The nature of how literature is written is always changing, as a response to a society that evolves alongside it. This has perhaps never been as evident as it is in our modern day and age, where social media allows anyone with a computer and an internet connection to engage directly with the authors of our time, and in turn to partake in their creative process. The verdict on whether or not this is a good thing is still pending, but what we do know is that it affects the reader’s experience in many ways. It has also caused controversy around a few authors who take full advantage of the means they are given as 21st century writers.
The Harry Potter franchise is an example of a series which has been impacted by the role of the 21st century author. This is because Rowling herself eagerly explores the interesting dimension social media brings to the role of the writer. Countless facts and trivia, often in response to questions from fans on social media platforms, have been given by Rowling on the characters and lore of the Harry Potter universe, since the release of the last book. She has, for example, expressed regrets, such as not having the character Harry end up with Hermione, and apologized for deaths that she wrote. Of course, Rowling has the right to reveal whatever information she wants in relation to her fiction, yet many argue that this near ‘rewriting’ of the story diminishes the books in a way, as readers are prompted to go back and review parts of her work with a perspective that isn’t expressed in the actual text. While some would rejoice at the idea of having a black Hermione, or enjoy the knowledge that Hogwarts has “free fees”, others might argue that neither of those things are described in the books, and are thus redundant. Expansions post-release, while possibly providing useful information and context, can also hinder the reader in imagining the world for themselves.
While this trivia might have been fun at first, the persistency of these additions might be less so, as the question begs itself: is Rowling doing this for attention?
Another reason why Rowling’s continuous engagement has attracted controversy, is because of the nature of some of her additions. Through her tweets, Rowling comments that there are people of a multitude of ethnicities, religions, and sexualities in the story, yet none of those things presents themselves on the page. This frustrates many, who call her out for ‘queerbaiting’, and feel betrayed. Then there are additions so minute yet specific that it has been critiqued as near satire. Do the fans really need to know that Uncle Vernon is pro-Brexit; that Anthony Goldstein, a character only mentioned in passing was Jewish; or that Crookshanks would beat Mrs. Norris in a fight? Many say no. While this trivia might have been fun at first, the persistency of these additions might be less so, as the question begs itself: is Rowling doing this for attention?
there might be a new and positive dimension emerging from the changing literary climate- one that fosters the intimacy that literature often claims to both seek and produce.
On the other hand, you have authors who found that social media has helped them both engage their audiences and develop their works, without alienating the reader quite like Rowling does. An example of this is Andy Weir, author of The Martian, and more recently, Artemis. In an email exchange with the Huffington Post, he explains that “social media removes barriers for my readers, they feel a much more direct connection with me because they can message me directly and I answer them. I’m not a faceless entity like authors of the past. […] It fosters a much closer connection.” He is not the only one who feels this way. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of self-help books such as Big Magic, says that for her, “social media dissolved the border between author and reader, replacing that border with real intimacy”. Gilbert continued by saying how she could not have written her most recent book without her Facebook relationships, which goes to show how there might be a new and positive dimension emerging from the changing literary climate- one that fosters the intimacy that literature often claims to both seek and produce.
Like with most cases of change, there are both positive and negative sides to the new role of the 21th century author. Perhaps there will never be a definitive answer that favors one perspective.