The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling - Chapter 2: Burn The Witch

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Hello, dear listener. I’m Megan, host of this series. And before we get into the show,

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And now, on to the show.

How universal is the idea of the witch?

It’s really a pan-cultural concept. It begins in the ancient world when, in fact, witches

were often men.

This is Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacey Schiff, author of The Witches, Salem

  1. She says that witches are mentioned in several ancient scriptures, and that the

first documented witch trial took place in ancient Greece. And from there, it spread

throughout the world. Stacey says there were witch hunts across Europe, largely in Germany

and France. There were witch hunts in Switzerland, Russia, Turkey, Sweden. It would be difficult

to say who were the greatest of witch hunters. There have been witch hunts by Protestants,

Catholics, Jews, Muslims, animists. There does seem to be something sort of archetypally

general about this doer of supernatural deeds, somehow bound up with many religious constructs.

In all of these different societies, across time, all over the world, that engaged in

this sort of behavior, is there anything you can point to that they all have in common?

Or like, is there a set of circumstances or underlying characteristics about a society

that make it more likely to succumb to a witch trial frenzy?

I think we tend to see that kind of fear when there’s political dislocation of some kind.

So much of witchcraft is about assigning blame and discharging one’s anxiety. And

political dislocation will make people feel that they are on edge and insecure, and therefore

more likely to point fingers.

Chapter 2. Burn the Witch

On New Year’s Eve 1990, J.K. Rowling learned that her mother, just 45 years old, had died

after suffering for years from MS. She moved away, then suffered a miscarriage, and became

trapped in an abusive marriage. She escaped, but found herself penniless and sank into

a deep depression. And yet, by the end of that decade, she had become a mother and eventually

reached a level of success that no author had ever known. But what did that decade look

like to the people who would become her censors, to those who would accuse her of being dangerous

to children, and would lead to Harry Potter becoming one of the most banned books of the

21st century? Who were they? And what did all of this have to do with the 1990s?

For me and many others who grew up with Harry Potter, it’s easy for us to remember the

90s for what was seemingly so great about them. It was a time when poverty was going

down and the economy was booming. We were awash in new technologies that many thought

could unite the world. It seemed like nearly everybody was watching the same movies and

cheering for the same stars. The 90s are remembered by many as a time when politics

weren’t everywhere all the time, and where real social progress was made, especially

around gay rights. Ellen DeGeneres comes out on network television, Rent is the biggest

musical on Broadway, Will & Grace becomes a primetime hit, and President Clinton issues

a declaration naming June Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Modernity is bursting out all

over and the biggest problem we’ve got is the primitive age-old fear and hatred and

dehumanization of the other people who aren’t like us. After several cities in Colorado

passed local laws protecting gays from discrimination, state voters in 1992 passed Constitutional

Amendment 2, wiping those laws off the books and forbidding legal protection for homosexuals.

But of course, things weren’t really so unified, or as rosy as some remember. It is not something

that American society should condone and affirm in front of our children or in front of our

society in general. After Ellen came out on TV, there was a backlash where people tried

to get her show canceled, and ultimately, it led ABC to put a parental advisory trigger

warning at the start of each episode. There was a movement of people who believed passionately

that there was a dangerous progressive agenda forcing gay rights on the country. We need

to stop the homosexual agenda, which is going to take over our town, our schools, everything,

if we don’t put a stop to it. And if that sounds familiar, that’s because so much of

the language and the passion around the most divisive social issues still alive today have

deep roots in the surprisingly similar political tensions of the 1990s.

There were the L.A. riots, where a video of white cops beating a black man ignited unrest

that eventually led to the deaths of 63 people, more than twice the number who died during

the riots in the summer of 2020. I feel that there is an undercurrent of racism and that

the system is rotten to the core. And it was one of the only other times in history that

America impeached a president. Today, drawn and bleary-eyed, Mr. Clinton joined the battle

to save his presidency. And it was a president who many saw as deeply immoral. But I want

to say one thing to the American people. I did not have sexual relations with that


Much of the youth culture that thrived in the 90s was intentionally transgressive. Provocatively

violent music, like gangsta rap, went mainstream. There was the anti-conformity of grunge. And

eventually the boom of a goth subculture.

They wear white makeup, dress up in black, and look like the living dead. But they’re

not real life vampires stalking the night. They’re just part of the gothic movement.

Which some saw as just kids playing around with identity and being rebellious, as kids


This is Dan and his 18-year-old daughter, Sunny. She’s been dressing and looking like

this since she was 12. She has pierced her ear, her own eyebrow, and plans to pierce

her lip, nose, and tongue.

But others worried was actually glorifying death.

I find society to be really bleak right now. I’d rather be dead than conformed with it.

The very foundations of our society are in danger of being burned. The flames of hedonism,

the flames of narcissism, the flames of self-centered morality are licking at the very foundations

of our society.

There was a growing concern among many adults back then, just as there is today, that the

cultural forces influencing young people were leading them to be depressed, anxious, and

antisocial. And in response to this, they saw a subset of the country saying that what

these young people needed was medical intervention.

Ritalin is being increasingly prescribed for hyperactive and disruptive children.

Three years ago, Prozac hit the market in a whirlwind of publicity and praise. Today,

more than three and a half million patients worldwide are treated with Prozac.

Which sparked a national debate about whether to trust big pharmaceutical companies and

the doctors who were telling parents that their kids needed these drugs.

Why are the drug companies marketing so feverishly to children now? Because it’s not just the

children’s market. It’s a lifetime patient.

The 90s saw the increasing influence of a disruptive form of media, the 24-hour news


Show the people on the bridges, Jeff.

Reporters on camera, in real time, speculating about what’s happening on the ground.

The siege began Sunday morning when ATF agents went to the French Davidian compound near

Waco to arrest cult leader David Koresh.

And what they were often capturing…

Cult leader David Koresh apparently remains holed up in his heavily armed fortress and

we assume that negotiations…

Were sensational and frightening tragedies, many of them involving the death of children.

At least seven bodies were in the compound. Victims from Sunday’s shootout. Federal

agents have confirmed there are more dead inside the compound.

In the siege at Waco, Texas, 76 people were killed, including 25 children.

A massive car bomb exploded outside of a large federal building in downtown Oklahoma City,

killing children, killing federal employees, military men…

The Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people, including 19 children.

Bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens.

And then, most notoriously, there was Columbine.

Jefferson County, 911.

Yes, I am a teacher at Columbine High School. There is a student here with a gun.

I want a table, kids. Hands under the table.

Columbine wasn’t the first school shooting, but largely because it was televised, it’s

seen as the school shooting that brought the issue front and center in America’s consciousness,

where it has remained ever since.

People were getting shot all around me.

There was a guy at a table right next to us, next to me and her, and they just shot him

and then walked away and then he was just sitting there in a pool of blood.

35 students were shot, 14 of them died, and their bodies were brought out of the school

on live television.

Amid the gunshots and bomb blasts, hundreds of students ran for their lives.

The two killers belonged to a group of students that named itself the Trenchcoat Mafia, and

we are beginning to learn more about these teenagers.

And the massive coverage from the 24-hour news cycle?

The suspects were reportedly into the music of goth rocker Marilyn Manson, who has described

himself as a satanic priest and an outsider.

Quickly formed a narrative, even before an investigation could be done.

Several school districts in the Denver area are banning students from wearing goth-like

trenchcoats, and kids told us that police are rounding up some gothic teens.

This young man’s friend was brought in for questioning.

One of my friends gets arrested off the street for wearing a black trenchcoat, walking down

the street for doing nothing wrong.

The speculation fueled fears about the influence of youth culture.

It even came out that the two killers were on antidepressants.

If Marilyn Manson can walk into our town and promote hate, violence, suicide, death, drug

use, and Columbine-like behavior, I can say, not without a fight, you can’t.

We now know, and it’s worth mentioning, that much of that story told by the media in the

aftermath of the shooting was wrong.

The two killers were not part of a goth gang.

They weren’t big fans of Marilyn Manson.

They weren’t bullied by jocks.

And in fact, one of them had been an athlete himself.

But the story that was told resonated so deeply with the larger fears and anxieties of the

90s that it stuck.

When the Columbine school shooting happened, it served as confirmation.

This is Jared Stacey, who was a teenager back in the 90s, growing up in a community that,

more than almost any other, feared the changes they were seeing in American society—evangelical,

fundamentalist Christians.

One of the features of the fundamentalism that I grew up in was this constant assumption

of persecution.

Many versions of Christian fundamentalism had thrived in America throughout the 20th


So much so that by the start of the 1990s, Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority

Movement, had declared,

“…our goal has been achieved.

The religious right is solidly in place, and religious conservatives in America are

now in for the duration.”

But by the end of the decade and the Columbine massacre in 1999, many Christians were changing

how they saw themselves and their standing in the culture.

The world was going to get worse, and that persecution for Christians would come.

And Columbine was huge.

The way that Columbine was presented to us was that it was perpetrated by young men who

were antagonistic towards Christians.

Well, they knew her, and they knew that she was a Christian, and they created a target


There were certain things that those boys wanted to accomplish.

In addition to the reports about the Columbine killers being in a goth gang, many Christians

heard an additional story.

Schools across America were told that some students at Columbine had specifically been

targeted for their faith.

The killers allegedly walked up to these students, asked if they were Christians, and when the

answer was yes, they executed them.

When that young man asked Cassie if she believed in God, she boldly said yes.

One of these stories turned into the best-selling book, She Said Yes.

We looked at each other and we said,

Would I have done that?

I might have begged for my life.

And she didn’t.

She may have been 17, but she’s probably a better woman than I will ever be.

Interviews with the victims’ parents were passed around churches and youth groups.

This confirms and justifies the paranoia that we have that we are under attack.

Now just like the broader media story surrounding Columbine, She Said Yes and these stories

of martyrs also turned out to be unfounded.

But at the time, it helped inspire this belief among evangelical Christians, who already

felt like the culture was turning against them, that now they were in real physical


As we approach the 21st century, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that

our entire culture is in trouble.

Columbine in some ways kind of proved that it was possible that you could walk out of

your house and have a gun to your head and be asked, Are you a Christian or not?

We’re staring down the barrel of a loaded gun and we can no longer afford to act like

it’s loaded with blanks.

There was Columbine, and I remember Harry Potter.

One of the bullets in this gun is the bullet of fantasy, which is just dominating our culture.

Just dominating.

By the way, that’s a sign of nihilism.

That’s a sign of abandoning everything.

We’re in a moral freefall.

When your children can be taught witchcraft by Harry Potter, that Heather has two mummies,

you can let your daughter go to school and she can get an abortion without your permission

or without your knowledge.

Something is dreadfully wrong when you as the parent cannot control the destiny of your

own child.

America has turned its back on the God of the Bible, and it’s time for the church of

Jesus Christ to stand up and speak up and say, we have a right to the destiny of our own children.

I think my publishers were definitely on the alert for trouble.

We’ll be right back.

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Under the category of children’s fantasy literature, sales of Harry Potter books have received

phenomenal acceptance worldwide, breaking all records in children’s literature.

Through Harry Potter books and audios, children as young as kindergarten age are being introduced

to human sacrifice, the sucking of blood from dead animals, and possession by spirit beings.

The question is, should parents be concerned that the alluring power behind witchcraft

is being made to look innocent and is being targeted towards their children through the

Harry Potter phenomenon?

In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, in what has become a largely forgotten chapter

in the Harry Potter legacy, a passionate and motivated group of American Christians

did everything they could to stop the popularity and ubiquity of Harry Potter.

Witchcraft is sin.

Right next to drunkenness, drugs, homosexuality, adultery…

At first, it was just a fringe.

Do you remember when you first understood that people were calling your writing dangerous?

So I think it was in about 1999 that I first became aware that, yeah, the books were being banned.

Author J.K. Rowling.

That there was a vocal pushback against these books as dangerous and immoral.

But quickly, the movement spread to the airwaves of Christian radio.

God hates this. I mean, he really hates it.

It’s darkness, and he is light. It is evil.

Wicked, you know, extreme words were being used that I was harming children,

that these books were poison for children’s minds.

Then, to popular Christian televangelists like John Hagee.

When you reject the truth, all that’s left is a lie.

When you reject love, all that’s left is hate.

When you read books about witchcraft, throw Harry Potter in that.

You’re opening the gates of your mind to the prince of darkness, and he will invade.

And once he gets invited in, he doesn’t go out until he’s cast out.

And the backlash, it kept growing.

As we crossed over into the year 2000,

suddenly everything seemed to just supersize itself.

Everything, from my point of view, became a bit more crazy.

I was signing for like 2,000 people.

I was signing for like a million people.

I was signing for a million people.

I was signing for a million people.

I was signing for a million people.

It was all crazy.

I was signing for like 2,000 people at a time.

And we had a bomb threat at one store,

allegedly from a far-right Christian person.

Although no bomb was ever found on the premises,

it was enough to frighten Rowling and her team,

especially because it was around this time that the fight against Harry Potter

was ramping up at school board meetings across America.

The book’s U.S. publisher is the highly respected Scholastic Books,

which encourages teachers to read the books out loud to their students.

Parent Elizabeth Mounts objects

because she finds the books dark and disturbing.

There were book ban battles at school board meetings in Virginia, Texas,

New Mexico, California, Arkansas.

Our child came home, it was being read in his class,

and the concern we had with these books was the violent tones in here.

There’s evil, there’s death, there’s lack of respect for human life,

and there’s the occult.

And then there was James Dobson,

the head of the most influential Christian organization in the country,

Focus on the Family.

If you don’t introduce your kids to a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ,

then you will never see your kids again in the afterlife.

As far as I’m concerned, this is job one for parents.

He joined the calls to boycott Potter,

which led to even more American parents forbidding their kids to read the books.

The Harry Potter books are mainstreaming witchcraft to our children.

They’re presenting it in a child-friendly format that’s dangerous and deceptive.

By the early 2000s, this group of Christians,

even though they felt they were persecuted

and increasingly saw themselves as culturally marginalized,

we now know, thanks to a memoir by White House speechwriter Matt Latimer,

that people who opposed Rowling’s work were in the White House.

We believe that the Almighty hears our prayers

and answers those who seek him.

According to Latimer,

members of George W. Bush’s own administration

objected to giving J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom

because the books encouraged witchcraft.

And Rowling?

She says she wasn’t exactly surprised by the backlash.

The experience in America was, not for the first time,

very different from the experience in the U.K.

I remember speaking to my American editor about it,

and he was pretty robust about it.

You know, he felt, it’s not true, these are very moral books.

I remember saying to him, this was inevitable.

And by that I meant, it’s got too big.

It’s just got too big.

You know, there are plenty of other books about witches and wizards out there.

But I think a lot of the pushback was the sheer scale of it.

People were alarmed by the scale of it.

To start, can you tell me your name and whatever title you’d like us to use?

Yeah, sure.

My name is David Hogue, D-A-V-I-D H-O-G-U-E.

I’m trained to do that in court, sorry.

And I’m a lawyer.

I’ve been practicing since 1994, I think.

And when the Harry Potter case came up in Cedarville, Arkansas,

actually I reached out to the school district and offered my assistance.

David Hogue is a Christian parent and lawyer.

He represented an Arkansas school district in a Harry Potter book ban case in 2002

that set precedent for many school libraries still today.

Basically what happened in Cedarville was the librarian,

she got the books and put them in the library for kids to get and read

because it was popular then and it did get,

I mean kids were reading 300-page books, which was crazy.

So she put them in the library and then I think it was Angie Haney

who was the parent who found out about that

and wanted them taken out of the library altogether

or at least just put behind the desk so parents would have to approve.

And that’s where it all started.

So does the hubbub over Harry Potter seem outlandish

or do parents have a real argument here?

There was people on both sides at the school board meetings.

I think it’s just fantasy. It’s a book, it’s not reality,

and I think children can make the difference.

They can draw the line.

Some parents were saying these books are good for the kids

because it promotes literacy and some parents were saying

this is horrible for the kids because it promotes witchcraft.

The thing that we found, my wife and I found objectionable,

was it was being read aloud to our son in his class

and in this post-Columbine era that we’re living in,

we felt like with kids living out their fantasies,

this book may have potential for that.

To say the least, it was tense.

And how urgent was this for them?

Oh, it was ridiculously urgent because the books were everywhere

and they were written for kids.

And a lot of parents were afraid that a child will read, you know,

a couple of the first pages and get hooked in and, you know,

hide it under their bed and keep reading

and be sucked into something they shouldn’t be.

This is from book one.

See what I have become, the face said, mere shadow and vapor.

I have form only when I can share another’s body.

Unicorn blood has strengthened me these past weeks.

Yikes, unicorn blood?

When was the first time you heard of Harry Potter?

Do you remember?

Honestly, the first time I heard of Harry Potter

was when the books first started coming out.

At first, when people would tell me, you know,

there’s these Harry Potter books and it’s about a kid that’s a witch

and it’s kind of naturally in him that he’s a witch

and then he learns the skills of a witch and so forth

and he goes to a witch school or a witch or wizardry school.

At first, I took it seriously like a lot of people do

because based on my own Baptist Christian raising

and my study of witchcraft and sorcery and demonology and so forth.

David actually told me that in college he’d taken classes

trying to better understand things like exorcism

and some of the older practices in the Christian faith.

And I found some things that matched

sort of the real-life stuff that I’d read about.

So Christianity, in its essence,

is a religion based on unearned grace and sacrifice.

The foundational claim of many Christians

is that God created all people and loved them so much

that he sent his own son to rescue them,

both from their own evil nature

and from all the darkness, pain, and injustice

that fills this world and makes life so hard.

In spite of our rebellion, in spite of our disobedience,

in spite of our sins, God loves us.

That’s the thrilling thing about it.

And God loves every person in the whole world.

And in turn, Christians are commanded to love all people

and to fight against that darkness and injustice.

But many fundamentalists believe

that the same Bible that teaches them to love

also teaches them to take an active role

in shaping the morality of the broader culture

by challenging what they see as antithetical to Christian morals.

That Bible demands that they engage

in a cosmic war between good and evil

and that they must be on guard constantly

because evil is lurking everywhere.

We should love the things that God loves

and hate the things that God hates.

God hates divination, sorcery, and witchcraft,

and we should too.

And witchcraft is a part of that evil.

Witchcraft teaches that there’s only one power.

It’s neutral.

The Bible says there’s two powers,

the power of God and the power of the devil,

and this verse says that we are in a battle

between these two powers.

And it’s an intense battle, and it’s going on right now.

There’s another verse in Revelation 9 I want to share with you.

There are more than a dozen specific references

to the evils of witchcraft in the Bible,

and one of the clearest is found in Leviticus.

A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit,

or that is a witch,

shall surely be put to death.

They shall stone them with stones.

Their blood shall be upon them.

Or in Exodus, the simple,

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

But there are also many other verses

that warn about the evils of things associated with witchcraft,

like divination,

the seeking of unknown or future things

by supernatural forces.

And J.K. Rowling made divination

one of the classes in the fictional wizard school

that Harry attends.

Deuteronomy 18 says,

Anyone who practices divination

or tells fortunes or interprets omens

or a sorcerer or a charmer or a Harry,

I’m sorry, or a medium or a necromancer

or one who inquires of the dead.

That’s a pretty big list.

And the central fear of these Christians

isn’t really that their kids are going to start predicting the future

or casting spells.

It’s that these evil forces

will literally harm their children.

I believe that some of that is real,

and it concerned me that some of the things in Harry Potter,

which were put in a fiction book,

were actually taken from reality.

Like divination?


In my opinion, at first,

having not read the books,

it touched it a little bit too realistically,

and it touched it a little bit too much for my taste.

And maybe it sounds absurd

to be talking about witchcraft invading kids’ minds

in modern America.

But actually, it was something talked about,

not just in Christian circles,

but in the culture more broadly,

even on mainstream news.

It’s hard to know the exact numbers,

but Wicca is believed to be one of the fastest-growing religions

among high school and college students.

This form of witchcraft,

with its reverence for the earth and nature,

appeals to young environmentalists,

and Wicca’s emphasis on a goddess as well as a god

draws young girls.

This is audio from an NPR news feature

that aired on All Things Considered

in the early 2000s.

There’s an increasing willingness to say,

well, what I believe is true,

but I believe that other individuals

have access to the truth as well.

In fact, I think I can have my beliefs

and add on to them

some beliefs of my neighbor.

And that, in part, explains the wild popularity

of Wicca, or witchcraft, among young people.

Wicca, with its mystical ceremonies,

its goddess worship,

its reverence for nature,

offers no specific doctrine.

Followers can stitch together

a personal religion with, say,

Native American prayer and Hindu meditation.

What counts is that it’s yours.

The reporter even discusses the connection

between pop culture and teenage interest in witchcraft.

She began noticing the surge in teen interest

with the release of a certain film in 1996,

when witchcraft became young and glamorous.

The Craft, a little-known movie among adults,

was a hit among teenage girls

and changed the way they thought about witches.

And even though that connection

is depicted as harmless in the story,

it was exactly what many Christians

advocating for boycotts were afraid of.

Hollywood is glorifying witchcraft.

Whether on TV…

One of the biggest ones here is

Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Charmed series.

Or in the movies.

Practical magic.

The Witches of Eastwick.

The Craft.

These programs and these movies

have been watched by kids and young adults

and adults over and over and over and over again.

And of course, then,

there’s probably the biggest of them all,

and that is Harry Potter.

It got to the point where Rowling, in interviews,

felt the need to say clearly

that she didn’t actually believe in magic.

There are two groups of people

who think I am wholeheartedly with them.

One are people who believe passionately

in the boarding school system,

and the other group are practicing witches.

I have to say I’m not on either of their sides.

That she wasn’t trying to spread witchcraft at all.

I don’t believe in magic in that sense.

But some, like Christian film producer Carol Matriciana,

pushed back, essentially saying,

it doesn’t matter what you say.

We can see that you do, in fact, support witchcraft.

Many have argued that Joanne Rowling

is not teaching the children witchcraft

and the books are not about witchcraft.

The lie about this is this is a true representation

of witchcraft and the black arts and black magic.

Christian televangelist John Hagee

even wondered if she was a secret Nazi.

Even Harry Potter’s forehead is marked

with the lightning bolt of the Hitler SS.

And so the calls for book bans continued.

The school board initially put the books

behind the librarian’s desk

and required a parent’s permission slip

for any child to check out those books

or even just to get them and read them in the library.

Again, attorney David Hogue,

who represented the Cedarville school board.

The school board said,

kind of it’s better to be safe than sorry.

We don’t want to expose the kids to things

that the parents are vehemently opposed to

and the parents say are dangerous for the kids.

And so they thought that the best compromise position

would be, okay, the books are still available,

but you have to have parental permission

to get through the books.


It’s Brian.

This call is being recorded.

Hi, Brian. Thank you so much for talking with me.

Hi. You’re welcome.

And this is Brian Meadows.

My name is Brian Meadows.

I used to be a trial lawyer in Arkansas,

and a large part of my practice

was handling the civil rights cases.

He was the attorney arguing on behalf of the parents

who wanted Potter to be freely available

in Cedarville school libraries.

He’s retired now,

but agreed to take my call from his home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Can you tell me what your side in this case was arguing?

My clients had a First Amendment right

to access information,

and this case focused on the issue

of how much control, if any,

a school board can exercise

on the content that is already in the school library.

Can they restrict certain viewpoints

because they don’t personally like them

or they find that it goes against their religion?

Or is a school library an open forum

and age-appropriate material can be freely distributed?

We believe that it was the latter.

The school library is an open forum.

It is there for intellectually curious children,

and material that is already in the library

that is age-appropriate should be freely available

without any restriction based on the material’s viewpoint.

And ultimately, Bryan’s side won the case.

The court agreed with us

because we have very good precedent on our side.

The three school board members,

they all admitted under oath

that the reason they restricted those books

was because they didn’t agree with the religious viewpoint.

They deemed the books to be inconsistent

with their version of Christianity,

and therefore they thought they were doing the right thing

by removing them or restricting access to the books.

Nobody was able to cite any kind of disruption

that the books caused.

At that point, that’s a pretty solid case.

Here’s how David Hogue explains it.

The judge at that time ruled in favor of Bryan’s case

that the right to freedom of information

would in this case overrule the right to parents

having a say in their children’s education.

Even a minor child has that right to freedom of information

that can’t be abridged by the school

and the parents’ concerns about what may be in that information.

So ultimately, do you think the courts were right in how they ruled,

even though it meant that you lost the case?

Oh, yeah. Some cases need to be lost.

One strange thing about this story is that,

in talking to David,

I learned that he had completely changed his mind

about this case that he’d argued so strongly long ago.

If Christians get all caught up in banning books

that we think are dangerous for our kids,

then we’re legally opening the door to non-Christians

banning books for their kids that we think are good for their kids.

One of the reasons I wanted to talk to Bryan and David

is because of the many recent book bans

taking place across America right now.

You can’t love freedom and ban books!

You can’t love freedom and ban books!

We want to turn now to the sharp rise in book bans

in America’s schools and libraries.

A recent study found hundreds of books

mostly focused on LGBTQ themes or racial issues

have now been forbidden across the country.

Banning books over their subject matter.

The Hillsdale Library Board is looking at purging the shelves

of LGBTQ topics.

And how these Harry Potter book ban cases from years ago

are still having an effect on our culture today.

The battle is over these five books with LGBTQ themes.

These books on lifestyle choices are destructive and wrong.

Would you say that these cases involving Harry Potter-related

book bans and restrictions are now the kind of precedent

that is protecting LGBTQ books in public libraries?

Yes, I think that’s fair.

The part of the legacy of Harry Potter

is that it’s going to protect a lot of the LGBTQ books.

That’s right.

Things like this are going to always happen.

And they always have in American history.

There’s always going to be some group

that considers itself aggrieved.

They’re going to try to shut down viewpoints that they don’t like.

I think a good example of this might be Huckleberry Fenn.

Huckleberry Fenn has been attacked at different times

from both the right and the left.

Decades ago, the right attacked it

because they didn’t approve of the race mixing in the book.

And now, left-wing groups attack it

because they believe that it portrays African Americans

in a disfavorable light.

These things are always happening.

They become like dandelions in your yard.

I don’t know if you can ever really get rid of them,

but you can just try to reduce the number.

What did you think of David Hogue,

who argued the case on the other side?

I like David Hogue.

David Hogue is one of many opposing counsel

who later became a friend of mine.

At that time in our lives,

David and I saw the world very differently.

But I liked him, and I respect him.

And David Hogue, for his part,

eventually read the Harry Potter series in its entirety

and changed his mind about it, too.

They are good books.

I think they do get a bit dark,

but I don’t see harm in those books.

And if you have contact with J.K. Rowling,

please thank her for the joy that those books are.

So looking back, would you say that the Christian parents

were maybe part of a moral panic,

specifically around those books?

Yeah, absolutely.

It’s a scary world out there,

and I remember back then

that it seemed like the world was just getting to be

a more and more scary place.

Once you start seeing, you know, the 24-hour news cycle,

you know, CNN break off this direction

and Fox News break off this direction,

the Internet was just coming in,

and I think people were starting to have a little bit of fear

of what all was out there.

When you would see these people, you know, burning your books,

literally burning them and trying to get them banned

and removed from schools and libraries,

how did you understand what was going on inside of them?

Well, I think that this is something I explore

in the Potter books.

A sense of righteousness is not incompatible

with doing terrible things.

You know, most of the people in movements

that we consider hugely abhorrent,

many, many, many of the people involved in those movements

understood themselves to be on the side of righteousness,

believed they were doing the right thing,

felt themselves justified in what they were doing.

I suppose, for me, book burners by definition

book burners by definition, predictably,

to me have placed themselves across a line,

across a line of rational debate.

I’m simply going to destroy the idea that I don’t like.

I will destroy the idea.

I can’t destroy it, so I will destroy its representation.

I will burn this book.

There is no book on this planet that I would burn, no book,

including books that I do think are damaging.

Burning, to me, is the last resort of people who cannot argue.

One theme that really jumps out right at the start of the books

is how people like Harry’s aunt and uncle

keep saying to him, don’t ask questions.

And I just wonder, like, what’s the significance of having

this whole seven-book journey start with that theme?

Well, there you are, you see.

We’ve just returned immediately to the book burners.

They are completely certain that they are doing the right thing,

and that justifies cruelty, unmerited punishment,

telling him he’s things he’s not, you know, he’s bad, he’s wrong,

and hiding information.

And the don’t ask questions and the burning of the letters,

there you are, you have it right at the start.

You are not allowed to look beyond what we say is normal,

what we say is the world.

There are plenty of stories, you know, especially children’s stories,

where the heroes are the heroes and the villains are the villains,

and the only real question in the stories

is whether the heroes can defeat the villains.

But that’s not the Harry Potter story at all.

You know, the heroes are flawed.

Some people we think of as villains turn out to be the ones who save the day.

And, you know, so many characters that we, at first glance,

think are bad or scary are actually just misunderstood.

And one of the early themes of the books is that

if you want to figure out the truth, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions,

that your prejudices can betray you,

and that your first judgment might not be accurate.

You know, you really seem to have this deep awareness

of this type of human behavior that, you know,

the temptation to fall into this, like, very simplistic

black and white kind of morality.

But there is also a clear presence in the books

of the reality that there is such a thing as good

and there is such a thing as evil.

And even though it’s not always easy to tell,

you ultimately have to, right?

How do you discern when a behavior falls on one side of that line or the other?

I mean, that’s such a deep question, and it goes to the heart of Potter,

and it goes to the heart of much of my worldview.

The irredeemably evil character in Potter has dehumanized himself.

So Voldemort has consciously and deliberately made himself less than human.

And we see the natural conclusion of what he’s done to himself

through very powerful magic.

What he’s left with is something less than human,

and he’s done that deliberately.

He sees humane behavior as weakness.

He has reduced himself to something that cannot feel

the full range of human emotion.

There’s a huge appeal, and I try to show this in the Potter books,

to black and white thinking.

It’s the easiest place to be, and in many ways, it’s the safest place to be.

If you take an all-or-nothing position on anything,

you will definitely find comrades.

You will easily find a community.

I’ve sworn allegiance to this one simple idea.

What I try to show in the Potter books, and what I feel very strongly myself,

we should mistrust ourselves most when we are certain,

and we should question ourselves most when we receive a rush of adrenaline

by doing or saying something.

Many people mistake that rush of adrenaline for the voice of conscience.

I’ve got to rush from saying that. I’m right.

In my worldview, conscience speaks in a very small and inconvenient voice,

and it’s normally saying to you, think again, look more deeply, consider this.

And I was struck early on, actually, in the Potter phenomenon,

by how the two characters that caused the most furious debate,

and I’m actually using the word furious quite literally there at times,

were Dumbledore and Snape.

People wanted Dumbledore to be perfect. He’s deeply flawed.

But he is, to me, he is an exemplar of goodness.

He did wrong. He learnt. He grew wise.

But he has to make the difficult decisions that people in the real world have to make.

Very difficult decisions.

Meanwhile, you have Snape, incontrovertibly a bully.

He can be mean. He can be sadistic.

He’s bitter, but he is courageous.

He is determined to make good what he did terribly wrong.

And without him, disaster would have occurred.

And I have had fans really angry at me for not categorising Snape in particular,

just wanting clarity and simplicity.

Let’s just agree this is a really bad guy.

And I’m thinking, well, I can’t agree with you, because I know him.

But also I can’t agree with you full stop, because people can be deeply flawed.

People can make mistakes. People can do bad things.

In fact, show me the human being who hasn’t.

And they can also be capable of greatness.

And I mean greatness in a moral sense, not in a fame or an achievement sense.

So let me talk about the infamous book burning video for a second.

I am not just offended by what J.K. Rowling says.

I am fearful because of what she is promoting on her platform.

J.K. Rowling is literally putting trans lives at further risk.

She just is. It’s disgusting and it’s problematic.

I mean, let’s face it, Hermione would punch this woman in the face right now.

Harry Potter franchise is literally making this world unsafe for kids today.

Shut it down! Shut it down! Shut it down!

Shut it down! Shut it down!

More to come next time.

You’ve been listening to The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling.

Produced by Andy Mills, Matthew Boll, and me, Megan Phelps-Roper.

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