Harry Potter And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Representation

Hello again, everyone. How were your holidays? If you celebrated Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, did you give or receive any books as presents? I certainly hope so.

Speaking of books, I’d like to talk about the Harry Potter books. Or more specifically, their author.

As as far as authors go, J.K. Rowling is kind of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I love the detailed and meaningful names she gives her characters, and her foreshadowing is nothing short of brilliant. (I’ve lost count of the number of times I suddenly realized the EXTREME IMPORTANCE of some minuscule reference from an earlier book!)

On the other hand, there are some things she is, well, significantly less skilled at – representation comes to mind. The Harry Potter books just aren’t very diverse. And as if that weren’t frustrating enough… she pretends they are. And then I turn into a GRUMPY BOOKWORM. (Imagine me as the Hulk, only in worm form.)

This December, Rowling has been quite active on Twitter, answering fans’ questions. Recent questions included inquiries about religious diversity…

…and diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity.

Now, I love diversity. I write diverse characters. I try to read as diversely as I can. I roll my eyes when an author couldn’t be bothered to include a single diverse character even though their story is, like, four hundred pages long and they had plenty of time for interesting characters.

Or, in J.K. Rowling’s case, even though their story is four thousand pages long.

And that’s why I’m frustrated – because she thinks that tweeting about diverse characters is the same thing as including them in the actual series. There were queer students at Hogwarts, Ms. Rowling? …then where were they mentioned? Oh, wait, they weren’t.

The whole point of representation is to allow readers to see themselves reflected in a character. If some aspect of a character – their religion or sexual orientation or whatever – remains in the author’s imagination and never makes it into the story, then what’s the point? Fans can’t read their favorite author’s mind.

So no, that doesn’t “count.” In a way I think that this is more annoying than saying there weren’t any queer students (for example), because what she’s said now is essentially, “Oh yes, there were LGBTQ+ students at Hogwarts, but I couldn’t be bothered to actually write them into the story.”  That’s lazy, lousy representation.

It’s like… I don’t know, like if J.R.R. Tolkien suddenly came back to life and told us all, “OMG GUESS WHAT THERE WERE MARTIANS IN MY STORIES BUT I JUST NEVER MENTIONED IT LOL AREN’T I AMAZING?” We’d all stare at him like, “What? No, you didn’t. That doesn’t even make sense, dude.”

So, yeah. I would love to see waaaaay more diversity in Harry Potter. I have not yet read her Cormoran Strike books (published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith), but I read The Casual Vacancy and it had LGBTQ+ diversity and much better racial diversity than what’s in Harry Potter, so… clearly, she CAN write that stuff. She just chose not to.

I guess I’m just frustrated because she created a pretty amazing magical world, and she could have done so much more with it. But she didn’t, and now she’s just trying to get attention (yes, I said it), and Internet-people are falling all over themselves praising her.

(Seriously, all of her recent “big reveals”? Whether they’re related to diversity or, I don’t know, pairing Harry and Hermione together, it’s still like… who cares? If this stuff really mattered to her, why didn’t she include it?)

I wish I’d found more diversity in the Harry Potter series. But I didn’t, so now I find interesting HP ideas in random corners of the Internet, and they’re much more satisfying. Ideas like “What if Beauxbatons was a predominantly Muslin school?” or “Wouldn’t Hermione’s subplots have much more meaning if she were black?” or “What is magical transition like?” (If you’re interested in the last one, I suggest that you read this fantastic article!)

I’ve come to realize that I like what Rowling created, but I’m not really a fan of what she did with it – I prefer to read others’ versions, rather than the original. And I suppose I’ll continue to do so until/unless she writes something better.

And on that note, PLEASE TELL ME ABOUT YOUR DIVERSE IDEAS FOR HARRY POTTER. Or theories that you’ve heard. Whatever. I’d love to hear them!

About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
This entry was posted in Books and Reading!, Harry Potter, LGBTQ+, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Harry Potter And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Representation

  1. Cait says:

    I do think it’s kind of silly that she’s saying she DID include diversity….when it’s not there. I mean, I haven’t read all the books so I don’t feel qualified to say much buuuuut…that picture of “no one should live in a closet” would only make sense if Harry was gay. So that’s just confusing! I almost feel like it’d be better to say “yes, I made a mistake and didn’t include diversity although I wish I had now.” Admitting wrongness is better than pretending you weren’t ever wrong. >.> Kiiinda. AHEM. I’m rambling. heh.

    • nevillegirl says:

      *nodnod* If she’d tweeted, “Hey, I didn’t include ____ and that was not a good idea and if I could go back in time, I’d change that,” that would be A-OK. Not this “the reason there weren’t any LGBTQ+ students at Hogwarts is because they were actually there but I just didn’t mention them!” Idk, it just seems like she’s making excuses. Sure, I wish she’d included more diversity, but I’m not as frustrated by that as I am by her insistence that she DID but it was just never mentioned.

  2. I COMPLETELY agree with you on all of this. While Harry Potter is, like, my favorite series, there really isn’t any diversity. I mean, there’s the Patils, and Dean, and I’m fairly certain that’s it. I have seen fanart and stuff where Harry’s part-Asian and Hermione’s black. I especially like the whole Harry being part-Asian idea.

  3. I’m a big believer in what John Green says about books belonging to their readers – I think if she keeps saying new stuff like this is de-legitimises what WE imagine about her books. And it’s really just pretend representation, isn’t it? I like to think that with the push for diverse books we have today, she would have written a much more diverse Harry Potter – but let’s be honest, 1997 WAS a very different world and I think the reception would have been pretty poor…and including representation in latter books would have made it seem like she wasn’t doing it authentically.

    I don’t know. I’m rambling now too haha. 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      Hmmm, I have to disagree – I think the later book would’ve been the PERFECT time to add more diversity. I think the first few books may not have been published if they had loads of diverse characters because such books /supposedly/ have limited appeal. (I mean, they don’t, but sometimes that’s why books get rejected.) But the later books? By that point, her publisher would’ve been like, “It’s J.K. freaking Rowling, let her write what she wants!” She had a huuuuuuge following at that point, so even if some readers left the fandom due to, IDK, queer characters, I don’t think that would make a sizable impact in her fanbase. (It didn’t for Rick Riordan this past year…)
      Besides, she introduced all kinds of new characters rather late in the series. Luna and Tonks are good examples of this – they became pretty important to the plot and people loved them even though they didn’t arrive on the scene until later.
      As long as Rowling gave the diverse characters decent-sized roles and didn’t stereotype anyone, I think that would be absolutely fantastic representation.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. moosha23 says:

    Yay for calling on for more diversity! Harry Potter, regardless, is one admirable series. (I’m just glad she decided to include the Patels considering how much non-diversity I read…yeah, I need to fix that). However her whole trying to be flawless and cover up her non-diversity points is a tad too stuck up. I mean, who does that? Be real! You’re J.K. Rowling! If you haven’t included diversity, then damn well apologise, not make up some weird thing you don’t even talk about! Sure you may support the need for more diversity in books, but like you said Engie – she needs to represent. Empty words, my dear, empty words.
    We just have to hope another kickass book (or several books) hit the stores with the same success (or even higher) than HP that does have epic diversity points (preferably written by one of us :P).
    There’s a lot we can expect from books and the world in general, but the fact is…only in 2014 did We Need Diverse Books become more than just a hashtag…this stuff is still happening, but I’m just hoping it sparks a revolution in the book world and more diversity is introduced and celebrated in stories…and with the way things are going we can hope for a world that is immersive – that includes, respects and celebrates all groups regardless…and chooses to better represent them in media.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Omg omg the Patil twins! I saw a headcanon about trans girl Parvati taking Polyjuice Potion to look like her twin sister Padma and daghdljghsdglhadghdsg that is a very cool headcanon and I love it. ❤

      I know, right?! Like, just admit that you messed up. I think that would have more of an impact on readers – saying, "Hey, I did X and I should've done Y and writers aren't perfect." That might get people to actually think about making a conscious decision to include diversity…

      Hmmm… I tried to think of some "kickass books (or several books" that are like HP but more diverse. I could only come up with one books, though – ASH by Malinda Lo. (Its sequel, HUNTRESS, is supposed to be good too, but I haven't read it yet.) And possible Erin Claiborne's A HERO AT THE END OF THE WORLD, which I recently acquired from the library. It's supposed to be "HP but Harry/Draco is canon and also Harry failed to defeat Voldemort because Ron did it for him." Or something like that. 😀 I look forward to it.

      • moosha23 says:

        Whoa that is a headcanon! Imagine though…!!! (Polyjuice has way too many perks)
        Haha, you and Ash by Marinda Lo. I think you’ve succeeded in brainwashing me into grabbing the book the moment I see it! ^.^
        Sigh. I have reading goals for next year – one beig more fanfiction. I swear, I’m letting ALL the fandoms down!

    • nevillegirl says:

      I know, right? 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

      Pfft, good. Brainwash people into reading ALL OF THE AMAZING-EST BOOKS OF EVER.

      Have you read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell? It’s about a girl who writes fanfic (for a story that is loosely based on HP) and I think you’d like it. 🙂 I don’t usually read/enjoy contemporaries, but this one was pretty good, as far as contemporary stories go.

  5. I read the Harry Potter series, but I”ll admit it’s been a while (roughly six years since I finished the last book). I had never really put much thought into the character diversity or lack thereof although I was only nine/ten at the time, and I simply liked books based off of an elementary understanding. I do remember hearing rumors that Dumbledore was gay although I’m pretty sure that was something Rowling had outed after the books were done; it was never specifically stated in the novels but just simply something she dropped that we were all suposed to imply upon reading them.

    You bring up an interesting point I must say though. She essentially grew an empire, and the introduction of LGBTQ+ characters would have done enormous social justice to the community.

  6. S a m e. Especially when people are like “But Dumbledore was mogii representation, his sexuality just wasn’t relevant to the series!” Like okay, his sexuality wasn’t exactly relevant from Harry’s point of view, but JK could totally have taken the Grindelwald plotline a little bit further, or maybe slipped in casual mention of LGBT+ students through the whole millions of words. And she didn’t. Even a little thing like “So who’s Lavender going to the Yule Ball with?” “Oh, I think she’s going with Katie.” “Bell?” “Yep.” would have been so so so appreciated, but the fact that JK’s trying to sneak in all these bits of so-called representation years after the books have been published really rubs me the wrong way.

    And I really appreciate this post.

    • nevillegirl says:

      *deep sigh* That excuse doesn’t even make sense, because… like, what was the point of having Percy date Penelope Clearwater in PoA? IT WASN’T RELEVANT TO THE PLOT! Apparently Harry only noticed people being straight and cis?! Sheesh.

      YES, totally. It would’ve been so easy to mention little things, but she didn’t do even that.

      Thank you! I’m glad you liked it.

      • Yet another reason why Harry’s not in Ravenclaw. (But I knowww, that was completely unrelevant filler and like ??? Okay, JK.)

        And then she’s basically being like “Ah yes, Hogwarts is the bastion of representation.” Like /honey./

    • nevillegirl says:

      Pffft, yes. (To both things.)

      *sighs deeply again* As I explained in one of the comments above (in reply to someone else), I’m not TOO upset about her lack of representation – what makes me really frustrated is that she’s trying to insist it was there all along. Hogwarts ISN’T a bastion of representation, and I’d rather have her admit it, admit that she could have done better, than pretend otherwise. Because it just comes across as really, really cheap.

      • Idk man I’m just pissed about both tbh. (that said, I absolutely love that HP has made its readers more inclusive and accepting of everything and I love the canon, it’s just. Her writing sometimes.)

    • nevillegirl says:

      *nodnod* I love HP headcanons so much more than the actual story…

      • The amount of worldbuilding hcs I’ve done with my best friend is astronomical, I swear. Tbh, the fanon Wizarding World is sometimes just so much better than the canon Wizarding World.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I need to start writing fanfic for all my HCs! I have a huuuuuuuuuuge list.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I have an entire PAGE of stuff just about trans girl Ginny. Just me flailing about trans girl Ginny.

      • Noooo, man. Trans boy Wood. Who laughs every time he gets an innuendo about his last name. Because no one will ever know.

        bruh you wanna start talking lgbtq hcs fuckin bring it on i can take you

    • nevillegirl says:

      Oh my god!!!!! Why????? *is laughing so hard rn thanks friend*

      Bring it on. LGBTQ+ ASOIAF HCs, as well.

  7. Reblogged this on Lollipops and rainbows and commented:
    You guys should read this. It makes for really good food for thought.

  8. Sharon says:

    Also note that she once said that the werewolves were a symbol for HIV/AIDS (while the werewolves CONSCIOUSLY INFECTED) in a time of great skepticism and fear of this disease and thinking everyone who has contracted it did it only to see the world burn. It’s bad that you don’t have representation, it’s even worse when it’s complete bullshit.

  9. Well I think the reason why she didn’t include all the religious and gender diversity was because 1. It was a children’s book and kids would not understand that and 2. Because she probably thought it was not important to stress that orientation as though making an issue about it. And even if she mentioned it, it wouldn’t contribute to the plot. So what if someone is gay. Would it matter? I think magicL people are more concerned about this pure blood issue than about religious or sexual orientation. No offense but I think issues like these in fantasy novels can be presented in a different way than the way we know it from reality. In the casual vacancy she brought it up because it was a realistic novel where gender issues are important.

    • nevillegirl says:

      …queer kids exist. Religious kids exist. If kids understand being, for example, cisgender (opposite of transgender, they can understand other gender identities. Really. It’s not that complicated.

      What do you mean, it wouldn’t contribute to the plot? How did Percy dating Penelope Clearwater in book three contribute to the plot?

      Yes, it absolutely does matter. If a character is gay then yes, that does need to be mentioned. People need to stop pretending that ignoring someone’s sexual orientation / gender identity is “open-minded;” instead, it just erases their identity and it is ignored.

      • I just wanted to say that gender issues are not the point of the series. That Percy and Penelope were mentioned was just an observation. I think this also contributed to Percy’s character and history somehow. Then it shouldn’t have been important that Ginny dated Dean or that Cormac fancied Hermione. I think the whole gender and religion subject would have distracted the reader because those topics are usually having their own genre.

    • nevillegirl says:

      So a straight person dating another straight person is a good contribution to a story, but a queer person dating a queer person has no relevance? Pffft.

      Why, though? Why can’t we have all kinds of characters in all kinds of stories? Fantasy is my favorite genre; do you know how many fantasy books I’ve read that had LGBTQ+ characters? ONE. I shouldn’t have to stick to contemporary books; all genres should be inclusive.

      • I have read many classics that deal with gender issues. The thing with fantasy is that it Party plays in a world that is similar to the middle age, so I think that the way people think in these stories should also represent that time. When I think about city of Bones then it makes sense to mention queer characters (Magnus Bane, Alex). It all fits to the setting of that series. But it would never fit into the setting of books like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones or Narnia.

    • nevillegirl says:

      If you’re talking about high fantasy (LotR) versus urban fantasy (City of Bones), HP *is* urban fantasy. We’re talking about the nineties here, not some long-ago time.

      …not to mention that queer people existed long ago, too, and one can easily add them to a story that’s NOT based on any particular time, either… that’s why it’s called FANTASY. You can add anything you want.

      • Hp is low fantasy. It is partly in our world but partly in a magical world – hogwarts, hogsmeade, diagon alley, and so on, which have the characteristics of a middle age setting.
        Actually you are right that you can add anything to a story not even in fantasy but in every other genre. Everything is allowed when it comes to writing fiction. However, I think there was a fashion developed in the fantasy genre to only write in a certain way and with certain elements. Maybe it would be a great idea to write a fantasy children’s book in the future which deals with the LGBT issue.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Low fantasy, urban fantasy, same thing – both are terms for what’s not high fantasy set in an alternate world.

      What? Sorry, what? Only certain elements? Pretty sure the only elements fantasy needs to be counted as fantasy are either A) magic, B) a world not our own, or C) both. There’s nothing that says that fantasy can’t have LGBTQ+ characters or other kinds of diversity. Like, it’s totally possible to write about whatever you want with fantasy. That’s kind of the whole point of this post. I was frustrated because J.K. Rowling passed up a fantastic opportunity to make her stories more inclusive. That’s literally the only reason I wrote this post, and you seem to keep missing the point.

  10. Pingback: Quarterly Rewind, Winter 2015 – Reading Slumps, “Agent Carter,” And An Assortment Of Beautiful Songs | Musings From Neville's Navel

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