Well, another molehill has been made into mountainous terrain for the culture war. This time the topic of controversy is the BBC Arts/Reading Agency Big Jubilee Read, a list of 70 novels from across the Queen’s 70-year-reign, collated with the help of librarians across the UK. The problem? Nothing by J. K. Rowling made the list — and somehow, this is the fault of transgender people.
“JK Rowling excluded from Platinum Jubilee list of great reads in wake of great transgender row” runs the Telegraph headline; “Harry Potter author, who has been ‘cancelled’ over her views, misses out on inclusion in Big Jubilee Read.” GB News has a virtually identical headline: “JK Rowling excluded from Platinum Jubilee reading list as trans debate rages on”, with the subheading “The Harry Potter author has previously been criticised for her views on trans”. The Telegraph also ran an opinion piece by Allison Pearson, who — as well as moaning about the list for being “deeply unpatriotic” — condemned the “disgraceful, cowardly omission of JK Rowling”. A Twitter user called “ripx4nutmeg” — whose tweet made it into Graham Lineham’s Substack — sneered that “[l]ess successful authors who have publicly said they believe in transgender ideology were included in the list”.
But are Rowling’s views on transgender people really responsible for her omission? Having looked at the list myself, I’m far from convinced.
First of all, the list is divided up into sections of ten books per decade — meaning that, in practice, there are only 20 slots that could conceivably have gone to a Harry Potter title. Secondly, the list was clearly assembled to represent a broad range of Commonwealth countries beyond Britain — for example, the section for books from 1992-2001 includes authors from Canada, Sri Lanka, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, South Africa and Tanzania. The only British novels making the cut for the decade are Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Paradise (which is listed as representing both England and Tanzania, the latter being the author’s birthplace) and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.
This raises the obvious question: which of the two authors should have been cut to make way for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — Zadie Smith or Abdulrazak Gurnah? As far as I can tell, nobody objecting to the list has answered this.
I should also point out that Rowling is far from the only prominent British author of fantastic fiction who failed to make the list. Terry Pratchett is nowhere to be seen; nor are Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Michael Moorcock, Iain M. Banks, Roald Dahl, James Herbert, JRR Tolkien, Ramsey Campbell, Diana Wynne Jones or Clive Barker. Have all of these people been “cancelled” by the transgender lobby, as well?
Let’s face it, even leaving aside any personal failings of the author, there were entirely legitimate reasons to exclude Harry Potter from the list. For one, its significance lies as a series of novels, making it an awkward fit for a list of self-contained works. It’s also a series that everyone who has any interest in will have already read; there is little sense in including it on a recommended-reading list (A “most significant novels” list, certainly; but that was not necessarily the point of the list in question).
But then, as the saying goes — if it bleeds, it leads. A few culture warriors scented pink, blue and white blood to be eked out of the non-story of a popular novel not making a booklist, and so they merrily eked away.
I have to wonder, however, if there’s more to this than meets the eye. After all, while it has little to do with transgender people, the list — the deeply unpatriotic list — does feature a considerable amount of racial and cultural diversity. And sometimes, concerns over the “transgender debate” can make a very useful mask…