Over the past few weeks, Twitter has been abuzz with a series of tweets mocking author J.K. Rowling’s habit of revealing unusual “facts” about the Harry Potter world long after the last book in the series was published in 2007.
The tweets are funny, and usually include bizarre false revelations comparable to the way Rowling abruptly reveals random tidbits of information about the Harry Potter universe. Reading the tweets is an excellent way for any Harry Potter fan to pass the time. However, the tweets also draw attention to the dark side of Rowling’s habit.
Rowling isn’t revealing facts about the series she’s long known to be true. She’s plucking statements out of a hat to make the series appear more progressive than it actually is.
The phenomenon began back in 2007 at a question and answer session in New York City. A fan asked Rowling if Dumbledore, the enigmatic headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had ever loved anyone before. Rowling, likely sensing an opportunity, replied: “Dumbledore is gay, actually.”
The uproarious applause that met this statement confirmed that Harry Potter readers loved the idea of a diverse and socially progressive wizarding world. But Harry Potter was never diverse. From its inception, it has been almost completely white, Eurocentric and heterosexual.
I love Harry Potter. I’ve been a huge fan since I was young. I’m a fan of it regardless of the homogeneity of the characters and the oddly alliterative names of characters of color — see Cho Chang and Parvati and Padma Patil. It’s full of valuable lessons of loyalty, and it’s been a consistent source of comfort as long as I’ve known it.
This doesn’t change the fact that Harry Potter, as Rowling wrote it, is not diverse. Sure, the race of the characters is open for interpretation in many cases — see the loose description of Hermione Granger that Rowling cited when a black actor was cast to play the character in the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” — but the absence of racial distinction does not equal diversity.
The lack of race or sexuality designations in the series shows that Rowling never explicitly meant to highlight diversity, and the insertion of labels after the fact does nothing to change that. It comes across as a disingenuous business move rather than as a serious and well-intentioned step toward equality.
Moreover, Rowling’s insertion of diversity into Harry Potter is almost entirely responsive rather than as a result of her own initiative.
For example, in 2014, Rowling responded to a fan curious about Jewish students at Hogwarts. “Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard,” she said. It’s as if Rowling, panicked at the possible outrage that could result from a lack of Jewish characters in Harry Potter, selected a random name from the series and immediately gave him a Jewish identity to maintain her appearance as a warrior for equality.
Rowling’s progressive insertions trend continued in 2015. Rowling, when asked about tuition price at Hogwarts, quickly asserted that magical education was completely free. This is never mentioned in the books and the presence of vast economic inequalities — see the difference in comfort between the Malfoys and the Weasleys — suggests the exact opposite.
Furthermore, Rowling’s citation of Hermione’s characterization as aracial only occurred after controversy erupted over the casting of Noma Dumezweni in the role. Her insistence on Hermione’s race being open to interpretation is ultimately incorrect, as original illustrations by Rowling show her vision of Hermione to be white.
Rowling knows her audience, and she recognizes that Harry Potter is a series that many progressives deeply value. It is possible she is genuinely championing social change. But if that is the case, a question remains: Why has she failed to follow through on statements she has made?
For example, despite Rowling’s prominent role as a producer in the recent Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” the apparently gay Dumbledore was not apparently gay. There was nothing to suggest that Dumbledore was the person Rowling previously insisted he was, and the gay identity that Rowling gave to him was not expressed.
To be fair, the most recent facts that Rowling has revealed about Harry Potter have been largely inconsequential, if not ridiculous. One of Rowling’s websites, Pottermore, includes many of these new revelations; Rowling claimed that prior to the 18th century, wizards “relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence.”
However, another piece by Rowling includes the random addition of nine wizarding schools across the world, making Harry Potter seem far less Eurocentric than it was originally.
These global magic schools are built off stereotypes and the surface culture of inhabitants of the region. For example, Rowling’s description of Ilvermony, the North American magic school, draws heavily on indigenous tradition, particularly with its appropriation of four mythical creatures.
Regardless of the reason behind Rowling’s recent revelations, she needs to cease all claims of diversity within her series.
Diverse representation is something to be desired, but when it only occurs after the fact, and when it is only skin-deep, it’s ultimately deceptive. It tricks an audience into believing in creators for the wrong reasons.
Sure, Rowling’s statements make Harry Potter more representative — but it isn’t genuine representation. It’s invented to keep her audience entertained and invested, and as “The Crimes of Grindelwald” showed us, it’s often forgotten.
Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, California. His roommate has a nut allergy.
Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, California. He’s one of TSL’s opinions editors.