In video essayist Lindsay Ellis’s most recent piece, she discusses the literary theory of Death of the Author and how it pertains to two particular examples: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Green is a guest in the video) and Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling. Ellis details how the French theorist Roland Barthes’s famous 1967 essay argued against more traditional literary criticism that incorporated biographical details and author intentions into a reading of a text. Instead, Barthes said, the work should be judged as an independent entity, even if the author has things to add. This is an interesting theory and one we use regularly in our day to day cultural lives, for better or worse. It is imperfect, as all theory is, and cannot be applied to every example available to us. As Ellis explains in her video essay, John Green can go out of his way to state that everything in The Fault in Our Stars is fiction but that won’t stop people from reading the book and connecting it to the author’s life or beliefs. In turn. An author can explicitly state their intentions but nobody is obliged to accept them as the primary or exclusive reading of a text.
All of this is a lot of words to say that wizards magic away their poop in the Harry Potter books and I’m not okay with it.
For National Trivia Day, the website Pottermore sent out this, er… delightful reminder?
Hogwarts didn't always have bathrooms. Before adopting Muggle plumbing methods in the eighteenth century, witches and wizards simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence. #NationalTriviaDay— Pottermore (@pottermore) January 4, 2019
That’s right, my friends. Wizards and witches are so advanced, so utterly beyond the comprehension of mere muggles, that they had no use for such frivolities as indoor plumbing. Instead, they SH*T themselves then magicked away the results. Where to, you ask? What if they’d eaten something particularly gruesome that day and the remainders were ahem, more fluid than usual? Is there an allotted place where all the poop goes, as decreed by the Ministry of Magic, or is it player’s rules? What about wiping? If you’re a muggle born child or one who doesn’t realize they have magic blood until later in life, how do you pick up this skill? What if you accidentally send half your rectum flying to another country? And what about tampons?!
Sometimes, it’s best not to answer those pressing fan questions, although I have to wonder who the hell was so eager to ask Rowling about wizarding fecal matter and its appropriate disposal.
This may seem like a weird thing to get riled up about - and indeed this news won’t be new to many Potter fans since Rowling has discussed it before - but it’s the perfect exemplification of why Rowling’s current approach to her own back-catalogue of work is so faulty. She won’t let sleeping dogs lie. Fans want answers and she’ll give them, even if they’re nonsensical, pushing against established canon, or just plain stupid.
We’ve talked before about how Rowling is on the verge of going full George Lucas with the Potterverse. From the red-pen-in-the-margins attempts to diversify the novels to the offensive explanations of international wizarding schools to the increasingly mishandled attempts to create parallels between real world fascism and the wizarding equivalent, Rowling has dug her heels in further to making her franchise an actively worse piece of storytelling. Not every part of your fictional world needs a real-life parallel or detailed explanation. Let the mystery be.
There is obviously still an audience for questions like magic poop disposal. Rowling is a rare example of a writer who has not only made herself readily available to answer all these random questions but founded an entire website to fill in those blanks. Ultimately, what it does, beyond further taint the integrity of that world, is make it a far less interesting place to explore. Are we supposed to be impressed that the advanced world of wizarding considered itself either too lazy or too important to invent plumbing before muggles? Where’s the magic in this for the reader? Doesn’t it kind of spoil the beauty of those books when you read emotionally draining scenes and are suddenly overcome with the mental image of Dumbledore trying to console Harry while taking an especially troublesome dump? You know, the ones that need a bit of wriggling? Yeah, if I have to live with that image then so do you. Don’t blame me, it’s one that J.K. Rowling is actively encouraging her readers to deal with. A nice palate cleanser after you’ve exhausted yourself with trying to figure out why she’s still Team Johnny Depp.
I’ve advocated for Rowling to let go of the Potter franchise for a long time but I guarantee that it will never happen, at least not willingly. There’s no reason for Rowling to pass on creative reins to someone else or to let the franchise rest in peace while there is money to be made and authorship to be asserted. I can’t say I’d be any different if I were in her shoes. I imagine she isn’t keen on letting Warner Bros. run rampant with the series without her input, although given the recent critical and commercial questions around Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, maybe they should consider a new approach.
It’s not just about the poop. But it kind of is.
Seriously, what happens to the poop, Jo?! Where does the poop go?! I don’t even want to know but you’ve put this out into the world now so here we are.
Header Image Source: Warner Bros.