I really liked the Harry Potter series as a kid, which is regretful to say as a trans man, though I guess it makes sense. Maybe I needed the escapism even more than my cis friends. My transness and ADHD left me feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere, like something was missing. Maybe I was a wizard, and that’s why everything felt wrong!
So when folks talk about nostalgia, I get it. But I have news for you: we have to burn our nostalgia.
If you don’t know by now, J. K. Rowling is a transphobe and has written the tropes right into the Harry Potter books, with a nice dose of racism and antisemitism sprinkled in for good measure. Just look at the goblins then research antisemitic tropes. The language is divisive, harmful, and shouldn’t be given to children who don’t know how to flag discrimination.
“But, Matteo,” you might say, because maybe you have a wand-and-robe set in your closet like I do, “I can actively arm myself from internalizing that!”
Although that is helpful, no doubt, we forget one important detail: the publishing industry sucks the teat of capitalism. The real money is made from television and film rights, so even when you buy your favourite author’s book, the publisher takes the majority of your $25 purchase, and the author gets roughly 10 per cent of the profits.
Ever wonder why we have so many reruns, remakes, and sequels? Every time you stream Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the publishing industry is reminded that this stuff sells. And right now, the algorithm is severely lacking diversity beyond shallow stereotypes and a few good productions.
It’s a loveless industry, and the majority of content are not exactly breaking any barriers when it comes to diversity. This means we get an awful, spiralling loop of the same story over and over. We also steal those publishing spots from BIPOC, queer, and/or disabled authors who could bring new language to the scene.
“Our nostalgia won’t allow language to move forward. It clutches the cishet canon in our hands and ignores every other person trying to make a change because new stories can create unrest and unease.”
There are plenty of author hopefuls pitching stories with magical-girl Black characters, dynamic Indigenous fantasies, stories with badass Muslim leads — these are the people with a new story to tell. This is where language sings and forges new paths. This is where we break the mould and start to take the future of language out of the hands of the past. Right now, buying into nostalgia is allowing the market to close ranks on itself.
What if we said, “Hang on. I want to see this Thai-inspired fantasy Les Misérables adaptation instead of yet another Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake.” So long as we keep publishing and selling the same old stuff, new voices won’t shift public opinion.
Our nostalgia won’t allow language to move forward. It clutches the cishet canon in our hands and ignores every other person trying to make a change because new stories can create unrest and unease. Rhetoricians have been doing it since Grecian times, Indigenous stories have been passed down through generations. The one thing that persevered since we started communicating was the idea of language itself.
Fortunately, diverse media is on the rise, and we need to keep that moving. Language only exists when it can move to the next person, so why are we allowing the flow of divisive language? I get nostalgia, but we’re older now, wiser. We can grow and make room for new voices and expressions.
We can give a pathway to a new language. Consuming diverse media to support the author as best we can, upvoting their books on review sites so they can be considered for awards, following authors on Twitter and tweeting at them for recognition, buying merch — there are so many options!. We need to remind publishers that there is a demand for new content, that we demand diverse voices and stories. We make noise, and they have to deliver. Diverse media is on the rise because we’ve asked for it.
We can keep asking.
Publishing has room to be pushed at. Language has room to grow. We just have to open those connections and let these stories out of the boxes we’ve put them in. Nostalgia is a need to get back to the past because we resent the present, and we fear the future. Instead, we can make a future we look forward to, and it starts by moving past the things we coveted as children.
I want new, diverse stories that don’t strike divides and fund oppression. There’s a world of books out there, so let’s find some new favourites.
Here are some of my fantasy book recommendations:
Middle Grade (Ages 8-12):
- Indian fantasy: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
- Thai-inspired fantasy: A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat
- Navajo fantastical-adventure: Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
- Middle Eastern/South Asian fantastical-adventure: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
Young Adult (Ages 12-18):
- Nigerian fantasy: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
- Fantastical adventure with an Apache, asexual protagonist: Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
- Latinx fantastical-adventure, with a gay and trans lead, and a diverse queer cast: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
- Mexican fantastical-adventure: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Expansive African fantasy: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
- Magical land satire, with queer characters: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (audiobook highly recommended)
New Adult (Ages 18-30):
- Asian fantasy with queer worldbuilding and a nonbinary lead: The Black Tides of Heaven by J. Y. Yang (novella)
- Queer fantastical-adventure: Finna by Nino Cipri (novella)