student ever to have a Time-Turner. This type of hyperbolized superlative exists throughout the books, and I’ve talked before about my distaste for it, but even beyond that this particular claim really bothers me.
Here’s the thing. Barty Crouch Jr. got twelve O.W.L.s. So did Percy Weasley. If they were able to do this without Time-Turners – either by adjusting the class schedule or allowing them to miss certain classes or what-have-you – then Hermione is perfectly able to attempt the same four years later without a Time-Turner as well. But if Hermione could only do it with a Time-Turner, as far as I’m concerned, we have absolute proof that Percy and Barty did too. And probably many, many other students before, during, and after them.
This is something that probably happens every few years at a minimum, and it’s virtually certain that there have been times that more than one student has possessed one at the same time (in fact Percy was taking twelve N.E.W.T. classes during Hermione’s third year. I’ve suggested before that they might have run into each other ducking into a broom closet at some point). You can argue the danger of this all you want; it nevertheless is the reality of Hogwarts as it is presented to us in the books. To suggest that Hermione is the only student ever granted this magic is hogwash. But now it’s canon. And I couldn’t be more frustrated.
Why do these things bother me so much? Here’s why: I LOVE this world. I love the intricacies of it, I love how well-thought-out it is, I love that even the puzzles that Rowling didn’t really intend to exist can usually still be solved. When Rowling posts something like this, and it isn’t fully thought-out (and this isn’t the first time I’ve vehemently disagreed with something she’s written on Pottermore), it undermines the integrity of that world and makes it less enjoyable for us “obsessives” that Rowling once said her books were written for.
Yes, there are a few things in the wizarding world that it is legitimately impossible to make sense of. But there are very few, and most of these problems stem from things Rowling has said off-the-cuff in interviews. Pottermore does not need to be done off-the-cuff. It is writing that is prepared ahead of time and that can be properly edited before being added to the canon of Harry Potter. And it’s disrespectful to fans when this isn’t done. Does Pottermore simply not have an editor checking these things over? I’d do it for free, and I’m surely not the only one qualified who would.
Please, please, please, Jo. Take the time to do this right.
Signed, one of your biggest fans.