Narrator: Just a few years ago, JK Rowling was broke and jobless, a single mother who spent her afternoons writing in Edinborough coffee shops while her baby slept. Today she is rich and famous, the most popular children’s author on the planet.
"'Cause It’s Witchcraft" plays
The Potter books she created evolved into international bestsellers and the first Harry Potter move was a blockbuster success. Her legions of fans are desperate for the next installment of the boy wizard’s adventures. But it is JK Rowling’s story that is the most amazing of all; only now has she agreed to tell it in her own words.
JK Rowling: A lot of rubbish has been written. Not necessarily malicious rubbish, but things get exaggerated and distorted and I just thought maybe the moment has come just to um, just to say how it happened. Truthfully. And then I can at least go easy to my bed and think, well the truth’s out there. And people can take it or leave it.
Narrator: Harry’s arrival on the door step of his muggle, or non-magic relatives, the Dursley’s, is the start of an epic journey. Harry grows up thinking he’s just an ordinary boy until he finds out that in the wizard world his name is legendary and he’s destined to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Then Harry’s adventures really begin as he and his classmates, Hermione and Ron, battle with the dark forces of magic; a story that JK Rowling has meticulously planned to tell over seven books, one for each school year.
It was a journey that began back in 1990.
JK Rowling: I was going by train from Manchester to London, sitting there, thinking of nothing to do with writing and the idea came out of nowhere and I could see Harry very clearly; this scrawny little boy and it was the most physical rush of excitement. I’ve never felt that excited about anything to do with writing. I’ve never had an idea that gave me such a physical response. So I’m rummaging through this bag to try and find a pen or a pencil or anything. I didn’t even have an eyeliner on me. So I just had to sit and think. And for four hours, because they train was delayed, I had all these ideas bubbling up through my head.
Excerpt from PS/SS read by Stephen Fry: Harry was small and skinny, with brilliant green eyes and jet black hair that was always untidy. He wore round glasses and on his forehead was a thin, lightning shaped scar.
I can’t describe the excitement to someone who doesn’t write books except to say it was that incredibly elated feeling you get when you’ve just met someone with whom you might eventually fall in love. That was . . that was the kind of feeling I had getting off the train. As though I’d just met someone wonderful and we were about to embark on this wonderful affair. That kind of elation, that light headedness and that excitement. And, um, so I got back to my flat in Clapham Junction and started writing. And I’ve now been writing for 10 years, so it’s been a good affair.
Cut to images & Video of King’s Cross Station.
For me, King’s Cross is a very, very romantic place. Probably the most romantic station purely because my parent’s met here. So that’s always been part of my childhood folklore. My dad had just joined the navy, my mum had just joined the Wrens. They were both traveling up to Abroath in Scotland from London and they met on the train pulling out of King’s Cross. So, um, I wanted Harry to go to Hogwarts by train. I just love trains, I’m a bit nerdy like that, and obviously therefore it had to be King’s Cross.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Harry: Excuse me, sir, can you tell me where I might find Platform 9 ¾? 9 ¾?
Conductor: Think you’re being funny, do ya?
Like a lot in the Harry Potter books, it was reality with a twist. I wanted to find another entrance to the magical world, but I didn’t want a kind of time warp thing. I like the entrances to be places you can only find if you have the knowledge. So anyone who ran at the barrier with enough confidence would be able to break through, um, onto this platform between platform 9, platform 10.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Mrs. Weasley: Best do it at a bit of a run if you’re nervous.
Ginny Weasley: Good luck.
I wrote Platform 9 ¾ when I was living in Manchester and I wrongly visualized the platforms and I was actually thinking of Euston. Um, so anyone who’s actually been to the real platforms 9 and 10 in King’s Cross will realize they don’t bear a great resemblance to the platforms 9 and 10 as described in the book. So that was just me coming clean there. I was in Manchester. I couldn’t check.
It was five years from the train journey where I had the original idea to finishing the book. And during those five years this mass of material was generated, some of which will never find it’s way into the book – will never need to be in the books – it’s . . . it’s just stuff I need to know for my own pleasure – partly for my own pleasure and partly because I like reading a book where I have the sense that the author knows everything. They might not be telling me everything but you have that confidence that the author really knows everything.
Cut to: Rowling on the floor, papers everywhere, going through notes, papers, notebooks on the Harry Potter Universe
Ok, so this is um, to the untrained eye might look like a pile of wastepaper, but um, this is 10 years work. As you can see I file meticulously. And I know where every single piece of paper is (coughs in sarcasm). I’ve dragged out a few bits and pieces.
So this is the name of everyone in Harry’s year. And all these little symbols mean what house they’re in, how magical they are, what their parentage is because I needed this later for the death eaters and so on and the various allegiances that would be set up within the school.
I like this. This was ages – this was ’98 and this was me trying to find words for the Dementors. So I’ve all these Latin words written all over the inside of my diary.
I used to cover just about anything with writing as you can see. This is my application for housing benefit in 28 Gardiner’s Crescent which is where I – the first place I lived, obviously, when I was in Edinburgh um, treated with complete lack of respect by me.
Discarded first chapters of book one. I reckon I must’ve got through fifteen different alternative chapters of book one. The reason for which I discarded each of them were they all gave too much away. And in fact if you put all those discarded first chapters together, almost the whole plot is explained.
This is an old notebook in which I worked out, and again I don’t want you to come close on this, that is the history of the death eaters.
Where’s my Portuguese diary (in US we call them Planners) gone? There it is. So this is a Portuguese diary, as you can see. Not filled in. Uh, because I’ve never filled in a diary in my life. But it had paper in it to write on. So we have another draft of book one, chapter one.
I drew a lot of pictures. I drew them for no one but me. I just wanted to what, what characters looked like. So anyway, that was Argus Filch. No prizes. Snape obviously. That is um, Harry, arriving in Privet Drive with Professor Mcgonagall, and Hagrid, and Dumbledore. That was a Gringott’s cart. Mirror of Erised. That’s the Weasley’s. Professor Sprout. I like this one. I thought I’d lost this picture actually. Because I was going to show it to Chris Columbus. Um, and true to form I only found it when it was no use and they’d already, they had already filmed that bit anyway. But this is how the entrance to Diagon Alley works in my imagination. So Chris is going to murder me when he finds out I had a pic of it all along and he was asking me how it worked. But it was buried in boxes.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film - entrance to Diagon Alley.
Hagrid: Welcome, Harry, to Diagon Alley.
Narrator: As JK Rowling continued to build Harry’s world, her own fell apart. She arrived in Edinburgh in 1993, after a brief time teaching English in Portugal. There she’d married, had a baby, and then left her husband. She had no job, virtually no money, and a tiny daughter to support.
JK Rowling: That was the phase where the ‘penniless single mother’ sort of tag to my name came along, which is true. But it wasn’t enough that I was a penniless single mother, I had to write on napkins ‘cause I couldn’t afford paper and then we started straying into the realms of the ridiculous. Let’s not exaggerate here, let’s not pretend I had to write on napkins, because I didn’t. They’ve started sort of adding little bits and pieces that just weren’t necessary because the stark reality was bad enough.
Cut to outside Rowling’s old apartment in Edinburgh.
I haven’t been back here since 1994, when I moved out. And um, I don’t like being back here, which is no offense to the place, but I’ve uh, I’ve kind of avoided this place since I moved out in um, just in deference to the fact that it was a pretty unhappy six months. I did a lot of writing here. I would say it’s here that really the first book became a book, as opposed to three chapters and a collection of notes. So are we going to go in then? Off we go.
You couldn’t really objectively speaking look around and say ‘Well, you’ve made a success of your life.’ I was 28, I was living on benefit. I was living on about 70 pounds a week, I had no work. And so, suddenly being in position where actually I couldn’t support myself because obviously anyone who’s tried to get state child care will know that you’ll be very lucky to get the kind of child care that means you can even work part time. So it was all a real shock to the system.
Cut to inside the apartment.
Oh my god. This is um. This is, this is so different. This. . oh my gosh. Oh wow. This is so so different to how it was when I was here. This is nice. This is really nice. And I’m really glad. You just expect time to stand still when you’ve walked away from a place, and I should know better. I have just been . . . every time I come anywhere near this place or passed it in a bus or a taxi I’ve imagined as it was when I . . when I lived here. And it’s, it’s all been . . . I would have been delighted to live here. This is great actually. It is. It’s like an exorcism. Everything was just very very very dilapidated. And always filthy, which wasn’t the flat’s fault, it was normally my fault because people very often say to me ‘how did you do it, how did you raise a baby and write a book?’ And the answer is – I didn’t do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. And um, living in squalor, that was the answer.
During the day I was writing in cafes, as everyone famously knows. But can I just say for the record, once and for all, ‘cause it’s really irritating me, I did not write in cafes to escape my unheated flat. Because I am not stupid enough to rent an unheated flat in Edinburgh in mid-winter. It had heating. I went out and wrote in cafes because the way to make Jessica fall asleep was to keep her moving in the push chair. So I used to take her out, tire her out, put her in the push chair, walk her along, moment she fell asleep into the nearest café and write.
Cut to shots of Jo entering Nicolson’s Café.
So this is Nicolson’s, where I wrote huge parts of the book. Um, this was a really great place to write because there are so many tables around here that I didn’t feel too guilty about taking a table up for too long. And, um, that was my favorite table. I always wanted to try and get that one because it was out of the way in the corner.
Words on screen: "Back in 1997." Rowling shown in corner café window writing.
It was just great to look up while you were writing and stop and think about things and be able to look out on the street, which was quite busy. They were pretty tolerant of me in here partly because one of the owners is my brother-in-law. And I used to say to them ‘Well you know, it gets published and I’ll try to get you loads of publicity.’ And it was all just a big joke. No one ever dreamt for a moment that was going to happen.
To muster the willpower to keep going with no promise of publication, obviously I must have really believed in the story and I did. I really believed in it. But it was more a feeling of – I have to do right by this book – I have to give it my best shot. But at the same time my realistic side was reminding me that a completely unknown author always has a struggle to get published. And who knew? Just because I thought it was so great was no guarantee that anyone else would like it.
Narrator: JK Rowling sent her manuscripts off and lined herself up a literary agent, only to find that publishing houses threw Harry on the reject pile.
Christopher Little (Literary Agent): In the very beginning, we were very excited about it in, in the agency. But it was a very difficult book to sell. Um, and an, quite a large number of publishers turned it down. It was too long, it dealt with going away to school, which is something that was regarded as being not politically correct.
Barry Cunningham (Former Editor at Bloomsbury): Well of course everybody now denies turning it down. And, um, uh, and want to distance themselves from this, uh, from this terrible terrible error.
JK Rowling: Is it nice to name names? You’re nodding, but I don’t think it’s very nice to name names.
Christopher Little (Literary Agent): It was all the major publishers we know.
Barry Cunningham (Former Editor at Bloomsbury): Among them Puffin and
Collins, for sure. It’s like turning down the Beatles, isn’t
The very first question she asked me was ‘how do you feel about sequels?’ And then she told me the entire story of Harry Potter, all through the entire series. I realized of course that she knew exactly about this world and where it was going and who it was going to include, how the character would develop and of course it was fascinating because this doesn’t normally happen. Children’s book characters don’t grow up in real time normally, you know, their locked in the time they are and the sequels are endless re-runs of the same kind of adventures. But to have a character developing in real time as his age developed was a really interesting idea.
I gave Jo one memorable piece of advice. Uh, after our first lunch together we were sitting down and I said, ‘The important thing, Jo is for you to –
JK Rowling: - keep your real job.’ He said, um, Barry said, and Christopher, my agent also said to me –
Christopher Little (Literary Agent): - children’s authors, you know, really don’t make any money.
JK Rowling: They, both of them, were at pains to say to me ‘We really like the book, but um, you know it’s not that commercial.’
Narrator: Bloomsbury publishing acquired what would become the biggest phenomenon in modern literature for only 2,500 pounds. That’s about $4000.
JK Rowling: That was, second to the birth of my daughter, the best moment of my life. Christopher phoned me up on a Friday afternoon and he said it so matter of factly.
Christopher Little (Literary Agent): She was speechless, certainly for at least the period of time it takes to build enough steam for a big scream, I think.
JK Rowling: And he said ‘Are you alright, are you still there?’ And I said ‘Um, well it’s just that my only lifetime ambition has just been fulfilled.’ And I was – that was the best. The best moment. Nothing since has come anywhere close to the fact that I was actually going to be in print. It was going to be an actual book in a bookshop. The best moment, oh my God.
Narrator: JK Rowling introduced both Harry and her readers to a magical world in Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone. Not only does Harry find out he’s a wizard, but a famous one at that. He’s renowned as the miraculous survivor of a brutal attack by the evil Lord Voldemort, who murdered his parents. Through his adventures at Hogwarts, Harry begins to find out the mysteries of his past.
Philip Pullman (writer): The orphan is an excellent protagonist for any story because they’re free and yet they’re bereft. They’re bereft of what gives a child most of the sense of who he or she is and where they come from and where they belong. So they cut adrift in some strange way. They have this great need – because we all need to know where we come from and we need to find where we will eventually belong.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Sorting Hat: Hmm. Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There’s talent, oh yes, and a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you?
Harry Potter: Not Slytherin, not Slytherin.
Sorting Hat: Not Slytherin, eh?
JK Rowling: When he first arrives at school he’s totally unsure, he has the feelings we all have – as adults as well – when you enter a new place and you don’t know what’s going on. But greatly exaggerated by the fact that he is set apart even there by his fame and his ancestry. And, um, this curious quirk, um, that meant that he survived this, what should have been a fatal, attack.
He’s every boy, but with a twist.
Narrator: JK Rowling mixture of the everyday and the magical, the matter-of-fact, and the mystical permeates her books.
Excerpt from SS/PS read by Stephen Fry: ‘You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making’, he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word. Like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. ‘As there is little foolish wand waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with it’s shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind and ensnaring the senses. I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even stopper death.’
JK Rowling: I don’t believe in witchcraft, though I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told I’m a practicing witch. Ninety – let’s say ninety five percent at least, of the magic in the books in entirely invented by me. And I’ve used things from folklore and I’ve used bits of what people used to believe worked magically just to add a certain flavor, but I’ve always twisted them to suit my own ends. I mean, I’ve taken liberties with folklore, um, to suit my plot.
Witches and wizards are a huge part of children’s literature. It’ll never go away, I don’t think it will ever, ever, ever go away, 100 years, 200 years time there’ll be another kind of wizard’s story.
Narrator: In 1997, JK had moved on to the second book in the series,
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Book one was doing well, but
nowhere near its popularity today. JK Rowling was still making her living
as a teacher.
Then something happened that would change her world forever. In 1997, Harry Potter cast a spell on America. American publishers got caught up in a bidding war for the book.
Arthur A. Levine (VP, Scholastic Publishing): My boss would say, ‘ok,
do you love it?’ and I’d say ‘Yes, I love it.’
‘Ok, stay in the auction. Do you love it this many dollars?’
‘Uh, yeah.’ I kept saying yes, I just was getting more and
more nervous, um, because at the end of the day this is more money than
I had ever paid any author as an advance, let alone an advance for a first
novel. It was unprecedented.
And she said, ‘Do you love it $105,000?’ And I said, ‘Yes! Yes!’ And she said, ‘Well go ahead and make that offer.’ And that was it.
Narrator: The deal with Scholastic meant that at last JK Rowling could fulfill her life long ambition: to become a full time writer.
JK Rowling’s memories of her childhood have profoundly influenced her writing. She was born in 1965 in Chipping Sodbury, and grew up near Bristol with her parents, Ann and Peter and her younger sister, Di. She admits to being bookish and bossy as a child, not unlike one of Harry’s best friends.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Ron: Wingardium Leviosa!
Hermione: No, stop stop stop. You’re going to take someone’s eye out. Besides, you’re saying it wrong. It’s levi-o-sa. Not levio-sa.
Ron: You do it then if you’re so clever.
JK Rowling: When I started to write Hermione, when I actually got hold of a pen, she came incredibly easily, um, largely because she’s me.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Ron: Go on, Go on.
Hermione: Wingardium Leviosa. [feather floats]
I was swotty, and I had that, you know, sense of insecurity underneath. Trying to compensate for that by getting everything right all the time. And like Hermione, I projected a false confidence, which I know was very irritating to people at times, but underneath it all, I felt completely and utterly inadequate, which is why I completely understand Hermione.
Narrator: Even as a very young child, JK Rowling loved to write, completing her first book at the age of six.
JK Rowling: The first finished book I did was a book called ‘Rabbit,’ um, about a Rabbit called Rabbit. Thereby revealing the imaginative approach to names that has, um, stood me in such good stead ever since. Um, and I wrote the Rabbit stories for ages to the point where, um, a series, a series of books about Rabbit which were very dull, um, illustrated by the author.
The one book I could say that specifically influenced my work was, um, The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. She always listed the exact food they were eating. Wherever you were in the book, whenever you had a meal, you knew exactly what was in the sandwiches. And I just remember finding that so satisfying as a child.
Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, read by Stephen Fry: There were shelves upon shelves of the must succulent looking sweets imaginable. Creamy chunks of nougat, shimmering pink squares of coconut ice, fat honey-colored toffess, hundreds of different kinds of chocolate in neat rows. There was a large barrel of Every Flavor Beans and another of Fizzing Whizbees, the levitating sherbet balls that Ron had mentioned.
As I moved into my teens I was into very dramatic, gritty realism, entirely influenced by Barry Hines and Kes. Unfortunately I didn’t live in a northern town. My urban landscape wasn’t very developed because I lived in Chepstow, in the middle of a lot of fields and it’s quite hard to be a disaffected urban youth in the middle of a muddy field.
Cut to outside cottage in Chepstow
So this is a cottage, obviously, where I lived from the age of nine.
My bedroom’s furthest on the right and, uh, I spent an awful lot
of time in that bedroom writing. I have very happy memories of this place.
It’s quite emotional being back here actually, because, um, I’ve
only once been – because my dad left this house shortly after my
mother died. So I’ve only once been back here since my mum died.
I remember hanging out of my bedroom window, smoking behind the curtains late at night. My father will not be happy to hear that. I wasn’t very clever about that either. Because, you know, I used to leave the cigarette, the cigarette ends were, you know, below the window, I mean – ‘Oh yes, someone from the pub dad’s been throwing them into the garden again.’
It was at Wydean that I met Sean, which has been a very important friendship in my life – huge friendship in my life. I always felt a bit of an outsider and that might, perhaps explain why Sean and I were so close because he came in late, like me he didn’t have a local accent, and so I think, to an extent, we both felt like outsiders in the place, and that probably formed quite a big bond between us.
So this is, um, Sean, to whom the second Harry Potter book is dedicated, and Ron owes a fair bit to Sean. I never set out to describe Sean in Ron, but Rean has a Sean-ish turn of phrase.
Excerpt from SS/PS:
Ron: Whew. We made it. Can you imagine the look on McGonagall’s face if we were late? (McGonagall transforms from cat to human) That was bloody brilliant.
McGonagall: Oh, thank you for that assessment, Mr. Weasley
Sean: I think with the, the Ron character, I think what comes through, to me anyway, maybe I’ve misinterpreted it, is that he, he’s always there, or thereabouts well-intentioned.
JK Rowling: He’s always there when you need him, that’s Ron Weasley. Sean was the first of my friends to pass his driving test. And, um, he had this old Ford Anglia, old claptrap Ford Anglia – turquoise and white – which is now quite famouse as the car that the Weasley’s drive. Well I was obviously going to give the Weasley’s Sean’s old car. And that car was freedom to us. And my heart still lifts when I see an old Ford Anglia, which is a bit sad.
Excerpt from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets read by Stephen Fry: It was as though they had been plunged into a fabulous dream. This, thought Harry, was surely the only way to travel, past swirls of turrets of snowy cloud in a car full of hot bright sunlight with a fat pack of toffees in the glove compartment and the prospect of seeing Fred and George’s jealous faces when they landed smoothly and spectacularly on the sweeping lawn in front of Hogwarts Castle.
He was the coolest man in school. He had a turquoise Ford Anglia -
Sean: Turquoise Ford Anglia –
JK Rowling: And you were pretty cutting edge I think.
Sean: I was in those days, yeah.
JK Rowling: Yes.
Sean: It’s all gone horribly wrong since, but –
JK Rowling: Spandau Ballet haircut. Sorry.
Sean: And, um, of an evening she’d phone up and say, ‘Come pick me up,’ and I’d drive down there and we’d head off somewhere else in the car. So the car became –
JK Rowling: And sit under the Severn bridge
Sean: And sit under the Severn bridge or else where?
JK Rowling: And discuss life. And drink. It’s a very sad life isn’t it? This – this is what we thought was exciting when we were seventeen. We used to sit down here in a Ford Anglia. Yeah, those urban kids, they don’t know what they miss.
Narrator: JK Rowling escaped small town life by attending the University of Exeter. There she earned a degree in French and Classics before moving to London. Then, a bombshell hit. Her mother, Ann, and been battling with Multiple Sclerosis for a decade when the disease took her life.
JK Rowling: Mum dying was like this depth charge in my life. The pain of her, of her going and just missing such a huge part of her life – she was 45 when she died which is far too young to die – far too young to leave your family. Never knew what we all ended up doing and so on. For mum there would have been a particular glory in being a writer because she was the real book lover. And so, it does add a little bit of poison to the knife, if you like, that the one thing that I think she really would have prized she never knew.
Perhaps two or three days after I had the idea for Harry, um, I disposed of his parents in a – in quite a brutal way. Not a cruel . . . not cruel . . . it didn’t read in a cruel way, but I mean it was very cut and dry, nothing lingering, no debate about how it had happened or . . and that stage, no real discussion of how painful that was going to be. Well, of course, mum - mum died six months after I had written my first attempt at an opening chapter. Um, and that made an enormous difference, uh, because I was living it – I was living what I had just – what I had just written.
The Mirror of Erised is absolutely entirely drawn from my own experience of losing a parent. ‘Five more minutes, just please God, give me five more minutes.’ It’ll never be enough.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Harry: (at Mirror of Erised) Mum? Dad?
After five minutes of telling her all about Jessie and, you know, because she – she has a grandchild whom obviously she never saw, and then I’d just be trying to tell her about the books and then I’d realize that I hadn’t asked her what was it like to be dead. Fairly significant question. But I can well imagine that happening. But it would never be long enough, that was the point of Chapter Ten. You know, it’s tougher on the living and you’ve just got to get past it.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Quirrel/Voldermort: KILL HIM!
Death is an extremely important theme throughout all seven books, I would say possibly the most important theme. If you are writing about evil, which I am, and if you are writing about someone who’s, essentially, a psychopath – you have a duty to show the real evil of taking human life.
Excerpt from SS/PS Film:
Quirrel/Voldermort: (screaming) What is this magic?
More people are going to die. And, um, they, well there’s at least one death that I. . . that I . . that is going to be horrible – horrible to write. To re-write actually because it’s already written. But, um, it has to be.
Narrator: Some parents have questioned whether children can cope with the darker side of the books.
JK Rowling: It’s very interesting how parents think that they have the right to dictate to you because you’re writing reading materials for their children. I got a horrible letter on book two – very, very stuffy letter – from a mother saying, um: ‘This was a very disturbing ending. And I’m sure a writer of your ability will be able to think of a better way to end the next book.’ Um – so basically ‘liked it ‘till 2/3 of the way through but, um, if you could really address this issue in the future – and I’ll be back in touch if I find you unacceptable.’ And it was at that point that I snapped. And I wrote back and said: ‘Don’t read the rest of the books. Yours sincerely, Jo Rowling.’ There’s no point, I mean, there’s no point, I’m not taking dictation here.
Do I care about my readers? Profoundly and deeply. But do I ultimately think that they should dictate a single word of what I write? No. No, I am the only one who should be in control of that. And, I’m not writing to make anyone’s children feel safe.
Narrator: 1999 marked JK Rowlings transformation from popular author, to international superstar with the launch of Book Three – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. For the first time ever, three books by the same author topped the New York Times best-seller list. Her book signings began to resemble rock concerts. At the stroke of midnight on July 8, 2000, Potter-mania took hold with the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Thousands of fans waited in line for hours for a copy.
Random scenes from the release of Goblet of Fire:
Bookshop Clerk: “Don’t read the ending before the beginning! Don’t do that!”
Young Reader: “Oh, God, this is definitely not the way it’s supposed to start.”
In Toronto, an audience of 12,000 gathered for the biggest book reading ever. JK Rowling was terrified.
JK Rowling: I’ve never been good at speaking in public, in fact, it’s a borderline phobic. And I thought: ‘What have I done?’
Excerpt from Toronto Reading:
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – JK Rowling!
And I felt so pathetically, woefully inadequate for the task ahead. Just me with my book, shaking. And I had two earplugs, so I could only very distantly hear the noise of the crowd.
Excerpt from Toronto Reading:
JK Rowling: Good Morning. I am delighted and terrified to be here to be honest with you.
So I did my reading. And once I was up there, I was actually ok.
Excerpt from Toronto Reading:
JK Rowling: But Dudley kept running his hand nervously over his backside . . .
And then I finished and I said ‘Thank you very much’ and that’s – whatever I said – and I just wanted to hear what it actually sounded like. So I took out one of the plugs. And it was as though my ear drum exploded. I actually heard the noise that everyone else could hear in the stadium. It was unbelievable.
If you could take me back and you were able to tell me exactly what has happened . . . first off I wouldn’t believe you at all. Then if you managed to convince me of the truth, then I don’t know what I would have done because I would have thought, ‘I won’t be able to handle that, I won’t be able to cope with that.’ So I don’t know, um, what I would have done. And there’ll be people watching this who will never believe that because of the money, but the reality of it is has been a strange and terrible thing at times.
How ironic is it that I spent five years imagining myself into the mind of a boy who became suddenly famous. I mean I spent five years doing that - imagining what it would be like to live in total obscurity and suddenly be famous.
It’s never pleasant, when they go digging in areas that have absolutely no relevance to your work. I mean, there’s a lot of my life that has absolutely nothing to do with Harry Potter. Journalists who shall remain nameless – though I can’t really think why ‘cause I think these people should pay for their crimes – um . . went after my father. . . um. . . and pursued a very horrible line of questioning with him along the lines of ‘Why does your daughter hate you?’ Which was a bit of a shock for my dad as I’d just got off the phone from him. And, um, fairly upsetting. And they came and door stepped me – they came to my front door and started banging on the front door, and, um, that really wrong-footed me completely because in my total naivety I though, ‘Oh if I just stay at home and work,’ you know. So, um, I think then I realized this isn’t going to go away.
Narrator: And in some places the books have sparked controversy. JK Rowling has become the center of a modern day witch hunt. Some Christian groups claim the Potter books promote the occult. In South Carolina, parents have tried to ban Harry from the classroom.
Excerpt from a Department of Education Meeting:
‘The books, uh, we believe, promote the religion of witchcraft, Wicca.’
‘I’m deeply concerned. I spent a lot of time in prayer crying because I’ve seen the effects of putting negative thoughts into the minds of our children.’
JK Rowling: The pause is due to all the very rude things I’d like to say to these people bubbling up and now I’ll say the polite version. And the polite version is: That’s not true. Not once has a child come up to me and said, ‘Due to you, I’ve decided to devote my life to the occult.’ People underestimate children so hugely – they know it’s fiction. When people are arguing from that kind of standpoint I don’t think reason works tremendously well. But I would be surprised if some of them had read the books at all.
Narrator: So far, nothing can cloud JK Rowling’s success. The long awaited Harry Potter movie achieved the biggest opening weekend in film history.
JK Rowling: The closer the viewing came, the more frightened I became to the point where when I actually sat down to watch the film, I was terrified. Because I just thought, ‘Oh please don’t do anything that’s not in the book, please don’t take horrible liberties with the plot.’
I liked it, which was a relief, as you can imagine. Yeah, I’m, I’m happy.
I am loving writing book five. Harry gets to go to places in the magical world we haven’t yet visited. More boy/girl stuff inevitably – they’re 15 now – hormones working overtime. And Harry has to ask some questions that I hope the reader will think, ‘Well why hasn’t he asked that before?’ Harry find out a lot more – a lot more in this book, um, about his past.
Narrator: Harry Potter’s life won’t completely unfold until book seven. JK Rowling has already written its last chapter.
JK Rowling: This is the thing that I was very dubious about showing you. And I don’t really know why because what does this give away. But this is the final chapter of book seven. Um, which I’m still dubious about showing you. I don’t know. Well I feel like the camera’s going to be able to see through the folder. So this is it, and I’m not opening it for obvious reasons. This is. . . this is really where I wrap everything up, it’s the epilogue. And I, I basically say what happens to everyone after they leave school – those who survive – because there are deaths – more deaths coming. It was a way of saying to myself, ‘Well you will get it, you will get to book seven one day. And then you’ll need this!’ So I’d just like to remind all the children I know who come around my house and start sneaking into cupboards that it’s not there anymore – I don’t keep it at home anymore for very, very, very obvious reasons. So there it is.