Writers Aren’t Meant to Be Famous: The J.K. Rowling Story

Jessica Richmond Woods
14 min readNov 5, 2020

When people first get to know me, one thing becomes very clear fairly quickly: I love Harry Potter.

Lately, this opinion has become more controversial as the author of my favorite series has set out to destroy her good name… but this is about why I can never abandon Harry and Hogwarts.

I first picked up a Harry Potter book when I was six years old. My mom told me it was far too big and advanced for me to read. Naturally, I insisted upon reading it and by insisted, I mean, screamed bloody murder in the middle of the store until my Nana bought it for me.

That night, I stayed up until midnight tearing through the book, enveloped by a magical world that would accompany me for the rest of my life. I learned words like blimey and knickers and met people like Hagrid and Dumbledore.

At the tender age of six, I couldn’t differentiate between the made-up words and the new ones; it was years before I understood that muggle was not a word outside of Harry Potter.

If you were to look at my copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone now, you would still see markings of that first read, the Cheeto smudges, and the bent pages — the traces of a child who hadn’t yet learned the importance of a book.

These books have accompanied my whole life and when I was 18 I got the word “Expelliarmus” tattooed on my foot to symbolize my forever love of this series.

My love for Harry Potter never really had anything to do with J.K. Rowling. She invented my world but I lived in it. I had my experience in her world and she had hers. I admired that she gave away a lot of her money to charity but beyond that, I didn’t really care about what she did.

Until she wouldn’t shut up on Twitter…

Before the explosion of social media, we didn’t know what authors were like outside of their work. Writers were mysterious cloaked figures with possible pen names who lived in dark caves and barely emerged for a book signing. But then… they became celebrities. They were followed on Twitter and by paparazzi. Their names were used to promote movies and suddenly their opinions on things mattered.

Of course, writers as celebrities was a concept back in Hemingway and Tolkein’s age. They just happened to hate the attention they got and did everything they could to avoid the limelight.

I don’t know if this craze got worse with J.K. Rowling or if it was a product of the internet itself but she is not the only one that has had to deal with this new level of scrutiny. Several authors have navigated the transition well, Stephen King, in particular, has made a public name for himself without causing uproar or dispelling too much of the aura of mystery. And then there’s John Green whose writing career explosion is a byproduct of his fame on YouTube.

It’s a new world for authors and some of them are good people and some of them aren’t, but that doesn’t make their work less impactful. I think it’s more important than ever to separate the art from the artist.

Talent is not only given to perfect souls — that has always been the case.

Here are some authors who wrote classics and beloved books who weren’t exactly the best people (or were actual demon spawn, whichever):

1. Hunter S. Thompson

Let’s start with an obvious one for me but he is still worshipped by a lot of hipsters. Thompson has been accused of rape amongst other sexual crimes against women. He’s been confirmed to have tied Bill Murray to a chair and tossed him into a pool to drown. He left an elk heart on Jack Nicholson’s doorstep after setting off a powerful flare that lit up the sky in a 40-mile radius around Nicholson’s house for a full minute. He was even known to randomly shoot his pistol at his neighbor’s house. And (and this may be obvious at this point) he was severely addicted to ketamine. Source

Still Loved For: Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Rum Diary.

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

2. Charles Dickens

The author of A Christmas Carol has to basically be Saint Nick, right? Wrong. He tried to have his wife declared mad because he was having an affair with a teenage actress. He then banished her from the house and forbade her from seeing their ten children. He wrote slanderous letters about her in the newspapers and even tried to have her sent to a mental asylum because of her “suspicions.” Source. 2.

Still Loved For: A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities.

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

3. Roald Dahl

Creator of magical children stories and…anti-Semite. This is a quote from him in 1983 that really just sums it up:

“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they [the Jews] were always submissive.”

He apparently had such a terrible demeanor that people (including his first wife) called him Roald the Rotten. His daughter said the following in a 2012 interview, “Daddy gave joy to millions of children. But I was dying inside.” Source. 2.

Still Loved For: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, BFG, The Witches, and James and the Giant Peach.

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

4. Ernest Hemingway

This is always the author that comes to mind when I think about who I’m glad never had a social media account. He led an extremely interesting life so I’m sure his account would be full of stories like how he survived two plane crashes while hunting big game in Africa or how he hunted for Nazi subs in his fishing boat off the coast of Cuba. But, there is a following around the ex-pat lifestyle Hemingway led — a similar beatnik following as Hunter S. Thompson where people make him out to be some adventurous god rather than just a human with a horrible case of alcoholism, PTSD, depression, and a whole host of other mental illnesses. He was as much a celebrity as you could be back in his day and that pressure alone was too much for him so I couldn’t imagine what a late-night Ernest Hemingway Instagram Story would look like. He was a wickedly talented guy but I don’t think he or his fanbase would have benefited much from knowing more about his inner psyche. Sure he may know how to write a great short, short story and that’s sometimes what a tweet is…I just don’t think that’s what he would have used it for. Also, he may or may not have been a KGB spy, so there’s that. Source. 2. 3.

Still Loved For: A Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom The Bell Tolls

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

5. J.D. Salinger

Salinger was known as a recluse even though he died in 2010 when the internet was in full swing. This might be because one of his favorite pastimes was luring teenage girls to have sex with him by writing them love letters. He used his talent for writing for evil but he also wrote one of the most beloved novels of all time. But…in his old age, he was known for pulling a gun on a Red Cross volunteer.

Still Loved For: The Catcher in the Rye

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

6. Mary Shelley

What? What did Mary Shelley do?! Well, she was weird. And I mean, really, really weird. First, her father taught her to read by having her trace the engravings of her mother’s tombstone. Her mother had died giving birth to Mary and her father thought this would bring them closer together. In reality, I think it made Mary the queen of Goth. After learning to read via tombstone, she lost her virginity on that tombstone to a married man, Percey Shelley, whose wife was pregnant. They then carried on a two-year affair that ended in their elopement. Percey’s wife committed suicide but it’s rumored that Mary’s father actually had the woman killed to have his daughter’s marriage legitimized. Percey died at sea just six years after they were married. After his death, she carried around his heart in a silk bag for the remainder of her life. Mary Shelley may be the poster girl for Halloween but she really wouldn’t be great at the celebrity life. Source. 2.

Still Loved For: Frankenstein

If She Were To Have Tweeted:

7. George Orwell

Remember that time in history when the worst thing you could be labeled was a communist? Well, Orwell made a giant list of people he thought to be communists and handed it over to the UK’s information department. The problem was most of these people were just black, Jewish, or gay not communists. People named on his list included: Orson Welles, John Steinbeck, Katharine Hepburn, and Charlie Chaplin. He’d go on to write about how large governmental agencies were evil but we’ll never know if he was aware of his own hypocrisy.

Still Loved For: 1984 and Animal Farm

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

8. William Golding

Okay, so we can probably expect that whatever mind crafted The Lord of the Flies probably wasn’t Mr. Rodgers or anything but Golding really took it to the next level. He detailed his attempted and then successful rape of a teenage girl in an unpublished memoir dedicated to his wife (not the same girl). He claimed the girl was a depraved sexual ape and therefore he just had to rape her. He was also an alcoholic who beat his wife. Source. 2.

Still Loved For: The Lord of the Flies

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

9. Orson Scott Card

One of the most successful science fiction and fantasy writers of the modern era, Card is also a known homophobe and racist. He’s written countless opinion pieces espousing these views so I think I’ll just quote him here.

“There is a myth that homosexuals are ‘born that way,’ and we are pounded with this idea so thoroughly that many people think that somebody, somewhere, must have proved it.”

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Feb 15, 2004

“No matter how sexually attracted a man might be toward other men, or a woman toward other women, and no matter how close the bonds of affection and friendship might be within same-sex couples, there is no act of court or Congress that can make these relationships the same as the coupling between a man and a woman.”

Deseret News Jul 24, 2008

“The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.”

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Feb 15, 2004

There was also a whole column where he called Obama a dictator akin to Hitler and Stalin and that he only came to power through his “urban gangs.” He was raised Mormon and many of his beliefs come from this upbringing but the subject matter is completely avoided in his books. In fact, his books focus on how humans and aliens can get along but apparently different races or sexual orientations are where he draws the line? Source. 2. 3.

Still Loved For: Ender’s Game (and series)

He Is On Twitter and Mostly Uses It For Marketing Purposes Preferring To Keep His Homophobia To The Essay Medium.

10. David Foster Wallace

Beloved by every man with an English degree, Wallace is universally liked for his morality but he’s also now known as a creep. The novelist Garth Risk Hallberg put it best when he noted at the time of Wallace’s death in 2008 that he was the embodiment of a generation’s anxiety: “Polymathic, ironic, brilliant, damaged, and under intense pressure to perform.” This pressure though led him to stalk women, abuse women, and even climb in through the bedroom window of a woman. He is a problematic person but his books don’t offer less wisdom because he couldn’t control himself. Source.

Still Loved For: Infinite Jest

He Was Alive During the Time of Twitter and Chose Not To Have One.

11. H.P. Lovecraft

One of the greatest influences on the horror genre, Lovecraft focused on the fear of the unknown. This was unfortunately likely rooted in his fear/hatred of anyone who wasn’t white. The creator of Cthulhu also wrote a poem that I honestly just need you to read yourself:

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.

To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a n*****.

In the original, it was obviously not asterisked and he was not joking or being ironic at all.

Source. 2.

Still Loved For: Call of Cthulhu, The Mountains of Madness,

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

12. Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo liked sex. Having it, watching it, bragging about it, you name it he tried it. He boasted about bedding his wife nine times on their wedding night and was so amazed by his first experience with sex that he had to have it with everyone, all the time. It’s cited that he slept with hundreds of women during the course of their marriage and even courted a 22-year-old at age 70.

Still Loved For: Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

13. Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss being a racist and anti-Semite is pretty common knowledge at this point but his books aren’t going anywhere. His depictions of the Japanese during WWII and other cartoonists like him led to the general sentiment that allowed for internment camps in the United States. He later admitted to regretting his racist cartoons and wrote several books about the evils of racism and Nazi Germany.

Still Loved For: The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, Oh The Places You’ll Go, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, among many other children’s classics.

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

14. Virginia Woolf

Woolf is known for her intellect and modern writing styles which is why it’s so strange that she would be so severely “stuck in the times” with her anti-Semitism. The kicker? She was married to a Jewish man. She wrote in her journals about hating her Jewish mother-in-law because she had a “Jewish voice” and “Jewish face.” She also wrote both favorably and disfavorably of her husband praising his “Jewish vitality” and calling him a “penniless Jew” sometimes in the same sentence.

Still Loved For: Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse as well as her essays on feminism, artistic theory, history, and politics.

If She Were To Have Tweeted:

15. Norman Mailer

Artists can be sensitive, sure, but Mailer took it a whole new level when his wife told him he wasn’t as good a writer as Dostoyevsky. He grabbed a knife and stabbed her repeatedly in the back and stomach, puncturing her pericardial sac. She survived and later divorced him but remained scarred the rest of her life and referred to Mailer as “a monster” to their daughters. To give you a general idea of what a wonderful husband he must have been, he called his own penis “the retaliator.” He also was in general a misogynist, homophobe, and racist, here are some lovely quotes from the man:

“A little bit of rape is good for a man’s soul.”

“The Arabs have had two thousand years of living in the desert, fighting over nothing very tangible, until oil wells came along recently. They have learned to negotiate and trick and play and maneuver and distort realities in such a way that we are encountering a mind, geopolitically speaking, that is more evil than any mind we have encountered before.”

“I have a terrible confession to make — I have nothing to say about any of the talented women who write today. Out of what is no doubt a fault in me, I do not seem able to read them. Indeed I doubt if there will be a really exciting woman writer until the first whore becomes a call girl and tells her tale.

“If one feels no shame about being a homosexual, it’s considerably easier to be a homosexual than a heterosexual. Because you are separated from society, the weight of society bears upon you far less, and promiscuity is far simpler.”

Source

Still Loved For: The Naked and the Dead, The Executioner’s Song, and Marilyn: A Biography

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

16. Jack London

This is one where the author’s racism comes through in his works. After all, what wolf thinks the following: “As compared with the Indians he had known, they were to him another race of superior gods.” The novel White Fang then goes on to say that the wolf’s Native American master “was a child-god among these white-skinned ones.” London even wrote in an essay that genocide was just a part of natural selection, something that’s perfectly acceptable when “lesser breeds” encounter Anglo-Saxons. London kept up with the genocide stuff in a short story called The Unparalleled Invasion, where the Chinese start taking over the world (a horrifying proposition in London’s mind). So how does the story end? With the U.S. and Europe attacking China with biological weapons, wiping out all the Chinese, and claiming the country for white people everywhere. Yeah, not exactly what you’d call an uplifting story. Source.

Still Loved For: White Fang and The Call of the Wild

If He Were To Have Tweeted:

This list could continue on and on and my point is not that writers are bad people. You’ll notice this list varies from the truly horrible to the righteously weird and that’s to say that we cannot judge a book by its author. If we analyze every author’s past we’ll have to burn the library down.

And…if you have any further doubts about how social media disturbs our view of art: just imagine how depressing Sylvia Plath’s blog would be.

So I won’t be tossing out my Harry Potter books anytime soon. I won’t be throwing eggs at people who drive a Volkswagen or Mitsubishi. I’ll continue to read and watch what I enjoy regardless of who made it and I hope you’ll join me in separating the art from the artist. After all, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home regardless of who you are.

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Jessica Richmond Woods

My name is Jess and I'm 28 years old. I have more medical maladies than the average chick and I probably watch more television than you too.