Goblet of Ire
A few days ago the internet exploded yet again. Salon, Slate, Gawker, you name it went bananas over the New Yorker profile of J.K Rowling. “Look! He said she’s stiff and reclusive and wears too much makeup!” they crowed. “And her teachers say she wasn’t a brilliant student. How could they ever be so mean to J.K Rowling? Wait, is she really all of those things? JUICY!”
Well, I read those articles too, and I was appalled that such a slam would have been printed—as Salon said, “Imagine! a writer who’s not a natural joiner”, and to that I would add “Imagine! A writer who’s not a good student!” (There’s been many, including, at times, me). And then I thought, I have to read this article. There’s no way it can be quite as mean-spirited as everyone says it is.
And, sure enough…it’s not. At least, not to me. I thought it was fair. Ian Parker gives a total portrait of a public figure. He doesn’t have to like Harry Potter, or her, in order to do it. It is apparent that he wasn’t quite charmed by her at all points in her history, but I wouldn’t call this a smear job at all. He goes to great lengths to contextualize Rowling’s place in the world and history—giving background as to the nature of her supposed poverty, and a great line about her testimony in the British tabloid phone-hacking scandal, “It may be that, because Rowling is quite unassuming, she has not thought to learn the art of appearing unassuming in public.” That doesn’t sound mean to me, at least. That sounds like an actually valid reason someone might come off as brittle and tetchy in a public setting. The one line that did come off as bitchy was the too much makeup and false eyelashes one, but you do usually comment on a person’s appearance in a profile, and it can set a tone for a piece. Happily, the rest of “Mugglemarch” transcended this beginning, and I wish people had read past it in forming their conclusions. Or else I’m incredibly naïve, which is possible.
There are two more minor controversies attached to this; the fact that Rowling asked for quote approval (she was denied) and that her first adult book, The Casual Vacany, is very, well, adult. I really think we have a right to only be upset about the first. Quote approval is getting ridiculous in general—the New York Times just banned it. And in this case, it wasn’t even anything she said that ended up attracting controversy, just how she was portrayed.
As for the “miraculously unguarded vagina”, well, it isn’t Harry Potter any more, and if you’re really upset about it, the series does hold up quite well under rereading.~Liz
This post originally appeared at Books on the Make.
Editor’s Note: Liz Baudler recently graduated from Columbia College with a Fiction Writing degree. She founded and used to edit The Toucan Literary Magazine. Now, she just contents herself with editing one publication, Transcendent Journeys. When she’s not glued to a computer researching literary controversies or reading books and chuckling, she likes to ride her bike, cook, and make money talking about animals at Brookfield Zoo.