Rowling and Ownership of Fiction
So, J.K. Rowling has pissed off a lot of people lately. If you have somehow not heard about her recent unfortunate comments regarding transgender people, (as well as her equally unfortunate attempts to “clarify” them a day later) clink on the above link. Suffice to say, people in and allied with the transgender community are offended by this insensitivity.
Adding an element to the sadness sf how many people in those communities have drawn inspiration from the Harry Potter series. In many cases a transgender person has lived their whole life with the characters of Hermione, Harry, and the adventures they and others had in and around Hogwarts. The particular affinity is due in large part to the overarching thread of tolerance for the outcast and protection of the weak and the willingness to stand up to aggression and evil, even at the cost of one’s own life that runs throughout the seven volumes of the original series.
Truth be told, I have never been so convinced that the Harry Potter books, (which after years I finally finished reading) represent so wholesome and powerful a set of ideals as I have described. But My personal assesement of a bunch of novels is not the issue. The issue is that a generation, nearly two generations now of children and young(ish) adults has vocally, enthusiastically attached themselves to and sought refuge within the so called “Potterverse.” And now, understandably, many are just as vocal about how betrayed they feel about Rowlings less-than-supportive comments in regards to the transgender experience.
I’ve heard more than a few such people decry Rowling, but declare that “Harry Potter” himself, or “Dumbledore”, or any number of characters within the books are actually responsible for writing them. In so doing, they can preserve the magic (literal and figurative) that the books have brought into their lives, without having to support transphobic tweets and commentary from Rowling.
It’s all presented a situation that is almost as fascinating as it is depressing.
As I said, I’m not a Potter superfan. Nor am I a member of the transgender community. (Though I am an ally.) I therefore cannot experience first hand the nature of such a potential betrayal as this. Nor do I have any authority by which to advise how anyone in that situation should proceed. But as an author, I had some thoughts I couldn’t ignore about all of this.
To begin with, I say, more power to you if you can still embrace the work and despise the author. I don’t think I would be able to do so. There are already movies I enjoy but have not watched in years because of revelations about the actors that appear in them. There are chain restaurants I no longer eat at, despite the quality of their food because of statements by their owners on such issues. I do not claim to be an activist, and I realize almost any company probably has a dark shadow lurking in its structure somewhere. Nonetheless, these are steps I have taken, and probably will again at some point.
Novels are such deeply rooted emotional projections of an author, believe me. No matter the voice or POV or genre or context, if an author owes their success to anything other than dumb luck, a large portion of who they are is within the pages. In the setting, the hero, the villain. It doesn’t mean they agree with the villain of course, but when they themselves start to act like a type of villain in real life against your type of person, how can that be ignored?
I understand the theory behind it; it’s a theory with some positive, powerful implications for all writers. It is this: we can create something from the depths of our hearts and minds that people can fall in love with to such a degree that it becomes almost alive independent of us. Once a book is out there, the author’s job is in essence finished; it no longer belongs to only the author. It may, by some view, not belong to them at all anymore.
Multiply that concept by a skillion, and you have the Harry Potter phenomenon. It is a compelling comfort to think that as authors, we could give so much life to something that our own striking of the match leads to a world-changing blaze that doesn’t even require our presence.
And knowing more about our real-life heroes isn’t always such a great idea. Stars we look up to might be rude to us, dismissive, just plain unpleasant to be around if ever we somehow meet them. Which is why I tend, in most cases, not to inquire much into the life of an artist whose work I love. There’s just too much of a chance of disappointment. I could almost recent someone so lousy creating something that meant so much to me.
Sometimes however, such as with Rowling, the stain is so large, the behavior so public, we cannot help but catch wind of what they have done or said. When that happens, no matter how much we wish a fictional character, or a fairy of some kind created the art we love ex nihilio, we cannot escape the fact that a human, with unpleasant views to us, has actually done so. Our love of what they created has in fact contributed to them becoming famous and powerful enough to make offensive statements on Twitter that millions of people dissect.
I can’t lie to you, I couldn’t stand it. I mean we’re not talking about an artist who may bathe rarely, or belch loudly in the next booth at the fancy restaurant we happen into. We are talking about a dismissal of an entire type of life, with roots in some even more unsavory opinions and perspectives.
At that point, does the work truly live beyond its shameful author? Can we actually separate creation from creator? Furthermore, should we even try? (Several torn down statues all over the world would suggest to a large degree that we cannot.)
Again, I don’t know. I reassert that I find no fault with anyone who despises the author, loves the work in the face of all of this. But I’d love to hear more from someone who is in fact doing this, because it all seems like fruit of a poisonous vine now. Comment if you are successfully engaging in this kind of separation.