Harry Potter fantasy books were catapulted to fame at the turn of the millennium, claiming four of the top five spots in 2000 best-seller lists; by May 2001, 100 million copies of the books had been sold, and by July of that year there were a remarkable 722 Harry Potter clubs on the Yahoo Internet search engine. Harry Potter brought enormous attention to the author J. K. Rowling and to young adult fantasy fiction. Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born in Bristol, England, in 1966. Her family, including a younger sister, moved to Winterbourne, where she spent her childhood
years. When she was nine, they moved again, to Tutshill near Chepstow in the Forest of Dean. The author attended a strict, traditional school for her early education. She went on to Wyedean Comprehensive high school, where her favorite subject was English. She was known for making up and telling her own stories. At Exeter University she earned a degree in French, after which she spent a year studying in Paris then went to work in London for Amnesty International as a researcher and secretary. She taught English as a second language in Portugal and married a Portuguese
television journalist, but they later divorced. She began to write sporadically beginning in the summer of 1990. While riding on a train one day, she conceived the idea for Harry Potter. She hastily jotted notes. Rowling was raising a child and living on public assistance at the time. She couldn’t afford to hire a babysitter. She took her daughter with her to a restaurant, and sipped coffee as she wrote. She conceived a seven-book fantasy series that would follow the adventures of a wizard-in-training. Rowling had secured a position teaching French when her first Potter book was accepted for publication.
With the sale of American rights, she quit her job so she could write full-time. The books take place at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry, a wide-eyed orphan, has to contend with miserable school bullies and the evil Lord Voldemort. The stories are rich in magic powers, growing pains, rivalries and friendships, differences and losses. “The 35-year-old author, the most famous single mother in Britain (she has a six-year-old daughter), is highly inventive, funny, a fine plotter and a superb narrator,” in the view of Brian Bethune, Maclean’s (2000).
“Her ability to make the parts that are supposed to be exciting actually so—a much more difficult art than it sounds—may be unmatched among her contemporaries. ” 267 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) had a 5. 7-million copy first print run— the largest ever for a hardcover book in English. Rowling always dreamed of being a writer. “The first time I saw my book on sale was better than receiving any literary award! ” she exclaimed in an interview on the Barnes and Noble Web site (2001). “I wanted to sneak it off the shelf and sign it, but I
was worried I’d be told off for ruining the books, so I didn’t. ” Rowling said she wrote the kind of books she enjoyed reading when she was a girl—and was dumbfounded at their popularity. “I didn’t expect lots of people to like them, in fact, I never really thought much past getting them published,” she said in a Stories from the Web interview (2001). “I admire bravery above almost very other characteristic,” the author told Time magazine in 2000. “Bravery is a very glamorous virtue, but I’m talking bravery in all sorts of places. It was brave of Harry to answer back to the Dursleys [his aunt and uncle];
they had all the cards, and he was standing up for himself even then. That’s why I love him so much. He’s a fighter. ” While her success would be extremely difficult to duplicate, Rowling offered encouragement to new writers in the barnesandnoble. com interview. “I would say, ‘Persevere. ’ If everyone’s turned you down, then it’s time to try writing something else . . . and if that doesn’t succeed it might be time to think about a different career. But some great writers had lots of books rejected before they got published, so don’t lose heart. ”
Rowling intends to have Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, and others mature in the books. She has already written the last chapter of the last book in the series—now she just has to get there. To tide over fans between books, she put out Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the proceeds of which will go to Comic Relief U. K. , a charity that supports famine relief and other projects in Africa. Amid the hoopla, Harry Potter has his doubters. For example, detractor Harold Bloom amassed a 563-page collection, Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent
Children of All Ages, to counter what he told the Hartford Courant in 2001 were “badly written and unhealthy” Harry Potter books. Holy Family Catholic School in Rockford, Illinois, banned the books from its libraries because its administrators felt they gave too positive a twist on witchcraft and astrology. Of course, other young adult authors including Madeleine L’Engle have been challenged for the same things in the past. Christian Century Foundation, on the other hand, reported in Christian Century (1999): “we strongly doubt that it [the magic] fosters an attachment to evil powers.
Harry Potter’s world, in any case, is a moral one: there are clear differences between good wizards and evil ones, and the virtues of courage and generosity are pitted against the vices of pride and spitefulness. Though Rowling’s world lacks the theological weight of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles or the solemnity of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it is a marvelous and witty invention. ” The books are rife with unusual names, some of which are made up (Quidditch and Muggle), some of which come from real sources (Hedwig was a saint,
Dumbledore is an Old English word for bumblebee). Many unusual words from the books have entered our language, observed Jeffry McQuain in the New York Times Magazine (2001), although how long they remain in vogue may depend on how long the books retain their incredible popularity. 268 J. K. Rowling The 2001 motion picture Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone pleased Rowling, bringing to life characters and situations she had seen in her head for years. Even with Harry Potter’s popularity, Rowling leads a quiet life. Because she grew
up in poverty, the main advantage of having a good income now is one of financial security. She does not have a driver’s license, so she has not bought a new car. She’s not interested in flying, so has not acquired a helicopter. “I’m grateful for every day . . . that I’m not worried about money,” she told Malcolm Jones in Newsweek (2000). Where did her success come from? It was a combination of things that clicked with Rowling’s stories, in the view of Connie C. Rockman (Eighth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, 2000), who complimented the Harry Potter books for “the
fast-paced cliffhanger action, the sparkling humor, the Dickensian names. ” The author herself summed it up well for Book Links (1999): “The book is really about the power of the imagination. What Harry is learning to do is to develop his full potential. Wizardry is just the analogy I use. ” Works by the Author Novels for Young Adults Harry Potter Series Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)