Percy, Potter, and the legacies of Young Adult authors

Published

Warner Bros.

Riordan and Rowling: two authors responsible for the creation of two completely different universes. Harry Potter far outsells the Percy Jackson series, with Rowling having sold 500m copies worldwide which considerably outshines Riordan’s 20m. In terms of representation, however, the Percy Jackson series has been far more successful in effectively portraying characters in minority groups.
It’s 2019 and there have been countless tweets made by J.K. Rowling claiming representation in the Harry Potter universe. There is one tiny little flaw here, though: there is no actual evidence of this supposed representation in any of her books.
Rick Riordan, on the other hand, has consistently portrayed diversity throughout his most popular book series to date – Percy Jackson – and continues to shine light on underrepresented minorities. He incorporates his characters’ various learning disabilities and shows how it affects the lives of those characters without letting it define them – his heroes and heroines are strong, powerful role models who happen to have dyslexia and ADHD. He hints at the difficulties they face during school yet he never lets it define their journey through their own stories. This is in addition to many of his characters being of several different ethnic backgrounds and sexualities.
Something important to note about J.K. Rowling’s works, however, is that the first half of the Harry Potter series was published in the 20th century, while the Percy Jackson series wasn’t written until a decade later. The world has changed significantly since and representation wasn’t considered much of a priority back then.
You would think Rowling would have moved with the times and included some more representation in her recent supplementary works, right?
Wrong. Rowling fails to practice what she preaches by brushing Dumbledore’s sexuality under the rug in the screenplay and the movie scripts in the latest extension of the Harry Potter universe. There were no nods to Dumbledore’s sexuality in a movie where they explored Dumbledore’s past except for a somewhat unsatisfactory scene where Jude Law makes two-second-long eye contact with Johnny Depp’s reflection on the Mirror of Erised.
In the 21st century, it seems significantly tone-deaf to ignore the calls of the underrepresented still waiting for a mainstream author to tell their story to the world. Rowling essentially still “queerbaits” a large percentage of the LGBTQ+ following she has left that is still consuming her fantasy world. She dangles Dumbledore’s alleged gayness in front of an audience all too willing to hear his story – their story – in the massive worldwide franchise in the form of tweets and interviews, but never seems to want to incorporate Dumbledore’s identity in media that doesn’t have the word “social” in front of it.
People aren’t looking for a whole novel, chapter or subplot about how gay Dumbledore is. Acknowledgement would be the first step (and clearly, a monumental one) for Rowling and the impact of including even a line or a scene in one of the newer movies would have a tremendous impact on the world, considering how large Rowling’s audience is.
LGBTQ+ representation isn’t the only issue the Harry Potter franchise has. There’s also the questionable replacement of a black actress the minute her character took on a more prominent role to the plot of the sixth movie. There are maybe a few people of colour actually acknowledged and given a middling role in the series.
Riordan, on the other hand, shows people just how it should be done – by including and giving a massive role to ethnic minorities by making them protagonists, giving them their own individual chapters for them to tell their stories. There’s a detailed background in the origins of each of these characters (Piper is half Cherokee, Leo is Hispanic, Hazel is African-American and Frank is Chinese). His audience can read these books and relate to the characters: they can be heroes and demigods too; they can be intelligent, strong and independent. And all of these characters, alongside the Caucasian demigods, have learning disabilities.
Rick Riordan not only uses his platform to increase the number of minorities represented in his works, but to help smaller authors from these minority groups by giving them their own audience who will listen to the stories about their cultures and backgrounds. The “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint gives writers an opportunity to be heard and for his audience to see what’s out there and finally see themselves represented on paper – and to help minority authors become mainstream so that they, one day, can do the same.
I spoke to Sally, a fan of the Percy Jackson series, who answered some questions regarding the franchise. She highlights the importance of representation as she says, “While I normally hate to praise basic decency, it’s nice to know that an author you look up to cares about diversity and representation. As a gay Jewish person I am unbelievably happy to hear that his newest book features a Jewish wlw [women loving woman] character.” April, another fan, says, “It was empowering to be able to imagine myself as someone who could take on the role of a hero because I could relate to the main characters through our shared experiences, especially since (back then) there was less of a push for representation in the same way there is now.” From both respondents there is a sense of gratefulness, but not in the “bow-down to me” way that J.K Rowling seems to expect when she tweets yet another diversity headcanon. Because that isn’t what including and representing minorities is about.

Rick Riordan may have his own writing flaws, but he lets his work do the talking, and allows his characters to build up their identities without letting it take over the plot. And in the end, despite the legacy Harry Potter leaves behind, Rowling hides behind social media in an effort to cover up the regrettable lack of diversity in her works, tainting the memories of what was otherwise a magical world for many of our childhoods.