J. K. Rowling, symbolism, and context

I thought that I really ought to write something about the recent kerfuffle around J. K. Rowling’s revelation that Remus Lupin’s lycanthropy is a metaphor for HIV, which I thought we all knew already, but apparently not.

More specifically, I thought that I really ought to write something about the claim, which took me right back to the Dumbledore-is-gay revelation, that if she wanted to write a gay character she should just write a gay character and stop fannying around with all this symbolism.

Then I thought that I really couldn’t face writing something about it.

Then I remembered that I already had.

Section 28 was in force when I was at school. This is what it said:

a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”

Local authorities are responsible for, among other things, public libraries and state schools, and one of the effects of this was the complete absence of LGBT characters in children’s and teen literature that was written or published in the UK. We didn’t have the British equivalents of David Levithan, Alex Sanchez, or Nancy Garden. Nobody would publish them. The one book with any queer characters in my school library that I remember was Dare, Truth or Promise – written and published in New Zealand. Mentioning Nancy Garden above reminds me that the school library did have The Year They Burned The Books. Oh, the irony.

(Somebody asked me which book that was in. It’s kind of a spoiler, but if you click on the tweet it should take you to the question and my answer.)

And it took a good few years for the UK teen publishing world to catch up, and yes, I do have a horse in this race:

Which is not to say that I think that it was a good idea to come out now (pun not exactly intended, but I’m not deleting it now I’ve noticed it) and say what the symbolism actually, like, means. If the reader didn’t pick it up the first time round then bashing them over the head with it isn’t going to help, and it’s just going to annoy the ones who got it, didn’t like it, and were doing their best to ignore it.

5 thoughts on “J. K. Rowling, symbolism, and context”

  1. I thought your point about Section 28 was a very interesting one when you made it on Twitter, and am glad to see you expand on it here. It’s easy to forget what a chilling effect it had. (And like you, I remember lycanthropy as a metaphor for HIV being discussed in fandom – and I think with comments from JKR as well – when the books came out. Not really a revelation!)


  2. … and I have just realised that my high school librarian was, technically, breaking the law, by recommending The Last of the Wine, let alone The Charioteer. Possibly even by having them in the library.


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