The Revealing Conservativism of JK Rowling
For the millennial generation a Potter-free world is unimaginable and as a result JK Rowling exercises a cultural influence that goes beyond the imaginary world she created: in the manner of modern celebrity her thoughts political and social carry weight. Her opinions are taken more seriously by more millennials than those of politicians. And Rowling’s opinions are relentlessly ‘progressive’.
Famously, Rowling announced that Dumbledore is gay; and she has said that Hogwarts would have been a ‘safe-space’ for transsexuals. This is all very run of the 21st century mill – mainstream commentariat perspectives presented as socially radical ideas.
What is more interesting about Harry Potter and Hogwarts than the surface level progressivism of its creator is the conservativism that forms an essential part of its appeal. Hogwarts is a co-ed Eton, with added monsters. With its house system and hearty games and characterful teachers Hogwarts ticks all the affectionate stereotypes of a very British, very traditional, education system. This sense of conservativism is underlined by the teleology of the story. The place the tale ends is with marriage and children as the adult Harry & Ginny, Ron & Hermione, and the rest, stand on Platform 9¾ waving off their offspring to more larks at Hogwarts: a very conservative, very heterosexual outcome.
This conservativism is part of the magic formula behind the success of the Potter stories. In a shifting, uncertain world, the alternate world Rowling has created offers readers a reassuring certainty: in the end evil is defeated and the heroes get married and have families. There isn’t any hint of divorce in that, or gender confusion. Rowling-reading millennials might think they are good gender-neutral progressives but what they really hanker for is something that looks more like the 1950s.
We should take note of that – note it in our world where moral transgression and craziness is celebrated and sacralised. People don’t always know what it is they really want; or at least, there is a disconnect between what people think they want and what really resonates in their hearts. In her public pronouncements Rowling advances the progressive agenda but in the world she created the yearning is for social stability. We need to learn to tell stories that answer the yearnings in millennial hearts too. They are looking for love. They are looking for family. Just like all muggles, always and everywhere.