"It's literature, it is about what we are like, about deeper things than just telling stories. It's just that it's aimed at an audience who don't drink a lot of chardonnay."
-- Robbie Coltrane ("Hagrid")
The Harry Potter books are a series of stories written by Scottish author Joanne Rowling. She writes under the pen name of J.K. Rowling, although in reality she has no middle name (the inital ‘K’ was borrowed from her grandmother, Kathleen).
The books tell the story of a boy named Harry who was raised by an abusive aunt and uncle from age 1 until age 11. On his 11th birthday, he learns to his amazement that he is actually a wizard and that he will be attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The books tell of his years at Hogwarts, one book for each of the seven years.
As Harry learns more and more about his true indentity, he also learns that he is part of a larger saga, an almost legendary confrontation between good and evil, between him, along with his friends and allies, and the greatest Dark wizard of the age, Lord Voldemort. Harry discovers his place in this great struggle as his years at Hogwarts go by and as he finds himself becoming enmeshed in battles and conflicts.
The Harry Potter books are available in a number of editions, including hard cover, soft cover, and audio books. Bloomsbury and Raincoast have also released the books in adult editions, but these are identical to the “children’s” editions in all respects except the covers.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) (U.S. title)
About the Harry Potter books
in Rowling’s own words:
These are comments drawn from the published interviews with JKR. All of these interviews are copyrighted to their various sources.
Interview by Borders Online 1999
A Conversation With J.K. Rowling
How did you get the idea for Harry Potter?
J.K. Rowling: I was taking a long train journey from Manchester to London in England and the idea for Harry just fell into my head. At that point it was essentially the idea for a boy who didn’t know he was a wizard, and the wizard school he ended up going to.
How long did it take to write the first book?
JKR: Five years, although during that time I was also planning and writing parts of the six sequels.
What did you have to do to make sure readers could start with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and not be confused?
JKR: It’s becoming more of a challenge to keep new readers up to speed with every new Harry book (I’m currently writing the fourth). In the case of Chamber of Secrets, matters were relatively straightforward; I tried to introduce information about Harry and his first year at Hogwarts in as natural a way as possible. However, by the time I reach books V and VI, this is going to be much harder. It makes me think of “Previously on ER…” when you have to watch 30 minutes of clips to understand that week’s episode. Maybe I’ll just write a preface: “Previously in Harry Potter…” and tell readers to go back and read books I-IV!
What kind of manuscript changes had to be made to make the U.S. version more understandable to American readers? Specific things, like the title change of the first Harry Potter book?
JKR: Very few changes have been made in the manuscript. Arthur Levine, my American editor, and I decided that words should be altered only where we felt they would be incomprehensible, even in context, to an American reader. I have had some criticism from other British writers about allowing any changes at all, but I feel the natural extension of that argument is to go and tell French and Danish children that we will not be translating Harry Potter, so they’d better go and learn English. The title change was Arthur’s idea initially, because he felt that the British title gave a misleading idea of the subject matter. We discussed several alternative titles and Sorcerer’s Stone was my idea.
Did you always plan to write Harry’s story in more than one book? If so, how many?
JKR: I always conceived it as a seven-book series because I decided that it would take seven years — from the ages of 11-17, inclusive — to train as a wizard, and each of the books would deal with a year of Harry’s life at Hogwarts.
Any hints you could share about what to expect in future Harry Potter books?
JKR: The theme running through all seven books is the fight between good and evil, and I’m afraid there will be casualties! Children usually beg me not to kill Ron whenever I tell them this; they seem to think he is most vulnerable, probably because he is the hero’s best friend!
SCHOLASTIC INTERVIEW February 3, 2000 (Sch1)
Did you make up the plot in every aspect first by charting the characters and knowing exactly what you would do with them, or did you just piece a lot of it together as you wrote?
I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. It’s more fun. 🙂
How did you come up with Harry Potter?
Harry just sort of strolled into my head, on a train journey. He arrived very fully formed. It was as though I was meeting him for the first time.
Do you write every day, and for how long do you write?
I write nearly every day. Some days I write for ten or eleven hours. Other days I might only write for three hours. It really depends on how fast the ideas are coming.
Why did you choose the lightning bolt as a trademark for Harry Potter?
Just because I decided that it would be an interesting and distinctive mark.
Do you still write in cafes, or do you have to stay out of public places while you write so people won’t bother you?
I still write in cafes, but I go to different ones now!
SCHOLASTIC INTERVIEW (October 16, 2000) (Sch2)
My impression is that the Harry books are getting “darker” somehow. Is this because he is growing up, and his readers have to do the same?
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.
Can you give an example of a surprise in your writing process, such as a character you weren’t expecting?
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.
How did you think of all the cool things that happened to Harry?
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
Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do when this happens?
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!
Do you have a favorite passage from one of your books?
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.
How did you get the idea to send Harry to a wizard school?
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!
Has the huge popularity of Harry Potter changed the direction of the plot in any way?
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!
Did you write Harry Potter because you like fantasy books, or just because the idea came to you?
The latter. In fact, I am not a great fan of fantasy books in general, and never read them!
Do you imagine the pictures or images in your head before you write, or do you have to draw them?
I imagine them very clearly and then attempt to describe what I can see. Sometimes I draw them for my own amusement!
Which book was the most fun for you to write?
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.
Do you like being a writer?
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.