The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling by Mary Sharratt

The new podcast series The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling is a deep dive into some of the most contentious ideological conflicts of our age through the experience of the world’s most successful author, a woman who has been vilified and physically threatened and whose books have been burned by both right-wing Christians and, more recently, by her detractors on the liberal and progressive left.

Delving into the culture wars that have evolved over the past thirty years, this audio documentary series offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of black-and-white thinking on both sides of the political spectrum.

Megan Phelps-Roper, the series’ creator, knows all too well the perils of authoritarian group-think. She was raised in the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, a cult-like group of fundamentalist extremists who preached that Rowling was going to burn in hell for supporting gay rights and who amassed in force to burn and ban her Harry Potter books. They preached that Rowling’s children’s fantasy novels were mainstreaming witchcraft and luring children into the occult. For her part, Rowling declared that she does not believe in magic or the occult.

At the age of 26, Phelps-Roper left her religious community to make her home in the more tolerant secular world, only to be blindsided by a rising intolerance on the left that eerily mirrored the absolutist ideological rigidities she experienced as a young person in her family cult. Now people who defined themselves as liberal or progressive were amassing to declare Rowling evil and to burn and ban her books. They preached that the author was transphobic, an accusation that Rowling firmly denies.

J.K. Rowling: “The attempt to intimidate and silence me is meant to serve as a warning to other women.”

This audio documentary series proposes to answer the question, “What is it about this woman that captured the ire of very different groups of people across time?”

In each episode, in depth interviews with Rowling are juxtaposed with commentary from Rowling’s critics, including those who support banning her books. Phelps-Roper says that one of the points that stood out to her during the making of this series was “how people on all sides of this conflict felt so under attack, so threatened, that they invoked the language of witchhunts, even as they vehemently disagreed on who was the witch and who was the mob lighting the fire.”

Rowling, a domestic abuse survivor who has braved controversy for championing the sex-based rights of women and girls, says “the attempt to intimidate and silence me is meant to serve as a warning to other women.”

As of this blog’s publication date, the first four episodes of this seven-part series are available for streaming here and wherever podcasts are found.

Mary Sharratt is committed to telling women’s stories.

Author: Mary Sharratt

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history and is the author of eight acclaimed novels, including ILLUMINATIONS, drawn from the life of Hildegard von Bingen, and REVELATIONS, which delves into the intersecting lives of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, two mystics and female literary pioneers who changed history. Visit her website:

13 thoughts on “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling by Mary Sharratt”

  1. I very much appreciate this post, Mary. One of the most significant aspects of what you state, is the wisdom that the polarization that is us vs. them thinking, indeed black or white “debate/s” [no debate at all, no discussion, no nuances] is a “cautionary tale.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too appreciate this post – the black and white thinking extreme has over taken this culture and polarization is the norm. We see so few attempts made to address this atrocity and as women we have been ‘the target’ for millennia…we have to return to pre – patriarchal times to find women who were honored and respected … without safe places like FAR to speak our truths where would we be? I see no antidote to our present crisis except total breakdown – it’s clear that we are not about to choose meeting half way…. this is a quality that many women embrace without the power to make authentic change…thanks Mary

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Mary, Thank-you for writing this. The Washington Post has had two articles on JK Rowling lately — one outright denounced her as “transphobic”, the other totally panned this podcast series and belittled Rowling throughout. It is stunning. Neither of those articles mentioned the death threats Rowling has faced.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t seen those articles and am saddened to hear that they sound so one-sided, not objective “news” at all. I wonder if the people panning the series have actually listened to it. All sides of the debate have their voice in it, including prominent progressive journalists like Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times.


  4. I’m so saddened to read that someone I’ve been friends with online for so many years supports a privileged bigot who is actively contributing to, and validating discrimination against trans women; discrimination that contributes to violence against trans women and the tragically high incidence of attempted suicide by trans girls, which is a direct result of prejudice and discrimination.

    It’s a slap in the face to know that someone I’ve ‘known’ for so long, someone whose work I’ve enjoyed, supports an ideology that has made so many people’s lives so much worse, including people I love dearly.

    Also saddening is the support of the term “witch hunt”, to describe what is essentially pushback against a white cis millionaire with an enormous platform and privilege, punching down against some of society’s most vulnerable people. In this analogy, it’s more accurate to say that she’s the witchfinder, not the witches. It’s like you didn’t even read your own books, Mary.

    I’m so disappointed and saddened by this. There is no “nuance” in Rowling’s targeted attacks and her deliberate choice to take a bigoted public stance, and use her fame to push discrimination.

    I thought better of you, and I’m so sad to read this.


    1. Hello Sarah,

      I’m sorry that my reporting on a trending new podcast series has caused you to think less of me.

      I fear you have misunderstood my intentions.

      Many different news outlets, including the New York Times, our nation’s greatest bastion of liberal journalism, have also reported about this podcast because they consider it important and newsworthy.

      My intention is absolutely not to attack any group of people, certainly not the LGBTQ+ communities. I have been a lifelong liberal feminist, fully supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, as any reader of my books can attest. I am also absolutely committed to women’s rights and freedom of expression.

      I believe this podcast is relevant and important in pointing out the dangers of authoritarian-speak on both sides of the political divide. We’re living in divisive times and the freedoms promised by our democracy are at stake.

      J.K. Rowling may be a divisive figure and you can think whatever you like about her.

      But the fact remains that she has received actual death threats for speaking her truth. It may be her truth and not your truth. But that doesn’t make it right.

      None of us, not J.K. Rowling or anyone else, deserves to receive death threats for speaking our truth. This can never be justified in a democracy. It points to something very illiberal.

      The NYT’s write up of the podcast is here and may provide some more context:


    2. I think you ought to read Rowling’s earliest article which is not transphobic . She has data, case histories, and medical opinions on what has happened in GB to minors who had surgeries, etc. The death and rape threats against her were legion after this article but she has the support of many gay women, and feminists who also have faced truly unbelievable hatred and threats which I identify as coming from toxic male energy, where in a dress or not. Nowhere does she say that trans people should not , as adults, live their lives as they chose. She suggests that minors should receive much more counseling, care.. not discrimination.

      Liked by 1 person

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