As many of you will be aware by now, the Harry Potter community has been in turmoil for the past few days, as tweets from the series’ creator, J.K. Rowling went viral – for all the wrong reasons. Rowling tweeted about her opinions on concepts of sex and gender, which left some fans feeling alienated and let down. Since then, these topics, and the responsibility a prolific author has in such a conversation, have been up for debate. Harry himself, Daniel Radcliffe, spoke about his own feelings on the matter, in a piece published on The Trevor Project.
Radcliffe initially addressed the issues at hand, and pointed out that “certain press outlets will probably want to paint this as in-fighting between J.K. Rowling and myself”, it is “not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now.” But what was most moving and compelling in Radcliffe’s piece, and in the controversy as a whole, was his iteration that the magic of Harry Potter exists regardless of outside opinions. Fans who may have once felt safe and seen by Rowling’s words, and who are now feeling hurt by them, can always find that same solace and comfort in the pages of the seven books.
To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.
While many may be inclined to turn their back on a series that once taught them such invaluable principles of love and respect, Radcliffe suggests that Harry Potter can still fulfill that role, even if its creator cannot. This is an important example of separating the art from the artist, a tactic which can prove hugely comforting to any fan who now feels alienated by Rowling’s stance on transgender identities.
Radcliffe’s words echo those of musician Nick Cave, in light of Morrisey’s unfortunate move towards far-right ideology. When news of his political alignments began to circulate, fans of The Smiths felt let down and hurt by the frontman of a band that had once given them great refuge in their music. “I understand it is very difficult when an artist you admire reveals something about themselves which you feel casts an unhappy shadow across their work – and this is by no means exclusive to Morrissey.”
Cave’s words can offer up some arguments for the integrity of art outside of its creator’s opinions:
I think perhaps it would be helpful to you if you saw the proprietorship of a song in a different way. Personally, when I write a song and release it to the public, I feel it stops being my song. It has been offered up to my audience and they, if they care to, take possession of that song and become its custodian. The integrity of the song now rests not with the artist, but with the listener.
By the same token, Harry Potter belongs to each and every reader, along with the values and messages the reader finds within its pages. The series has amassed a wonderfully strong fanbase since the late 90s, a testament to the strength of its appeal and effect. So many young people found a home in Harry’s world, and made it their own, filling in gaps in their own lives with the substance of the Wizarding World. This interconnection of the reader and the book harks back to Cave’s stipulation that the song rests with the listener and not the artist – Harry Potter is, in part, yours. No controversy or outside influence needs to change that.
I feel, beyond all rationality, that the song has been written with me in mind and, as it weaves itself into the fabric of my life, I become its steward, understanding it better than anybody else ever could. I think we all can relate to this feeling of owning a song. This is the singular beauty of music.
Cave ultimately suggested that Morrisey’s personal views should not intervene with how fans interacted with his music, as although his opinions were deemed ugly and regressive, his life’s work could not:
Perhaps it doesn’t matter what [an artist’s] personal conduct may be like therefore, or Morrissey’s, as they have handed over ownership of the songs to their audience. Their views and behaviour are separate issues – Morrissey’s political opinion becomes irrelevant…Whatever inanities he may postulate, we cannot overlook the fact that he has written a vast and extraordinary catalogue, which has enhanced the lives of his many fans beyond recognition. This is no small thing. He has created original and distinctive works of unparalleled beauty, that will long outlast his offending political alliances.
Both Radcliffe and Cave offer strong arguments for not allowing controversy to seep into the fabric of art. Like fans of The Smiths, fans of Harry Potter face a conundrum; appreciating the beauty of a creator’s work, even if they don’t agree with the perceived wrongness of a creator’s opinions. Readers of Harry Potter can still love the series for what they originally gleaned from it, for in more favored words of Rowling herself, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”