Cosplay in Colombo

 

 

It’s a typically hot, humid Sri Lankan afternoon and I’m walking along an avenue in the quaintly-named Trace Expert City, a business park west of Fort Railway Station and Beira Lake in central Colombo.  Ahead of me, beneath the trees that mercifully cast a little shade over the avenue, I spy a gathering of people.  What’s going on?  What are they crowding around to see?  Intrigued, I draw closer…

 

…And discover that everyone’s attention is focused on Spiderman, who’s strutting his funky Spidey-stuff while he engages in a dance-off with his sinister, black-costumed, alien-symbiote nemesis Venom.

 

 

For yes, I have just arrived at Lanka Comic Con 2018, Sri Lanka’s annual convention for enthusiasts of comics, films, TV shows, anime, games and books in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror (and anything else that’s suitably weird and quirky).

 

At this year’s Comic Con, which was held on August 25th and 26th, Spiderman and Venom were just the first of many cosplayers I saw, i.e. fans who devise their own costumes, make-up and accessories in order to impersonate their favourite characters from the more fantastical reaches of popular culture.

 

This year the impact of Marvel Comics’ commercially and critically successful superhero movie Black Panther (2018) was evident.  I noticed a couple of folk clad as characters from the film’s fictional African setting of Wakanda, including an effective-looking Okoye, the warrior lady played in the film by Danai Gurira.  And Marvel’s big rival DC Comics had influenced more than a few Sri Lankan cosplayers in 2018 too.  Here’s someone having their picture taken with DC Comics’ nautical superhero Aquaman and his lady pal – what’s her name?  Aqua-Girlfriend?  No, I believe it’s actually Mera, ‘daughter of the king of the Atlantean tribe of Xebel’, who’ll be played by Amber Heard in the new Aquaman movie to be released at the end of this year.

 

 

All right, not all the cosplayers could quite capture the exact look of their characters.  But still, they should be applauded for the work that’s gone into assembling the necessary bits and pieces for their costumes – not always an easy feat when you’re on a budget and you live on the slightly out-of-the-way island nation of Sri Lanka.  It’s fascinating to see their ingenuity – how, for instance, a pair of sawn-off wellie-boots and a lick of paint were used to create footwear for an Elven warrior from the Kingdom of Lothlórien in The Lord of the Rings.

 

For me, this year’s cosplay winner was the bloke in the following photograph.  As I laid eyes on him, I found myself singing to myself, “If there’s something strange… In your neighbourhood…  Who ya gonna call…?  Ghostbusters!”  Because he was dressed in an outfit worn by Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, complete with a fabulously intricate Ghostbusters backpack.  I’ve also posted a diagram of the original backpack from the original film, so you can compare them.

 

From pinterest

 

You’ll notice in the same photo a sweet little girl who seemed to be having the time of her life while she dashed around waving a wand and wearing a Harry Potter-style Hogwarts scarf and gown.

 

Then I saw this fearsome character.  Who was he?  Was he one of the many scary and grotesque villains who’ve menaced Batman in Gotham City during the last eight decades?  But then I realised he was ambling towards one of the snacks and refreshments tents erected at the head of the avenue and I understood who he really was: Pringles-man.

 

 

While I wandered around Lanka Comic Con, two things occurred to me.  Firstly, I loved the idea that Sri Lankan kids wanted to dress up as characters who’d originated in a wide spectrum of cultures – from Black Panther, Marvel Comics’ pioneering attempt to create a superhero who’d appeal to an African-American readership, to a plethora of characters rooted in the manga and anime cultures of Japan.  It’s cultural exploration, the very opposite of cultural appropriation.  And it nicely illustrates how far science fiction, fantasy and comic books have travelled since the days when they were seen as the preserve of nerdy middle-class white kids – white boys – in the USA and Britain.

 

But at the same time, I’d like to think that in years to come, as Sri Lankan writers and artists get more opportunities and recognition, there’ll be a big roster of Sri Lankan characters for them to impersonate too.

 

Secondly, I couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous.  These geeky kids today don’t know how lucky they are.  When I was a kid and into geeky stuff, reading geeky Marvel and DC comics, reading geeky fantasy paperbacks by the likes of Michael Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard and watching geeky TV shows like Doctor Who (1963-present), the original Star Trek series (1966-69) and Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970), I had to keep extremely quiet about my geeky enthusiasms for fear I’d be ridiculed or even roughed up by the normal, sensible kids around me.  And even when I was older and at college, I felt too embarrassed to advertise my geeky interests in front of cool college-associates who claimed to be into Albert Camus and The Smiths.  (I still remember my horror when a mischievous younger sibling blurted out in front of a couple of my college friends how, when I’d been a wee boy, I’d persuaded my granny to knit me a super-long Tom Baker-era Doctor Who scarf.)  But youngsters nowadays don’t have to be afraid.  It’s quite acceptable for them to gather together and dress up as their (super)heroes in public.  They can wear their geekiness proudly.

 

Alas, it’s too late for me now.  I’m way too old to be part of this cosplay scene.  Pretty much the only character I could cosplay convincingly at my age would be Captain Teague from Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End (2007) – who was played by Keith Richards.

 

© Walt Disney Pictures / Jerry Bruckheimer Films

 

I’ll get you, John McClane / Robin Hood / Harry Potter!

 

(c) Silver Pictures / Gordon Company / 20th Century Fox

 

I’ve been suffering from death exhaustion recently.  During the last few months the death-toll among the great and the good – Lemmy, David Bowie, etc. – has been appallingly high and when actor Alan Rickman also popped his clogs on January 14th, I simply hadn’t the energy to write and post yet another tribute on this blog.  However, I thought now, a fortnight after the event, I’d pen a few belated words in his memory.

 

Rickman was an acclaimed theatrical actor whose CV included Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Antony and Cleopatra), Chekov (The Seagull), Ibsen (John Gabriel Borkman), Noel Coward (Private Lives), Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and Theresa Rebeck (Seminar).  But because I’ve lived for most of my life out in the sticks and away from the world’s great theatrical hubs, my only exposure to Rickman’s acting talents was through his movies.  Where, of course, he was fantastically good at being despicably bad.

 

Yes, Rickman may have found it a pain in the arse but for many people he was the greatest purveyor of cinematic villainy in the last 30 years.  Fiendishly dapper-looking in a suit but way too intelligent-sounding to make a regulation Hollywood leading man, and blessed with the ability (in the words of John Sessions) “to talk without actually letting his lips touch his teeth”, he was an inspired choice for the role of criminal mastermind Hans Gruber in Die Hard, the influential high-octane action / disaster movie of 1988.

 

(c) Silver Pictures / Gordon Company / 20th Century Fox

 

Gruber and his henchmen spoil Christmas for policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) and his missus (Bonnie Bedelia) by turning up and hijacking the corporate skyscraper in which Mrs McClane and her colleagues are holding their festive works party.  And while the audience-members are officially on the side of Willis as he worms his way through the building’s ventilation shafts trying to foil Gruber’s plan – to pinch $640 million’s worth of bearer’s bonds from the building’s vault – I’m sure quite a few of them are secretly hoping that the vilely charming and entertaining Gruber will win.  He certainly gets the best lines.  When he takes Bedelia hostage and she accuses him of being “nothing but a common thief,” he retorts, “I am an exceptional thief, Mrs McClane.  And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.”

 

In fact, Rickman is so good in Die Hard that you really miss him in the sequel, 1990’s Die Hard 2.  His absence leaves a hole in the second film that’s so big you could fly one of its Boeing 747 jets through it.  Die Hard 2’s main baddie is played by William Sadler, an actor whom I like but who can muster only about 2½ on the Rickman Villainy Scale.  No wonder that for the series’ third episode, 1995’s Die Hard with a Vengeance, they brought in Jeremy Irons to play Hans Gruber’s equally evil kid brother, Simon Peter.  Wow, those Grubers must have been one dysfunctional family from hell.

 

Irons, by the way, was just one of many English thespians who must have thanked Rickman for the work he sent their way.  Once Rickman had set the trend for hiring highbrow English actors to play European (or Arab) scumbag villains in blockbusting Hollywood action movies, they were all at it: Charles Dance (in 1993’s The Last Action Hero), Art Malik (in 1994’s True Lies), David Suchet (in 1996’s Executive Decision) Gary Oldman (in 1997’s Air Force One), etc.  Things got so extreme that in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone movie Cliffhanger, the evil baddie was played by an American actor, John Lithgow, but the filmmakers got him to sound English.

 

Happily, Die Hard wasn’t Rickman’s only foray into screen villainy for, three years later, he appeared in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Rickman was dubious about accepting the part and told the playwright, scriptwriter and director Stephen Poliakoff beforehand, “I’m about to ruin my career!”  In particular, he had a low opinion of the script and later confessed to rewriting his dialogue away from the set, in a Pizza Hut, with some friends (one of them the comedienne Ruby Wax).

 

(c) Morgan Creek / Warner Brothers

 

Now on paper Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves should be dire.  It has the twin handicaps of a flat, leaden (and all-American) performance by Kevin Costner in the title role; and a theme song, Bryan Adams’ Everything I do, I do it for You, which was so shite it spent 16 consecutive weeks at number one in the UK singles chart and, even today, is commonly played at the weddings of people with no taste in music whatsoever.  However, Rickman was a great actor and, like all great actors, he could appear in a piece of crap and make it entertaining.  Which Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is, at least for as long as he’s onscreen.

 

Once again, Rickman gets the best lines – well, he would do if he had Ruby Wax secretly doctoring them.  When he threatens to cut out Robin Hood’s heart “with a spoon” and Sir Guy of Gisborne asks him why a spoon and not an axe, he retorts: “Because it’s dull, you twit!  It’ll hurt more.”  (Later, after he stabs Gisborne to death, he comments, “At least I didn’t use a spoon.”)  And he’s truly horrid when he loses his temper: “Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings!”  And there’s worse: “Cancel Christmas!”  It’s a barnstorming performance that would scarcely look out of place in a pantomime, but audiences loved him for it.  It even netted him a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1992.  Accepting the award from Helen Mirren, Rickman noted wryly, “This will be a healthy reminder that subtlety isn’t everything.”

 

When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels started getting the film treatment in the early noughties, there was of course only one man the producers could turn to when it came to casting Hogwarts’ evilest schoolmaster, Professor Snape – though later Harry Potter instalments suggest that Snape might not be as rotten as he appears to be.  I like the books but don’t think much of the films.  I find them convoluted and stodgy; and in trying to be faithful to the myriad twists and turns of Rowling’s plots, they paradoxically don’t leave much space onscreen for her characters to come to life.  That said, Rickman is one of the best things in them.

 

(c) Heyday Films / 1492 Productions / Warner Brothers

 

Elsewhere, Rickman essayed further villainy in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).  And he was sort-of-villainous as Éamon de Valera in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996); where, to quote the critic Roger Ebert, de Valera, the dominant figure of 20th-century Irish politics, is portrayed as a “weak, mannered, snivelling prima donna whose grandstanding led to decades of unnecessary bloodshed in, and over, Ireland.”  Rickman also excelled at science fiction, playing a Mr Spock-type figure in the amusing Star Trek piss-take, Galaxy Quest (1999) and providing suitably lugubrious vocals for Marvin the Paranoid Android in the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005).

 

His death two weeks ago was greeted with dismay by many actors and actresses who’d worked with him: Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Radcliffe, Kate Winslet, Brian Cox, Colin Firth and so on.  I could understand their sense of loss – he seemed like a great bloke.  Though especially when he was playing a shit.

 

Wings versus wizardry

 

From harrypotter.wikea.com

From wingsoverscotland.com

 

Some time ago I had a good friend who moved into a charming little cottage in a charming little village perched on an estuary-mouth on the English coast.  The village was known locally as ‘The Ferry’ and she found its inhabitants warm and welcoming.  There was one topic, however, that caused their countenances to darken and their voices to grow ominous.  “Whatever you do,” they’d say to my friend in a warning tone, whilst glancing fearfully towards a hall in the village centre that hosted, among other things, the meetings of the local residents’ committee, “whatever you do, don’t get involved in Ferry politics!”

 

I sometimes wonder if J.K. Rowling, the English-born bestselling author of the Harry Potter novels, has questioned the wisdom of getting involved in the politics of the charming little place to which she moved, back in 1993: Scotland, which is on the English coast too – right up on top of it – and also has a local residents’ committee, which holds meetings in the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh.

 

Ever since she announced that she was donating a million pounds of her money to Better Together, the organisation that campaigned successfully for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum on Scottish independence last September, it seems J.K. has rarely been out of the newspapers.  Often this is because she’s been in unseemly twitter spats with supporters of Scottish independence who’re narked about her intervention in the referendum.

 

There was another spat two days ago when the author attended the Rugby World Cup match between Scotland and Australia – which, against all expectations, Scotland came within a hair of winning.  Indeed, Scotland would have won it if the South African referee Craig Joubert hadn’t made an error in the final minute and awarded a match-winning penalty kick to Australia.  By the way, I’m not saying that because I’m biased towards Scotland.  The sport’s governing body, World Rugby, have since said Joubert was wrong to give Australia the penalty.

 

In the midst of the excitement and eventual heartbreak, J.K. was exchanging tweets with the Glaswegian journalist, novelist and TV presenter Muriel Gray.  Like J.K., Ms Gray is no friend of the Scottish-independence cause.  Their musings about Scotland’s heroic but ultimately doomed rugby performance were interrupted by the arrival of a tweet from one Stuart Campbell, who calls himself ‘the Reverend’ Stuart Campbell to differentiate him from the football player Stuart Campbell.  His Tweet told J.K. and Muriel bluntly: “You two can both f*** off.  You don’t think we’re a nation at all.”

 

The Reverend Stuart Campbell is a former games designer and journalist and these days he runs a political website called Wings over Scotland.  This is devoted to Scottish independence and to uncovering errors, inconsistencies and contradictions in the coverage that the mainstream British media gives to Scotland, to the independence cause and to its main proponent, the Scottish National Party.  Nearly all the established media outlets north and south of the border hate the idea that Scotland might one day leave the United Kingdom and their Scottish coverage is pretty one-sided.  The Reverend felt that someone had to challenge them on this coverage.  He was, he said, “fed up of shouting at the TV when Newsnight Scotland was on.”

 

(c) STV

 

Wings over Scotland has a busy and lively twitter feed, but after the Reverend sent that particular tweet it got very busy.  And lively.  He groused that “Rowling’s set a million bed-wetters after me,” for soon he was being accused of being “vile”, “bitter and twisted”, “everything that’s wrong with Scotland”, “everything that’s wrong in a human,” a “narrow-minded tosspot”, “a bitter wank”, a “Neanderthal demagogue”, “the biggest fascist on twitter / planet”, “a dysfunctional f***wit” who eats “bile for breakfast”, etc.

 

At least there was one upside.  “J.K.’s wee troll army,” he tweeted later, “have taken my mind off that clown Joubert.”

 

J.K. Rowling herself responded: “I know Scotland’s a nation.  I live there, you see.  I pay tax there and contribute more than bile there.”  And it wasn’t long before Scottish National Party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted herself: “Note to my fellow independence supporters.  People who disagree are not anti-Scottish.  Does our cause no good to hurl abuse (and it’s wrong).”

 

Predictably, the story was soon all over the media – starting in the UK edition of the Huffington Post, which ran the headline: J.K. ROWLING JUST PERFECTLY HANDLED A SCOTTISH RUGBY FAN’S MISDIRECTED ANGER.  The Huffington Post headline was a fair indication of whose side subsequent newspaper articles would take: J.K. is lovely, the Reverend is ghastly.  Poor old Muriel Gray’s role in the affair, incidentally, was soon forgotten.

 

Well, I like Wings over Scotland, which admittedly can be brutal but is no more brutal than the political and journalistic worlds that it scrutinises.  And I also like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  Though not so much the later ones and definitely not Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  (I mean, what was going on there?  All those horcruxes to destroy and all those sacred objects to track down…  And Neville Longbottom producing the Sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat at the end – how did that happen?  Jesus, J.K.!)  So where do I stand regarding this stramash between the two?

 

I agree with Nicola Sturgeon.  People are entitled to cheer on Scotland in a sports match if they want to.  Even if they voted ‘no’ in the referendum to stop Scotland becoming independent.  Yes, which is illogical because, strictly speaking, Scotland shouldn’t be participating in the Rugby World Cup at all because it isn’t an independent country like Australia or Japan or Italy are.  But…  What the hell?  It’s only a game.  (Not that it felt like only a game the other day, when Craig bloody Joubert blew his final whistle.)  And I think the Reverend made an arse of himself when he sent that abusive tweet.  To be fair, he did so at a traumatic moment and I suspect he’d consumed a few beverages by that point too.  As I know only too well from personal experience, people say stupid things when they’re ‘tired and emotional’.

 

At the same time, though, the media coverage of this has been pretty hypocritical.  For instance, J.K. has been cheered and the Reverend booed by journalists like Chris Deerin and Alex Massie, both of whom have taken the shilling from the Daily Mail, a newspaper that’s caused J.K. much distress in the past.  In 2013 the Mail had to apologise to her and pay her damages after it misreported some comments she’d made about the congregation of a Scottish church where she’d worked part-time in the 1990s.  She also hates the negativity with which the Mail portrays single mothers – as she was once – so much so that she made it the favourite reading matter of the Dursleys, the reactionary and oafish human family whom Harry Potter has to live with when he isn’t at Hogwarts.

 

From aidanmoher.com

 

One wonders how Britain’s mainly right-wing newspapers would treat J.K. these days if she hadn’t thrown her hat into the ring during the Scottish independence debate and come out as an opponent of the Scottish nationalists – because her previous political activity had been in support of another of those newspapers’ bête noirs.  In 2008, she donated a million pounds to the Labour Party, run at the time by her friend and then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Much of the British press, which had been busy deriding, ridiculing and tormenting the hapless Brown, sneered at her for this.  HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF DOWNING STREET was a typical headline.  If J.K. had never opened her mouth about Scottish independence but had remained vocal in support of the Labour Party, I suspect many journalists now wouldn’t be treating her as a cool and courageous slayer of Scottish-independence trolls but as a demented old socialist bag-lady.

 

These days J.K. still supports Labour, though quietly.  After this year’s general election, which saw the Scottish branch of the Labour Party – led by the inept Jim Murphy – lose 40 of its 41 previously-held seats in Scotland, she tried to console Murphy by making him an honorary member of the House of Gryffindor at Hogwarts.  Hmmm.  If Jim Murphy had been there at the time of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and had applied his talents to the climactic Battle of Hogwarts, I suspect Lord Voldemort would have won and would now be ruling the universe.

 

This might seem sacrilegious to those millions of pubescent schoolkids the world over who worship her as the creator of Harry Potter, but I don’t think J.K. is as sweet, pure and fluffy as her reputation suggests.  She’s a shrewd and calculating operator, I reckon.  When she entered the Scottish independence debate, she was quick to invoke her world-conquering franchise.  She wrote about “a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence and I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that they might judge me ‘insufficiently’ Scottish to have a valid view…  However, when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.” 

 

She didn’t say all supporters of independence were like Death Eaters – the fascistic cult of wizards in her Harry Potter novels, led by Voldemort, who promote the purity of the wizard race and despise other breeds, such as humans – but the press were only too happy to report that she had, with headlines like J.K. ROWLING CALLS THE SNP DEATH EATERS.  And I’m sure that Rowling, with her past experiences of being misquoted by newspapers, knew what would happen when she used such loaded language.

 

J.K. also knows how to weaponise herself on behalf of the Labour Party.  A few days before this year’s general election, when the polls were predicting that the Labour Party would suffer an absolute humping from the SNP in Scotland, J.K. happened to speak to the press about the twitter abuse she’d had from pro-independence supporters during the referendum campaign.  Thus, a rash of J.K. ROWLING TALKS OF ABUSE FROM SNP TROLLS-type headlines appeared in the newspapers just before the Scottish public, a good proportion of whom were thinking about voting SNP rather than Labour, headed down to the polling stations.  Perfect timing, I’d say.

 

To conclude.  The Reverend should be sorry for behaving like a knob and next time, after a traumatic sporting event, he should think before he tweets.  Apart from reasons of basic human civility, it’s in his own interests.  The journalists of the British media loathe Wings over Scotland because it has the temerity to subject their pronouncements to forensic scrutiny.  They’ll do anything for an opportunity to give its founder a kicking.  And on this occasion, he certainly gave them an opportunity.

 

At the same time, I don’t think J.K. is as saintly as the newspapers make her out to be – and they only say she’s saintly when it suits their purposes.  I’m not claiming that under her cuddly exterior she’s mean and ruthless, but I do think she has the guile to make a bloody formidable politician one day.  Though by saying she has the makings of a good politician, I’m in danger of implying that she is mean and ruthless.

 

Incidentally, J.K., should you ever stumble across this blog-post and feel I’ve been unnecessarily harsh on your character, don’t worry.  You can always chastise me by making me an honorary member of the House of Slytherin.  Come to think of it, I’d like to be a member of the House of Slytherin.  The kids in Slytherin are cool.  They get to dress stylishly in black, and strut around, and sneer imperiously, and snarl things like, “You’re a dickhead, Ron Weasley!”

 

Yes, they’re far groovier than those wretched goody-two-shoes diddies in the House of Gryffindor.  I mean, that’s where Jim Murphy hangs out, for Christ’s sake.

 

(c) Warner Bros / Heyday Films

 

J.K.’s millions

 

(c) Huffington Post

 

I like J.K. Rowling, I quite like the Harry Potter books and although I support independence for Scotland I respect her decision, which was plastered all over the British media yesterday, to donate a million pounds of her money to Better Together, the organisation campaigning for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum on Scottish independence being held this September.

 

Indeed, the only thing that surprises me is that she hadn’t donated to Better Together earlier.  In 2008, she donated another million to the Labour Party, run at the time by her friend and then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for the reason that she believed Brown had “prioritised and introduced measures that will save as many children as possible from a life lacking in opportunity or choice.”  This didn’t save her from the sneers of the British press – most of which is right-wing, doesn’t like the Labour Party and at the time was dedicated to deriding, ridiculing and tormenting the hapless Brown.  HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF DOWNING STREET was a typical newspaper headline back then.

 

(c) The Courier 

 

The press will, I’m sure, be kinder about her donation to Better Together, which is helmed by Brown’s old chancellor Alastair Darling.  (Brown has emerged from the woodwork recently to make some anti-independence noises too, although he has avoided getting closely involved in Better Together, no doubt because of the enmity that exists now between him and Darling.  Actually, Brown seems capable of having a feud with his own shadow these days.)  If there’s one thing it detests more than the Labour Party, it’s all those nationalists, greens, socialists, rogue Scottish Labour / Liberal Democrat / Conservative Party members and politically-unaffiliated people who favour Scottish independence.  Or to give them their collective British-media name, ‘Alex Salmond’.

 

As I say, I’m happy for Rowling to do whatever she likes with her money, but I’d have expected her – considering the media misrepresentation she’s suffered in the past – to choose her words a little more carefully when she announced her donation.  The English-born but resident-in-Scotland Rowling wrote of “a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence and I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that they might judge me ‘insufficiently’ Scottish to have a valid view…  However, when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.”

 

She’s saying, then, that after making this donation she expects to get abuse from certain pro-independence Scots who don’t think the referendum is any of her business.*  That’s because she isn’t Scottish — she’s English.  Such people put her in mind of the evil cult of wizards in her Harry Potter novels, led by Lord Voldemort, who promote the purity of the wizard race and despise other breeds like humans (‘muggles’) and half-human / half-wizard people (‘mudbloods’).

 

Now there are undoubtedly a few racist halfwits in Scotland who want independence because of antipathy towards the English – offensive loudmouths who believe that everything that happened in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart is historical truth.  That said, during my time in Scotland I’ve also met a few offensive, loud-mouthed, English-hating, Braveheart-loving halfwits who supported the Labour or Conservative Parties and this September will be voting ‘No’, just as J.K. Rowling will.  But I’d argue that most Scottish-independence supporters back the cause because, simply, they want to see Scotland run by the people who live there and not have unrepresentative Conservative and Nu-Labour governments foisted upon them from Westminster.  This is a sentiment that has nothing to do with ‘lineage’ or ethnicity or whether you’re Scottish or English.  (There are some 400,000 English people living in Scotland, including Rowling, and they will have the right to vote in September’s referendum – quite properly.)

 

In fact, during the recent European Elections, while both the Conservative and Labour Parties were warbling about cutting immigration in the hope of extracting some votes from Nigel Farage’s fruitcake United Kingdom Independence Party, the main pro-independence parties in Scotland, the Scottish National Party and the Green Party, were the ones that were unashamedly pro-immigration.  Conversely, those creepy organisations in the UK and Scotland that are heavily into such things as lineage, indigenousness and ethnic and religious purity  – UKIP, the British National Party, the Scottish Defence League and the Scottish Orange Order – all support a ‘No’ vote.

 

J.K. Rowling said it was a ‘fringe’ of pro-independence supporters who reminded her of Death Eaters, but, given the past rough rides she’s had from the press, she must have suspected that the newspapers were going to have a field day distorting what she said, in order to discredit the Yes campaign.  Indeed, yesterday’s headline on the main web-page of The Independent was J.K. ROWLING CALLS SCOTTISH NATIONALISTS ‘DEATH EATERS’.  Expect to see a slew of newspaper cartoons over the next few days depicting Alex Salmond minus a nose, clad in a black robe and hanging out with a giant white snake à la Lord Voldemort, and the message being driven home that anyone who favours an independent Scotland is a racial-purity fanatic who probably dabbles in the black arts.  It must be true, because J.K. says so.

 

Actually, I wonder if the author feels comfortable that she’s now aligned herself with the Daily Mail, the Scottish edition of which has been one of the most vitriolic voices against the independence movement.  After all, in September 2013, the Mail published a story where it said Rowling had accused people of ‘stigmatising’ and ‘taunting’ her at a Scottish church where, as a single mother, she’d done a few hours’ filing and typing work each week.  No, Rowling pointed out, she hadn’t said this – she’d written in an article that one woman visiting the church one day had referred to her as ‘the unmarried mother’.  The Mail subsequently apologised to her and paid damages.

 

Rowling’s dislike of the Daily Mail generally inspired her to make Vernon Dursley, who in the Harry Potter books was the hero’s disagreeable uncle, a Mail reader.  As the journalist Catherine Lockerbie noted, “Harry’s Uncle Vernon is a grotesque philistine of violent tendencies and remarkably little brain.  It is not difficult to guess which newspaper Rowling gives him to read.”

 

Another newspaper noted for its anti-Scottish-independence line is the Daily Telegraph.  Indeed, its Scotland correspondent Alan Cochrane is so furiously against the idea that at times in his articles he does a convincing impersonation of a man who’s had his brain surgically swapped with the spleen of a rabid dog.  Already the Telegraph has given prominence to the fact that news of Rowling’s donation has prompted some rude things to be said about her on social media.  The Telegraph’s indignation at this is particularly rich, considering that in 2012 the newspaper, and its readers, didn’t react kindly to the publication of J.K. Rowling’s ‘adult’ novel A Casual Vacancy, which was full of class, political and social themes and dared to sound – whisper it – left-wing.  As I wrote a few months afterwards:

 

“One nasty little Telegraph article, in a bitchy-schoolgirl sort of way, was this one written by Jenny Hyul a couple of months ago to coincide with the release of A Casual Vacancy, the first adult novel by J.K. Rowling, Scotland’s most famous English inhabitant.  It makes various snide comments about Rowling’s middle-class background and wonders why Rowling should have the temerity to attempt to write a novel of gritty social realism…  In the thread at the bottom of the article, of course, Hjul hands over to the inevitable Telegraph trolls, who pour scorn on Rowling for her writing (‘rubbish’), her politics (‘a Marxist’) and her looks (‘Bleurgh’).  Yes, there may be a few anti-English bampots roaming loose in Scotland, but if Ms Rowling has to tolerate dickheads like those in the Telegraph-reading English Home Counties, I can see why the poor woman feels safer north of the border.”

 

Still, I’m glad that J.K. Rowling has stated her determination to stay in Scotland whatever the result of the referendum.  For the record, I very much doubt that Scotland will win independence this year – the pro-Union political, media and business establishments have spread enough misinformation and negativity to ensure the result goes their way – although I do think it will happen in one or two generations’ time.  Hopefully, the creator of Harry Potter will still be around to see that.  And maybe one day an independent Scotland will appoint Ms Rowling as its National Book Czar, tasked with encouraging Scottish children to do more reading.  Cue a photo op on the steps of Bute House with her and the world’s most venerable national leader, President Irvine Welsh.

 

(c) Little, Brown

 

* And indeed, she has received some abuse, including a vicious tweet that seems, bizarrely, to have emanated from a charity organisation in Edinburgh.  Such abuse is abhorrent.  For the sake of balance I should mention that the lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir, who donated a lot of money to the Yes campaign, have also received abuse online, which is abhorrent too.