What Rowling’s New Novel Means For the Harry Potter Generation
When Rowling announced that she was writing a new book, adolescence seemed to be temporarily reinstated—or at least an adolescent anticipation and giddiness (after all, the book was to be specifically “for adults”). Her previous books were pure escapism; they provided a maturing generation with the chance to delve into a nonpareil realm where it could still cling to the last wisps of innocence.
So there is no question that the generation that was raised alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione felt a twinge of hope that some of those feelings would return with the publication of the new novel.
But, “The Casual Vacancy” is…different. There is not quite another way to put it. Of course, that is not to say we were not forewarned, especially when Rowling offered lines like, “The thing about fantasy—there are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy. You don’t have sex near unicorns,” to the New Yorker.
We should have been prepared, right? Rowling used the word “slut” in “Half-Blood Prince” and “bitch” in “Deathly Hallows.” She structured the series in a way that allowed us to experience a certain—albeit, stunted and perhaps superficial—growth with our favorite characters. And we have also read our own share of adult books with mature themes, whether for class or in the airport or merely because as we develop, our tastes do as well.
And yet, there is a slight unease about "The Casual Vacancy" that feels particularly germane for the Harry Potter generation. It may even be that the sensation is unique to those who have difficulty dissociating Rowling with their childhood.
The feeling is not dissimilar to something one might experience if they suddenly uncovered a journal detailing the sexual exploits of a favorite aunt, or hearing a revered and seemingly demure professor tell a dirty joke. There are profanities brought to us by the letters f, c and s; words and phrases like “condom,” “tits” and “hard-ons.”
It is mildly disturbing, not because of their vulgarity or connotations but because they were arranged by the same mind that supplied us with the delights of the Honeydukes sweet shop and characters as pure as Dobby the house elf.
The content in “The Casual Vacancy” is obviously much darker, too. Rowling introduced us to our fair share of villains, ranging from the domestic (the Dursleys) to the political (Professor Umbridge) to the plain evil (Lord Voldemort, of course).
Rowling’s new antagonists have traded their dark cloaks for the arguably scarier Muggle attire; that is, they are non-magical, everyday citizens and much more plausible.
Moreover, any real danger in the Harry Potter series feels surmountable; it can be conquered by possessing more love, bravery or nobility. Although we by now have learned to distinguish fact from fiction, it feels like a rude awakening for Rowling to show us in “The Casual Vacancy” that magic cannot cure everything.
For the Harry Potter generation, “The Casual Vacancy” is the unveiling of the man (in this case, woman) behind the curtain. Rowling was pulling the strings all along, though that was never disputed or even hidden. It has just become more evident.
The experience of reading “The Casual Vacancy” is almost a coming of age, and a final rite of passage marking the distinct separation from childhood to adulthood. It feels rather like surviving a tornado, except at the end of it, you cannot help but think, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Oz anymore.”