J.K. Rowling talks about the online Harry Potter fandom (Excerpts from “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling: Episode 3”)

February 28, 2023.

Get ready to delve into the world of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter with our transcription of her exclusive interview on “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” podcast, episode three. In this transcript, we’ve compiled J.K. Rowling’s insights and answers. While we highly recommend listening to the entire episode for the complete experience, this transcription offers a convenient way to revisit J.K. Rowling’s interview. You can find the full podcast on popular platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

There have been a lot [of threats over the past few years], a huge amount. As every woman will know who speaks up on this issue, a huge amount of “I want her to choke on my fat, trans dick,” you know, like very sexualized abuse. I don’t think all of them mean it literally, but attempts to degrade, to humiliate. People might say, “well, that’s not really a threat.” And you know what? Up to a point, you’re probably right, though it’s very unpleasant to be on the receiving end of it, particularly in the quantities I’ve had.

Then I have had direct threats of violence, and I have had people coming to my house, where my kids live, and I’ve had my address posted online, I’ve had what the police, anyway, would regard as “credible threats.”

The pushback is often, “you are wealthy, you can afford security, you haven’t been silenced”, all true, right, all of that’s true. But I think that misses the point. The attempt to intimidate and silence me is meant to serve as a warning to other women.And I say that because I have seen it used that way. I have seen other women, and other women have told me, and literally had someone say this to me other day, “I was told, look, look what happened to J.K. Rowling. Watch yourself.”


I didn’t have internet at all when “Philosopher’s Stone” came out. So around about 98, I did have internet, but we’d use it to look the stuff up, like most of us do, and I would use it for email. But I think some sort of unconscious spirit of self-preservation had stopped me going and looking at Harry Potter, until  the point where the internet fandom cropped up in interviews and I thought, “well, I need to know about this because I can’t be ignorant about this. So I need to know,” well, I mean, I went online for the first time. And I just had no idea. I just fell into this universe.

I was equally fascinated and alarmed, if I’m honest. Well, there was the really sweet sorting of yourself into houses, which I think speaks deeply to children and also to adolescents. There was obviously the championing of different romantic combinations, which was very sweet. Little groups of mutual support were made, you know, real friendships were made.

I watched it happening. I could see really beautiful interactions happening online. And you know, in later years, I’ve met people, “I met my best friend on MuggleNet, you know, my husband and I connected over Harry Potter.” That’s happened time and time again. And it’s a beautiful thing, so huge positives came out of that.

[On at least one occasion, she went into one of these forums anonymously]

So I chose a random name that was not a potter-related name. I was almost scared, even though they’ve all got potter-related names, that I would choose a name that was a little, I don’t know, I was just scared I would somehow rule for self-reveal. So I go into this chatroom and people are sharing some theories and I gave an opinion that was very bland and I got rounded on by users who told me in no uncertain terms just to get out. I’m not familiar in that room, I’m clearly an idiot who doesn’t know anything. But I genuinely, and I left, I left, and I was thinking, I do know what, I promise you this is what I thought. I thought: “I’ve written three and a half books, I think it would have been at that time, where bullying is such a thing from the very first page where bullying and authoritarian behavior is held to be one of the worst of human ills.”

I look what just happened, and these people who call themselves such fans of this franchise, what if I’d been a twerp? I didn’t care, you know, I was pretty robust person, but what if I’d been some 12-year-old who’s excited to go into this room and is immediately, caustically chastised for not belonging, just kick someone out because they’re new and I thought that was so interesting that you’re passionate about these books, and yet in the course of living, you are behaving in a way that I depict as one of the worst and most curious human behaviors.

There were definitely individual trolls on the MuggleNet forums, purely there, to be objectionable, it was a fringe, but it was definitely there. At first I thought it’s kind of amusing that this is how you’re spending your time, but as time went on, I started to really see as bullying. There was an edge of picking off vulnerable people, and I was very aware, by that time, early 2000s, that a lot of kids who felt themselves to be outsiders, who were vulnerable, were finding themselves in “Potter”. I felt to protect those people, so watching trolls operate in those spaces, increasingly, did not amuse me, it began to concern me.

And indeed, actually ended up in long-term, pen-pal relationships with some of those people. You know, I can remember a situation where a young person had written a letter that resulted in my then-assistant and I calling that child’s school. We were very, very concerned that this child might be about to kill themselves. I just was hyper-aware, and I remain hyper-aware that the Potter books were a refuge for some people who were very different reasons, very vulnerable.

Were you surprised by the way that gay teenagers, in particular, really started to connect with the books?

Honestly, it didn’t because the amazing, the amazing thing about the Wizarding World is you walk through that wall in Diagon Alley. And while human nature remains the same and that’s something that I was setting out to depict human nature remains the same. If you can do magic, the ludicrous things that we discriminate about in the muggle world really are utterly immaterial.

What do you think were the messages in your book that misfits people felt like outsiders? What messages were they connecting with?

I think that some of the most sympathetic characters like Lupin, for example, who is stigmatized through something that he can’t help, can’t control. Some of the most sympathetic characters are people who are grappling with things that may be stigmatized and they’re all imperfect, Harry has anger issues, Ron can be, I think I call him a git quite a lot in the books. But together they are more than the sum of their parts, together they grow, they find family in each other. And there’s real human beauty in that.

I suppose the Dursleys are my epitome of a very authoritarian and conformist world that demands absolute obedience and that’s not the world you want when you go to Hogwarts.


I became aware that I was to an extent becoming an idealized figure and probably an idealized mother figure and that is a complex position to find yourself in and for me, particularly, it’s complex because I am a maternal person. It’s not that they’re seeing something in me that isn’t there and I have had quite maternal relationships with some individual fans who have been going through bad times. But to be idealized is not something I want. I am a human being.

I couldn’t have written these books if I weren’t a human being and aware of human frailty and human imperfection. And I’m very aware that idealization comes at a price.

I want to talk about your 2008 commencement address at Harvard. […] And so at this point, for better or for worse, you do seem to be seen as a moral leader in the person who introduces you. […] You tell them that they need to be empathetic to people who are not like them. […] But at this point, it is really hard to imagine that you would be welcome at Harvard at all. What I want to understand from your point of view is, what changed and when did you start to notice it changing?

I would say about a decade ago, I started to become very interested in what was going on online, and concerned about what was going on online. I was fascinated by Tumblr culture, and for those who don’t know, Tumblr is a micro-blogging website and is very popular with young women. I started to be intrigued by the use of the word “identify”. This was something I was seeing rising in culture, particularly from the younger generation. And I don’t see that as necessarily a malign thing, because I think we all have an identity and identity is important to all of us for a stable sense of self. But I was noticing something that I thought was interesting and then that began to disturb me.

[The first Rowling backlash was in 2016 when she wrote about Native American wizards and she wrote about skin walkers, this idea of malevolent wizards who disguised themselves as animals. And the outcry then was about cultural appropriation] Do you remember how it felt when you first started to see those things?

I definitely saw it in the context of this is happening everywhere. So I didn’t take it super personally, but I was seeing this happen across the board to artists and there was a kind of puritanism that was rising, that to me seemed very illiberal, so very contrary, I suppose to my values, to my core values. So yeah, it happened to me, I was watching it happening to other artists, I was watching it happening to other sort of properties, creative properties and it was inevitable I was going to be hit with it too. Was it enjoyable? No. Did I take it really personally? No. That’s the honest answer.


I was starting to think about this a lot, subcultures that have their own rigid rules, acceptable beliefs, non acceptable beliefs, everything becoming very reductive. I was also deeply concerned by it, because to me, it was a rise of the kind of authoritarianism and lack of empathy that it’s in all of my books, it’s in literally every book I write. If there’s one thing that I stand against more than any other, it is authoritarianism. And that cuts across political persuasions, cuts through atheists all the way through to various different religions. So I was definitely seeing that. And I was becoming really concerned.

I think the first time I became really interested in what was going on, sort of culturally. It was Milo Yiannopoulos. The alt-right provocateur, I suppose you would call him. And I’m watching from across the pond as he tries to speak on various campuses, and there are protests, riots. And I thought it was a terrible strategic error.

And my feeling was, you are giving this man way more power than he deserves by behaving in this way. It made Milo look sexier and edgier than he deserved to look. I thought it was a strategically appalling turn. Get on that platform and eviscerate his ideas. Get on that platform and expose him for the charlatan that he is. You push back hard, but you’ve given him so much power by refusing to talk.

You know, I have marched in my life. I’ve certainly been part of mass movements. I’ve signed petitions and I’ve demonstrated it in certain ways. But when it comes to a speaker like that, I just thought they were undermining their own ends. In fact, I thought they were serving his purposes, because he was able to walk away from that saying, “look, they don’t dare debate me.” This is how dangerous and edgy I am. And I don’t think we want to cast the alt-right in that light. But inadvertently, [that’s what they’re doing].


I was becoming unnerved by some of what I was seeing. I thought the way this activist movement [trans activists] is behaving is troubling me. I was starting to see activists behaving in a very aggressive way outside feminist meetings. There was a feminist meeting in which they were banging, kicking on windows, very threatening. They were masked. Which frankly is never a good look. If you’re a good guy, you’re probably not going to be standing there in a black balaclava. I watched that happening and I was deeply disturbed because now this movement that I started being interested in, now this is really happening. Just playing out very fast.

Read J.K. Rowling’s excerpts from “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling: Episode 1”

Read J.K. Rowling’s excerpts from “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling: Episode 2”

Read J.K. Rowling’s excerpts from “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling: Episode 4”

Read J.K. Rowling’s excerpts from “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling: Episode 5”

J.K. Rowling was not featured in Episode 6 of “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling

Read J.K. Rowling’s excerpts from “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling: Episode 7