This is why we can’t have nice things

There are four types of authors. Or rather, there are two axes you can sort authors along: quality of writing, and personal behavior.

In the best-case scenario, you get an author who is both good at writing and a lovely person. There are many of these! In this case, all is rosy.

Sometimes you get an author who is an obnoxious person who also turns out bad books. Your Terry Goodkinds, if you will. This is unfortunate but you can largely ignore them.

Sometimes you get an author who is personally decent, but their writing is lacking, which is sad. Sorry, Christopher Paolini–you seem very nice! (To give Paolini his due, he was lucky–or unlucky–enough to have his juvenilia published, and gets judged by that standard. He has a new book coming out that he wrote as an adult, and for his sake I hope it’s good.)

And then there’s the fourth case. When authors are good at writing, but their personal behavior or opinions are… problematic. And that one hurts.

It used to be my example for that category was Orson Scott Card, and I still think of him as the archetype. But he’s not an example that hurts for me personally; I never liked (or finished) Ender’s Game, and while I devoured the Prentice Alvin books for a while, I was eventually bothered by how messianic they were getting. And in hindsight there are some other elements that make me squirm… but the point is, I was put off by the content of the books, not by the author’s public and raging homophobia, which I learned about later.

Unfortunately, there have been more and more examples in this category lately, some a lot closer to my heart. I’ve heard some things about Isaac Asimov that make me uncomfortable. I can’t watch Firefly the same way I used to now that I’m giving more scrutiny to Joss Whedon’s feminist bona fides. And now, even more painfully, it’s J. K. Rowling.

It was bad enough when she didn’t get why people might be a little uncomfortable about the reveal that Nagini is actually an Asian woman who eventually becomes Voldemort’s slave-pet. Or when she declared Dumbledore to be gay, but wouldn’t make that explicit in canon–which was fine in the original series, when Dumbledore’s personal life was tangential at best, but pretty glaring in Crimes of Grindelwald when his supposed ex-lover is right there. Those could be written off as her trying for representation and bungling the execution, which isn’t great but seemed well-intentioned. And yeah, when she got TMI about wizard toilet habits it was probably a sign that she should stop worldbuilding while she was ahead, but that was only embarrassing, not hateful.

But she’s really doubling down on the transphobia here, isn’t she? Worse, she’s playing the “people calling me a bigot means I’m the real victim!” card, which is never a good look.

And I know this is an area where I’m not without sin; I’ve probably said ignorant things about trans people, especially when I was younger. I’m sure I owe the trans woman who lived in my childhood neighborhood plenty of apologies for misgendering and deadnaming her behind her back. For which I’m sorry, and I can only say–not that I’ve learned better, which would imply a state of wokeness where I’m beyond such mistakes. But I’m learning better, and if I mess up again, I hope I’ll learn better from those mistakes too.

JKR… does not seem to be learning better, at least not yet. Which puts fans in the painful position of feeling that the thing we love has been tainted after the fact, even though it hasn’t changed. Even though I’ve mostly left that fandom behind, Harry Potter was a foundational text for me. Should I be taking down my Harry and Hermione bookends and my Ravenclaw fridge magnet, or can I invoke Death of the Author and say the books still mean something independent of her? And what about derivative works? Surely no one involved with Puffs deserves blame or backlash for this, or A Very Potter Musical, or Potter Puppet Pals.

I don’t have good answers. But I don’t think I’ll be doing my “Trouble with Hogwarts” song at filk circles anytime soon.

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