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Why longtime fans may not watch the Harry Potter reunion

Ahead of Return to Hogwarts, a look at how Harry Potter fans have had to rethink their relationship with the series and its author J.K. Rowling

The world that J.K. Rowling had created had become a big part of the lives of many millennials who were in their formative years when the books had first come out.
The world that J.K. Rowling had created had become a big part of the lives of many millennials who were in their formative years when the books had first come out. (Photo by Shayna Douglas on Unsplash)

It’s been 24 years since the first Harry Potter book was released and 20 since the first movie hit the screens. Between then and now, an entire generation of children have grown up being enchanted by the magical world conjured by author J.K. Rowling. Despite the series turning into a billion dollar franchise with several spin-offs in the subsequent years, the original books and movies had remained almost sacred to fans worldwide.

Come New Year’s day 2022, some of these fans will be gearing up for a trip down memory lane with Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts, a 20th anniversary production featuring the main cast from the movies, which will be available in India on Amazon Prime.

Perhaps with good reason, there has been much buzz around this special. The world that J.K. Rowling had created had become a big part of the lives of many millennials who were in their formative years when the books had first come out.

“Between the ages of 11 and 24, my entire personality was centred around my love for Harry Potter. I used to take part in quizzes, read and edit fanfiction, I even learnt Photoshop so I could make art to go with the fanfiction,” says Aakanksha, a 29-year old journalist based in Chennai.

It is a point of pride with many fans that they know the books and movies inside and out and can recall any spell, incantation or tiny plot detail in a flash. Moreover, in an attempt to flesh out the characters they love so much and explore possibilities that the books don’t, many began writing fan fiction and continue to. The blogging platform Tumblr is known to be a haven for Harry Potter fanfiction and fan theories. “Good fantasy is often distinguished by people finding pearls in it long after a series ends. The Harry Potter series has loads of such bits. I was never one of those fans who knew all the spells by heart, but I have always loved going back for these theories and interpretations,” says Yogesh Gadgil (29), a Pune-based scientist.

For others, the series simply marked their foray into the genre of fantasy. “Harry Potter was my gateway drug to fantasy, and to Tolkien in particular. It was a story I loved to get lost in. However as I grew up, I realised how many flaws the story had. The romance is unrealistic. The politics is unwieldy. Nothing plays by the rules we discover,” says Vinay Keerthi, a 34-year-old software developer based in Bengaluru.

Finding imperfections and deeply problematic stereotypes in the books has been a part of growing up for many fans, a process only catalysed by Rowling’s hurtful comments targeting the trans community in recent years. “It was on Tumblr that I first read about the subtle racism, sexism and anti-Semitism in Harry Potter. But I was still young and unaware of a lot of these terms, so I was defensive at first. But as I became more socially and politically conscious in the later years, I was appalled by her bigotry,” says Aakanksha.

Indeed, many of us learned of the term TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) for the first time a couple years ago, when Twitter erupted against Rowling’s statements on transwomen. It might even be fair to say the controversies surrounding the author informed the politics of the generation that grew up with Harry Potter to a large extent. “It took me 10 whole years to be able to separate Rowling from Harry Potter,” Aakanksha adds.

The French literary theorist Roland Barthes’ famous 1967 essay The Death of the Author makes a case for separating the intentions and personal values of an author from their creation. To put it simply, Barthes argues that the interpretation of a text is strictly between a reader and the text itself and that the author is entirely irrelevant to this relationship. Many Harry Potter fans seem to have embraced this idea, as it lets them cherish parts of the books that they love while also denouncing the author and the politics that she has come to stand for.

Not everyone is able to do this, however. Several individuals, especially those from marginalised communities hurt by Rowling’s comments, have started even from a few years ago, to dissociate completely from the Harry Potter series, not wanting to promote her brand in any manner. 

Another user tweets, “If I, a person whose only real emotional support when I was a lone closeted teenager in an abusive environment was Harry Potter, can boycott everything that JK Terfling (sic) profits from…Then surely the rest of y'all can #BoycottJKRowling #BoycottHarryPotter #BoycottFantasticBeasts.”

With early reports suggesting that Rowling has been excluded from the reunion, and the author not appearing in the teaser released earlier this month, many believed that they might be able to enjoy the nostalgic ride without the discomfort of seeing Rowling in it. However, according to a more recent report in The Independent, the author is in fact seen in an early preview of Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts.

“When life gets hard, when things get really dark, there’s something about Harry Potter that makes life richer,” says the voice of Emma Watson over rousing music in the teaser, bringing countless fans to tears. The nostalgia is powerful with this one, there’s no denying that. But some wounds cut too deep. A lot of us have parted ways with Harry Potter and may remember the gang fondly every once in a while, but not enough to rekindle the flame.

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