The Literary Club

Can We Still Enjoy Harry Potter?

“The Death of the Author” has been a hot topic across the internet over the last few years and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has been at its epicenter. YouTuber, author and video-essayist Lindsay Ellis has made a few insightful videos on the topic.

The concept originates with French literary critic Roland Barthes who argued that once a piece of art or literature was unleashed unto the world it was no longer solely the property of the author or creator. Now the public and viewers had a say in how the work was to be interpreted. So what has this got to do with Harry Potter?

Harry Potter and the death of the author

We’ve written about J.K. Rowling’s, let’s say, “controversial” views before on this site. “Bigoted” might be a better description. She caught flak online for perpetuating harmful stereotypes about trans folks and spreading noxious TERF propaganda.

Most authors do not have the public profile that J.K. has and fewer still add/revise the lore of their series directly to fans on Twitter. As such, it becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle the author from their creation, especially if you are one of the many fans hurt by their comments.

Not The Only One

Harry PotterOf course, J.K. Rowling isn’t the only author to have come under scrutiny like this before. In the past, Ender’s Game author, Orson Scott Card, has been heavily criticised for the overtly homophobic and neoconservative views that permeate his works.

And, more recently, H.P. Lovecraft’s white supremacist beliefs have come under severe fire as a case against platforming his stories any further.

There are arguments on both sides, some claiming that there are more worthy authors with great stories who don’t hold abhorrent prejudices, and those claiming a work has nothing to do with a writer’s worldview, or that those worldviews were just “a product of the time”.

More and more we are seeing public figures be held accountable for voicing their opinions, no matter which side of the political spectrum they fall on. Most of the time their opinions get brushed aside because they have no creative say in a particular project, or their work has limited reach.

However, Harry Potter has touched the lives of millions worldwide and continues to be passed down. Those who enjoyed the books/movies when they were younger are introducing their own children to the series, and J.K.’s pockets keep getting fuller and fuller.

Doxastic Anxiety

There is no easy answer to the question posed at the top of this article. Nobody can tell you not to enjoy a work – it’s all a matter of subjective perspective on the matter. There are some questions that you can ask yourself though.

  • Can I separate a creator’s beliefs from their work?
  • Is the work actively harmful or is it innocuous?
  • Am I comfortable potentially contributing financially to said creator by participating and buying products associated with their work?
  • Am I ignoring their impact on others just so that I can enjoy a piece of media?

Perhaps you’ll come to a realisation by the end of this line of questioning.

As for me. I was pretty agnostic on the whole Harry Potter situation up until a few years ago, though I was a proud Slytherin for a while. In light of J.K.’s barrage of tweets and essays I didn’t feel like I could in good conscience consume her works, but that was my own personal decision.

In a way, I do subscribe to Death of the Author, art is what you make of it, but I couldn’t knowingly participate in a fandom where the author was still benefiting from continued sales. We have a lot of talented progressive creators out there, why not support them?