How Does an Author’s Celebrity Affect Reader Response?

No, I still don’t want to discuss the merits of Ms. Rowling’s law suit against the publishers of Mr. Vander Ark’s Lexicon. That is a subject for the judge trying the case — and everyone who thinks they know how it will turn out and what that ruling will mean in the long term is kidding themselves and, frankly, wasting their time in an especially unedifying way.

On the other hand, on a site for serious readers, I am obliged to note trends in criticism of Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Linda McCabe sent me a link this morning to an article by a notable writer about Ms. Rowling and her lawsuit that suggests that a backlash against Ms. Rowling is building and that this will affect understanding of her books for years to come.

That — and how much our beliefs about an author color our understanding of his or work — are subjects worth talking about. Do we love or loath Harry largely as a function of how we feel about Ms. Rowling?

I offer four points for your consideration before asking questions for your reflection: the critique of Ms. Rowling’s books by three famous authors before her lawsuit and the the thoughts of one of these writers after her lawsuit.

First author in the witness box: A. S. Byatt. This notable writer doesn’t care for Harry Potter, Ms. Rowling, or her readership. As she wrote in the New York Times piece, Harry Potter and the Childish Adult:

Ms. Rowling’s magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, “only personal.” Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.

So, yes, the attraction for children can be explained by the powerful working of the fantasy of escape and empowerment, combined with the fact that the stories are comfortable, funny, just frightening enough.

They comfort against childhood fears as Georgette Heyer once comforted us against the truths of the relations between men and women, her detective stories domesticating and blanket-wrapping death. These are good books of their kind. But why would grown-up men and women become obsessed by jokey latency fantasies?

Dame Byatt’s thoughts were dismissed by many as bilious sour grapes of the worst kind. Writers at least as notable as Dame Byatt thought Ms. Rowling’s writing should be taken very seriously and admired as quality literature. Take, for example, these notes by Stephen King post Deathly Hallows:

Maybe it’s the British prose. It’s hard to resist the hypnotism of those calm and sensible voices, especially when they turn to make-believe. Rowling was always part of that straightforward storytelling tradition (Peter Pan, originally a play by the Scot J.M. Barrie, is another case in point). She never loses sight of her main theme — the power of love to turn bewildered, often frightened, children into decent and responsible adults — but her writing is all about story. She’s lucid rather than luminous, but that’s okay; when she does express strong feelings, she remains their mistress without denying their truth or power. The sweetest example in Deathly Hallows comes early, with Harry remembering his childhood years in the Dursley house. ”It gave him an odd, empty feeling to remember those times,” Rowling writes. ”[I]t was like remembering a younger brother whom he had lost.” Honest; nostalgic; not sloppy. It’s a small example of the style that enabled Jo Rowling to bridge the generation gap without breaking a sweat or losing the cheerful dignity that is one of the series’ great charms.

Maybe you want to argue about Mr. King’s idea of Ms. Rowling’s main theme? Regardless, unlike Dame Byatt’s thoughts, you cannot leave Mr. King’s review of Deathly Hallows thinking he is anything but a fan. Likewise with Orson Scott Card. Here are a few of his thoughts post Deathly Hallows:

So when we emerge from the Harry Potter series, what have we become? What does the community that holds this story in its memory recognize as virtuous, noble, of good report, praiseworthy?

Acting on the impulses of love, without calculation or self-interest.

And since it is precisely this virtue that must be present in any community for it to endure and thrive, the Harry Potter novels have, in their way, buttressed western civilization at a time when it was sorely in need of this moral principle.
Harry Potter surrenders himself to the plans of God and accepts his own sacrifice because he trusts that it is right, and because he is strengthened by a knowledge of the love of his beloved dead.

Harry Potter’s soul is ready to triumph over evil because he has repeatedly acted on the impulses arising from the love in his soul.

And we are going to move forward into the next decades with millions of our young people infused with this moral worldview, shaped by it, or reinforced in it.

In practical terms, this bodes well for us, just as it boded well for us that Frodo, Sam, and Gollum were embraced by the generation before.

What did you weep for at the end of this book? I was touched by the death of characters we loved — Dobby most of all, perhaps because there was time to mourn him.

But the moments when the tears flowed and I had to stop reading aloud were the moments of approbation, when Harry’s virtues were recognized by others. I wept when the headmasters in the portraits applauded him.

I wept most powerfully, in other words, for joy.

Call this worldview Christian if you want. I am uninterested in the question of which, if any, existing religion the Harry Potter series affirms.

What matters to me is that, to the degree that readers believe in and care about this story, and internalize it, they will be reinforced in their noblest impulses. They will honor love and generosity where it occurs. They will know, whether or not they consciously saw it, that what made Harry Potter great was not his heroic deeds per se, but rather the quick, quiet, unplanned actions that revealed his noble soul.

Again, there’s little room for doubt here that Mr. Scott Card is a great admirer of Ms. Rowling’s accomplishments as a writer. He has read her work closely, and, as an accomplished artisan of her craft himself, says boldly that Harry Potter is important and edifying literature.

After the lawsuit brought by Ms. Rowling against RDR to stop publication of Mr. Vander Ark’s Lexicon, however, Mr. Scott Card has turned against the author, if not her work. He suggests she needs a trip to Oz:

You know what I think is going on?

Rowling has nowhere to go and nothing to do now that the Harry Potter series is over. After all her literary borrowing, she shot her wad and she’s flailing about trying to come up with something to do that means anything.

Moreover, she is desperate for literary respectability. Even though she made more money than the Queen or Oprah Winfrey in some years, she had to see her books pushed off the bestseller lists and consigned to a special “children’s book” list. Litterateurs sneer at her work as a kind of subliterature, not really worth discussing.

It makes her insane. The money wasn’t enough. She wants to be treated with respect.

At the same time, she’s also surrounded by people whose primary function is to suck up to her. No doubt some of them were saying to her, “It’s wrong for these other people to be exploiting what you created to make money for themselves.”

She let herself be talked into being outraged over a perfectly normal publishing activity, one that she had actually made use of herself during its web incarnation.

Now she is suing somebody who has devoted years to promoting her work and making no money from his efforts — which actually helped her make some of her bazillions of dollars.

Talent does not excuse Rowling’s ingratitude, her vanity, her greed, her bullying of the little guy, and her pathetic claims of emotional distress. …

People who hear about this suit will have a sour taste in their mouth about Rowling from now on. Her Cinderella story once charmed us. Her greedy evil-witch behavior now disgusts us. And her next book will be perceived as the work of that evil witch.

It’s like her stupid, self-serving claim that Dumbledore was gay. She wants credit for being very up-to-date and politically correct — but she didn’t have the guts to put that supposed “fact” into the actual novels, knowing that it might hurt sales.

What a pretentious, puffed-up coward. When I have a gay character in my fiction, I say so right in the book. I don’t wait until after it has had all its initial sales to mention it.

Rowling has now shown herself to lack a brain, a heart and courage. Clearly, she needs to visit Oz.


I think Mr. Scott Card’s recent comments are notable for two reasons. (1) These aren’t the bilious thoughts of Dame Byatt that dismiss Ms. Rowling and her work as childish. Ms. Rowling supposedly brought her law suit to keep “the flood gates from opening” and to protect the rights of authors everywhere. Mr. Scott Card thinks that is nonsense, at best, and that Ms. Rowling’s “evil-witch behavior” is disgusting. And (2) he predicts that Ms. Rowling’s future work will be received by readers as the output of the evil-witch and disregarded.

This last point is just speculation, of course, however informed Mr. Scott Card may be to make it. I am less interested in that than I am in how this law suit has affected and will affect critical reading of what Ms. Rowling has already written. I doubt very much that Mr. Scott Card, for example, could write the praise of Deathly Hallows and of Ms. Rowling’s artistry that he wrote in 2007. What evidence is there that the law suit has changed public perception of Ms. Rowling from unmarried mum-David combating Goliath to billionairess-King David, ego unbridled and agent of Goliath? If this shift is happening, to what degree will it chill critical commentary on her books — not in terms of critics fearing to publish but with respect to how the “exposure” of Ms. Rowling will allow, even foster a harsher critical evaluation of her novels than we have seen to date?

Has the public brouhaha changed the way you perceive her? More importantly, how has this changed, if it has changed, your experience of her books?

How much of our experience of the Harry Potter novels has been shaped by our knowledge and beliefs about the character of the author? If we read Harry Potter through the filter of Potter mania and Ms. Rowling’s celebrity, how much has this tinted our interpretation and understanding of her books? If Ms. Rowling’s work, as has been suggested here and elsewhere, is largely her life and her coming-to-terms with death writ as Harry’s story, how much is this bleed from Cinderella/Goliath ideas about her inevitable and even a good thing?

Your reflections on these questions are much appreciated.


  1. The terms that Mr. Card uses to describe JKR: insane, greedy evil-witch behaviour, stupid self-serving claim (that DUmbledore was gay), and pretentious puffed-up coward, to pick the most egregious, are not terms that would be allowed for one commenter to use in order to describe another commenter on this website, or the other site which I frequent, SoG aka The Hog’s Head. The words are so extreme and vituperative that they say more about the person writing them than their object. To wit: Mr. Card is not happy that JKR is suing SVA and does not care how disrespectful – and plain rude – he sounds in expressing his sentiments. He doesn’t care how he looks and sounds to others.

    Will those feelings change how he feels about the series? Well, I don’t know. Can he keep his feelings about the author separate from his feelings about the work? Based on his tone, I would say no, that his feelings about one will colour his feelings about the other. I also suspect, from the ease with which he is willing to make assumptions about JKR’s motives, that he will make negative assumptions about her personality from passages in the book.

    Will others feel the same way and react the same way?

    Well, most readers don’t know or care about the SVA court case. So what they don’t know will not affect them.

    I don’t doubt that a lot of people read the books because of their popularity – other people and the media were making a big deal about them. What they made of the books once they read them is a private matter, which we will never know about. What we will know a bit more about is whether they will pick up the next book that JKR writes. I suspect yes, just because her name is high profile. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if Mr. Card picked up a copy too, just so he could hurl further invective at her for being all the things which he believes her to be.

    Has any of this changed the way I look at the books?

    Of course not. Any good author has the ability to transform the experiences which shaped her so that they are no longer easily recognizable. It takes a lot of delving and digging to be able to draw conclusions from her life to the books, and vice versa. And even then, we’re speculating. When I first read the HP series, I knew nothing about the author. I only became aware of her as a person after reading HBP. I knew a lot about her when I read DH. And was she at all present in my mind as I was reading? Not at all.

    And if I saw JKR in the same extremely negative light as does Mr. Card, would that influence my feelings about a book she’d written? Well, I suppose if she had murdered someone, that might affect my response. I don’t know that I could put the murder out of my thoughts. And I suppose if she were to write about copyright violations, I might question whether the artist was being influenced by the private person. But anything other than that, I don’t think so.

    The closest examples I can think of are Guy de Maupassant and O Henry. Mauspassant died of syphillis in his early 40s. The disease took a long time to kill him, and is typically known to affect emotional and cognitive functioning in its latter stages. Maupassant wrote some bizarre fiction when he was affected by the disease. Can you read his illness in his words? We had a prolonged discussion about this at SoG. My answer would be no. The artist is fully in control. The sick man is quiet. A few months before his illness killed him, Maupassant wrote, in a letter, that the biggest tragedy for him was that he could no longer write.

    The other example is O Henry. He wrote vividly about people in the late 19th century. He wrote about people from all walks of life, including criminals. He himself did some time for embezzlement. When you read his stories about ex-cons, do you see him in his words? Only to the extent that those characters are as fully realized as the others. In other words, his experiences informed his writing, but they didn’t take over it.

    Bottom line, for me: there was never any “bleed” from her Cinderella/Goliath status, and there won’t be any “bleed” if she becomes the Leona Helmsley of the literary set.

  2. I’ll admit, when I first heard that Rowling had announced that Dumbledore was gay, I thought it was kind of silly. Not because I have a disposition against gay people or gay characters in stories. My distaste came more from my experience as a reader and an aspiring author: you cannot simply make statements like that about your characters. What I mean is, writing is a mysterious, somewhat mystic process. Much of it requires hours of thought and planning and plotting (depending on what kind of writer you are), but then some of it comes through bursts of inspiration, ideas and thoughts and plot points that you almost can’t take credit for – it’s like they were given to you from somewhere.

    So my thought that it was silly came from, I guess, a personal respect that the writer, although he has some kind of powerful authority, does not completely own or dictate his own story. There is something about creativity that denies anyone’s control over it. Whether JKR determination of Dumbledore’s sexual orientation was innocuous or not (I ultimately think it was), it seemed a little unwarranted. I have since repented of such thoughts, having learned more about how the statement happened and how JKR had “always thought of” him as gay. I think the story may have benefited us by knowing that, but then again, I just don’t know, as a writer, how you could even fit such a thing into the plot!

    Anyway, my point is this. I am going back now and rereading all of them over again. And as I do, I am amazed all over again at how captivating a story it really is. I understand some of the critiques that JKR is “lucid rather than luminous” as Mr. King puts it. I understand even Byatt’s explanation theory, although I ultimately disagree with it. But as I go back to read the stories, all that is forgotten. I am amazed at how structured a writer is, how she drops hints of much later plot developments so early in the books. I mean, Mr. Granger has already done fantastic work showing the brilliant and delightful aspects of Rowling’s structure, most of which I have no reason to doubt.

    Will this “celebrity” activity color the way the reader reads JKR and Harry Potter? In some way, I guess it has to. I mean, we are always colored by what we perceive. But the power of Story, of creativity and art, is something that can be appreciated at once apart from and yet flowing from the creator/facilitator. Unflattering depictions of Mozart, Beethoven, Dostoevsky, or many other prodigious artists have not done too much to defile or despoil what they have created. I think Card underestimates the power of what JKR has created (and I think his remarks that she lacks a heart and a brain are nonsense). I think Harry Potter will be enjoyed and will shape its readers for a very long time to come.

    You know, I’ve read this blog for a long time, and never commented. It just so happens that two posts that really piqued my interest came along consecutively, and for some reason I thought that gave me license to write incredibly long posts. My apologies! Grace and Peace.

  3. Beethoven is a good example. He was socially oblivious, rude to commoners and kings alike, his hygiene habits were deplorable, his deafness was described by one observer as “more likely to prove an embarrassment to others than to him”. He also exerted an unnaturally controlling influence over his nephew, getting custody of him and refusing his mother access, and driving him to attempted suicide. He used to beat his sheet music with a stick or a whip, out of God knows what kind of frustration or rage. And he died shaking his fist at the sky – whether at the weather or God, we don’t know. The man was a mess. And yet out of that mess came some of the most sublime music known to humanity. And his peers and his audience and even the Royals whom he insulted didn’t care about how awful a human being he was. One Emperor even changed the court rules because B. wouldn’t heed them. For them, the music was all.

  4. John, this is a good question, and I decided to respond because my feelings are the exact opposite of Mr. Card’s. I was deeply disappointed by “Deathly Hallows”; also, Ms. Rowling’s flaws as a writer had always been as obvious to me as her real talent. In other words, there were hints at least as far back as POA as to where her story was heading. I should, perhaps, have known.

    But it was the story J.K. Rowling told that turned me against her. If the lawsuits (and I found the one against the Indian religious celebration far more disturbing than the one against Mr. Vander Ark) seem meanspirited and vindictive, those traits were already quite clear in her text. *

    And, though I was initially as outraged as anyone here by Ms. Byatt’s comments, now I think she had a point, after all. There is nothing transcendent or numinous in these books. In this, they are very different from the works of C.S. Lewis and, especially, Tolkien. Just my two cents-

    *I’d like to add that I can actually understand the suits since they may not be Rowling’s choice. She is now a property, poor woman, and it could be the big corporations like Warner brothers or Scholastic that are actually suing. It’s what she’s had to say in interviews that confirmed my negative impressions of the books. But it’s the books themselves that ultimately disappointed and repelled me.

  5. Well said, everyone. I think that Mr. Scott Card’s harsh and uncharitable words say more in a negative way about him than about Jo Rowling. That is the sort of thing that may come back to haunt him some day. It sounds to me like Card had put Rowling on a pedastal and the pedastal crumbled with recent events, and he’s dealing with how to view someone he once admired and with whom he now disagrees. He comes across as very bitter, just as Byatt does, only for very different reasons. That, of course, is my own speculation–just as his interpretation of who Rowling is and what her motives are, is speculation. I am reminded that it’s never a good idea to pass judgement on someone else’s motives, especially when we don’t even know the person, except by reputation or through the media. The media isn’t the most reliable source for the true nature of any person or event. So if I have the wrong picture of Mr. Card, my apologies.

    When I first started reading the Harry Potter books, I read the first three, knowing very little about Jo Rowling, the person. She was not very talkative, except in newspaper interviews or on shows that I didn’t read or hear till years later. So none of that really influenced how I felt about the books. And it still doesn’t, actually. I’ve been reading all the books again, since the Dumbledore outing, and find that none of it diminishes my enjoyment of the series. I’ve just started again on Half-Blood Prince. Even after the end of the last book, when she did start talking, I found, after initially being annoyed at her telling things that were not included in the books (even though she thought adults would see it–I didn’t), that none of it changed my love of the books and the characters and the richness of the story. Not a bit.

    As for the law suit, I realize that it is not something she is doing all on her own. She is associated with some large and powerful corporations and has certain obligations to them as well as to herself. Had there been no movies, would she have persued the law suit? Who knows. That sort of speculation doesn’t much matter.

    Whether or not I agree with her point of view, I find myself admiring rather her for standing up for what she thinks is right. It’s much easier, especially for someone who now has a comfortable life with a lovely family to let it go. I’m sure many would disagree with that. But fighting with anyone is not pleasant, whether it is in person or in a court. No matter what the outcome of the trial, I have a great deal of respect for Jo Rowling. What kind of role model would she be if she just caved in because it is easier? Her characters never did and why should any of us expect that she would?


  6. There are those who refuse to listen to Wagner because of his virulent anti-semitism and hyper-nationalism.

    Others accept that an author or composure is an imperfect vessel who, due to circumstances, becomes an outlet for a transcendent creativity. This is not to deny the 90% perspiration.

  7. revgeorge says

    I think I’ve been able to keep my feelings for the books & for Ms. Rowling separate for the most part. I sat down & starting reading Deathly Hallows for the third time, the other night, & I was pretty much immersed in the story. As I read I wasn’t thinking about JKR at all; just the characters in the books. I think that’s the mark of a good story, that you get so into the world that it seems real & not contrived. It just sweeps you up into it.

    reyhan is right (sorry about agreeing with you) that a person’s own failings, like Beethoven or Mozart or Wagner, to keep it to composers, doesn’t affect the beauty & majesty of their work.

  8. Puffy Griffinclaw says

    Let me make an admission. I enjoy reading (more often listening to audio books), and at times can enjoy 50 books a year. And here’s the soul-baring admission: I would be hard pressed to name the authors of some of the best and most impactful books I’ve read (or listened to) even in the last five years. Maybe it’s my sagging middle-aged short term memory. It is certainly not any disrespect to the authors. But even though I may not remember the author’s name, I will remember how the book made me feel, or what it made me think about or see through different eyes, how it changed me. It doesn’t bother ME that I can’t always remember the author’s name (though it does make me a dull conversationalist at the cocktail receptions I endure occasionally)…”Oh, I read this awesome book but I can’t recall the author and the title was something like…”

    So for me, who the author is or what they are doing is pretty irrelevant. It is pretty rare that I know anything about the author. For me, the book is the thing, to paraphrase. I agree with Reyhan on her point that some terrific music, art, literature was created by people whom most of us would not enjoy having over to dinner or on our family tree. But I suppose that the authors would not appreciate my point of view and may think, “Hey toots, if you’re going to feel good or bad or different after reading my work, the least you could do is remember my name!”

    It makes all the sense in the world that who or what the author is has expressed itself in the work, but for me, the work stands as an entity unto itself. I was helping my 7th grader study for chemistry. The topic was the classes of matter, differentiating a mixture (where two or more substances combine but do not combine chemically with each other) from a solution (where one substance dissolves into another so well you can’t see the component parts) or a compound (chemical unions of two or more elements). I think the best works are like compounds, chemical unions that are inseparable (or separable with great chemical energy)or at least solutions: it would be hard to tease apart a character to separate the author, and doing so should not change the essence. Some works are more like mixtures, where it is easier to see where the author inserts him/herself. My amateur observation is that these always feel a little clunky or even preachy. The voice can feel inauthentic.

    So I guess my bottom line is that while I don’t necessarily pay attention to the author on the book spine, I know the author will be present in the story…and if it is a really good author, I won’t even see them.

    From what I have read of JKR (and it’s hard to avoid reading something about her if you lurk about Potterania websites), she seems to want to control the characters and the stories and as many things-Potter as possible. This contol is what seems to make her work is so tightly composed and exacting, for example, that inconsequential hints in the early books have great impact in later books. I have not read much about the lawsuit (I live with a lawyer and hearing about such can get tiresome), but given her exacting control of the interior landscapes of her books, it would not be surprising that she wants to maintain control of the Potter landscapes outside the books. She may be insulted than anyone other than herself would hold themselves out as a Potter expert; and perhaps there is also concern that “experts” other than herself could change the image and import of Harry. So I would disagree with Mr. Card that it is greed, I don’t think it is a money issue at all.

    I don’t think it is her desire for “respect” or to be treated as more than a children’s book author. I think it’s just this: I think she is fiercely protective of Harry as his creator. Her protectiveness brings up an image of Lily spreading her arms across baby Harry’s crib in a way every mother resonates with. And JKR is not about to stand for anyone else trying to “own” him in any way, reminding me of Harry’s not wanting to be Scrimgeour’s poster boy.

    I think it would be very hard, having created such a compelling world within the books and a character like Harry, to just walk away from them, to have them so separated from her. Although I personally don’t need to understand the connection between author and characters to understand or enjoy the books, I can certainly understand how SHE may not feel that way!

    I don’t know how the lawsuit is going, but it seems that the Potter world is really beyond what she will be able to control, even if this case is successful for her. Eventually, unless the mania dies away quickly, it will not be something that she can wrap up tightly and control, so she might want to remember the advice of the mirror at the Leaky Cauldron, “You’re fighting a losing battle there, dear.”

    Alex, I’m glad you shared your thoughts. You think you’re long-winded? Wow, my husband would PAY to have me be as concise and brief! I’m not sure I answered our Professor’s questions, but I appreciate the opportunity to communally reflect on the topic.


  9. Travis Prinzi says

    I’ve been a big fan of Card’s since I was a kid. I’m really quite shocked by this particular article. He seems bitter, and I don’t get it. The derivation charge is thrown over and over again by Fantasy and Science Fiction authors at a woman who claims to not really care for the genre in the first place. Unless we can prove Rowling lied about not being widely read in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi world, then all this derivation-hunting needs to just go on pause. She’s written in a great tradition, and in many ways she’s subverted that tradition. There are going to be similarities and differences. But to say, “It’s obvious she read and stole from me because there are story similarities…” I just don’t get that. LeGuin pulled the same nonsense.

    So, to the point at hand: No, neither this case, nor anything else Rowling has said or done (whether I agree or not) has raised or lowered my opinion of the books or changed the way I experience them. I’m not “postmodern” enough to say “the author is dead,” but I’m postmodern enough to say that the author and the story are two different things.

    Card needs to calm down, remember the “love” he wept over upon reading DH, and maybe think about rewriting that piece so that it shows a bit more charity.

  10. John,

    I am amazed at this post of yours. I had just seen the editorial by Card this morning while sipping my morning coffee and had only enough time to do a quick post on my blog bringing it to people’s attention.

    I had no real time to reflect upon it other than yikes, he’s a bit hot under the collar about this case.

    The fact that this was written by a well known successful author puts it on a different plane than just another blogger who’s got an opinion.

    He’s one of her peers.

    You were able to in a short time read his piece and then pull together reviews by others and assimilate it all into a thoughtful and thought provoking post.

    I am impressed at the speed in which you did that and the clarity of thought you expressed.

    As to your question of how our enjoyment of the books has been influenced by our knowledge of the author, I have to say my opinion about Jo Rowling has changed over the years. I explained it in detail on my blog before about my shock and dismay over an interview after the publication of Half-Blood Prince in which I felt she and her hand-picked fandom interviewers insulted the intelligence and integrity of a large portion of her fans.

    I did not like that at all, and it colored my overall enjoyment of the series.

    This lawsuit has likewise made me think a lot about her as a person and not the merits of her work.

    I liken it to other celebrities where their personalities start to overshadow their art. There are some celebrities who have from one PR disaster or another are looked at as being weirdos and I think it impacts their box office draw. For example, Tom Cruise. I used to really like him as an actor, but now I see him as someone a bit out of touch with reality. I don’t know that I would want to go out and see a movie with him in it anymore, because I might have a hard time suspending my disbelief and allow myself to be caught up in the story while I’m sitting there thinking about how strange he has become over the years.

    Perhaps that kind of reaction won’t be as acute with JKR in the future because after all, it is really the words on the page that matter for authors. However, some HP fans might not buy all the Pottermania schwag that they would otherwise purchase if they find themselves not as enamored with the series as they once were due to a disenchantment with the author.


  11. Good response, Athena. It’s true the lawsuit may have some impact, but – just to clarify what I said above – I don’t think it should. Ms. Rowling can be judged by her words, both in the text and in interviews, because she has control over them. And, like you, I was turned off by some of her interviews. That’s fair, because when she writes and speaks, she chooses how she expresses herself. We do not know that she chose these lawsuits, so we really shouldn’t judge her as a result of them.

    I also wanted to clarify what I meant about Mr. Card. I’m not especially a Card fan; he’s gifted and writes compelling stories, but his stories creep me out. As to his response here, it strikes me as distinctly weird, because he’s lauding the book excessively, and then turning against the author much too harshly. Let’s face it – DH is a flawed book. Some people love it; others (like me) hate it; but it’s clearly got both good and bad points*. And Ms. Rowling, the author, is a human being, so it inevitably follows she also has both good and bad points. To set her on so high a pedestal, and then practically demonize her only a few months later, as Mr. Card does, is just odd.

    The best, most cogent, and best-humored response to this suit was Neil Gaiman’s, on his blog. He’s right. I don’t really think Mr. Card is; he’s just too over-the-top in condemning a woman for something she may not, after all, have chosen.

    (*Yes, I really, really, hate DH. Even so, I will freely admit it has some good points.)

  12. When I started loving Harry Potter, I also started loving the author who wrote him with such a strong love. Hearing about her heavy years, just stengthened that feeling of sympathy and love. And since I still love Harry, I still love the author. Whatever reasons those people out there put forward to the contratry, they are simply not stong enogh arguments for me to change my mind.

    I think this is what most readers will think: (1) I love Harry, (2) Joanne loves Harry, (3) Then we share the same love, and that is a strong thing to share.

    Odd Sverre Hove
    (Bergen, Norway)

  13. Chosen66 says

    I must say that I thoroughly disagree with people’s responses to Mr. Card’s comments. Not only is he right on the money, but he also stated it appropriately. Scholarly writing repels me because it lacks personality and opinion and it is about time someone like Orson Scott Card, whom I greatly respect, stepped up and noted precisely how absurd Mrs. Rowling’s actions are. Sometimes ridicule is the only response to stupidity and head-swell. Rather than dwelling on whether or not Card’s comments are nice (irrelevant), we must consider whether or not they are true. And, examinations of her inner thoughts aside, fairly on the mark.

    I don’t think the suit itself will effect my perception of the books. I am completely disgusted by it, and I’ve lost some respect for her and think we ought to take the microphones away before she totally embarrasses herself. But then, I’ve never really considered her to be anything but a good author. Her books might be the new Narnia, but she is not the new C. S. Lewis. My largest sorrow is that she seems utterly determined to destroy the good the books have done. She’s already ruined DUmbledore’s reputation in the popular mind with her gay theory, what is next I don’t even want to think about.

    I don’t imagine this will effect critical interaction with her work. I mean, Milton was arrogant too, but his work is still respected.

  14. In reading through all the comments, I realized that one of the reasons it’s so easy for me to not pay attention to Mr. Card is that I’ve never read anything he’s written, and in looking at the description on Amazon of his books (and his political leanings on Wikipedia), I’m not likely to do so.

    That’s no reflection on those of you who like him as an author–it’s just that I’m not a great fan of sci-fi or fantasy in general. Yes, I know–Harry Potter is fantasy, but it is more than that and more about the relationships between the characters–the fantasy ends up being the window-dressing, really. I’ve read some sci-fi and fantasy, but most of it doesn’t appeal to me.

    So my point is that for me to take seriously the comments of another author about any author, it would have to come from someone that I’ve read a lot, or that I respect a lot–maybe if Jane Austen or Charles Dickens made the same claims, I might pay more attention.


  15. Correct or not, that was a particularly vitriolic piece by Mr. Card. It reminds me that neither Dickens nor Brontë had any use for Jane Austen.

    I love Dickens, Brontë, Card–but none of them beats Austen or Rowling in their appeal to my imagination. Not that that’s entirely relevant. But even if I disagreed with Rowling in her suit against RDR Books–and if the folks at The Leaky Cauldron are more than half correct in their representation of the case, I’m on her side–it wouldn’t really shake my appreciation of her work. John, I don’t remember if it was you or Travis that wrote about this, but I do recall an interesting point being made about the possibility of books being “more orthodox than their author” and were Jo Rowling to really prove herself disappointing as a public figure (or as a person or a Christian), that would seem to hold true for her books.

    Frustration with an author, or any other type of artist, might make me think about the worldview that went into the work; that can affect my emotions about the work itself, but it wouldn’t necessarily change whether or not the work lives up to at least some of the standards of quality. And in the case of Harry Potter, I’m convinced of the quality both of the art itself and of its basic message.

  16. Travis Prinzi says

    Rather than dwelling on whether or not Card’s comments are nice (irrelevant), we must consider whether or not they are true.

    Chosen66, I think this is an unfortunate statement. Whether or not someone conducts themselves according to charity is as important as whether the statements themselves are accurate (especially, in this case, since John is wisely not allowing any commentary on the merit of the suit). It’s hardly “irrelevant” to say that a piece is mean-spirited, uncharitable, or cross-the-line insulting.

    To miss that is to miss the heart of Rowling’s writing in the first place.

  17. Thanks Travis, for expressing my thoughts in response to Chosen66’s comments. If we cannot carry on a civilized discussion but sink to mean-spirited name calling, then there is no basis for debate. Might as well throw spitballs at each other and call it an argument.

    By throwing metaphorical spitballs at JKR, Mr. Card has lost his right to have his opinion considered seriously. If he’s willing to try again, but this time without the shrill invective then I’d be willing to think about his position.

    Pat, although it’s the last thing I want right now is to be fair to Mr. Card, even the brief overview of Ender’s Game in Wikipedia tells me that it might be interesting. The themes of deception, remorse, repentence and resurrection are strongly woven into the story. Imagine if Snape and Harry were to be combined in one person. It might be worth a read.

  18. I think Linda is right on the money when she compares this whole thing to the damage Tom Cruise has done to his image and reputation.

    Most authors don’t become celebrities of any kind. And most don’t court that kind of attention and publicity; it’s not in their nature as authors. (As opposed to actors. After all, remember Lawrence Olivier’s statement as to the three reasons anyone becomes an actor: “1. Look at me. 2. Look at me. 3. Look at me.”)

    But celebrity is a heady drug, and JKR has had more than a taste of it, and has no experience in how to temper it, how to use it, how to avoid it. And no experience with the fact that, when the celebrity is event-based (the opening of a movie, the release of a book, etc.), it goes away.

    Now her moment in the sun has faded. And maybe she thought it would always be that way. Maybe it was tastier than she expected. Maybe she wonders if it will ever come back.

    And maybe she wonders if she will ever write anything again that will bring it back.

    She will never — *never* — write anything as feted as Harry Potter again. She probably knows that, deep down, whether she can admit it to herself or not (or admit that she cares about it or not).

    So here she is, fading into the back pages and then off the back pages. And that shouldn’t matter. She knows that. But being on the front pages is fun. It is, indeed, a drug.

    How to get back on the front pages? Well, she has to write something else. But she hasn’t faced a truly blank page in 17 years. That has to be an incredibly daunting, even bone-chilling, prospect.

    But to write an encyclopedia — *that* she could do. Her fans would love it. It wouldn’t matter if its box office wasn’t HP-sized, because after all, who would expect those numbers for a reference book.

    And along comes Warner Bros., with *plenty* of experience in dealing with celebrities nervous about losing their place on the top of the heap, *plenty* of knowledge about how to flatter and tweak and manipulate. And they, too, are nervous: Will the cash cow that is the Harry Potter franchise come to an end with the publication of the last book?

    (Remember: We can talk about JKR’s “Ownership” of HP all we want. But legally, all she owns is the wording of the 7 books. She has sold the name Harry Potter, the content, the characters, the right to exploit them in ANY way OTHER than literary — all of it, she has sold to Warner Bros. THEY own Harry Potter. JKR does not.)

    Are we surprised that WB, seeking to protect one of its most valuable franchises (more valuable than Superman, more valuable than Batman), manages to convince JKR that she is being exploited?

    Which leads us (finally!) back to the question of whether this will affect readers’ enjoyment of the books. And I think this comes back to the “Tom Cruise” issue that Linda so appropriately brought up.

    JKR has been in the news in an unflattering light. And people who see those reports, who read about the trial will, I think, run the risk of having their perceptions of her work affected.

    But she’s only been in the news. And really, how many people pay attention to the news. If a question about the trial appeared on “Jeopardy” a year from now, how many people would get it right?

    Mr. Cruise, on the other hand, has been all over YouTube, he has made a fool of himself on Oprah, he has has tabloids rabidly seeking his daughter’s photograph, he has been parodied “South Park” — as well as having all these incidents repeated on the news and tabloid shows ad infinitum. And he had/has a personality much more widely known, much more cherished, much more valuable as a commodity than JKR, a mere author, ever had or ever will. Tom’s Q-Score may have dropped from 30 to 19 with all his shenanigans, but JKR’s has never been higher than 15, and it never will be.

    The bottom line? *We* may find her behavior regarding the trial (or recent interviews, or “Dumbledore is gay,” or whatever) off-putting, but the vast majority of her readers are simply not aware of it. Yes, it was on the news for a few days, but then it disappeared. It fell below most readers’ radar, just as JKR herself will inevitably fall below most people’s radar.

    But her books will not. I believe her books will endure. Most readers will not be affected by the trial news because they will forget about it or they will never have paid attention to it in the first place.

    Her books will, indeed, endure. And *that* is far more important than any celebrity.

    I just hope JKR comes to realize that very soon.

    –Janet, writing from Hollywood, the home of celebrity itself

  19. Thank you, Janet. This is guesswork, certainly, but I think the Warner Brothers piece of the puzzle has been the much neglected piece — and of Harry Potter readers I know you are the most knowledgeable of what film makers are thinking and what they are capable of. Sorry to sound like a sophomore Marxist, but the “follow the money” logic of your speculation, given the enormity of the prize for Warner Brothers if Ms. Rowling returns to Hogwarts fiction, I find compelling.

    Your thoughts, too, on how little this will affect Reader Response ultimately strikes me as sober and on the mark. I spoke last night at a beautiful church in Bryn Mahr, Pennsylvania, and the very serious fans there were unaware there had even been a lawsuit. Until she leaves the rails a la Tom Cruise, this is probably a non-issue with respect to long term impact on reader response and critical interpretation, as other All-Pros here have said in different ways.

    I appreciate your posting this “view from Hollywood” here.

  20. Janet,

    Two points. Your analysis of JKR’s motives is based on speculation and supposition. You don’t know – no one except those close to her know, and even they don’t completely know – how she feels about the prospect of writing again. Also, no one can predict with accuracy how successful her future books will be. To speculate that she’s afraid of writing again, and that she wants to do an encyclopedia because she feels that is something she can do, and as well that she does not wish to lose the limelight – that is only speculation, and I think you need to recognize and note that.

    My second point is this: I do not find her recent behaviour off-putting, and I don’t think that she’s putting herself in an unflattering right. Therefore I feel a strong need to point out that when you use the word “we”, that does not include me. I might be in the minority on this subject, but odds are, I’m not the only one.

    And I guess I also have a third point: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to make money out of the products of your own work. Or buying the film rights to someone else’s books so you can both make lots and lots of money out of it. There is, however, something wrong with making money out of someone else’s work without their consent.

    You – and others – may disagree that she has the sole right to make money from her own work. But I wish that you would not pathologize her and attempt to explain her actions in terms of fears and insecurities.

  21. Sorry for the double comment;

    The interesting thing is that regardless of where we fall on the JKR / SVA court case, and indeed regardless of how we view JKR’s actions, most of us here don’t believe our attitudes about those things will affect how we feel about the books. We don’t believe that there will be a “bleed through” from the character of the author to how we understand the books.

    There was a marvellous movie made quite a few years ago, based on a book of the same name: The Singer not the Song. It was supposedly about religion, whether a preist’s power and conviction came from his personal faith, or from the message that he brought. Originally, I was quite the believer in the Singer. But now I’m moved to say that for an artist anyways, it’s the Song.

    Janet, I think that’s what you’re saying too: JKR noteriety is temporary, her work will last. On that we agree.

  22. Chosen66 says

    Travis, I do agree that it is good practice to exercise charity. We should at all times be charitable with regard to motivations as we cannot see the heart. There is also an unwarranted nastiness that some people take to be true criticism but in actuality is simply name-calling. But there is also such a thing as valid (or holy) ridicule, which even God does quite often in Scripture. So do the Prophets. And Jesus. And Paul. They are quite satirical and mock the Biblical “fool,” who is often ungrateful, vain, greedy, and bullying.

    Again, it is not (so much) how it is said, but whether or not it is true. Mr. Card is a well-educated man deserving all the respect, and more, he gets for his writing. He is a well-respected social critic as well, particularly within Mormonism. I’ve read his columns for years, and they are eight times out of ten spot on the money. What he is saying is passionate, maybe a little disappointed and bitter, sure. I’m disappointed with Rowling too. The fact that he had guts enough to say it is a kudos to me. Many people of his caliber refuse to talk about most things for fear of backlash. He doesn’t care.

    However, with regards to your last point, you say that it is not irrelevant whether something is mean-spirited and that anything else misses the heart of Rowling’s works. I would ask you then what you could possibly make of Lockhart, Skeeter, and Fudge, all of whom are vitriolic satirical commentaries on celebrity, media, and government. Lockhart is an absolute buffoon, and it is not mean-spirited to say so. It would be mean-spirited to call him something nasty that is either mean for meanness sake or something *invalid*. And when Rowling starts acting like Lockhart, which she has, it is no crime to point out the similarity. And contrary to rayhan, the fact that he says so and says it strongly in no way invalidates what he said. HIs comments would be invalid if there were no reason for them; if he had described her as a poopy head or jerk face. Or even if he called her pathetic for no particular reason. The difference is that he *gave* reasons, and dismissing them because of the tone is just as bad as what he is being accused of.

    I am completely against nastiness, but I am all for rhetorical flourish and (valid) satire. Some unrepentant sinners need to be treated with less than perfect tenderness.

    What was it that Mr. Card said? 1) Rowling is listing about searching for meaning. Her world was defined by Harry, and now he’s done. It’s happened before (George Lucas, ahem), and it will happen again, and it is patently obvious this is what is happening to her, poor woman. Card is most likely 85-95% correct here.

    2) Rowling wants literary respectability. This too is most likely correct. She’s well educated. She’s knowledgeable. She’s a talented writer. How would *you* like it if most of the critics sniffed down their noses at your “pop culture crap” to summarize Ayatt? In this she is very much like Milton, knowing she is good and thirsting for recognition. I know that I would be livid if I had written the book series that left all other books on the NYT Bestseller list far behind in the dust, and then the NYT saw fit to create a new category just so that my books would not have to compete with what the NYT considered “real literature.” It would, as Card helpfully pointed out, make me “insane.”

    3) She *is* being manipulated. Yup. Also most likely true. I’m glad Janet fleshed that one out, but Card suspected that as well: “she’s also surrounded by people whose primary function is to suck up to her. No doubt some of them were saying to her, ‘It’s wrong for these other people to be exploiting what you created to make money for themselves.’ She let herself be talked into being outraged over a perfectly normal publishing activity.”

    How does Card describe her after noting these three issues? Ungrateful. She’s suing something that helped make her some of her money. Ingratitude indeed, and right on for saying it.

    Vanity. She’s starting to think she’s all that, turning on the hands that have shown nothing but adoration for her work. Vanity indeed. Or should we say, Lockhart indeed?

    Greed. She claims that this normal literary activity is stealing money from her, when this is patently not the case. Greed, indeed (though this may be more a depiction of her lawyers, who thought this would be a great excuse for them to make 1,000 bucks an hour).

    Bullying. She’s beating up on her fans now for no valid reason. Bullying indeed.

    He then describes her as an evil-witch, which should immediately bring to our minds Narnia’s White Witch. Now reread that story and notice how many similarities there are – greed, bullying, vanity (especially in Magician’s Nephew), ingratitude.

    So yes. I am disappointed in Rowling. But I still love her books, and Janet is also absolutely right in saying that the works now stand alone, apart from the author.

  23. The direction this discussion has taken makes me both angry and sad. I am reduced to asking: how did we come to the point where JKR is being compared to the devil?

    On a positive note, John, I think you have your answer. It seems that even if the author is being compared to the Father of Lies, that won’t affect how people see her works. Which should cheer JKR up as well, I guess.

  24. And on that note, this thread — which, frankly, I regret having started — is closed.

  25. Arabella Figg says

    John, I’m late to this and would like to add one more thing, if I may, but if you want to keep this closed, I understand.

    None of us lives inside Ms.Rowling’s head. None of us knows the motives of her heart. May we offer her the graciousness we have received from Christ, admitting that our own motives might be misconstrued. She has given us a great gift and we respond with cruel psychoanalysis that would tear our own hearts to pieces?

    If we were to judge all art by its creators, we’d have very little art left in this world that satisfied our varied expectations. It is the art that stands the test of time. I’m very thankful for what she has given us, a lasting, wonderful work.

    Kitties are great works of art. Do we accept the purrs and not the claws?…

  26. cassiane says

    I’m also late with any comments, but JKR and her actions should never have been subject to such scrutiny, indeed to such condemnation. Come now, Mr. Card and all who have made an example of her–are your own personal lives completely above reproach? You shoud know the answer to that one, as should we all.

    We’re not angels; we’re only very flawed human beings. But somehow writers and artists tend to put their best selves into their work, and it is these works which survive their authors, and which we love.

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky and C.S. Lewis, for example, were hardly perfect people. Their lives are quite well documented, as is JKR’s, on account of her celebrity status. But we know what they strived for, because we have their works as a record.

  27. I’m way late to the party, but I did follow the fracas over the Lexicon, and I am a fan of the Harry Potter books. As for my opinion, I believed that Rowling did have a valid case against Vander Ark, and as it turned out, the judge agreed. My opinion of Rowling’s books, however, did not change at all as a result of the case, and my response to re-reading the books didn’t change. I seriously doubt that the case will affect the general response to Rowling, since the majority of people who have read, or will read, Harry Potter don’t know about it. Rowling’s public persona to most people is, I think, pretty quiet. They may know she was poor before Harry Potter or that she supports children’s charities and is a very rich woman, but that’s about it. These vague brushstrokes will probably not impact most people’s opinions. Rather the opposite–people who like her books will probably tend to judge her character on the values in the books, not the books on the author’s personality.

    I find Mr. Card’s critical article childish because he has no real basis for making the suppositions that he does about Rowling’s character and motivations. He supposes that she craves more spotlight and relevance, and she wants to be fetted and celebrated ad nauseum and is afraid that with the final Harry Potter book published, she will loose all that. This is all supposition, which I think is really a waste of time.

    If it was wrong of Rowling to sue over the Lexicon, then it was wrong based on the merits of the case and copyright law (and Card’s opinions about copyright law). It is not wrong because she has a screw loose or craves attention. When an argument devolves into an attempt in to plumb a complete stranger’s psyche and find character flaws, it’s time to find a better argument.

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