It's easy to forget, more than a decade after she finished her last one, that JK Rowling is a master of children's stories. The Ickabog, is a manuscript Rowling's just had kicking around up in her attic since the end of Harry Potter. Now she's publishing a chapter at a time, on its own website, as a much-needed reminder why some of us would physically fight someone in defense of her characters. It's told in such simple but clever and magical language that you almost don't begrudge her the billions of dollars she's earned Frankensteining her own creations beyond recognition. And surely, we can all agree that children's literature needs more characters like Ickabog's King Fred the Fearless who are essentially human thirst traps. But she just had to go and JK Rowling it up.
Despite Rowling's many strengths as an author, political metaphor is not one of them. It doesn't take a galaxy brain to read the Harry Potter series as an allegory about racism, but that message gets seriously undermined by the presence of non-human creatures who not only embody the "happy slave" myth but loudly resist their own freedom and other non-human creatures with hooked noses who run the banks when they're not greedily betraying those nice wizards.
You'd think someone would have politely suggested it's just not the subject for her, but nobody's telling JK Rowling "no" at this point, so of course, The Ickabog is a "political fairytale" based on "theme[s] of inequality." Specifically, discrimination against a group called the Marshlanders living on the outskirts of an otherwise utopian kingdom who are dirty, poor, violent, criminally inclined, and mocked by the upstanding citizenry for their speech and mannerisms. Presumably, the Marshlanders will be vindicated, but only after they're thoroughly demeaned and insulted by the narrator, the heroes, and probably that one uncle you struggle not to fling mashed potatoes at during Thanksgiving.
Rowling insists that the story's "themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country," but come on, Joanne. Level with us. Who are the Marshlanders? Look us in the eye and tell us who the Marshlanders are, Joanne. The beautiful and unimpeachable royal family the country worships is specifically described as "fair-haired," if it helps. If you think it's unfair to level such criticism at a silly kids' book, you're not necessarily wrong, but counter-point:
Arrange to physically fight Manna over Harry Potter on Twitter.