J.K. Rowling Isn't Hurting New Writers By Continuing to Write
Earlier this year, I experienced Harry Potter Fatigue, and not for the first time, either.
J.K. Rowling said she wished she’d trusted her instincts and paired off Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, starting a firestorm and resurrecting tired, pointless discussions on the books. I wasn’t interested in reading extensively about Harry Potter anymore, but I appreciated just how dedicated Rowling was to the characters she’d given so much life, and the rest of the country did the same by purchasing her disappointing 2012 novel The Casual Vacancy. Though poorly reviewed, the book fared well on the market because people were so excited to get something new from Rowling, but fellow scribe Lynn Shepherd found this to be a major obstacle for writers trying to break into a tough industry and said it should not happen again.
In a recent op-ed for Huffington Post, Shepherd begged the Harry Potter mastermind to have fun with her earnings and give the book world a rest for a while, as it’s not Rowling’s “turn” on the playground swing set anymore, “By all means keep writing for kids, or for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn. Enjoy your vast fortune and the good you’re doing with it, luxuriate in the love of your legions of fans, and good luck to you on both counts. But it’s time to give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe.”
In addition to her call to action (or inaction), Shepherd admitted to never once picking up a Harry Potter installment, which she said shouldn’t be enjoyed by grown-ups anyway, “I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”
Yes, Harry Potter is about a teenage wizard at a magical boarding school, but it contains a lot of dark and tragic themes adults can relate to. Orphaned as a baby, Harry grows up with his cruel aunt and uncle who shun him for his witchcraft background. He’s not just a boy who goes to Hogwarts to learn, but because it’s his only shot at having a meaningful life. Children can connect with Harry Potter because it’s about growing up in addition to spells, powers and magic, and adults can appreciate the story because of its melancholy undercurrent, which drove Rowling to finish the series in the first place. Before getting published, she was a struggling single mother in England, and though she suffered from depression as a result of failure, she used the negativity to create something amazing:
“[W]hy do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential…I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me,” she said at Harvard University’s 2008 graduation. “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
She has quite possibly one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time, yet she’s also being told to back off the publishing world for a while and allow other writers to grow and thrive. As a writer myself, I understand the overwhelming intimidation of going up against big names in sales and page views, but isn’t that what competition is all about, and would anyone have said this to Stephen King when he dominated the book market for so long?
After facing serious backlash for her piece, Shepherd recanted her argument on Rowling, stating, “Many writers face the same challenges and frustrations when they’re just starting out, and J.K. Rowling did herself. She’s been a phenomenal success since then and has millions of fans who are passionate about her books. That’s an amazing achievement. With hindsight I’d have written my piece an entirely different way, as I never intended it to upset anyone, and I’m very sorry that it did.”
Shepherd certainly wasn’t arguing that Rowling should go away forever and never pick up a pen again, but it’s still unreasonable to ask someone to stop doing something they love simply so others may be recognized for their own productions. You don’t foster creativity by shutting down the creativity of a creative genius like J.K. Rowling.
Featured image via ShutterStock.