It seemed as if everything “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling touched turned to gold.
Her series about the boy wizard captivated the world and she became the most famous female author ever known.
Then “it all blew up in the summer of 2020,” wrote Clark, South Dakota, author Megan Phelps-Roper in a Feb. 14 article on The Free Press website titled “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling.”
Rowling used Twitter to speak against an effort to eliminate the term “women” and replace it with “people who menstruate.”
Phelps-Roper quoted Rowling as saying, “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased.”
“It’s hard to capture the breadth of the firestorm that followed,” Phelps-Roper wrote, as she foreshadowed a podcast she hosts with Rowling that began Feb. 21.
Phelps-Roper wrote, “Rowling’s words led to a ‘revolt’ among the staff at one of her publishers, an outcry from some of her most ardent fans, and a torrent of negative headlines in news outlets around the globe. Actors who had grown up on the ‘Harry Potter’ film sets – people she had known since they were children – distanced themselves from her. Many of Rowling’s former fans began calling for boycotts.”
Some compare ‘Harry Potter’ author to Voldemort
An effort began to cancel Rowling and essentially turn her into Voldemort, the villain of her Harry Potter series.
Phelps-Roper, who is married and raising two children in Clark, a town of 1,140 people, decided she might be the best person to help people understand Rowling’s story.
Phelps-Roper has her own unusual story, which she shares in her book, “Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving Extremism.”
She explained in her recent article, “I was born into the Westboro Baptist Church, a tiny congregation founded by my grandfather that was a world unto itself. From the age of 5, I protested with my parents, siblings, and extended family on sidewalks across America – including outside the funerals of AIDS victims and American soldiers.”
They believed their protests were “an expression of love, warning the world from sins that would do them harm.” When she started sharing that message on Twitter, she discovered that it was hateful “and it was me who needed to change.”
She left her family and the church.
“I knew what it was like to be an object of intense hatred. But I also knew the value of good-faith conversation, and the role it can play in bridging even the deepest divides.”
Clark author reached out to J.K. Rowling
So, she reached out to Rowling, who responded with an invitation to Scotland. Rowling had read Phelps-Roper’s book and was “familiar with my story.”
The result of that trip is the podcast, “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling.”
Rowling’s website says, “This wide-ranging audio documentary examines some of the most contentious conflicts of our time and includes J.K. Rowling talking in depth about the controversies surrounding her, from book bans to debates on gender and sex. The series also examines the forces propelling this moment in history, through interviews with Rowling’s supporters and critics, journalists, historians, clinicians, and more.”
Phelps-Roper said Rowling’s story “is a microcosm of our time. It’s about the polarization of public opinion and the fracturing of public conversation. It is about the chasm between what people say they believe and how they’re understood by others.
“It’s about what it means to be human – to be a social animal who feels compelled to be part of a tribe. And it’s about the struggle to discern what is right when our individual view of the world is necessarily limited and imperfect.”
Her observations are obvious in our own South Dakota Legislature.
Legislation aimed at transgender people has generated fear and misunderstanding. National political posturing is replacing thoughtful conversation. Pick any topic – COVID-19, climate change or immigration.
Screaming at one another through social media avenues has drowned out problem solving. Perhaps the discussions flowing from “deep questions” in a conversation hosted by a South Dakota author and producer with Rowling can open eyes and ears and soften hearts.
“I’m more persuaded more than ever that talking – and listening,” Phelps-Roper said, “will help us find the path forward.”
Brad Johnson is a writer, businessman and former reporter who live-in Watertown.