When Your Childhood Hero Turns Into a Villain: Is It Time to Let Go of Harry Potter?

Yes. But it’s complicated. 

I’ll never forget the day I picked up my first Harry Potter book; I was nine years old and stuck at home with a particularly awful cold. I had never really liked reading before, but the series had been an obsession of my sister’s, and in true younger sibling fashion, I was perpetually following her lead. When I cracked open Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, I was immediately drawn into a world of letter-bearing owls, talking snakes, and friendly giants - the wizarding world that I would wander in and out of for the next ten years of my life. In what I can only call a magical coincidence, I returned to school the next day to find out that my best friend had started reading Harry Potter as well - they were never just books. They were always about connecting with other people.

The next ten years involved at least four Harry Potter themed birthday parties, two-midnight premieres, a very bad British accent (“it’s Granger, Hermione Granger”), and a weekend attending the Harry Potter convention. So yes, the recent (and let’s be honest, not so recent) actions of she-who-shall-not-be-named have affected me quite a bit. Like a lot of Harry Potter fans, I’ve expressed my disappointment in her actions over and over again. But recent events have got Harry Potter fans asking if we can enjoy Harry Potter at all anymore. What do you do with more than a decade of knowledge of and admiration for a franchise that is increasingly destructive? Where do you put it? Is it something that can be let go?

The other day I mentioned to a friend that I wished I’d picked some other fandom as the foundation of so many of my childhood memories (something to the effect of “Oh if only I’d been a Percy Jackson stan with the lovely and unproblematic Rick Riordan to look up to”). But she reminded me that it’s foolish to want to wish away something that has effectively shaped much of my childhood - something that gave me my love of reading, my love of creating, and has linked me to millions of other people around the world. I can’t erase the impact that Harry Potter has had on my life, but I can be responsible for my consumption of future Harry Potter iterations. 

The “Death of the Author” (Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay that deconstructs the “genius” myth of the author by arguing that the emphasis should be placed on the reader, not the author) argument gets thrown around a lot to defend the consumption of “problematic” art, and while I quite enjoy Barthes’ argument and believe that books do inherently belong to their readers, like all things worth discussing - it’s more complicated than that. We know that creators capitalize on our enjoyment in very concrete ways, and the use of Barthes' argument is typically used to shut down these ethical concerns. Still, when we are increasingly given access to the thoughts and opinions of the creators of the things we love, we end up having to do mental equations about the morality of our support -  it becomes virtually impossible to extricate the art from the artist. I don’t mean to suggest that we have to do these mental equations, but we often subconsciously do them anyway. And when we conclude that we can no longer support the artist, where does that leave the art?

I think that there is no singular answer to the question. Some Harry Potter fans have decided that they can no longer participate in the culture in any shape or form. Some have remained steadfast in their dedication to the communities that celebrate fan creation over author worship. I think I will have to find my place somewhere in the middle. I can’t let go of the nostalgia and the positive associations I attach to the wizarding world. Still, I know going forward, I have to be wary of what my support might mean to others and be extremely cautious of where I put my financial support. The truly remarkable thing about Harry Potter is the people it has brought together - the millions of children that grew up loving it, the writers, the artists, and even the casual viewers. Community is and always will be at the heart of Harry Potter. I could create an endless list of fan creations that spans from the wizarding sandwich “Snitchwitches” to the Harry Potter Alliance charity that fights for gender, racial, and LGBTQ equality. While I may have to set aside Harry Potter for a while, I know that the wizard rock, playwrights, and podcasters, LGBTQ YA writers, fan theorists, and online community will be there waiting for me, for whenever I decide to wander back into the wizarding world.