J.K. Rowling Controversy art

In a perfect world, evil would be obvious.

Evil would dress in all black and only speak in a gravelly voice. Evil would shake the ground when it walked and knock any ice cream cone onto the cement. Evil would wear a scowl or a devilish smirk. 

For many of us, the fiercest battles of good vs. evil raged between the pages of our favorite books. The heroes were courageous and unafraid, the villains slimy and dark. Perhaps the greatest of these battles existed within the lengthy volumes of the Harry Potter book series.

Growing up on the heel of the “Harry Potter Generation,” I can recall too well the nights huddled under a lamp and blanket, hanging onto every word. I remember the anticipation of every movie poster, every trailer. So much love kept me tied to that world.

But we don’t live in a storybook. What happens when our heroes preach a villainous ideology and the magic seems to fade? Such seems to be the curse cast on the world of Harry Potter.

On the heels of a revolutionary new Harry Potter game, author J.K. Rowling has again become a figure of controversy surrounding her ongoing battle with trans activists. The spinning cycle of hope and betrayal has left fans in a state of nausea, pried apart by ongoing internet discourse. Do fans continue to support the content, and by extension, its problematic creator? Do they solemnly swear off an author that is up to no good and lose a piece of themselves?

The truth is, there is no tweet worthy to answer this question. In a world that cannot be defined as good vs. evil, we can’t think so small. Navigating the moral maze of J.K. Rowling’s impact and content is not a simple issue, and the attempts to minimize and simplify this issue diminish its true value. Fans have to get educated and think for themselves. 

J.K. Rowling and the Timeline of Transphobia

Anyone with a reading habit or a Twitter account should know Joanne Rowling, better known as J.K. Rowling. For the former, she unlocked literary interests and imaginations with a doubled-sided key. For the latter, she seems to be a figure of ill repute among trans activists. Rowling’s volatile history of potentially transphobic comments and actions is too extensive to list here, but Glamour has a running list of them all. There are too many to dissect, and many of the actions may appear small, almost insignificant. But the ideology behind them is not.

However small Rowling’s Twitter stumbles may be, her rhetoric behind them is perhaps loudest in her own essay on the topic. Published in June 2020, this nearly 3700 word website publication has been thoroughly examined and edited and approved — yet still hides behind feminist-shaped fear. Rowling uses the idea of feminism to justify gatekeeping the feminine gender, a closed-minded and anti-trans rhetoric. She writes: 

“The ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating. … I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman … then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”

This statement, above all, is based in fear, harboring anti-trans and, frankly, anti-male phobias. Rowling holds aloft the outdated and harmful trope that people transitioning from male to female perhaps have (dramatic music) nefarious intentions. Her rhetoric, often associated with the rhetoric of trans-exclusionary radical feminists, handicaps the humanity of both trans women, as it negates their existence, and for cis men as well, viewing them as purely predatory creatures and refusing to hold them personally accountable for their actions. This ideology has come to roost in Rowling’s work, most notably in her newest novel “Troubled Blood” (find the Daily Nebraskan’s own analysis of the novel here).

These ideas cause real harm. In a world where heads of state pardon and congratulate soldiers for murdering trans women, Rowling is pushing a dangerous narrative with potentially violent consequences. It is jarring that this same woman wrote our heroes to life. For her fans, her words sting as bad as any utterance of the Killing Curse.

Warner Brothers and the Container of Controversy

Rowling is a problematic figure with a problematic rhetoric and platform. Yet the world she created still flourishes in the hearts of her fans. There, the Wizarding World isn’t harmful, but rich with individuality and kindness. Sending the entire Harry Potteruniverse to the dementors is unnecessary and doesn’t look at the bigger picture. With regard to Hogwarts Legacy and all Wizarding World content, Warner Brothers have done their best to remove Rowling and give fans content to best invoke the strength, courage and love associated with her creation.

To see the divide created between Harry Potter content and its maker, look no further than the FAQ page forHogwarts Legacy, the upcoming game tarnished by Rowling’s recent rows. Among other statements, the page reports that Rowling was not involved in the game’s creation and says explicitly, “this is not a story from J.K. Rowling.”

This is not an absolute refutation of Rowling or her behavior but it’s the best we can expect from a media giant with important ties and assets to protect, and is a good sign for fans. They are allowed to feel liberated by this distance from Rowling. They are allowed to enjoy the content.

After all, we can’t forget that behind all the statements and press releases and politics, Harry Potter has played a pivotal role in so many quests for identity. I know this all too well. The Harry Potter books, awash in weirdness, oddity and enchantment, drew me in as a misfit girl. A bit too tall and frizzy-haired and bookish, Hermione Granger taught me that my wit was my strength and that — with a little humility and a few friends — I could channel my passion to help others and improve the world around me. The narrative shaped me. The narrative continues to shape me, and the same could be said for many others. 

It’s true, we aren’t children anymore. The money we choose to spend does have consequences. Rowling owns the rights to the Harry Potter franchise and therefore, she profits from the game. However, a boycott might not achieve the desired effect, either. As Louis Chilton writes for the Independent, game boycotts are seldom successful, and even when they are, who really suffers? 

A boycott of Hogwarts Legacy comes down harder on game developers who devoted countless hours to enriching the Wizarding World for fans than it does to punish the wealthy and distanced creator of the world. This muddies this issue more, drawing us into a tangle of morality, gender theory, sociology and now finance.

Where does it end? How does the final battle play out?

Disgruntled Fans and the Solution of Substance

If we are not good and not evil, what role should we play? The quandary of Harry Potter content and its author is undeniably messy, forcing fans to choose between a lifelong love and a controversial creator. However, fans should not be persuaded by extremes. Instead, we must treat this with the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore and the tough love of Molly Weasley. Fans need to assess their values and their personal experiences to find the solution that works for them.

Some fans may buy the game. There are strings attached, and these fans may feel guilty, but perhaps there’s a greater personal value attached. That personal experience, that foundation of identity, is always valid.

Others online have proposed ethical solutions to support the trans community and minimize Rowling’s profit while still enjoying the game. Some suggest matching their Hogwarts Legacy purchase with a donation to a charity benefiting the trans community. Other fans recommend waiting a few extra months and buying their copy secondhand.

At the other end, some fans may make the sacrifice and boycott the game. They may recognize the problematic nature of the Wizarding World that stems far beyond Rowling, invading aspects of its newest releases. Upon adulthood, they may realize their over-romanticization of the universe, and sever their connection.

The bottom line is this — the decision to buy this game is a personal choice. It should not break you. It should not condemn you. It has consequences, sure, but in an age where every detail is posted and disputed and shared, find comfort in the fact that, whatever you choose to do, it’s allowed to be a private decision.

Despite the claims of 280 character Twitter arguments, there is no such thing as good vs. evil, not in a world as complicated as ours. In the ethical gymnastics of J.K. Rowling, her legacy and her work, we shouldn’t have to split our souls for a video game. It is possible to both recognize her opinions as harmful and also enjoy the Wizarding World so many of us wanted to call home. 

Think critically. Be empathetic. And perhaps as Harry Potter himself has taught us, be unabashedly yourself.

Emma Krab is a sophomore English and journalism major. Reach her at emmakrab@dailynebraskan.com