Amidst the plethora of heartwarming letters from faithful fans whose lives you’ve saved with your writing, one feels intimidated to write you about a sociocultural matter of relative importance, but I would be honoured if you could answer a few questions about depictions of Polish culture in your oeuvre.
Depictions is a bit of an exaggeration. As far as I am aware – please correct me if I’m wrong – Poland is virtually absent from the Harry Potter series, other than some marginal apparitions in Quidditch-related matters. In Quidditch Through the Ages, we learn that Josef Wronski (possibly an anglicised version of Józef Wroński) of the Grodzisk Goblins gave his name to the famous Wronski Feint, a risky Quidditch move notably performed by Viktor Krum in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Even those discreet appearances did not go unnoticed by your devoted Polish fans. Allow me to translate an excerpt of the Grodzisk Goblins’ entry on a popular Polish website devoted to Harry Potter:
Yes Yes! You heard properly! Polish wizards also took part in the Quidditch World Cup. Our Polish team played in the 1994 world championship, but the only thing we know about our game is that we played against Ireland, which is now one of the top-ranking teams! Were they that good back then? We can only guess. We also know the names of two players of the Polish team – the Grodzisk Goblins – who played in the championship: Josef Wronski (yes, Wroński!) and Władysław Zamojski.
As you can see, any reference to Poland in your writing will be under intense scrutiny. I imagine this is far from being a unique phenomenon: I do not read Bulgarian, but I imagine Viktor Krum is the star of Bulgarian Harry Potter fan clubs. It is also worth noting that Grodzisk is a common town name in Poland and that the names of those players are perfectly plausible, thus proving that a praise-worthy amount of research went into those meaningless details.
However, the fate of the Polish team in the 1994 Quidditch championship is not what prompted me to write this letter. I decided to write you while reading Robert Galbraith’s excellent Cuckoo’s Calling, which features an ambiguous Polish cleaner called Lechsinka, described in the following manner:
A petite young blonde had appeared in their absence, wearing a pink overall, jeans and a T-shirt, and carrying a plastic bucket full of cleaning implements.
"Derrick," she said in heavily accented English, when the security guard emerged from downstairs. "I neet key for two." "This is Lechsinka," said Wilson. "The cleaner."
She favored Robin and Strike with a small, sweet smile. Wilson moved around behind the mahogany desk and handed her a key from beneath it, and Lechsinka then ascended the stairs, her bucket swinging, her tightly bejeaned backside swelling and swaying seductively.
The first element of this compelling image I would like to address is the origin of the name Lechsinka, which is completely baffling to me, and to the near entirety of the Polish nation as well. It is not a Polish name. As far as I know, it is not a name at all. It is so baffling that the Polish translator of The Cuckoo’s Calling had to rename her Lucynka!
Even more strangely, it is nevertheless a very Polish-sounding name, Lech being the mythical forefather of all Poles, and ‘inka’ a conceivable diminutive. It is, with all due respect, a name I doubt you could have come up with on your own, Ms Rowling. If I had to speculate, I would guess that a woman called Lechsinka exists out there (possibly the victim of a narcissistic father called Lech or Leszek who gave his daughter a made-up feminized version of his name) and that she inspired the character. Perhaps you will choose not to reveal the origin of the name in order not to bring unwanted attention to its real life bearer, but I would be obliged if you could at least reassure us that you had no Machiavellian intention to puzzle your Polish-speaking readers into insanity.
Speaking of reassurance, I would also be incredibly grateful if you had some kind words for your Polish admirers, or about Poland in general. I do not question your intentions in the slightest when it comes to your portrayal of Lechsinka. Over the last fifteen years, you have done more than anyone else in order to fight discrimination. I am convinced that you simply wanted to give your readers an authentic taste of life in London, where a considerable number of Polish women work as cleaners, I am sure. Still, I decided to write you because I spend the better part of my work days battling damaging stereotypes about Poland and its citizens. I wanted to write you because I personally know many petite young blondes with heavily accented English, and lamentably, as soon as they set foot west of the Polish border, everyone instantly assumes they clean or sell sexual favors for a living.
Have you ever visited Poland, Ms Rowling? Would you like to? If so, I foresee loads of ecstatic fans preparing their questions about Josef Wronski and the 1994 Quidditch World Cup.
Lea Berriault, Managing Editor of Culture.pl/en