OPINION: Why I like ‘Harry Potter’ but am still critical of J.K. Rowling

Editor’s note: This article contains references to transphobia. 

     The first time I read the “Harry Potter” series,  I was eleven. I read the books with an insatiable fervor over the course of my summer break, and was forever changed. Not only did “Harry Potter” introduce me to the world of reading in a way I had never experienced it, but helped me feel less alone with myself and the people around me. 

     I am not the only one with this story. “Harry Potter” is a worldwide phenomenon, and nearly everyone I know and befriended has been exposed to the series in one way or another. It also plays such a pivotal part in today’s popular culture.  

     Because of this widespread attention, the “Harry Potter” series has been scrutinized a great deal over the past couple of decades by fans and critics alike. Some have criticized the author of the books, J.K. Rowling, for her depictions of sorcery and witchcraft, which led to “Harry Potter” being banned in schools and religious institutions across the United States. 

     However, the most recent criticism Rowling has received relates to the general narrow-minded and parochial nature of her writing. Some have claimed that she resorts to cheap, tokenized plot points and characterization in order to appeal to a wider audience, which comes off as both performative and offensive. 

     An article from “The Print” states that “Harry Potter” is not only tone-deaf, but also racist, culturally insensitive and guilty of queer-baiting its readers. The article states that, from a critical viewpoint, “One look at the Harry Potter series can tell you how embarrassingly undiverse it is.” 

     Further criticisms of the “Harry Potter” series derive from a series of Tweets that Rowling posted in the summer of 2020 containing transphobic and trans-exclusionary radical feminist — also referred to as TERF — opinions and ideologies. Being non-binary myself, I was disheartened to see these Tweets from an author I had once admired and respected.  

     For months I felt incredibly torn about whether my disdain for Rowling’s offensive and close-minded perspective of the trans community should be enough for me to stop reading and enjoying “Harry Potter,” especially since the series had already been criticized for other troubling reasons in the past.  

     After some careful consideration, I realized that although Rowling has spread harmful TERF rhetoric on Twitter, and in her 2020 mystery novel “Troubled Blood,” this does not mean that the world of “Harry Potter” has to be off-limits to me forever. 

     At first it felt uncomfortable to like the work of someone I knew possessed such offensive and archaic beliefs about the trans community, but then I realized that to me, loving “Harry Potter” is not about admiring Rowling so much as it is about admiring the community of people who grew up with “Harry Potter,” expanded on the world in their own way and shared their love for the series with others.  

     As easy as it is to get swept into the bandwagon that is “cancel culture,” I find myself feeling more content with my decision to criticize Rowling while still exploring and appreciating the impact (both good and bad) that her writing has had on literature and the world at large. 

     I do have my qualms with giving someone like Rowling a platform in which to spread transphobic, TERF rhetoric, but I can also acknowledge that there is no value in banning books either. Instead, I choose to be thoughtful about my contributions to the trademarked “Harry Potter” verse, and acknowledge the harmful behavior of Rowling while still acknowledging the impact that “Harry Potter” has had on popular culture.