Rupert Grint turns 27 years old today. It’s been 16 years since he was cast as Ronald Weasley, Wizard Chess expert and best friend of Harry Potter. There’s no denying that the charming, bumbling Ron is one of the most beloved characters in the Harry Potter universe — but then again, most of the characters in the Harry Potter universe are pretty beloved at this point. Even Draco Malfoy. But there is one important person who doesn’t seem to be a particular fan of Ron: J.K. Rowling. Rowling is famous for making post-publication declarations that send fans into a tizzy. Remember when she announced that Dumbledore was gay? Readers went searching for clues to the venerable wizard’s sexuality in the text, but Rowling shrugged them off, tweeting to a dubious fan that of course she couldn’t tell he was gay, because “gay people just look like…people.” But it’s Ron who seems to have taken the most heat since the books wrapped: First, Rowling announced that she had “seriously considered” killing off the affable redhead midway through the series, “out of sheer spite.” Later, she bemoaned the fact that she had let Hermione end up with Ron. In an interview with U.K. entertainment magazine Wonderland, Rowling explained: I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That's how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron… I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I'm absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people's hearts by saying this? I hope not. Could this have anything to do with Ron being inspired by Rowling’s real-life best friend, Sean Harris, and the fact that Rowling herself clearly identifies strongly with Hermione (nerdy girls forever)? Who knows? Still, it’s clear that, at least by the end, Rowling’s feelings about the redheaded corner of her now-iconic triumvirate were fairly complicated. What if Rowling had killed Ron? Or, maybe a better question: Why did she decide she couldn’t? After all, to be fair: Beloved or not, Ron is the worst of the trio. He’s jealous. He’s insecure. He’s buffoonish (less so in the books than in the films, but still). He has a ludicrous temper. As Hermione puts it, “he has the emotional range of a teaspoon.” And he’s always the one who winds up burping slugs. On the other hand, Hermione is the smartest witch to come through Hogwarts in who knows how long, and Harry is, of course, cosmically chosen to save the world (and also rich and famous, good at dueling, and a Quidditch prodigy). Ron seems dispensable enough, right?
Well, not exactly. In terms of character tropes, Ron is the classic Lancer: the hero’s foil. He’s there for balance — for perspective. When Harry sees himself surrounded by family in the Mirror of Erised in the first book, Ron sees himself alone and glorious. This makes sense; in life, Harry is an orphan, while Ron thinks of himself as just another redheaded kid in a swarming family of redheaded kids — most of the rest of whom are more distinguished than he is. More importantly, Ron is, in many ways, the stereotypical Muggle Best Friend. We know he’s no Muggle, of course, but he's still the comparatively “normal” best friend of the exceptional hero. Ron is the most "regular" of the three main characters, and therefore (here’s the really important part) he stands in for the reader. He’s Nick Carraway, or Scout Finch — the person we can most easily project ourselves onto, because he does the things we’d probably do, like ask silly questions or run away or make a self-deprecating joke. He’s the everyman, and like every everyman, he kind of sucks. But we need someone who sucks. That is, the series needs a chew toy — someone for bad and embarrassing things to happen to so the gang can spring into action in response. Someone not dispensable, exactly, but obviously imperfect — someone vulnerable. It can’t be Harry, because he has to maintain that tragic-hero vibe. It can’t be Hermione, because she’s too dignified. It has to be Ron. It has to be us.
Ron is the everyman, and like every everyman, he kind of sucks.
Plus, if Ron had died, then Rowling probably would have made her latent "Harry + Hermione 4Ever" wish happen, and I think that would have been a mistake. Not particularly from an emotional point of view (wouldn’t you have chosen Harry? I would have chosen Harry, despite the fact that late-game Rupert Grint actually gets kind of hot, whereas, sorry, Equus lovers), but from a structural standpoint. Harry needs to be isolated so much in order for his character to work. He is the tragic chosen one, and as such, he can’t really be in love with his best friend and have her stick with him through thick and thin. He wouldn’t be able to get dark enough with that kind of support. He needs to feel alone almost all the time, or he wouldn’t make the decisions he does. Why else do you think Rowling found it necessary to keep killing off his various father/support figures? So, all this is to say: Happy Birthday, Rupert Grint. We’re all glad you and your character lasted the whole series. We love you like we love ourselves, and we love ourselves a lot. All together now, with feeling, and none of that nasty Slytherin irony: Weasley is Our King. Weasley is Our King!