On October 16, 2000, classrooms across America went online to ask J.K. Rowling their burning questions about Harry Potter. Below is the transcript from that interview.
WARNING: The transcript below reveals plot elements from Harry Potter Books 1 through 4. If you have not read all these books, you may not want to continue.
Question: The wand chooses the wizard, of course, but what magical
creature would you select for your own wand?
J.K. Rowling responds: I'd like a phoenix feather, which is why I gave it to Harry!
Question: What shape would a Boggart take if it wanted to scare you?
How would you defeat it?
J.K. Rowling responds: I think I'd probably have Aragog, as Ron did. I hate spiders.
Question: I know you have had children throughout the world tell
you how Harry has changed their lives, but is there any one story a child
has told you that really stands out in your mind?
J.K. Rowling responds: My favourite was the girl who came to the Edinburgh Book Festival to see me. When she reached the signing table she said "I didn't want so many people to be here — this is MY book." That really resonated with me, because that's how I feel about my own favourite books.
Question: Is Voldemort some sort of relative of Harry's? Possibly
his mother's brother?
J.K. Rowling responds: I'm laughing...that would be a bit Star Wars, wouldn't it?
Question: In your first book there is a secret message on the Mirror
of Erised. Are there any other secret messages throughout the book that
we should be watching for?
J.K. Rowling responds: Not secret messages of that type, but if you read carefully, you'll get hints about what's coming. And that's all I'm saying!
Question: My impression is that the Harry books are getting "darker"
somehow. Is this because he is growing up, and his readers have to do
J.K. Rowling responds: It's really because Voldemort is getting more powerful, but yes, also because Harry is fourteen now. At fourteen, you really do start realising that the world is not a safe and protected place — or not always.
Question: Can you give an example of a surprise in your writing
process, such as a character you weren't expecting?
J.K. Rowling responds: Yes, it was a big surprise to me that Mad Eye Moody turned out the way he did. I really like him. I didn't expect to.
Question: How would you describe the relationship between the wizard
world and the Muggle world?
J.K. Rowling responds: Uneasy co-existence! Harry discovers that life in the magical world mirrors, to a great extent, life in the Muggle world. We are all human. There's still bigotry and small-mindedness (unfortunately).
Question: In the fourth book, when Harry tells Dumbledore about
his fight with Voldemort and how Voldemort could touch him after he took
Harry's blood, Harry thinks he sees Dumbledore smile slightly. Why? Is
Dumbledore really on Voldemort's side after all?
J.K. Rowling responds: Hmmmm....like all the best questions I get asked, I can't answer that one. But you are obviously reading carefully. I promise you'll find out!
Question: Are there any books you would recommend to your fans to
read while they await Book 5?
J.K. Rowling responds: Loads! Read E. Nesbit, Philip Pullman, Henrietta Branford, Paul Gallico. Just read!
Question: Why did you choose to make the sport Quidditch so important
to life at Hogwarts?
J.K. Rowling responds: Because sport is such an important part of life at school. I am terrible at all sports, but I gave my hero a talent I'd love to have had. Who wouldn't want to fly?
Question: With all the book tours in different countries you've
done, have you met any interesting people or discovered a new place that
might affect future writing, or that left a special impression on you?
J.K. Rowling responds: I have always loved traveling, but I can't say that I have met anyone who has influenced the Harry books. You see, I planned them all so long ago before any of this happened to me.
Question: If you were Animagus, what kind of animal would you be?
J.K. Rowling responds: I'd like to be an otter — that's my favourite animal. It would be depressing if I turned out to be a slug or something.
Question: Why did Harry have a pet owl instead of something else?
J.K. Rowling responds: Because owls are easily the coolest!
Question: How did you think of all the cool things that happened
J.K. Rowling responds: Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It's a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed.
Question: How would you like teachers to use your books with students
(e.g. discussion, worksheets, book reports, etc.)?
J.K. Rowling responds: The teachers I have met who have used the books in the classroom have all done so very imaginatively. It's been wonderful to see the work students have produced. I particularly enjoyed reading essays on what students think they would see in the Mirror of Erised. Very revealing!
Question: Friends are very important in your books. What do you
think is the most important thing in friendship?
J.K. Rowling responds: Acceptance, I think, and loyalty. There are enough people in the world to give you a hard time. A friend is someone who gives unconditional support.
Question: Do you ever get writer's block? What do you do when this
J.K. Rowling responds: I've only suffered writer's block badly once, and that was during the writing of Chamber of Secrets. I had my first burst of publicity about the first book and it paralysed me. I was scared the second book wouldn't measure up, but I got through it!
Question: Do you have a favorite saying or motto?
J.K. Rowling responds: Draco dormiens numquam titallandus, of course.
Question: Do you have a favorite passage from one of your books?
J.K. Rowling responds: Hard to choose. I like chapter twelve of Sorcerer's Stone (The Mirror of Erised), and I am proud of the ending of Goblet of Fire.
Question: How did you make the spells? Did you make them up, or are
they real names of people and places?
J.K. Rowling responds: The spells are made up. I have met people who assure me, very seriously, that they are trying to do them, and I can assure them, just as seriously, that they don't work.
Question: Are you going to write a book about other characters than
J.K. Rowling responds: Yes, when I've finally finished all seven Harry Potter books, I will write something else.
Question: When you were a little girl, did you dream or ever think of
Harry Potter or someone like him?
J.K. Rowling responds: Not really, though some of the fantasies I had as a child (like flying) are in the books.
Question: There are hundreds of rumours and theories going around about
your books! Have you seen these, and do you plan to use any of the ideas
found in them?
J.K. Rowling responds: No, I'm not using any of the ideas. To be honest, I avoid reading most of that stuff. Some of it is funny, some of it is weird, and some is just downright crazy.
Question: We're doing a lot of writing at our school. At what age did
you start writing, and did you love to write as a child?
J.K. Rowling responds: Yes, I loved writing as a child. I wrote my first "book" when I was six years old about a rabbit, called "Rabbit.
Question: What do you think about the movie? Do you think that it'll destroy the adventure of the books?
J.K. Rowling responds: If I believed that, I wouldn't have sold the film rights!
Question: What got you started writing? And how did you get your breakthrough
to get the first book published?
J.K. Rowling responds: I've been writing since I was six. It is a compulsion, so I can't really say where the desire came from — I've always had it. My breakthrough with the first book came through persistence, because a lot of publishers turned it down!
Question: Did you use the library a lot as a child?
J.K. Rowling responds: Yes, I loved the library, though I was very bad at returning books on time. I once ran up a bill at university of over fifty pounds in overdue fines, which was a lot of money to a struggling student. (It didn't stop me doing it again though!)
Question: How did you come up with the idea of the underground chamber
in Chamber of Secrets?
J.K. Rowling responds: I always knew the chamber was there. I don't know what first gave me the idea; I just liked the thought that Slytherin had left something of himself behind.
Question: Are you having a lot of input on the new Harry Potter movie?
J.K. Rowling responds: I've been allowed a lot of input. They have been very generous in allowing me to make my opinions heard!
Question: What person from history has influenced you the most?
J.K. Rowling responds: Hmmmmm.....Well, my heroine (though she's not really from "history") was Jessica Mitford. I named my daughter after her. I found her inspiring because she was a brave and idealistic person — the qualities I most admire, in other words.
Question: Did you write another book before writing the Harry Potter
J.K. Rowling responds: Yes, I wrote (and almost finished) two novels for adults and a lot of short stories. I never finished the first two books because I realised in time that they were...very bad.
Question: How hard was it to pick the actors to play the characters
in the movie?
J.K. Rowling responds: I didn't pick them, so easy for me! But I think they are wonderful.
Question: Are the Harry Potter books being translated in other languages,
J.K. Rowling responds: The Harry books are available in Portuguese, both a Portuguese and a Brazilian version.
Question: How did you get the idea to send Harry to a wizard school?
J.K. Rowling responds: The idea as it first came to me was about a boy who didn't know he was a wizard until he got his invitation to wizard school, so there was never a question that Harry would go anywhere else!
Question: Has the huge popularity of Harry Potter changed the direction
of the plot in any way?
J.K. Rowling responds: No, not at all. People have asked me whether Rita Skeeter was invented for that purpose, but in fact she was always planned. I think I enjoyed writing her a bit more than I would have done if I hadn't met a lot of journalists, though!
Question: Do wizards and witches have to go Muggle school before they
go to Hogwarts?
J.K. Rowling responds: No, they don't have to.
Question: How does the Dark Lord affect American wizards and witches?
J.K. Rowling responds: He affects everyone, but his plan is European domination first.
Question: Which house was Lily Potter in, and what is her maiden name?
J.K. Rowling responds: Her maiden name was Evans, and she was in Gryffindor (naturally).
Question: Did you write Harry Potter because you like fantasy books,
or just because the idea came to you?
J.K. Rowling responds: The latter. In fact, I am not a great fan of fantasy books in general, and never read them!
Question: Do you imagine the pictures or images in your head before
you write, or do you have to draw them?
J.K. Rowling responds: I imagine them very clearly and then attempt to describe what I can see. Sometimes I draw them for my own amusement!
Question: What grade and subject(s) did you teach?
J.K. Rowling responds: French, but it should have been English. I don't know why I did French at university, except that my parents wanted me to. So learn from my mistake — do what you want, not what your parents want!
Question: I'm hooked! My son and I read them every night. Thank you
so much for giving us this time to share something so wonderful together!
He's to be Harry for Halloween. We'd like to know how soon for the next
book (like everyone else), but mostly just wanted to thank you for sharing
Harry with us!
J.K. Rowling responds: That's wonderful to hear, thank you. Well, book five is underway, but I don't yet know when it will be available. It'll be ready when it's ready, is the best I can say!
Question: How do you write the really long books without getting bored?
J.K. Rowling responds: Oh dear...does that mean you get bored reading them?! I never get bored with the writing. I could (and often do) write all day and evening.
Question: Does Harry have a middle name?
J.K. Rowling responds: Yep, James after his dad.
Question: From where did you get the name for Harry Potter?
J.K. Rowling responds: 'Harry' has always been my favourite boy's name, so if my daughter had been a son, he would have been Harry Rowling. Then I would have had to choose a different name for "Harry" in the books, because it would have been too cruel to name him after my own son. "Potter" was the surname of a family who used to live near me when I was seven years old and I always liked the name, so I borrowed it.
Question: Which book was the most fun for you to write?
J.K. Rowling responds: Prisoner of Azkaban, without a doubt. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's my favourite book. I love them all, but bizarrely the two that were most difficult to write, Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire — are my favourites.
Question: Do you like being a writer?
J.K. Rowling responds: I love being a writer. I am very lucky my life's ambition turned out to be just as much fun as I thought it would be.
Question: As an adult reader, I loved the books and was surprised at
how much humour is in them. The Dursleys sound like something out of Monty
Python! Do you like British comedy?
J.K. Rowling responds: British comedy is an obsession of mine. I love Monty Python.
Question: There are an extraordinary number of
names that start with
"H" (Harry, Hermione, Hedwig, Hogwarts, Hagrid, Hufflepuff).
Is there any reason for that?
J.K. Rowling responds: Erm...no!
Question: Will you ever write an official autobiography?
J.K. Rowling responds: No, I don't think so. My life is really very boring. You wouldn't want to read about me cleaning out the rabbit cage!
Question: What is Bonfire Night?
J.K. Rowling responds: Good question! We celebrate November 5th in Britain every year. There was a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The ringleader of the plot was called Guy Fawkes (spot any Harry Potter connection?!), and we burn him in effigy and set off fireworks to celebrate not losing our government.
Question: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
J.K. Rowling responds: A writer...always.
Question: What books do you read in your free reading time?
J.K. Rowling responds: Loads...usually novels and biographies.
Question: Harry Potter for grownups again! Is Voldemort the last remaining
ancestor of Slytherin, or the last remaining descendent of Slytherin?
J.K. Rowling responds: Ah, you spotted the deliberate error. Yes, it should read "descendent." That's been changed in subsequent editions. (Keep hold of the "ancestor" one, maybe it'll be valuable one day!)
Question: Will you ever include more illustrations?
J.K. Rowling responds: I don't like too many illustrations in novels; I prefer to use my imagination about what people look like. So the answer is, probably not.
Question: What do you think of fan fiction being written about your
characters, and have you read any of them on the Internet?
J.K. Rowling responds: I've read some of it. I find it very flattering that people love the characters that much.
Question: Is there something more to the cats appearing in the books
than first meets the eye? (i.e. Mrs. Figg's cats, Crookshanks, Prof. McGonagall
as a cat, etc.)
J.K. Rowling responds: Ooooo, another good question. Let's see what I can tell you without giving anything away....erm....no, can't do it, sorry.
Question: If you could be a wizard, who would you be?
J.K. Rowling responds: If I were a character in the book, I'd probably be Hermione. She's a lot like me when I was younger. (I wasn't that clever but I was definitely that annoying at times!)
Question: When will the movie of Harry Potter be out?
J.K. Rowling responds: November 2001 was the last I heard!
Question: Ms. Rowling, in an article I read in Good Housekeeping,
you stated that the character Hermione received her personality from her
likeness of you at the age. What other things inspired you for other aspects
or details in your books?
J.K. Rowling responds: Ron is a lot like my oldest friend, who is called Sean and with whom I went to school. I never intended Ron to be like Sean, but he turned out that way. Gilderoy Lockhart is also a lot like someone I once knew, but I don't think I'd better elaborate!
Question: What is your favorite wizard candy?
J.K. Rowling responds: Chocolate frogs...I'd like to collect the cards!
Question: How did the Dursleys explain away the tail when Dudley
had to have it removed at the hospital?
J.K. Rowling responds: They went to a private hospital where the staff was very discreet, and said that a wart had got out of control.
Question: How much control do you have on all of the products flooding
the marketplace with a Harry Potter theme? Do you think they will sell
J.K. Rowling responds: Unless it's a Warner Bros. product, it shouldn't have Harry's name on it at all, so I have no control and accept no responsibility! Warner Bros. has allowed me to have a say in merchandise relating to the film.
Question: Is it true that since Voldemort took Harry's blood by
force, that Harry can kill Voldemort, but Voldemort can't kill Harry?
J.K. Rowling responds: It's an interesting theory, but I wouldn't trust it too much!
Question: Do you still have the napkins that you wrote the first
J.K. Rowling responds: I'm giggling...where did you read that? I didn't write on napkins; I wrote in notepads. We really need to squash this myth before people ask to see the used tea bags on which I drafted the first book!
Question: Is the Mrs. Figg with all the cats in the Dursleys' neighborhood
the same Arabella Figg that Dumbledore mentioned at the end of book 4?
J.K. Rowling responds: Well spotted!
Question: The Harry Potter series has lots of humorous moments.
Do you consider yourself to be a really funny person?
J.K. Rowling responds: No, not really. I think I am funnier on paper than I am in person; the exact reverse of my sister who is very funny in person, but writes dull letters!
Question: Can you explain how Lupin turns into a werewolf, since
he didn't turn in the Shrieking Shack in Prisoner of Azkaban, but instead
he turned only when the full moonlight hit him outside the tunnel? If
he only turned into a wolf in the moonlight, why didn't he just stay inside?
Did it have to do with the potion? Or was the moon not up yet?
J.K. Rowling responds: The moon wasn't up when he entered the Shrieking Shack.
Question: As the author, when reading your books, can you enjoy
them as a reader and sympathize with Harry, or is it too hard to be "objective"?
J.K. Rowling responds: Too hard to be objective. When I re-read the books, I often catch myself re-editing them. It's an uncomfortable experience. However, the more time elapses, the less I find myself doing that — I can now read Sorcerer's Stone fairly comfortably.
Question: Did you ever make a study of herbs and other Hogwarts
subjects, or did you create all those classes from inspiration?
J.K. Rowling responds: Most of the magic is made up. Occasionally I will use something that people used to believe was true — for example, the "Hand of Glory" which Draco gets from Borgin and Burkes in Chamber of Secrets.
Question: You said Ron's cousin was taken out of Book 4, and you
developed Rita Skeeter more after that. Do you still think that it would
have been more fun to keep her? Can you tell me anything about what she
was going to be like?
J.K. Rowling responds: Well, maybe I will use her in another book, so I don't want to talk about her too much. I had never "killed" a character before (in either sense) until Goblet of Fire, so that made writing the book a little more stressful!
Question: Why was a different cover illustration chosen for the
books sold in the United States? Why do those books have illustrations
at the beginning of each chapter but the British books do not?
J.K. Rowling responds: Publishers choose to do things differently, and I'm glad about that. It's very exciting for authors to see their work in many different versions. I love the look of the American books, especially the chapter illustrations.
Question: In the second book, Harry and Ron went to the girls' toilet
and met McGonagall. They told her that they were going to visit Hermione,
and she started crying. Why?
J.K. Rowling responds: She found it very touching that Harry and Ron were missing Hermione so badly (or so she thought). Under that gruff exterior, Professor McGonagall is a bit of an old softy, really.
Question: How old is old in the wizarding world, and how old are
Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall?
J.K. Rowling responds: Dumbledore is a hundred and fifty, and Professor McGonagall is a sprightly seventy. Wizards have a much longer life expectancy than Muggles. (Harry hasn't found out about that yet.)
Question: How does the wizarding world protect Muggle banks and
vaults, etc. from wizards apparating into them and stealing the contents?
J.K. Rowling responds: Well, the Ministry of Magic keeps tabs on people apparating. That's why you have to have a license to do it, and the moment you abuse it you can find yourself in serious trouble (or Azkaban!).
Question: How painful is the editing process for you? Compared with
writing a first draft, how long do you spend editing? Who do you conference
J.K. Rowling responds: I work with my editors. I enjoy the editing process, but I edit fairly extensively myself before my editors get to see the book, so it's never a very long job.
Question: Are you writing all the books at the same time, like in
little pieces, while concentrating mostly on the present one, or do you
just have a general idea about them?
J.K. Rowling responds: During the first five years that I was writing the series, I made plans and wrote small pieces of all the books. I concentrate on one book at a time, though occasionally I will get an idea for a future book and scribble it down for future reference.
Question: Any plans for a video game soon?
J.K. Rowling responds: I think there probably will be a video game, but when, I have no idea.
Question: Do you think elementary-age children will be able to read
the other three books in the series?
J.K. Rowling responds: Yes, I do. I personally feel the books are suitable for people aged 8 years and over. Though my daughter, who is seven, has read them all and not been very frightened — but maybe she's tough, like her mother!
Question: When you are not writing or reading, what things do you
enjoy in your free time?
J.K. Rowling responds: Let's see.....when I'm not reading, writing or spending time with my daughter, there isn't much time left over, but I like travelling most.
Question: Some sets on the movies are already being created. Do
you think they represent how you envisioned them in the book? Have you
had any input on the shooting locations?
J.K. Rowling responds: I know they look as I imagined them (those that have been done so far)!
Question: Hello, I was wondering how much Tolkien inspired and influenced
J.K. Rowling responds: Hard to say. I didn't read The Hobbit until after the first Harry book was written, though I read Lord of the Rings when I was nineteen. I think, setting aside the obvious fact that we both use myth and legend, that the similarities are fairly superficial. Tolkien created a whole new mythology, which I would never claim to have done. On the other hand, I think I have better jokes.
Question: Ms. Rowling, for being fictional books, the Harry Potter
books have a great grasp of the Latin language. I have noticed that many,
if not most, of the names and incantations are of Latin heritage. How
much research does it take to give these books their Latin heritage?
J.K. Rowling responds: My Latin, such as it is, is self-taught. I enjoy feeling that wizards would continue to use this dead language in their everyday life.
Question: Will you have a cameo in the Harry Potter movie?
J.K. Rowling responds: No, definitely not. I hate watching myself on-screen!
Question: If there were one thing you could change about the world,
what would it be?
J.K. Rowling responds: I would make each and every one of us much more tolerant.
Question: Do any of the things that happen in the Harry Potter books
reflect any of your childhood fantasies?
J.K. Rowling responds: Flying, definitely. And who wouldn't want to be able to use the Jelly-Legs Curse?
Question: Why did you choose the owl as the animal messenger in
J.K. Rowling responds: Owls are traditionally associated with magic, and I like them.
Question: Our thanks to J.K. Rowling for joining us today. Any thoughts
you would like to leave us with?
J.K. Rowling responds: Keep reading! (And it doesn't have to be Harry Potter!)