In “The Witch Trials of JK Rowling”, the successful author wants to take a stand on her statements in the trans debate. But first Megan Phelps-Roper’s podcast goes further – it’s about devout Christianity, politics and “Harry Potter”.
The new podcast “The Witch Trials of JK Rowling” was expected from both sides. Both sides – once those who support Rowling and the field of her critics. In the interview series, Rowling speaks to activist and journalist Megan Phelps-Roper about the broader gender debate. Rowling has been accused of transphobia for various statements and tweets.
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JK Rowling speaks on podcast series
“I never intended to upset anyone,” the “Harry Potter” author says in the short trailer for the interview. Contrary to what the teaser suggests, the term “trans” is hardly ever mentioned in the first two episodes of the podcast series. Because Phelps-Roper first tells a different story. Rowling herself, who fled to Portugal after the sudden death of her mother and met a man there. She married him and had a daughter after a miscarriage. But the marriage – as Rowling himself has said in the past – was characterized by violence and threats. After a long time living in fear of her partner, Rowling managed to move to Scotland to live with relatives.
There she lived as a welfare recipient in a small one-room apartment. Always with her: The manuscript she had been working on for years and which was bought by a publisher after twelve rejections: “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. Only 500 copies were printed in the first run. The name JK Rowling came about because publishers assumed the author couldn’t sell books to boys with the first name Joanne. A genderless name had to be found.
But “Harry Potter”, the story of the young sorcerer’s apprentice, got around among children. At one point everyone wanted to read how the little boy made it to Hogwarts from adverse circumstances and fought Lord Voldemort. Rowling became the highest-grossing author of all time. This is how the first episode of the podcast ends. The second is not about Rowling’s current statements either, but about the scandal that “Harry Potter” triggered, especially in the USA.
She warns against black and white thinking
The book came out at a time when the country felt progressive. The Internet was born, Clinton was President, introduced June as “Pride Month”. But devout Christians saw a problem in all of this – and also in “Harry Potter”. In the Bible, sorcery and witchcraft are clearly portrayed as evil. A reason for many Christian parents in the country to want to ban the British woman’s book from school libraries. Her books were even burned at the time. “There isn’t a book in the world that I would burn. Not even books that I find harmful. Burning books is for people who can’t argue,” says Rowling herself. With her retrospective, Phelps-Roper creates the basis for the present.
The two women only come to that at the end of episode two. “You really seem to have a deep awareness of this kind of human behavior — the temptation to fall into this very simplistic, black-and-white morality. But it’s also made clear in the books that there’s something like the good and something like Evil exists. How do you know when a behavior falls on one side of that line or the other?” Phelps-Roper asks Rowling.
The best-selling author does not mention the trans debate, but she warns against black-and-white thinking. “There’s a great attraction – and I’m trying to show that in the Potter books – to black and white thinking,” she says. “It’s the easiest and in many ways the safest place to be. If you take an all-or-nothing position on anything, you’re sure to find comrades-in-arms, you’ll find community easily. Which I do myself feel very strongly: We should distrust ourselves the most when we’re safe. We should question ourselves the most when we’re getting an adrenaline rush from doing or saying something.” You follow a certain rule. “A lot of people confuse that rush of adrenaline with the voice of conscience. In my worldview, conscience speaks in a very small and uncomfortable voice, and it usually says to you, ‘Think again, look, think about it.'”
She cites her book character Severus Snape as an example. At the time, people begged her to put the teacher, who was initially hated by children, in a clear category: he was evil. But Rowling emphasizes in the podcast that people can have done wrong things, but they are not immediately bad people. They’re still capable of great things, Rowling said.
If the first episodes have laid a foundation, the coming episodes are likely to be more about the actual debate that has been surrounding Rowling for several years.
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I am an author and journalist who has worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade. I currently work as a news editor at a major news website, and my focus is on covering the latest trends in entertainment. I also write occasional pieces for other outlets, and have authored two books about the entertainment industry.