J.K. Rowling (July 31, 1965) (OBE); Order of the British Empire; (FRSL); The Royal Society of Literature
No one would have thought that in this day and age of computers and word processing programs that a bestselling novel would come from a manual typewriter, and that a virtually unknown female writer would capture the imagination of the children of the world. Against all odds, that is just what Joanne Rowling did when she conceived Harry Potter in 1990.
Now in 2012, J.K. Rowling, with seven bestselling novels and eight films accredited to her work, has come up from a modest flat (apartment) in Edinburgh, Scotland, to become one of the richest women in England with 400 million copies of her works sold worldwide in many languages.
The Harry Potter books are about a boy who begins live as an unwanted child in a world that he does not belong in, and is kept in the dark about his past -- and his parent’s past as well.
He is the nephew of Mrs. Petunia Dursley and Vernon Dursley, and is given a cupboard under the stairs to sleep in. The Dursley family is fully aware of Harry’s family history. Lily Potter, Harry’s mother, and James Potter, Harry’s father, were of the Wizarding World and graduates of Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. They were murdered by the mysterious Lord Voldemort. The Dursleys are “muggles” (non-magical folks). The books wind their way in and out of the world of magic concealed from the “muggle world” by magic passages and portals that only witches and wizards can access.
Magic portals, passages into a wizard’s world, a magical realm, separate but invisibly surrounding the real world, places this fantasy in the category of High Fantasy. Rowling crafted this magical world and hid it from the real world by magical means, and the muggles do not seem to notice the comings and goings of witches and wizards. This all is a product of the fertile imagination of Rowling.
All writers of fiction draw from their own experiences with inventive imagination.
Her characters are all a part of her real self: Jo Rowling, as she prefers to be addressed (she was called Joanne only if someone was angry with her -- much like my mother calling me by my full name, at those times). The magical world of J.K. Rowling filled a niche in children’s stories. It was this world of Harry James Potter, a magical place where children could identify with the characters and roll play with video games based on the story, or romp around the backyard on a boom playing Quidditch.
The most interesting of Rowling’s innovations was the game of Quidditch. The magical word of Harry Potter needed not only magic but also a uniting factor that set a stage where Harry could first stand out and become something of a star.
Harry proved to be an average student, repeatedly pointed out by Professor Snape, but proved to be a talented flying broomstick pilot. He becomes the youngest “seeker” (s Quidditch position) in a century. This also enables Harry to connect to his father who was a seeker in his time at Hogwart’s.
The fact that everyone that surrounds Harry knows more about him than he does is first pointed out by his introduction by Hagrid the half giant that the Leaky Caldron and brings Harry into the magical world by taking him to Diagon Alley and becomes one of Harry’s best friends and allies. Hagrid tells Harry why everyone that he meets in the magical world knows who he is and why. Harry is known as the “boy who lived” and why he is known by a distinctive scar on his forehead. This scar and the buying of a wand that chooses him are the readers first clue that he and Voldemort are connected in some way because the core of Harry’s wand is the same as Voldemort’s, the tail feather of a phoenix, but Rowling keeps secretes hidden from the reader and the clues are intentionally unclear. The crafting of the story line is ingeniously classical and keeps the reader wanting to know more.
Rowling used real places like King Cross Train Station and real areas of England to set her story in, she also used creatures from the mythological classics like unicorns, dragons and three headed dogs. The incantations and spell casting is mostly Latin derivatives as well as the use of the Philosopher’s Stone, owned by Nicolas Flamel. The title was changed for U.S. readers to the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Flamel was a real person, purported to be a 13th century alchemist who was successful in creating the Philosopher’s Stone and gained immortality, this assertion is weakly supported by writing attributed to him, and reported sightings of Flamel well into the 19th century. The Philosopher’s Stone not only gave long life to its owner it could turn base metals into gold. For Rowling, Flamel became a character in her first book, a friend of Dumbledore’s. The stone was turned over to Dumbledore for safekeeping, because it had become known that Voldemort wanted the Philosopher’s Stone so that he could return to human form and become immortal.
The main themes of the Harry Potter story are the power of good over evil, loyalty, and friendship, and above all a love for close friends, and humanity.
What is a good children’s book without a close circle of friends. Harry meets Ron Weasley at Kings Cross, and rides with him to Hogwart’s on the Hogwart’s Express. Hermione Granger is “muggle born” with magic abilities, a bookworm and a bit bossy and sets out to prove herself and come off as an annoying know-it-all perfectionist; the three of them together become a formidable force for good throughout the book series.
The journey that Harry and company takes is a template for life, the magic is in the friendship and willingness to sacrifice for one another, and for the greater good. The way Jo Rowling intertwines touchy subject matter in a way that children can relate to is master artistry of arcing a story. Unlike other children’s story where school is just a backdrop, a setting for the story; Hogwart’s, this Boarding School for the Magical Arts, learning is actually happening and in the classroom not in the hallways. Teachers are teaching, and the things they learn are actually used to get them out of some tight situations.
To give you an example in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a troll is let lose in Hogwart’s. Harry and Ron go to find Hermione who has retreated to the girls bathroom to bemoan her state of not being accepted by the other students and feeling friendless. Ron who earlier had been belittled by Hermione in levitation class uses what he learned from Hermione’s rather trackless way of demonstration, ends up saving the day and Hermione and Harry from the troll, and then Hermione takes the blame for them all saying she went to hunt for the troll on her own. The friendship is sealed from then on.
Rowling used pivotal points in each character’s arc. Snape at the outset was seen as villainous, spy, double agent. Openly odious, or seemingly so towards Harry, but Snape does Harry a favor, although it seems not to be at the time by putting Harry in his place, as just another student. “It would seem that celebrity is not everything.” Snape is set up to be an arch-enemy but turns out to be one of Harry’s protectors in the end by knowingly sacrificing himself to enable Harry to fulfill his destiny by miss-information and redirecting Harry’s enemies in ways that are not so clear at first, all to honor his love for Lily whom James Potter stole away from him.
What we come to realize is that this trio of young heroes are different facets of what other writers would have folded into one Hero-type. In doing this triple personality Arco-type Rowling has given each reader a character that the reader can identify with, and a wonderful world that they as readers can escape.
One other point that I would like to bring up is that most book sequels lose steam as they, go on and on, most are not worth reading past book three. But Rowling defied the odds by keeping her secrets about Harry and the Dark Lord and on the sub-plots who was going to end up with whom, and what was Severus Snape’s connection to Harry’s past.
Jo Rowling most likely did not start off with the intention of starting an industry, but that is what has happened with the Harry Potter Franchise, movies, and video games, and a theme park, and more to come I am sure. This must all seem like magic in itself, but we as humans have used magic as an explanation forever for almost everything we found hard to explain. J.K. Rowling just made it child’s play for all of us to enjoy.