BY EFFIE DEANS
I don’t think I have read a word by J.K Rowling. When the Harry Potter books became wildly popular, I abstained. Perhaps that was a mistake. Lots of other people have enjoyed them, maybe I would have too. I rather like classic children’s fiction. But somehow the prospect of reading about child wizards going to school did not appeal. My loss.
So too I am unaware of watching any of the Harry Potter films. I am something of a film enthusiast, but I much prefer to dig out obscure black and white films from the 1930s. I have occasionally seen the work of some of the actors and actresses who appeared as children acting the roles of the stories Rowling wrote, but I rather regretted their subsequent stardom as it has not coincided with obvious talent. If even Shirley Temple was unable to properly make the transition to adult roles, why must we endure a grown-up Harry Potter?
Rowling was very lucky indeed. There is a possible world where her debut novel was never published. She was luckier still that her novel caught the public imagination and became as popular as it did. Lots of equally well written children’s books sit unnoticed on the shelves of bookshops. Writing for most people pays very little indeed. But there was also something about what she wrote that did capture the imagination of millions across the world, which means that even if she was lucky, she is also extremely talented. Anyone who can get millions of others to pay to read their words deserves respect.
I wonder how much input J.K. Rowling had in choosing the cast for the first Harry Potter film. She insisted that the children should all be British. It is likely that if she had disliked Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson or Rupert Grint that they would not have got the role. So, there is a possible world where these had normal lives that did not involve acting, or success or wealth and that the decision made by J.K. Rowling was decisive. Without her books and without her nod, they would all be nobodies like the rest of us. It is extraordinary therefore that each and every child member of the cast of these films appears to have rejected her.
But there is something quite odd about the world we now live in. Rowling wrote on Twitter:
Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?
This is very mild indeed. It expresses tolerance for different lifestyles. It suggests that trans people should be able to call themselves he or she whatever their biological sex. It merely states that biological sex is real. You would struggle to find a serious scientist who disagrees.
Rowling later wrote:
Creating a more equal post-Covid-19 world for people who menstruate. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Again, this is both funny and states the obvious. Rowling’s sin is to point out that sex is real and being a woman is connected with having a woman’s body which can have babies etc. For a 56-year-old woman this is a matter that is so obvious that when she was at school or university no one would even have questioned it.
The extraordinary thing is that in the course of twenty or thirty years a statement for which there was universal agreement has become forbidden in certain circles. It is as if the statement “All bachelors are unmarried” first became false and then became prohibited. I find this deeply sinister even frightening.
Rowling is fortunate. She has her fortune and the public continues to read her books. She may have been cancelled by some ungrateful former child stars, but the rest of the country still likes her, respects her and wishes her well. She is fortunate that she can say and write what she pleases. In the end nothing too bad will happen, even if she were prevented from ever publishing another book.
But what sort of pressure causes every former child cast member of the Harry Potter films to reject the person responsible for their success. I cannot look into the hearts or minds of these people, but I wonder if they really believe that men can menstruate. Of course, they will trot out that transmen can menstruate, just as transmen can give birth, but are they really convinced by these orthodoxies or merely saying what needs to be said to remain employed.
We now know that any actor who even questions certain views will find that there are no more roles. Even a major star might struggle if he pointed out that it is ludicrous to have black cast members in Macbeth when it is forbidden to have white actors in A suitable boy. If we are to be colour blind then let anyone play any role, otherwise let’s not pretend that there were black people in Scotland in the Middle Ages. To suggest that only Jewish actors can play Shylock, must logically and in fairness mean that Jewish actors ought not to play Christian characters, which is ridiculous. But to point out the ridiculous gets you cancelled.
In a Totalitarian society like the former Soviet Union, it was necessary to pretend that you believed certain things in order to be successful. Anyone who loudly questioned certain statements was cancelled, just like here. It meant that people whispered in private to those they trusted and hoped that they would not be denounced.
I think the same thing is happening now. If our work has a new training scheme to do with anything woke, we know which boxes to tick, but it doesn’t change what we think. If asked I will pretend that there is a distinction between sex and gender and that men can become women. I do this because I don’t want to lose my job and it is easier to have a quiet life. But I still think that a “transman” who menstruates and gives birth is really a woman. I think that this person is merely mistaken in believing that she is a man. Of course, I will be happy to say “she” and use whatever name is preferred, but it won’t change what I really think.
But we must be very careful. If common sense statements from thirty years ago can be forbidden, such that even Boris Johnson is reluctant to state the obvious about cervixes, then what next? We have already moved in an unimaginably authoritarian direction since the beginning of the pandemic. Even the scientists at the beginning did not think it would be possible to forbid us from leaving our homes for more than a few days. Now there is serious talk about compulsory medical treatment.
Woke initially seemed rather funny. There used to be talk of loony lefties in the popular press, but these newspapers now conform to what they used to call insane. They join in the hunt for someone who says something forbidden and they use the language of those they used to mock.
Freedom is lost gradually and we barely notice its departure. It is lost when we are scared to tell the truth. We all owe a lot to J.K. Rowling for being brave enough to continue to tell the truth.
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.