J. K. Rowling

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In addition to her series of novels about the boy wizard Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling (ROHL-ihng) has composed the volumes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001) and Quidditch Through the Ages (2001); she has contributed all proceeds from sales of these works, more than fifty million dollars, to charity. Pretending to be volumes from the library at Rowling’s fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, these two works are brief, comic parodies of the kinds of informative books often written for children. For The Children’s Voice, a charity that she cofounded, Rowling handwrote and auctioned a book of fairy stories titled The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which sold for ¡1.95 million. One of the stories (“The Tale of the Three Brothers”) appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


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J. K. Rowling has received numerous awards for her writing. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize as well as the British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year and the Children’s Book Award. Other prizes for volumes in the Harry Potter series followed, including the Hugo Award and the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award, but all of these pale before Rowling’s unprecedented achievement that, despite writing in a genre (children’s literature) that was not expected to sell well, her Harry Potter series, particularly the last four volumes, so significantly broken sales records as to have changed the publishing industry and probably contributed to a renewed interest in reading for countless children. As millions of large books were put in print at once and delivered throughout the world for the parties that greeted their release, each new Harry Potter volume became a major news event and placed a strain on the avenues of parcel delivery, particularly because of the massive attempt to keep the details of the books secret until they were released. One reason for the popularity of the Harry Potter series is that through these works Rowling has subtly changed the nature of long fiction by showing how it can depict psychological development playfully yet insightfully, in great detail and with myriad interconnections.


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J. K. Rowling became an internationally known writer after the 1997 release of her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (also known as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). The Cinderella-like tale of an ordinary boy who discovers he has magical powers captured the imagination of adults as well as children, and the book soared to the top of international best-seller lists. Rowling was credited by teachers, parents, and librarians with motivating even the most reluctant students to read. Six more titles followed: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). Each successive book became more popular than the previous one in the seven-book series.

Although Rowling’s novels take place in the parallel world of Hogwarts and other magical locations, her young characters are similar to contemporary teenagers. They study, flirt, play sports, gossip, and date. They also wield considerable power that can transform reality in an instant. Following the arc of the hero’s journey, Harry struggles to come of age as a wizard and an adult. In each novel, he must solve a mystery, which leads him to a deeper understanding of his mission to vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort.

Discussion Topics

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Is J. K. Rowling’s conscientious Hermione Granger a better...

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role model for schoolchildren than the homework-neglecting and quidditch-addicted Harry Potter?

To what extent does the Dursleys’ cruel treatment of Harry Potter reflect the usual behavior of untalented people toward the talented?

How much justification is there for the deeply cynical attitude toward government bureaucracy reflected in Rowling’s characterization of such characters as Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge?

Is Voldemort merely a product of his unfortunate upbringing?

If Voldemort is merely a product of his upbringing, is it the case that other “Dark Lords” are bound to emerge continually, that the same social forces will enable them to recruit similarly powerful armies, and that the ability to learn from the lessons of history will eventually enable one of them to succeed where Voldemort failed?

Is it the case that, by virtue of encouraging young people to take a keener interest in magic, the Harry Potter series is deleterious to the cause of science or religion?


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Anatol, Giselle Liza, ed. Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Engaging collection of scholarly essays treating the literary influences, moral and social values, and historical contexts of Rowling’s first four novels.

Blake, Andrew. The Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter: Kid-Lit in a Globalized World. London: Verso, 2002. An intelligent critical examination of the series and its socioeconomic context.

Bochynski, Pegge. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” In Magill’s Literary Annual, edited by John D. Wilson and Steven G. Kellman. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2006. Review of the penultimate novel in the series that explores questions concerning the relationship between Harry and Voldemort and Snape’s true loyalties.

Granger, John. Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. Wayne, Pa.: Zossima Press, 2007. Meticulous examination of Rowling’s first six books that includes chapters on narrative misdirection and predictions on what might happen in the final book based on clues appearing throughout the series.

Granger, John, ed. Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? Wayne, Pa.: Zossima Press, 2006. Collection of essays from fan-theorists who attempt to unravel clues presented in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to predict the outcome of the seventh novel.

Hallet, Cynthia Whitney, ed. Scholarly Studies in Harry Potter: Applying Academic Methods to a Popular Text. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005. Critical analysis of Rowling’s books for teachers, scholars, and college students. Includes chapters on the geography, chronology, and mythology of Rowling’s wizarding world.

Kroznek, Allan Zola, and Elizabeth Kroznek. The Sorcerer’s Companion. New York: Broadway Books, 2001. An illustrated guide to the folkloristic and legendary sources of creatures and devices featured in the series.

Langford, David. The End of Harry Potter? New York: Tor Books, 2007. Thought-provoking analysis of the entire series that addresses questions left unanswered in the first six Potter books.

Lovett, Charles. J. K. Rowling: Her Life and Works. New York: Spark Publishing, 2003. Guide to the early Potter books that features chapter-by-chapter synopses, followed by brief interpretive sections with comments about the mysteries in each book.

Nel, Philip. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels: A Reader’s Guide. New York: Continuum, 2001. Thoughtful and well-researched overview of the first four books written for adults that places the novels in their literary context.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” In Magill’s Literary Annual, edited by John D. Wilson and Steven G. Kellman. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2004. Comprehensive review of the fifth book that includes an informative overview of the series, a detailed plot synopsis, and a shrewd analysis of characters and events.

Schafer, Elizabeth D. Exploring Harry Potter. Osprey, Fla.: Beachham, 2000. Written for teachers and librarians, this sourcebook offers a chapter on the linguistic and mythological origins of characters’ names.

Smith, Sean. J. K. Rowling: A Biography. London: Michael O’Mara, 2001. A cynically exploitative redeployment of information culled from interviews and Web sites.


Critical Essays