Althouse | category: JK Rowling



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"No one ever thinks that! No one ever thinks they’re Umbridge!"

Said J.K. Rowling, in Chapter 7 — "What If You're Wrong?" — of the podcast "The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling" (transcript), responding to this question from the interviewer, Megan Phelps Roper:
I’m really interested in the question of discernment. I think of this scene from one of your books. It was “Harry Potter in the Order of the Phoenix,” where Hermione, the hero, and Professor Umbridge, who was clearly in the wrong, have this showdown in class. Hermione says in a moment of defiance that she disagrees with something in her textbook and Umbridge berates her like, who are you to disagree with this expert who wrote this textbook and punishes her. Now to anyone reading this, it is so frustrating and unjust. But I venture to say that no one thinks they are the Umbridge.

After Rowling's quick outburst, quoted above, Phelps Roper continues: "And some people see you as the Umbridge. You have these younger critics online and they see Hermione as standing up to an older person with power and they see themselves as standing up to you."

Rowling: "Yeah. And I understand because they’ve told me very explicitly. Why they have an interpretation?!"

Phelps Roper: "How do you know if you are a Hermione or an Umbridge?"


Well, if you’re having a lot of fun doing it and getting a huge sense of self satisfaction out of it, then I do believe you maybe want to stop and think, “am I getting a huge ego rush out of this?” That would be a good question to ask yourself. You know, is this giving me pleasure? Because I can say from my heart none of this has given me pleasure. It has given me anxiety. It has made me at times feel vulnerable. So although I don’t regret anything, I’ve had concerns from my family’s safety. Some of the threats have not been too amusing to me. There has been fallout in my life inevitably. I still don’t regret standing up, but it certainly hasn’t given me pleasure on any level.

That last remark of Rowling's reminds me of Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" — Rule #6 to be exact:

The sixth rule is: A good tactic is one that your people enjoy. If your people are not having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.

But Rowling's rule — which is emphatically not a rule for radicals — is: If you're enjoying a tactic, stop and question yourself. 

A corollary rule: When your antagonists seem to be enjoying themselves, know that they are embarrassingly stroking their own ego.

"Women are the only group — to my knowledge — that are being asked to embrace members of their oppressor class — unquestioningly, with no caveat."

Said J.K. Rowling, interviewed in Chapter 7 — "What If You're Wrong?" — of the podcast "The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling."

AND: Here's the full transcript, which I'm delighted to see. I wanted to highlight the part where Rowling agonizes over the politics of the left wing, which she wants to be a part of. It's very difficult without a transcript. The interviewer, Megan Phelps Roper, prompts: "There are a lot of critics who say, you and your comments are giving fuel to the right."

Rowling answers:

Well, my answer would be, I think you’re giving fuel to the right. This is why many left-wing feminists in particular are sitting with their head in their hands. The right has wanted for years and years, not all of the right, but certainly the further the right and the religious right, have wanted to castigate the lesbian and gay and bisexual movement as is inherently degenerate and part of the left’s broader degeneracy. 

When you defend the placing of rapists in cells with women, you are handing the right a perfect opportunity to say, you see, we told you the moral degeneracy that would result if you say homosexual relationships are okay, and I think for many leftists, for many feminists, we are despairing of the fact that people are, in our view, colluding with a deeply misogynist movement, which is benefitting, politically speaking, the far right. 

And I worry very deeply that, as the left becomes increasingly puritanical and authoritarian and judgmental, we are pushing swathes of people towards not just the right, it’s pushing them to the Alt Right.

She said "Alt Right." I've corrected the transcript here and below. ("Alt Right" was mistranscribed as "OutRight").

That’s what scares me, that particularly young men, when they’re being told everything in the world is their fault, and they have no right to a voice, and they are everything that is wrong with society. It is, unfortunately, a human reaction to go to the place where you will be embraced, and if the only place where you can make a joke or be accepted is a place that is full of poisonous ideas, then you’re likely to go there, particularly when you’re young. 

So I think that the left is making a tremendous mistake in espousing this kind of, in my view, quasi-religious, incredibly sort of witch hunting behavior, because there will be people who will just feel when they’ve been shamed and abused, and they feel it was unfair, where are they going to go? That worries me very deeply. 

In my lifetime, we’ve seen such a shift on the left, and I still would define myself as of the left, but I was born in the 60s when transgression really was the preserve of the left, when challenging authority, and when making the dark joke, and when breaking societal norms was very much the preserve of the left. 

I’ve lived to see the left become incredibly puritanical, and rigid, and watching the Alt Right, and this isn’t a new phenomenon. The Alt Right is not the conservative right, with whom I disagree on many, many things. I’m just saying, we’re seeing a growth of something very much facilitated by the internet, that the alarms and disturbs me, and it worries me that the left are absolutely playing into that demographic’s hands.

ALSO: Let me comment on that quote, the one line that made me check the time stamp as I was out running this morning, because I wanted to hand-transcribe it for you: "Women are the only group — to my knowledge — that are being asked to embrace members of their oppressor class — unquestioningly, with no caveat." 

Women are expected to be empathetic and giving — whether it's in our nature or whether we're conditioned and disciplined into it. It's central to the subordination. We're loved and valued — by others and by ourselves — because we take to this role, so naturally or fakely. It's part of the oppression that we can only win by not winning. Sacrifice! Give! And what a fine woman you are.

"William Wordsworth swore by walking, as did Virginia Woolf. So did William Blake."

"Thomas Mann assured us, 'Thoughts come clearly while one walks.' J.K. Rowling observed that there is 'nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas,' while the turn-of-the-20th-century novelist Elizabeth von Arnim concluded that walking 'is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things.' And ask any deep thinker about the benefits of what Bill Bryson calls the 'tranquil tedium' walking elicits. Jean-Jacques Rousseau admitted, 'There is something about walking that animates and activates my ideas.' Even the resolutely pessimistic Friedrich Nietzsche had to give it up for a good saunter when he allowed, 'All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.'"

From "Whatever the Problem, It’s Probably Solved by Walking" by the writer Andrew McCarthy (NYT).

My second post today about walking. But that's how it goes. Things come up when they come up, and I blog them as I encounter them, as if there's so such thing as saving them for a better place in some more curated sequence of posts. No, we must stumble ever forward.

Now, just on the topic of Wordsworth's walks, may I strongly recommend this episode of Frank Skinner's Poetry Podcast, "Wordsworth Revisited: The Leech-Gatherer"? Here's the poem it's about, "Resolution and Independence."

And here's McCarthy's book, "Walking with Sam: A Father, a Son, and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain" (Amazon). How old was the son? 19.

    "I always thought when you got to be a certain age, you’d give anything to be younger. But I am so excited to be dead in, like, 20 years. Because there’s not much more of this I can take."

    Said David Sedaris — after he was asked about A.I. taking over the jobs of writers — quoted in "Could the Next Great Author Be a Robot? We Asked (Human) Writers. At the PEN America Literary Awards, David Sedaris, Judith Thurman and others discussed the role A.I. could play in literature" (NYT).

    When you're young, you want there to be a lot of space between now and where you're picturing your death day. It's never distant enough — and, of course, it's always potentially today — and you cling to a vague fantasy of immortality. But when you are old, you continually notice benefits in the short time line: These problems are not mine to solve. I do not exist much further out on this trajectory.

    If you are young, you should know that old people are mostly keeping this secret. We don't want to demoralize you as you shoulder the burdens of life, and we don't want to seem as though we don't care. 

    Look how J.K. Rowling got lambasted 2 weeks ago when she said "I do not walk around my house, thinking about my legacy. You know, what a pompous way to live your life walking around thinking, 'What will my legacy be?' Whatever, I’ll be dead. I care about now. I care about the living."

    She was saying that she cared about the living and didn't worry about herself or the ghost of a self that would remain out there in the future. Yet that curt "Whatever, I’ll be dead" really hit younger people.

    "Some critics who have called Rowling’s positions anti-transgender — a sentiment she denies — called for a boycott of Hogwarts Legacy...."

    "The back-and-forth over Rowling’s positions grew particularly heated in the gaming community, where members tend to be deeply invested in online controversies and harassment can run rampant. Although Hogwarts Legacy quickly broke one million concurrent viewers on the streaming site Twitch, some streamers refused to play it, and a few websites devoted to gaming coverage decided not to review it.... On forums dedicated to Hogwarts Legacy, the topic was front and center, with moderators seeking to tamp down talk about Rowling in favor of the game itself.... "

    "Joost van Dreunen, a gaming investor, adviser and New York University professor who studies the business of video games, called the sales numbers a 'massive success,' putting the game in the same league as blockbuster franchises like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto.... It is not possible to determine whether online opposition to the highly anticipated game has affected its sales."

    Yes, we cannot "determine whether online opposition to the highly anticipated game has affected its sales." Who knows how popular it could have been without the reviling of Rowling? And perhaps the controversy stimulated interest in the game. It might have been less popular without the effort at boycotting.

    Efforts at suppression can increase engagement with the thing the opponents are trying to suppress. You're making this thing transgressive. Isn't a feeling of transgression what is sought in playing things like Grand Theft Auto? You're an outlaw — you, sitting there alone on your couch.

    ADDED: I stumbled into the New York Magazine review — "Hogwarts Legacy Is J.K. Rowling’s Legacy, Summed Up in a Feverishly Awaited Dud of a Game." It begins:
    “Does it get any more cozy than Hogsmeade?” The first time you hear this refrain in Hogwarts Legacy, the new blockbuster open-world video game based on the Harry Potter franchise, you may find yourself agreeing with your character, who has just said it. The higgledy-piggledy Hogsmeade Village is indeed cozy, a market town filled with a plethora of shops to purchase various wizarding wares. Then, as you hear the phrase for the fifth, tenth, and 15th time, you may begin to feel as if the long-in-development video game is trying too hard to convince you of this fact. Its repetition sums up almost the entire emotional register of Hogwarts Legacy — the wish-fulfillment fantasy of inhabiting the Potterverse it seeks to offer and the lack of confidence with which it does so. This is an insecure game, one you can tell is buckling under the weight of everything that accompanies it: the discourse, fan expectations, and J.K. Rowling herself.

    Does that mean Harry Potter fans won't enjoy it? 

    The actual gameplay, the parts that come closest to making you feel like you’re an actual Hogwarts student, are mildly successful. There’s an undeniably nostalgic charm to exploring the labyrinthine corridors of Hogwarts. The castle is full of mysteries: hidden doors, disappearing staircases, moving paintings, a string quartet of instruments that play themselves — many elements of visual and audio design coalescing into a genuinely wondrous interactive whole....

    Sounds like they will.  

    This is a very long review, with much talk about what's so terrible about JK Rowling, but the last line is a review of the substance of the game:

    The treacly nostalgia is laid on so thick it’s stupefying.

    Who knows the extent of the Potter fan's taste for treacle?  

    This will have an immense impact: "The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling."

    "'The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling' is an audio documentary..."

    AKA, a podcast, here.

    "... J.K. Rowling speaks with unprecedented candor and depth about the controversies surrounding her—from book bans to debates on gender and sex.... Chapter 1: Plotted In Darkness Chapter 1: Plotted In Darkness/Host Megan Phelps-Roper writes a letter to J.K. Rowling—and receives a surprising invitation in reply: the opportunity for an intimate conversation in Rowling’s Scottish home.... Chapter 2: Burn The Witch Chapter 2: Burn The Witch As Harry Potter becomes an international phenomenon, it coincides with the culture wars of the 1990s. In the backlash from Christians across America, author J.K. Rowling is accused of mainstreaming witchcraft and poisoning children’s minds...."

    Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Westboro Church, which reviled Harry Potter from an extreme Christian Evangelist position. 

    I've listened to the first episode. It's very well done. Both Phelps-Roper and Rowling have gentle, expressive voices. At the beginning of episode one, Phelps-Roper asks various young adults why Harry Potter was important to them and they all say, more or less, you identify with him when you feel like and outcast and you believe in the great courage that lies within you. 

    "But nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic. She is not disputing the existence of gender dysphoria."

    "She has never voiced opposition to allowing people to transition under evidence-based therapeutic and medical care. She is not denying transgender people equal pay or housing. There is no evidence that she is putting trans people 'in danger,' as has been claimed, nor is she denying their right to exist. Take it from one of her former critics. E.J. Rosetta, a journalist who once denounced Rowling for her supposed transphobia, was commissioned last year to write an article called '20 Transphobic J.K. Rowling Quotes We’re Done With.' After 12 weeks of reporting and reading, Rosetta wrote, 'I’ve not found a single truly transphobic message.' On Twitter she declared, 'You’re burning the wrong witch.'"

    Writes Pamela Paul in "In Defense of J.K. Rowling" (NYT).

    If my name were Rosetta, my go-to metaphor for persecution wouldn't be witch-burning. It would be stoning. But "witch" is apt because there's a new podcast, "The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling."

    We'll hear Rowling herself, and she will be interviewed by Megan Phelps-Roper, who used to be part of the Westboro Baptist Church and was "taught to believe Rowling was going to hell over her support for gay rights."  

    According to Phelps-Roper, Rowling is "looking around and realizing that other people are self-censoring because they cannot afford to speak up. But she felt she had to be honest and stand up against a movement that she saw as using authoritarian tactics."
    As Rowling herself notes on the podcast, she’s written books where “from the very first page, bullying and authoritarian behavior is held to be one of the worst of human ills.” 
    Those who accuse Rowling of punching down against her critics ignore the fact that she is sticking up for those who have silenced themselves to avoid the job loss, public vilification and threats to physical safety that other critics of recent gender orthodoxies have suffered. Social media is then leveraged to amplify those attacks. 
    It’s a strategy Phelps-Roper recognizes from her days at Westboro. “We leaned into whatever would get us the most attention, and that was often the most outrageous and aggressive versions of what we believed,” she recalled....  

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