The Magic Behind Harry Potter
Interviewer: Lesley Stahl
Source: Sixty Minutes (CBSNews)
Date: October 3, 2002; re-edited in 2006
Context: Publicity tour for Book 5
Video: 10 video clips about 2 minutes each
Note! Related transcript: this transcript is of the version that was released in 2006. The transcript of this interview as it was originally broadcast is also available. Thanks to 'daydreamcharms' for the transcript!
[see also video]
Lesley Stahl: Now tell us about why the books are published under "J.K. Rowling". Was that so that the boys who read the book would think that a man had written it?
J.K. Rowling: I wrote "Joanne Rowling" on my manuscript and about a month before it was published my British publisher phoned me and said "Could we use your initials?" And I said... "Mmmm... yes... but why?"
Agent: Traditionally, boys don't like to read books written by girls. Girls read books written by anybody. But boys have this sort of particular sort of sexist thing.
JKR: And their theory was that this was a book that would be great for boys but they felt boys might not read it if a woman had written it. And because I was a ridiculously grateful first-time author and I wanted to do anything to keep my publishers happy and I said "Yes, yes, yes, use my initials." And then about three months after the book was published, I was on "Blue Peter" which is a very popular children's television program over here, which blew that one completely out of the water, of course, because everyone knew I was a woman anyway, so I might just as well put Joanne in the first place....
LS: Yeah, but they got hooked.
JKR: Yes, too late now. Hahaha.
"Where is Hogwarts?"
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Lesley and JKR are in the grounds of Edinburgh Castle
Lesley Stahl: This kinda looks like Hogwarts, doesn't it?
JKR: Bizarrely, I've come to live in the shadow of what could be a lot like Hogwarts, excerpt Hogwarts has a lake.
LS: That's strange. You wrote it before you moved here...
LS: ... before you saw it....
JKR: Yeah, I didn't know Edinburgh totally.
LS: You know what that is... it's magic!
JKR: That would be it.
LS: It's just spectacular here....
JKR: Hogwarts is a very real place to me, and although I wasn't then living in Scotland, I've always imagined it to be in Scotland... which... it was never made explicit in the books but the British reader will know that because if you do travel for a day from King's Cross Station in London and you go north, you end up in Scotland. So it was always supposed to be here.
LS: Is that why you moved here, so....
JKR: No no no no. I didn't move here to try and get copy or anything, it was pure coincidence. My sister was living here and I came for Christmas and stayed. I've been here ever since.
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Lesley Stahl and JKR are in JKR's study.
JKR: I did pictures of characters...
LS: Oh, you did?
JKR: Yeah. No one's ever seen these before, either.
LS: Oooh. These are your own drawings?
LS: Oh, show us...
JKR: (hands Lesley a drawing) ... from ages ago....
LS: Oh, look at this! Oh... (camera shows drawing of Hagrid, Dumbledore and McGonagall as Hagrid brings baby Harry to Privet Drive) you can draw.... (Lesley points to Hagrid on the drawing) Hagrid... am I saying his name right?
LS: Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall... and this is what night?
JKR: The night that they bring Harry from his parents' house to the Dursleys, so that's when his life takes a sharp downturn.
LS: So what else did you draw? Did you ever draw Harry?
JKR: That's Harry. Harry at the Dursleys... (JKR hands Lesley a drawing of Harry in front of the fireplace at the Dursleys' home, with pictures of Dudley on the mantelpiece).
LS: Oh, look at Harry! Oh, Dudley! (points at Dudley on the drawing)
LS: Look at Dudley. Little pig's nose. And none of these drawings were ever in the English version...
LS: ... the English editions...
JKR: No. These were just things I did for my own amusement... (holds up a drawing of Harry looking into the Mirror of Erised) and that was Harry looking in the Mirror at his dead family...
LS: His hands are wonderful, because it looks like he's desperately trying to bring them into him.... and they all are so nice! I mean, look at those faces compared to...
JKR: I know...
LS: (holds the drawing with the Dursleys' pictures alongside the Mirror of Erised drawing) these faces....
[see also video]
JKR: I have no nostalgia, whatsoever... Childhood... I mean, uhmmm, I wouldn't go back if you paid me. Ever. And I can remember moments of joy in childhood such as you can't be captured because you are totally weightless, aren't you, you have no responsibilities. So when you're a happy boy, you're happy. There's nothing at the back of your mind, as there is now, right now, during this interview, saying "You didn't pay the gas bill, and they're gonna cut you off while you're being interviewed!" So you have that. You forget... well, I don't forget... but adults surprise me by appearing to forget how powerless you feel as a child, how despairing... and just... enormous pressures on you as a child, even a happy child...
LS: And how cruel the other kids can be.
JKR: They can be vicious! I was bullied. And, uhmmm, I hated it. I had great friends which got me through that, no problem. But I can remember, yeah, going home in tears, yeah. I can remember not wearing the right clothes. Yeah...
LS: You were an unhappy child.
JKR: No, I don't think I was an unhappy child. I wouldn't look back to say I was an unhappy child. There were times when I was unhappy. I think that the point I'm making is that I can remember how unhappy I was, unlike many adults who will look back, and all would have been just as unhappy as I was, but would go "Oh, it was a golden time, it was a golden time." Forgetting. And if you really talked to them, "Yeah, there was a boy who used to wait for me on the corner of our street everyday with a cricket bat." "Yeah, that sounds delightful. You must have just loved that." But people forget.
LS: But isn't the mind a wonderful thing to let you erase that....
JKR: Mine clearly isn't, because it won't let me erase it.
LS: So it's poured into the books, but you give this to the rest of us, it's great.
[see also video]
LS: You are pretty eccentric, aren't you?
JKR: Yeah, in ways. But that's okay. Only a tiny bit. Just a quarter turn again, nothing...
LS: What's wrong with eccentric? You almost are apologizing for it, it's wonderful.
JKR: It's because, you know, there's something quite nauseating about someone saying "I'm eccentric and wacky." Generally, people who say that about themselves are actually...
JKR: Quite boring. So I'm a bit nervous about laying claim to that. But I would say, yeah, maybe, maybe I am, a bit.
LS: What's the most eccentric thing about you? Beside your Harry Potter books.
JKR: (chuckles) That's almost like asking someone "What is the thing you would least like the public to know about you?" I don't really... (laughs)
LS: You got me.
JKR: Nice one! And I don't really want to go to there.
[see also video]
LS: Quidditch. I have to ask you about Quidditch. How did you think that up? That is... it's an exciting game...
JKR: If wizards are living in secret all over Britain, they have their own society, obviously they're going to have their own sport, you know, every culture have that so very important part of their separate culture, isn't it. It's part of their identity. So once I decided they must have their own sport, it had to be on broomsticks. It just had to be. To make it exciting....
LS: It's a game played up in the air on broomsticks.
JKR: Fifty foot up in the air, yeah. And you have long... they're like basketball hoops, except that the basket isn't this way, it's that way in my imagination, like a, you know, vertical hoop. And there are four balls in play at the same time, with their own particular names. I've always wanted just for my own twisted amusement to see a game where there were four balls in play.
LS: Up in the air.
JKR: Yeah. That just adds to it.
LS: It's only seven players with four balls. And what are the little creatures... ummm, bludgeons, or...
JKR: Oh, Bludgers. Right.
JKR: Bludgers are the really dangerous balls. They are like cannonballs. They rocket around trying to knock the players off their brooms. And the Quaffle is what you score the goals with. And the Golden Snitch is the really good one. Extra hundred fifty points if you catch it, and that ends the game.
[see also video]
Lesley and JKR look over her notebooks
JKR: This is an old notebook. This is me trying to invent names, and I found this last night when I was digging through this stuff as well.
LS: Oh, good. I've wondered where you came up with all these fabulous names!
JKR: (shows notebook) Okay, so, this is me trying to invent surnames. We have to be careful about giving too much away here, but. (flips pages) I tend to know the sound I'm after. And then I just... I waste so much paper like this. And I'm just experimenting and experimenting and experimenting, until finally, at the bottom you get a circle and you...
LS: Can we pick one page and really look at it?
JKR: Yeah, that would be...
LS: Ooh, this one. Really. Rapaskey. Rapeskey. Rapor...
JKR: I've only have a good idea of what I'm trying to find. But I don't know I found it until I found it.
LS: There's no circle, I don't think you found it here.
JKR: I didn't find it on that one. And these I found also (shows a piece of paper). These are Gaelic names. Well, these are Gaelic words. It's just a wonderful language. And I ended up using "Mosag" which means "dirty female or filthy", which I really liked. And Mosag is Aragog's wife in Book 2.
LS: Now what you've done is you took some Gaelic words and put the meanings....
JKR: I have loads of them, but that is just a paper that showed you how...
(the video file for this segment was cut here)
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JKR: (holds up a notebook with a chart) Now this would be a grid, this is the grid for the book that I'm working on at the moment, but we don't want to go too close on this 'cause this gives stuff away. I'll have to hide that (covers a section of the chart with her hand).
LS: Well, no one can read that that far away. But tell us what each column is.
JKR: So, this is what I mean about pace. I have to know exactly even though the reader might not know, when everything happens. So you have the month that it's happening so I'm getting the weather right and everything. The chapter title... some of them still to be decided. And... oh, dear... I'm sorry about... (covers another section of the page).
LS: I don't think anybody can see....
JKR: This is one strand of the story, the kind of stuff that has to happen in each chapter. On the back you have more lines with other subplots so you know what's going on. Do you see what I mean? I have to fill in some of these as I go, because as I'm writing it occurs to me how and when things will have to happen.
LS: So this is one year...
JKR: Yeah. It's one year in Harry's life, yeah.
"Killing Harry's Parents"
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JKR: I'm unashamed in saying I love a good yarn. But at the same time, there are deeper issues in the books. For example, in my very first draft or sketch of the plot of the first book, and I mean really early on like in the first week I was writing... I disposed off Harry's parents really in quite a brutal but bloodless way. You didn't really see any of the pain that goes along with losing a parent. But then, first of all, I genuinely began to think I can't do that. It's inconsistent with the tone of what I know is coming later, because death... various facets of death are examined in the books as a whole. And to just (snaps) do it like that as though they were cardboard cut-outs, you know, flip them over and get rid of them, that's not fair. Then my mother died. Six months into the writing of the book. Now, I'd already been kind of turning around on my initial position on killing Harry's parents. But I'm telling you, you don't lose your mother like that and be writing about the death of parents and not stop and think about what you're doing. So that really, that did definitely, that was one point at which my experience of life very much had a profound effect on the book.
"Does JKR Believe In Magic?"
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LS: Now you've brought some books...
LS: (picks up a book) And I have not seen these yet, so... "Fortune Telling By Cards"
JKR: Yeah, I found this in the market. And I just, look at the cover of it. I just had to have it.
LS: And one of the classes Harry takes in Book 3...
JKR: Yeah, he starts learning Divination, and so...
LS: Telling about the future...
JKR: Uh-huh, foretelling the future. I know a lot about foretelling the future, without, I have to say, believing in it, which sometimes disappoints people. Children say to me, "Do you believe in magic?" And I'm forced to say "No, I don't really. Sorry."
LS: You don't believe in magic?
JKR: Nooo... not in that sense. I find it fascinating and I find it fun and I could read your cards for you now and I would hope that we both find it amusing but I wouldn't want either of us to walk away believing in it.
LS: And what's this? You brought another book I haven't seen.
JKR: Oh yeah, this is so useful for me because I'm not a gardener at all. And my knowledge of plants is not great. I used to collect names of plants that sounded witchy, and then I found this. "Culpeper's Complete Herbal", and it was the answer to my every prayer. flax-weed, toad-flax, flea-wort, gout-wort, gromel, knotgrass, mugwort... just everything you could possibly... you know, so when I'm potioning, I get lost in this for an hour. And the great thing is it actually does tells you what they used to believe it did, so you can really use the right things in the potions you were making up. So that was a very handy book to find.
"Writing on Welfare"
LS: So you used to come to this café and write. Now why would you come here? What was the point?
JKR: Why here, particularly, was because I quickly worked out which cafés in Edinburgh would allow me to sit in the corner of a café and write hours on end and order maybe two coffees.
LS: You got only two cups of coffee because you really couldn't afford more...
JKR: I was a bit broke at the time.
LS: You were on welfare.
JKR: I was, yeah.
LS: How'd you get that low?
JKR: Well, in a nutshell, my marriage split up. I've been living in Portugal and working in Portugal. And when my marriage split up, I came back here to Britain and I had nowhere to live.
LS: With a baby, by the way.
JKR: With a baby. With a four-month-old baby.
LS: So with the baby, you would come here.
JKR: I'd walk around Edinburgh pushing her in the push chair and wait till she fell asleep and I would literally run to the nearest café and write for as long as she stayed asleep.
LS (to the café manager): So Jo Rowling was sitting in your cafe, over there in the corner writing away. What were you thinking?
Manager: Not a lot at the time against all the hullaballoo that has come along afterwards. Else, she was just someone else, another customer eating, drinking.
LS: But coming in with the little baby in the baby carriage, sitting in a corner, writing. Did you think... a little daft, or...
Manager: No! No, I mean, she was writing, she was doing what she wanted to do. As far her dream and idea of what she wanted to do and where she wanted to take it.
LS: Do you think that in any way, that you had anything to do with any of the chapters or any of the characters?
Manager: Well, I can claim responsibility for one word and...
LS: One word?
Manager: One word alone. That was "wrathful". That one was in the second book. She just wanted a word for angry, and there it was...
LS: And you came up with it?
Manager: Oh, yes.