James Naughtie: Hello and Welcome to Book Club. Among children of a certain age, JK Rowling is already a name that sits on the shelf with Roald Dahl and with names from an earlier age like Richmal Crompton or even CS Lewis. She, Joanne Rowling, wrote in 1997, a book called Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone. And before long everyone knew that it was a phenomenon. Children and parents gobbled it up.
So today, it's a children's book club. The assembled group of readers here is young. They're all Harry Potter enthusiasts and I know from the cacophony of the last few minutes outside that they can't wait to get stuck into JK Rowling who, I must say, seems surprisingly calm sitting among them all. Welcome to all of you and welcome to all of you at home, young or old, as Harry Potter takes centre stage.
Nothing like this has happened in children's literature for quite a long time. It's a story of magic but also a story of real people. Harry's adventures as a pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are weird and unforgettable.
There are ghosts and wizards; the three headed dog that guards the trap door on the third floor under which nestles the philosopher's stone itself; a fantastical cast of characters in robes and beards. They all populate a world that is as detailed and as real it seems as the ordinary world outside, inhabited by the muggles, which is what Harry and his like call the mortals who have no magic in them and simply don't understand what can happen to you when you take the train from platform nine and three quarters at King's Cross to go into another world. There's Draco Malfoy, the flame-haired Ron Weasley, the swot Hermione Granger, Nick the nearly headless ghost. The four houses in the school compete against each other: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. They play Quidditch, which is football in the air played with broomsticks, and they have problems with a twelve-foot mountain troll and the evil Professor Snape. I think you get the picture...
From the very moment that the owls start to behave very oddly in Chapter one and a cat is seen reading a road map (it's really Professor McGonagall in another guise) you're off on a roller coaster. Harry is pitched against Voldemort, the essence of evil, and it's the start of what you know will be a long adventure.
We've now had two sequels, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and in the last few weeks, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Four more are promised, but it's to the main text that we go back today. I'm surrounded by wide-eyed readers, in the midst of whom sits JK Rowling.
(To Joanne Rowling) What is it that has produced the excitement about Harry Potter? Because, on the one hand there is the magic, there's the fantasy. On the other hand, there is something that is very real: real people and an ordinary world. Where do these two meet in a way that has produced this fascination?
JK Rowling: I always find it very hard to talk about the books in these terms because I find it very, very difficult to be objective about them. To me, they remain my private little world - I was writing about Harry for five years before anyone else read a word of him and it is still an amazing feeling to me, to be in a room, as we are today, with people whose heads are also populated with these characters, because, as I say, for five years, they were my private secret. From the moment I had the idea for the book, I could just see a lot of comic potential in the idea that wizards walk among us and that we are foolishly blind to the fact that the reason that we keep losing our car keys is that wizards are bewitching them for fun.
James Naughtie: He's a good guy, Harry, isn't he?
JK Rowling: Yeah, he's a very good guy, yeah, definitely.
James Naughtie: He makes the world right and good in the end, doesn't he? Did you write it with a sort of moral purpose, to use a pompous phrase?
JK Rowling: No, I've never at any point sat down and thought, what will be this book's moral? Having said that, a moral normally emerges fairly rapidly as I write, so it's not a conscious thing, it tends to evolve as I do the books.
James Naughtie: And yet, the thing is, although it is full of fun, there
is quite a bit of sadness. He is an orphan, or that's how it appears at
the beginning of the book. And there's that awful moment where he looks
in the mirror and sees his parents. Now that's quite a troubling image.
Did you worry about how children would take to that
JK Rowling: No, which sounds very callous. But I never, at any point writing any of the books, worried whether children would understand or whether they would find it funny or whether I would frighten them too much, ever, because I wrote the books entirely for myself. I just went where I wanted to go and hang the consequences really.