After years of my sister telling me all about her favorite podcasts and me nodding and saying I’ll listen to them but forgetting to look them up, I finally got into them. And by “them” I really mean one in particular: Witch, Please, a podcast about Harry Potter, radical feminism, and literary analysis.
Witch, Please began when two friends, who also happened to be rad feminist literary scholars, decided to reread all the Harry Potter books and talk about them in a podcast. They structured the episodes well from the start: sections like “The Forbidden Forest” and “Granger Danger” (the latter accompanied by an awesome clap of thunder) gave them regular spaces to discuss things like race, class, gender, and bodies as well as the budding feminism of the series’ true hero, Hermione Granger. The podcast quickly expanded to include discussions of the official movies, the release of Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts, and trips to the Harry Potter studios in England. Along the way the hosts, Marcelle Kosman and Hannah McGregor, acquired semi-regular guests, gave talks at universities in Canada and the U.S., and apparently had a lot of fun with wine and chips.
I immediately loved the heck out of this podcast, and my love deepened so much that I literally became the Witch, Please evangelist, telling anyone and everyone I knew that they had to listen to it. Josh and I traded off who was further ahead (he won), baby B began to dance to the theme music whenever she heard it, and friends eventually said, “Oh, the Harry Potter podcast? Yeah, you mentioned that.” Oops.
But it’s so, so good! Here’s why I think everyone should listen to it:
- It made me love Harry Potter more while also encouraging me to think more critically about it. This is one of Marcelle and Hannah’s biggest tenets, that you can love a work while still recognizing its faults. And there’s a lot of problematic material in Harry Potter, like the lack of characters of color, the persistence of negative stereotypes in allegories (like werewolfism standing in for HIV/AIDS), and Hermione’s white feminist take on house elf rights. But the books also do many, many things well, and the hosts’ conversations deepened my appreciation for J.K. Rowling’s craft at the same time.
- In a similar vein, it’s a crash course in structuring a complex work of fiction. I’d already admired Prisoner of Azkaban for its clever use of clues to lay the groundwork for a complicated but satisfying finale, but hearing trained literary scholars pick apart all the books gave me a new understanding of just how much planning Rowling must have done over the course of the series. Maybe it wasn’t all conscious–the non-English major in me remains deeply skeptical that every author deliberately creates character foils–but the books provide really interesting characters and plots that strengthen their themes.
- It’s made me more critical of other works of fiction. As Josh remarks sadly every time we watch or read something, “The Witch, Please ladies would say [insert critical analysis here].” And it’s true. We notice problematic material in things we love and talk about it a lot more. Sometimes it’s annoying, and we’d really prefer to turn off that scholarly part of our brains and just enjoy the new Star Trek show without worrying about the portrayal of the Klingons. But for the most part I think we’re just more aware of the messages in the media we consume.
- It’s an excellent model for how to be a parent while still maintaining a rich intellectual life. The hosts don’t often refer to their personal lives, but Marcelle went on maternity leave when she had her first child with Trevor Chow-Fraser, the show’s tech support guru (and robot of their hearts). Later, the Baby Hippogriff joined them during recording sessions and went on the road when they were invited to speak in other cities. From the little they’ve revealed, it seems that Marcelle and Trevor share parenting duties as equally as they can, and that Hannah and their other friends are deeply involved in the baby’s daily life. More importantly, after returning from maternity leave, Marcelle was just as involved in Witch, Please as she had been before. As someone who’s still figuring out how to have a satisfying intellectual life while caring for a small child, I found this one of the most inspiring (perhaps unintentional) messages of the show.
- They’re funny. And I want to be best friends with them.
I’m sad to say I discovered Witch, Please once they were finished with all the canon works and well into Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On (tangentially related in that it’s a story inspired by fanfiction of a series much like Harry Potter). But seriously, per reason number 5, I’d listen to them discuss the dictionary (there’s probably something to be learned about the language used to define words, honestly). So if you’re in the market for a new podcast, check it out. You won’t be sorry.