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Dethroning the Author: J.K Rowling and The Role of Our Heroes

This blog post has brief mentions of sexual assault and transphobia. If this affects you in any way, I won't be offended if you stop reading. Keep yourself safe.


Living in the world means having your heroes break your heart. This is a fact I have had to learn over and over. Many of my heroes are authors and as it turns out, they aren't always the best people. But I'm a masochist and I love art. I love loving creative works and there is nothing that is going to stop me from consuming as much as possible.


The conversation about what we can like and who we can like has pushed itself to forefront of pop culture. The internet has allowed artists to become a personal part of our everyday lives, through social media, so the debate on whether we should support those people, especially if those people have terrible views or have done terrible things is rampant and confusing at times.

It has become a function of how we consume art that we know who it is that created it. Tom Rachman argues that culture itself has a large stake in 'perpetuating artistic myths because an idol is invaluable for marketing', highlighting how hard it is to sell a piece of work on the merits of the work alone. The art and the artist have been melded for a long time and this has only seen to make certain artists extremely rich and powerful.

Whilst under capitalism, it really does not seem to be possible to separate the artist from the art. But, could it feasible to see the author of a text taken off their high and mighty throne?


When I first came to university, I was scared out of my mind. I felt like I had been thrown in at the deep end and was flailing massively. The fact that I wasn't immediately doing well at my course took quite the toll on me mentally. This wasn't helped by the fact that I was in a new city with none of my friends from my home town, living in halls where I was struggling to get on with my housemates and I was terrified that I'd made a mistake. All of this culminated in a significant mental dip, what I would call my first proper depression. I'd had bouts in my teenage years but all the stress just brought the hopelessness out in full swing.

I was very lost.

My main solace in this time was my university library. I've always loved libraries but this one was exceptional. It had 4 floors. So many books, many of which I wasn't going to read but being around them made me very happy. I would often spend full days in there, completing whatever assignment I had to do. When I had nothing to do, I would find the poetry section and from there, I would just consume.

On one of these days, I came across Anne Sexton, a confessional poet writing around the time of Sylvia Plath. From what I knew reading her biography online, she suffered from severe mental health problems too. Not only that, she wrote about them. Reading her poems made me feel seen for the first time. She was able to articulate something that I had never been able to say out loud. It was so honest and beautiful. I couldn't help but be completely enamoured.

For a while, she was my favourite poet. I remember in an ice breaker for one of my first poetry workshops I said that my favourite poem was 'Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound'. I wanted to write like her so badly because I wanted to be able to make other people feel the way I did: seen. She was an early inspiration for me ever starting to write anything for myself, at least anything good.

And then there was my third year poetry class.

We had come to the point in the course where we were going to study confessional poetry and I was so excited. Not only did I love this literary movement, we were going to be looking at both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I couldn't wait.

After we had done the lecture, we came to the seminar where we were going to look at poems in more detail. We eventually came to Anne's poem, 'The Double Image', which is very obviously about her strained relationship with her daughter whilst she was in a mental institution.

A student began a dialogue with our tutor about this poem and that is when she said it:

'It's actually really hard to read something like this, where the speaker is trying so hard to seem sympathetic. The fact that she molested her daughter has been completely glossed over.'

The discussion in the classroom continued. Meanwhile, my entire heart had fallen out of my arse.

I had no clue what to do. My first impulse was to look it up on my phone, make sure that this was actually true. So that's what I did. And it was true.

Anne Sexton was a sexual predator. I had somehow missed this information when looking up who she was.

In that moment, I had lost a hero. 

I was not alone with this whole emotional journey. I found an article in Medium by Annie Lloyd who had a similar experience of falling in love with Anne Sexton and then finding out who she was as a person. I would recommend reading her full article (see Sources) but a quote that I wanted to pull out was this:

‘With every topple of an artistic great, with every revelation that a creative genius has used their power to abuse another, we lose something. But it is not just the joy of enjoying their art—which is where many people focus their grief—but the loss of the victim’s potential to create.’

And that's the thing, isn't it? I was grieving the fact that I'd lost this person who I didn't know with paying next to know mind to who it was she had hurt. It's quite selfish.

Anne Sexton wasn't a hero. I knew that when I first started reading her work. I liked her specifically because she felt imperfect, because of her flaws. But this was a flaw that could not be overlooked. So I let her go. I found other poets, who were distinctly not rapists, whose work I loved, and have made an effort ever since to make sure that the people creating the art I like aren't abhorrent.

Now, I do this because I don't want to have to suffer the heartbreak of that again, which is not to say that I condemn everyone who is not pristine. What it does mean is I try not to form attachments to artists as easily as before. This technique allows me to like something and also drop it quite easily if it comes to light that the person had some horribly bigoted views or acted in a horrible way. I don't allow the artists to become my best friends anymore and I think I have a much healthier relationship to art.

But I know that not everyone does this. People want to like their 'thing' without judgement. In arguing this, they often confuse Roland Barthes' 'The Death of the Author', a post-structuralist theory, with the idea of separating the art from the artist. What Barthes' argued in his theory was that the author of the text is (figuratively) dead because there can be no singular producer of meaning; we are all products of culture and the texts we create are therefore 'a tissue of quotations', rather than an idea divinely bestowed upon us. It was his theory that with the death of the author, the birth of the reader will begin, where the person reading text is the most important in interpreting meaning. The reader has all the power. The colloquial meaning, however, has morphed this into a freedom from accountability. With this, it is argued that as a consumer, the reader should not have to be concerned whether the author is a good person. A text is a text and once it is published, it belongs to the reader.

In a vacuum, this would be fine.

However, capitalism. By buying a product made by artist, you finance them. By tweeting your praise for them, you provide them with publicity. Hell, by even mentioning their name, you give them credence, recognition and therefore social capital. The freedom of interpretation and the alleviation of guilt on the part of the consumer have become conflated and turned an important critical theory into justification for turning a blind eye to injustice.

With all that being said, it is probably time to talk about the extremely rich and powerful children's book author in the room.


J.K. Rowling has been a presence in most of our lives, whether we have wanted her to be or not. If you didn't read the Harry Potter books, you probably watched the films, and if you didn't do that, you have at least been aware of them, as they have permeated our culture for the best part of two decades. Even without participating in the fandom surround her brand, it is impossible not to know her, because of her status as a writer and the power she holds because of this.

Very recently, Rowling decided to transform her brand into just...being a transphobe. Whilst previously, it had only been hinted at that she was hostile towards trans people, like when she was liking tweets by TERFs (an acronym meaning 'trans-exclusionary radical feminist'), she solidified her views in a manifesto, outlining her fears of the 'trans agenda', particularly of her fears of trans women in women-only spaces, the erosion of the word female and creating a moral panic around medically transitioning by calling it a 'new kind of conversion therapy'.

Ordinarily, I would link to articles like this for you to read for yourself, but I would prefer to not link to 
bigotry on this blog. Similarly, I'm not going to debunk these opinions here because I think it would derail this post but if you are anyway on the fence about these views, I would recommend watching the following videos:

Jamie and Shaaba's video goes through her manifesto point by point, debunking her uninformed and prejudice-based arguments with research and lived experiences.

Sarah's video does a similar thing whilst also looking at the implications of continuing to enjoy Rowling's work.

This feels redundant but I'm going to state this anyway: her views are bullshit, baseless and are entirely motivated by fear. Again, this seems harsh, but seeing as she's coming out with a book where a cis man dresses up as a woman to murder people and she is publishing under a pseudonym of a man responsible for enacting gay conversion therapy, she really is putting the cherry on top of her own shit cake. I honestly don't think I could write anything that defames her more than she has done so herself.

I know the loss a lot of people are feeling right now because I've felt it. Thankfully, my hero was dead and is currently not digging herself into a deeper hole, becoming more and more horrible as the days go by. I have friends who loved these books. I loved them for a brief time. For many, they were an escape. I came to Anne Sexton when I was at my lowest and I found comfort there. Many LGBT+ people found comfort in J.K. Rowling's stories about a boy who was rejected by his  family and had to find a new home elsewhere. The betrayal here is significant. I can understand the desire to cling to these stories that helped us as children to see the world as bigger than the cupboard under the stairs.

So, with all this in mind, what now? Do you burn all your Harry Potter merchandise? Has the brand been tainted? 

Here is the thing. I can't tell you what to do.

At the end of the day, you are going to keep enjoying her brand and supporting her if you want. There might even be a chance that you agree with her and this doesn't affect how you see her work. And you know what? Good for you. Go for forward, you ignorant little fool. Your bubble must be nice.

But, to quote Annie Lloyd once more:

‘To pride an artist’s art over their human interactions is the pinnacle of self-absorption — it privileges that in which we see ourselves, rather than the empathy to see another human being.’

The reality is authors aren't our friends. They don't know us. They haven't seen us. They aren't mad geniuses or depressed artists. They are people who wrote a story one time that we connected with. As Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals argue, we 'agree to give heroes our adulation and support, but in return they must maintain an idealized image of human greatness’. We build a throne for them to sit at, as if they are the only ones capable of creation. Their opinions on the world just seem more important than that of your Mum or your neighbour, Neil. Because Neil doesn't have millions of followers on Twitter and a book series under his belt. 

Maybe it's not as complicated as I'm making it. People like her because she wrote something they liked and they associate the positive feelings they gained from her work with her. End of story.

'Death of the Author' cannot be applied here. What Lindsay Ellis argues is that people are using an academic theory that has no place in this discussion with the intent of reconciling their feelings about Harry Potter with the alive and very transphobic author who is using her brand and influence to do harm. Unless you are planning on pirating all her works, you are funding her with your support. And boycotting her would barely put a dent in her finances anyway and her social reach. She is too powerful to be dethroned in a real sense.

So, what do you do?

Whilst it is impossible to take the power away from the person in a material sense, making the effort to take her off her throne in your mind is something that should be worked towards. She is not a queen or a hero or even the best author in the world. She is one of the richest. She is someone with a lot of free time to be hateful. 
Much like Anne Sexton, I don't think I could interact with Rowling's work without thinking about who is she as a person and the harm she has caused. To dethrone her would mean to view her a fallible being, not as a childhood friend. Not as a good person. Just as an author, of which there are thousands. There is always art and there is always your childhood. No one is asking you to abandon your childhood memories, but abandoning a transphobe is an extremely small price to pay to ensure that trans people know where you stand.


Thank you for taking the time to read this. I'd be happy to hear your opinions in the comments. Please see my sources below if you are interested in learning how I came to my conclusions. I also made a playlist of videos I used for research that I would really recommend watching, as they go into more detail about the specifics of Rowling's transphobia. Finally, I would like to ask if you enjoyed this piece to consider donating to my Ko-fi. See you next time x



Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals, ‘The Deal We Strike With Our Heroes’, University of Richmond Blogs <> [accessed 22nd September 2020].

Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, in Image – Music – Text, (London: HarperCollins UK, 1977, pp. 142-148.

‘Death of the Author 2: Rowling Boogaloo’, Lindsay Ellis <> [accessed 22nd September 2020].

‘JK Rowling criticised for 'condescending' and 'transphobic' tweets’, Sky News <> [accessed 22nd September 2020].

‘JK Rowling responds to trans tweets criticism’, BBC News <> [accessed 22nd September 2020].

Annie Lloyd, ‘When The Sexually Abusive Artist Is A Woman’, Medium <> [accessed 22nd September 2020].

Tom Rachman, ‘Why We Still Romanticize Artists Who Behaved Terribly’, Artsy <> [accessed 22nd September 2020].