Rowling, J. K. 1965- (Newt Scamander, Kennilworthy Whisp)
Rowling, J. K. 1965- (Newt Scamander, Kennilworthy Whisp)
Surname is pronounced "rolling"; full name, Joanne Rowling (some sources erroneously cite name as Joanne Kathleen Rowling); born July 31, 1965, in Chipping Sodbury (some sources cite Yate), South Gloucestershire, England; daughter of Peter (cited variously as an automotive engineer or a factory manager) and Anne (a laboratory technician) Rowling; married Jorge Arantes (a journalist), October 16, 1992 (divorced); married Neil Murray (an anesthesiologist), December 26, 2001; children: (first marriage) Jessica Rowling; (second marriage) David Gordon Rowling, Mackenzie Jean Rowling. Education: University of Exeter, B.A., 1987. Avocational Interests: Reading, the work of Monty Python, music.
Agent—Christopher Little, Christopher Little Literary Agency, 10 Eel Brook Studios, London SW6 4PS, England.
Novelist. Worked as an English teacher in Portugal and a French teacher in Edinburgh, Scotland; worked as a research assistant for Amnesty International in London and a secretary for Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Manchester, England. Founder of a charitable trust. Ambassador for One Parent Families and affiliated with other charities, including the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Scotland and Maggie's Centres for Cancer Care, and affiliated with various causes and charity auctions. Rowling's Harry Potter creations have been featured on several kinds of merchandise.
Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
Grant from the Scottish Arts Council, 1996; British Book Award, children's book of the year, and Nestle Smarties Gold Award, both 1997, best book selection, Publishers Weekly, editor's choice selection, Booklist, notable book citation, American Library Association, best book of the year selection, New York Public Library, book of the year award, Parenting, Premio Cento per la Letteratura Infantile, and Anne Spencer Lindberg Prize in Children's Literature, all 1998, Abby Award, American Booksellers Association, and Sorcieres Prix, 1999, and Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, 2001, all for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (known in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone); Nestle's Smarties Gold Award and nomination for Whitbread Prize, children's book of the year, 1998, editor's choice selection, Booklist, best book for young adults selection, American Library Association, and award for best book of the year, School Library Journal, 1999, all for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Whitbread Prize for Children's Literature, Nestle Smarties Gold Award, editor's choice selection, Booklist, best book citation, Los Angeles Times, nomination for the Whitbread Prize, book of the year, and notable book citation, American Library Association, all 1999, for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; named one of the most fascinating women of 1999, Ladies' Home Journal magazine; decorated an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, 2000; W. H. Smith Children's Book of the Year Award, 2000, and Hugo Award, best novel, Scottish Arts Council book award, and Whitaker's platinum book award, all 2001, for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Prince of Asturias Concord Prize, 2003, for helping promote children's interest in reading; Bram Stoker Award, work for young readers category, Horror Writers Association, 2003, and W. H. Smith Book Award, fiction category, 2004, both for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Rowling's novels were named among the 200 favorite novels of British readers in The Big Read campaign, BBC, 2003, as well as being named among the favorite novels of German readers (Das grosse Lesen survey), 2004, and among the favorite novels of Hungarian readers (A Nagy Koenyv survey), 2005; named British personality of the year, British Independent Film awards, 2004; named one of the top 100 artists and entertainers as part of the Time 100 list, Time magazine, 2004; Quill awards, book of the year and best children's chapter book for the middle grades, both Reed Business Information, 2005, for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Kids' Choice award, best book category, 2006, for the entire Harry Potter series; honorary degrees from Napier University, Dartmouth College, University of Exeter, University of St. Andrews, all 2000, University of Edinburgh, 2004, and University of Aberdeen, 2006; the asteroid Rowling and housing development Rowling Gate (Bristol, England) named in her honor; the name of the dinosaur Dracorex hogwartsia took its name from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Rowling's Harry Potter books.
Film Character and Universe Creator:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (also known as Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter a kamen mudrcu, Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers, Harry Potter e a pedra filosofal, Harry Potter e la pietra filosofale, Harry Potter en de steen der wijzen, Harry Potter es a boelcsek koeve, Harry Potter i kamien filozoficzny, Harry Potter I la pedra filosofal, Harry Potter ja viisasten kivi, Harry Potter och de vises sten, Harry Potter og de vises stein, Harry Potter og de vises sten, Harry Potter og viskusteinninn, Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen, and Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal), Warner Bros., 2001.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (also known as Incident on 57th Street, Harry Potter a tajemna komnata, Harry Potter e a camara dos segredos, Harry Potter e a secreta, Harry Potter e la camera dei segreti, Harry Potter en de geheime kamer, Harry Potter es a titkok kamraja, Harry Potter et la chambre des secrets, Harry Potter i la cambra secreta, Harry Potter ja salaisuuksien kammio, Harry Potter och hemligheternas kammare, Harry Potter og hemmelighedernes kammer, Harry Potter og leyniklefinn, Harry Potter og mysteriekammeret, Harry Potter si camera secretelor, Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens, Harry Potter y la camara de los secretos, and Harry Potter y la camara secreta), Warner Bros., 2002.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (also known as Harry Potter e il prigioniero di Azkaban, Harry Potter en de gevangene van Azkaban, Harry Potter e o prisioneiro de Azkaban, Harry Potter et le prisonnier d'Azkaban, Harry Potter i el pres d'Azkaban, Harry Potter ja Azkabanin vanki, Harry Potter och faangen fraan Azkaban, Harry Potter og fangen fra Azkaban, Harry Potter og fanginn fra Azkaban, Harry Potter und der Gefangene von Askaban, and Harry Potter y el prisionero de Azkaban), Warner Bros., 2004, IMAX version released as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: The IMAX Experience.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (also known as Harry Potter e il calice di fuoco, Harry Potter en de vuurbeker, Harry Potter e o calice de fogo, Harry Potter et la coupe de feu, Harry Potter i el calze de foc, Harry Potter ja liekehtivae pikari, Harry Potter och den flammande baegaren, Harry Potter og eldbikarinn, Harry Potter og flammernes pokal, Harry Potter og ildbegeret, Harry Potter und der Feuerkelch, Harry Potter y el caliz de fuego, and O Harry Potter kai to kypelo tis fotias), Warner Bros., 2005, IMAX version released as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The IMAX Experience.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Warner Bros., 2007.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Warner Bros., c. 2008.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Herself, The Beatles Revolution, ABC, 2000.
Herself, Ladies' Home Journal's Most Fascinating Women of '99, CBS, 2000.
Herself, The Magical World of Harry Potter: The Unauthorized Story of J. K. Rowling, [Great Britain], 2000.
Herself, Discovering the Real World of Harry Potter, PBS, 2001.
Herself, The Importance of Being Morrissey, Chrysalis Television, 2002.
Herself, J. K. Rowling and the Story of Harry Potter, BBC and Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
Herself, Comic Relief 2003: The Big Hair Do, BBC, 2003.
Herself, J. K. Rowling: The Interview, BBC, 2003.
Herself, Harry Potter at the Castle: Magic at Midnight, Independent Television (England), 2005.
Herself, Forbes Celebrity 100: Who Made Bank?, E! Entertainment Television, 2006.
Herself, Forbes 20 Richest Women in Entertainment, E! Entertainment Television, 2007.
Appeared in other programs.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Herself, Blue Peter, BBC, 1997.
Herself, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1999 (multiple episodes), 2000.
(In archive footage) Herself, LeseZeichen, 2000.
Herself, Today (also known as NBC News Today and The Today Show), NBC, 2000.
Herself, "Harry Potter and Me," Biography (also known as A&E Biography: Harry Potter and Me and J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter and Me), Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
Voice of herself, "The Regina Monologues," The Simpsons (animated), Fox, 2003.
(In archive footage) Herself, "Das grosse Lesen," Unsere Besten, 2004.
Herself, "Harry Potter: Explication d'un succes," Phenomania, 2005.
Guest, Richard & Judy, Channel 4 (England), 2006.
Television Work; Specials:
Consulting producer, Discovering the Real World of Harry Potter, PBS, 2001.
Reader at a charity event at Radio City Music Hall, New York City, 2006.
Video Game Character and Universe Creator:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Electronic Arts, 2001.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Electronic Arts, 2002.
Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup, Electronic Arts, 2003.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Electronic Arts, 2004.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Electronic Arts, 2005.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Electronic Arts, 2007.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Bloomsbury, 1997, published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Scholastic, 1998.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury, 1998, Scholastic, 1999.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Scholastic, 1999.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Scholastic, 2000.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Scholastic, 2003.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Scholastic, 2005.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Scholastic, 2007.
Rowling's Harry Potter novels have been translated into several languages and published in more than 200 countries. Rowling's Harry Potter novels have all been adapted as audiobooks and CD-ROM recordings. Wrote short stories and works for young children. Wrote novels and short stories as a child.
Booklets for Charity:
(As Newt Scamander) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2001.
(As Kennilworthy Whisp) Quidditch through the Ages, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2001.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 34, Gale, 2000.
Baggett, David, and Shawn E. Klein, editors, Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, Open Court, 2004.
Beahm, George, Muggles and Magic: J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Phenomenon, Hampton Roads Publishing, 2004.
Chippendale, Lisa A., Triumph of the Imagination: The Story of Writer J. K. Rowling, Chelsea House, 2002.
Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 25, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Hellman, Elizabeth, editor, Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives, RoutledgeFalmer, 2003.
Kirk, Connie Ann, J. K. Rowling: A Biography, Greenwood Press, 2003.
Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, second edition, Gale, 2002.
Moore, Sharon, editor, Harry Potter, You're the Best! A Tribute from Fans the World Over, St. Martin's Griffin, 2001.
Newsmakers, Issue 1, Gale, 2000.
Shapiro, Marc, J. K. Rowling: The Wizard behind Harry Potter, Griffin Trade, 2000.
Smith, Sean, J. K. Rowling: A Biography, Michael O'Mara Books, 1999.
Ward, S., Meet J. K. Rowling, Powerkids Press, 2004.
Wiener, Gary, editor, Readings on J. K. Rowling, Greenhaven Press, 2004.
Carousel, summer, 1998, p. 23.
Independent, July 5, 2004, p. 20.
Maclean's, July 24, 2000; July 31, 2000.
National Review, October 11, 1999.
Newsweek, December 7, 1998, p. 79; August 23, 1999, p. 58; November 1, 1999, p. 21; July 17, 2000, p. 52; June 30, 2003, p. 50.
New York Times, July 10, 2000, p. E1.
OK!, July 31, 2002, p. 130.
People Weekly, January 14, 2002, p. 56.
Publishers Weekly, October 23, 2000.
Reader's Digest (Canadian edition), February, 2003, p. 48D.
School Library Journal, September, 1999, pp. 137-39.
Time, September 20, 1999, pp. 67-72; April 26, 2004, p. 91.
Variety, November 29, 2004, pp. A1-A2.
Weekly Standard, November 1, 1999, p. 29.
J. K. Rowling Official Site,http://www.jkrowling.com, February 9, 2007.
Rowling, J. K.
J. K. Rowling
Something of a publishing phenomenon, J. K. Rowling (born 1966) has sold more than a quarter-billion books from her series of novels about a British boy wizard named Harry Potter. With the wildly popular series, Rowling single-handedly revived the market for children's literature. The books, translated into over 600 languages, spawned a sequence of worldwide box-office movie hits, and were credited with getting an entire generation of children raised on video games, television, and the Internet interested in reading again.
Born in 1966, in Chipping Sodbury, a small town in Bristol, England located a few miles south of Dursley, hometown to her fictional protagonist Harry Potter, Joanne Rowling was the daughter of a French-Scottish mother named Anne, and a Rolls Royce engineer father named Peter Rowling, who met on a train leaving King's Cross Station in London. She also has one older sister, Diana. In 1971, the Rowlings moved to nearby Winterbourne, in Bristol, and among the children's friends were Ian and Vikki Potter. Three years later, the family moved again, to Tutshill, near the border of Wales.
Rowling says she started writing stories at age six. Her first story, Rabbit, was about a rabbit with measles. Rowling later described herself as a child to a January Online interviewer as much like Harry Potter: "short, squat," wearing thick glasses, shy, "very bossy" and "very bookish," though "terrible at school." She said she was "never happier than when reading or writing."
Rowling studied French at Exeter University and earned a bachelor's degree in 1986. After graduation she worked as a secretary at various firms, including a publisher, where part of her job was writing and sending out rejection letters to prospective authors. Her dream was still to become a writer, and she started several adult novels but never finished them. In 1990, Rowling first imagined Harry Potter while on a train that was delayed for hours between Manchester and London, and has noted that the character emerged to her "fully formed."
In 1990 Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English, and there she met and married Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes, with whom she had a child, Jessica. Unfortunately, the marriage ended in divorce after a stormy two years marked by frequent quarreling. Although Rowling has denied basing her arrogant, lying wizard Gilderoy Lockhart on Arantes, she had noted that the character in the Harry Potter series was modeled on a real person who was "even more objectionable than his fictional counterpart."
Rowling returned to Great Britain in 1993 when Jessica was three months old, and moved to Edinburgh, where her sister Diana lived. While raising her young daughter by herself and battling fits of depression, she wrote the drafts of her book in longhand because she could not afford a used typewriter, much less a computer. With the help of a grant from the Scottish Arts Council, Rowling finished the book, then found an agent, Christopher Little, by looking through directories at the library. In 1996, while its author was working as a French teacher in Edinburgh, Bloomsbury published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, having picked up Rowling's manuscript after several other publishers rejected it.
Rowling decided to use initials rather than her first name to disguise her gender and ward off any possible bias from her target audience of young boys; because she had no middle name of her own, she used K to stand for Kathleen, the name of her favorite grandmother. In 1998 the book was published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Pottermania began. No one in the publishing business had ever seen anything quite like it: hardcover sales were soon in the millions and the book was being read by children and adults alike. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone proved to be the best-selling children's book in decades. As the author was quoted by January Online, "I thought I'd written something that a handful of people might quite like. So this has been something of a shock."
Fame and Fortune
From an unemployed single mother, Rowling enjoyed a dizzying ride to celebrity status. By the time her third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was released, Harry Potter was appearing on the cover of Time magazine, and Rowling had to make her peace with being a worldwide celebrity. She changed her bright red hair to a less flamboyant dark blonde. On tours, she could do author's readings only in venues that normally hosted rock stars and sporting events. When she remarried in December of 2001, she had amassed a fortune estimated at $150 million. Her new husband was Neil Murray, an anesthesiologist, who quit his job to be with Jessica while her mother worked and traveled. The family moved into an 1865 mansion, Killiechassie House, near the Scottish town of Aberfeldy, which they had bought for a reported $2.75 million. In March 2003, their son, David, was born, and a second child was expected in 2005.
When the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, appeared there were major bookstore events at midnight on the day of publication. It sold an unheard-of three million copies in the first 48 hours, the fastest-selling book in publishing history. The novel also became the best-selling book of 2000, selling seven million copies in hardcover.
Inevitably, Potter's books became the cornerstones of a global franchise of movies, video games, toys, clothing, and collectibles, making Rowling richer than perhaps any author in history. The film versions followed each book by an interval of a couple of years, and virtually every year either a book or a film version of an early book were released, and sometimes one of each, with each release timed to maximize sales. The movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, released in 2001, had a lukewarm critical reception but a huge audience. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets followed in 2002, and Harry Potter and thePrisoner of Azkaban, the most critically acclaimed film of the series, was one of the top hits of 2004. The movie adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was due out in 2004, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was slated for 2007. A film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was projected for a 2008 release in early 2005, months before the novel it would be based on was even published.
Rowling's books and movies did not appeal just to children; many adults were big fans of them too. As Rowling explained to a January Online contributor, "When I write the books, I really do write them for me. . . . So the humor in the books is really what I find funny." She said the character of Hermoine was based on herself, but that she never considered abandoning the idea of the boy, Harry, being the hero and protagonist. Each book takes Potter and Hermoine and their schoolmates through another academic year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an institution that is clearly a thinly disguised parody of aristocratic British boarding schools. In each book they faced incarnations of enemies and have to use magic to defeat them, while pausing for games of "quidditch," a fanciful version of soccer played on broomsticks.
A Magical Franchise
As the series progressed, Rowling's books got longer and longer. Publishers and book critics, already flabbergasted by the success of the series worldwide, shook their heads at a first U.S. printing of 8.5 million copies for the 896-page Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in June of 2003. Despite the books' increasing length, sales grew with each publication. Every one of the "Harry Potter" books made the best-seller lists, and some stayed on the charts for a year or more. Prince Charles, who professed to being a fan of the "Harry Potter" series, named Rowling as officer in the Order of the British Empire, and in 2004 she received an honorary degree from Edinburgh University.
Critics searched for reasons why ten year olds were willing to wade through such tomes, and the key was the readily understood adventures. "In contrast to the lack of power most children have in their own lives, Harry and his friends master the natural world and make it behave in ways that are most unnatural," wrote Sara Ann Beach and Elizabeth Harden Willner in World Literature Today. "In addition, they are able to use their power to frustrate those adults who do not have children's best interests at heart. Rowling opens the door for adolescent readers to share the characters' power while experiencing a connection to literature that has the potential to enrich their lives."
With adulation came the travails of celebrity. In 2002 Nancy Stouffer of Pennsylvania sued Rowling in New York for plagiarism, claiming she had stolen ideas from Stouffer's 1984 book The Legend of Rah and Muggles, whose characters include a Larry Potter. The case was dismissed when the judge ruled Stouffer had doctored evidence and lied to the court. In 2003, Rowling and publisher Time Warner successfully sued a Dutch publishing company and prevented release of a book that featured a girl wizard named Tanya Grotter that Rowling argued infringed her copyright.
Despite the popularity of the series, Rowling maintained in her January Online interview that she was still "writing from the plan I had in 1995." According to the novelist, she began the "Harry Potter" series planning for seven books and intended to be able to say "I stayed true to what I wanted to write. . . . That won't be deflected, either by adoration or by criticism."
The "Meaning" of Potter
The "Harry Potter" phenomenon understandably sparked interest far beyond the literary community. Some conservative Christian groups in the United States attacked the Potter books as bordering on sacrilegious or devil worship. However, as religion expert Michael Ostling commented before a 2001 meeting of the American Academy of Religion, "the stories are spiritually benign and indicate how thoroughly magic and witchcraft have lost their meaning in today's world," as quoted in the Christian Century. Ostling quoted Charles Colson as characterizing the magic in Rowling's books as "purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic."
In Queen's Quarterly psychologist Benoit Virole wrote: "Rowling has fashioned an ongoing narrative quest in the classical tradition, but one that is particularly suited to the way today's children mentally conjure a literary adventure." Virole noted that "all the structures of a video game are integrated into Rowling's . . . writing," including a "ready-made closed world, well-defined units of time, well-defined places with their trappings differentiated like stage settings, gains and losses of power, the construction and collapse of alliances, projective identification with the principal characters, [and] cliff-hangers pointing to the next product."
Virole's attempt to explain Harry Potter's appeal started with the premise that "To live an exceptional life and to be the child of an extraordinary, but vanished, couple is a universal fantasy linked to the Oedipus complex." He also explained that Rowling's construction of a virtual universe, "a society with its own rules and structures," appeals to children, and that her writing style, "stringing together short narrative sequences laid out in a determinate and clearly defined spatiotemporal sequence" is perfect for a generation "raised on a constant flux of images and for whom quickness of mental picture-painting and focus on action" are key. Like other myths, he noted, Potter's tale is that of "an existential journey through a symbolic world."
While critics continued to debate the books' merits and decipher their appeal, Rowling's series continued, becoming a global obsession. In Edinburgh, Scotland, city officials even debated whether to erect a statue in Rowling's honor. As far as Potter's future, according to January Online, Rowling told an audience composed mainly of young fans at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2004: "He will survive to book seven, mainly because I don't want to be strangled by you lot, but I don't want to say whether he grows any older than that." After Rowling admitted in October 2004 that another character in the series would die in the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, London bookies placed odds on fatality that ranged from scary for Hogwarts' headmaster Dumbledore (4 to 1) to unlikely for Potter himself (33 to 1).
Christian Century, December 5, 2001.
Europe Intelligence Wire, August 24, 2004.
People, January 14, 2002.
Queen's Quarterly, Fall 2004.
Variety, August 9, 2004.
World Literature Today, Winter 2002.
"J. K. Rowling," January Online,http://www.januarymagazine.com/profiles/jkrowling.html (January 2, 2005).
"Meet J. K. Rowling," Scholastic Web site,http://www.scholastic.com/harrypotter/author (January 2, 2005).
Rowling, J. K.
J. K. Rowling
BORN: 1965, Chipping Sodbury, England
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
J. K. Rowling is widely acclaimed for her novels depicting the adventures of the beloved character Harry Potter, a brave young wizard. She caused a sensation with her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), which sold out of its first edition quickly and has been reprinted many times. The first Harry Potter book established a firm reputation for Rowling, both within literary circles and in the minds of the reading public. With seven Harry Potter books appearing in sixty-three languages, Rowling is one of the best-loved and most-read contemporary authors.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Childhood in the Countryside Joanne Rowling was born on July 31, 1965, in Chipping Sodbury, in Southwest England. She grew up with a younger sister and a distinct inclination toward storytelling. Rabbits played a large part in her early tales, for Rowling and her sister
badly wanted a rabbit. Her first story, at age five or six, involved a rabbit dubbed, quite logically, Rabbit, who got the measles and visited his friend, a giant bee named Miss Bee.
Two moves took the Rowling family to the town of Tutshill near Chepstow in the Forest of Dean along the border of England and Wales. This brought a long-time country-living dream to fruition for Rowling's parents, both Londoners, and the nine-year-old Rowling learned to love the countryside in this new abode. She and her sister could wander unsupervised amid the fields and play along the River Wye.
From Tutshill Primary, Rowling went to Wyedean Comprehensive School. Rowling confided to Roxanne Feldman in an interview in School Library Journal that the character of Harry's friend Hermione is loosely based on herself at age eleven. English was her favorite subject. She created serial stories for her friends at lunchtime, and writing became more a compulsion and less of a hobby in her teenage years.
Rowling attended college at Exeter University, where she studied French and the classics. Upon graduation, she moved to London and found work as a researcher and secretary. During this time, she used the computer to type up her own stories during quiet times. At age twenty-six, Rowling gave up her office job to teach English in Portugal. It was there that she began yet another story that might become a book, about a boy who is sent off to wizard school. All during the time she spent in Portugal, Rowling took notes on this story and added bits and pieces to the life of her protagonist, Harry Potter. In Portugal she also met Jorge Arantes, the man who became her first husband and with whom she had a daughter; Arantes and Rowling divorced in 1995.
Harry Potter Brings Success In late 1994, Rowling returned to the United Kingdom with her daughter and settled in Edinburgh. Unemployed and poor, the single mother used this time to complete her first novel, working on the manuscript in local coffee shops. Rowling sent her manuscript to several publishers before Bloomsbury published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997.
Even before its British release, publishers in the United States were vying for rights to the book. Scholastic won the bid, paying one hundred thousand dollars, the most ever for a first novel by a children's book author. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (released as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the United States) rose to the top of the children's best-seller lists in 1998 and was later made into a popular movie. Its sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), went to the top of the adult best-seller lists in England shortly after its release, and consumer demand in the United States for the book ushered in a new era in Internet sales of books internationally, fueling concern over publishing rights. Rowling continued her saga of seven Harry Potter books, spinning a magical blend of wit and fantasy.
From Rags to Riches Rowling has won numerous awards and is now employed full-time in her life's ambition as a writer, earning an estimated $1 billion for her stories about the boy wizard. Rowling remarried in 2001 and now lives in a mansion in Scotland with her husband and three children.
Works in Literary Context Fantasy and a Special Hero
Rowling's work follows a long tradition in literature that uses fantasy worlds to explore morality and human frailty in real life. Perhaps the archetypal novel for the negotiation of morality in the realm of fantasy is Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote, while more recent examples would include the fiction of authors ranging from Isaac Asimov and Ursula Le Guin to Kurt Vonnegut. Accordingly, it is through the adventures of a romantic hero, Harry Potter, who is caught in the conflicts between good and evil, that Rowling expresses her views on morality in a sociocultural context.
In explaining the nearly universal appeal of Rowling's books, critics cite common archetypal themes. Harry Potter is a young version of the classic romantic hero. He is an orphan who has led a miserable life with the Dursley family, his maternal aunt and uncle. Ever since Harry arrived unannounced at their doorstep, the Dursleys have been put out, as has their vile son, Dudley. Harry has taken up residence in a broom closet under the stairs, been bullied at school, and mistreated by the Dursleys. Small, skinny, and bespectacled, Harry is an unlikely hero. The only thing physically interesting about Harry is the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
In each novel Harry faces a quest, although the quest often reveals itself slowly throughout the course of the book. Harry encounters adversaries and helpers along his way—some human and some magical. While he is at times outsmarted, he rarely fails to rebound and is consistently aided by his friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Some critics have asserted that the books are formulaic because of these basic and universal themes, but Rowling's writing style and imaginative plot twists have maintained readers' interest.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Rowling's famous contemporaries include:
Vladimir Putin (1952–): This Russian politician succeeded Boris Yeltsin and served as second president of the Russian Federation from 2000 until 2008.
George W. Bush (1946–): This Republican politician served as the forty-sixth governor of Texas and the forty-third president of the United States.
Stephen King (1947–): An immensely popular American author of horror fiction who blends elements of the traditional gothic tale with those of the modern psychological thriller, detective, and science fiction genres.
Works in Critical Context
From the first volume, critics have been nearly unanimous in their praise of the Harry Potter books. With each subsequent novel, and concurrent with the aging process for the main characters, Rowling's themes have become darker and her plots more challenging to follow. Intricate plotlines and more mature subject matter parallel the growing complexity of Harry and his relationships with friends as they move through adolescence toward adulthood.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Most critics have been approving of Rowling's novels. According to Contemporary Authors, Amanda Craig from New Statesman “loved” the first Harry Potter book and hailed Rowling's tale as full of “zest and brio.” Lee Siegel of the New Republic found the book appealing because of Rowling's “wholehearted absorption in her universe.” Siegel also praised Rowling's characterization, noting, “Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron Weasley are good kids, but they are not innocent, Wordsworthian kids. They usually do the right thing, and they always feel bad when they do the wrong thing.” Other critics believe the appeal lies in the rich imaginary world that Rowling creates. As the children of this generation read these books with fascination and love, they will pass the stories on to their children.
Responses to Literature
- Compare and contrast the nonmagical human Muggles and the magical members of Hogwarts School in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. What role do the similarities and difference between these two worlds play in furthering the novel's themes?
- Recall the role of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. What do you learn about Harry during his encounter with it? Support your conclusions with evidence from the text.
- Discuss the prejudice against the members of the house of Slytherin in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. What problems does this prejudice cause, and why?
- Many of the characters in the Harry Potter series have names that seem to describe their personalities in some way. Make a list of ten names you think are especially fitting for their characters and, using examples from the texts, explain how you made your choices. Now make up a name for yourself. Explain the process you went through to choose the name and why it fits you.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Harry is a young romantic hero. In each novel he faces a quest, battles evil, and ultimately succeeds. Other works that feature romantic heroes include:
Candide (1759), a novel by Voltaire. Considered by many to be part of the Western canon of great literature, this work explores the human condition and contains themes of travel and quest.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), a novel by L. Frank Baum. In this story, Dorothy, a girl from Kansas, undertakes a journey down the yellow brick road to find her way home after a tornado lands her house in another dimension.
The Lord of the Rings (1954 and 1955), a novel trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. In this high-fantasy epic, the story's protagonist and romantic hero, Frodo Baggins, embarks on a quest to destroy a ring, an artifact of malevolent power.
The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (1759), a nov-ella by Samuel Johnson. In this novella, an adventurous prince sets off with his sister and an adviser in search of happiness.
Bierman, Valerie. “Working from Home.” Carousel (Summer 1998): 23.
Feldman, Roxanne. “The Truth about Harry.” School Library Journal (September 1999): 137–39.
Gray, Paul. “Wild About Harry.” Time (1999): 67–72.
Maguire, Gregory. “Lord of the Golden Snitch.” New York Times Book Review (September 5, 1999): 12.
Maslin, Janet. “At Last, The Wizard Gets Back to School.” New York Times (July 10, 2000): B1–B6.
Power, Carla. “A Literary Sorceress.” Newsweek (December 7, 1998): 79.
Turton, Rayma. “Review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.” Magpies (March 1999).
Winerip, Michael. “Review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.” New York Times Book Review (February 14, 1999): 26.
Rowling, J. K.
J. K. Rowling
Born: July 31, 1965
Chipping Sodbury, England
J. K. Rowling is an English author of novels for young people, and caused an overnight sensation with her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (… Sorceror's Stone in the United States) , which rose to the top of the children's best-seller lists in 1998. Even before publication, publishers in the United States were competing for rights to the book, with the top bidder paying one hundred thousand dollars—the most ever for a first novel by a children's book author.
A British upbringing
Born near Bristol, England, Joanne K. Rowling grew up with a younger sister and an intense interest in storytelling. Rabbits played a large part in her early tales, for Rowling and her sister badly wanted a rabbit. Her first story, at age five or six, involved a rabbit named, quite logically, Rabbit, who got the measles (a contagious virus that occurs in children) and visited his friend, a giant bee named Miss Bee. Rowling said in J. K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter, "Ever since Rabbit and Miss Bee, I have wanted to be a writer, though I rarely told anyone so. I was afraid they'd tell me I didn't have a hope."
Two moves took the Rowling family eventually to the town of Tutshill near Chepstow in the Forest of Dean along the border of England and Wales. This brought a longtime country-living dream to reality for Rowling's parents, both Londoners, and the nine-yearold Rowling learned to love the countryside. She and her sister could wander unsupervised amid the fields and play along the River Wye. Rowling once noted that the only problem with her new life was school. It was an old-fashioned school with roll-top desks and a teacher who frightened Rowling.
From Tutshill Primary, Rowling went to Wyedean Comprehensive School. A quiet and unathletic child, English was her favorite subject, and she created stories for her friends at lunchtime, tales involving heroic deeds. Contact lenses soon sorted out any feelings of inferiority in the young Rowling; writing became more impulsive and less of a hobby in her teenage years. Attending Exeter University, Rowling studied French after her parents had advised her that bilingualism (speaking two languages) would lead to a successful career as a secretary.
Working at Amnesty International, Rowling discovered one thing to like about life as a secretary: she could use the computer to type up her own stories during quiet times. At age twenty-six, Rowling gave up her office job to teach English in Portugal. It was there that she began yet another story that might become a book, about a boy who is sent off to wizard school. All during the time she spent in Portugal, Rowling took notes on this story and added bits and pieces to the life of her main character, Harry Potter. In Portugal she also met the man who became her husband, and they had a daughter. They later got divorced.
Of naps and "Harry Potter"
Back in England, Rowling decided to settle in Edinburgh and prepared to raise her daughter as a single mother. Accepting a job as a French teacher, she set herself a goal: to finish her novel before her teaching job began. This was no easy task with an active toddler in hand. Rowling confined her writing to her daughter's nap time, much of it spent in coffee-houses where the understanding management allowed her space for her papers. She was able to send off her typed manuscript to two publishers before beginning her teaching post, but it was not until several months later that the happy news arrived: her book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, would be published in England. And then a few months later, the American rights were bought for an amazing price, and Rowling said good-bye to teaching.
Harry Potter, an orphan, has led a miserable life with the Dursley family, his aunt, uncle, and cousin, who force him to live in a broom closet under the stairs. Small, skinny, and wearing glasses, Harry is an unlikely hero. The only thing physically interesting about Harry is the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. One day Harry gets a letter telling him that he has been admitted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Thus begins the magical story of Harry Potter. Rayma Turton in Magpies called the book "a ripping yarn," and a "school story with a twist."
Sequels prove equally popular
Even as enthusiastic reviews were pouring in from America, Rowling's second installment of the "Harry Potter" saga, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was published in England to another rave review. The third installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, begins when Harry is thirteen and starting his third year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry's life-threatening adventures in The Prisoner of Azkaban, the fourth Harry Potter novel, indicated a subtle but distinct shift away from the lightheartedness that characterizes the first two novels. Such a shift was "inevitable," Rowling admitted in a School Library Journal interview. "If you are writing about Good and Evil, there comes a point where you have to get serious."
In November 2001, Harry Potter gained even more fame when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone graced the big screen as a major motion picture. Rowling's magical creations cast a spell over theatergoers as the movie was both a commercial and critical success. Rowling lives in Scotland with her daughter, Jessica, and second husband, Neil Murray, whom she married in December 2000. She is currently working on the remaining novels in the "Harry Potter" series.
For More Information
Chippendale, Lisa A. Triumph of the Imagination: The Story of Writer J. K. Rowling. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.
Compson, William. J. K. Rowling. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2002.
Shapiro, Marc. J. K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000.
Steffens, Bradley. J. K. Rowling. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2002.