J.K. Rowling and the Questions from No One

Well, the tide has definitely shifted. The consensus among fans had been shifting for some time, but now it appears as though J.K. Rowling has exhausted all the goodwill that she had generated while she was in the process of writing and publishing the Harry Potter books. There was a time when Potter fans’ curiosity to know everything there was to know about the wizarding world was insatiable. When Harry’s story ended with the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in 2007, fans who grew up with Harry lamented the door closing on a chapter of their lives.

Fans wanted more from Rowling’s universe, as evidenced by the impressive sales figures for The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was published for public consumption on December 4, 2008.

Almost 368,000 copies of the book were sold last week, according to book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan, compared with 73,236 copies sold of second-placed Guinness World Records, and 68,073 of At My Mother’s Knee, Paul O’Grady’s autobiography.

In April of 2012, Rowling stated on her website (the statement was deleted in May) that she had started writing a Harry Potter encyclopedia, news that delighted most Potter fans. We still had an abundance of unanswered questions that we were desperate to have answered.

For a long time, I have been promising an encyclopaedia of Harry’s world, and I have started work on this now – some of it forms the new content in Pottermore. It is likely to be a time-consuming job, but when finished I shall donate all royalties to charity…

Shortly thereafter, it became apparent that the encyclopedia would not be published any time soon, if ever, since Rowling had decided that Pottermore was the best platform for her to deluge any and all additional information regarding all aspects of the wizarding world that she had generated over the years. If fans were dissatisfied with Pottermore, pre-2015, they were a minority. Indeed, Pottermore’s CEO at the time, Charlie Redmayne, revealed on April 4, 2012, that “Pottermore’s Harry Potter e-book sales were worth ‘over £1m’ in the first three days following publication,” which was ahead of anything he had “ever seen for e-book sales.”

As Rowling became more accessible online, especially on Twitter, the seeds of discontent were being sown. This culminated in the backlash against Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which the majority of fans thought was awful (this wasn’t the first time Rowling had faced a backlash from fans, but this was the first time I’d noticed any significant hostility toward something she’d endorsed). Even the most ardent Cursed Child fans would not be able to deny that the play retconned elements of the Harry Potter books. Whether Cursed Child is canon or not is another subject (that has been discussed ad nauseam). Briefly, though, in 2015, Rowling tweeted that while she did not write the play, she considered it canon. Since Rowling provided similarly consultative input on the Potter films, following this line of reasoning, is the burning of the Burrow in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince also canon?

The backlash against Rowling, although gaining momentum, didn’t become noticeably vitriolic until the post-Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them era. In early 2018, fans reacted poorly to David Yates’ vague statement that Dumbledore’s sexuality would not be “explicitly” addressed in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Earlier this month, these same fans reacted poorly to Complex‘s clickbait headline: “J.K. Rowling Reveals Dumbledore and Grindelwald Had an ‘Incredibly Intense’ Sexual Relationship.” Fans who cheered when Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay – and by the way, she only revealed that tidbit after a fan asked her a direct question: “Did Dumbledore […] ever fall in love himself?” – now insist that unless Rowling includes LGBTQIA+ representation in Fantastic Beasts, her comments equate to nothing more than queerbaiting (“show, don’t tell”). Incidentally, since it’s apparent that the creative process for Fantastic Beasts, for which there are no books, is more collaborative than Harry Potter, if Rowling is serious about LGBTQIA+ representation, she should seriously consider hiring people from those communities in creative roles (many would be delighted to be involved) as she works on the third Fantastic Beasts film and beyond.

With this latest “revelation” that Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s “relationship was incredibly intense,” fans are claiming, “Sometimes, Potterless is Pottermore.” Fans are disingenuously sharing memes of J.K. Rowling revealing information that no one asked for. However, fans did ask for it by wanting to have all their questions answered. On Episode 339 of MuggleCast, there was a discussion on the “difference between giving fans too much and giving them what they want.” I wonder whether fans would still be mad about Rowling revealing unnecessary information if her answers to their questions were congruent with their headcanons.

Despite fans suggesting that J.K. Rowling loves to retcon Harry Potter as much as Harry Potter loves casting the Disarming Charm, two of the retcons in Fantastic Beasts can be attributed to fans (although no one asked for the first one). Firstly, when the Leaky Cauldron’s Melissa Anelli asked Rowling whether Grindelwald reciprocated Dumbledore’s feelings toward him, her answer, which was published in Harry, A History, was “I don’t think that he would reciprocate in that way.” That book was published in 2008. Eleven years on, it seems that Rowling has changed her mind, to pander to fans, and decided that Dumbledore and Grindelwald shared a “love relationship.” This raises another concern for me: Fantastic Beasts is clearly less meticulously planned out than Harry Potter was and it shows. Secondly, and this is more egregious in my opinion, McGonagall’s cameo in Crimes of Grindelwald was nothing more than fan service. No one asked Rowling to retcon her own timeline to allow McGonagall to appear in Crimes of Grindelwald.

I’ve previously written an article discussing fans mislabeling any information Rowling has revealed since the Potter books ended “retconning.” To me, any additional information Rowling provides is not a retcon unless it contradicts the books – and most of her revelations don’t. That’s why Nagini’s identity, to me, is not a retcon. But don’t take my word for it. In 2005, Rowling filed a trademark application for “Curse of Nagini.” But with the issue of Dumbledore’s sexuality at the forefront of fans’ minds, this thought popped into my head: “The idea that J.K. Rowling is providing us with information that we didn’t ask for is misguided.” Most of the time, when Rowling reveals information on Twitter, it’s because she’s replying to fans. It’s not a case of her deciding to pull information out of thin air. Following the release of Cursed Child, Rowling said that she was done with Harry’s story. However, Fantastic Beasts is not Harry’s story. As we read the Harry Potter books, even up until Deathly Hallows, we encountered new information all the time. Do fans not expect there to be information in Fantastic Beasts we were never privy to while reading Harry Potter because it wasn’t relevant to those books, which were from Harry’s perspective (and how can he be expected to know everything there is to know about the wizarding world)?

If you look at why J.K. Rowling provides us with most of the information she does, you’ll find a similar pattern. Almost any time Rowling reveals anything, it’s because a fan asked her a question.

On October 19, 2007, during a Q&A event at Carnegie Hall, three months after Deathly Hallows was published, J.K. Rowling was asked, “Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?” She responded, “My truthful answer to you… I always thought of Dumbledore as gay,” before adding, “Recently, I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying, ‘I knew a girl once, whose hair…’ I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, ‘Dumbledore’s gay!'”

On December 17, 2014, 15 months after Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced, J.K. Rowling tweeted, “.@benjaminroffman Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard” in response to being asked, “@jk_rowling my wife said there are no Jews at Hogwarts. I’m a Jew so I assume she said it to be the only magical 1 in the family. Thoughts?” She also said, on the same day, “OK, let me clarify that! Anthony isn’t the first Jewish student, nor is he the only one. I just have reasons for knowing most about him!”

On December 21, 2015, J.K. Rowling quote tweeted a question that has since been deleted that asked her how she felt about black Hermione. She said, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione 😘.” She later, on January 8, 2018, tweeted, “Noma Dumezweni demonstrates why she was the perfect choice to play the battle-hardened, dignified and generous adult Hermione.”

So next time you share that meme claiming that J.K. Rowling is replying to “no one,” remember that the reality is that she’s most likely replying to someone who did ask her a question.

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Victor Chan

Growing up with the books, Harry Potter shaped my life in ways that were invaluable. Through the books, I developed my passion for writing. When I’m not obsessing over Harry Potter, most of my time is spent listening to music (mostly, Prince) or podcasts (I am subscribed to too many to keep up with).