The Unproblematic Wizarding World of Barnes & Nobel

An article in the Advocate mentions an amusing skirmish in the TERF war embroiling author J.K. Rowling: a stand of Fantasy books in the Union Square Barnes & Nobel flagship store labeled ‘The Unproblematic Wizarding World’ in which the Harry Potter books are conspicuous for their absence.

My guess: it’s a gentle, mischievous poke by a staff member or three, well-meant and harmless. Might it even be bookish double entendre? After all, the same B&N store offers Harry Potter by the shelf-load; tables groan under the weight of those fat, magical tomes. And what should we infer from the absence of others, like The Wizard of Oz and Room on the Broom?

Twitter warriors on both sides wade in, of course, and howl for banning, blood, and vengeance.

What are B&N’s ‘unproblematic’ choices? Funny thing: it’s hard to find a book that isn’t problematic for someone. That shouldn’t surprise, in an era when Dr. Seuss is censored by the Left and books that recall the Holocaust are banned by the Right.

Let’s see what we have.

Prominent is a door-stopper by Brandon Sanderson, one of the most popular authors of fantasy writing today. The guy can raise millions on Kickstarter just for hinting he might write a new book. But Sanderson, a devout Mormon, has also been panned for posting homophobic comments. Unproblematic, or what?

There’s a favorite of mine, and of millions of other readers: the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. Her books stand proudly among those of Atwood, Pullman, Tolkien, Orwell, and Huxley that were challenged and banned for various reasons.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books were also banned, of course. But Rowling has made it to the next level. She’s earned herself old-fashioned book burnings in the US and Poland, a distinction most authors can only dream of.

A book-burning in Poland, including a J. K. Rowling book. Image source: The Guardian

A book-burning in Poland, including a J. K. Rowling book. Image source: The Guardian

We could (and some in the Twitterverse did) accuse Alix E. Harrow’s beautifully-written The Once and Future Witches of promoting old-school feminism (suffragists, but witches!) – perhaps like that of Rowling’s own school of feminism? What are Harrow’s books doing in the pile of unproblematic Wizarding books?

Deborah Harkness’s books are so clearly pagan and anti-Christian … according to trolls. But there they are, shoulder to shoulder with Le Guin’s unproblematic middle grade.

Is it possible that witches outnumber wizards and warlocks on that table? Should I be seeing an anti-male bias there? How unproblematic is that?

Following the enemy-of-my-enemy logic of trolls, should we conclude that those who applaud B&N’s unproblematic selections are thereby declaring their support for traditional feminism and for paganism? That they are anti-Christian and homophobic?

Surely not. The sentiment is simpler. It’s thoughtless applause for the apparent ’no-platforming’ of someone they disagree with. It’s like the thoughtless, one-issue voting that got Trump elected. It the sort of laziness that empowers right-wing populists in the US to pull from school libraries books they dislike: books that tell kids the Holocaust happened, books about slavery, books that feature transgender children.

One Twitterer left this comment, which got nary a ’like’: the world shrugs at the puerile paroxysms of a coddled generation who find everything problematic. I wish it were true. Why then am I wasting virtual paper on the paroxysm? Writer procrastination–no better excuse.