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When you can’t go to Hogwarts, become Hogwarts

I’m a big fan of relaxing background noise for sleeping, reading, sometimes for working. And once lockdown started, I started playing this kind of stuff more and more, until eventually a YouTube recommendation led me to this: Hogwarts ASMR ambiance.

Creator ASMR Rooms has done her due diligence in recreating some of the most well-loved locales from the book version of the Potterverse, both visually and aurally— complete with fire-crackling, rain-pattering, quill-scratching goodness, and occasional, subtle onscreen action.

The artwork itself also reminds me of the style you’d see on Harry Potter merch in the pre-Warner Brothers days, or illustrations by the US books’ illustrator Mary Grandpré.

These days, I’m working from home in the Ravenclaw common room. Why not?

If you like the library video above, take your pick from the playlist of 50+ other Potter-inspired ambiance videos. Some of my favorites:

Death of the author and J.K. Rowling

Death of the author and J.K. Rowling

©E. Hull, 1827

Sigh. This is happening.

The concept of “death of the author” was introduced by French literary critic Roland Barthes in 1967, the most basic definition of which argues that an author’s intentions and biographical facts (their politics, religion, etc.) should hold no special weight to readers’ interpretations of their writing. That, once published, the text belongs to the reader, not the author—i.e., art should be separate from the artist.

It’s a concept that’s supes tempting to use to make it easier to cope when one of your favorite authors has outed herself as cringey.

Siiiiiiigh.

Three things first—contradictory, perhaps, but to be fair, this is a tricky subject:

  1. I’m very sad about J. K. Rowling’s recent comments. I’m sad to see this side of her and sad that she’s choosing to die on this hill, in such a weird time, at that. I’m disappointed that she’s using her (highly influential) platform to promote the harmful notion that trans women are a threat to cis women’s experiences. I’m sad she’s alienating so much of her fanbase and colleagues (not to mention sullying her own legacy). Seeing this unfold, and after reading through her 3,000+ word blog post (in which she writes ‘woman’ is not a costume, opposes trans people using the bathrooms of their preference implying they’re predatory, and shows derision for inclusive language like “people who menstruate,” claiming that terms like this are degrading to women, when ironically she’s the one who would like to define women by and reduce them to uterus ownership), this whole thing has felt kind of like mourning to me—I used to really love her and this whole thing is just sad.
  2. Not to be The Onion‘s “Man Always Gets Little Rush Out of Telling People John Lennon Beat Wife” guy, and I know this argument may come off like I’m grasping at straws—and maybe I am—but I think it’s safe to say we all like art created by flawed artists. If we stopped engaging with pieces of art because their creators held a bad opinion, I would hazard a guess that that takes most art off the table for our enjoyment. Am I going to avoid listening to “In My Life” or the Sgt. Pepper album because Lennon was a dick to his family? No. But at the same time I’m not going to justify his bad behavior, nor go around praising him as a peaceful figure. All that said, I understand this isn’t a one-to-one comparison with Rowling, because one of these people has been dead for decades and the other is alive and actively tweeting and influencing.
  3. I will always love the Harry Potter series. It’s been a part of my life longer than it hasn’t, as a 31-year-old who started reading the books at 12. It played a big part in my friendships, my passion for reading and writing. It probably indirectly influenced my decision to become an English major. The culture around the series and its film extensions has been such a source of joy for me and countless others. The same way I won’t give up listening to The Beatles despite Lennon’s behavior, I can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to Harry Potter. But I certainly won’t be going around touting J. K. Rowling as a wonderful author or inspiration anymore.

Now that I’ve got my feels out of the way, let’s revisit “death of the author” (DOTA).

The thing is, as tempting as it to cry “DOTA” about J.K. Ro, it doesn’t really work. DOTA is merely a literary theory about separating the author’s background and ideals that could’ve influenced their work from the text itself. It’s also about separating the author’s intent for the text from our own interpretation of it (e.g., Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is widely read as being anti-meat, but Sinclair really wrote it as a rally for socialism). It’s an academic tool. It doesn’t apply to fuckery being spewed by the author long after the text was published.

So, how do we reconcile our love for Harry Potter with the ickiness of its creator?

The answer: I don’t know.

My take: Continue to love and read Harry Potter if you want to, if it’s so deeply a part of your life and formative years that it would break your heart to let go. I fall into this camp. But trying to morally justify Rowling’s opinions only helps exonerate her and could help continue to feed her influence to spread harmful ideas about a marginalized group. Like the thing, with the awareness that the thing’s creator is problematic, and with the awareness that the way you talk about it or promote it could promote those views.

That said, I don’t know what this form of art consumption—the kind where you like the thing but don’t want to endorse the thing’s creator—looks like yet.

In the meantime—and especially if you’re on the side of Rowling—you can learn more about why the “gender critical” mindset is just thinly veiled discomfort with (at best) or hatred of (at worst) trans people from one of my favorite YouTubers, Natalie Wynn:

Literary cat shout-out: Crookshanks

Literary cat shout-out: Crookshanks

©Warner Bros.

Clever Crookshanks belongs to none other than Hermione Granger, Brightest Witch of Her Age™ from the Harry Potter series. He’s half-Kneazle, half-cat, and fully adorable. (Harry would say that’s a matter of opinion, but I would say he’s wrong.)

He’s described as having a thick, fluffy ginger coat, a bottlebrush tail, a squashed, grumpy face, and slightly bandy legs. Per the Harry Potter Lexicon, his name is taken from the surname Cruikshank, which means “crooked legs.”

He bursts into the Potterverse for the first time in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the Magical Menagerie pet store in Diagon Alley when he yeets himself at Ron and nearly kills him.

Hermione sees this and thinks, “I need this creature in my life.”

“Okay,” said Ron. “How much—OUCH!”

Ron buckled as something huge and orange came soaring from the top of the highest cage, landed on his head, and then propelled itself, spitting madly, at Scabbers.

“NO, CROOKSHANKS, NO!” cried the witch, but Scabbers shot from between her hands like a bar of soap.

It took them nearly ten minutes to catch Scabbers, who had taken refuge under a wastepaper bin outside. Ron stuffed the trembling rat back into his pocket and straightened up, massaging his head.

“What was that?”

“It was either a very big cat or quite a small tiger,” said Harry.

“Where’s Hermione?”

“Probably getting her owl.”

Hermione came out, but she wasn’t carrying an owl. Her arms were clamped tightly around the enormous ginger cat.

“You bought that monster?” said Ron, his mouth hanging open.

“He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?” said Hermione, glowing.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
©Warner Bros.

As Potterheads know—and as his fictional humans did not at the time—Crookshanks was only trying to attack a Death Eater in disguise, like a good boy. Hermione obviously made a smart choice in her familiar, but Crookshanks was smart to choose Hermione too. Throughout all his prowlings of the Hogwarts grounds after Hermione took him to school with her—when he could’ve dipped out forevs—he always wound up back home in front of the fire in Gryffindor Tower.

I’m of the mind that cats are like wands: they choose the wizard.

Other things Crookshanks was smart about in Prisoner of Azkaban include knowing that Sirus Black was always to be trusted and how to calm the Whomping Willow by touching a knot in the trunk.

“He’s the most intelligent of his kind I’ve ever met.”

—Sirius Black

Not only that, he managed to single-pawedly orchestrate Sirius’ break-in of Gryffindor Tower by stealing the portrait passwords from Neville’s bedside table. I’ll say it again. A CAT. Helped the most WANTED criminal in Britain break into Hogwarts. Good job, school.

Credit: Kaiserr

J. K. Rowling’s decision to give Hermione an unusually intelligent cat was inspired by a real-life, large, fluffy ginger cat that hung around the square where she ate lunch when she worked in London. The cat, who “looked as though it had run face-first into a wall,” prowled around with a disdainful look, avoiding peoples’ attempts to stroke it. Rowling never got close but became “distantly fond” of the cat.

In the Harry Potter series, Rowling made Crookshanks a bit friendlier than his IRL counterpart—he purrs loudly and curls up in laps often, Harry’s included. Even Ron, who seems to be yelling at or about Crookshanks on every other page in Azkaban, comes around to sort of liking him, offering his new pet owl Pigwidgeon to him at the end of the book for the Crookshanks Seal of Approval Sniff Test™.

©Warner Bros.

This bushy-haired boy may have been a little misunderstood throughout his page-time in the books because of his intelligence, but as I’m sure his bushy-haired mom would agree, intelligence is a trait worth being misunderstood for.

The common room was almost empty; nearly everyone was still down at dinner. Crookshanks uncoiled himself from an armchair and trotted to meet them, purring loudly, and when Harry, Ron and Hermione took their three favorite chairs at the fireside he leapt lightly on to Hermione’s lap and curled up there like a furry ginger cushion. 

—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
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Obvi this tweet made me lol, but it also made me think: Why did the Hogwarts founders think it was best to separate the students by personality type?

Didn’t they ever hear of “opposites attract,” or considered, as evidenced by their very founding of a school together, that people need to learn to get along with all types of people in life?

To be fair, the kids do get to interact with students in houses other than their own—in classes when competing over house points or when trying to whack bludgers at each other on the Quidditch pitch.

No wonder Dumbledore’s Army was a success: the Hufflepuffs, Gryffs, and Ravenclaws just wanted to hang.