Throughout the years, Rowling has continued to enrich the fantasy world she created as fans continuously clammer for more, but in the process, she has begun to share more than just facts about her characters, but her most recent reveals have often been quite personal.
J.K. Rowling may have discovered the magic within herself at an early age, but learning how to share that with a wider audience took some time. As she weaved a fantasy that’s beloved precisely because of its realism, we can look to the nuance of the Harry Potter series to understand how even when she won the author’s lottery so to speak, it wasn’t always an easy road to travel, and on the road to fortune, one will always find they’ve made regrets along the way.
Coming To Life
Rowling has opened up that inspiration often strikes her while she is in the midst of traveling. It was on a train to London, that the basis for Harry Potter first occurred to her, namely the concept of a young boy who discovered at the age of 11 that he was a wizard. She later shared that the first novel she wrote post-Harry also came to her while she was in the midst of a journey. She began writing her first book in earnest, despite many hardships.
Making It Personal
The story that made her famous, though set within a fantasy was often drawn from her real life. While she may not have been a orphan raised in a cupboard under the stairs, there are a number of parts of her childhood that she mirrored in her characters’ stories. She was born into a middle class family near Bristol, but was uprooted at a young age to a small village on the border of Wales. The experience of being an outsider stuck with her.
Rowling is often tight lipped about her childhood, but in a 2012 interview with The New Yorker, she became more forthright about her teenage years, saying “I wasn’t particularly happy. I think it’s a dreadful time of life.” It was around that time that her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an illness which Rowling seemed to resent, as it often strained their relationship. She added, “My mother was very ill, and it wasn’t the easiest.” Rowling managed to successfully channel her difficulties into her characters.
Captured In Spirit
While there are many elements of truth in Harry Potter, it was her first realistic novel that echoed more closely her own teenage years. Her seeming facility with the teenage characters over the adult ones shows just how much she’s still processing her own adolescence. She put it kindly when speaking to The New Yorker, “I did not have an easy relationship with my father.” Though she seems to regret their icy relationship, it wouldn’t be her biggest, as it seemed to fuel her career.
Rowling Vs. Harry
The young Rowling had another outlet that was all her own when she was a child. Though she knew from the start that she was destined to be an author, she loosened her grip on that dream when her first story, written at six years old, wasn’t immediately published. Aside from spinning her own fantasies in her head, Rowling would often attend the local church in her small town, unaccompanied by any members of her family. Her spirituality likely got her through her toughest days.
Her Magic Carpet
Rowling had one real life saving grace as a teenager, her best friend, Sean Harris, who owned the Ford Anglia that allowed her to escape their small village now and again as teens, the very same car that Ron borrowed to help Harry escape from his uncle’s house in the second Harry Potter book. It was Sean who also encouraged Rowling to become a writer in their early adulthood, which gave her encouragement when she needed it the most.
For as often as J.K. Rowling has described herself as similar to the bookish Hermione, it seems that the character she wrote reflected her own aspirations and regrets for her younger self. While Hermione was “the brightest witch of her age”, Rowling describes herself as being a borderline slacker, intelligent, but only doing just enough to get by. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough to earn admission to Oxford, so she settled with studying at Exeter.
The Effects Of Class
As Rowling began her studies at the University of Exeter, she recalled her old feelings of being an outsider welled up once more, as her upbringing stood in stark contrast to those of her peers, most of whom she said had been privately educated. Rowling studied French and Classics, which is readily apparent in her writing, given her judicious use of both French and Latin names. It seems Rowling wrote some of her resentment into the snobby Slytherins Harry would meet at Hogwarts.
The Spark Of Creation
After university, Rowling, who has always been passionate about human rights, worked Amnesty International in London before moving to Manchester with her then boyfriend. It was during this time that Rowling first conceived of Harry Potter and started to write in her spare time. The direction of the story’s themes would soon take a dramatic turn, as Rowling’s early adulthood took a turn from mediocre to dark. It was only through this darkness however, that Rowling would emerge as such as celebrated author.
Losing Her Anchor
Since the moment of her mother’s diagnosis, Rowling always knew her time was limited, but she still didn’t expect to lose her when she did. She recalled that it was the first Christmas vacation she spent away from home, when the phone rang early one morning, and she knew before her father even said the words. Rowling has been open from the start that losing her mother has colored the entirety of her bibliography, as Harry constantly grappled with the loss of his parents.
Startled To Action
The death of Anne Rowling was just the catalyst to a darker period of Rowling’s life. Shortly after losing her mother, she and her longterm boyfriend broke up, leaving her to grieve more than one relationship. Finding herself unable to write, she felt she needed to make a drastic change and moved to Portugal to teach English. While she may have felt it was a fairytale beginning, her time in southern Europe only served to deepen her darkness, though it would eventually enrich her writing.
Acting With Reckless Abandon
While in Portugal, Rowling met and married Jorge Arantes, with whom she quickly had a child. The union, however, didn’t last and mere months after Rowling’s daughter was born, the pair divorced. Though Rowling had used some of her time wisely, writing by day and teaching by night, her woes were almost too much to bear. There is some speculation that Rowling suffered physical mistreatment by her ex-husband. She moved to Edinburgh with her infant daughter, intending to write, despite their impending poverty.
Choosing Her Dream
It later came to light that the dark period Rowling often describes in the years she first began writing Harry Potter were something of her choice. While the losses she suffered were something unavoidable, she chose to live on welfare in a dump of an apartment with as her author’s flame burned within her, rather than taking a full time job and putting her daughter in day care. Still, following her dream wasn’t easy, and Rowling eventually realized she needed professional help.
Laughing In Her Face
Rowling planned on becoming a teacher in order to better finance her life as she completed her first manuscript. While she waited for her certification to come through, she sent out letter after letter with her sample chapters, and finally found an agent to take her on. Publication wasn’t that simple though, and in all, Rowling received 12 rejection letters from different publishers, before a new one, Bloomsbury signed on. They suggested she still seek a day job, as she was unlikely to make any profit.
Thrust Into The Spotlight
Nearly overnight, Rowling went from being a single mother muddling through to survive on welfare to an international success. In the period following the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Scholastic acquired the rights to her book for an unprecedented amount of money that totaled over $100,000. Rowling suddenly found that she not only would no longer go hungry in order to feed her daughter, but she could even afford to buy a house. She would discover there were two sides to every coin.
Rocking The Train
During the press tour for the release of the fourth Harry Potter book that Rowling realized just how overbearing fame could be. Bloomsbury’s publicity team planned for her to do a book signing tour on a train outfitted to look like the fictional Hogwarts express, but when Rowling saw the chaos it caused parents who were fighting over places in line, she wished she had never agreed to the tour, and instantly tightened all security around her. Still, there were things she regret even more.
Nightmare At Arms Length
In 2011, J.K. Rowling testified for the Levenson Inquiry, which dealt with the ethics of the British press. Rowling has had a difficult relationship with media publications since she became famous, often desperate to protect her family’s privacy. She was often angered by the invasive nature of both the paparazzi and of journalists in general, often battling with publications who seemed to step on her toes. Rowling might not miss her days of hardship, but she openly longs for her former anonymity.
Rowling wrote her contempt for the press into the character of Rita Skeeter, but she forgets it works both ways. Though many can possibly comprehend her disdain for a publication such as The Daily Mail, other publications in higher repute have reported just how difficult she can be to work with. The Times of London shared with The New Yorker that prior to interviewing her they were forced to sign an ironclad contract that even allowed her to approve her own quotations, as Rowling often likes revising.
Consumed By Her Shadow
By the time the final Harry Potter book was published, Rowling had become one of the wealthiest authors in the world, with a net worth close to $1 billion. Though she took some time off of writing, Rowling knew she had a difficult task in breaking out from under her own shadow should she want to try her hand at writing for a different audience. While she toyed with publishing anonymously, she released an adult novel called, The Casual Vacancy under her name in 2012.
Written In Wax
With the finale book published, fans expected that the cannon would have been set in stone, only to find that Rowling had a continuous store of information that she chose to release in trickles so as to keep her ravenous fans on the hook. She caused a stir around the world when she revealed after Deathly Hollows’s release that the headmaster in Harry Potter, Dumbledore, was gay. This would not be the last time that Rowling decided to subtly change her stories by adding information.
Her revelations have not always been met with celebration. Oftentimes, her reveals seem to be released at politically advantageous times, and many more progressive young people take issue with the leftist savior that she paints herself to be, noting that Rowling has only included diverse characters in the background. She tried to rectify this by supporting the casting of Noma Dumezweni, a black actress as Hermione, saying she only specified frizzy hair, but never the color of Hermione’s skin. Critics say she should have been more specific.
Shrouded In Disguise
As her privacy was increasingly threatened, Rowling turned towards disguise more than once, even buying her wedding dress disguised so as not to be disturbed by the press. She let this tactic extend to her professional life too, as she saw the reception her newest book had as it lived under Harry Potter’s shadow. In order to escape her own legacy, she began releasing a new series of crime fiction under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith. This wasn’t the first time she’d tried to fool readers.
What Everyone Gets Wromg
Of the many tidbits J.K. Rowling has shared since the publication of Harry Potter, there’s one major thing that has often slipped under the radar. She finally confirmed almost a decade after the release of the last film that we’ve all been mispronouncing the name ‘Voldemort.’ Many hardcore fans know that she took it from the French phrase meaning ‘flight from death’, she wrote that she also pronounces it French–i.e. without saying the final ‘t.’ Rowling, however, may be alone in that arena.
Selling Her Out
Rowling may have mostly kept quiet about her fraught relationship with her father, even seeming to pull from her experience in her creation of the Dursley family, Harry Potter’s mean-spirited aunt and uncle who raised him without a hint of love. Nevertheless, she has shared that she stopped speaking to her father in 2003 when he sold his copy of The Goblet of Fire that she had given him on Father’s Day. The book had been inscribed with, “Lots of love from your first born.”
Vanishing In An Instant
There are times when Rowling still doesn’t seem to believe that she’s really as successful as she’s been. In a notable interview with Oprah, Rowling and Oprah discussed candidly what it’s like to be so wealthy after experiencing the hardship both of the went through. Rowling admitted to still worrying about losing all of the wealth she’s accrued in the blink of an eye, even though she’s not as insecure as she was when she first published Harry Potter.
Releasing The Aftershocks
For all the information Rowling has shared regarding her beloved characters, there was nothing that quite garnered the shock as her revelations about one of her main romantic pairings. In an interview with Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the films, Rowling shared that she regretted pairing Hermione and Harry’s sidekick Ron together, calling it “a form of wish-fulfillment” which likely had to do with the inspiration behind Ron’s character. Still, there was something she regret more than this.
Easing The Blow
The pain has dulled over the years, but Rowling’s continued grief regarding her mother caused her to take an unsparing attitude towards her characters over the years. The death toll in the final book alone likely surpasses those of all the other books, but for the last few years, Rowling has taken to her Twitter on May 2, the anniversary of her fictional battle of good and evil, to apologize for the losses she inflicted on her characters. There’s still one things that gnaws at her more.
Her Mother Never Knew
In an interview with The Telegraph, Rowling once shared that her biggest regret about the Harry Potter series was not just that her mother would never live to see her succeed, but that she didn’t even know Rowling had begun to write the series. She shared that though she had been writing about Harry, alone, the night her mother died, the project had only been conceived six months prior, so she never even had a chance share the concept with her.