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‘Harry Potter’ Has Become Too Big For Anyone to Own—Least of All J.K. Rowling


First things first. I am not here to debate whatever “cancel culture” means to you today because, frankly, I do not care. But I am interested in why the need to separate the art from the artist is suddenly crystal clear when it comes to J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter universe—in a way that it’s not for other once-beloved creators. We’ve been urged to stop streaming Travis Scott’s music following the Astroworld tragedy. And who doesn’t have extremely messy and uncomfortable feelings about revisiting Woody Allen’s filmography?

And yet somehow the internet, as a general vibe, has been able to sever Rowling and her transphobic screeds from the magical world she created with surgical, unambiguous precision. 

Particularly for millennials who grew up alongside the books and then the movies, the series and its characters occupy a uniquely personal place in people’s hearts in the way that only children’s books can. I was nine when I first read The Sorcerer’s Stone just the right age for the richly-drawn world to more than half convince me to expect a Hogwarts letter in two years, and I was 11 when the first film premiered, the same age as Harry, Ron and Hermione. I remember reading an interview with Emma Watson sometime around 2002, when she and I were both about 12, in which she said something like, “it’s a world you want to be real.” And it was. 

Every kid has a special, magical world they live in in their imaginations—Narnia, Middle Earth, Green Gables. It just so happened that this particular generation all had the same one: Hogwarts.

Image: Warner Bros.

Honestly revisiting the books as adults, the holes and problematic aspects of the Wizarding World become more clear. The economic system, for instance, has rightly been called feudal. The Gringotts goblins are uncomfortably close to anti-Semitic charicatures. And no, Quidditch has never and will never make real sense. But none of that really penetrates when you’re 12. The world’s strict sorting and caste system could be seen with adult eyes as slightly fascistic—but when you’re a kid, these are the elements that allow you to put yourself into this world and personalize your experience in it. Hogwarts Houses that reflected your best personality traits and talents, bespoke wands that respond to your unique abilities, and animal patronuses that reveal your soul’s true core—all these things appeal to our need for self-definition and categorization, like your Astrology sign or love language or Meyers-Briggs test results. (I am a Gryffindor with an acacia and unicorn hair wand and my patronus is a Siberian cat, thank you.)

Harry Potter is now, frankly, a world too big and too rich for any one person to have built single-handedly, least of all Rowling herself. 

Because of this, I feel a personal ownership over Harry Potter in a way that I don’t over, say, Louis C.K.’s Louie, a show that I once loved. While other artists are indelibly connected to their own work—how do you separate Bill Cosby from The Cosby Show?—Harry Potter feels, in some ways, like it’s mine alone. Not that Rowling hasn’t tried to claim supreme ownership of the World she generated. 

Harry Potter 4

Image: Warner Bros.

On Twitter, when Rowling isn’t grousing about pronouns and spewing hateful nonsense about trans women, she’s dropping random new canon into the Harry Potter universe. Dumbledore is gay! Hermione could be Black! Hogwarts has no tuition! Uncle Vernon loves Top Gear! She likes to wish happy birthday to Harry and Ginny’s fictional children, and suspects that Lord Voldemort would have evolved beyond the need to eat food. 

But hard as she tries to reclaim it, the Wizarding World is, in many ways, lost to her. Harry Potter fan-fiction has flourished online, becoming a genre of its own. Quidditch is now a real-world sport with gameplay rules edited for logic and, ironically, extremely progressive regulations on gender homogeneity within individual teams. People have gotten Harry Potter tattoos and themed weddings—including my own sister. And many have taken the actors and film creators as Harry Potter standard-bearers rather than Rowling herself. She was not even invited to the 20th Anniversary Reunion Special on HBO Max

I admit that at first, I had a hard time reconciling the world that meant so much to me as a child and adolescent with the more troubling one I see as an adult—and especially its creator. But Harry Potter isn’t just a series of books anymore. It’s a commercial industry, a media conglomerate, a culture, and a community. It is now, frankly, a world too big and too rich for any one person to have built single-handedly, least of all Rowling herself. 

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