I love Harry Potter. I always have – the German translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the first book I remember reading. I own German and English versions of all the books, I own all eight movies. I visited the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London, I know my Hogwarts house – Slytherin – and I own a quite a bit of Slytherin merchandise, including a pillow, two beanies and a thermos mug. I also have a time turner, a bunch of Harry Potter posters, calendars, a chess set and I used to own a miniature Hogwarts castle. I even have a Harry Potter related tattoo.
But I haven’t actually read the books in years.
So I am really, really excited to do a Harry Potter reread for Fandom Following, but I’m also bit apprehensive because I think I’ve changed quite a bit since I last read them. I became more educated and more politically aware, especially of the misogyny, racism and homophobia that existed all around me. I also became aware of the need for good representation in fictional works.
Maybe it’s obvious why I’m apprehensive about doing this Harry Potter reread: Because Harry Potter is a very white, very straight work of fiction. The only gay character in the Harry Potter series – Albus Dumbledore – never actually comes out on the pages, we only know that he is gay because JK Rowling told us, and his love story is tragic one that is also more or less the cause of his sister’s death and other kinds of suffering.
The ethnicity and skin color of most of the characters in the book series is never mentioned, unless they are not white, and in the films, almost all of these characters are then portrayed by white actors because if a character’s race isn’t explicitly mentioned, many people just assume that they’re white because the idea that white is the norm and thus unmarked is still deeply burrowed within many peoples’ subconsciousness. And some of the admittedly few characters of colour that JKR created are, frankly, offensive, Cho Chang for example whose name consists of two Asian (Korean and Chinese, to be exact) surnames and on whose role as an embodiment of a bunch of stereotypes about Asian women. Rachel Rostad has done a brilliant Slam Poem addressing this.
So I’m apprehensive about rereading Harry Potter because I worry that I will love it less when I reread it with an awareness of all its issues. Then again I really can’t see any other way of dealing with this than actually rereading the books, reflecting on them and my own feelings and coming to some sort of conclusion or other at the end.
And so that’s what my next couple of posts on her will be dealing with. I’d be overjoyed if some of you will be along for the ride.