Harry potter

Why don’t I come with a trigger warning?

Last week brought the news that some universities have attached more ‘trigger warnings’ to certain books, concerned that students may find their contents offensive and upsetting. No, we’re not talking about Lolita, American Psycho or The 120 Days of Sodom. The works judged too disturbing for young people of a sensitive disposition include Oliver Twist, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’m not making that last one up. The English department at the University of Chester has included it as a set text on its Approaches to Literature module and cautioned students that it may ‘lead to some difficult conversations about gender, race, sexuality, class, and identity’.

J.K. Rowling and the death of nuance

There are few good things to say about the public conversation around transgender issues, which all too often shows us — all of us — at our worst. But it also offers up a seemingly endless series of case studies illustrating wider problems with the way contemporary culture and institutions deal with difficult ideas. The latest lesson comes from Boswells School in Chelmsford, Essex. It has dropped J.K. Rowling’s name from one of its houses. Previously, she was honoured as a champion of self-discipline, regarded as a role model for children perhaps for her determination in starting her globally-successful series of books under difficult circumstances. Rowling wrote her first Harry

Laura Freeman

Munchkins and mischiefs

Arthur Rackham shouldn’t have lived in anything as conventional as a house. It should have been a gingerbread cottage, like the one he drew for Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with cakes for a roof and boiled sugar for windows. Or a Rapunzel turret, for letting down ropes of long, blonde hair, except he was so very goblin-bald. Or a Sleeping Beauty palace with a spinning-wheel in the topmost tower. As it was, he lived in Chalcot Gardens, north of Primrose Hill and south of Hampstead Heath, with his wife Edyth Starkie, a portrait painter, and their daughter Barbara, at the end of an 1880s row set back from the road. It

Harry Potter and the strange absence of J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter returned to Hogwarts this weekend for a 20th anniversary special. He was joined in the Gryffindor common room by Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, but not – controversially – the woman who created it all. JK Rowling’s conception of Hogwarts, a school of witchcraft and wizardry, has become an institution. The books have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, while the film series grossed almost $10 billion at the box office. Not a bad return for Warner Brothers, who bought the rights to the first four books for a reported £1 million. But Rowling’s foray into the trans debate has created a headache for Warner Brothers. Let’s be

The attacks on J.K. Rowling only prove her point

It is often said that J.K. Rowling is uncancellable. So rich and bankable is the Harry Potter author — now a modern-day folk devil due to her views on transgenderism — it is almost inconceivable that she could be deprived of her livelihood or pushed entirely out of polite society. But her deranged haters are certainly giving it a good go. The demonisation of Rowling has taken a decidedly Stalinist turn of late. Her crime? Making some mild criticisms of gender ideology and holding to deeply old-fashioned views like believing in biological sex. The cultural elite might not be able to deprive Rowling of her income, but they can try

Why the targeting of J.K.Rowling is so terrifying

I know from bitter experience that you don’t have to be a best-selling author to be hounded by the trans ideologues. You don’t have to be an evil witch to be cancelled by the spoiled kids you made famous. You don’t even have to say you think gender identity is a load of poppycock to be accused of transphobia. And yet, once again, J.K.Rowling has been targeted by trans activists. Her crime? To speak up for women’s sex-based rights. The Harry Potter author has revealed that on Friday ‘three activist actors’ turned up on her doorstep. According to Rowling, the trio ‘took pictures of themselves in front of our house, carefully positioning themselves

Harry Potter meets Ikea: Backlot Cafe reviewed

Harry Potter is a fictional orphan locked in a cupboard by his aunt and uncle, after which he discovers a magical world and a better class of nemesis than his ugly suburban relatives. It seethes with class. The Dursleys are lower-middle-class, golf-club-haunting gammons. I suspect their MP is Dominic Raab, and I suspect they vote for him. The improved nemesis ‘Lord’ Voldemort is half landed gentry and heir to a Jacobean manor house on a hill. Harry Potter is world famous, and so people want to join him in suburban misery (we are near Watford), though in a slightly larger cupboard: the vast prop room in a former sound stage

JK Rowling’s fundamental mistake

I had my first doubts about Lord Hall, the former director-general of the BBC, when he addressed a group of us BBC editors back in about 1999 in his role then as head of news. A pleasant, emollient man, he revealed that he was thoroughly enjoying reading the second Harry Potter book, which had recently been published. Grow up, Tony, I thought to myself. Get yourself some Dostoyevsky for Christ’s sake. Snobbish it well may be, but I can’t take seriously an adult displaying such infantile predilections (and this goes for those grown-up admirers of Philip Pullman). Harry Potter was a big sensation at the time. I remember being on

Going bats

When it was recently announced that Robert Pattinson, who played the vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight films, had secured the role of Batman, a Twitter user wrote: ‘Worst vampire ever. Took him 11 years to turn into a bat.’ This is  probably Twitter’s second greatest bat joke, beaten only by @LRBbookshop’s ‘I reckon Nagel actually knows full well what it’s like to be a bat’. It is in the nature of social media to carp, though, and in that spirit I point out that, while Twilight’s Edward didn’t become a bat (his main uncanny powers beside immortality seemed to be great cheekbones and a Mr Darcy-ish froideur), Batman isn’t

You’ve lost me

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the sequel to the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and either J.K. Rowling’s plots are now so labyrinthine she makes your average John le Carré look like Noddy, or I failed to put in sufficient homework, or it’s a plain mess. Whichever, I hadn’t a clue what was happening most of the time. I like the whole Potter industry well enough, but I can’t say I’m a superfan. I don’t even have an opinion on whether Dumbledore is gay or not, which is the surest sign of non-superfandom. But while a film should cater to those in the

I’m allergic to all this constant outrage

I’m often surprised by what people are offended by. Like the makers of Peter Rabbit, the new animated feature from Sony Pictures, I could not have predicted that a scene in which Peter and his friends pelt another character with blackberries in the hope of triggering an allergic reaction would provoke a storm of protest. Yet that is what has happened. A petition demanding an apology has attracted thousands of signatures, a charity called Kids with Food Allergies has condemned the film as ‘harmful to our community’ and #boycottpeterrabbit started trending on Twitter shortly after the film was released in America. I wonder how many people objecting to this scene

J.K. Rowling’s schizophrenic politics | 1 July 2017

On the face of it, there is nothing complicated about the politics of Harry Potter, who made his first appearance in The Philosopher’s Stone 20 years ago. Like his creator J.K. Rowling, who once gave £1 million to the Labour party, he is a left-wing paternalist in the Bloomsbury tradition — the love child of John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. He feels a protective duty towards the common man (‘muggles’ in the lexicon of the novels) and a loathing for suburban, lower-middle-class Tories like the Dursleys, his Daily Mail-reading foster parents. The arch-villain of the saga is Voldemort, a charismatic Übermensch who believes in purity and strength and in

J.K. Rowling’s schizophrenic politics

On the face of it, there is nothing complicated about the politics of Harry Potter, who made his first appearance in The Philosopher’s Stone 20 years ago. Like his creator J.K. Rowling, who once gave £1 million to the Labour party, he is a left-wing paternalist in the Bloomsbury tradition — the love child of John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. He feels a protective duty towards the common man (‘muggles’ in the lexicon of the novels) and a loathing for suburban, lower-middle-class Tories like the Dursleys, his Daily Mail-reading foster parents. The arch-villain of the saga is Voldemort, a charismatic Übermensch who believes in purity and strength and in

Letters | 29 June 2017

The Tory quagmire Sir: While the media has been preoccupied in divining what went wrong with the Conservatives’ appalling election result, Fraser Nelson (‘What are the Tories for?’, 24 June) neatly perceives some of the more obvious causes. Quite what possessed seemingly intelligent people to come up with so many half-baked ideas that found their way into a poorly thought-through manifesto is beyond comprehension. To witness the volte-faces was truly nauseating and not worthy of a party with such a long and distinguished record in government. The quagmire Mrs May finds herself in bodes poorly for both Brexit and a host of pressing domestic issues. The Tory party have an enviable economic

Harry Potter and the millennial mind

Which Hogwarts house would you be in? There are four options, and everybody fits into one. The brave and chivalrous are put in Gryffindor. Patient and loyal types head to Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw is for the witty and intelligent. The cunning and ambitious — and potentially evil — are destined for Slytherin. In the Harry Potter books, a pugnacious talking hat, known as the ‘Sorting Hat’, carries out the selection. If you are like me and under 35, you probably didn’t need that explaining. Almost every young person who can read has read Harry Potter — 450 million copies have been sold worldwide. Not to do so was an act of

Sink or swim | 15 June 2017

I used to worry that I would never be a good writer because my childhood wasn’t interesting enough. I now think there must be some other explanation. Because the truth is that, when I was still pretty young, my parents banished me to an isolated community where for years on end I was compelled to dress in heritage costume, endure the uncanny absence of women and participate in ritualistic group activities, often of a physical or religious nature. That’s right. I am an Old Harrovian. On the face of it, this seems like an odd choice for my parents to have made for me — although it isn’t as bat-cave

Ersatz erudition

Harry Potter, who uses the stage name Daniel Radcliffe, is a producer’s delight. By now it’s becoming clear that the four-eyed wizard lacks distinction as an actor. He’s not a comedian, certainly not a leading man or a heart-throb, and he hasn’t the ugliness or eccentricity to be a villain. But this Polyfilla quality means he can be dropped into anything without harming the fabric. His presence in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead — a difficult and at times flimsy exhibition of varsity wit — is an insurance policy that will guarantee brisk business at the box office. He and his co-star Joshua McGuire play Hamlet’s faithless schoolfriends, who pootle

From page to stage

Reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet is a heady experience. You not only see, hear, know her characters — you can almost taste them. The villain of the first of the four books, which follow the friendship of mercurial Lila and striving Lenù from childhood into their sixties, is Don Achille, an ‘ogre’ who sweats the smells of ‘salami, provolone, mortadella, lardo and prosciutto’. Lila herself, always wriggling free of the nets of others, is ‘skinny, like a salted anchovy’. Nino, loved by both Lila and Lenù, is ‘an anomalous, sweet fruit’. Naples itself, the backdrop to the books, acting as a succubus, pulling the characters back when they try to

The lonely passion of Beatrix Potter

The story of the extraordinary boom in children’s literature over the last 100 years could be bookended with a ‘Tale of Two Potters’ — Beatrix and Harry. The adventures of the latter have sold millions, but the foundations of his success were laid by the former, whose series of ‘little tales’ Matthew Denison estimates in his equally condensed new biography, ‘are purchased somewhere in the world every 15 seconds’. That is not bad for an author whose first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, came out in 1902 — 40 million copies sold so far, and counting — with neither the benefit of the internet or a movie franchise to

Can this sweet little girl get out of Aleppo alive?

Every morning, after the children go to school, I turn on my computer to check that Bana Alabed is alive and unharmed. I do the same at night. I have never met Bana. She is a sweet-faced, skinny seven-year-old girl who tweets from rebel-held east Aleppo with the help of her mother, Fatemah, an English teacher. Last weekend, as the Syrian government, Russian and Hezbollah forces took over north-eastern Aleppo amid heavy bombardments, Bana tweeted: ‘Tonight we have no house. It’s bombed and I got in rubble. I saw deaths and nearly died.’ As she and her family contemplated their rapidly narrowing options, Bana wrote to her escalating number of