On June 26, wear all your Harry Potter gear. Have a Harry Potter marathon. Throw a celebration. Draw the deathly Hallows symbol on your wrist. On June 26, 2017, the Harry Potter series turns 20 years old.
Writing Harry Potter fanfic without reinforcing unconscious antisemitism when you write goblins or Snape
Hi, I have a question about writing fanfic of source material with questionable/ offensive aspects. I’m writing Harry Potter fanfic and am unsure how best to deal with antisemitic undertones in both the goblins and in Snape (esp his physical appearance). I’m not jewish.
I tried researching goblins in general, and the approach I came up with so far is to remove the connection of the harry potter goblins with gold/ gringotts. In my fic they have other jobs, professions and roles besides that, and humans work alongside them in the bank. I got rid of negative descriptions like “swarthy”, untrustworthy etc, and while not really going indepth (they’re not the focus) hinted at them having their own culture not revolving around gold or treasure, but with their own traditional clothing and art.
I wonder if this is a good approach, if there are other things to be aware of or pitfalls to avoid. I’m not trying to portray goblin culture to resemble jewish culture in any way btw, but will rather have human jewish characters.
The second thing I’m struggling with is Snape. I don’t think Rowling intended either him or the goblins this way, but he comes across as a negative jewish stereotype and I feel unsure of how to change this. Since he is such a central character, I feel less like I can completely disregard canon or make him unrecognizable. I also don’t feel like just changing his physical appearance would help at all? Doing that might only reinforce the idea that there’s something ‘wrong’ with his features. So far the only thing I could come up with is not to portray features like his hooked nose or oily hair in a negative way or as a sign of bad personality traits. I’m honestly at a loss though. – Sorry this got so long!
First of all, for anyone who isn’t aware of what OP is talking about, it’s not that JKR deliberately set out to poke us in the eye with her money-babysitting goblins and hook-nosed Snape. It’s built into English folklore this way, so much so that she most likely didn’t realize why her knee-jerk idea for what those characters should look like was informed by centuries-old garbage. So I’m not blaming her, and this is a warning that you don’t have to be deliberately racist to accidentally perpetuate harmful tropes.
Moving on to the answer:
>> the approach I came up with so far is to remove the connection of the harry potter goblins with gold/ gringotts. In my fic they have other jobs, professions and roles besides that, and humans work alongside them in the bank
I have a question for you. Why was it easier to create entirely new goblin canon than distance them from Jewishness ? I mean, I don’t know about you, but even if goblins are upstanding citizens who save puppies and help old ladies cross the street on the daily, always do the dishes after every meal, and never misgender their friends, the word ‘goblin’ is not something commonly thought of as beautiful or heroic. It’s a GOBLIN. So if this were me I’d move in a “goblins are not Jews” direction instead of trying to turn them into ugly little heroes. (This is advice specifically for gentiles, by the way. I know several Jewish fans who like to try to reclaim, for example, Tolkien dwarves. It can be very validating–from within. And for people who aren’t me. :P )
Ways to distance goblins from Jewishness and anti-semitic tropes in general:
First of all, fix the noses. We as a society decided that having your nose turn down at the end makes someone monstrous and unhuman. Can we not? That’s just silly. So give the goblins either all kinds of noses including snub noses and pointy noses and uninteresting noses, or give them something totally inhuman like a Pinocchio nose.
If they follow polytheism in any way that’ll help drive them away from Jewishness. A goblin pantheon, etc.
Having human Jews in the story is the best way to make it clear your goblins aren’t Jews, IMO. Especially if they have the same “meh” reaction to them that the gentile human characters do.
I mean, trying to make them independently cool is not a bad goal, I’m just saying that it doesn’t necessarily make them seem less Jewish because let’s face it, tiny and ugly is one of the negative tropes about us even when we’re awesome and I just plain don’t want to feel ugly when I wake up in the morning!
>> will rather have human jewish characters.
By the way, if this seems like way too much work – if you leave goblins out of your fanfic entirely the fact that JKR uses them won’t make your fanfic antisemitic. Does that make sense? Like, yes, the source material is problematic, but it’s also okay to completely ignore the goblins entirely within the scope of your fic. Unless you really need them there for plot reasons.
>> Since he is such a central character, I feel less like I can completely disregard canon or make him unrecognizable. I also don’t feel like just changing his physical appearance would help at all? Doing that might only reinforce the idea that there’s something ‘wrong’ with his features. So far the only thing I could come up with is not to portray features like his hooked nose or oily hair in a negative way or as a sign of bad personality traits. I’m honestly at a loss though.
The Snape answer is easier.
Don’t talk about those particular physical features. Does anyone reading HP fanfic not already know what Severus Snape looks like? There really isn’t a reason to mention his nose in a fanfic.
If you also show him being his usual douchecanoe self to Jewish students in addition to all the gentile MC’s, that would be cool–and another thing you could do is have him deliberately go out of his way to be a douche to a Jewish student in an antisemitic way like, if a muggle from a more observant background is ooked out about having to touch pig parts for a spell he could make fun of her and she could defend herself or one of the others could reassure her she’s okay and he’s just an ass to everyone. I mean that would make it super obvious he’s not us. But you don’t really have to do that.
RAVENCLAW: “The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne’s are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.” –Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow)
Note that Diesel doesn’t really have any tattoos; these were made for the movie. Meaning that while they were drawing up the art for xXx, Diesel leaned in and said to the makeup director, “Dude, I know a totally badass word we can put on my abs, for no particular reason.”
And then he went and topped that by getting an entire movie written about Melkor. The Last Witch Hunter, released in 2015, was written after Diesel met up with writer Cory Goodman at a party and started nerding out about D&D. Goodman was apparently so moved by the lore of the witch hunter Melkor that he went back home and wrote an entire movie based on it, renaming the character with the equally ‘90s comic-book-esque name “Kaulder.”