The Harry Potter Elephant in the Room

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

I’m a firm believer that, if we want authentic diverse and #ownvoices books, we have to be willing to call out problematic behavior when we see it—even if that means stepping on the toes of a giant.

I love the Harry Potter series so much, I started re-reading it this summer. J.K. Rowling brought real magic to the middle grade lit community. She wrote strong female characters and dealt with heavy subject matter like death and grief without holding back. Even the story behind the books she wrote is impressive and inspiring. I have nothing but admiration and respect for her.

But I still have to say that all of the recent post-publication revelations she’s made are extremely harmful to the diverse lit community and marginalized readers.

During all of the controversy surrounding which actress would play adult Hermione in the upcoming play, Rowling announced that as a matter of fact, Hermione was written as racially ambiguous because she is actually secretly black. Personally I think the whole uproar would have been better handled had Rowling said, “Pipe down kids, the color of Noma Dumezweni’s skin has no bearing on her ability to play this character.” It would have been direct and to the point rather than puzzling; several readers pored over the texts and found several instances were Hermione was described as white.

If Hermione’s blackness had been crafted into the story with intent and purpose, it could have been a major win for girls and women of color. Instead, this muddled announcement comes off as confusing at best.

Another grand divulgement was that Dumbledore is totally gay. Which, again, would be so cool—had his sexuality ever been mentioned or even affected the plot. As a queer woman, this super piqued my interest. But there are only a few ambiguous references, such as when Nicholas Flammel is mentioned to have been Dumbledore’s partner. However, timeline-wise, Flammel has been married too long to ever have had a romantic relationship with Dumbledore (unless they’ve been having an affair, which would quickly get the entire cast of characters on the set of Jerry Springer).

Queer kids need heroes like themselves in fiction that they can look up to but, despite his kindness and bravery, Dumbledore just isn’t that kind of hero.

I could have completely overlooked all of this, though, because at the end of the day it might just all add up to semantics and perspective. But I was completely speechless when I heard that Rowling recently explained that Lupin’s condition is a metaphor for HIV/AIDS.

Dude.

I appreciate Lupin’s struggle. Every time there is a full moon, against his will, he turns into a werewolf and gets destructive. He has little control over his actions during this time, until the full moon wanes. However, Lupin’s condition affects him exactly once a month. It is not life-threatening like HIV and AIDS are. Nor are people living with these very real illnesses at all monsters.

This comparison is simply offensive and harmful, and I can’t stay silent.

Rowling’s status as a household name doesn’t make her immune to being checked. I wish more authors and readers would speak up when there is harmful behavior happening in the lit community. Keeping our mouths shut because we don’t want to upset an author or their fans will only continue to enable problematic books with marginalized characters.

If Rowling wants to write diverse books and characters, our little village would love to have her. There is an aching need for more books that readers can identify with—especially young readers who are searching for their place in the world. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to write diverse or #ownvoices books with intent and authenticity, creating characters who are loudly themselves, even if they’re still struggling within.

Again, I love J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. And, even though I’m frustrated, I still enjoy the books and characters. But I have to use my voice and say that these post-publication declarations are more harmful than they are helpful—just as harmful as authors who purposely exclude marginalized characters from their work.

 

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Elizabeth Barone

Elizabeth Barone is an American novelist who writes contemporary romance and suspense starring strong belles who chose a different path. Her debut novel Sade on the Wall was a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She is the author of the South of Forever series and several other books. When not writing, Elizabeth is very busy getting her latest fix of Yankee Candle, spicy Doritos chips, or whatever TV show she’s currently binging. Elizabeth lives in northwestern Connecticut with her husband, a feisty little cat, and too many books.

One thought on “The Harry Potter Elephant in the Room”

  1. JK Rowling recently said that the Lupin thing was a rumor. It was recycled from 13 years ago and taken out of context. Someone asked her if they could be compared and she because said, I guess, but that wasn’t my intention.

    I do agree with you about Dumbledore and Hermione, though. I had no idea Dumbledore was gay until she said something. There were no signs in the books, really. And, it shouldn’t matter what color of skin the actress has to plays Hermione. That’s why both Emma Watson and Noma Dumezweni are fine to portray Hermione.

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