J. K. Rowling: The Wizard behind Harry Potter

J. K. Rowling: The Wizard behind Harry Potter

4.7 68
by Marc Shapiro
     
 

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The heartwarming story behind J.K. Rowling's rise to fame—and the answers to Harry Potter fans' most burning questions!

Harry Potter is loved throughout the world, and so is his creator. Joanne Kathleen (J.K.) Rowling is a true wizard, a woman who has the ability to recall vividly her days as a child and capture those wild, wonderful, difficult times&

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Overview

The heartwarming story behind J.K. Rowling's rise to fame—and the answers to Harry Potter fans' most burning questions!

Harry Potter is loved throughout the world, and so is his creator. Joanne Kathleen (J.K.) Rowling is a true wizard, a woman who has the ability to recall vividly her days as a child and capture those wild, wonderful, difficult times—an ability that helps make her creation, Harry Potter, seem so real.

In this revealing book, fans of the Harry Potter series will get to see their favorite author as they never have before. From a child with a wonderful imagination who didn't quite fit in, to a single mother with almost overwhelming responsibilities, J.K. Rowling and her story provide a wonderful chance for adults and children to enjoy a heartwarming, magical story. . . together.

Inside are the answer to some of the most frequently asked questions:
* Where did the idea for the Harry Potter series come from?
* How the birth of her third child impacted her life
* What's the latest on the top secret writing projects that will follow HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS?
* What re Joanne's feelings about the Harry Potter saga finally ending?
*Which of the characters does J.K most identify with?
*What is J.K. Rowling's simple rule about writing?
*And much more!

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Taken entirely from media sources like Time, Newsweek, and People, plus various newspaper coverage and fan websites, this unauthorized biography covers superficially many aspects of Rowling's life. It describes her writing in Nicholson's Cafe for the company and warmth; her brief time on welfare, her childhood as the neighborhood storyteller, and her initial idea for Harry's story coming to her on a stalled train. What's missing is any sense of the books themselves, the literary aspects such as where she gets her names and characters, the themes she's playing with, or what she (or the author) see as links to anything else. Few names are given (including that of her husband), many sentences begin with "which" or "and", cliches and repetitive phrases abound, and websites are annoyingly unspecific so that a young researcher can't easily find Shapiro's sources. However, those who can't get enough of Harry Potter and his creator will breeze through this short book quickly without having to go to any primary sources. Her advice to timid writers—to keep writing, write what you know, find a good place to write, collect unusual things in a notebook, and plot the good plot before you begin—is solidly delivered in Rowling's selfeffacing and open manner, copied from the Scholastic website. 2000, St. Martin's Press, Ages 9 to 14, $4.99. Reviewer: Susan Hepler
VOYA
Biographies of contemporary people written by biographers who have neither met nor spoken with their subjects leave this reviewer cold and questioning. Could readers just as easily cull information by reading magazine interviews and surfing the Net? What is the draw of a writer stringing together factual tidbits and combining them with unsubstantiated mind reading? Not much. Harry Potter fans will not find this shallow bio very enlightening. Readers meet Joanne Kathleen Rowling, who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, has a daughter, does not like to dress up, and loves to write. Perhaps the most phenomenal revelation is that J. K. actually (according to Shapiro) single-handedly retyped all eighty-thousand words of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on a manual typewriter—twice. Shapiro, experienced in unauthorized biographies of Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, and others, lists general print sources consulted and names of Web sites visited. Repetitive, captionless photographs accompany the text, which might interest very young readers whose families read aloud the series. Others, however, who devour Rowling's well-crafted, complex, and imaginative world of wizardry will find this superficial treatment of its creator uninviting and in spots, inaccurate—as this reviewer's local and informed Harry fans have done. VOYA CODES: 1Q 4P M J (Hard to understand how it got published; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, St. Martin's Griffin, 105p, Photos, Trade pb. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Patti Sylvester Spencer VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
KLIATT
As a child, Joanne Kathleen Rowling entertained her sister and neighborhood children with her fanciful tales. She has spent all of her life creating stories. After she began writing about Harry and his friends, she felt that no matter what situation she found herself in, she could always turn to the characters she had created. Combining her vivid imagination with her love for unusual names, we are now all able to enjoy Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Neville Longbottom along with her. Shapiro is an entertainment writer who has written about several famous people. His latest foray into the world of entertainment will delight Harry's fans. Young readers will enjoy reading how Rowling created the world that has delighted them. Hearing about her life will also give them insight into the stories, and perhaps will encourage budding writers. Four pages of photographs will give them images of their favorite writer as well. This is a must purchase for all libraries that serve the younger Harry Potter lovers. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, St. Martin's/Griffin, 128p, 21cm, $4.99. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Lynn Evarts; Lib. Media Spec., Sauk Prairie H.S., Prairie du Sac, WI, November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-This book has just one thing going for it. It's the first biography for youngsters about the popular author. The only other sources of information are articles in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet. Unfortunately, the text reads like a rough draft of a junior-high research paper. Incomplete and fragmented sentences abound as Shapiro rambles on in a confusing manner. Quotations are loosely traced to articles and interviews in their sentences, but are not properly documented ("`It was a little like having the Beatles here,' said an excited, out-of-breath bookstore representative to Entertainment Weekly after the event"). The author writes in absolutes without noting sources, e.g., "Her eyes were always wide in amazement at the world around her-." Events appear out of nowhere as if they'd been previously mentioned. It's a shame that the book is too inaccurate, unsubstantiated, and poorly written to be suitable for research purposes. Do your kids a favor and direct them to Scholastic's Web site (scholastic.com) for information on Rowling.-Kathleen Simonetta, Indian Trails Public Library District, Wheeling, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312376970
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
05/28/2007
Edition description:
Fourth Edition, Updated 2007
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
612,295
Product dimensions:
5.41(w) x 8.45(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

WILD ABOUT HARRY

Sometimes the real world can be a confusing place. It is not always fair or kind. And in the real world there are not always happy endings. Which is why, every once in a while, we like to escape into the world of fantasy—a place where things always go our way and there is always a happy ending.

We want to believe in fantastic creatures in imaginary lands. We want to believe in magic powers, good friends, and the power of good to triumph over evil. We all fantasize about being able to fly and lift buildings off the ground. And how good a magic sword would feel in our hand as we go off to slay a dragon or win the hand of a beautiful princess.

Which is why we like Superman, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and the amazing adventures of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. And it is why we are all now Potterites who can't wait for the further adventures of our favorite wizard, Harry Potter, a thirteen-year-old English orphan who attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and tries to be a normal boy while confronting the truly fantastic at every turn.

The author of the Harry Potter books, J. K. (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling, is a grown woman with a child of her own. She is sensible, modest, and realistic—all good qualities when it comes to being a good parent and a positive member of the real world. She likes to walk the streets of her hometown of Edinburgh, Scotland. She will sit for hours at her favorite café, sipping an espresso and watching as the world passes her by.

But there is something that sets J. K. Rowling apart from the rest of us. For Joanne Kathleen Rowling likes to dream at all hours of the day and night. She dreams of faraway lands, bigger-than-life good guys, truly evil bad guys, and likable young children who try and make sense of it all. But unlike others, she turns her dreams into reality when she sits down with pen and paper and begins to write about the adventures of Harry Potter.

A smile crosses her face. Her already expressive eyes, framed by long wavy hair, grow even wider. Her pen slashes across the paper like a lightning bolt. In her mind, a door to a delightful new world of imagination and wonder has just opened wide and she is about to pass through it.

When J. K. Rowling sits down to give new life to Harry Potter, usually in her favorite writing place, a café called Nicholson's, a change comes over the author. Because to create the latest adventure of Harry, his good friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and their adventures, Joanne has to stop being an adult and become a child who also wants to believe in the unbelievable.

And once Joanne becomes that child, almost anything can and does happen.

From the opening passages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we can sense that something quite out of the ordinary is up. Our introduction to Harry is not a happy one. He is an orphan who has been living for ten years in a closet under the stairs of his cruel aunt and uncle's house. But we soon discover that Harry is not an ordinary soul. He is the son of wizards. However, Harry does not have a clue that he even has these powers until one day a giant appears out of nowhere and delivers to Harry a scholarship to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Once there, Harry discovers friends, foes, his magical powers, and a mission to get rid of the evil that lies hidden in the depths of the school. In the classic sense, friends unite, evil is banished, at least temporarily, and all is well.

There is much more of the same in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as a more mature Harry and his friends once again battle evil while the young wizard begins to learn more about his adopted land. And what he finds, thanks to Joanne's vivid imagination, is surprises around every corner. There is the diary that writes back, a dead professor who continues to teach class, and portraits of long-dead ancestors who come alive at night to primp and curl their hair.

By the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoners of Azkaban, the author has seen fit to darken things up. In the Dementors, we see truly disgusting evil. But Harry has by this time grown wise enough and powerful enough to fight the good fight. There is also that priceless moment when Harry discovers Cho Chan on the Quidditch field and thinks to himself that she is kind of pretty.

Joanne has filled the page with enticing images and has us hooked.

"I really can, with no difficulty at all, think myself back to eleven years old," said Rowling in a Time magazine interview of her ability to tap into her own childhood when writing. "I can remember being a kid and being very powerless and having this whole underworld that to adults is always going to be impenetrable. I think that I have very vivid memories of how it felt to be Harry's age."

On more than one occasion, Joanne has acknowledged her childhood memories as an influence. For her, Hermione is very much herself as a child. And while there was no real-life Harry in her life, she has said that many elements of the character have come from people she knew. And her enemies? They spring to life when Joanne remembers the times when she had to face the school bully and did not know whether she would come out okay.

The author has said that what she likes about writing the adventures of Harry Potter, and what brings her willingly to the task every day, is the notion of opening up a world of dreams and its possibilities.

"When you dream, you can do what you like," she has told Newsweek.

And there have been dreams aplenty in the first three Harry Potter adventures, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in America), Harry Potter

and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The world Harry Potter inhabits is dotted with strange creatures like Buckbeak, Scabbers, and Crookshanks. There are good people like Professor Dumbledore and Hagrid and bad people like the Dursleys and the evil Lord Voldemort. In the world of Harry Potter, owls run banks, apprentice students chase after balls on flying broomsticks, and apprentice wizards tread lightly as they enter the Forbidden Forest.

But finally it is Harry Potter, a skinny thirteen-year-old with glasses, green eyes, and a head of unruly black hair who is the heart and soul of J. K. Rowling's adventures. The author feels that Harry is a mirror into her young readers' souls.

"Harry is smart and good at sports and a lot of things that other children would like to be," Rowling once told an interviewer. "But children also feel for him because he has lost his parents. If an author makes a character an orphan, few children will want to be an orphan too. But it is a freeing thing because a certain weight of parental expectation is lifted."

Yet the adventures of Harry Potter are much more than merely escape for the preteen set. Adults have also taken Harry to their hearts and marvel at the simplicity and positive values presented in the tales. Harry often is the center of a family's time together. Parents read to their children and children often read out loud to their parents. Or parents, after their children have gone to sleep, have been known to sit down with the book and read it themselves.

The author regularly reads her fan mail and so is well aware that the power of Harry Potter to capture readers has spanned the generations. A woman from Glasgow, Scotland, recently wrote to Joanne's British publisher asking how to go about joining the Harry Potter Fan Club, adding as an aside that she was sixty years old. An Englishman, when inquiring about the possibility of a Harry Potter movie, described himself as "a child at heart, an adult in body." She has had reports of family squabbles breaking out at bedtime when a parent wanted to finish reading a chapter and ended up taking the book from her children so she could read the book herself.

Joanne has thought long and hard about why people of all ages respond to Harry, and she thinks she knows the reason why.

"I think some of the reason is that Harry has to accept adult burdens in his life, although he is a child," she said in a recent interview. "There's something very endearing about that to kids and adults as well. Harry is also an old-fashioned hero. There's enough human frailty in Harry that people of all ages can identify with."

The author also points to a sense of morality that runs through each book. Rather than preach, she gets her messages across quite naturally and humanly in the actions and thoughts of her characters. As we have discovered in the first four books, Harry Potter is not the perfect little boy. He bends and breaks the rules when it suits his purpose and has all the insecurities of a normal boy or girl. Children and adults tend to love the fact that they can open a Harry Potter book and see themselves in the characters.

Arthur Levine, the U.S. editor of the Harry Potter books, feels that a big attraction to readers is the idea of growing up underappreciated, feeling like an outcast, and then suddenly bursting forth into the light and being discovered. "That is the fantasy of every person who grows up smart but not very athletic. That's the emotional connection that drew me to the books," he told The New York Times.

Whatever the reason, Harry Potter has become a worldwide phenomenon since the publication of the first book in 1997. To date, the first four books have sold more than 10 million copies in over a hundred different languages. The books continue to reside at or near the top of a number of bestseller lists, and a movie studio is in the process of making a big-budget movie of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that will be in movie theaters all over when this edition of the book is out!

But there is more to the popularity of Harry Potter than book sales and movie deals. Kids have taken Harry to their hearts, and he has become a very real part of their playtime. They have made up games and put on plays centered around Harry and his adventures. Many of the numerous computer Web sites that have sprung up around the Harry Potter books feature original stories written by fans. Groups of children gather regularly to read Harry Potter out loud. One enterprising eleven-year-old even had "Educated at Hogwarts" printed up on business cards so he could hand them out to his friends.

Surprisingly, the author behind the fantastic adventures of Harry Potter is a person of relatively simple pleasures and tastes. She told an Internet site that she has no hobbies "except hanging out with my friends and writing." Her favorite holiday is Halloween. Her favorite television shows are British comedies and the U.S. imports Frasier and The Simpsons.

"I get bored with my life," she once said. "I prefer inventing things."

But for Rowling, the true joy comes in the stories of how young children have embraced her tales. And they certainly have. A family in California was so anxious to read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that they went on the Internet and ordered a British copy of the book so that they would not have to wait months for the book to be published in America. When her third book went on sale at 3:45 p.m., the precise moment when English schools let out for the day, she was amazed when stores sold out every copy in a matter of minutes.

Rowling, who is often shy about doing interviews and has proven very secretive when asked about the further adventures of Harry, came to enjoy book tours. In fact, she gets a lot of pleasure from book signings, when she gets to meet her young audience face-to-face. One example of this occurred during a visit to a school in England when she was approached by a young boy carrying one of her books. "He recited the first page of the first book to me from memory," she explained to Newsweek. "When he stopped, he said, 'I can go on.' He continued reciting the first five pages of the book. That was unbelievable."

However, she said, during a Scholastic online chat, one of her most gratifying moments came about during a reading and book signing appearance in her hometown of Edinburgh. "The event was sold out and the queue for signing at the end was very long. When a twelve-year-old girl finally reached me, she said, 'I didn't want there to be so many people here, because this is my book!' I told her that was exactly how I feel about my favorite books. Nobody else has a right to know them, let alone like them!"

What can best be described as Pottermania occurred last year when Joanne came to the United States on yet another book tour. Her many stops at bookstores across the country continued to amaze her and showed the author that while Harry Potter books are written in a distinctly British style, the messages of her books are international.

During a reading in a high school gymnasium in Santa Rosa, California, Joanne was shocked when she looked out and saw 2,500 Harry Potter fans jumping up and down on the bleachers and shouting "Harry! Harry!" at the top of their lungs.

The scene repeated itself in San Francisco, California, when Joanne's car rounded a corner and the writer was amazed to find more than a thousand people standing in line in front of a bookstore for a 9:30 a.m. reading and autograph session. She would later discover that many of the children and their parents had spent the night in line just so they could make sure they would get in for the event. One family had even made the six-hour trip by car from Los Angeles the night before just so they could be first in line. Joanne gave a short reading, answered her fan's many questions, and then signed a thousand books in two hours. And then, quick as a flash, she was back inside her limo and gone.

"It was a little like having the Beatles here," said an excited, out-of-breath bookstore representative to Entertainment Weekly after the event. "Kids will probably be coming here for years saying 'Wow! That's where the Harry Potter lady was standing.' "

For J. K. Rowling, the success of Harry Potter has been a fantasy all its own. After years of struggles in unfulfilling jobs, living in poverty, and trying to make a go of it as a single mother, the author now lives comfortably in Scotland and regularly travels around the world. She has often reflected on how her reaction to the success of Harry "has been shock" and that "it was like being catapulted into fairyland."

"I always find it difficult to be objective about Harry," she once admitted to BBC Online when discussing the question of reality and fantasy in her books. "To me, they remain my own private little world. For five years, they were my own private secret. From the moment I had the idea for the book, I could see a lot of comic potential in the idea that wizards walk among us."

But finally J. K. Rowling's success is a dream come true. "I would have been crazy to have expected what has happened to Harry," she has said. "The mere fact of being able to say I was a published author was the fulfillment of a dream I've had since I was a very young child."

Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2004, 2007 by Marc Shapiro. All rights reserved.

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Meet the Author

Marc Shapiro is the New York Times bestselling author of Justin Bieber: The Fever! and many other bestselling celebrity biographies. He has been a freelance entertainment journalist for more than twenty-five years, covering film, television and music for a number of national and international newspapers and magazines.

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