There is no spell to remove an author’s biases from their work.
Hearing Twitter tell it, Daniel Radcliffe is a child prodigy who wrote a series of books at the tender age of eight that he later coerced movie executives into casting him as the lead role for. While I would dearly love to support this fiction (being as Rowling’s anti-trans comments mean I can no longer support my preferred one), the truth is that continuing to embrace the Harry Potter fandom while ignoring the author also ignores other problems with the series. Reading Harry Potter as an adult with a critical eye shows us that not only did Rowling embed her anti-trans thoughts into the books, but she also included a host of other biases that aren’t talked about nearly enough, and which could be a mess for kids to have to untangle later. Even for those bits of media that Rowling didn’t write herself, such as the stage play, she signed off on what went into them.
Here are eight ways the Harry Potter series (and its associated spin-offs) carry Rowling’s phobias and biases:
1. Date rape drugs are considered legal in the wizarding world. They’re sold in joke shops and there are books that tell you how to mix your own. They’re frowned upon, but nothing is stopping a person from mixing one up and coercing a person into sleeping with them or marrying them against that person’s will. Voldemort is conceived in exactly this way when his mother, Merope, rapes Tom Riddle using a love potion. When Tom is understandably horrified and nopes right out of that situation, Rowling judges Tom for not checking in on Merope and the son she forced into the world. We know that it’s wrong to force a woman to bring a rapist’s baby to term and care for it against her will, but Rowling is apparently alright with forcing men into roles without consent.
2. Children’s personalities are determined at eleven and at least a fourth of them are utter garbage. Rowling gives us an entire house full of people she presents as vicious, backstabbing, racist, classist children who are never redeemed or shown to be good people in even the tiniest moments. Presumably the Ministry of Magic has all of their names in a database and whenever there’s a murder or rape in the wizarding world they just pull out the Slytherin file and work their way through it.
3. Harry is okay with slavery, so long as the slaves aren’t being visibly beaten and don’t work for people he dislikes. Both Harry and Ron act like Hermione is completely bonkers to be upset that house elves have no freedom, are eternally bound to their masters unless they’re cast out with nothing but a piece of clothing to their names (and then, presumably, are taken as slaves by others), and receive absolutely no wages for being on call 24/7. It’s bad enough that Harry is the main character and shows no interest in house elves apart from when they directly inconvenience him, but while Hermione is working to free them, Rowling takes the time to introduce us to Winky to argue that, no, house elves really DO like slavery!
4. Rowling spends a lot of time talking about how staunch a supporter she is of LGBTQ people, but she doesn’t depict a single one in any of her books. Her many-years-late tweets asserting that Dumbledore was gay do nothing to remedy this as, not only was he not depicted gay in the movies (which were made after the tweet), but the simple fact that if you have to explain your book and add to it after it’s already out, you’re either lying about what you were intending to write, or you’re a terrible writer. The books either stand for themselves, or they don’t. Either way, I don’t see anyone adding a list of Rowling’s tweets to the dust jackets to provide supplementary material for future additions.
5. Rowling thinks presenting yourself as a different gender from your assigned one is the mark of a sexual predator…unless you’re like her and doing it for money. When Rowling published Harry Potter, she covered up her gender by using J.K. instead of her first name because she was worried that she wouldn’t make as much money publishing as a woman. Even after her success, she went on to adopt a man’s name to publish adult fiction (a man’s name associated with experimentation upon gay people, might I add), something which she tells us should make us concerned about which public restrooms she might be forcing her way into. Even in the Harry Potter series, it’s apparently okay for people to take potions to look like other people (which changes everything about them, including their genitals) without worrying about restroom implications, because again, it was making Rowling money to write about it.
6. The books are laden with anti-Irish sentiments. Rowling is a British woman, and the British have a notoriously oppressive history towards the Irish. Rowling wrote her books during a time the IRA were particularly active, and her hostilities towards the Irish and embrace of negative stereotypes is apparent. Seamus Finnigan, an Irish wizard, is noted for blowing things up. The Weasleys live in The Burrow, a dig at how they have “more children than they can afford”, which is to say they breed like rabbits and live in squalor.
7. Rowling will put deep thought into developing wizard-Hitler’s name and background, but for minorities she’ll just shrug and go “Meh, seems Asian enough to me.” Cho Chang’s name is comprised of two last names from two different cultures and she’s never developed past a point of lust for Harry/a woman to cry for Cedric. Nagini is an evil snake who is actually an Indonesian woman (played by a South Korean actress) being kept as a pet by a white man. Need a sprinkle of diversity in Hogwarts? Introduce Padma and Parvati Patil, whose sole purpose is to be dates. In the movies, Lavender Brown was portrayed by a black actress…until they switched her to a white actress for no apparent reason. Rowling felt strongly enough about Depp to speak out in defense of his casting but had no strong feelings about minority actors getting replaced, apparently.
8. Harry becomes a cop, and like 40% of cops, he’s abusive towards his family. Remember that Rowling gets a say in how all materials based on her works are done, and that she gave her full blessing for The Cursed Child. In it, Harry has become the wizard cop he always wanted to be, and just as with real world cops, he abuses his family (emotionally and verbally), tells his son he wishes he wasn’t his father, and tries to prevent him from being friends with a kid due to him not liking the father. All that was missing was the heartwarming scene where Harry comes home drunk and assaults Ginny.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. When reading a book, it’s important to keep in mind the author of the text and what biases they could be bringing into it. We can’t read “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” without grappling with Lovecraft’s xenophobia. We can’t read “The Merchant of Venice” without being aware of Shakespeare’s hatred of Jews. When reading Harry Potter, we are confronted with a white British woman’s anti-trans, neo-liberal views on the world and the people in it, and unlike the former works, we cannot consume this media without directly benefiting the hate-filled person who wrote it.
[Ashley Nicole Hunter sits on the board of directors for Bibliotheca Alexandrina and has been published in a few reputable (and otherwise) publications.]