JK Rowling: The Witch Trials, The Pyre And The Caprice Of Fates
JK Rowling: The Witch Trials, The Pyre And The Caprice Of Fates
February 28, 2023
Chapter Three of The Witch Trials of JK Rowling starts with Rowling herself talking about the mob’s attempts to silence her.
JK Rowling states that the mob’s attempts are also the attempt to silence other women. Host of the podcast, Megan Phelps Roper questions how all of this happened. A beloved author, now persona non grata to some. Another body on the pyre.
In the age where not only can one identify as Gryffindor or Hufflepuff or Trigglypuff, there are now comprehensive glossaries of gender identity terms on the list of recommended reading. Gone are the days of fantasy and magic spells and different houses coming together for the greater good. Gone are the friendships forged by Harry Potter (and by a mutual admiration for JK Rowling’s work). Another book series on the pyre. More paper for kindling.
Chapter Three of The Witch Trials of JK Rowling discusses how Rowling entered the fantasy world of fandom on Tumblr; how she saw these Harry Potter communities come to life. She even jumped in as an anonymous participant at one point and threw out a theory. This theory incited bullying from the particular Tumblr community. She found this phenomenon interesting. Here they were, all one community united by Harry Potter fandom, casting out a stranger with different views. A stranger, who very well may have been a 13 year-old kid who was also bullied at school, or lived in an unloving home-for different ideas. Imagine if they had known this anonymous person was Joann herself!
Tumblr became a haven of sorts for the “outcasts”-for teenagers struggling with gender identities, for gay teenagers. Participants lived out their fantasies with fan fiction and experimented with different identities. These identities eventually moved outward to the mainstream. All of a sudden, JK Rowling, also became, to some, a maternal figure of feminism in these communities. “Mama Jo”. For a woman with an old typewriter with big ideas, JK Rowling found herself at the Commencement address at Harvard:
In 2008, Harvard Square became Hogwarts Square. These very graduates, the so-called critical thinkers, became more intrenched in the “global village” of the Internet. Social media became more prominent. Communities like Tumblr became more polarized with sites such as 4Chan being on the other end of the spectrum. Online bullying increased; and this became concerning to JK Rowling. This online bullying-this attempt to shame and destroy-and burn-became more prominent on platforms like Twitter.
And here we are today. The sub-cultures rooted in Tumblr and 4Chan come into the public eye. And journalists, the 24-hour news cycle and politicians alike, adopt these views on either side. JK Rowling is no longer just an author who had a dream to write fiction and fantasy-a single mom struggling to pay her rent who escaped the clutches of abuse. JK Rowling became a person who “culturally appropriated”. JK Rowling became a hateful bigot for voicing her opinion. JK Rowling became a target for rising liberal puritanism. This is the crux of Chapter Three’s Witch Trials of JK Rowling.
Megan Phelps Roper, formerly of Westboro Baptist Church provides commentary and sprinkles in interviews. One of these from Helen Lewis of The Atlantic, who had this to say about Rowling in 2020:
Rowling’s views on gender, although compassionate, are undoubtedly challenging to the cherished beliefs of her Millennial fandom. Her post raised questions about sexual violence, early transition, and the climate of intimidation that surrounds discussions of these topics. She argued that her own experience of domestic violence had taught her the value of single-sex spaces, but also wrote about her sympathy for transgender victims. This counted for little to her critics. In Vogue, Raven Smith characterized the author’s post as ‘a long scroll of rhetorical emotion usually confined to those long-ass breakup texts from your ex.’ In Vox, Aja Romano called it ‘a profoundly hurtful piece of writing, riddled with hand-wringing, groundless arguments about villainous trans women, outdated science, and exclusionary viewpoints. Especially gutting was the essay’s self-centeredness.’ Romano, who uses both they and she as pronouns, recounted how she had removed Rowling’s books from her shelves, unable to reconcile her Potter fandom and her nonbinary identity.”-Helen Lewis, The Atlantic
Vulture swept in onto the pyre just a few days back:
A podcast isn’t a conversation, however. By virtue of its authorial construction, a podcast (or a memoir, or a documentary) is an argument. And, in this case, it’s impossible to separate the argument the show is trying to make from how it’s gone about making it.
That Rowling’s perspective so utterly dominates the podcast’s opening stages is incredibly frustrating. She may well be the main reason most would pick up the podcast in the first place, but that should be all the more incentive to get to the purported multi-perspective heart of the project as quickly as possible. Instead, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling displays little urgency in engaging with the perspectives of trans people or even complicating the authority of Rowling’s narrative at all — rich territory given the fact that the author has wielded disproportionate legal pressure against the speech of some critics.”-Nicholas Quah, Vulture
An opinion piece is not a conversation, either. Right, CNN? Yes, I am nodding at you. Their most recent masterpiece was a fine work of fan fiction if I’ve ever seen one.
Rowling has walked the corridors of Amnesty International. She’s walked the corridors of the Classics at her own university. She’s walked the corridors of the crimson at Harvard. She spoke at Harvard about acceptance, failure, intellect, standing up for what one believes in, and the gravity of responsibility in all of this. The burning question we have, the conversation, is this: would JK Rowling be welcomed in the halls of crimson at Harvard in 2023? Would she be seen as a beloved author that shaped a generation or persona non grata by the caprice of fates?
Til next time.
Photo credit: Original artwork by VG, Darleen Click
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