J.K. Rowling achieved the impossible– in the age of 24 hour TV programming, movies with massive production budgets and blockbuster advertising campaigns, video games, in the age of the internet, this unassuming British chick came right out of nowhere, and she made books– yes, that crummy old format with leather covers and thousands of pages and tiny text, without even an automatic find and search feature- cool again.
And she did this by creating one of the most memorable and universally appealing characters and stories of all time- assuming you haven’t been living under a rock since before the invention of the internet, you know what I am talking about: The Boy Who Lived, everyone’s favorite bespectacled magical wonder, Harry Potter.
Everyone knows his story. This is hers.
Harry Potter And The Writer’s Background
J.K. Rowling was born on July 31, 1965 (that birthday should be familiar to all Harry Potter readers); Rowling developed a fascination for writing and storytelling, especially fantasy writing and storytelling, as a child, when she would make up fantasy tales to tell to her younger sister. For future readers and fans, her childhood s of interest to us because of some memorable teachers she had growing up- such as her headmaster Alfred Dunn, or Chemistry teacher John Nettleship, who are widely believed to have been the real life inspirations for Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape respectively.
Rowling’s story would not grow remarkable till 1990, when, having moved to Manchester, she came up with the idea of Harry Potter on a four hour train ride. Excited, she immediately began work on the novels that would feature this world and character, with her first book ever, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. During this period, Rowling faced significant turbulence in her life- extreme poverty (Philosopher’s Stone was written entirely on a manual typewriter), depression (Rowling is believed to have based the Dementors on her own experiences with depression), and her mother’s death (these personal experiences leading to her being able to write Harry’s pain at the loss of his parents so well).
Harry Potter and The Pop Culture Phenomenon
This may come as a shock to most of you, but Rowling had significant difficulties in trying to get Harry Potter published. In Britain, the first few agents she sent the manuscript in to rejected it, before a small publisher, called Bloomsbury, decided to take her up on some rather conservative terms. In the US, she found a far more receptive audience, as children’s publishing house Scholastic immediately saw the potential in her story and gave her a significant advance for the publishing and distribution rights of the book in North America.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was an immediate success, and Rowling quickly churned out three more sequels over the next three years. By then, the series had already achieved the kind of success that no book had seen since The Lord of the Rings in the 1950s; but unfortunately, books are limited in their reach because there are so many people who won’t read them, so Harry Potter’s success was naturally limited as well. In 2001, that changed when Warner Bros. released the first Harry Potter movie.
Over the next decade, another seven Harry Potter movies would be released- fans would go religiously to catch the midnight premieres of each movie, and debates about which one was the best rage on to this day (it was very obviously Goblet of Fire, for your information). New fans, who liked the movies, would go on to buy the books and read them, and Harry Potter would become the biggest property in entertainment, with each new movie setting new records, tons of merchandizing, including board games, action figures, and trading cards. Amazingly enough, the books somehow outperformed all of this, with Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, being the most successful launch of anything in history. Yikes.
J.K. Rowling And The Post-Harry Potter World
After Harry Potter was finished, everyone was waiting to see how Rowling would follow up on the success. Her first post Harry Potter work, The Casual Vacancy, an ‘adult’ novel, is widely considered to be a disappointment.
In 2013, a debutant author, Robert Galbraith, published a new detective novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you are wondering what this has to do with J.K. Rowling, well, Galbraith was actually Rowling writing under a pen name to get away from the pressure of expectation. The Cuckoo’s Calling was an immediate success, being met with widely receptive reviews, and great sales (Rowling would follow it up with a sequel in 2014).
Today, Rowling continues to cater to Harry Potter fans with new short stories released periodically, even as she is trying to expand her own creative horizons far beyond Harry Potter. Meanwhile, an entire generation of kids who grew up on Harry Potter now accepts reading as something natural, and is now introducing the next generation to reading- more often than not using those same Harry Potter books that they themselves grew up on. Rowling’s influence and impact is indelible- she created one of the most enduring and popular cross media brands and properties of all time, and she may have been instrumental in ensuring the continued survival and success of books as a medium, even in a world where books were largely obsolete. Even if you don’t care for Harry Potter, you gotta admit that is kind of impressive.