JK Rowling released a new short story today about the main characters of the Harry Potter series, posted on her website Pottermore.com. Not so much a story as a simulated newspaper column, the 1,500-word piece catches readers up with their favorite wizards, now in their early 30s. This is the first time she’s published anything about Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the gang since the last book in the seven-part series was released in 2007.
It’s important to know (if you haven’t read the books) that throughout the Harry Potter series, the press — specifically the morally corrupt gossip columnist Rita Skeeter — plays an important role. It’s Skeeter who “wrote” the column released today. In it, she goes after Hermione, the series’ tough and brainy lead, who’s not just a successful high-level government reformer but also a mother of two. Skeeter sneeringly asks — evoking a discussion all too familiar to working women — whether Hermione can “have it all.”
Rowling is an imaginative thinker who often inserts her politics in between the lines of Skeeter’s columns. With today’s release, Rowling has both satiated the public with the gift of some Potter news, while also smacking the international press with a swift message: Stop it with the anti-woman stuff.
As a regular target of the tabloid press, Rowling has made no secret of her disdain for celebrity gossip and Skeeter-esque journalism. The billionaire author is also a mother, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, and has mentioned that Hermione is a version of herself. So it’s not difficult to read between the lines of Rita Skeeter’s latest column to see some quick-witted commentary, Rowling-style. The author is using the medium most easily accessible to her (the wizarding world’s largest circulation newspaper, The Daily Prophet) to speak out.
It’s a creative way to address a problem that has long confronted successful women: All of their choices — not just their career choices but their lifestyle and family choices — are subject to second-guessing, and not just in the tabloids. That’s true even for women who have vanquished dark wizards and repeatedly scored at the top of the class at Hogwarts.
In the Harry Potter books, Rita Skeeter writes with a Quick Quotes Quill, a magical instrument that twists and exaggerates sources’ words and actions. In this latest piece, Harry’s wife, Ginny Potter (nee Weasley), too, is a target of the quill.
Skeeter suggests that Ginny’s mettle as a sports reporter has nothing to do with the fact that she was a superstar in Quidditch (it’s like wizard football) in her own right, as well as an intelligent woman. Instead, Skeeter suggests Ginny’s professional acumen is undeserved and is the result of having a famous husband. According to Skeeter’s column today, if you’re a Potter, “doors open, international sporting bodies bow and scrape, and Daily Prophet editors hand you plum assignments.”
In other words, no one is safe. Muggle or witch, no matter how successful, women just can’t catch a break. It’s depressing that even Hermione, an exceptional character who founded her first elf advocacy organization at age 14 and managed to head up an entire department at the Ministry of Magic before age 35, can be so easily boxed into this corner.
By releasing this piece today, Rowling is showing that she’s right there with the rest of us — sick and tired of the overused, anti-feminist tropes.Alex Pearlman can be reached at Alex.Pearlman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lexikon1.