Harry Potter Fans Criticizing J.K. Rowling Are Only Doing What She Herself Taught Us
Just doing what our Harry would do.
The release of Hogwarts Legacy—a videogame where players take on the role of a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the 19th century—has predictably caused all the public discourse that’s to be expected when it comes to products set in the Wizarding World and that are therefore connected in one way or another to the author behind the Harry Potter saga, J.K. Rowling.
Not that the discourse ever really stopped ever since people understood what a huge transphobe she was some years back. In the time between then and now, she has never missed a chance to double down on her ideas, paint herself as a misunderstood victim in a sea of bullies and use her considerable social and monetary wealth to actively harm the lives of trans people.
Said monetary wealth actually comes from products like Hogwarts Legacy, just in case someone out there is still thinking of buying the game. She might not have participated in its creation but she does own the intellectual property over everything connected to Harry Potter and the Wizarding World, after all. Those royalty checks are not small and by now we all know what they’re getting used for.
Still, even with years of well-documented transphobic behavior, every time that this type of discussion comes back up to the front of pop culture discourse, there’s some pushback. Among the many apologist talking points that I see floating around the Internet—some of which would maybe make sense if you squint and ignore the actual tangible harm to real human beings, and others are utter trash—there’s one that never fails to make me want to scream my lungs out into the nearest pillow.
Because the J.K. Rowling controversy has to do with human rights that some people think you can subscribe to or not like a streaming service, there’s this idea that those who have called for a boycott of Hogwarts Legacy are simply Woke Social Justice Warriors Who Get Offended At Everything, or haters of Rowling and her works. In truth, the loudest voices against everything that concerned the Wizarding World often come from former Harry Potter fans.
I myself am the perfect example of this—because I was a textbook Potter generation child. I read the saga and watched the movies right in my formative years, when I was the same age as Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I was perfectly positioned to relate to them and have them embedded into my brain. These books were a big part of how I learned English. The first fanfictions I ever discovered were about the Wizarding World and they lead me straight to transformative fandom, which is still a massive part of my personality and my life.
I knew and still know everything about Harry Potter and his story and his world. I have loved it dearly and it has undeniably had a hand in shaping the person I am today—and still, I could never look at anything related to this saga the same way. Harry Potter staples—Hedwig’s Theme, the Slytherin crest, and Quidditch—leave that bad “this content finances decisions that actually harm one of the most vulnerable demographic of people out there” aftertaste in my mouth that is impossible to ignore and that honestly shouldn’t be ignored.
And it’s not just Rowling owning her TERF-iness on Twitter that has made a very good chunk of her fanbase turn away from her and her creation. It’s everything she put into the story and that I was privileged enough to be able to ignore until I was in my early twenties—the not-so-covert racism, the antisemitism, the fatphobia, the whole “house elves actually love to be slaves” thing.
Re-reading the story now, with the eyes of an adult who has much more critical thinking skills than my eleven-year-old self, all of these issues are just screaming from the page like that book Harry picks up in the Restricted Section of the library in the movie version of Chamber of Secrets.
It’s undoubtedly J.K. Rowling’s fault. She alienated her fans, but here’s the kicker—she did it after she herself taught them that alienating her is the right thing to do. This is why I’ve said before and I’ll always say that the Potter parabola is a fascinating case study of fandom culture, one that never fails to boggle the mind. Let me explain.
As a young and impressionable Harry Potter reader, the saga taught me a series of core values that I still carry with me to this day. The importance of friendship and found family, the importance of calling out evil (be it everyday wickedness like Umbridge’s, world-shattering evil like Voldemort’s, or the overlooked issue of house elves being chained to their masters) for what it is, and the moral choice of fighting for what’s right with everything you have.
In Harry discovering the Wizarding World, in Hermione taking refuge in books, and in Remus being caring and kind despite his entire society turning against him, I found comfort and understandings the outsider elbow-deep in the whole “I think I might be queer and also I’ve always been fat so like there’s that” package that I was.
And I know I’m not the only one because literally every single friend of mine who has ever read and loved Harry Potter has internalized the same lessons. It’s those lessons that we have all deployed once Rowling turned out to be the exact person her books warned us about. Harry rebelled against Umbridge every chance he got so what were we supposed to do, support the real-life version of her? No, thank you.
Sure, even those tenets have to be re-examined—and they don’t hold up as much as they did. Harry fights Voldemort but once the war is over no one seems to do anything to radically change wizarding society, even though we can all agree it has major issues. The fact that Harry himself ends up becoming the magical version of a cop instead of the teacher he was so clearly meant to be just drives me up the walls and has done ever since Deathly Hallows came out. Rowling says that wizarding obsession with blood lineage is bad but then she went ahead and made her main character a descendant from a very powerful family anyways.
But still, the fact that the first message the Potter generation internalized was evidently so different from the morals Rowling had poured into her saga resulted exactly in what we’re seeing today, with long-time fans deciding to boycott a narrative product they’ve clearly loved for years because it’s ultimately the right thing to do.
(featured image: Warner Bros)
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