Harry Potter And The Death Of The Author

By: Elisheva Zahtz  |  July 10, 2020

By Elisheva Zahtz, Features Editor

“Harry Potter,” written by J.K. Rowling, is perhaps the most famous and beloved book series across generations of literature fans. For many growing up, the series taught them about the strengths of love, kindness and compassion in the face of evil. It explored a magical world full of creatures and spells that gave us all something to dream about. The story had 11-year-olds waiting for their Hogwarts letters and inspired beloved movies and theme parks across the globe. I write this as a proud Ravenclaw with a nostalgic space in my heart for both the books and the movies. 

The problem with any series so deeply beloved by so many is that the author becomes somewhat of a revered figure. Rowling amassed quite a following, with over 14 million followers on Twitter. Her series has expanded from books to sequels to online games and branched into almost every medium possible, including video games and coloring books. Her position grants her the opportunity to educate, to use that influence to continue the wonder of the books, to further the message of love and acceptance within her story, and to interact with the “Harry Potter” fanbase to share details about the world she built and help them learn more about it.

Despite the message of love and acceptance spread throughout the books, Rowling unfortunately uses her platform to create damaging and otherwise unsafe spaces for many of her readers. Most recently, her comments on Twitter against the transgender community, including accusing trans women of “remov[ing] the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives,” and otherwise undermining the struggle of “women globally,” and posts naming women as the only people who menstruate, have caused even more of her readers to take a step back. Over the years, Rowling also came under fire for belatedly labeling Dumbledore as gay (and in love with Gellert Grindelwald, who is effectively magical Hitler), for choosing to make Nagini an Asian woman who was trapped in the snake’s body at puberty, and for the imagery of the goblins and the inherent antisemitism involved in the hook-nosed, gold-hungry monsters. 

Repeatedly, these issues have been commented on and refuted with excuses or otherwise blown under the rug. Thus, with that comes the phenomenon of Death of the Author, the complete removal of the author from their work. 

Death of the Author is the idea that an author’s personal opinions, feelings and intentions have no bearing on the fictional universe they have created in their works. When an author publishes a piece, they release it into the world as it is, understanding that there will be several different interpretations of the work. This spectrum of interpretation is what allows us to look into Shakespeare’s works and apply allegories of our own human conditions into them. The author too, once their piece is published, is only interposing their own interpretation onto their work. To an extent, the author’s belated additions and corrections, orientations of the characters, and facts about the fiction are fun pieces of “extra” content, or “fanfiction.” With JK Rowling, taking a step back and recognizing that regardless of the author’s comments or intentions, her work carries a powerful message. Being mildly critical and adjusting that perspective allows for a deeper love of the content.  

Love is not believing someone or something to be perfect but being able to recognize its flaws and to love it anyway. Perhaps this requires having a more critical view of the world, or wincing when you realize that her version of lycanthropy sounds a little too close to menstruation at times, but what the author says about their work, or their own worldview, has nothing to do with the story. Interpret it how you want, love the characters for what they are, and ignore the comments from anyone who would tell you otherwise. Once their work is published, the author is a reader just like anyone else; opening their mouth after the close of the story gives us the right and the ability to agree with, refute, or even to ignore their opinions. The messages, lessons, and nostalgia for the books is something beautiful, and that should not be taken from you because of some nonsense being spouted on the internet. The fans make the fiction, and the fans determine how the characters are decoded, read, and understood. The author’s intentions have nothing to do with that. 

But for those of us who are hurt by her comments nonetheless, you are seen, and your feelings are valid, and I hope with all my heart that you can be critical of the series and retain your love and appreciation for it. The author does not dictate the way you understand or appreciate the characters — you do. I’m sorry, and you deserve better.