J.K. Rowling has made headlines after apologising on Twitter for killing off Dobby in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Given the book was released 11 years ago, her tweet is the latest example of the author refusing to let Harry Potter rest. For fans, this practice has strayed into moral dubiousness.
Commemorating the anniversary of the house elf’s death is, as a standalone phenomenon, not problematic. What has been alienating Potterheads, however, is Rowling’s proclivity to expand, delete and otherwise edit her previous writing just to keep the Floo powder from settling - often exploitatively. Since finishing the best-selling fantasy book series in 2007, Rowling has made a habit of publishing digital addenda for eager fans. She has adjusted Hogwarts retrospectively; inserting mentions of minorities and diversity so casually that many are left wondering why it was so hard to commit these snippets of lore to paper in the first place.
Despite neither spelling out or even hinting of such traits in the books, Rowling has claimed there were Hogwarts students of every religion (save, oddly, Wicca), and of every gender expression and sexuality. The latter practice of ‘queerbaiting’ has become a marketing ploy, where writers and directors hint at allegiances with the LGBTQ+ community to appeal to a diverse audience, without confirming them and risking the loss of conservative, potentially homophobic custom. Rowling’s queerbaiting famously peaked with the revelation that Dumbledore, Hogwarts’ headmaster, was categorically gay. She shared that detail three months after the final Harry Potter book was published in 2007, when the book was a sure success and she had already secured immense fame and fortune.
Many Potterheads have drawn the line at Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald, after they discovered the forthcoming film - set in the Harry Potter universe and based on a screenplay by Rowling - wouldn’t explicitly acknowledge Dumbledore as gay. The Guardian has labelled the move “responsibility-shirking”, while Forbes quoted Dumbledore himself by claiming the film has “chosen what is easy over what is right”. Rowling, a prominent feminist, has also been accused of hypocrisy for ignoring calls to recast Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, after Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of hitting her and shared pictures of her bruised face. Despite petitions from fans to drop Depp, Rowling wrote she was “genuinely happy” to have him on board. She even appeared to block Twitter users who criticised her decision, despite condemning misogyny on social media in the past.
Rowling is understandably keen to sustain interest in Harry Potter given her passion for the franchise and its proven ability to print money. But her frequent comments and tweaks to the source material risk undermining her work and and making her seem disingenuous. As she continues to chop and change her wizarding world and rehash, reiterate and resell her product, members of her eager young audience are gradually wising up to their exploitation and hanging up their broomsticks in protest. Hogwarts may be magical, but Rowling’s illusions surely aren’t.