J.k. rowling

Could J.K. Rowling be Oxford’s next chancellor?

Among my generation of Oxford graduates – late fifties, early sixties – there is currently a great deal of talk about who the next chancellor should be. In February, the present incumbent, Chris Patten, announced he was stepping down at the end of this academic year, thereby triggering an election to find his successor. The electorate consists of anyone with a degree from the university, which is about 350,000 people. In addition to the predictable runners and riders – Tony Blair, Rory Stewart, Imran Khan – three ex-Conservative prime ministers are in the mix. The chancellorship of Oxford is one of the few remaining elected offices in the UK in

What happened to Stephen Fry’s belief in scientific reason?

Here’s my question for Stephen Fry after he said his trans friends had felt ‘deeply upset’ by some of the comments made by J.K. Rowling: why didn’t you just say to them, ‘So what?’ Fry used to be all about saying ‘So what?’ to people who went on about feeling offended by words. His irritation with offence-takers has even become a meme. ‘It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”. As if that gives them certain rights’, he once said. ‘It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. “I find that offensive.” It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be

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

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 best children’s books: a Spectator Christmas survey

J.K. Rowling Poignant, funny and genuinely scary, The Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my favourite books as a child and the story has lingered in my imagination ever since. Blue iced cakes always put me in mind of Cruella de Vil’s experimental food colourings, and whenever our dogs whine to get out at dusk I imagine them joining the canine news network, the twilight barking. There’s simply no resisting a book containing the lines ‘There are some people who always find beauty makes them feel sadder, which is a very mysterious thing’, and ‘Mr Dearly was a highly skilled dog-puncher’. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall There are countless children’s

Contains moments of spellbinding banality: Radio 4’s The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed reviewed

The interview podcast is a genre immoderately drawn to gimmicks, as the logical space of possible formats is gradually exhausted. The interviewee, quite often themselves a podcaster, might be, for example, invited to noisily eat lunch while nominating their top-five deceased childhood pets. The theory is that fanciful formats encourage the interviewee to open up. Under such conditions, the interview itself can come to seem incidental to the main event, the atmosphere chummy, comfortable, back-scratching, but fundamentally uninterested: you do my interview, I’ll do yours, no real questions asked. The moderately fanciful premise of The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed sees the poet Simon Armitage solitary and at

Animal magic: children’s books for Christmas

J.K. Rowling has written a book for children — and you know what? It’s a charmer. The Ickabod (Hachette, £20) was created for her own children between the Harry Potter books (how does she do it?) and was stashed away until the arrival of Covid, when she found that children were stuck indoors without much to do. So she published it online initially and invited illustrations from her young readers. Now it’s a proper book, with some of those pictures. It’s not a bit like HP. It has some of the elements, including fabulous eatables, but it’s more of a fairy story. Think A.A. Milne’s Once Upon a Time crossed

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

Welcome to the world you created, J.K. Rowling

Why does the most important writer in English, J.K. Rowling, haunt the sewers of the Twittersphere? Why try to deal with the many complexities of transgenderism in a medium that has bizarrely reinvented the brevity of the telegram, but without its Victorian culture of complexity, courtesy and calm? Indeed, Twitter prizes a quite different Victorian moral order, namely that of Jack the Ripper, as the baying muezzins of social media hourly pronounce the end of someone’s reputation in the merciless perpetuity of the internet. This time three years ago, I was a well-known journalist in Ireland, with a modest profile in Britain. On the last weekend of July, on the

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

Round the horn

After the England football team beat Tunisia at this summer’s World Cup, they celebrated with a swimming-pool race on inflatable unicorns. Purple hooves, rainbow manes, cutesy eyes, yellow horns like upended Cornetto cones. The millennial unicorn is unrecognisable from the medieval. The proud unicorns of bestiaries and courtly romances have become the twinkling Bambis of Instagram. Search #unicorn (more than nine million posts) and canter into a pastel clearing of long lashes, swishy tails and crystal horns. ‘My favourite colour,’ announces one unicorn, pink, prancing, wide-eyed, ‘is glitter.’ Compare the simpering My Little Unicorn of the emoji palette with the noble creature in the ‘Unicorn Tapestries’ (c.1500), which hang in

Unhappy days

Scriptwriters love to feast on the lives of children’s authors. The themes tend not to vary: they may have brought happiness to millions of children but their stories — sob — were fertilised by unhappiness. Saving Mr Banks: Mary Poppins author was a bossy shrew because her alcoholic father died young. Miss Potter: Peter Rabbit creator never found love. Finding Neverland: Peter Pan playwright cheered up grieving family. Enid (made for BBC Four): Miss Blyton was a monster traumatised by her upbringing. And so it will presumably go on. We can probably not expect a family film about Charles Dodgson taking cute snaps of little Alice Liddell, but one day,

Second thoughts | 7 September 2017

I had planned to review David Mitchell and Robert Webb’s new Channel 4 sitcom Back without constantly referring to their last one Peep Show. Not only did it seem too obvious a way to go; it also felt a bit unfair to compare a deservedly revered programme that ran for 12 years with a single episode that went out on Wednesday. But then I saw that single episode. It’s possible, I suppose, that one day Mitchell and Webb may head in a completely different sitcom direction. Mitchell may not play an uptight, well-meaning loser, or Webb a preening, conscience-free charmer. For now, though, it’s pretty much as you were. Webb’s

Books Podcast: Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary

This summer saw 20 years since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel. Love them or hate them, the adventures of JK Rowling’s boy wizard are now a huge part of the literary landscape. In the wake of a Harry Potter conference organised by the Spectator’s own Nick Hilton, I’m joined for this week’s podcast by Nick and our children’s book reviewer Melanie McDonagh to ask: how good were the books; what, in literary terms, defines their special sort of magic; and what has been their effect on children’s writing in general? You can listen to our conversation here: And if you enjoyed that, do subscribe on iTunes for

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

The Spectator Podcast: The dying of the right

On this week’s episode, we look at conservatism’s apparent decline, how society has responded to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and whether young people have had their critical faculties vanquished by a certain boy wizard. First up: This time last year many were wondering whether the left, in Britain and abroad, was in terminal decline. The Brexit vote and Trump’s shock victory seemed only to compound that, and yet, just a few months later, the Spectator now has a cover piece, by Fraser Nelson, declaring that conservatism needs saving. How did we get here? And can anything be done about it? To discuss this, Fraser joined the podcast along with Michael Heseltine. As Fraser writes in

Lara Prendergast

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

A method to his madness

I first came across the extraordinary creations of the artist and illustrator William Heath Robinson at least 60 years ago. I loved them, even though I may not have understood every nuance. When I look once more at old favourites such as the machine for conveying peas to the mouth I often spot in the corner some little twist or joke that I had not seen before. What also wasn’t clear at the time is how prescient some of his contraptions were — in one illustration you can see a prototype selfie stick; in another he invents the silent disco. Many of his madcap solutions were semi-serious responses to societal

J. K. Rowling and the curse of the left

How people who want a fairer society should vote at this election is causing agonies across the liberal-left. It is easy to mock the torn activists. Why do they bother? One vote is worth next to nothing under a PR system. Under first past the post there are hundreds of safe seats where there’s no point in voting, let alone worrying about how you vote. The number of safe Tory seats is likely to grow after this election. Indeed, if you believe the opinion polls, it is likely to rocket. The futility of casting a token anti-Tory vote is more apparent than ever. For all that, those who laugh at

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