Wed
Jul 31 2013 10:30am
J. K. Rowling’s Real Life is More Incredible Than Any Fiction

JK Rowling You know what’s really hard for me? Talking about J. K. Rowling objectively (and on her birthday, too—she’s 48 today). And it’s not just because she wrote one of the most successful book series of all time, teaching millions of children to adore reading in the process. Not just because she has used her well-earned gains to promote so many charitable causes. Not just because the world loves a good rags-to-riches story, and hers is one of the best.

It’s because she described herself as “the biggest failure [she] knew” before she sat down to write one of the most beloved fantasy worlds on paper. It’s because she turned the sorrow over her mother’s death into a tale where a mother’s love for her child ultimately saves the world. It’s because all of the first publishers to read her three chapter sample rejected her book. It’s because failing made Jo Rowling push back hard against depression and poverty to find her very best calling.

It’s because she gave us Harry, Ron and Hermione, and so many of us wouldn’t recognize our childhoods without them.

The United Kingdom is dotted with magical nooks and crannies celebrating her tale. The Elephant House in Edinburgh, Scotland where Rowling wrote during the day calls itself “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” There’s a bust in a room at the Balmoral Hotel where Rowling inscribed the date when she finished The Deathly Hallows. King’s Cross Station in London has Platform 9 and 3/4 marked out with a trolley firmly stuck halfway into the wall. They’re little portals, really, places of contact where one might absorb a bit of that magic.

We search often for “real” versions of the stories that we love, proof that the impossible is possible, that fiction isn’t as far away as we’re assured by practical and serious people. J. K. Rowling’s story easily fulfills all requirements and then some, almost as though she were being written about in the contemporary three-part novel of some alternate dimension author. She started as a single mother, supporting her daughter through a time when her hope and fortunes were in short supply. In a period of great loss, she discovered her superpower—writing—and proceeded to use that power for good. (And more than one form of good, it turns out, as her philanthropic work has shown over the years.) Despite having so much expectation placed on her with every book release, she proceeded to be unflappably frank and focused on what she loved. She remarried, had more children, finished her series and wrote more books. She got the happy ending to end all happy endings.

She is a bonafide superhero. She’s what Cinderella would be, if Cinderella had gotten to the ball on her own steam and know-how. It’s not reality that sounds like fiction; it’s reality that’s better than fiction.

Then again, Rowling has attracted her fair share of criticism from both literary and fan circles. As a Potter devotee, I feel I should add to this list. After all, I blame her for a lot of things, including the following:

  • Entire nights spent up reading.
  • Needing to get my own wand.
  • Waiting on line in a bookstore until well after midnight.
  • Trying a vomit-flavored jellybean.
  • Thousands of words of fan fiction written.
  • Millions of words of fan fiction read.
  • Countless tears and endless laughter.
  • Friends with whom I bonded.
  • Communities where I was welcomed.
  • Huge amounts of valuable brainspace taken up by wizarding facts.
  • Using chocolate as a cure-all.
  • Ever thinking I might like to write… and write. And write.
  • The fact that I, and many others, are convinced that we all went to the wrong schools because our letters to Hogwarts were lost by daffy owls.

And what’s there to say about Harry Potter in all of this? Well… Rowling did give The Boy Who Lived her very same birthday. (He would be 33 today, I believe.) So that’s two cakes to put candles on—just make sure the ice cream going with it came from Florean Fortescue’s. And never forget that while so many authors create magic in their minds and on the page, J. K. Rowling was powerful enough to manifest it in her own life. She is truly the greatest witch of them all.

16 comments
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
1. Lisamarie
I was a bit of a late-comer to Harry Potter. I was a senior in high school when Goblet of Fire came out (or at least when I remember being aware of it, perhaps it came out early). I was definitely skeptical of all the hype and craze. At that time my favorite books were (and still are) Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, and my German teacher had just gotten me into the works of Guy Gavriel Kay. Harry Potter just seemed like kiddie books to me (which is not to say I don't enjoy reading children's books sometimes, but I do think Harry Potter has helped me appreciate them more and realize some of them can be quite good and deeper than we give them credit for). But then I saw a good friend reading Goblet of Fire - somebody whose intelligence and taste I respected. In fact, she was one of the few people I acknowledged as being more intelligent than me, haha. I asked her about it and she said they were really good.

My mom had gotten my sister the first book, but my sister never bothered to read it. She was only 5 or 6 at the time, so still a bit young for that. I was packing for a Spring Break road trip and on a whim, grabbed it for some light reading in the car, thinking it would be a fun diversion.

I WAS HOOKED. Even the first book, which is definitely a bit lighter in tone, definitely impressed me with the writing style, the character development, the dialaogue, the humor, the world building, etc. I couldn't wait to get the next one. And of course the later books just got better.

I am pretty convinced that Harry Potter is going to be considered a classic for all ages years from now - it's not just hype, and will continue to stay popular, along with things like Lord of the Rings and Narnia. And the fact taht JK Rowling is so awesome it's like icing on the cake. My husband and I have also recently started exploring Pottermore, for the sole purpose of finding all the backstories and extra tidbits JK Rowling put in (and, okay, we wanted to be sorted, haha). It's amazing how well thought out and complete her world is in her head. I would say in some ways it IS comparable to Tolkien, although he obviously had more of a linguistic and mythological approach.

Although, full disclosure, LOTR is still my very favorite :D
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
I didn't get into HP until after OotP came out, I was in my early 20's.

And I was in my early 30's when Deathly Hallows came out, and I still bawled my eyes out when I saw Hagrid's illustration over the beginning of "A Flaw In The Plan".
James Whitehead
3. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
This series is one of the favourites in my extended family, starting with my nephews who were just the right age to grow up with the books. My mum would read the latest book each summer to them when the came to visit her. They even let her read the prologue to Deathly Hallows even though they were a tad too old for it. ;-)

I have nothing but respect and admiration to Rowling for what she accomplished. You add in her good works and you have someone very special.

So a big "Hippo, birdie, two ewes!" to Ms. Rowling!

Kato

PS - A local summer program puts on a Harry Potter camp every year & my 11 year old has gone the last two years. They have their own houses. Compete for the quidditch & house cups. Take potions classes. And yes, he gets his invite on lovely silver stationary welcoming him to Hogwarts.
Dianthus
4. Dianthus
I was also a late-comer to the Potter series. I didn't start reading them until after Goblet of Fire was released, and I was already in my 30s. I don't even have kids, but if I did, these novels would definitely be required reading. I cannot thank this woman enough for sharing her gift with us, and I'm delighted for her success.
Alicia Dodson
5. LynMars
I was in my 20s and didn't get to reading the series until Goblet of Fire. I read free pdfs and then went and found the series, and then started standing in lines for the new books. I even took a regularly offered class at my univeristy--always one of the first lit classes filled those semesters--on Harry Potter, its influences, and some contemporaries. I went to midnight releases of the movies.

Do the books have their flaws and problems? Of course. But they were darn good reading, and a good story with good characters overall, that held peoples' imaginations, of all ages and any gender. That takes something special.

I remember being pleasantly surprised when I realized the trio was actually my age; even as an adult, it made me feel a connection to them and their troubles, made them identifiable in a way. It also made the epilogue a little more poignant; we're about to that time now, when I think about it. And it's something amny of my friends are dealing with; kids, sending them off to places, life, etc.

Jo Rowling is one of my favorite authors anywhere, not only for the books she's given the world, but for the work she does, and just being a decent person. Happy birthday to her!
Chuk Goodin
6. Chuk
The luggage cart isn't in the wall at King's Cross station any more, but I think they might bring it out for photo ops if you pay them.
Dianthus
7. Mandy P.
Since everyone else who commented here seems to be coming from the "got into Harry Potter late in the game", I thought I would express my regards for JK as one of those children who happened to be the perfect age for HP.

I was in the seventh grade when Prisoner of Azkaban came out. My friends had been telling me for a while how awesome HP was (a teacher at our fifth grade school read Sorceror's Stone aloud, hooking an entire group of them two years previously). But at the time, I was a diehard Science Fiction only sort of person. And I was reading adult books. I thought I was too good for that little kid stuff. I had my Star Wars EU and Asimov books. They could keep their Harry Potter.

Then one day I saw Sorcerer's Stone in paperback at Walmart. I figured I'd try to see what all the hype was about, so I asked my mom to buy it for me. Saying it "changed my life" might seem hyperbolic, but seriously, you guys, it changed my life.

Harry Potter connected an entire generation of readers. Heck, it connected across generation in my own family when I hooked my college age older siblings on it.

I remember how the entire school filled with large doorstopper books for the week after a new HP book came out. Everyone had the same book, and you could tell by book mark placement where someone was and then talk about it with them. It didn't matter who they were. You had this common things. No one in my generation was considered "weird" for liking fantasy. Quite the opposite, you were weird for NOT liking it. No one was mocked for being a reader or reading big books because everyone--jock, nerd, punk, everyone--was reading Harry Potter.

The seventh book came out the summer between my sophomore and junior year in college. At that point I had been reading these books for ten years, literally all of my teenage years. I remember the silence in my home as me, my little sister, and my older brother (we all had our own copies) each read it. I remember going on Facebook as soon as I finished it to try and figure out which other friends had also finished it because I had to talk about it with someone!

Harry Potter defines my generation. It's mind boggling and it's amazing. JK Rowling was the amazing woman who gave us this, and she will always have my thanks because of it.
Constance Sublette
8. Zorra
J. K. Rowling is Good People. There aren't that many of them. Even my spouse who cares nothing for Fantasy, has never read a word that Rowling has written, isn't sure who Harry is, etc. -- he has good words for this writer* who remains true to herself, keeps working and challenging herself despite having wild success -- and looks to do good and make a difference beyond the pleasure her books have provided so many.

Love, C.

-----------------

* He goes so far as to send me links to articles he runs across that speak of her charities or has news about her new books.


Love, C.
Dianthus
9. Galadriel
What a lovely article, Emily!!! Thanks for sharing. It's a fitting tribute to a remarkable trailblazer, one who gives me hope that I might follow even a little bit in her footsteps... and one whose stories have helped me and so many others through some seriously rough times in the muggle world.
Dianthus
10. StephanieB
I love this tribute! :)
The Wanderer
12. The_Wanderer
They may not be the best books I've ever read, but I can't think of series of books that were more fun to read than Harry Potter.

The bullet points are all true for me (except the writing fan fiction part). I don't know if I will ever live to see another book provide all of the experiences Harry Potter provided again. Either way I cherish the memories and the bonding experiences with people that this series opened up for me, and I am eternally grateful for having grown up with these books.

This was a great tribute.
Tom Smith
13. phuzz
If you've not read it, here's an article she wrote about single parenthood.
Tim Marshall
14. smaug86
@#2
I'm confused as to how you could have been in your early 20s when OoTP came out and in your early 30s when Deathly Hallows came out when there were only 4 years between the two books' release dates. In fact, all 7 books were published within 10 years.

I got into HP after GoF was released. I was 31. Someone at work turned me onto the Jim Dale U.S. audiobooks, but I wanted to read the books first so I devoured all 4 books out at that time in a couple of weeks and then listened to the audiobooks. So much fun and joy in that series, along with heartache and pain. It's got it all.
Joseph Newton
15. crzydroid
I, too, have tried a vomit-flavored jelly bean. I blame society.
Chris Nelly
16. Aeryl
@14, Mid 20's and Late 20's then. Could have sworn I'd hit 30 before Deathly Hallows came out.
Dianthus
17. G R Chance
I absolutely LOVE the Harry Potter series I really got into the books in the 4th grade. Reading these books was my ascape from my life. Each book is absolutely unputdownable. I would read by flashlight until 2 in the morning every nightand yes I have been tempted to try a vomit-flavored jellybean but I decided against it.

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