Harry Potter turns 40 amid quarantine and controversy


Graphic by Jacob Fulton

Communication sophomore Natalie Rarick’s “Harry Potter” has a shrine in her room, complete with the books, movies and her wand from Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Haley Fuller, Reporter

For Melissa Richmond, her dorm room feels brightened by “Harry Potter” decor and a stack of the new illustrated editions on the standard-issue bureau, a colorful addition to the room.

The Weinberg junior has been an avid Potterhead since she was in fourth grade, just before “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” came out. The relatable characters and vivid descriptions made the world come to life before her eyes, and she immersed herself in it, she said.

The “Harry Potter” franchise has even made quarantine more bearable for Richmond, as rewatching the movies has provided comfort during a difficult time.

“(I’ve been) watching the movies almost nonstop, not even in a way where I sit down and watch them but if I am going to have something on in the background, it will be the movies. I’ll fall asleep to them if I need background noise,” she said. “It’s been one of my favorite things to do, just to be able to watch something where you sort of know everything that’s going to happen in such an unprecedented time.”

For many fans of “Harry Potter,” the books provide comfort while whisking readers away to another world full of magic, centaurs and spells. Communication sophomore Natalie Rarick has been engrossed by the Wizarding World since she started reading the books in elementary school. She credits the books for her love of storytelling and career goal of creating children’s media for the stage and screen.

“Something I love about ‘Harry Potter’ is how it matures with its audience and it becomes more complex and dark and deep as it progresses, which I don’t think many children’s books do,” Rarick said. “It taught me the importance of and how to develop a world that is creative and beautiful and expansive, but also deals with important issues in our world and is not afraid to shy away from the darkness and complexity around us.”

But as the protagonist, Harry Potter, celebrates his 40th birthday on July 31, the creator of the series finds herself mired in controversy. While the books deal with topics such as prejudice and ethnicity in the books, with Death Eaters viewing pure-bloods as the superior group and Muggles and Muggle-borns as less than deserving of being wizards, author J.K. Rowling has expressed transphobic beliefs multiple times. Earlier this summer, she retweeted an article about menstruation and questioned the phrase “people who menstruate,” implying that all women menstruate and everyone who menstruates is a woman.

In December, Rowling also posted in support of Maya Forstater, who lost her job due to transphobic tweets, including one that stated “men cannot change into women.”

Hundreds of “Harry Potter” fans replied, angry that a beloved author would invalidate the existence of members of the transgender community. Richmond was disappointed by Rowling’s tweets, especially after admiring her for many years.

“It’s something that’s so ingrained into people’s lives where it’s so horribly upsetting for such a large group of people, especially for the transgender community who have been using Harry Potter as a form of comfort for so many years,” Richmond said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around how to continue to love this story in these books and movies while not loving the person who created them.”

Given today’s “cancel culture,” Rarick questioned if future generations will read “Harry Potter,” or abandon it due to Rowling’s tweets.

Despite the recent controversy, the books have remained popular. Melissa Thorkilsen, the co-manager and children’s book buyer at Elm Street Books in New Canaan, Conn., noticed that not many people bought the books when she started working there nine years ago. However, there has been a resurgence of popularity in recent years, which she attributes to parents and siblings passing down their enthusiasm for the series, as well as the detailed descriptions, memorable characters and witty prose.

“There’s now a whole new generation of kids who’s getting hooked on it. I think that the movies have helped with that, and I think she’s just such a household name,” Thorkilsen said. “I don’t think that the enthusiasm has dwindled.”

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Twitter: @haley_fuller_

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