Let's Talk About Harry


I don't really have anything new to add to this story. I was a huge fan of Harry Potter. The success of the books was probably responsible for my own fantasy books being published; certainly there was more cash for my publishers, both in Australia and the US, to risk on a new author. My US editor, the incomparable Cheryl Klein, was the continuity editor for the series, and that gave me a one-degree-of-separation thrill. So I owe quite a bit to Harry.

I'm also grateful to Harry for another reason. Because I loved the old-fashioned magical universe and Rowling's intricate and often funny world-building, I shared the books with my daughters. They adored them. I read the entire series to them both, not just once but multiple times; they were one literary taste that we all shared. Both girls also played the Stephen Fry audiobooks to lull them to sleep, many times over many years. And of course we watched the movies. 

This deep familiarity meant that when my dyslexic daughter, at the age of twelve, finally picked up a book and began to read independently for the first time, the book that did the trick was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Because she knew the story so well, the words came more easily. Seven years later, she has read Anna Karenina and The Lord of the Rings and she is almost as addicted to books as I am, though she still has to work much harder at reading than I do.

I thought that JK Rowling had achieved a remarkable feat. She had created this rich, complex universe which had captured the imagination of countless children; she had got kids reading! I saw the midnight queues, I went to the parody musical, I saw the joy and delight, and it was good. I knew there were problems -- if Dumbledore was gay, why wasn't he gay in the books? What about the house-elves? But I shrugged them away. But now it seems that those problems were a sign of an underlying conservatism that has now exploded in a different forum.

The depth of my delight in the stories is mirrored in my disappointment and sadness that that magical world, which seemed to have a place for everyone, has been spoiled by Rowling's own poisonous beliefs. Trans kids are hurting. This matters. Can we still love the books, while ignoring or condemning their author's opinions? I wish with all my heart we could. But in these days, when Rowling herself seems hellbent on spreading her views as widely as possible, any trans fan of the books can easily find out what the author really thinks of them. The betrayal is real.

I'm not sure there is any way back now. I will remember Harry Potter fondly, for the special place he occupied in my family's history. But I can't imagine ever reading the books again.


  1. Hi Kate! It seems to me that you have gotten plenty out of this series. If you can’t bring yourself to read the books again - well, I understand it would be hard to read them again knowing what you do.

    I always thought I would not like to live in the wizarding world. In it, there are slaves, yes, but also no democracy that I can see - the Minister of Magic is appointed, not elected, and I doubt the council is elected either. An innocent man, Hagrid, can be Imprisoned and tortured just so the Minister can be seen to be doing something.

    But the worldbuilding is wonderful all the same, and those books have been comfort reading for me. I did figure Dumbledore was gay, from Deathly Hallows, by the way, before reading what she had said. I was very surprised by all those people who didn’t notice it!

    It’s been a huge discussion on Twitter. I stayed out of it, as some of it got truly nasty, not just disappointment such as you feel. But the weird thing is, there was a recent thread in which some of these same people were happily chatting about their delightful memories of Doctor Doolittle. Have you read those books? I managed to get through two before refusing to read any more. They were shockingly racist. I guess if you’re a white child you might not notice, but I was an adult. Agatha Christie did change her mind about Jews when she met a Nazi, but there is one Poirot novel I will never read again, in which the African student was straight comic relief and not smart enough to be even considered as a potential killer, and this was an author in whose books anyone, from the Colonel to the sweet young girl might be the murderer.

    Anyway, that’s just my waffle!

  2. Thanks Sue for such a long thoughtful comment!
    Indeed I do remember Dr Doolittle, and I remember feeling very uncomfortable when reading one book that featured an African prince. I didn't have a name for that discomfort at the time (I would have been about eight) though ironically I was living in a deeply racist community (1970s PNG) and I look back and shudder at some of our (white) assumptions. I also remember reading Jungle Doctor which I guess was also probably pretty racist! And more recently I was shocked when someone I respect pointed out the racist elements in Swallows and Amazons, which went straight over my head as a child (except probably Missee Lee, which was never one of my favourites anyway).
    There, that's MY waffle... I guess the answer is to keep reading and keep reassessing as we become more aware.

  3. Yes, the African prince was in those first two novels. He is an idiot in the first one and a lazy idiot in the sequel. And even the damn parrot is using the n word! Glad to hear you picked up something even as a child!

  4. I blame social media. In the past we never knew that our favourite authors were racist or right wing or whatever - unless it really showed in their work,( in which case they probably weren't our favourite authors!) There's a couple of authors who I haven't felt the same about after reading an autobiography / collection of letters; but now with social media people like JK and Graham Linehan can't help ramming their views down everyone's throats. I actually feel far sadder about Father Ted than I do about Harry Potter because I was never a massive Potter fan; but it must be so upsetting for so many young fans.

  5. That's a really good observation, Ann. I'm sad about Graham Linehan too, because I loved IT Crowd!
    Maybe it was better in the old days, before we knew that authors were human beings and books magically appeared on shelves without their intervention!