Harry Potter and the Reclamation

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has long been a cultural touchstone, beloved by readers of all ages. However, in recent years, the author’s controversial statements about transgender people have put a damper on the franchise’s popularity. Despite this, the queer community has found ways to reclaim the story for themselves through adaptations, fan fiction, and performances. In this article, we’ll explore the recent fringe festival success “Reclaiming Harry” and how the Death of the Author theory allows readers to enjoy a book without the guilt of its author’s context.

Reclaiming Harry

One of the most notable examples of the queer community reclaiming Harry Potter is the show “Reclaiming Harry,” created by Rich Watkins Productions (London, England). The show takes beloved characters from the original books, and other magical tales, and reinterprets them through a queer lens, exploring themes of love, friendship, and chosen family. For example, in one scene there’s a flirtatious dance-off, while in another, Voldemort becomes a drag queen.

“Reclaiming Harry” is just one example of how the queer community has taken ownership of the story, adapting it to fit their own experiences and identities. By doing so, they are shifting the original author’s intentions and creating a space for themselves within the narrative.

The Death of the Author Theory

The Death of the Author theory, first proposed by French literary critic Roland Barthes in 1967, suggests that once a work of literature is published, the author’s intentions and context are no longer relevant. Instead, the text becomes a product of the reader’s interpretation and understanding. This theory has been used to argue that readers can enjoy a book without the guilt of its author’s problematic beliefs or actions.

In the case of Harry Potter, some fans have used the Death of the Author theory to separate the story from J.K. Rowling’s transphobic comments. By focusing on the text itself and interpreting it through their own experiences, readers can enjoy the story without feeling complicit in the author’s harmful beliefs.

Enjoying Harry Potter (and Other Problematic Faves)

The Death of the Author theory also highlights a larger issue in pop culture: the fact that many beloved works of fiction are created by people with problematic beliefs or actions. For example, fans can enjoy sports without worrying about the political views of the team’s owner, or indulge in fast food without being overly concerned for the corporate greed that it funds. Similarly, fans of Harry Potter can separate the story from the author’s transphobia and enjoy it for what it is: a tale of magic, friendship, and adventure.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that fans should ignore or excuse an author’s problematic beliefs or actions. Instead, the Death of the Author theory allows readers to engage with a work of fiction on their own terms, without feeling guilty or complicit in the author’s context. It also opens up space for adaptations and reinterpretations, like “Reclaiming Harry,” which can provide new perspectives and meaning to a beloved story.

Fans can enjoy a work of fiction, a stage show, a fast food meal, or a sporting event, without feeling guilty about the creator’s problematic beliefs or actions. While this doesn’t excuse or ignore the underlying issues, it does provide a way for fans to engage with the things they love in a way that is meaningful and empowering.

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