Harry Potter Paper

Excerpt from graduate paper on themes of evil in the Harry Potter series:

Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born on July 31, 1965 near Bristol, England. As a girl she loved to read and had a vivid imagination. She would often make-up stories and tell them to her younger sister, Diane. Though she rarely shared it with anyone, she always had the secret desire to be a writer. When it came time to attend college, she chose Exeter University and elected to study French, even though she loved English literature, because her parents thought it would be a more practical course of study. After college, she taught English as a second language in Britain and France and worked for Amnesty International as a bilingual secretary.

In the summer of 1990, Rowling was traveling on London-bound train when she had an idea for a story about a boy who had magical powers, but didn’t know it. After four hours of delays on the train, she had the basic outline for the story of Harry Potter. Later that same year, Rowling’s mother died after a ten-year battle with multiple sclerosis. Soon after her mother’s death, she moved to Portugal to teach. In Oporto, Portugal she met her future husband; the couple was married in October of 1992. In July of 1993, her daughter, Jessica was born, but at the end of the year, Rowling and her husband divorced. She and her daughter moved to Edinburgh, Scotland to stay with her sister.

As a newly divorced, jobless, single parent, Rowling could see that life in Edinburgh would be difficult. But she was dedicated to finishing her first book about Harry Potter. She already had the first three chapters written and a collection of outlines, stories, and ideas, so she devoted herself to finishing the book. She rented a tiny flat and relied on money from part-time jobs and public assistance to pay her bills. She left the apartment whenever she had the chance, taking her daughter out with her in a stroller to write in cafés or restaurants. Finally in 1995, after living in Edinburgh for eighteen months, she finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. She found a full-time job as a typist and sent out three sample chapters to several literary agents.

As an unknown, first-time author there was very little chance that her unsolicited manuscript would ever be read by these agencies, let alone accepted. But, by some fluke, her manuscript ended up on the desk of Christopher Little of Christopher Little Literary Agency. Though Little did not usually take children’s authors as clients, he was enchanted by Rowling’s story. A few weeks later, Rowling, expecting to be disappointed, opened her mail to find a letter that said, “Thank you. We would be pleased to receive the balance of your manuscript on an exclusive basis.” [1]

Little began looking for a publisher, but many of the major houses turned the story down. Virtually all of them said that, at 300 pages, the story was too long for a children’s book. Finally, in 1996, Bloomsbury Publishing agreed to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But, since a female author might discourage boys, Bloomsbury wanted Rowling’s name to appear on the cover as J.K. instead of Joanne. She happily agreed.

In July of 1997, five hundred copies of the book were printed and released in Great Britain. The novel received excellent reviews and was a hit among children. At the end of the year, several American publishing companies attempted to buy the rights to the book. A bidding war ensued, and in the end Scholastic Book Group purchased the publishing rights for $105,000, the highest amount ever paid for a foreign children’s novel. 

To release the book in the United States, some words and phrases had to be Americanized. The biggest change was the title, which became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In September of 1998, the book became available in the US. It was an instant success.

By the time Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released in July of 2000, all four books occupied spots on the New York Times best-sellers list. As a result, the 68-year old list created a separate section for children’s books. The sudden fame and success came as a surprise to Rowling. In a 1997 interview, she said, “I never expected to make money. I always saw Harry Potter as this quirky little book. I liked it and I worked hard at it, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine large advances.” [2]

Today, Rowling lives in Scotland with her second husband, Dr. Neil Murray, her daughter, Jessica, and the couple’s two children, David and Mackenzie. Her fortune is estimated at over one billion dollars, making her the first person to become a billionaire by writing books. However, Rowling has sought to downplay her rags to riches story. In 2002, she told an interviewer, “some articles written about me have come close to romanticizing the time I spent on Income Support. The well-worn cliché of the writer starving in the garret is so much more picturesque than the bitter reality of living in poverty with a child.” [3] As a result of her humble beginnings, she has generously given to many charities including writing two books for Comic Relief, donating time and money to help advance multiple sclerosis research, and serving as the ambassador for the National Council for One Parent Families in Britain. She loves meeting the children who read her books and she still writes in cafés whenever she can. She is beginning to work on the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series; one that she predicts will be encyclopedic in length. [4]

The impact of these books on society and culture has been enormous. Harry Potter has been parodied, protested, and praised by virtually everyone in the English-speaking world. But, it’s not just Americans and Britons who love Harry; the series is also very popular with an international audience, having been translated into almost sixty languages. [5] The first three movies have grossed over $800 million in the US alone. [6]

These stories have also revolutionized the children’s book industry. Not only are children buying these books in record numbers, but they also want similar stories while they wait for the newest Harry Potter installment to come out. This has led to huge growth in fantasy novels and series books, both of which mean huge profits for the children’s book industry.

Outside of the merchandising of the series, the books have helped encourage children to read more. Who would have thought we would see the day when an eleven-year old child would pick up an 800-page book to read over the summer? Who would have ever guessed that being a careful reader could ever make you “cool” in the eyes your friends? This is the true magic of the books and one of the many reasons they have received so much praise from people all over the world.


[1] Charles J. Shields, Mythmaker: The Story of J.K. Rowling, 46.

[2] George Beahm, Muggles and Magic, 74.

[3] George Beahm, Muggles and Magic, 113.

[4] Information for J.K. Rowling’s biography was taken from Conversations with J.K. Rowling, J.K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter, Mythmaker: The Story of J.K. Rowling, Wikipedia, and Rowling’s personal website.

[5] “Harry Potter in Translation,” Wikipedia.

[6] MovieWeb.

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