Rowling’s brushes with political controversy are nothing new. She’s just more open about her views now.
If there’s any doubt left that we live in divisive political times, know this: Some fans of Harry Potter are burning their copies of the books to protest author J.K. Rowling’s views of the U.S. president. And she’s fighting back on Twitter, insulting those very fans.
That’s right, one of the most beloved series of books in modern history has now become a political prop. Is nothing safe?
Rowling has been vocal about her feelings concerning President Trump for some time. She has mostly used Trump’s favorite platform, Twitter, to share her criticisms.
These tweets have generated a Facebook page’s worth of headlines. But Rowling’s brushes with political controversy are nothing new.
Rowling is a dedicated progressive. She’s a strong believer in welfare, which she relied on during a particularly rough period in her life. As she said during a 2008 Harvard commencement speech, “An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless … By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
More recently, Rowling found herself in the midst of a Twitter battle surrounding Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, referred to as Brexit, which she staunchly opposed.
Much of this now seemingly endless debate was absent during the height of the Harry Potter craze because the author didn’t publicly discuss her views until the publication of the final book in the series. In 2008, a year after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” hit bookshelves, Rowling gave 1 million pounds to Britain’s Labour Party.
That same year, speaking to El Pais, she said of the U.S. presidential campaign in which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were battling for the Democratic nomination: “I want a Democrat in the White House. It seems a pity that Clinton and Obama have to be rivals, because both are extraordinary.”
Anyone who gave the Harry Potter books a close reading likely wouldn’t have been surprised by Rowling’s politics.
Most of the subplots involve the triumph of marginalized peoples, be it the mixed-heritage Hermione, a “mudbl–d,” the poverty-stricken Weasleys, the stigmatized Hagrid (essentially an ex-offender reintroduced to society who can no longer practice magic as a result) or the “lower class” house elf named Dobby (the most obvious analogue to American slavery).
Harry himself, after all, was an orphan and survivor of attempted infanticide.
In his book “Harry Potter and the Millennials,” Anthony Gierzynski wrote that, “the evidence indicates that Harry Potter fans are more open to diversity and are more politically tolerant than nonfans; fans are also less authoritarian, less likely to support the use of deadly force or torture, more politically active, and more likely to have had a negative view of the Bush administration.”
Rowling invites anyone to challenge her.
Once Rowling opened up about her beliefs, it has been a steady stream ever since. And while attacking her own fans might seem like a poor marketing choice, it’s important to note one of the values that Rowling holds most dear: freedom of speech.
“Intolerance of alternative viewpoints is spreading to places that make me, a moderate and a liberal, most uncomfortable. Only last year, we saw an online petition to ban Donald Trump from entry to the U.K. It garnered half a million signatures,” she said during the 2016 PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine.”
Rowling had already faced some conflict before she publicly expressed her political views. Her Harry Potter books were maligned by some Christian groups, making it one of the most challenged books in 2000, as tracked by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, according to the New York Times.
“The challenges seem to be objecting to occult or supernatural content in the books and are being made largely by traditional Christians who believe the Bible is a literal document,” Virginia Walter, president of the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children, told the newspaper. “Any exposure to witches or wizards shown in a positive light is anathema to them. Many of these people feel that the books are door-openers to topics that desensitize children to very real evils in the world.”
The outcry didn’t come only from fringe, radical sects of Christianity, either. As noted in the Christian Post, when Pope Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he condemned the books for their “subtle seductions, which act unnoticed … deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly.”
There’s a certain irony to this, considering Rowling has said that Christianity was a great inspiration for the books.
“To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious,” she said at a 2007 news conference. “But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”
There were Christian references throughout the series. When Harry visits his parents’ graves in one book, the headstone reads, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” — an abridged version of 1 Corinthians 15:26.
The graveyard is also the final resting place of headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s mother and sister, whose tombstone bears the inscription, “Where your treasure is, there your heart be also” — a direct quote from Matthew 6:19.
“I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric’s Hollow, they sum up — they almost epitomize the whole series,” Rowling said at the news conference.