Transgender row: is J.K. Rowling destroying her legacy?
Writers quit literary agency that represents Harry Potter author in protest against her controversial views
Four authors signed to the same literary agency as J.K. Rowling have resigned over the company’s failure to publicly support transgender rights.
Drew Davies, Fox Fisher and Ugla Stefania Kristjonudottir Jonsdottir say that they asked The Blair Partnership to speak out after the Harry Potter author aired her views on transgenderism earlier this month, but that the agency had not committed “to any action that we thought was appropriate and meaningful”.
Announcing their resignations along with that of a fourth author who wished to remain anonymous, the group said they were “saddened and disappointed it has come to this”.
The decision comes after staff at Rowling’s publisher, Hachette UK, threatened to refuse to work on her latest book in protest at her comments on trans issues.
What did the authors say?
In a statement published online, Davies, Fisher and Jonsdottir say: “Freedom of speech can only be upheld if the structural inequalities that hinder equal opportunities for underrepresented groups are challenged and changed.
“Affirmations to support LGBTQIA people as a whole need to be followed up by meaningful and impactful action, both internally and publicly. As LGBTQIA writers ourselves we feel strongly about having an agency that supports our rights at all avenues, and does not endorse views that go against our values and principles.”
Has Rowling’s legacy been tarnished?
By airing her views on trans issues, Rowling is “upending her legacy piece by piece”, says The Washington Post’s Molly Roberts.
As her readers have grown older, they have discovered that the real world is more nuanced than the wizarding world built by Rowling, argues Roberts.
“They’ve discovered that there aren’t only Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws and Slytherins; that life is complicated in all sorts of ways, and not so conducive to archetyping... Gender doesn’t reduce so easily to the binary Rowling raised an era’s worth of children on,” she continues.
For Vogue writer Raven Smith, the row has triggered nothing short of the “erosion of the Harry Potter franchise”.
“It’s not the loss of readers, nor commerce (J.K. can take the financial hit), but the foundations of the world she built for us suddenly feel unsteady,” says Smith, who adds that “at its heart, Potter is a saga of equality”.
“J.K. took on the systemic oppression of minorities - the racism against Mudbloods - and pioneered tolerance, regardless of where you were born and who your parents are. We suspended disbelief in the dragons and headless ghosts and Horcruxes, but the message simmering at the bottom of the caldron was unifying because it was love.”
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Has the controversy harmed Rowling’s sales?
There is no evidence to suggest that the row has damaged Rowling’s book sales so far.
But according to Variety magazine, Rowling’s tweets on trans issues make the future of the Fantastic Beasts spin-off film series “as precarious as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teaching position at Hogwarts”.
Even before the controversy erupted, the movies were in danger owing to waning box-office receipts, according to an article published on The Conversation in March by marketing experts from Australian universities.
The first Fantastic Beasts film performed solidly, grossing $814m (£653m) worldwide, but the sequel made just $654m (£524m) - the worst box-office take of all the movies set in the Harry Potter universe.
“Subsequent questions have been raised about how the third planned film will perform, let alone the rest of the five-film series that had previously been mooted,” wrote the academics.
And ticket sales at Harry Potter theme parks and for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theatre production have also dropped, they added.
With an estimated net worth of £795m, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List, Rowling should be able to withstand a drop in income.
However, a question mark remains over whether parents will still want to read her stories to their children.
For The Telegraph’s Alice Vincent, the answer is simple: Rowling’s “joyous legacy may be sullied, but the magic of Harry Potter will endure”.