Anyone familiar with the wonderful world of Harry Potter, from reading the books or watching the film adaptations, will know what Quidditch is. But for the uninitiated, let me explain: Quidditch is a magical sport created by the brilliant fantasy writer J. K. Rowling.
It is a fast-paced, violent, chaotic game played by witches and wizards in two teams of seven, on broomsticks, flying about 30ft above the ground. The rules are daft but it is tremendously exciting, a game invented to thrill and inspire children’s imagination.
But sadly, some adults didn’t get the memo. In recent years, Quidditch has been awkwardly reimagined as a non-magical sport, played by grown-ups at ground level. There are nearly 600 real-life Quidditch teams in 40 countries.
I have watched videos of these Quidditch matches on YouTube and it is one of the silliest spectacles I’ve ever seen. The point of Quidditch is that it’s supposed to be played on flying broomsticks, not by people running around holding lengths of PVC piping between their legs.
And now the real-life Quidditch players have gone even further in their silliness. A pompous statement issued jointly last week by the International Quidditch Association (IQA), United States Quidditch (USQ) and Major League Quidditch (MLQ) announced their decision to change the game’s name to ‘Quadball’, to distance themselves from J. K. Rowling (who in fact has never endorsed Quidditch outside her books).
Anyone familiar with the wonderful world of Harry Potter, from reading the books or watching the film adaptations, will know what Quidditch is
The statement made clear that it is Rowling’s passionate engagement in the debate on trans issues and her defence of women’s rights in the face of radical trans activism that are a major factor in the decision. But a desire to grow the sport commercially is also a consideration for the cynical Quidditch bigwigs. Any association with Rowling is regarded as damaging to that ambition.
‘J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series, has increasingly come under scrutiny for her anti-trans positions,’ their statement said. ‘LGBTQ+ advocacy groups like GLAAD [the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation] and the Human Rights Campaign, as well as the three lead actors in the Harry Potter film series, have criticised her stances.’
For trans activists, J. K. Rowling has become public enemy number one — a figure who must be denounced and ostracised at every opportunity for daring to challenge the hardline dogma of those who insist that biological sex does not exist and that therefore anyone who identifies as a woman has a right to occupy female-only spaces, even if others might feel threatened in the presence of biological males.
This month, police confirmed they were investigating a death threat J. K. Rowling had received via Twitter from a trans activist, while any public institution with links to her is under pressure to expunge her name from its records.
In 2020, Rowling returned a human rights award after she was accused of having ‘diminished the identity’ of trans people. And a few days ago it emerged that the £14,337-a-year King’s High School in Warwick axed J. K. Rowling as a house name earlier this year. In 2016 the school proudly announced that pupils had chosen the author as an ‘inspirational’ figure after whom they would name a house. But following a new conversation on ‘people who changed the world for the better’, she was binned.
In January, The Boswells School in Chelmsford, Essex, which specialises in the performing arts, also replaced her as a house name over her ‘comments and viewpoints surrounding trans people’. Younger members of staff at Hachette even tried to boycott the thrillers Rowling now publishes under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym (though their bosses were having none of it, no doubt because Rowling’s sales bankroll the whole publishing house).
But for the uninitiated, let me explain: Quidditch is a magical sport created by the brilliant fantasy writer J. K. Rowling
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the seven-book series. It should be a year to celebrate Rowling’s amazing legacy, which has introduced millions of youngsters to the joy of reading. Yet publishers, who have raked in millions from her work, are giving the author the cold shoulder.
Tom Tivnan, managing editor of The Bookseller magazine, wrote recently of his experience at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, a major event in the publishing calendar: ‘I was talking to foreign publishers about the anniversary and they said: “We’re going to be very quiet about this”.’
Rowling has, of course, been very publicly reprimanded by those who ought to be most grateful to her: the young actors who owe their careers and vast fortunes to the Harry Potter franchise.
In an act of eye-watering ingratitude, Emma Watson, the self-appointed princess of all things woke, has said she won’t work on another film if J. K. Rowling is involved with the project. Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint have also condemned her.
So it was no wonder Rowling was absent from the celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter films last November, while those famous only because of her posed on the red carpet. I am roughly the same age as these Potter-generation actors. In fact, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone was the first ‘big’ book I read on my own.
In recent years, Quidditch has been awkwardly reimagined as a non-magical sport, played by grown-ups at ground level. There are nearly 600 real-life Quidditch teams in 40 countries
Once hooked, I would join the queue outside our local bookshop at midnight — it opened specially — to buy the latest in the series as soon as it was released. And I was distraught when I learnt that the family holiday in France would clash with publication of the final book (luckily a friend, who joined us, was able to import several copies from England).
I was far from unusual. Almost all my friends shared a passion for Potter and many still do.
As well as encouraging reluctant readers — particularly boys — to give books a go, Rowling is credited with revitalising the children’s publishing industry, which was in the doldrums in the 1990s. Now, the children’s book market outsells the general fiction market.
In fact, Harry Potter broke the taboo on adults reading books intended for children, partly because of the publisher’s clever strategy of producing both a colourful ‘children’s’ cover and an ‘adult’ cover that made the book look more like a gothic thriller.
Now, the most committed readers of young adult fiction are in their 20s and beyond. And it is some of these fans who have developed an unhealthy relationship with the fiction they love.
It is a sad irony that so many of the Potter generation have turned against the author whose work they adored, encouraged by trans activists who have been trying — and failing — to ‘cancel’ J. K. Rowling for four years.
J. K. Rowling has become public enemy number one — a figure who must be denounced and ostracised at every opportunity for daring to challenge the hardline dogma of those who insist that biological sex does not exist
The hate campaign began in earnest in 2018, after Rowling ‘liked’ a tweet that described transgender women as ‘men in dresses’ and described the ‘misogyny’ of the Left.
That ‘like’ was ill-judged and a spokesman for Rowling later dismissed it as a ‘clumsy and middle-aged moment’. But it revealed that Rowling was engaged with the ‘gender-critical’ discussion being aired, with increasing passion from both sides, on social media.
It suggested she might be having doubts about the orthodox view on trans activism — and I wondered at the time if she would eventually go public with her views as the debate took off. A few months later, she did.
In December 2019, Rowling tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, a British businesswoman who had lost her job after she tweeted ‘men cannot change into women’. In a now famous tweet, Rowling wrote:
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the seven-book series. It should be a year to celebrate Rowling’s amazing legacy
‘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?
It was a sober and compassionate response — a careful attempt to balance the rights of trans people and women.
A few months later, she tweeted that she objected to the phrase ‘people who menstruate’ because it avoided the word ‘women’. And she followed that up in June 2020 with a long and thoughtful essay on her blog post — later published in this newspaper — that laid out her concerns about trans activism, a political movement she believed had grown increasingly disconnected from reality.
Rowling also described for the first time her own experiences of sexual and domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband, explaining the empathy she felt for trans victims of abuse as a result. ‘I want trans women to be safe,’ she wrote. ‘At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe.’
All hell broke loose. Copies of Rowling’s books were burned and the footage shared online. #RIPRowling started trending on Twitter. Torrents of abuse were directed at her, full of words such as ‘bi**h’, ‘wh**e’ and ‘hag’.
MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, then a Labour shadow minister, wrote that Rowling had ‘used’ her experiences of violence to ‘undermine the rights of others’. A tabloid newspaper ran a front-page story reporting that her ex-husband said he was ‘not sorry’ for assaulting her.
Some Potter obsessives claimed to be so upset by Rowling’s comments, they had their Harry Potter-themed tattoos removed. One told the New York Post he was inking over his three-inch tattoo because ‘J. K. Rowling is such a disgusting, bigoted person that I have no reason to find joy in her writing any longer’.
I have watched videos of these Quidditch matches on YouTube and it is one of the silliest spectacles I’ve ever seen
J. K. Rowling could have backed down. She could have kept her awards and her adoring fanbase.
Instead, she has continued to speak out on an issue she believes to be profoundly important, knowing she would pay a price for that.
In December last year, she responded to guidance issued by Police Scotland that rapes could be recorded as carried out by a woman if the perpetrator ‘identifies as female’. With apologies to George Orwell, she adapted a quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four, tweeting: ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.’
Recently the abuse she has endured has turned even nastier. Last month, a trans activist urged Twitter users to send a bomb to her home.
Their tweet included a picture of her, the family’s address, an image of a pipe bomb and the cover of a bomb-making handbook.But J. K. Rowling will not give in, and that is what so infuriates her critics. Despite their best efforts to intimidate her into silence and drive her out of public life, they cannot ‘cancel’ J. K. Rowling: she is too talented, too rich, too famous, too beloved — and too fearless.
She is still writing blockbuster bestsellers, with a new instalment of her Robert Galbraith series due next month. And Harry Potter is as successful as ever, with sales shooting up over lockdown.
In Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, there is a line spoken by Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, that for me has taken on a particular relevance in the Rowling controversy: ‘There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.’
Such courage is a rare and precious thing. And J. K. Rowling has it in spades.
- Louise Perry is the author of The Case Against The Sexual Revolution.