Neil Oliver: JK Rowling outrage is a load of hufflepuff that misses her point Sunday Times 14.06.20
The original article is here.
My family is so immersed in JK Rowling’s imagined world, we might as well be living in Hogwarts. We have read every word and seen every film of the Harry Potter adventure. Our eldest boy plays the audio version on a loop and has done for years. If I get up in the night to walk the floor, it is to the accompaniment of Stephen Fry’s voice. Even I know some passages by heart.
My wife and I have no qualms because the imagined world that sprang from Rowling’s imagination is sound and true. The messages are many, but in essence it is about trusting yourself to have the courage to stand up to evil, as well as pain both physical and emotional, in order to ensure the safety of friends and the triumph of good.
For a long time, I was only bemused, at best, about the game of quidditch Rowling created in the novels. As one who dislikes sport, it was like having to sit through a football match in the middle of every book. It is also the oddest game, with teams on flying brooms trying to throw a ball through hoops. Only recently did I grasp the genius of quidditch, and therefore of Rowling. Almost every player on each team struggles to catch and throw a ball, all the while dodging all sorts of physical danger. It is dog eat dog. But while the messy struggle unfolds, one player on each side is high above the melee, playing an entirely different game. Each is a seeker in search for, and pursuit of, something called a golden snitch: a tiny winged ball that is almost impossible to see and harder to catch. If one of the seekers succeeds in the quest — and they don’t always — the game is over.
The snitch represents an ideal. Each seeker must push him or herself to the limit if they are to have hopes of catching a glimpse of the thing, far less laying a hand on it. Like the other players on the teams, most of us do not bother even to try to reach the ideal. Hard enough is the mortal, day-to-day struggle with each other. But each team can take some comfort in knowing that one of their number is imbued with the necessary skills to try on their behalf to reach the almost unreachable star.
Quidditch carries a fine and noble message, elusive but worth the attempt: someone must try to do better, best.
Nowadays Rowling is more famous, or infamous perhaps, for having had the temerity to say that biological sex is real. Last week she published an essay detailing the personal path that has led her to where she is now. She explains her involvement in charities dedicated to safeguarding women and children; her support of free speech; her careful awareness of the needs of transgender people, especially the young, and their vulnerability. Finally, she writes about having suffered domestic and sexual violence. At all times she makes plain her concern for the safety and wellbeing of all, trans people included.
She wrote: “At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes he’s a woman — and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones — then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside.”
Any quotation from a longer piece is literally out of context. Careful and measured though the sentiments are in the lines above, I urge everyone to take the time to read the whole. Having done so, I fail to see how anyone could accuse Rowling of anything but a wish for fairness.
Fair is an ideal — a veritable golden snitch. We all know in our hearts what fair is, just as we know the difference between right and wrong. In times like these, when just to put your head above the parapet and open your mouth in opposition to dogma is to have the vilest slurs and threat rain down on you, it is certainly easier to shut up and keep your head down. That is also the wrong thing to do, and we all know it too.
Knowing the difference between right and wrong is not the same as living it, acting it out, in everyday life. JK Rowling is doing her human best to be fair. I stand by that effort, and her.