Miriam Margolyes is right – adult Harry Potter fans need more shame

Wizards in training: Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’  (Warner Bros)
Wizards in training: Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ (Warner Bros)

They say never meet your heroes. But sometimes you don’t even need to meet your hero for them to slag you off. This is what the Harry Potter fandom discovered last week, when Miriam Margolyes, who played Professor Sprout in the wizarding film adaptations, let loose on the franchise’s adult devotees. “If your balls have dropped, then it’s time to forget about it. You know, go on to other things,” she said, with all the bolshy abandon you might expect from an 82-year-old screen veteran with nothing left to prove. “It’s a wonderful set of films, but it was 25 years ago. You know, grow up.”

It’s not the first time Margolyes has taken aim at the Harry Potter franchise; last June, she told British Vogue that the adaptation “wasn’t important” to her. It’s also not like she’s pissed off a few choice nerds, either: grown-up Harry Potter fans are everywhere – loud, proud, and inexplicably eager to tell you that they’re a Ravenclaw. Her words have drawn the ire of the Potterhead faithful, who’ve accused her of everything from ingratitude to bloody murder. “Utterly horrible,” one X/Twitter user wrote. “To speak about a community of fans with such disdain is incredibly disrespectful.” Another branded her “nasty”, arguing: “Nobody has a right to try and shame people into not enjoying something they harmlessly enjoy.” But here’s the thing: Margolyes does have that right. Don’t we all? And what’s a bit of shame every now and then between friends? In fact, I’d argue that there are few candidates more deserving of a bout of benign shaming than adult Harry Potter fans.

The problem is not simply that it is gauche or uncool to consume content intended for children (though, of course, it is). Nor is it just the issue of JK Rowling’s political views, whatever you think of those. Reading is a powerful way of understanding the world – and the Harry Potter novels are responsible for shaping countless comings-of-age for young readers. But what happens when you’ve already come of age? You need something new. As babies, we don’t keep eating puréed carrots after we’ve grown teeth.

What makes Harry Potter so worth clinging to? No other children’s books inspire the same fanaticism. The adult Potter fan phenomenon is its own weird thing. There aren’t 40-year-old accountants walking around advertising their love of Dick King-Smith, or arguing over which member of the Famous Five they most embody.

Ask yourself: what are the Harry Potter books actually about? A plucky kid who goes to wizard school and fights a kind of wizard Hitler. It is not that deep. Like most children’s books, the franchise offers, at its core, moral instruction, clear and easy-to-grasp lessons about the importance of kindness and the inevitability of death. The thing is, by the time you’re in your twenties and thirties, you should probably have worked a lot of this stuff out. (Don’t carelessly wave your wand at innocent people, for example – you should know that by now.)

I can already hear the “let people enjoy things” brigade. “This is snobbery!” “Elitism!” “Reading should be celebrated, no matter the book!” I’m happy to leave people to their whims, of course. But since when has “enjoying things” been a protected characteristic? People enjoy eating whole sticks of butter, or participating in cheese-rolling competitions. That doesn’t mean they should be encouraged. Let people enjoy things, sure – until they’re adults. There has to be a cut-off point. Then, like Margolyes says, it’s time to move on.

But they won’t, though. Not when being an adult Harry Potter fan is such a lavishly catered-for occupation. Last year saw the release of a hugely expensive open-world video game; there’s a big-budget stage adaptation running perpetually on the West End; a new TV adaptation is also in the works. How long is it until the Harry Potter bowls clubs, the Harry Potter Saga cruises? If we don’t heed Margolyes’s advice, it could be sooner than you think.