E&M author Laura Worsch grew up with the Harry Potter series. No other fantastic world has impacted her young life as much as these books. In light of the continuous transphobic comments by author J.K. Rowling and consequent boycott calls, she asks if or how one can still read Harry Potter.
I have always loved to read. Nothing has shaped me more as a teenager than the books I read back then. I felt so comfortable in those fantastic worlds that I even developed the habit of re-reading books I liked. But there is no book series that I read as often as Harry Potter. Last Monday, the first book celebrated its 25th anniversary. Besides feeling quite old in light of this anniversary, it is a good opportunity to look back and reflect upon the impact the books (and their author) have on me until today.
When I think of Harry Potter, the first feeling that comes up is nostalgia. I remember waiting for the new books to arrive, discussing potential new turns with my friends in school, and, later on, the tradition of watching each new film with my dad in the cinema. The Order of the Phoenix was the first book I ever read that had more than 1000 pages. Good old times. As with many other millions of children around the globe, Harry Potter accompanied my whole childhood and youth. When I read, watch or listen to it today, it feels like travelling back through time. I would love to be able to end this article with the last words of the last book: All was well.
Except, it was not. In the past years, a bitter, sometimes even guilty feeling has joined my youth nostalgia: Joanne K. Rowling repeatedly attracted international attention through her transphobic attitude: Recently, she openly spoke out against the “Gender Recognition Reform Bill” that would make legal gender changes easier for trans people in Scotland. Back in 2020, she tweeted that trans people should be defined by their biological sex – it’s actually worth looking into the discussion that was caused by this tweet. Internationally, queer communities protested and engaged in heated twitter discussions with the author. Many have called to boycott J.K. Rowling as an author as well as the whole series of Harry Potter books. Although I personally cannot support burning books (ever), I understand and respect that many people cannot quite enjoy reading Harry Potter anymore.
The lack of diversity in Harry Potter
The rightful criticism of J.K. Rowling’s personal views has caused me to reflect more generally on Harry Potter. I have often wished for the books to have more female strong main characters next to Hermione. However, I never really noticed the underlying gender stereotypes conveyed in the text and action. Many papers and thesis were written about this until now. For example, an analysis of the three main characters Ron, Harry and Hermione showed that Hermione is often depicted in a stereotypical ‘female’ way: “Hermione ‘shrieks’, ‘squeaks’, ‘squeals’, ‘whimpers’ and similar, but Ron and Harry are never described in this way.” At the same time, Hermione appears strong, brave and often wins the day for the three (however, to be fair, she was the only potential female role model to choose from).
Another aspect which I became painfully aware of only after Rowling’s transphobic appearances, is the lack of diversity in Harry Potter. Neither do PoCs play any important role in the books (except for sidekicks like Cho Chang or Lee Jordan) nor is there any sign or queerness among the students while they discover their sexuality throughout the last books (or movies). Furthermore, the books did not contribute to my geographical knowledge: It was only after I travelled to Bulgaria at the age of 22 that I realized that it is not situated in the ‘high north’ and winter in Hogwarts might be as cold or even colder than in Bulgaria.
Context is no excuse
With concerns to all of the above topics, one might now say: You have to read it in the context of the time it was written in. Or: you have to separate the art from its creator. The first book was published in 1997. You would not read Jane Austen, just because her books depict women as dependent on males and her plots solely engage with marriage. The big difference is: Jane Austen was still way ahead of her time, presenting strong, willful, independent female characters which make their way in a male-dominated world. This cannot be said about J.K. Rowling. On the contrary, and especially in the light of her transphobic comments, the lack of diversity in Harry Potter must be seen as a reflection of her own, personal opinion. Adding a vague love story between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in a spin-off movie does not change that – it on the contrary highlights the lack of any gender or sexual diversity in the main universe.
Now, what to make of the dilemma that I (and probably many others of the Hogwarts generation) find myself in? To come back to the guilt I mentioned above, I feel a bit ashamed in admitting that I am not boycotting Harry Potter because of Rowling’s dreadful opinion, or because of the books’ lack of diversity. I feel even more guilty because I have no better explanation at hand than pointing out the personal connection I still feel for the story, and its impact on my young life. I am, however, absolutely not interested in reading anything else by this author. It would be amazing to have a time-turner, and re-write some of Harry Potter’s history.
Photo by Allison Batley / Unsplash.