It started when the six-year-old girl wrote about a rabbit named Rabbit. Rabbit had the measles. Rabbit went to go see his friend Miss Bee.
Her mother insisted, go get it published.
The girl contemplated her mother’s words. What an odd expectation and recommendation to give to a child. The child would be rather reserved about her writing dreams, but her mother’s tease rang both joking and urging.
The girl’s name was Joanne. She knew she wanted to write, but she didn’t know then she’d be the creator of new fantastical realms and the millions of hearts she’d capture. She never published the story of the measles-afflicted Rabbit, but it became the remnant of a memory divulged in interviews in her adulthood.
The young introverted Joanne Rowling was born in Chipping Sodury near Bristol, England on July, 31st 1965. She was the daughter of Anne and Peter. Anne was a science technician at Wyedean Comprehensive and Peter was an aircraft engineer at the Rolls Royce factory. The technician met the engineer at King’s Cross Station. Since Anne was shivering, Peter shared half of his coat. One year later, they married. They didn’t know their first meeting spot would resurface in their daughter’s books.
As average freckled bespectacled girl, Joanne considered books to be her life. Although bookishly smart, Joanne had rather poor marks and found school life quite nightmarish as any other ordinary kid. Bullies, even her own friends, teasingly called her “Rowling pin.” She didn’t think too highly of her name, but a name like Harry Potter was the name that rolled off her tongue.
For all her misgivings with school, she did enjoy her teachers, figures she’d pay tribute to in her later works. They would walk Joanne’s pages as the magical professors who mentored young Harry Potter. One favorite headmaster would be the inspiration for the beloved elderly headmaster Albus Dumbledore, who gave Potter warm paternal advice. In contrast, Joanne had a particular disdain for a math teacher that separated the “smart” and “non-smart” in the classroom and slotted Joanne into the latter side. This teacher would become the spiteful Severus Snape, Harry’s stern potion master with a mysterious past.
Her introverted childhood was fairly normal. She didn’t socialize too much and didn’t really get into sports. She snapped photos out of a camera given by her father. When she was out of stranger’s eyes, she exercised bossiness toward her sister. She had a friend named Sean who encouraged her to write. She would pay her homage to Sean when creating the character of Ron Weasley, Harry’s devoted redhaired friend. In the meantime, Joanne would also be the model for Hermione Granger, Harry’s studious and somewhat boastful friend, after her own bossy and bookish qualities.
After a rejection from the Oxford University, Rowling would attend the University of Exeter and enroll in French and Classic studies at her parent’s urgings. While she was at it, she perused through the books of J.R.R Tolkien and Charles Dickens and overclocked her books into overdue status (about 50 pounds late fees accumulated). Before she started to dive deeper into the education field, she had served as a bilingual secretary at the Amnesty International. Although Joanne enjoyed the privilege of having spare time on a computer to type up stories, she self-depreciated herself as a horrible not-so-organized secretary.
In her head, a story would take shape, a story about a school of wizards and witches. It started on a delayed five-hour train trip from Manchester to London with a boyfriend to hunt for a flat. Unfortunately, her pen did not work, but drat, she was too shy to ask for an ink-filled pen. But even unwritten down, the contents that floated in her head was the seed of an idea, a burgeoning labor of love that would find its way on paper. Once she was out of that train, she wrote what she could.
After a fight with a boyfriend, she felt she had to conjure the idea of a certain sport. A sport was a thing that held society together so people can congregate, she thought. So she whipped up the idea of a game done on soring broomsticks and flying balls. It would essentially be the football of the wizarding world: Quidditch, Harry’s favorite wizarding activity.
The tale of Harry Potter would not be the first work she attempted. She previously tried writing at least two adult novels, perhaps on the secretarial computer during her stint at the Amnesty International. However, Harry Potter was at the forefront of her conscience. She didn’t bear much concern for the concept of genre. Her story would have magic and witches, but she didn’t care much for the “fantasy” label at the time. After all, an emerging author’s early concern would be “getting it done” over figuring out how to sell and market the work.
Death of Her Mother
Her mother Anne became diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 35. Anne endured long enough that Joanne couldn’t process that her mother might leave so soon.
After a 10-year struggle, Anne Rowling succumbed at age of 45. Joanne received the news via her father’s phone call. Anne was a non-smoker and fit. The Rowlings could not imagine loosing her so soon. Anne would never know of her daughter’s success, nor would she ever know how much she drove Joanne’s writing.
From the beginning of the story outlines, Harry Potter’s parents had been deceased. But it was the loss of her mother that made her feel deeply for the absence of Harry’s parents and her grief bleed into the pages.
In the chapter “Mirror of Erised” (“Erised” is “desire” spelled backwards), Harry discovers a magical mirror that reveals his deepest desires. He sees himself and a beautiful red-haired mother with his eyes and a black-haired man who looks like him and a plethora of other relatives standing beyond him. Astonished, he realizes that the red-haired woman and the black-haired man are his mother and father. Up to this point, he hasn’t honestly grieved too much for his parents since he barely knew them. Still, he found himself sneaking to the magical mirror to see their smiling faces again. This was one of Rowling’s favorite chapters to write. She imagined herself, side-by-side with her mother, once more.
The ensuing depression and grief also inspired the concept of the Dementors, hooded, cloaked ghastly figures that suck the happiness of unfortunate victims until they extracted their entire souls. Rowling felt her soul draining out of her. Her depression was her Dementor.
One day, Rowling returned to her apartment to find it pillaged and ransacked. She could not recover the stolen sentimental objects that her mother bequeathed to her. But the robbers missed something of value: a box containing the first draft of Harry Potter.
First Marriage, Divorce, Single Motherhood in Edinburgh
In the wake of Anne’s death and the pilfering of her apartment, life had to move on and Joanne needed a change of air.
So Rowling ventured to Portugal to teach English. After 18 months in Portugal, Joanne believed she met the one. In a bar, she met Portugal television journalism Jorge Arantes and they bonded over their fondness for Jane Austen literature. After what sources claimed was a whirlwind romance, they married.
However, their marriage would be wrought with conflict and argumentative episodes. Rowling suffered a miscarriage before the birth of her first child Jessica. Then a messy divorce happened. Although Rowling has been hush-hush about many aspects of her first marriage, it was tragically inferable by biographers and journalists that domestic abuse had been the factor in the separation. She had to file a divorce and restraining order when he attempted to seek her out in another country. With her infant daughter in her arms, Rowling would duck in Edinburgh, Scotland to be near her sister.
While training at the University of Edinburgh, Rowling had to live off state welfare to feed herself and her daughter. She was near homeless and depressed.
To lull her daughter to sleep, she would take her infant daughter in her buggy into the nice quaint atmosphere of various cafés, such as the Elephant House and Nicolson’s Café (owned by her brother-in-law). The single mother would write.
Years later, Rowling would explain to fans, yes, I could afford paper and pen. There were many urban legends surrounding the writing of her first draft. No, J.K. Rowling did not write her draft of Harry Potter on napkins. She also said, they probably think I wrote it on tea bags and joked about claiming she wrote them on potato peels. However, it is true she did scribble some brainstorming—the names of the sorted Houses for the school of Hogwarts—on an airplane barf bag. Some fans claimed her apartment was cold and writing in the café was an escape from the unheated conditions, but Rowling debunked it: It did have a heater, thank you very much.
The media embellishments do not downplay the struggles with poverty, insomnia, and diagnosed clinical depression—to nearly suicidal intents—and the psychological fear of living on the streets. Racked with fear for the future, every morning, she found herself surprised to wake up and find her baby breathing. However, that barely alleviated the terror of worse things to happen. She carried the burden of impoverished shame. She pushed on and didn’t stop filling her pages. Her later writing advice was this: accept the reality that your failures have happened because that’s the road to success.
Every experienced author must be equipped to face rejection letters. Rejections can be considered milestones, a sign that the work was finished and initiative was being taken. Still, it would be devastating that every rejection letter would mean no money coming in. Rowling naturally underwent many rejections, many of which found her work too long and not-so interesting for children.
The “nice” letter from the Constable & Robinson house provided her pitching tips (“don’t give away the ending!”) and kindly, but regretfully, informed her that they evaluated her work as not commercially viable, perhaps a foreboding that while they saw substance within her writing, they didn’t believe it would attract sales.
Years after her success, Rowling would post her archived rejection letters in the public view on Twitter, knowing the inspiration it would stir within her writer fans. She even made sure to remove the signatures of those who wrote the rejections, citing these were for “inspiration, not revenge” to educate her readers.
Bloomsbury was about to stamp a rejection. Chairman Nigel Newman confessed he did not read the provided sample chapters at home. Newman didn’t throw the draft in the trash-can. Instead, he handed the chapters to his little girl Alice. Alice finished it and nagged her father. He wasn’t interested, but his little girl was. She was just about the right age for that book. Alice judged that this story was better than the ones he kept getting.
Urged on by his daughter, Newman acted on his second thought. Thus, his initial thought of a Bloomsbury rejection was revoked. He will publish this magical book by Joanne Rowling that his daughter was so fond of. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for American audience) will see the bookshelves.
Upon acceptance, Rowling spirits soared. However, for marketability purposes, Joanne Rowling couldn’t be “Joanne Rowling.” She had to assume a pen name to hide the femininity of “Joanne Rowling,” since it had been presumed that female authors would not sell as big as male writers and shy away the male demographic of readers. In need of a publication and the agreed advance of 1500 pounds, Joanne agreed to be J.K. Rowling with the K for “Kathleen” in tribute to a grandmother (as she was not provided a middle name at birth). Without the visible first name “Joanne,” buyers couldn’t tell from first sight if “J.K.” was a woman writer.
Though once she was successful, she would find herself in enough of a high position to evoke awareness of the publication sexism. That said, her agreement with the terms was an obligatory strategic move to alleviate her poverty and the circumstances for her daughter. However, before she knew of the success, she had to continue her teaching training. With her advance 1500 pounds savings, she couldn’t expect a children’s book to rake her in the income and groceries funding through royalties alone.
On June 1997, a thousand copies were printed for the store bookshelves and public libraries. 300 million sales later, Rowling was able to say goodbye to not only poverty but also teaching. She said goodbye to her small flat, settled her daughter into a new home, and spoiled her with a rabbit, cat, and guinea pig to compensate for the years of poverty.
To this day, the Elephant House café has a sign hung-up in view of tourists: the Birthplace of Harry Potter. Rowling may have moved out of poverty, but the memory of her suffering and struggles as she wrote her first draft had been preserved and immortalized. Joanne would later revisit the site of her misery; the old flat where she feared she and her baby girl would languish to death. She was touched to find that the later owner of her former flat, who granted her permission to visit the place, had Harry Potter books on the shelf.
Both British boys and girls loved her books. The American boys and girls begin to pick it up. Their parents followed suit.
The Philosopher’s Stone and Other Adventures
Harry Potter, known as the Boy Who Lived, is introduced as a sleeping bundle in the arms of the friendly half-giant Hagrid, who ventured down Private Alley on a magical motorcycle to meet with the old headmaster Albus Dumbledore. The notorious dark wizard Voldemort had murdered the child’s parents.
The fearful public calls this dark wizard, the “You-Know-Who,” but miraculously, Harry had survived You-Know-Who’s murder attempt. As a souvenir of a traumatic event he would never remember, the boy’s forehead bore the zig-zag of a scar, the only wound that the murderer could inflict on the infant. To hide him from the threat of You-Know-Who, Dumbledore concluded Harry should best stay with his extended relatives, the magical-repellent and neglectful Dursley, who are well aware of Harry’s magical background and tried to repress the boy’s magical outbursts.
But then a trove of letters delivered by owls gives Harry this revelation: He’s a wizard and he’s invited to a wizarding school known as Hogwarts at the invitation of Dumbledore. He packs up his trunks, shops for his wand and textbooks, acquires his pet owl Hedwig, and ventures to King’s Cross Station. On the train, he meets his life-long allies, Ron and Hermione. He also meets his rival, Draco Malfoy.
That was the story that charmed young readers. Harry’s venture to the King’s Cross-station was only the beginning. The first book won the hearts of millions and has been credited with winning children back into the hobby of reading in an era where parents where concerned children were too swept up in computers and television.
Even the adults, parents of the book’s children audience, found themselves bewitched by the writing. They found the world and its design whimsical and creative. It had an intellectual depth without being pedantic or didactic. It has a balance be- tween dark seriousness and deadpan wit. Literary intellectuals also enjoyed perusing Rowling’s allusions to British folklore and literature—such as the Philosopher Stone story—and snips of the Latin language in the made-up words of spells.
The books covered a range of heavy historical and political allusions, even in the Nazi mindsets in the concept of the “Purebloods,” those of wizard birth and the “Muggle-born,” magical humans, like Hermione, born to non-magical parents. Harry’s enemies tended to adhere to a ridiculous extremist Pureblood Nazi-esque creed: Anyone of Muggle blood is inferior to us. Rowling tackled themes of dis- crimination and prejudice, literary lessons applied to the real-world.
Rowling defied all expectations of children’s books. The public usually considered children’s books to be short, underestimating how much a child’s mind can absorb, but Rowling’s plans and popularity quashed this notion. Her series was slated to be seven books long, covering the school years of Harry’s life before he reached the brink of adulthood.
She would complete her follow-up Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and continue from there.
Chamber of Secrets was deemed a worthy successor. It had darkness and whimsy as Harry and friends solved a mysterious force slithering within Hogwarts walls and threatening the populace. It resumed the story of the first book, opening up a bit of the supporting characters’ backstory. Although Chambers was considered the most stand-alone, supplementary addition in the series, elements in this book served as a set-up and Chekhov’s guns for the later mysteries in the forthcoming books and dangers within and outside of Hogwarts.
The third book The Prisoner of Azkaban would mark the milestone of a turning point. Though dark to begin with, Harry Potter’s realm shifted slowly away from its light-hearted tone and explored the grimier edges of the world. Harry becomes faced with an escaped convict who may have been involved in the murder of Harry’s parents.
Though cited to be a fan favorite due to its heavy emphasis on coming-of-age elements, Azkaban proved to be challenging content-wise. According to Rowling, she had grown sick of reading Azkaban as a stressed-out writer striving for perfection.
In a letter to an editor, she claims, “I never read either of the others over and over again when editing them, but I really had to this time.” Particularly telling, since vigilant authors would read their draft repeatedly, but even for Rowling’s standards, writing the third book was a toughie.
Three books in and Rowling took home the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize for three consecutive years and other prizes as well.
The acclaim was not the only blessing. Not only had the wealth eradicated worry over piles of bills, but also, she had plenty to give. Having multi-millions in her hands to spend, she surged with a moral obligation to the world. Her wealth teetered on and off the rank of “Richest Woman Lists” due to her mass contributions to charity groups, some founded by her. She gave to the causes involving research for Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain, in honor of her late mother.
A woman who lived out the classic “rags to reaches” tale, Joanne would give to those in need. In 2000, Joanne founded the Volant Charitable Trust for women and children in need and served as president of the One Parent Families.
The Turning Point of Darkness in the Wizarding World
The next few books got bigger. Not just in pages, but in thematic elements. Azkaban was only a hint of what was to come. As Harry grew up, so would his readers, and Rowling set out to have the series mature to catch up with the growth of her audience.
In 2000, The Goblet of Fire is the start of the books growing bulkier and bulkier in the hands of readers, not that it stopped them from devouring the pages. It also marked gruesome character deaths and violent scenes, even for the standards of the first books. Critics noted Goblet stirred the dark times of the series, as Harry gets shanghaied into a dangerous school tradition and a conspiracy to have him murdered, only for another friend to take the fall, much to his deep guilt.
Notably, Harry had to face a barrage of unwanted fame and fans and his detractors constantly projecting their own presumptions on him. Harry should be great. Harry isn’t as great as he thinks. Harry ain’t special enough to save the world. Harry’s reaction to his fame has ranged from indifference, to amused, to pestered. Harry had the weight of public pressure on his shoulders. Rowling felt the same as a celebrity author. She had to preserve her acclaimed momentum. In a world that worshipped movie actors and actresses as celebrities, Rowling was treated as a star like them.
The grapple with fame would continue into the fifth book Order of the Phoenix. Fans noted a slump period and a long three-year wait between Goblet and Phoenix.
During the slump period, the only Potter books released were minor tie-in companion books Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for the anti-poverty Comic Relief fundraiser.
Amid the press’s allegation of “writer’s block,” Rowling clarified that she had needed a break and more time. By the publication of Goblet, J.K. Rowling had more family to raise: She remarried to a doctor named Neil Murray and gave birth to two more children, David and Mackenzie. It was said that she had to disguise herself when purchasing her wedding dress for her second marriage.
With the introduction of a supporting character, the unethical tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter, Rowling used Goblet as an outlet for her frustration with the press. Rita Skeeter stalked Harry, wrote degrading stories about him and his friends, sludged her way into fabricating his love life, eavesdropped on his conversations, and acted as a general intrusive nuisance.
As Harry was with Skeeter, Rowling was fed up with the unscrupulous side of the press. Although Rowling was happy to provide interviews, she found a great annoyance when tabloid news depicted her as a bitter recluse who rejected interviews. Although true that Rowling was guarded with interviews and avoided rehearsing them in fear of sounding artificial, she shook her head at the journalists’ embellishments. Rowling, however, was more exasperated with relentless intrusion on the lives of her children, noting an incident where one of her daughters came home with a letter in her bag, written by a journalist determined to correspond with Rowling.
Harry confronted his responsibility to the world in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. When Hogwarts becomes dominated under the tyranny of Professor Dolores Umbridge—said to be modeled after the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whom Rowling was not very fond of—Harry and friend set to formulate a secret group to defeat the corruption brewing within Hogwarts.
Resonantly, Harry Potter was slotted into a role of the traditional of the troperific Chosen One, explicitly said in the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. But rather than sticking Harry Potter to an age-old prophecy cliché, it deconstructed the glamorous notion that Potter had been destined and obligated to greatness. Instead, rather, it was the public and press that pushed the Chosen One title and the mythical position upon his shoulder, much to his psychological harm. Even if he considered it his duty to carry this worldly responsibility, he wished he lived without the pressures.
In these dark editions, tear-stricken fans had written letters to Rowling. Why? Why did she kill their favorite characters?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Tear-stricken, Joanne went to a minibar and uncorked the little bottles of champagne. At the time of this intoxicating breakdown, she had been engaged in composing the climactic point of the finale. She knew the outcome, the ending, the fate of her Harry, the fate of his friends and all those dear to him. Like her fans, she could not process that everything will be over. In her words, her relationship with Potter had been “one of the longest relationships of my adult life.” How could she say goodbye to her beloved Harry?
She engaged in tough measures to prevent any leaks so no fans can get a hold of spoilers. She typed up the manuscript on a computer not attached to the Internet and only a few editors had the privileged of viewing the draft. As done in the past, she also hid the book’s Potter identity by tacking uninteresting names on the file and covers so that prying eyes can pass it by.
July 2007, the seventh installment arrives. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows casted a spell on the world and the sentiments of its fans. It was time to say goodbye to the Potter gang. It was time for Rowling to say farewell to Christopher Little, her publishing agent. Fans eagerly stuck around midnight releases parties, dressed as their favorite characters. They stayed up late with flashlights beneath the covers, reading, praying their favorite characters survived.
Favorite characters died. Favorite characters lived. Villains were slaughtered. Many hardships arose. Harry and his gang faced their final tribulations before they achieved the salvation of the wizarding world.
At the end of the final book, Harry, Hermione, and Ron reconvene at the King’s Cross-station, where their magical stories, and the stories of J. K. Rowling’s parents begun. Even if Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s story concluded, the wizarding world lived on.
Involvement in the Film Adaptations
Books and movies are both entirely different realms. Books are written in the solitude of one author’s own head. A film adaptation of a book is collaborative with the author as a participant, sometimes a bystander, in the screenwriters, actors, and directors’ behind-the-scenes choices and interpretation of its source material.
Early on, Warner Bros film studios perceived the commercial potential within the bestselling series and brought the movie rights one year after the publication of her first book, elevating Rowling’s wealth.
For a while, famous Jaws director Steven Spielberg took interest in the project, though he intended it to be animated with an American actor as Harry Potter. However, Rowling’s idea clashed with Spielberg.
Warner Bros did not wait for the series to finish up before they started production. The first movie was released in 2001 at the time the Goblet of Fire book was out and the fifth book was in progress.
Though not everything could align with her adaptational desires. She initially wanted Terry Gilliam as the director, but Warner Bros chose Chris Columbus for the first two Potter films. After being spurned for the first film, Terry Gilliam subsequently said he would turn down offers for any of the future film.
After the Chamber of Secrets, the next few movies acquired different directors, with David Yates rising to the most prominence by directing the final installments. To accommodate for the heftiness of the seventh book, The Deathly Hallows was split into a Part 1 and Part 2, a controversial choice that sparked a trend of book-to-film adaptation splitting a film into many part as opposed to compacting one book into one movie.
Much of Rowling’s wishes were respected. She adamantly wanted its British identity preserved. The films were shot on British locations with British actors. Despite Columbus’s original intent to cast an American in the titular role of Harry, Rowling pushed for her British vision. Daniel Radcliffe would become the on-screen Harry Potter. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were Ron Weasley and Hermione respectively. Rowling was even offered to cameo as Harry’s mother Lily Potter, though she refused, judging an on-screen appearance too distracting to the story. However, the would-have-been has a profound hypothetical. Imagine Rowling on screen as Harry’s mother, as she is Harry’s literary mother.
J.K. Rowling had been a standing continuity consultant on the making of the films, and would become producer of the final films, allowing her creative control. She read the scripts and passed out advice and pointed out crucial tweaks. Her most infamous suggestion (that remained a secret for some time): cut out a particular line regarding Dumbledore flirtation with a girl in his youth, since in her mind, Dumbledore was homosexual.
Pragmatically, she allowed artistic liberties to be taken, understanding that her books were lengthy and not all translatable to the proper running time limits of the live-action film medium. For example, while the books frequently uphold Harry’s emerald eyes as a poignant plot point, the blue-eyed Daniel Radcliffe couldn’t handle the strain of the needed green contacts lenses.
Since the first movie came out when much of the future books hadn’t been released, Rowling had to supervise the continuity within the film universe. Actors like Alan Rickman, playing the bullying yet emotionally complex Severus Snape, were given certain secret directions to maintain the consistency of her character’s later actions. Even Daniel Radcliffe inquired if his character had a death scene in regards to fans fear over whether Harry would make it out alive. Rowling did reveal to him that he “had a death scene” but did not expand on the actual context.
Every work of literature has its criticism, many valid, many bizarre. Most infamously, Rowling’s books (and the film adaptations) would be condemned by Christian organizations for its alleged encouragement of rebellious children and occult and witchcraft content, tacked on banned book lists, and these books have been tossed into bonfires by zealous Christians. Children from religious households attested they were forbidden from reading or watching Harry Potter until they reached a certain age, like how some children are prevented from watching PG-13 or R-rated films even when other family households do not set these standards.
Christian morale and allegories do reoccur in the wizarding world, even if said “Christianity” or “Bible” are not explicitly used or mentioned. In the final book, Harry Potter undergoes a “second coming,” seemingly rising from the death before his friends’ eyes. Bible verses appear on the graves of Harry Potter’s parents.
Though their places in the Bible are not cited, British readers will likely immediately recognize the allusions more than the Americans. Arguably, the verses can be framed within a secularized context since even the non-religious populace of Britain considered Biblical passages as a mundane part of the universal literary world.
Regardless of all religious debates, in spite of Christian groups protesting the witchcraft elements, Rowling had been a practicing church-going Christian at the time of writing Harry Potter and saw the baptism of her eldest daughter. Though her history with religion has complicated origins. In her childhood, her Church of Scotland upbringing had been rather indifferent, with a non-believing father and sister, and a not-too-committed-to-religion mother who did occasionally take Joanne church.
As Joanne entered her college phase, she became critical and exhausted of the judgmental aspects of religious organizations and her church atten- dance deteriorated. Though now, she has reached a point where she does believe and go to church. She clarified, “I believe in God, not magic.” In addition, she told her practicing Wiccan audience that she was not a witch.
While she did imbue her stories with Christian influences, it still retained a secular entertainment enough to win praises from atheist reading groups.
Several of Rowling’s Christian scholars supporters have compared her to other classic Christian fantasy writers who had otherwise magical themes in their Christian-in-spired literatures. C.S. Lewis has been cited as a childhood influence—even if she admitted in retrospective, she now found his series “preachy” as an adult.
Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy has been invoked too. Though Rowling affirmed she would never match up to the fantastical influences of Tolkien, one of her favorite authors, and what he left on British literature.
But she was confident she surpassed Tolkien in humor at least.
It would be too presumptive to assume an exact name for what Rowling currently believes now. She possessed a “God-believing” spirituality and belief in an afterlife, though she expressed ambivalence to the organization of Christianity. Whatever current emotions she has personally in her faith, no scholar can deny that the wizarding world of Harry Potter was powered by it. As a matter of fact, before the seventh book, Rowling had stayed hush-hush on her faith and explicit mentions of religion in the books, because she suspected Christian readers would guess the ending of Harry’s “second coming.”
Rowling staged a poignant scene where Harry converses with the late Albus Dumbledore in an ambiguous plane that he’s not sure whether to call an afterlife, though he’s almost sure he is wandering in an area between life and death. He inquires, “Is this real or in my head?” With Rowling’s history with faith to work off, scholars have many interpretations for Dumbledore’s cryptic reply: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on Earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Politics frequently played its role in the wizarding world, though often as a backdrop rather than the main focus. In the opening of her sixth Potter book, the Minister of Magic interacts with the non-magical British Prime Minister. This could reflect or foreshadow Rowling’s real-life friendship with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah. She told Time magazine she would have liked Gordon Brown to keep his office when his term ended.
A left-leaning woman, J.K. Rowling contributed one million pounds to the Labour Party. She criticized Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policies single parent families and donated to One Parent Families to make a point before him. She was very much glad when Gordon Brown took Blair’s Prime Minister seat in 2007.
She was fiercely against the U.K. Referendum to leave the European Union, citing her French blood, various upbringings in French and German languages, and her strong cultural ties to Portugal and France. However, in 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union via Brexit and the world’s chagrin.
Readers of the fifth Potter book could tell Rowling wasn’t very fond of obstructive bureaucrats like the pink-wearing saccharine but malicious Professor Umbridge. Reportedly, Rowling disliked her more than Voldemort.
She had her view in the United States politics, with the bonus of Presidents like Barack Obama and their First Ladies (such as Laura Bush) confessing to loving her books. Come 2016, Rowling, although a British woman, tweeted her disapproval of Donald Trump’s victory for the seat of the American presidency. An entire article covered her cutting accusatory tweets about Trump, including but not limited to, this man shouldn’t have access to nuclear codes, American shouldn’t have voted for a vocally sexist man who admitted to not paying his taxes, and “If we all hit ctrlalt-del simultaneously and pray, perhaps we can force 2016 to reboot.” She cited the parallels between the Muggle-hating Nazi-esque Voldemort and the Muslim-despising Trump.
Those political views of JK Rowling show that she did not have much knowledge of current political affairs, because Obama is labeled as the worst President of the US History, signing disaster deals to favor special interest and foreign countries. Bush, Clintons and Obama administrations are the root cause for the imminent destruction of the United States as a country, unleashing ISIS and destabilizing the world.
The Rise of “Robert Galbraith”
Naturally, despite all attachments, Rowling would need to outgrow her Potter identity and adopt new genres and writings. Even if Harry Potter would remain her legacy, she couldn’t be pigeon-holed as a children’s magical author for the Potter world for the rest of her life. Thus, began other projects that harkened back to her previous adult novel attempts in her pre-Potter days. Just because she was successful did not mean she stopped wanting to get better at writing.
The Casual Vacancy was her first published adult novel, involving the mature themes of politics and prostitution—a book she definitely hoped parents didn’t accidently buy for their Potter-happy children. It received moderately positive reviews, including a thumbs-up from famed horror author Stephen King, and would see a television drama adaptation with Joanne as the executive producer.
She considered herself blessed, noting that the Casual Vacancy would not have been published if not for her popular Potter credentials. She wielded so much power in the literary world that it would be difficult for publishers to say no to her pitches. Of course, the obvious downside would be question of credibility: Would the book have been published or sold well if its creator wasn’t so tied to Potter?
Rowling had played the news of Causal Vacancy as discreetly as she could, avoiding an auction, avoiding a bombastic announcement, avoiding actions that would trigger a colossal reader’s buying frenzy. She wouldn’t have much to lose financial-wise, but she wanted to measure its actual success and merits.
Rowling’s post-Potter era gets odder from here. She did other works surrounded by bizarre circumstances.
A security industry fellow by the name of Robert Galbraith sent in manuscripts to various publications. Like Joanne Rowling, he faced rejections letter, including one that informed him they weren’t taking any new submissions.
Later, he manages to release a book called Cuckoo’s Calling under the Little Brown publishing house. The novel centered on a man named Cormoran Strike, who solved brutal murders with the help of his trusty assistant Robin Ellacott, a la-Sherlock, and his Watson. It was a whodunit set in London.
Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the Strike series, received positive reception and was praised for a rather stellar debut. Crime writers and critics adored it. As for the public though, sales were moderate and nothing was too news worthily remarkable in the mainstream literary world. It did not ever received close to a fraction of Harry Potter’s breakout success. Galbraith was even more private than a famous author like J.K. Rowling and never popped up for interviews.
But then a rumor leaked out on Twitter. According to a tweet (now deleted), Galbraith was not what he seemed. The tweet suggested a name, the true identity of Galbraith. One journalist set out to investigate a strange claim to unmask this Galbraith.
A linguistic analysis concluded that Galbraith’s style matched the writing style of J.K. Rowling.
There also was another hint to work off. Back in 2005, two years before the conclusion of Harry Potter, Rowling told interviewer Stephen Fry that she much preferred to do her post-Potter works under a pseudonym. Though she relayed this concern to an acquaintance: But if the press gets a hold of that revelation, they would leak it within seconds. They’ll be relentless as Rita Skeeter.
Such vocal concern was an unwitting prophecy and maybe unfortunately a publicized clue.
The news came out: Robert Galbraith did not exist. J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter was Robert Galbraith.
Sales rose for Galbraith’s books. People loved Rowling more than Galbraith. However, J.K. Rowling was unmasked. Though initially accused as a publicity stunt, it worked to its commercial advantage and the publication company stepped up to assert that Rowling’s decision was made in closed-door confidentiality with a contract involved. The journalist who exposed the news and insinuated the publicity-stunt rumor eventually apologized and donated a large sum to one of Rowling’s charities. The leaks were out of Rowling’s control.
Regardless, Rowling could publicly admit that she had a certain fondness for being “Galbraith” instead of J.K. Rowling, writer of Harry Potter literature, glad to be free of pressure to match-up to her previous legacy. She had a certain strategy for choosing a “civilian security industry” career, since security workers tend to be very private and she hoped it would ward off any interest in investigating Galbraith. She picked “Robert,” after her hero Robert Kennedy.
Then she conjured up “Galbraith” from an outdated childhood wish to be named “Ella Galbraith.” A poetic irony occurred when J.K. Rowling recalled her editor, who had been unaware of her hidden identity at the time, read Cuckoo’s and remarked this: He never thought a woman would’ve wrote this. Rowling jokingly mused that she had “channeled her inner bloke.”
Untethered from the Potter hype, she had to relive a test of merits and a sense of earned success, not coat-tailing off a previous success. She may have suspected an identity reveal would have been inevitably conducted by nosy journalists and had hoped to at least enjoy Galbraith’s obscurity for a while, but she reacted good-naturedly to the public reveal.
The Strikes series was laced with its own literary challenges as a whodunit novel. Although Rowling cheerfully explored a few whodunit aspects in the Potter books, the Strikes series had elaborate mysteries so meticulous Rowling utilized color- coded spreadsheets in the planning.
Eventually, “Galbraith” wrote his follow-up Silkworm and Career of Evil. Galbraith’s name remained on those covers. His name will remain for the upcoming fourth installment.
Galbraith also looked forward to the miniseries TV adaptation and offered script consultation though decided to leave most of the artistic license to the scriptwriters.
Rowling continued to play—and savor—the role of Robert Galbraith on Galbraith’s website whenever she posted updates on the status of the Strikes series, though the profile now outright admits its pseudonym status. She kept her Potter identity and her adult novel writer persona separate.
The Wizarding World Lives On
With the commercial success, producers would find more ways to stretch the world. Wizarding World theme parks now exist in the Universal Studios in Florida and California, laden with buildings reminiscent of the movie sets: a Hogwarts and its neighboring Hogsmeade village. Hundreds of fans travelled toe the theme parks to buy tickets, wands, magic flavored jelly-beans, and butterbeers.
While Rowling did strive to design a new identity outside of her Potter world, it didn’t mean she forgo the world. After Deathly Hallows, she composed the Tales of Beetle the Bard, a book filled with Grimm-like fairy tales within the Harry Potter universe.
She would be involved in other Potter outlets, from the website design of Potter-more, to the Sony December 2012 reality game “Book of Spells.” Pottermore was a useful venue for her to post trivia and canonical explanation for small loose ends not covered in the final book: such as what career this minor character received or who married who or the backstory of this Hogwarts professor.
She also has a yet-to-be-titled encyclopedia of the wizarding world comprised of unpublished material and notes.
Rowling left the door ajar on possibilities for the wizarding world. She admitted to a previous temptation to do post-Deathly Hallows work, maybe, an eighth, ninth, or tenth book.
Most infamously in 2016, came the “eighth” installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, set in the aftermath of the seventh book and focusing on Potter and his friends’ offspring. No, it wasn’t a book. It was a play on the London stage, though it exploited the Potter popularity and the script was commercially produced for the bookshelves, placed on the forefront of the Barnes & Nobles new releases, to make the story accessible for those who couldn’t afford the trip to London or the play tickets. Although Rowling did not write it, she had the original story concept, placed it in the hands of playwrights Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, and produced it. Fans reacted with delight at the news, eager to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione resurrected on stage.
Not everything went well. During production, on Twitter, Rowling rebuffed the anger over a black woman being casted as Hermione Granger, chiding racist detractors who were adjusted to a white Hermione in the movies and books. The play was released on the London stage. Despite all hype surrounding it, critics and fans have criticized the plot and questioned its fidelity to the actual source materials and disputed its connective role to the book canon. Regardless, it is now being shipped off to a premiere in the American stage venue on Broadway and has its happy fans. Both Rowling and Warner Bros dispelled rumors of a Cursed Child film in production, though news outlet doubt whether this would stay true for long.
The Warner Bros movie universe was not done either. The executives passed Rowling an idea and she went along with it. In 2015, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them started production. Directed by David Yates (reprising his work on the last Potter films), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them starred Eddie Redmayne as the lead. Rowling’s new hero would not be a child, but the awkward gangly adult beast-tamer Newt Scamander, a passing name in the Harry Potter series, as a writer of one of a required Hogwarts textbook. It was set about seven decades before Harry walked across King’s Cross-station and met headmaster Dumbledore. While a stand-alone story with few call-forwards to Potter’s era, the film does cover the origin story of Albus Dumbledore and allude to Hogwarts as a spin-off prequel to Potter’s adventures.
But this time, Rowling was more than a creative-continuity consultant. The Fantastic Beasts series was J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut. She found a considerable pleasure writing for a different prose medium. Much curious, while Fantastic Beasts did start out as a book, the film was more inspired by its contents rather than adapting them, as the original book was a tie-in textbook history material rather than an actual story with a coherent plot. The screenplay was distributed into books for Potter fans’ consumption.
Again, while she wasn’t at the director helm, she did pass the leading actors and actresses’ notes. Unlike the previous Harry Potter work, while it retained its British identity, Fantastic Beasts was the first installment of the Potterverse to have a prominent American presence, as the story took place in America, with British wizard Newt visiting America and facing morsels of cultural shocks with the American magical community.
Although the film opened to mixed to positive reviews in 2016, its fans relished the return to the magical world and the new angles of magic unfolding from the sleeves of Rowling’s vision.
With four more Fantastic Beasts movies on the horizon, Rowling has defended the choice of stretching the series rather than keeping the entire story contained in one or three films (disregarding the trend to convert movie series into trilogies).
Rowling’s legacy continues. Her name on the screenwriting credits would be a reminder that her magical vision is magnifying into new realms. She’s taking up the pen—or wand—to expand the magical world.