JK Rowling seems to have broken a lot of hearts the last few days.
Unlike most stories that involve the well-known author of the Harry Potter series, this time it’s not about the books. Well, not really.
After publicly speaking out against the Trump administration, Rowling faced criticisms from her now ex-fans, many who vowed to burn the books and DVDs.
Others simply insisted that she not get political and advised that she should stick to writing books.
Unsurprisingly, the author had a sense of humor about the backlash. She did not hold back in pointing out the irony that these people seemed to have completely missed the very strong political message of the series.
“Guess it’s true what they say,” she tweeted on Wednesday, “you can lead a girl to books about the rise and fall of an autocrat, but you still can’t make her think.”
I’m glad for the potential teaching moment this might have been for many people across the globe. However the situation also begs the question: how did so many people not see it? I know not everyone is going to agree, or see things the same way, especially with something as subjective as literature. But it goes beyond a matter of taste to a matter of comprehension.
Perhaps they’ve just viewed it as pure entertainment: and who can blame them? It’s been marketed as such— especially the movies. Hollywood’s angle was the fun and magic, not the parallels to Hitler’s rise to power. That story doesn’t sell tickets.
Or perhaps they willfully ignored the message. Perhaps they didn’t notice it when they were young and obsessed with the books. Perhaps they reread it at an older age and noticed it more but decided not to engage. Perhaps they so adamantly believe that art and politics need to be separate (an impossible thing but one many think is the norm) that they refuse to grant the main conflict of the series any historical significance.
So is that Rowling’s fault? Did she need to make the message more overt— more in your face? Impossible to ignore?
Is it the fault of the reader? For not looking more carefully? For being unwilling to engage?
Are you really reading the story if you don’t get the message?
And what does this mean for artists moving forward, who desire to reach out to people that may not want to hear the message? Make your art and hope? In a time like now, is that enough?
Harry Potter isn’t the most politically charged series, true, but it continues to have HUGE cultural impact. Maybe Rowling, understanding that, is using her platform to show people the message. Maybe, even if it wasn’t meant to be that political before (who knows), she realizes that it can be very influential now. That Harry Potter fans everywhere might look at the story with fresh eyes, and see the world right now with a new perspective.
Maybe she realizes that it can be the beginning for some people. There’s another chance to reach out and find understanding. Maybe that’s the best thing she can do with what she has. I won’t pretend to have an answer, but I think it is. Giving the magic and the morals, too.