‘The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling’ a needed dose of sanity

J.K. Rowling is a literary hero, an anti-Christian promoter of the occult and now either a transphobic firebrand who uses “dangerous” language — or a woman with the moral courage to speak up for biological truths.

In other words, she is a complex person worthy of closer examination. Enter the new seven-part podcast series, “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling,” which dropped its first two episodes on Tuesday.

Through interviews with supporters, critics and Rowling herself, it promises a deep dive into her evolution from broke single mother to celebrated “Harry Potter” author to persona non grata. And yet, in this era of shouty, polarizing sound bites, its mere existence is considered treasonous to some. One critic commanded that “we all stop talking about J.K. Rowling,” while another dubbed it “a mind-numbing exercise in digression.”

From Bari Weiss’ the Free Press, the project was created by Megan Phelps-Roper, a writer who knows a bit about wanting to burn heretics at the stake. She is a former member of the virulently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, founded by her late grandfather Fred Phelps.

“I never set out to upset anyone,” Rowling, 57, tells Phelps-Roper in the inaugural episode. “However, I was not uncomfortable with getting off my pedestal.”

J.K. Rowling is the subject of a new podcast.

And so she essentially took a Molotov cocktail to that pedestal in 2020 with her tweeted response to a news headline that referred to “People who menstruate.”

“I’m sure there used to be a word for those people,” she wrote. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud.”

A New Mexico book burning in 2001 where a pastor urged parishioners to burn "Harry Potter" books.
A New Mexico book burning in 2001 where a pastor urged parishioners to burn “Harry Potter” books.
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The fallout was swift and intense. Her fans turned on her — some even going so far as to remove their Potter tattoos — while many of the actors who became superstars courtesy of Rowling’s wizarding world disavowed her. It’s because of her daring to publicly debate the changing view of biological sex and its impact on women’s spaces that many of us normies now know the once-esoteric term “TERF,” which stands for “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.”

This series tries to untangle this cultural clusterf- -k by rewinding back Rowling’s incredible origin story.

Rowling with her ex-husband Jorge Arantes, whom she alleges abused her.
Rowling with her ex-husband Jorge Arantes, whom she alleges abused her.
Daily Express

A single mother on the dole in Scotland, Rowling alleged she escaped a violent marriage with a controlling man who punished her by taking her golden manuscript hostage. Little by little, she cleverly started taking a few pages to photocopy and created a duplicate out of his reach. After he physically attacked her, she was able to take her daughter to Edinburgh, Scotland, with the help of the police.

There, she finished the book. It was rejected by 12 publishers before one finally printed a meager 500 copies. This being 1997, it eventually went viral through word of mouth and was picked up by Scholastic.

J.K. Rowling holding "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," which was released in 2005.
J.K. Rowling holding “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” which was released in 2005.
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Her success was a trickle, then a flood. And the flood might as well have been of biblical proportions because of the fire and brimstone it elicited. Evangelical Christians began preaching that “Harry Potter” was promoting witchcraft. A 2000 book signing was even interrupted by a bomb threat from a “far-right Christian,” Rowling explains in the podcast’s second episode, which delves into the ’90s cultural zeitgeist that eventually fueled the moral panic over her books. It’s a theme that feels eerily familiar today as parents and school boards go to the mat over the contents of school libraries.

Specifically, it looks at a 2002 legal case in Cedarville, Ark., in which a judge ruled in favor of parents who wanted Harry Potter books in the school library after the school board had removed them. In an interview, the board’s losing lawyer David Hogue admits to a conversion after actually reading the books. He stunningly asks Phelps-Roper to “please thank” Rowling for the “joy” the books provide.

Rowling with Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, who starred in the films.
Rowling with Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, who starred in the films.
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It’s unclear if subsequent conversions will come in later episodes when Phelps-Roper interviews Rowling’s current critics. It seems unlikely, since most people’s minds are already made up. An LA Times opinion piece argued that we should simply ignore Rowling if she doesn’t submit to the preferred ideology.

“Since it’s pretty clear that nothing is going to change her mind about the rights and realities of the trans community, perhaps we should just treat her like one of those dinner guests who randomly injects themselves into conversations with inappropriate and disturbing opinions no one requested,” the piece states.

“Just tell her she sounds like one of those fanatics who used to burn ‘Harry Potter’ books and never invite her into your home again.”

Rowling receiving a Benefactors Award in 2011.
Rowling receiving a Benefactors Award in 2011.
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But we shouldn’t ignore Rowling. There’s power in her message — particularly that villains and heroes don’t exist in the black and white.

“People can be deeply flawed. People can make mistakes. People can do bad things. In fact, show me the human being who hasn’t,” she says in the podcast. “And they can also be capable of greatness. And I mean greatness in a moral sense. Not in a fame or an achievement sense.”