“it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”)
I didn’t want to post anything. It didn’t feel right to post anything with the world going up in flames. It breaks my heart to see the violence that is occurring in America. I dont condone violence, but this issue goes so deep within the system, you have to fight fire with fire. I have been so enraged and heartbroken by this situation, that I didn’t want to post. However, I have seen Rowling’s interactions on Twitter and I felt compelled to write this. Ive been wanting to post this for a while, as I mostly rant about Rowling. But after seeing her hypocrisy and the crap she has been sprouting out on her Twitter the past week, I wanted to finally put out this post. This blog post will discuss my dissertation, “The Invasive Authorship of J.K. Rowling.”
My favorite thing to do for inspiration, is listen to my favorite artists talk about their work. It provides interesting insight into this piece of art they created. For example, Billie Eilish released her new song, “Everything I wanted.” I really liked the song, but I couldn’t formulate a meaning behind it. I didn’t know what the song was trying to say. So I looked at comments on the song. Many people had their own interpretations.
But I read a comment that said Billie talked about the inspiration behind the song. She stated that it told a story of a dream she had, where she killed herself and no one cared. That the only person, the “you” she refers to in the song, talks about her brother. The only one who cares about what happens to her.
However, the meaning behind a piece of art doesn’t formulate that piece absolutely. When you listen, read or digest a piece of art, you will take on whatever meaning that work has on you. Currently, there has been a debate on the meanings behind pieces of art. What was the intention by the original author and what are they trying to say to us?
I recently graduated with my degree in a Masters in English. I wrote my dissertation on “The Invasive Authorship of J.K. Rowling.” It was an enjoyable experience, but by god, I hate this woman now. I was already starting to lose respect for this woman and youll see why when I talk about my dissertation. But I decided to finish this blog post due to her recent toxic escapades on Twitter and the media. When I see anything to do with Harry Potter, I get PTSD. I planned to talk about my thesis for a while, because I genuinely enjoyed this topic. I got to dissect the nature of literature and how we perceived it for years. I also got to analyze my childhood series. Harry Potter got me into reading, writing and ultimately doing my degree on literature. My central focus on the theory of authorship with J.K. Rowling as the main study. Due to her reputation, she seemed the reputable choice to discuss invasive authorship in literature. For this blog post, I am going to do a brief overview of what I discussed on my thesis, since I dont want to rewrite the same 15,000 word dissertation. That would be boring. I split my thesis into three chapters;
Chapter 1 – Dumbledore is Gay, The Intentional Fallacy of Joanne Rowling
*sigh* We really are going to start with this one. The beginning of Rowling’s questionable role as the absolute author came with her declaration about Dumbledore in 2007. She stated “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay” in an interview a couple of months after the publication of the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I found when Rowling stated this back in 2007, the fandom took it as fact. This was an absolute statement made by the creator of the series, therefore, it should be taken as gospel.
My plan for this chapter was to evaluate the intentional fallacies within Rowling’s grandiose statement. So I constructed an evaluation of the text itself, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to see what evidence supports this love relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Granted, there is some evidence in the book of a strong relationship between these two characters. Mostly, it remains ambiguous what exactly their relationship was, as the book isn’t Dumbledore’s story. Rowling even stated that she wanted to leave it open-ended. However, she contradicts this statement by stating the intent of Dumbledore being gay. It leaves no interpretative room for her readers.
She further contradicts herself when she wrote the screenplay for Crimes of Grindelwald. With the movie set during the time of Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s famous battle, surely she would play into their mysterious relationship more. A forbidden love between these two great wizards with very different views for the world, would make for a heart-wrenching story. But she failed to do this. There was no evidence of a love relationship presented in the film. The only hint we got was in the line, “we were closer than brothers.” This provided weak, even no evidence to support the claim she made back in 2007. Moreover, Rowling had contradicted herself further in an interview that was released after Crimes of Grindelwald came out, where she said there was an intense sexual relationship between the two characters.
Bitch, where?! If I am to follow the text presented to me, there is no textual evidence to support this post-scriptural intent. Not in Deathly Hallows and certainly not in Crimes of Grindelwald. This gets her readers to look back at her statement in 2007 and sigh.
Her contradictory statements confused and angered fans. Moreover, she took away the interpretative power of her fans. Any reader of Harry Potter could have made some anaylsis of a strong connection between Grindelwald and Dumbledore with Deathly Hallows. However, she took away that opportunity with her absolute statement, “Dumbledore’s gay.” Moreover, her lack of proof or sufficient consistency with her statements in her film, Crimes of Grindelwald, reinforces the argument of that post-scriptural statements. Post-scriptural statement shouldn’t inform the original work. If it was not written into the original manuscript, then dont consider it canonical. As one of my friends said to me, there is more evidence of Harry being bisexual than Dumbledore being gay.
Chapter 2 – J. K. “Just Kidding” Rowling, The Fall of the Absolute Author
This chapter focused in on Rowling’s identity as an author and celebrity. Through the conversion of these two identities that she attempts to convey to the public, her status as an absolute author begins to fade. I argue that the author identity given to Rowling began with “the implied author” from readers. When they read the Harry Potter series, they feel Rowling’s presence. Theorist, Alexander Nehamas argues that no reading cant generate an author. Rowling perpetuates this as she likes the feeling that she knows the author knows the ins-and-outs of their own story. That there is a comfort to that. So this pushes for an absolute author identity. But I agree with the debate that Rowling was merely a scribe and had no real power over what came out in the writing process.
With her celebrity status increasing, her invasive behaviour began. Scholars had argued for years that the literary was intellectual and elitist whereas celebrity associates with popular entertainment mass production. Rowling merged these two worlds together with the success of her books, which created the film franchise and made her a household name in literature and popular media. For years, she maintained the balance between her authorial identity and her celebrity identity. She allowed interpretative opinions of her works to be made through fan-fiction etc. However, with her social media presence, this is where she began her post-scriptural campaign. She pushed her Dumbledore narrative and created new canon to her series that seemed forced and unnecessary. The main argument stands that she attempted to maintain her author status by using her public figure status in the media. To maintain the relevancy of her series in the public eye, she butchered the nostalgia of her biggest works. Whenever a fan argued lack of representation, Rowling would present new book canon that never appeared in the original text. She lost her authorial integrity through the abuse of her public/celebrity identity. Moreover, the increase of celebrity would muddle up the relationship between Rowling and her readers.
Chapter 3 – The Invasive Celebrity and her fans
With the loss of her absolute status as an author, I discuss in this chapter the loss of her credibility as an author along with the relationship between author and reader. The reliability of their author decreases immensely. Rowling continues to alter the canon of their favourite series in order to stay relevant, and if any fans questions this, Rowling responds with contempt on her social media. This represents a toxic relationship between Rowling and her fans or her readers. In this chapter, I evaluated that fan culture aided in the downfall of the absolute author, J.K. Rowling. However you could argue that they persisted this unhealthy viewpoint on her absolute status.
The toxic relationship between Rowling and her fans leads to the contention with her authorial status. The distinction between fans and readers blur with the celebrity of the author. The reader represents in literary discourse as an objective figure that will read and analyse a piece of work. Whereas fans are considered as Henry Jenkins, call “rogue readers.” Fans assert their right to interpret the story how they see fit. They construct fan fictions that interpret their view on the series and take some of the authoritative power away from Rowling. At first, Rowling was flattered by the fan fiction made about her work. She was the first author to embrace fanfiction whilst other authors such as Anne Rice sued fans for their fan fictions. However, when Rowling began her invasive behaviour, readers and fans alike turned against Rowling. With fans taking liberty of Rowling’s work, it brings to question the relevancy of the author. It puts the author as the master of their own literary universe under fire. The increase power fans have over a work, leads to the decrease in Rowling’s authorial power. However, you can argue there is a small pocket of fandoms that become obsessive and almost cruel towards their celebrity idol and thats why authors and media are against fan fictions and fandoms as a whole. Theorists even characterize fans as deranged, excessive and dysfunctional.
However, they ignore the power the fans have. Most fans take their knowledge of their beloved series and make sound objective critiques on the series. Their fan work play massive role in redefining the work they already know. Fanfictions show the power the reader has over a work and depletes the power of the absolute author. Moreover, the celebrity status Rowling holds, makes her open to criticism. Fans attack her for her foolish post-scriptural additions to her story. Rowling has now become a joke amongst the literary and media world. Respect for authorial status depletes, and her fandom lives on.
Throughout my thesis, I wanted to argue whether the power of the author is necessary. Do we need an author in order to understand a work? I had mixed reactions from different people, and whilst writing this, I had mixed thoughts on it. With Rowling’s invasive behaviour, she risked the reputation of her series, and the status of her power. However, as a reader, I cant help but think of Rowling when you read her work. We were taught from a young age that the author matters in the grand scheme towards the meaning of the text. In a way, they do. We cant unsee or unhear the author and it would almost be a disservice towards the person who created the work. However, it is your power as a reader to create your own interpretation of the work. I am a big Harry Potter fan, so when Rowling sprouts crap like Crediance being a Dumbledore and werewolves represent people with AIDS, Ill call her out. As someone who knows the work and can make a critical analysis, I can safely say I know the work better than Rowling. Its up to the reader whether the author has merit or not to what they say. Whether their intent or not, its up to you if its canonical fact. We dont need the author to dictate our interpretations of their work. Once they publish it, its out there to be interpreted. An author cant control everything about their work. Ill respect an authors piece of work and stand by them or not. But ill make my own interpretation of that work.
I dont stand by Rowling, but I still love her series. Do I believe Dumbledore is gay? Ill go so far as to say no and that Rowling said it so to claim LGBTQ representation without putting in the work in her books. Thats just my interpretative opinion that I backed up from her behaviour and lack of evidence she integrated into her work. But someone else can argue it differently. But thats what is beautiful about literary criticism. You can have an open discussion with other readers and fans about art that you love. Be open to critique and interpret. Dont take on Rowling’s contempt and disregard for her readers. She shows more and more how much she has fallen. As a writer, as a public figure, as a human being. I was losing respect for her as I wrote my dissertation back in 2018 and 2019.
But in 2020 I can safely say, I have absolutely no respect for that woman. But should the actions of the author really ruin their piece of art? Will you stop loving that work because of the controversial actions of their creator? Thats really up to you. It makes it a fascinating topic that I only scratched the surface of in my dissertation. If you want to learn more about this topic yourself, I left a list of some of the sources I used in my dissertation. Mostly I put the sources that got me into researching this topic, and ones I found really interesting to read down on this list. I hope you are all doing well. I hope you are safe during this difficult time. With the pandemic and the riots going on, it is terrifying to think how much has happened this past year. Stay safe and Ill see you in the next post.
Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” The Norton Anthology: Theory Criticism Third Edition, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W.W Norton Company; New York, 2018, pp. 1268-1272.
Booth A. Wayne. The Rhetoric of Fiction. London, University of Chicago Press, 1973.
Bundel, Ani. “Is Dumbledore gay? Why J. K. Rowling’s continual character revisionism is getting old.” NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/dumbledore-gay-why-j-k-rowling-s-continual-character-revisionism-ncna986726.
Busse, Kristina and Hellekson, Karen. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays. North Carolina, Farland & Company Inc, Publishers, 2006, Google Book Search. Web. 12 April 2019.
—Framing Fan Fiction: Literary and Social Practices in Fan Fiction Communities. Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 2017, Google Book Search. Web 12 April 2019.
Calhoun, Laura. “The Intentional Fallacy.” Philosophy and Literature, vol. 18, no. 2, 1994, https://muse-jhu-edu.proxy.lib.ul.ie/article/416166/pdf.
Davidson, Guy. “Introduction: Modernism and the Networks of Celebrity Construction.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 39, no. 1, 2015, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/jmodelite.39.1.127.
Eco, Umberto. Interpretation and overinterpretation. Newcastle, University of Cambridge Press, 1992.
Foucault, Michael. “What Is An Author?” The Norton Anthology: Theory Criticism Third Edition, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, W.W Norton Company; New York, 2018, pp. 1394-1409.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2013, Google Book Search. Web. 12 June 2019.
Irwin, William. “Authorial Declaration and Extreme Actual Intentionalism: Is Dumbledore Gay?” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 73, no. 2, 2015, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43496554.
Nehamas, Alexander. “What an Author Is.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 83, no. 11, 1986, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2026619.
O’ Meara, Lucy. “Killing Joke: Authorship from Barthes to Nothomb.” Baltimore, vol. 55, no. 4, 2015, https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.ul.ie/lion/docview/1764712863/fulltextPDF/E8884D3EF00C42E8PQ/1?accountid=14564.