On J K Rowling and Harry Potter’s birthday, Manasi Y Mastakar revisits the magical world of Hogwarts and the author’s literary journey and success
J K Rowling needs no introduction. The name is synonymous with magic, Harry Potter and Hogwarts and has become a force to reckon with for her fans and loyalists over the years. Born Joanne Rowling, she chose K from Kathleen (her paternal grandmother), to be a part of her pen name, J K Rowling. Rowling first arrived on the literary scene 20 years ago, with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which was released on June 26, 1997. Seemingly unknown to the literary world (and readers) Rowling soon garnered praise and critical acclaim for her story about a young orphan wizard. Harry and Rowling have become a cult since then with fans of the series calling themselves Potter heads – a sacred covenant of Harry Potter loyalists.
The Harry Potter connect
One can’t speak about Rowling and not bring up Harry Potter. The idea for Harry Potter came fully formed to Rowling while travelling on train from Manchester to London King’s Cross in 1990, when the author literary saw Harry passing by her during her travel. Over the next five years, Rowling planned her seven books, without telling anyone, she would work on her manuscript whenever time would permit. Rowling’s mother’s death had tremendous influence on her and she channelised her own feelings of loss into writing about Harry’s own feeling about loss in an exhaustive manner in the books.
Rowling came on the literary scene as a children’s author, but soon became a favourite amidst adults as well. What is it that connected her and Harry Potter to adult readers? “Because adults need to disappear into fantasy worlds as much as kids need to; perhaps more than kids need to,” quips former professor Dr Hutoxi Randeria.
And perhaps this element of escapism is what made it connect with the audience. “For me Harry Potter is comfort reading. I always turn to the series when I’m going through a rough patch in my life. Be it sailing through turbulent domestic problems or coping with father’s sudden heart attack, Harry Potter has been the lumos in my life,” says Manasvi Shirodkar, a Potter fan.
Or it was the characters and the prose that made readers fall for Rowling’s debut novel. Speaking enthusiastically about it, bibliophile Pratibha Masand says, “First of all there are the characters themselves. Each is there for a reason. And if you notice, every single one of them depicts one aspect of human nature – love, loyalty, jealousy, passion, evil, misery, fear, kindness, etc. A person is incomplete without each of these. And so the characters tend to become as beloved to a reader as oneself. Then there is Rowling’s writing style. It’s simple. Effective. I love her sarcastic, sometimes dry sense of humour. She has the ability to make you sit on the edge of the seat until you finish the book.”
Though the craze around the first book wasn’t as tremendous as it is today, Rowling soon etched herself on the minds of millions. Says Masand, “My first memory of Harry Potter book is in 2006. Unlike every other Potter fan, it was the Half Blood Prince that I read first. I was always an avid reader. But at that time I hadn’t developed a ‘taste’. So I read anything and everything. So I borrowed the 6th book from a friend. I remember crying my heart out when Dumbledore died (and this was without understanding Dumbledore’s full significance, because I hadn’t read any of the previous ones remember…). Well then that was it. I got hooked on. Read third, fifth, second and first (in that order as per availability of the books). Then read them again in the correct order and have been reading them since (cannot even remember how many times).”
“The first Potter book I read was Prisoner of Azkaban. I remember finding it so quirky! The way Harry is described as loving his homework is the first thing that pops up. Then, I was just floored by the magic of it all: Diagon Alley, Hippogriffs, Animagi,” shares PhD student Nikita Mamtora about her first encounter and memory of the Harry Potter book.
“Had given up after struggling through the first few pages, but a 13-year-old said I should go on and so I did,” avers Geeta Bhagat, a mom who later became a Potterhead.
Being relevant even today
“For many people he is a role model, a stress buster, a resource. Several readers also look up to Rowling; her journey is an inspiration for many. She has fought depression, overcame rejection at the hands of several publications who rubbished Harry Potter and laughed at the thoughts of magic and wizards and witches. And then she created a character which defies logic. And when I see so much hatred all around, I think we need fantastical role models like him, who can teach us to be powerful from within,” says Clinical Psychologist Dr Seema Hingoranny, when asked what is it that makes Harry Potter and Rowling favourite among readers and relevant even today.
“The series will always remain relevant. Because a) it is not set in any particular time period. b) Human nature remains the same. So every child and adult can at all times relate to the characters and the way they make you feel. c) The main plot of the series – Good over Evil – will never go out of business. Our Epics, Bible, age old stories are an example of this,” asserts Masand.
Being a part of science
Over the years, as Harry Potter gained popularity, fans across the globe started calling themselves Potterheads, and soon became a cult. So much so that, science too wanted to understand this craze with Rowling and Harry Potter. There are numerous studies conducted on the protagonist and the series. Two of which proved how reading Harry Potter makes you empathetic and the other tried to show how Harry Potter readers have a reduced sense of prejudice.
“Speaking about prejudice, I think there is a lot to do with Harry’s maturity. The way he presented himself, never developed hatred against his aunt and uncle who treated him in the worse way possible. The best part is he has powers but has no arrogance about it, unlike some other characters in the book. He never sought vengeance either, even against Voldemort, he just wanted the fight to end and survive, and don’t we all! And Rowling has built the character in such a way that somewhere it gets etched in your subconscious mind and you try to imbibe Harry’s traits and be more like him. Speaking about empathy, I think it’s a lot to do with other characters in the book. Hermione for example, and even others around Harry are always so empathetic towards him and protective of him. Rowling has put in so much empathy in all the characters that when you read the books, you are filled with empathy yourself,” opines Dr Hingoranny.
In April 2013,Rowling wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling, a crime novel, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Though the literary world at first was unware of this fact, it came to light when a tweet claimed that the writer was actually Rowling. Richard Brooks, the arts editor of Sunday Times, started his investigation when he was told by novelist India Knight that Galbraith and Rowling were the same person. He soon found that Galbraith and Rowling share the same literary agent, and subsequently contacted Rowling’s agent who confirmed that Robert Galbraith and J K Rowling are the same person. And on her Robert Galbraith website Rowling later explained that she took the name from one of her heroes, Robert Kennedy, and a childhood fantasy name she had invented for herself, Ella Galbraith.
In 2012, Rowling penned The Casual Vacancy, her first publication since the last Harry Potter book. The novel received mixed reviews, but still managed to rake in the sales and become number one on several bestselling charts. In 2015, the novel was adapted into a television drama broadcast. The author has also treated Harry Potter fans with several standalone novels based on the wizarding world. To name a few would be Tales of Beedle the Bard (first featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (mentioned in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), Quidditch Through the Ages (mentioned in Prisoner of Azakaban) and Short Stories from Hogwarts.
Time to stop
And in celebration of 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, two more books are lined up for release this year: Harry Potter: A History Of Magic and Harry Potter — A Journey Through A History of Magic. And over the years, Rowling has kept Harry alive in several forms, be it on Twitter or in publication. But it is time to give Harry a rest. After all, anything in excess isn’t good for health. And Rowling, should take a cue from the failure of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
“I was horribly disappointed with Harry Potter and the cursed child. So if the upcoming books are some more fan fiction made with Rowling’s blessings, then I seriously am not interested. It would frankly be wise to leave the series alone. It has been milked all it was worth,” asserts Masand. While Mamtora feels, “I have mixed feelings about this. I would never say never, but maybe not now. But at the end of the day, I do support the writer to do whatever makes her happy. So if she would like to churn out more stories from this world, I will be happy to read them. At the same time, if she doesn’t, whatever has already been put out won’t feel incomplete.”