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The Story Behind J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series

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Joanne “Joe” Rowling was born near Bristol, England, in 1965. She

attended local schools and “Hermione is loosely based on me—at age

11,” she has said. She earned a B.A. in English and Classics at the

University of Exeter and in 1990, while on a delayed train trip, jotted

down notes about a young boy attending a school of wizardry. In 1994

she moved to Edinborough, Scotland, to be near her sister. Divorced,

unemployed, and living on state benefits, she completed her first

novel, writing in local cafés because she would take her daughter

Jessica out for walks and, when she fell asleep, would duck into the

nearest café and continue the story.


She completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1995 and

found an agent who submitted the manuscript to twelve publishers,

all of whom rejected it. The thirteenth, a small publisher in

Bloomsbury, accepted it because the eight-year-old daughter of the

chairman read the first chapter and “demanded the next.” Rowling

received an advance of 1,500 pounds, about the same number of

dollars at that time.


The book was published in 1997 with a first printing of one thousand

copies, five hundred of which were distributed free to libraries.

Such copies now sell for between $25,000 and $35,000. Rowling

received a grant from the Scottish Arts Council of 8,000 pounds to

allow her to go on writing, and in fact that first book was named

British Children’s Book of the Year. It was published in the United

States in 1998 by Scholastic after they had won an auction. Over the

author’s protests, Scholastic changed the name of the book to Harry

Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.


The seventh and last of the Harry Potter series was published on

July 21, 2007, and sold more than 250,000 copies in the first 24 hours.

More than eight million copies have been sold all told, and J.K.

Rowling is now the wealthiest woman writer in history, with a net

worth for the books alone estimated at more than eight billion

dollars. Well, in my humble opinion “Joe” Rowling deserves every

penny of it. The books have gotten better and better as time has gone

on, and the last—I truly hope it is the last—is the best of all. I read

it through in the first four days and then joined John and Sally and

our two grandchildren, Sam and Charlie, while they read the last

hundred pages out loud to one another. We were aware that many

thousands of people were doing the same thing at the same time.

Maybe half of them were youngsters, but the other half were grownups,

even oldsters like me. It has turned out to be hard for some

grownups to admit this, but all I can say is I’m sorry for them.


Why has this extraordinary success come to Rowling? Does she

have a secret? If so, what is it?


I don’t think there is a secret. In a way, she does what all authors

of novels, and especially series of novels, do: She imagines a situation

and invents characters and events. She creates a world, peoples it,

describes it, makes us care about it. She tells good stories, being sure

to build suspense. She leaves us hungry for more, which is what the

best series do.


Rowling’s tale opens in a special school where students are taught

about magic—what it is and how to do it. It isn’t easy to get to this

school, because you have to know a secret place where you can board

a special train. When you arrive at the school you find that it too is

special, secret. Not just anyone can go there. That’s exciting. It’s a

good start.


The characters are also interesting, but not unique. There is a girl

and two boys; they start as children and grow up as seven years pass.

There are families and one of the boys finally falls in love with the

sister of the other boy. That is good but not unique, either.

There is something very special about the first boy, though. He

has a tragic past; his parents were killed when he was a child, his

mother, when she was trying to protect him: giving up her life to save

him. This is fine; it adds a tragic note even if the characters are just

children and then teenagers.


The circumstances surrounding the death of the boy’s parents are

mysterious, which is good. Some kind of evil was involved; only very

slowly do we begin to understand that the evil is represented by a single

individual who grows more powerful as the series proceeds. In the last

book he has become all-powerful, and there is no hope left for the world.


Or so it seems, even to Harry, the boy-hero. But his courage, which

has always been remarkable, permits him to face the prospect of certain

death if he does not yield to the evil lord. Even so, he does not yield.


His courage, in the last analysis, is greater than that of his foe.

It is Harry’s beautiful courage, I think, that makes this series

unique. We accept it, we believe in it. We are frightened for him at

the end of the series; we can’t see any way out. But Harry Potter can.

~ Charles Van Doren


Written by MattAndJojang

September 13, 2011 at 8:28 pm