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Prejudice in Harry Potter’s World: Legitimate Academic Study or the Latest Rowling Fleece?

Author: Eliza Days

Oxford graduate student Karen A. Brown has published a study on discrimination in J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ novels (See http://www.thelppc.com/featuredbook-prejudiceinharrypotter.html). While it has been widely acknowledged that Rowling’s work chronicles real-world social issues through some not-so-subtle subplots and allegories, so far, no one has dedicated an entire book to the subject. And Brown hastens to emphasize this feature in her blog, where she admits that she has been doing some “promotional work” for the new book. (See http://www.thelppc.com/karenbrown-blogg-prejudiceinharrypotter.html).

Ironically, this book’s release coincides with the latest controversy surrounding Rowling’s work, as HPLexicon.com founder Steve Vander Ark’s efforts to publish his own ‘Harry Potter Lexicon’ have been thwarted by Rowling’s lawyers. They claim that the Lexicon breeches their client’s copyright and infringes upon exclusive materials that Rowling intends to use in her own ‘Harry Potter Encyclopaedia.’

Since Brown has made it possible for readers to write to her, I contacted her to enquire how she felt about the Vander Ark controversy, and how it impacts upon her upcoming publication. She insists that ‘Prejudice in Harry Potter’s World’ does not in any way infringe upon Ms. Rowling’s copyright, and that all copyrighted materials (quotes and long citations) are properly referenced and kept to a minimum, as specified by the Christopher Little Literary Agency, to whom she wrote years ago to request permission to publish an essay entitled “Harry Potter and the Minorities Issue.”

“Lots of publishers turned me down,” Brown claims. “And it was not because of copyright concerns: Many other things have been written about Rowling’s work, none of them being given her authorization or approval. But I found it curious that most of the rejection letters I got clearly stated that my study was not marketable because no one was interested in reading about prejudice and racism. Some editors stressed that people who read Harry Potter are not interested in reading ‘about’ the books. So in the end I decided to publish the book myself, and mostly for me, because I strongly believe in the ideas put forth in it.”

All things considered, Ms. Brown appears to be quite passionate about this project, and seems to understand her own legal standing where Rowling’s work is concerned: “I did not create Harry Potter, obviously. I simply comment on how the books make reference to some of the social trends in our own world. Wizarding-world biases and social hierarchy share some shocking similarities with our own world. And I think we need to stop and take notice.”

Rowling herself has stated in various interviews that the series is a “prolonged argument for tolerance.” And it is at least encouraging that one of her readers has chosen to focus on this message.

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About the Author

A seasoned copywriter from Michigan, Eliza Days now resides temporarily in the UK. A “citizen of the world” is how she likes to think of herself, as her writing has taken her to all parts of the globe.