Ink Black Heart: Rowling and Fandoms

The same week that Ink Black Heart is published, a book in which psychotic Woke elements in a popular fiction fandom murder and disable the creators of the story they love and police via Twitter and dedicated websites the acceptable narrative of what they and their creation are about, Rowling, Inc., announces that “For the First Time Ever” the  “global fan community is coming together to celebrate the Wizarding World!” It’s the creator sanctioned ‘Wizarding World Festival’! I imagine the Harry Potter fandom leaders that created the ‘Harry Potter Educational Fan-con’ (HPEF) events, 2003-2010, and the present day Leaky Con gatherings in the US and UK, not to mention the tens of thousands of people who attended those conventions, were surprised to learn they didn’t exist.

The seventh of Rowling’s seven personal crises that live in her Lake of inspiration is the transgender controversy, which, however one thinks about Rowling’s position and Potter fandom’s online response, all can accept transformed the author overnight, in the eyes of that community’s leaders at least, from progressive savior to whipping boy and projection post. Rowling was already writing about this community’s fecklessness in 2020’s Troubled Blood; see Strike’s conversations about feminism with the college students in Robin’s apartment at the St Valentine’s Day Dinner Party and his reflections about his mother’s “exhibitionist” and reflex political activism afterwards. Her pre-emptive denials that Ink Black Heart was about Harry Potter fandom at the Galbraith website and to Graham Norton the week before Strike6’s publication were borderline pathetic attempts to blunt the obvious reading of this new novel in light of her traumatic experiences of the last three years.

As close to absurdity as those denials were and remain after reading Ink Black Heart, I sympathize with the intention of the author in attempting to direct attention away from the obvious. It would be a shame if this book’s interpretation focused almost exclusively on its evident Lake inspiration and neglected Rowling-Galbraith’s Shed artistry that takes the author’s experience and psychological concerns that are largely unconscious and elevates them deliberately to universal human issues of life and death, art and meaning, relationships, love, and loss.

This is not to mention that it is a tenet of writers here that Rowling conceived this series as a seven book ring of rings; that she plotted a book about a violent fandom as early as 2010 as part of this series, one paralleling Strike 2 as well as Half-Blood Prince, is not only believable but almost common sense if you’re looking for another “book within a book about books.” What challenges belief is the possibility put forward by Rowling that this book has not been informed by her experiences since that conception. Especially as it is possible that Rowling deliberately exploded her relations with Potter fandom circa 2019.

The great majority of our writing here at HogwartsProfessor about Rowling’s work, to include Ink Black Heart, has been and will continue to be focused on her Shed artistry rather than her personal issues and life. That Rowling has revealed her understanding of her process in the 2019 Lake and Shed interview, however, Serious Strikers are obliged to dive as necessary into Rowling’s Lake inspirations and not to deny the obvious connections. Especially when Rowling, Inc., puts out an astonishing announcement that it is about to invent a “global fan community” around the author’s Wizarding World, a place from which her Anomie-esque critics are in large part excluded, at least with respect to planning, programming, and purpose; I’m sure they’ll be welcome to register and pay their admissions fees.

Here are three questions for discussion below, conversation that I hope will not bleed into other threads here, the ones focused on Rowling’s ‘Shed’ literary achievement and failings:

(1) What correspondences are there between Rowling’s “cancellation” by Harry Potter fandom groups and the plot points and characters of Ink Black Heart?

(2) Are her claims of “clairvoyance,” i.e., that the book has nothing to do with her experiences consequent to airing her Gender Critical opinions contra Radical Gender Theorists, that she anticipated that online nightmare in her imaginative efforts, credible or incredible? Is it more or less likely that she conceived the plot of a violent, lawless fandom and that her consequent experiences of fandom backlash informed that original idea?

(3) What is one to make of the Rowling, Inc., announcement the week of Ink Black Heart’s publication that hereafter they will be the ones organizing Wizarding World fandom gatherings, not the fandom itself? Is this just tone-deaf and optics-blind timing or are they sending a message that the Anomie era of fandom directed celebrations of The Presence’s work is over?

Comments

  1. When it comes to how this book treads where angels fear to go, then the best summation I can find for it is expressed in one of the more “moderate” reviews that Rowling’s new book has received in the current online climate. What makes this one standout above the others might be because whatever biases might be on display, the critic does give us one brief, yet notable observation of a key plot point of the text that I think bears a full quotation. It might just be the crux that serious readers need to pay attention to going forward:

    “As Strike and Robin investigate Ledwell’s murder, they discover that the disaffected fans have been whipped into a frenzy by people with ulterior motives – but are the fandom the useful idiots of those groups who wish to sow division and misogyny for their own political ends, or simply being manipulated by somebody with a personal grudge against Ledwell (web)”.

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/ink-black-heart-robert-galbraith-review-jk-rowlings-strike-faces/

    It’s one of the few statements of objective textual fact in an otherwise overheated, digital version of the Mirror of Erised. What makes it stand out is its observation of the conclusion Rowling arrives at in choosing to tackle that gray and black area where online fandom transmutes, or breaks down into just another example of troll culture. In a sense, it’s a topic that JKR can be said to have tackled before. In another, however, one gets the impression that the author is taking a step further, or making an advance on an old theme.

    Part of the reason why she would do such a thing is self-explanatory enough. Online troll fandom came along, and for better or worse, it can be mined for creative inspiration. Provided you have the stomach for it, or course. The interesting note that Rowling adds comes in the form of her suggestion that such attacks are started by malignant parties with ulterior motives, who are willing to use or turn the fandom into what can only be described as an ongoing series of living weapons, whose implementation is then used to further their own personal gain. What’s interesting is the familiarity of this very idea.

    Die-hard fans of the Inklings might at least have heard of this same approach being utilized in a work of literature before. At least it will sound familiar to anyone who has read C.S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”. It’s a book that shares at least one remarkable similarity to “The Ink Black Heart” in the sense that the villains of each text seem to operate on the same divide and conquer strategy. Just as Anomie uses the fandom to cloak the attacks against Edie, so the “NICE” in Lewis’s novel create fake crisis that help turn people against one another in order to create manufactured chaos that serves their own selfish ends. If Rowling has read “THS”, I wonder if this is part of her inspiration?

    One could even go further and ask if this new book isn’t merely Rowling somewhat carrying Lewis’s themes in “Strength” forward into the contemporary digital age?

  2. Kelly Loomis says

    Given the political overtones of such online Twitter critics, ChrisC, I can see why you would make the point above. Rowling has been attacked by the very people who used to think she was their champion.

    Could she be making the point that both left and right political/cultural leaders manipulate people into believing and following whatever is put out on social media? Are the masses so easily swayed and whipped into a frenzy? Is this partly an attack on the movements on both sides of the aisle? Is it only towards the “leaders” or is this directed at those who blindly follow?

  3. Kelly,

    You raise a lot of good questions. All I can say for certain is that it’s pretty clear Rowling is less than thrilled with the direction that modern fandom, indeed, possibly the whole of the Arts, has taken in recent years. All I further know is that what’s striking to me about how she expresses these thoughts is how it just put me in mind of the ideas Lewis expressed long ago. If Rowling is as much of a closeted Lewis fan as has been speculated on this sight, then it raises a further interesting question in my mind.

    I wondered out loud, above, whether or not Rowling took a leaf from CSL’s “That Hideous Strength” for certain aspects of “Ink Black Heart”. That’s still a possibility to keep on the table, so far as I’m concerned. However, even this leads one to a further interesting consideration. By Lewis’s own admission, “THS” was more or less a fictionalization of his apologetic, philosophical text “The Abolition of Man”. To summarize a complex argument, it concerns the way that people dehumanize themselves, and the efforts some will go to achieve control over others, and how this same desire for control just winds up turning people into slaves, in the process.

    It’s interesting if you choose to apply that message to “Strike 6”. In answer to your own questions, the most obvious reply is that it seems certain that Rowling perceives the fandom as open to manipulation by those with bad ulterior motives. That much seems clear, and its also part and parcel of Lewis’s “Abolition” study. So it leads to the possibility, in my mind, at least, of whether or not this new book might be her way of carrying forward the themes contained in both of Lewis’s apologetic and fictional texts? If there’s any truth to this surmise, then one of the themes of “The Ink Black Heart” becomes ironically familiar.

    This could be Rowling classifying the modern fandom as a modern example of “Men without Chests”. It’s Lewis’s phrase from “AOM” for that disorganized state of being when people haven’t disciplined themselves to exert the proper self-control over the mind and the passions. It’s a condition that seems to typify whatever the fandom itself has become over the increasing years. The crux of the matter is this. There are two ways that a person can “lose their heart, or chest”. Neither one of is mutually exclusive of the other.

    The first and most obvious is through a simple lack of training or proper cultivation of the Self, or Soul in any positive direction. This might be the first ingredient in the predicament Rowling now faces. The second, and more insidious, is when any given Controller seeks to manipulate a person for whatever selfish ends. Rowling appears to be claiming that both processes are at work in the current incarnation of artistic fandom.

    Indeed, it seems to have gotten so bad, that she seems to intimate that calling it a “fandom” is sort of an oxymoron at this point According to Robert Galbraith, then, the natural result of being a Man without a Chest” can be summed up in a simple, single word: Anomie.

  4. Frank maguire says

    So this is an important and interesting discussion.

    If you Google this book you will see the obvious outrage from mundane media sources that the victim was targeted for being transphobic. Much like the previous outrage that she had a crossdresser as a serial killer in TB this amounted to a minor concern among certain fans that “the worm” was non binary. However I thought this was a simple parallel to the silkworm bits where she also discussed androgyny…(?)

    If the recent controversies hadn’t happened, this book would be lauded as a feminist text: highlighting domestic violence, emphasising toxic masculinity online, the trials women go through online, the threat incel and right wing terrorists pose to civil society etc etc…Also ftr her woke charicatures; the pen of justice etc turned out to be predatory, incels (or peadophiles). I don’t actually think her critique of “woke” left wing trolls amounted to much at all her really… Her main focus is much more clearly on the right wing incels, MRA abusive pricks… If the right weren’t currently defending her she would receive their ire for this books portrayal of the right wing menace ala what one might réad in the guardian.org

    While obviously the recent turn her own fandom has taken against her definitely coloured this book… I also think this is not an unusual way Rowling has of dealing with her day to day life.

    With Rita Skeeter she created a charicature for her ire against tabloid journalism and also hinted at the very real bugging that went on and about which she testified in court.

    Rowling has had hate from both the right and the left. There were many Christians who were put off by occultism in the book overlooking the clearly Christian themes of the book. They rolled their eyes when Dumbledore was outed as gay etc.
    Fantastic beasts saw many left wing fans criticise it gor queer baiting… There was the controversy over the native American cultural approproation on pottermore. The 2000s lens had started to also colour her lack of diversity etc etc

    I actually thing she did a great job highlighting that toxicity comes from all sides of a fandom

  5. Kirsten Sk says

    Even though JKR probably has more recent inspiration for the book some of the fandom dilemmas may be far older to her than conflict with the woke community of recent years. There were early fan-created online games, at least the was one i Sweden that was quite nice and was shut down in middle-late 00’s due to copyright and JKR:s plans to make a licensed fancommunity platform. She certainly has met and probably sometimes struggled with the same issues as JB and EL do as creators of art that becomes a cultural phenomenon that people build strong personal relationships to. I think it well might be experiences from her earlier years as a writer that’s been the major inspiration for Dreks game etc.

  6. These themes are not so different from the reaction of Molly Weasley to Rita Skeeter’s article in Witch Weekly — Mrs. Weasley is cold to Hermione after reading the absurd story that Skeeter wrote with the goal of selling magazines. So, when Rowling writes years later about Rachel and Zoey’s reaction to the various descriptions of Edie’s bad character, I don’t think the primary influence is anything that has happened recently. The role of malice and greed in public discourse is something Rowling has been well aware of long this particular personal tribulation.

  7. Just been listening to the bit where Hermione gets (literal) poison pen letters as a result of that article Kathleen! Twitter has definitely upped the frequency and the virulence of this kind of thing – but it is good to see how Rowling has been calling it out since 2000 (long before, one hopes and assumes, she was much of a victim of it).

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