Rowling: “This Witch Doesn’t Burn”

While reading Troubled Blood last week and doing all I could to avoid being ‘spoiled,’ I was unable to avoid learning that the new book by Rowling-Galbraith had been tried and found guilty of transphobia — and that some transgender activists who had been Harry Potter fans had chosen to burn their books to demonstrate their displeasure with J. K. Rowling.

I spoke with Louise Freeman this morning at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival about Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike. She closed our conversation with a brief discussion of whether the Strike series as a whole and Troubled Blood specifically was transphobic. Prof Freeman offered several links to reviews in UK papers that discussed and dismissed this charge as unfortunate and unfounded; she explained how someone might have imagined this in the character of Dennis Creed, but that it was an unjustified overreach to classify the book or the series in any way, not to mention “transphobic,” based on an aside about this year’s psychopath.

I offered the historical parallel of the Harry Haters during the Potter Panic of twenty years ago who believed earnestly and zealously that the Hogwarts Saga was the ‘Gateway to the Occult’ because they read the book through the Never Blinking Eye of the culture war. Harry Potter, as readers of my books and this weblog know, turned out to be a profoundly challenging and transformative work of Christian story-telling.

Today’s transgender activists, secular fundamentalists and puritanical ideologues akin to the religious Harry Haters, are now reading Cormoran Strike in search of transgressions against their dogmas and creedal cultic touchstones. Like those who burned the Potter novels for being hurtful to the soft souls of children, so today’s book burners do so in the name of oppressed and maligned transgender women. Sadly, they miss Rowling-Galbraith’s message of personal narrative and identity in the Strike books, themes of transformation as up front as her Christian symbolism was, frankly, in her first seven book series.

The reaction to Rowling’s ‘This Witch Doesn’t Burn’ tweet followed the usual lines, which is to say, “Hurrah for the Queen!” and “Burn in hell, TERF!” Both missed, I think, Rowling’s point in posting this image and message when she has.

In brief, it is a response to the book-burning and equally fiery criticism of her as a “transphobe.” Harry Potter fan sites and transgender Twitter Ustachi have done their best to “cancel” her as something of a caste Untouchable or eta. Rowling in her tweet simultaneously says she cannot be cancelled (“Doesn’t Burn”) and equates the online mob with the superstitious, violent, and dogmatic witch-burners of the legendary ‘Middle Ages.’ In one stroke, she captures what she feels is the violence, ignorance, and misogyny of those criticizing Troubled Blood, a book few have read and re-read, for a fault it does not have.

If those critics want to know how Rowling thinks and feels about their leftist laments, I think they should read chapter 42 of Troubled Blood and Strike’s reflections on the idealist college-student dinner guests at Robin and Max’s house. They reminded him of his biological mother’s greatest failings. Her political activism, he recalls, like those of the students he’d met and despised the night before, “had mostly taken the form of enthusiastic exhibitionism.” “The basis of her life’s philosophy, if such a word could be used for the loose collection of whims and knee-jerk reactions she called beliefs, was that everything of which the bourgeoisie disapproved must be good and right” (500).

The responses to Rowling’s tweet confirmed those who now despise her are of that very camp, alas, of “enthusiastic exhibitionists” and that Rowling indeed cannot be burned like a witch or cancelled. Troubled Blood now tops the best-seller lists in the UK and US. About which, “Hurrah!”

To hear my conversation with Professor Freeman at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival, check out their FaceBook page on which the talk will be posted.



  1. Hi John,

    Long-time reader, first time commenter here. I love the Strike series and have enjoyed sharpening my close reading skills through the great analysis on this blog. I agree with you that the charges of transphobia in this book were overblown to create drama. As a teacher of trans and nonbinary students, I’ve also been deeply saddened by Rowling’s refusal to listen or engage with young people on this issue. Suffice it to say that you and I disagree, but I’m still here, and still reading. I doubt I’m the only reader with complicated feelings on the subject, so I’d just ask that you consider the divisiveness of your words. The contrast between your nuanced literary analysis and your snarky dismissal of young people and social progressivism is off-putting and disappointing.

  2. Hi John, I’ve just come across your blog as I was trying to find the shop to buy that T-Shirt! I couldn’t agree with you more about this latest ‘book burning’ episode and accusations of ‘transphobia’ against JKR and I look forward to reading this latest Strike book. New subscriber to your blog.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Would this (curiously!) be (among other things) a rhetorical echo of Mrs. Thatcher’s riming wordplay on the title of Christopher Fry’s superb play, The Lady’s Not for Burning?

    From another direction, what might we say in juxtaposing this with the endings of both stanzas of part IV of Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’?:

    The only hope, or else despair
    Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre –
    To be redeemed from fire by fire.
    We only live, only suspire
    Consumed by either fire or fire.

  4. I just finished Troubled Blood on Thursday. I did keep seeing things while I was still reading the book about the book being transphobic and heard about book burnings. I was wondering what was coming up about Dennis Creed. I got to the end: nothing. Well, not nothing, there is more about him, but any cross dressing mentions were things that were already covered and it was made very clear that he is a violent, sadistic, sociopathic killer who will literally do anything to trick and capture women. And is someone who generally enjoys messing with people when he can’t engage in his favorite “hobby.”

    I think the themes in the book of identity and especially who we tend to trust and why is pretty important to Creed dressing as a woman or letting people think he was gay. Also, SPOILER, that Creed could have been dressed as a woman, was a very important plot point for the actual who-dun-it. The book has to first and foremost function as a mystery novel, however many other levels it has.

    In fact, there was novel that was very popular last year that featured female to male cross dressing to conceal a crime and nobody made a fuss about that. (Sorry, in 48 hours, I went from somewhat amused at far leftists burning books to angry at the Twitter mob -who hadn’t even had time to read the book- for not letting us enjoy one good thing in 2020.)

    Looking forward to listening to John and Louise’s Troubled Blood discussion! That’s two things.

    I don’t think Professor Granger was snarky. J.K. Rowling, maybe. But when people with very different perspectives have been burning your books for 20 years for very different reasons, I think you’re allowed to make a joke -and a point.

  5. Where’s the evidence of book burning by trans activists?

    I put mine in the paper recycle bin after removing the covers. The one copy of value that I had, I sold and put the money towards private medical care in order to get by the 6 year waiting list on the NHS.

    What makes the series particularly transphobic is the context in which it has been released. Just look at the other merchandise on sale from the shop that gave her the t-shirt with yet another unsubstantiated claim that ‘this witch doesn’t burn’.

    It is kind of ironic that the people defending JK and claiming that trans activists are burning her books are often the same people who were burning JK’s books a couple of decades ago for promoting ‘anti-Christian’ witchcraft. Almost as ironic as a female anti-trans bigot using the pseudonym of an notorious male gay conversion therapist trying to imply that trans children are the modern day equivalent of gay conversion therapy. Almost as ironic as a person who deletes praise of Stephen King and unfriends him after he stated that ‘trans women are women’ and then has the audacity to sign a letter against ‘cancel culture’ before threatening to sue a children’s online news source for asking the question of whether you can still enjoy the art of unpleasant people.

  6. “Where’s the evidence of book burning by trans activists?”

    Let me Google that for you, Alice —

    I have looked and have been unable to find any evidence, in contrast, for your assertion that “the people defending JK and claiming that trans activists are burning her books are often the same people who were burning JK’s books a couple of decades ago for promoting ‘anti-Christian’ witchcraft.”

    I suspect that you have never read or met a true ‘Harry Hater,’ because, if you had, you would know that as a group and as individuals none have come to Rowling’s defense, ever. Rowling’s feminist response to transactivist overreach, for example, is in part a defense of same-sex relationships between women.

    That’s not a ‘Big Plus’ for the Harry Hating crowd who burnt Hogwarts titles during the Potter Panic.

    But you carry on with your cry for “evidence” you haven’t looked for and your accusations about people you don’t know at all. You make Rowling’s points about Cancel Culture brilliantly.

  7. Read the comment thread beneath these tweeted pictures of a woman (?) burning her ‘Harry Potter’ books:

    There you will learn that trans activists have heroically and selflessly flipped the book-burning metanarrative.

    Last week only Nazis and fundamentalists burned books and it was evil, right up there with reading unbowdlerized copies of Huckleberry Finn and Cat in the Hat.

    Now throwing books on a fire is an exercise of free speech rights, showing the Man the Finger of Disdain and risking ferocious prosecution by the power holders for this bold statement.

    Doubt that? See

    It’s official. We live in a world beyond satire.

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