J.K. Rowling’s new book, about a transphobe who faces wrath online, raises eyebrows

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From National Public Radio:

J.K. Rowling, who rose to fame as the author of the Harry Potter series, is known for writing about magical subjects and fantasy worlds. But her latest book bears more than a passing resemblance to reality — and, critics say, not in a good way.

The Ink Black Heart is the sixth installment of Rowling’s thriller series Cormoran Strike, which she penned under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The 1,024-page tome started raising eyebrows as soon as it hit stores on Tuesday.

Observers noted that the plot appears to mirror Rowling’s own experience of taking heat and losing fans for expressing transphobic views in recent years. Rowling has said publicly that the book was not based on her own life, even though some of the events that take place in the story did in fact happen to her as she was writing it.

“Although I have to say when it did happen to me, those who had already read the book in manuscript form were [like] – are you clairvoyant?” Rowling wrote in a Q&A on Galbraith’s website. “I wasn’t clairvoyant, I just – yeah, it was just one of those weird twists. Sometimes life imitates art more than one would like.”

. . . .

The book centers the story of Edie Ledwell, a popular cartoonist who, according to the official description, is “persecuted by a mysterious online figure” — and ultimately found dead — after her cartoon was criticized for being racist, ableist and transphobic (at least partly over a bit involving “a hermaphrodite worm,” Rolling Stone reports).

“The book takes a clear aim at ‘social justice warriors’ and suggests that Ledwell was a victim of a masterfully plotted, politically fueled hate campaign against her,” the magazine continues, adding that the character gets doxxed — with “photos of her home plastered on the Internet” — and faces threats of rape and death because of her opinions.

. . . .

Rowling said in November that she’s received death threats. She also publicly accused three activists of doxxing her when they posted photos of themselves holding pro-trans rights signs outside of her house in Scotland, “carefully positioning themselves to ensure that our address was visible,” she said.

. . . .

Lark Malakai Gray, co-host of the queer Harry Potter podcast “The Gayly Prophet” told NPR over email that he finds the situation “deeply embarrassing” for Rowling.

“She has published a 1,000-page self-insert fanfiction where she’s the victim—it’s the kind of behavior that you’d expect from a petulant teenager, not a grown adult with immense wealth and power,” he added. “I have no idea what she expected, but seeing the internet fill with jokes about the book has been an absolute joy after all the harm she has caused my community over the past several years.”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

15 thoughts on “J.K. Rowling’s new book, about a transphobe who faces wrath online, raises eyebrows”

  1. Well, it’s nothing if not topical.
    It’ll be interesting to see how all the publicity pays off: her mystery series is a decent seller but not quite Patterson level. Given her business savvy and the book’s length some might be tempted to think she baited her detractors into Streisanding her series (although I doubt her blurb will align with the OP headline.) 😀

    (Alternately, given her financial level, it might end up as one very satisfying “middle finger salute” to those detractors either way.)

    Edit: It doesn’t.

    “When frantic, disheveled Edie Ledwell appears in the office begging to speak to her, private detective Robin Ellacott doesn’t know quite what to make of the situation. The cocreator of a popular cartoon, The Ink Black Heart, Edie is being persecuted by a mysterious online figure who goes by the pseudonym of Anomie. Edie is desperate to uncover Anomie’s true identity.

    Robin decides that the agency can’t help with this—and thinks nothing more of it until a few days later, when she reads the shocking news that Edie has been tasered and then murdered in Highgate Cemetery, the location of The Ink Black Heart.

    Robin and her business partner, Cormoran Strike, become drawn into the quest to uncover Anomie’s true identity. But with a complex web of online aliases, business interests and family conflicts to navigate, Strike and Robin find themselves embroiled in a case that stretches their powers of deduction to the limits – and which threatens them in new and horrifying ways . . .

    A gripping, fiendishly clever mystery, The Ink Black Heart is a true tour-de-force. “

  2. I find myself wondering what proportion of the population (UK or USA) really care about the expression of “transphobic views”. As used by NPR it is clearly intended to imply moral opprobrium, but I take it to simply be a code word for “she disagrees with Stonewall’s gender-identity ideology”, mostly used by people who have never studied and cannot refute JKR’s arguments.

    Of course, name calling as a substitute for argument has long been the habit of both ideological extremes, and often made little or no sense. Back in Oxford in the 1960s the Communists were calling the Trotskyists “Fascists” which made no ideological sense, and we have recently seen a surge in the use of “Fascist” as an insult in the USA, mostly directed at people who, whatever their frequently objectionable beliefs, can only be called Fascist if the word now lacks any semantic content other than “I don’t approve of you”.

    • Here’s a test we can all do at home:

      What is Fascist economic theory?

      Bonus: Can fascism exist without Fascist economics?

      Super Bonus: What is the most recent example of Fascist economics in the US?

      • I think that Mussolini’s definition of Fascism would be something like “National Syndicalism with a philosophy of Actualism” (but in Italian of course). Setting aside philosophy, “Syndicalism” clearly indicates both trade unionism and socialism, so should we be searching for Fascism somewhere in the Progressive wing of the Democrats?

        As for you second quaestion the answer is clearly “no”, at least as long as we assign any historic meaning to the term.

        • No need to look too hard.
          They routinely expose themselves as both socialists and syndicalists, especially the latter, by actively warring against non-union companies.

    • “I find myself wondering what proportion of the population (UK or USA) really care about the expression of “transphobic views”. ”

      A lot less than NPR and their fellow identity war travellers think. Way, way less.

      The term that comes to mind from warfighting is “strategic overreach”. This “hot button” strikes me as an unlikely hill to die on in a country with a deep strain of puritanism (even among the blue camp, as evidenced by the school board meeting readings), where a significant portion of the population is mortally afraid that somewhere, somehow, somebody is having fun.

      They have outrun their reconnaissance of the cultural terrain.
      Which is why I wonder if their anger at Rowling will only drive up book sales.
      (Streisand Effect.)

      • A very low percentage overall, but a rather higher percentage among the Very Online–that is to say, the sort of people who produce and listen to podcasts about Harry Potter, or, for that matter, know that there are podcasts about Harry Potter.

        Which is why, despite the constant carping and complaining on the part of the latter, having the rights to Harry Potter is the publishing equivalent of a license to print money.

  3. Interestingly, Rowling is claiming that this book was fully drafted before her — stumbles, and that it was inspired by a particularly toxic fandom in animation (not by Harry Potter fandom’s reaction to her stumbles).

    Without defending anyone, two points supporting my position that we’ve all (including both the transgender community and the transphobic community) got better things to worry about:

    (1) The author is not the novel. The novel is not the author. Each influences the other, but it’s an intersection, not a congruence. I get to say that because I personally know a fair number of high-reputation authors… and in several instances, the literati (et al.) should be damned glad they don’t know them better than from three-paragraph author bios and a publicity shot. (And there are few instances the opposite way, too — well-known authors whose works are rather embarassing.) For example, every sophomore prospective English major who thinks T.S. Eliot is the greatest genius since John Dee and greatest poet since Wordsworth should be forced to read his comments — and remember, he was a senior acquiring editor, not just a “freelance poet” — about the plague of Jewish authors.†

    (2) People are supposed to learn from mistakes. (I’ve had a lot of opportunities; it’s one of the “benefits” of getting old.) What I’m seeing is a lot of people on all sides of the issues doing their damndest not to learn from mistakes — theirs or others. In particular, I don’t see a lot of listening going on.

    So, in the immortal words of too many cops in too many bad movies, “Nothing to see here. Move along, citizens.” Because nobody is actually going to know or understand both the first and proximate cause of that horrific crash…

    † As the bearer of multiple degrees from a university that got its start as Eliot Seminary in the late 1830s — his great-grandfather if I remember correctly — but since the 1930s has been… disproportionately… Jewish in both faculty and student populations, I’m both appalled and darkly, darkly amused.

    • Don’t get caught by false binaries, it’s a spectrum.
      In other words, it’s not just [T] community OR [T] phobes, it’s:
      activist [T] community
      moderate [T] community
      agnostic about [T] community (typically by far the largest)
      I don’t agree with it] but they can do their [T] community
      I hate everyone who supports [T]
      Everyone who does/supports [T] should be shunned, lose their job, etc
      Everyone who does/supports [T] should be in jail
      etc (I’m sure there are shades of grey I’ve missed)

      where [T] can be transgender, vegan, pro-COVID vax, anti-vax, etc

    • I can think of at least four different “toxic animation fandoms” that match Rowling’s description as quoted in HR — and, in this day of teh intertubes, would have potentially intruded on her castle in deepest Scotland via her kids. I’ve seen one of those four pile on to a teenager, because according to self-appointed leaders of that fandom that teenager was the wrong kind of person (and was definitely related to the wrong kind of person(s)) to be a worthy fan. I don’t follow animation much at all, so I’m sure there are others.

      And if all of this reminds you too much of both (anti)social media and school lunchroom cliques, you’re not alone. One wonders if Tina Fey might have making a sequel to another film in mind (but she’d be pilloried for copying her own prior work… which would be the point), but then you’d have to realize what kinds of roles one of the Plastics has "grown into" and your irony meter would exceed safe operating limits.

  4. Of course, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the only Harry Potter fan quoted in the article interviewed was someone who agrees with the writer.

    It’s funny–Rowling is a bog-standard progressive liberal on everything but trans issues, and even there her deviation from orthodoxy boils down to “Hey guys, the law of unintended consequences exists and some of this “inclusive” language is really dumb.” This is, apparently, enough to get her classified in the same category as Matt Walsh.

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