I have made no secret of loving the Harry Potter series, either on this blog or in my everyday life and proudly identify myself as a Ravenclaw. And yet, the author of this most-beloved series has recently come out as anti-trans, testing the love that I have for the author of one of my most beloved childhood series. I recently read Molly Fischer’s article on JK Rowling on Vulture, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts.
To be honest, JK Rowling has been testing my love for a while. I have always been a bit troubled that she wouldn’t just leave her series alone instead of constantly dropping knowledge bombs on readers. Mostly because I’m not sure that giving readers “revelations” is all that necessary or helpful. Instead, those revelations have felt like a desperate bid on Rowling’s part to hang onto her fictional universe and to maintain control over how that universe is interpreted. In my opinion, once you share your fictional world with others, you have ceded that control. They story has been given to us, and now it is apart of us. The magic of Harry Potter doesn’t just come from the words Rowling put on the page, but also from the interactions readers have with this universe and its characters. While Rowling of course maintains copyright over her world, I don’t believe that the reading experience belongs to her, nor should it be dictated by her. Without the readers and their own interpretations, all you have is print on the pages of closed books. The magic comes from the dialogue between hearts and minds of the readers and the words she penned.
This is not to say that Harry Potter is perfect. It’s not. While it has always felt inspiring to me, it doesn’t deal a lot in ambiguities, has major diversity problems, and presents a mostly white, cis view of the world. We can (and should) critique it in many ways. But now I am presented with a separate issue, which is how to reconcile the political views of the author with a magical world that I have loved since I was eight years old.
This is a problem that doesn’t apply solely to JK Rowling. Deciding how/whether to separate the creator from the art they’ve created is a complex problem, applying to a great many children’s book authors, and I don’t pretend to have any answers about it. I understand that many people make decisions about the world that we live in based on fear and trauma. But it’s particularly disappointing to have anti-trans sentiments spew forth from an author whose character’s were supposed to be judged based on their actions rather than their abilities they were born with, and who were seen for their potential. In a children’s author who prizes imagination, the lack of empathy Rowling has shown is disappointing and hurtful. And I understand that it’s okay to disagree with people politically, but I find it harder to disagree productively with someone who sees certain groups of people as less worthy of the love, nurturing, and worth that she instilled into her characters.
Ultimately, I’m not sure where that leaves me. Exhausted? Exasperated? Often when the world makes me feel this way, I return to Harry Potter for comfort. I still think these books have done a lot of good–inspiring fanfiction writers and activists (Harry Potter Alliance) and tolerance. If I believe that the magic of these books are partially created in the minds of the people who read them, I must believe there’s still a lot more good they can do. But maybe it’s the fans and readers we need to turn to for answers rather than the author, who unleashed her books on the world and who now has to understand that the magic belongs to all of us. And I mean all of us.