How about a little break from Harry Potter controversies?

Not even the Marvel Cinematic Universe attracts this degree of debate

Please spare us another Harry Potter controversy. You could reasonably argue that those children's books generate more heated fulmination than Prince Andrew's legal arrangements.

Richmal Crompton received retrospective criticism for alleged anti-Semitism in the Just William stories, but it doesn’t seem as if that author spent the later decades of her long life negotiating – or setting up – an endless slalom of hullabaloos. The sheer volume of PotterGate stories is extraordinary. Many of the complaints are valid. The continuing ubiquity of Potter discourse is, however, becoming suffocating. Will it ever go away?

This year we will note 25 years of JK Rowling’s oddly conservative creation but, if the current yelling continues, the silver jubilee will not be an unqualified orgy of celebration. Potter skirmishes have been around from the beginning. It is hard not to laugh at the largely American Bible thumpers who feared these tales of the “occult” would lead children to eternal damnation. Such whinges came and went as the stories gained staggeringly huge readership and, from 2001, moved successfully into cinemas.

What really kicked the discourse into hyperdrive was, however, Ms Rowling’s pronouncements on transgender people. In 2020, already knee-deep in the controversy, she published a 3,600-word essay that caused the waters to lap higher. She criticised use of the phrase “people who menstruate” and complained about bathrooms being “throw[n] open” to “any man who believes or feels he’s a woman”.

Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson expressed their support for trans rights. Others such as Robbie Coltrane got behind the author. "I don't think what she said was offensive really," he said. When the cast gathered for the recent, nauseatingly self-congratulatory TV tribute to 20 years of Potter on film, Rowling was seen only in archival footage. Entertainment Weekly claimed that "sources...say Rowling's statements about trans people and the controversy swirling around them did not play a part in the team's decision". This did not stop the furrowing of brows.

How have we reached a stage where so much hot air is expanded over one family of books and films?

This is a serious debate. Public figures have a responsibility to speak sensitively on such issues. But the story did have its comic aftermaths. A few weeks ago it emerged that two US Quidditch leagues intended to change the name of their madey-uppy sport (okay, all sports are made up, but you know what I mean).

Such was the heightened feeling that rivals in US Quidditch and Major League Quidditch – which organise adapted versions of the game from the books – found themselves able to issue a joint statement. They hoped the name change would help them “distance themselves from the works of JK Rowling”. This is rather like The Klingon Fanclub distancing itself from Star Trek. But good luck to them. Now, when running about the quad with broomsticks between their knees, they will, the Times of London tells us, be playing Quickball, Quicker, Quidstrike or Quadraball.

There were less frivolous stories to come. Last week Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the films, found herself in a dispute with Danny Danon, Israel's former ambassador to the United Nations, after posting an Instagram message offering "solidarity" to the Palestinian people. Danon shared the post on Twitter with the message "10 points from Gryffindor for being an antisemite".

Just wizards?

Elsewhere, another, already much mulled-over Potterversy was again unearthed. On his podcast The Problem with Jon Stewart, the eponymous comic reminded us of the goblins who run the Gringotts Wizarding Bank in the films. "That's a caricature of a Jew from an anti-Semitic piece of literature," Stewart noted. He remembered first encountering the images. "It was one of those things where I saw it on the screen and I was expecting the crowd to be like: 'holy s**t'," he said. "And everybody was just like, 'wizards'. It was so weird."

That revivified conversation is still bubbling. Noting heated reporting, Stewart popped to clarify: "I do not think JK Rowling is anti-Semitic."

This really is tiring, and we haven’t even got to the mini-revelation – actually old news – about Rowling resisting the casting of Americans in the films.

How have we reached a stage where so much hot air is expanded over one family of books and films? Not even the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the most successful entertainment operation of the era – attracts this degree of debate. Obviously, we can’t ignore the issues themselves. These are disputes worth mulling over. But other public figures have made contentious statements about transgender people. Star Wars had its own problems with a potentially anti-Semitic character in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. But that series does not attract the levels of chatter we have detailed above.

The truth is that the Potter stories – and films – have entwined themselves into the psyches of a whole generation (or two). Huge portions of those born in 1985-2000 measured their years by the emergence of these sub-Victorian fantasies. Not since New Yorkers screamed “Is Little Nell dead?” at ships bringing the final instalments of Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop to the city’s docks has a literary sensation watermarked so many lives.

Harry Potter forms the source code for a cohort of youngish adults. It makes sense that so many care.

But, darling, there are other books.

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