Has JK Rowling broken our wonderful wizarding world?
The author’s recent transphobic tweets have restarted a long-standing debate
I saved up my pocket money for weeks to buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in secret because it came out in the middle of school exams. I played the first Harry Potter PC game for hours on our rundown desktop that hung if you pressed the keys too fast. Taking a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been on my bucket list since the day it was announced.
We’re the Harry Potter generation. It’s where we escaped our school bullies. We can quote the dialogues verbatim, at the drop of a sorting hat. But we’ve been confronted with a harsh reality. That the creator of our beloved world JK Rowling, could be more of a Dolores Umbridge than a Professor McGonagall.
Her transphobic views have been making news following a recent series of tweets. During Pride month, and in the middle of a pandemic.
Subjects like the queer movement and the realities of LGBTQIA+ folk are layered and complex. So, if you don’t know what to say, it’s better to just not say anything. But that doesn’t seem to be JK Rowling’s style because this isn’t the first time her transphobic tendencies have been on display.
JK Rowling’s actions have thrown open the floodgates around a question that has long plagued cultural thinkers and consumers alike. For me, it’s best explained in Claire Dederer’s essay What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?
I don’t support cancel culture, but I do have a hard time separating a work of art from the artist. I’ve also been a hypocrite.
I’ve watched and liked some Woody Allen films — like Midnight in Paris, Matchpoint, Annie Hall. I’d console myself by spending hours reading about his past, about Roman Polanski and then, feel guilty.
VS Naipul is another name regularly brought up in this debate, with controversies tainting his legacy in an irreparable way. His is a case of great talent and writing skill. But his personal history makes you wince. He has the Booker Prize, the Nobel prize for literature and several bestsellers to his credit, but also a past of domestic abuse, misogyny and overall ‘jerkness’.
I still believe that parts of the artist are reflected in their creations. And once you know the artist for their questionable nature, it slowly contaminates your relationship with their work.
JK Rowling’s actions are perhaps the biggest hurdle in finding an answer to this question. As disappointed as I was reading her recent statements, and subsequent essay where she dug herself in even deeper, it won’t come close to how queer, non-binary and transgender fans of Harry Potter feel right now.
A Google search will throw up plenty of pieces written by community members voicing their heartbreak. Some packed away their Harry Potter books a long time ago, others have been calling her out, asking questions and trying to explain their reality as kindly as they can.
It’s been a rude shock because JK Rowling didn’t just create a book series that LGBTQIA+ found solace in, she created a whole world that became a safe space for them. They saw themselves in Harry — feeling like an outsider in this new world, standing by friends with fierce loyalty and fighting the system of the Ministry of Magic. It reflected their own struggles in a way, as Mallory Yu writes.
It’s a terrible feeling when your idol falls from grace. Here, though, the idols we looked up to were Harry, Hermione, Ron and even Neville Longbottom.
Having posed the question to the Tweak writers, my colleagues made points I’ve been pondering over.
Whether it’s a book or a movie, the creator plays a large part but there are so many other people involved. There are actors, editors, publishers, proofreaders, sound designers, light engineers, all contributing to the final piece of work. Should the folly of one person, even if it’s the creator, taint their effort, emotional investment and hard work?
Another colleague stated that we should hesitate to throw the baby out with the bath water. Can’t we recognise and denounce a creator’s problematic behaviour, but also find a poem they wrote about a trip to Rishikesh incredibly beautiful.
Unless a work is directly built on abuse or subjugation — or celebrates oppression — should it be sentenced to the same fate as its creator?
Ending hero worship and humanising our favourite artists can make our path clearer. Expecting mortals to be noble, honest and genius because we don’t want the skeletons in their closet to muddy the joy we gain from their work is naive, and sets us up for disappointment.
View this post on Instagram
What’s strange is that the entire time discussing and reading into this, I’ve had the urge to read Goblet of Fire. My line, then, is being drawn and becoming more apparent with each moment.
I don’t think we’ll be able to divest from a series that has touched our heart and soul. There’s nostalgia attached — memories of growing up, growing wiser and more curious about the possibility of a white owl with a letter flying into our bedrooms late at night.
I can acknowledge that JK Rowling was a disappointment, that Cho Chang and the Patil sisters were awkward Asian representation (to say the least), but also lose myself in the imaginary hedge maze with Cedric and Harry while reading her book.
I need to know what butterbeer actually tastes like…