Good morning bookworms!
I thought that I would bring you all another sunshine and rainbows discussion post this month since the last one was so well received! If you haven’t read last month’s instalment, and are looking for a fun post as bright and happy as bunnies, probably don’t click this link: Main character deaths are necessary.
This month, I thought that I would destroy all the remaining hopes and dreams from your childhood, and talk about why I think J. K. Rowling is trying to appease fans by including diversity as an afterthought in the Harry Potter novels. Please remember that all opinions are MINE, and you are completely free to disagree with them. In fact, I welcome it! Shout at me in the comments (but constructively – there’s no need to be rude about it).
Books are one of the few media formats that have the ability to normalise and discuss topics that were taboo, and I feel like, as this was one of the most influential series of our times, the topic has been trivialised by Rowling in her incessant need to add details about the lives of the Harry Potter characters up to a decade after the final books were released.
Admittedly, Rowling started writing this series when she was a single mother living on welfare payments and had no idea the impact she would have on the world. However, she also signed a movie deal in 1998 after only publishing two books, so she would have known that these books were going to be moderately successful. Herein lies an opportune time to include more diverse representation.
Now, I’m not saying to add diversity for diversity’s sake. This can sometimes do more harm than good, particularly if the diversity is not genuine. But, if you are questioned about your characters the year after the final book is released, and you happen to have a main character who didn’t show any romantic intentions towards anyone in six books – that’s not your opportunity to go “Oh, yeah he’s totally gay. Soz, didn’t you know?”
Rowling, to my knowledge, has not written any actively gay characters. In 2007 during a book tour she announced to the audience that Dumbly was gay (still pining for Grindiewotsis or whatever), and when the audience cheered, Rowling said “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy.” But really, in the books and films, Dumbly is just an old, white man, who happens to be the greatest wizard in the magical community and has spent his life educating children (and inviting orphans to come to his special school). This statement that Dumbly was gay is a day late and a dollar short. It was announced after all the books had been released, and there was already lots of speculation that he and Minerva were in a secret relationship.
There are ZERO gay/queer relationships in Harry Potter. In fact, there are more references to beastilaity than there are of queer relationships and people. This is a high school of a couple of hundred teens, set in a country that was one of the first to allow same-sex marriage. (I am aware that gay marriage was legalised in the UK seven years after the final HP book came out, but it’s not like everyone was in the closet until then.)
And there are NO openly LGBTQIA+ characters. As much as this angers me, the truth of the matter is that it actually really saddens me. Every time Rowling gets on her high horse and says they exist (but are secretly hidden from the reader like a dirty secret or an afterthought to appease her audience) I get immensely frustrated. Queerbaiting, and that is exactly what Rowling is doing, is not the example I want to set for current generation, nor the ones after.
Speaking of diversity, let’s continue on with the lack of people of colour (POCs) in the books and movies. We’ll start with Hermione (because controversy is fun, friends!).
Rowling has stated that she based 11 year old Hermione on herself. Perhaps the reason that Hermione’s skin colour isn’t mentioned is because Rowling, as a white person, didn’t feel the need to mention it. In her mind it was clear. But now, because of questions that have risen, and because she has been called out on her lack of diversity, she has made a last minute decision to potentially include more diversity. That’s right, Hermione could be any colour you want her to be.
The issue with this is that it comes across as disingenuous because of the early artwork and film casting. Don’t get me wrong, I love Emma Watson, and I always read Hermione as white (probably because I didn’t read the books until after the Chamber of Secrets movie was out), but even without Hermione, the first real POC we see in the series is Cho Chang. And I’m 98% sure that Cho is also the only person of Asian-heritage in the books. Angelina Johnson, Blaise Zabini, Kingsley and Dean Thomas (was he identified as a POC in the books?) are there, but they definitely don’t hold big roles. They don’t even hold medium roles.
There are absolutely arguments that Rowling makes in terms of classes and oppression. These are made through the treatment of house elves and goblins – I know that. But how many of Rowling’s readers can see their situation in those characters? Particularly when the main one, Dobby, sacrifices himself for the white, male hero of the story. Again, I don’t find that this accurately represents society, especially the racial profile of the UK at the time these were being written.
There’s also no disability representation, physical or mental. I could go on, but I think I make my point in the previous two paragraphs. Although, let’s explore one small mental health issue first. Let’s talk about the chapter/epilogue “Nineteen Years Later”.
Did you know that Rowling wrote it quite early on? Did you know that despite the fact that she wasn’t quite sure how the rest of the story would play out, she never changed that chapter? I understand the kid naming thing (I don’t agree with it, but I understand). I understand pairing the kids off with each other for story/character consistency (again, I don’t agree with it, but I understand).
Here’s what I don’t understand. Dumbly told them time and again during his tenure as Headmaster to band together; that the houses don’t mean anything; they are arbitrary teams that look at your traits and place you with similar people; it’s our choices that make us who we are. So, WHY was Albus so afraid of being in Slytherin? He should have been brought up to know that it doesn’t matter which house you are in, so long as you are kind. He also should have been brought up to know who he was named after, but sure, let’s pretend he didn’t for plot reasons. Instead he’s having a mild freak out at King’s Cross station at age 11.
Secondly, NO ONE seems to be suffering from PTSD. This one freaks me out to no end. These kids are the generation of war. From the age of 14/15 (and sometimes younger) they were exposed to murder, torture, deaths of loved ones, and actual battle. Some of them were even brainwashed by their parents about which side they should be on. They FOUGHT in a WAR. Like, an actual war, with real battle. Against their classmates. (I’m not sure how much clearer I can be about this.) And yet, they’re all fine. There’s no mention, in either the epilogue or Cursed Child, about them having depression, about attending therapy, no one is just quietly sobbing in a corner once a year or so, but also, no one is talking about it. I just, don’t get it. It’s not healthy. (At least in ACOFAS they’re getting drunk and spending money.)
Rowling is also CONSTANTLY correcting the fans and providing new and interesting ‘facts’ about the characters post series. Sometimes it’s interesting. But really, I think she just needs to let go and give the series to the fans. Do I care that “insert something about Ron’s Aunt’s birthday date and fave cake flavour” (sorry, I tried to find a relevant tweet, but I gave up because most of her recent tweets are about Brexit and UK politics)? No, probably not. Is it impactful on the story? If yes: then it should have been in the books and not an afterthought. If no: then I don’t care. Are Harry’s views on Israel relevant to the story or is this something else that Rowling is trying to adapt so that the books are more ‘relevant’ to kids today? We all need to learn when to let go, and Rowling’s time was about a decade ago.
All said and done, if Rowling had stuck to what she wrote and just said “sorry, I was writing a children’s books and it was never my plan to include diverse representation, but hey, I did talk about social classes with the elves” then I likely wouldn’t be writing this post. There is a lot of good she did talk about, but that stuff WAS in the books.
If you are still with me, then I applaud you. This is a lot of negativity directed towards one of your, possibly, fave authors. I was serious when I said I welcome constructive arguments. (If you’re just here to troll, slam me and tell me I’m a mean/bad person, I’ll probably just delete your comment.) I do love the Harry Potter series – make no mistake about that. I just don’t find the all this retcon necessary.
What do you think about Rowling’s diversity representation?
Is it a ‘too late in the game afterthought to appease the masses’, or do you think she was just playing it close to the chest?
Does it even matter?