Add to researchJ. K. Rowling
- Chipping Sodbury
J. K. Rowling was born in 1965, and grew up in Chepstow, Gwent. She studied at Exeter University, where she gained a French and Classics degree, and where her course included one year in Paris. As a postgraduate she moved to London to work at Amnesty International, doing research into human rights abuses in Francophone Africa.
She started writing the Harry Potter series during a Manchester to London King's Cross train journey, and during the next five years, outlined the plots for each book and began writing the first novel.
This book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), and the novels in the series which have succeeded it have been an unprecedented success. They have topped all bestseller lists, won numerous awards, and been translated into over sixty languages. Worldwide, the Harry Potter books have exceeded 300 million copies.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released as a film in 2001, adapted by Steve Kloves, and an adaptation of the second novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), was released in November 2002. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (directed by Alfonso Cuaron) followed in 2004, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, directed by Mike Newell, was released in November 2005 in the UK and US.
J. K. Rowling's initial aim was to write seven books in the Harry Potter series. The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published in 2003, and the sixth, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in 2005. The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published in 2007.
The fifth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was released in 2007, and the sixth, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in 2009. This was followed by Harry Poetter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I in 2010 and Part II in 2011.
She has also written two small volumes which appear as the titles of Harry's school books within the novels - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through The Ages, which were published in 2001 in aid of Comic Relief.
J. K. Rowling has honorary degrees from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, US, University of Exeter, University of St Andrews, Napier University, Edinburgh, and University of Edinburgh. She was awarded an OBE for her services to children's literature in 2001, and became an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002. In 2010 she won the Hans Christian Andersen Award and in 2012, she was awarded the Freedom of the City of London.
Her first novel for adults, A Casual Vacancy, was published in 2012.
Near the start of the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), Professor McGonagall (recently transformed into a cat) says of the orphaned baby who has been left on the doorstep of his awful relatives, the Dursleys: 'every child in our world will know his name!' That prophecy has come true in our world, as the best-selling books in the history of children's writing have made the adventures of the schoolboy wizard a worldwide publishing phenomenon.
In Britain on 21 June 2003, publication day of the fifth volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, there were midnight bookstore openings, special events, and unprecedented publicity; it duly became the fastest-selling book of all time. Her books seem to have dissolved usual distinctions between books for children and adults, and have proved both entertaining and addictive reading. Despite the first Harry Potter book having appeared only in 1997 (in an initial print run of 500 copies!), Rowling has changed the status of children's writing and is herself no doubt already the best-known British author internationally.
Critics have pointed out that in creating her monumental fantasy, Rowling has borrowed elements from some of the most popular British children's writing (no doubt her own childhood reading) such as Enid Blyton's Famous Five, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga, and Roald Dahl's Mathilda. She has certainly revived the moribund tradition of boarding school stories, from Tom Brown's Schooldays to Anthony Buckeridge's 1950s Jennings books, with her magical ingredients (what one wittily hostile critic called 'Billy Bunter on broomsticks'). Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is a fully haunted castle, with secret passageways and complaining ghosts, monsters in its bowels, moving portraits, and periodically gory discoveries; a comical rendering of the 'Gothic Novel'. The essentials of Harry Potter also remind us of fairy tales and myths: Harry is a mistreated orphan whose life is then transformed by magic, like that of Cinderella. He becomes aware of a special destiny, guided by an all-powerful elderly wizard (think of King Arthur, with kindly Headmaster Dumbledore as Merlin).
In public comments about her writing Joanne Rowling has been disarmingly modest, saying, 'I always suspected I could tell a story'. The style she adopts is functional yet persistently witty, inventive and slyly satirical. So far as the reader is concerned, Rowling acts as a good teacher, organizing her ensemble of pupils, teachers and magical creatures efficiently, guiding the reader through labyrinthine plots - and giving plenty of directions along the way. The key factor in the writing was the five years that she reputedly devoted to planning this overarching morality tale of Good versus Evil, refining characters and details, before the first book was even written. Each book covers a year at Hogwarts and in truth follows a similar plot trajectory. Harry is menaced by the Dark Forces of his arch-enemy Voldemort - and must learn in term-time how to vanquish them. He senses Voldemort through a lightning-shaped forehead scar, but is protected by the power of his murdered parents' love. With full interplay between the adjacent worlds of magic and 'muggles', Rowling's inventiveness is given free rein. Her best inventions take place in school lessons, during the aerial combat of inter-house 'Quidditch' matches, or within the Forbidden Forest. The children take fright - and delight - in flying keys, shrieking books, human chess, owls delivering the post, dragons, flying hippogriffs, and much more.
The beauty of the Hogwarts School concept is that it is simultaneously in the 1950s and 1990s. A steam train takes the children there at the start of each year (leaving from the already famous Platform 9¾ at Kings Cross station), while its teachers command an old-fashioned level of respect. It is also a modern co-educational multi-racial school, with pupils who are pressured by exams, status conscious, keen on sport and consumer goods, shopping at the magical mall, Diagon Alley. They read newspapers, gossip about teachers and grow up - just like the readers. The first three books are full of charm and not-too scary episodes involving monsters, ghosts and magical potions that go wrong, and order is restored in time for the end of the school year. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry is a new boy aged eleven, placed by the Sorting Hat in Gryffindor House, immediately meeting his best friends Hermione and Ron as well as school bully Draco Malfoy, and Professor Snape, his bête noire. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) finds Harry in the Forbidden Forest at midnight, with its centaurs and spiders 'the size of carthorses', while the ineptitude of a glamorous new teacher provides good comedy. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), the story turns distinctly darker, as pupils are menaced by the apparent attacks of escaped murderer Sirius Black. Harry has some typical adolescent experiences: he spends time in hospital, quarrels with friends - and has to rescue a condemned hippogriff.
The much larger fourth and fifth volumes are (literally) heavier going, and many have found them less enjoyable, partly due to the sheer proliferation of characters and incidents, but mainly their far less light-hearted atmosphere. They also lack narrative tension: readers now know that, however dire his situation, Harry will survive. He has to appear in a seventh volume (presumably a climactic final confrontation with Voldemort). In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry fights nasty dragons and water demons, and a satirical thread comes increasingly into play with the duplicitous activities of tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter of 'The Daily Prophet'. By the latter stages of the 766-page Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), the charm of Harry as a moody teenager begins to flag somewhat. Aged fifteen, his hormones are leading him blushingly towards Cho Chang, a sad if pretty Chinese girl, though the blonde and quirky Luna Lovegood seems more fun. In Dumbledore's absence, Hogwarts comes under the control of Inquisitor Umbridge from the Ministry of Magic (a truly Kafka-esque organisation, where the climax takes place) and Harry suffers from increasingly bad nightmares. Rowling has revealed in interviews that the final chapter of the seventh volume has already been written. Whether Harry survives - or should survive - into adulthood will clearly be widely debated until it appears.
After a previous era of social realism in children's books, Rowling has brought escapist fantasy back into favour. She has also made reading 'fashionable', with much comment in the media on the 'Potter Effect' stimulating children to re-discover its pleasures, the on-screen Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) featuring in national literacy campaigns. Of course, whether the Harry Potter books will prove to be enduring classics of children's fiction remains to be seen. But with the release of several films, 'Pottermania' shows no sign of fading.
Dr Jules Smith, 2003
- A Casual Vacancy, Little, Brown
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard, CHLG/Bloomsbury
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bloomsbury
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Bloomsbury
- Quidditch Through The Ages, Bloomsbury
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Bloomsbury
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bloomsbury
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bloomsbury
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Bloomsbury
- Freedom of the City of London
- Hans Christian Andersen Award
- Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (France)
- South Bank Show Outstanding Achievement in the Arts Award
- Edinburgh Award
- British Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award
- Booksellers Association Independent Booksellers' Book Prize, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, shortlist
- Royal Mail Award for Scottish Children's Books, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, best book for readers aged 8-12 years
- British Book Awards Book of the Year, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- WH Smith People's Choice Award, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- British Book Awards Book of the Year, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, shortlist
- Children's Book Award, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, shortlist
- Sheffield Children's Book of the Year Award, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, shortlist
- Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, shortlist
- Children's Book Award, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, shortlist
- Carnegie Medal, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, shortlist
- Whitbread Children's Book Award, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Sheffield Children's Book of the Year Award, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, shortlist
- Scottish Arts Council Children's Book of the Year Award, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Prix Sorciere (France), Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Gold Award), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 9-11 years category
- Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, shortlist
- Children's Book Award, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Young Telegraph Paperback of the Year Award, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, shortlist
- Sheffield Children's Book Award, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- Primo Centro per la Letteratura Infantile (Italy), Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Gold Award), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 9-11 years category
- Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, shortlist
- Children's Book Award, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- Carnegie Medal, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, shortlist
- British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- Nestlé Smarties Book Prize (Gold Award), Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 9-11 years category