Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.
That’s not exactly a radical statement, I know. But I was lucky enough to see Cursed Child in previews last week, and that was one of my strongest feelings once I stepped out of the theatre. This is a story that needs to be seen, and everyone should have a chance to see it.
NB: This post does NOT contain plot spoilers for Cursed Child, but it DOES contain emotional reaction spoilers — purists beware.
It’s been seven years since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows! Or it was on July 21st. I’m not sure I’d celebrate “seven years since” for anything else, but with Harry Potter, seven years seems particularly significant.
I’ve rarely written about Harry Potter here, in part because it feels somewhat untouchable. I’m reluctant to poke and analyse something that has meant so much to me pretty much as long as I can remember. I read my first Harry Potter book when I was 8, and remember desperately waiting for Prisoner of Azkaban to be released. The final book came out in the summer before I started college, and the final movie came out the year that I graduated college. Harry Potter provided the framework for so much of my life.
But articles like this have me reflecting not just on the books, but on the fandom around them when they were still being released. The crazy theories, the intense shipping, the “Big Name Fans”… and the fan responses to certain characters. Hermione Granger was, of course, a massive fan favorite, and perhaps more of a flawed character than we gave her credit for (I at least never noticed how ruthless she is). Lots of the shades-of-grey-at-best male characters, like Draco Malfoy and Snape, received endless adoration. But most other female characters received a less excited welcome. Lavender Brown was reviled for being shallow, Cho Chang was too emotional, Fleur Delacour was ridiculous and annoying, and Ginny was a bitch, a slut and/or a Mary Sue, depending on the critic.
The series is generally light on female characters, with the Weasley family ratio somewhat representative of the number of male vs female characters as teachers, in positions of power, and in the background at Hogwarts (were Hermione, Lavender and Parvati the only Gryffindor girls in Harry’s year? Was Pansy Parkinson the only Slytherin girl? Where were the others?). But the response to the female characters that did exist was often vitriolic at best. And the more I think about these secondary characters, the more I want to look into them and people’s reactions to them. I’ve been feeling the urge to reread Harry Potter for a while now, and the seventh anniversary of Deathly Hallows seems like the perfect time.
So keep your eyes peeled for more Harry Potter content on here in the near future. Character studies, a look at fan culture, and probably some general analysis and 11-year-long denial that Sirius really died. Because if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed over the past seven years, it’s that there’s nothing I like talking about more than Harry Potter.
The author is dead. But somebody forgot to tell JK Rowling.
JK Rowling’s now infamous interview with Emma Watson isn’t even officially published until Thursday, yet I don’t think there’s a single person on the internet left who doesn’t know what she (apparently) said within it. She regrets pairing Ron and Hermione, calling it “wish fulfilment,” and now thinks she should have paired up Harry and Hermione instead. Cue internet meltdown.
It’s lucky, for all our sakes, that ship war discussions don’t really have a place on this blog, especially since it seems the teenage Ron/Hermione shipper in me hasn’t faded away entirely over time. But JK Rowling’s announcement has brought out passionate reactions from not just Tumblr (where passionate reactions are par for the course) but seemingly the internet at large, including from celebrities, authors and other internet professionals. Clearly, Harry Potter still means a lot to those of us who grew up with it. And that’s left me with one major question: can we critically revisit something that means so much to us?
JK Rowling has, I think, experienced something that we all experience when we return to stories after a few years or decades. She’s come back to it as a different person, with different experiences, and so, like many of us when we reread books, her reaction to and understanding of the story has also changed. The only difference is that she’s the creator of the story, rather than a consumer, and so her changing opinions have the power to implode the internet.
And that internet implosion is one reason I now feel slightly uncomfortable with JK Rowling. As the author of my favorite childhood series who has always seemed kind and generous, who has written articles about feminist issues and social change, who donated so much of her Harry Potter earnings that she’s the first author to ever fall off the billionaire list due to charitable giving, she seemed some kind of infallible idol. And turns out, she is fallible. She can make mistakes. Whatever your opinion on Harry Potter shipping, the emotional internet reaction shows that she should have left the issue alone. And suddenly seeing my childhood and writing idol as fallible leaves an uncomfortable space for other kinds of realizations about the Harry Potter series.
Already, the resurgence in discussion of Harry Potter over the weekend has sparked questions in my brain, revealing flaws that I was semi-aware of, but never really thought about before. How about Fleur being badass enough to be the Beauxbatons Triwizard Champion (which was not only a girl’s school, thanks, WB) and so family oriented that the thing she loved most was her little sister, yet being hated and mocked by Mrs Weasley and Ginny because she’s elegant and pretty? And Ginny’s mockery of her being presented as a kind of character strength on Ginny’s part? What about there only being two other Gryffindor girls in Harry’s year (beside Hermione), and both of them being presented as rather shallow and frivolous? Or the fact that Tonks is an awesome, funny, vibrant character until she gets into a romance with Lupin, after which she loses all personality? And why is Snape considered redeemed for his Death Eater ways because he felt unrequited love for Lily Evans?
That’s not to say that the novels don’t have amazing characters and messages. And these questions are based entirely on faulty memory (I haven’t reread all of the books since 2007). But they already make me uncomfortable, and discomfort with Harry Potter is not something I particularly enjoy. Part of me wants to reread the books, to explore them critically and see the ways that they inspired me as a kid. But I’m also afraid that they won’t stand up to the scrutiny. Is it a generally inclusive, powerful, feminist story that may have occasional blips (like any work of this size might have)? Or if I poke it, will it all fall apart?
The question is in the front of my mind now. But I don’t know if I want to look and find out.
Over the weekend, the Tumblr-verse went crazy about the slam poem, To JK Rowling, From Cho Chang.
In it, college student Rachel Rostad uses Cho Chang’s role in Harry Potter to frame a discussion about the racist presentation of East Asian girls and women in the media, with particular focus on the common trope of Asian girls crying over white men.
However, the speech has been getting some criticism, especially over its assertion that “Cho” and “Chang” are both Korean surnames, not Chinese names. In response, the poet has posted another video discussing these issues which, if the Youtube numbers are anything to go by, has been seen by a lot fewer people.
She apologizes for the inaccuracies in her speech and for misrepresenting people, but makes several more excellent points about the way that East Asian women are represented in fiction. It’s a shame that her poem has become represented by these mistakes, as people are using them as a reason to ignore the actual message of the poem, and to avoid actually addressing the problems it explores.
It’s not really my place to argue what is and isn’t racist about Cho Chang’s portrayal, and I’ve been learning a lot by following both these videos and the discussion on Rachel Rostad’s tumblr. But arguments that Cho is problematic — because she cries all the time, because she’s made to seem “weaker” and more emotional in order to make Ginny seem better — have a lot of validity to them. This doesn’t mean that JK Rowling, or Harry Potter fans, are racist or sexist (at least, beyond the subtle, insidious, subconscious “isms” that plague even the most well-intentioned and conscientious of us). But it is still problematic, and it does say something about tropes, and how we expect both female characters and East Asian characters to be. And those issues are always worth challenging when we find them. Especially when we find them in things that we love.