Strictly Speaking: A Column


Elaina Martin, Editor-in-Chief

   As soon as I read JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in fourth grade, I was hooked. I got lost in Rowling’s world of magic, wizards, and adventure, in her grand depiction of triumph of good over evil. I loved the unapologetically smart and capable Hermione and the Golden Trio’s friendship as they battled villains and worked through wizarding school. When my eleventh birthday came around, I was severely disappointed by the lack of a Hogwarts letter, and when Rowling’s interactive website Pottermore came out, I took every single quiz on it, from what patronus I would have to where I’d be sorted were I a Hogwarts student (Slytherin pride!).

   I’ve re-read the series many times since my initial read and it has always been a safe haven, one where I could escape the mundanity of real life and vicariously live out my childhood dreams of finding magic. Even as I get older and more mature, my childlike sense of wonder at all the different spells and magical creatures still comes to the surface when I read the books. I also love looking at artists interpretations of the characters on the internet and many of my friends love the books as well — they’ve always been a discussion point.

   All of this came crashing down last summer when JK Rowling posted a series of tweets that uncovered her trans-exclusionary radical feminist views as she spoke in defense of a woman who was fired from her job after being publicly transphobic. I was severely disappointed that the author of my favorite childhood books, who had always claimed everyone belonged and was welcome in the wizarding community, could be so unfair and bigoted.

   Yet, as I look back on the Harry Potter series with a more developed perspective, it’s clear how much ignorance pervades Rowling’s books. From anti-semitic goblin caricatures that run the magical banking system to a sorely obvious lack of well-developed characters of color, Rowling’s transphobia became largely unsurprising to me. It’s disappointing and unfortunate, certainly, but almost what I would expect, looking deeper into the world she created.

   Since Rowling started espousing her exclusionary views, I haven’t been able to pick up one of the Harry Potter books to read. What used to be a method of escapism into a better world, one where magic was real, is now just a reminder of the author’s misdeeds. I’m scared to dive back into the world for fear of what new details might surface now that I know her true perspective. I feel guilty for liking creative work made by someone who is so outspokenly prejudiced.

   Unfortunately, my avoidance of the books has forced me to consider an even bigger downside, in the form of a hypothetical: at what point, then, do I stop? If I’m to avoid reading books or listening to music or looking at works of art by creators who have done things or expressed views I disagree with, do I stop consuming any media at all for fear that its creator is narrow-minded? Or does my ignorance of those creators’ lives and views protect me from disappointment not only in them, but in myself for finding joy within the work?

   Following Rowling’s transphobic comments, many of the actors who starred in the movies based on the books, including Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, have come out with trans-inclusive and supportive statements and have denounced JK Rowling for her ignorance. I saw an outpouring of love and support from the online community surrounding the books and movies, where people everywhere argued that Rowling’s contentious beliefs have no right to determine what value people derive from the work — and that’s the perspective I want to maintain. It isn’t Rowling who gets to decide what her books mean to readers but the readers themselves decide what value they hold in the books.

    In the end, the purpose of fiction is not to persuade, but to entertain and the whimsical fantasy world created in those books certainly does just that. The Harry Potter books aren’t meant to be a vessel from which Rowling can disseminate her views, but simply be a fun escape from reality. I can’t support JK Rowling after everything she’s said, but I also won’t punish myself for finding joy and acceptance within the community that revolves around the Harry Potter books and while re-reading my family’s battered copies of her books doesn’t really bring any benefit to her, it definitely provides me therapeutic admittance into a world that brought me so much comfort growing up. I’m choosing to believe in separating the art from the artist and defining my own experience with works of art and writing, so I’m going to keep re-reading and re-watching — because it brings me happiness, simple as that.