When Chris Colfer was on Glee, he received accolades from LGBTQ groups — along with a Golden Globe — for his portrayal of Kurt Hummel.
When he pivoted to writing fantasy novels for kids, he landed on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Both those accomplishments give him a unique position to weigh in on J.K. Rowling’s comments about trans people, which have been widely criticized.
“That was a really, really tough situation,” Colfer tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It was really disappointing because I feel like she taught us better than that, you know?”
In fact, Colfer is now the one doing the teaching, in a way. His new book, A Tale of Witchcraft, is, as he tells it, “an allegory for oppression and discrimination and fighting for acceptance” embedded within a story full of curses, fantastic creatures and a magic community under siege by a misogynistic, segregationist group called the Righteous Brotherhood. Colfer wants his young audience and their parents to have conversations about difficult subjects.
And for himself, that includes re-evaluating his relationship with Rowling and her work. Colfer’s own prolific output — he’s been churning out a book a year since 2012 — is in part thanks to the wildly successful author. He’s credited Rowling for inspiring him to start writing and when he was 12 he wrote her a letter thanking her for the Harry Potter books.
“I think we just have to really be thankful for the creation that we know, but learn to separate the creator,” he says, adding, “and I'm not just talking about J.K. Rowling.”
Many Harry Potter fan communities have issued statements in support of trans people in light of Rowling’s comments. Even Harry Potter himself, actor Daniel Radcliffe, spoke out following the author’s remarks.
Rowling’s contemporaries in the arts have had a mixed reaction to her comments. Novelist Ian McEwan, playwright Tom Stoppard and 56 others signed a letter defending the author, calling the backlash against the author “insidious.” But on Wednesday, more than 1,500 writers and publishing professionals signed a brief letter expressing their support of “trans and non-binary people and their rights.” J.K. Rowling is not mentioned by name and signatories include Normal People author Sally Rooney, Daisy Johnson and Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
“I don’t think there's any fault in still enjoying it for what it is and holding onto the joy that it brought you,” Colfer says, “But I also do think that you need to at least acknowledge the problematic nature that created it.”
In the past, Colfer has helped raise money for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.
“At the end of the day, I can’t take back someone’s words. I can't force them to apologize. I can’t force them to change the way they think,” he says. “All I can say is that the trans community has always been there for me … and I will have their back for as long as I live.”
Colfer also says that the fantastical events of A Tale of Witchcraft (and its predecessor A Tale of Magic) were influenced by the discord and unrest happening in reality — and sometimes by specific people.
“Another name for the Righteous Brotherhood ... could just be the Mitch McConnells quite frankly,” he says of the Republican Senate majority leader. “They’re a bunch of very cowardly, hateful, miserable men who think the only way that they can find joy is by taking joy away from others and taking rights away from people who deserve to have rights.”
But despite a detail involving the bad guys’ leader promising to roll back each and every progressive policy of the previous leader, President Trump was not top of mind for Colfer. Although he muses, “it’s very telling that there are so many comparisons to our president and the villains of a children’s book.”
Next up for Colfer is a virtual book tour and mapping out the details to the sequel to A Tale of Witchcraft, which depends on the results of an upcoming event in the real world.
“The [presidential] election is going to be a big influence on what the third book is about,” he says.
The news has been a constant source of anger for Colfer, but thankfully, writing fantasy has provided the perfect escape.
“I found writing this series has been a very therapeutic way for me to articulate my feelings,” he says, adding, “without profanity.”
A Tale of Witchcraft is available now.
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