Been paying attention to HARRY POTTER news lately? If not, you’ve missed one hell of a storm.
I’m not going to get into the whole thing, but you can read about it here, or accept my totally inadequate summary:
- JK Rowling has disappointed a lot of her fans by (a) including very little diversity, and then, when made aware of this problem, (b) claiming the diversity was there all along but somehow invisible.
This was not, shall we say, the best way to do things.
When What You Wrote Before Needs Help
The thing is, I understand where Rowling is coming from.
Learning as you go and therefore seeing the mistakes you made in earlier writing is a normal part of the process.
It’s also damned embarrassing, and we as writers often have a hard time figuring out where to go from there.
I’m embarrassed at the way I portrayed women in the past; in fact, most of the secondary characters in THE SUNDERED got short shrift.
I’m grateful most people haven’t noticed. I noticed. So what’s a writer to do?
Retcon: Doing it Right and Doing it Wrong
I don’t know that it’s necessarily wrong to go back and retcon when things need to be fixed – but if you do it, you need to actually fix them.
“Retcon” is a shortened form of retroactive continuity, and refers to a literary device in which the form or content of a previously established narrative is changed.[…]
Though Sherlock Holmes died at the Reichenbach Falls, the author, Arthur Conan Doyle, retroactively declared that his death had been staged in what has been described as an early example of a retcon.Merriam-Webster
Lemme repeat: if you retcon well, you need to (a) acknowledge what you did wrong, and (b) actually fix the damn thing.
Please allow me to emphasize that I LOVE LOVE LOVE Harry Potter, and deeply respect Ms. Rowling. I’m trying to say that this is something I am going to do differently.
So here’s a timeline of what I’m not going to do:
- Harry Potter is published. Everybody loves it.
- Over time, it’s noted that there’s very little diversity in the stories.
- At first, we get it. We understand it was the 90s and she was a straight white woman from a privileged country. Still, it would have been nice to have a little diversity in there.
- But wait! Suddenly, Ms. Rowling says Dumbledore is gay. Great! Although, truth be told, there was no way to get that from reading the books. Still okay.
- Then she says he was in love with Grindelwald! Again, okay – but there was no sign of it in the books, and that’s regretful, but okay.
- So then we get FANTASTIC BEASTS. New material, set in the past, an excellent chance to do retcon in a way that would enhance the HARRY POTTER series magnificently.
- Only it won’t be explicit. At all.
This is no longer the 90s. Ms. Rowling is now aware of the need for representation – and her choice is to keep that representation in the closet.
This is kind of painful. Actually, a little comic from THE NIB really put it better than I can.
Representation as an afterthought for more woke points is not good representation.Jen Moulton
I have made mistakes and failed to include diversity in my writing.
See, writers grow. We change. The more we read and the more we learn about the world we live in, the broader our horizons become. This affects our stories.
I have a choice how to retcon my own work. Some fixes I can fudge using the “unreliable narrator” thing, but the rest? I just have to admit I did badly and will do better henceforth. And I’m okay with that.
And I think maybe that level of honesty is a better way to go.