On Authors and Influence

Hello friends!

Like many millennials who liked to read growing up, I found my way to Harry Potter. Unlike a lot of fans, I didn’t read the full series until 2008, when every book was out. (I don’t like waiting!) I fell in love with the story and characters, as many readers before me did. When Pottermore launched, I was sorted first into Hufflepuff, and when the site revamped, I found myself in Ravenclaw. I saw the last movie on its opening weekend. I made friends because of a shared love of the series. As a broke college student in London, I found my way to King’s Cross Station and took a picture at Platform 9 ¾ (this was free, thank god). When the theme park opened at Universal Studios Hollywood, I got an annual pass to the park and marveled over Hogsmeade and Hogwarts come to life. I bought a wand at Ollivander’s. I embarked on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour and took tons of pictures with the movie props. I reread the series every few years and rewatched the movies when I was sad or sick.

King’s Cross Station. London, England. December 2014.

I have a lot of fond memories tied to the Harry Potter franchise. My head is so full of useless lore, and playing HP Trivial Pursuit with my in-laws is a bloodbath. The standing rule is that they get to pair up while I play alone, to even the odds. When the second Fantastic Beasts movie came out, I spent twenty minutes ranting to my partner about how the various reveals upset decades of established lore and the problematic nature of some of those reveals. I fumed and groaned and denounced it.

And this was all before the author started sharing some rather controversial personal beliefs.

Sometimes, it’s easy to separate an author from their work. Ender’s Game is one of the most popular scifi stories, and no one really talks about Orson Scott Card’s homophobic views. An important difference, I think, is that Harry Potter’s author is much louder than Card. She rose to prominence in the age of social media, and once she got started, she did not stop. From her random tidbits about the world to her annual apologies for character deaths, she has found ways to remain in the public consciousness. She continues to produce content in the Wizarding World for a hungry, global audience. It’s nearly impossible to separate her from her work, which is why even though I haven’t written her name, you know exactly to whom I refer. 

She rose to prominence because of the Wizarding World, built her fortune on it, and tied it to herself irrevocably. So when she published an essay last year sharing her belief that transgender women are infringing upon female spaces by being themselves, it felt like a massive betrayal.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Hollywood. With Alex Bass (left). February 2017. Note the HP-themed jewelry.

I am not a trans woman, but two of the most important people in my life are. When the world shut down in 2020 and my social group shrank to just its bare bones, the two of them remained constant. My love for them both is immense, and I have never once wanted them to be anyone other than their perfect feminine selves.

Reconciling my love of a children’s book series with the author’s toxic beliefs has been a journey. Seeing the author wield her platform and influence to spread hate when her work taught love and acceptance is upsetting. It’s like the opposite of rose-colored glasses: I see my memories of HP tinted with the new perspective.

The stance I’ve landed on? No longer contributing to the author’s vast fortune. I don’t need to buy anymore of her books, movies, products, anything. I can’t change the years I spent attached to the story, and I don’t really want to change that.

On the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, CA. Me (left), Elana (center), Aragog (right). October 2017.

One of my dearest friends is also a massive HP fan (and, I suspect, one of the few people I know who could go toe-to-toe with me in that edition of Trivial Pursuit), and we have decided to buddy read the series this year. I’m honestly excited to make new memories with this story that has been so important to me. I’m also determined to approach it with a more critical lens this time, and I’m looking forward to lengthy discussions with my friend armed with all the knowledge we have now, both of the Wizarding World and its problematic creator.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Eva’s arc.

What I read this week: Caliban’s War by James SA Corey; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

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