Happy birthday J.K. Rowling — here are 10 magical facts about the ‘Harry Potter’ author [Updated]

July 31, 2010 | 5:07 p.m.

JK Rowling

HOGWARTS EXPRESS: It took J.K. Rowling five years to outline and write “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (which would be renamed for the American marketplace) and that long paper chase began when she was at the mercy of the British rail system. She recounted the tale for the BBC in 1990: “I was going by train from Manchester to London, sitting there, thinking of nothing to do with writing and the idea came out of nowhere and I could see Harry very clearly; this scrawny little boy, and it was the most physical rush of excitement. I’ve never felt that excited about anything to do with writing. I’ve never had an idea that gave me such a physical response. So I’m rummaging through this bag to try and find a pen or a pencil or anything. I didn’t even have an eyeliner on me. So I just had to sit and think. And for four hours, because the train was delayed, I had all these ideas bubbling up through my head.”

SPECIAL K: Her full name is Joanne Rowling, and she has no middle name. Everyone who knows her well calls her “Jo.” So where’s that “K” from? Early on in the “Potter” run, her publisher, Bloomsbury, fretted that the target audience of young boys might be less inclined to read a book by a woman, so they suggested a pen-name switch to initials. Without a middle-name letter of her own, she plucked a “K” from the family tree — it’s a reference to her paternal grandmother, Kathleen.

HEADMASTER HERITAGE: Rowling attended St. Michael’s Primary Schoolin Winterbourne, South Gloucestershire, a school founded in 1813 by education reformers Hannah More and William Wilberforce. How much of the stone-walled Hogwarts traces back to Rowling’s time at St. Michael’s? One key creation is a descendant of that schooling: When Rowling attended the school, there was an elderly headmaster with a twinkle in his eye. His name was Alfred Dunn, and the author has said that he inspired the character ofAlbus Dumbledore.

FAMILY TIME:Rowling’s first child, Jessica, was born in 1993. In 2001, the author married Dr. Neil Scott Murray, who, with his dark hair, limited height and round spectacles, resembles a grown-up Harry Potter to some observers. The couple married the day after Christmas in the library of their 19th century home, which sits near the banks of the River Tay in Perthshire, Scotland. It was a small, 20-minute, private ceremony. Jessica got a sibling, David, in 2003 and another, Mackenzie, in 2005.

JK Rowling at premiere

TALL TALES AND OLD FLAMES?:Rowling said of all the characters in the “Potter” universe, only one is a calculated, printed-word version of a real-life person. It’s Gilderoy Lockhart, the puffed-up teller of tall tales who takes credit for the accomplishments of others. Here’s how Rowling once describedthe genesis of the fabulist wizard: “The only character who is deliberately based on a real person is Gilderoy Lockhart. Maybe he is not the one that you would think of, but I have to say that the living model was worse. He was a shocker! The lies that he told about adventures that he’d had, things he’d done and impressive acts that he had committed, … he was a shocking man. I can say this quite freely because he will never in a million years dream that he is Gilderoy Lockhart. Other people have contributed the odd characteristic, such as a nose, to a character, but the only character who I sat down and thought that I would base on someone is Gilderoy Lockhart. It made up for having to endure him for two solid years.” Could Lockhart be based on Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes, who was married to Rowling for nine months in the early 1990s? Consider the fact that Rowling fumed when Arantes planted (or played along with) media reports that he was a concept contributor to the “Potter” saga. “He had about as much input into ‘Harry Potter’ as I had into ‘A Tale of Two Cities,'” Rowling tartly told the New York Times in 2000. (UPDATE 7/31/2010, 4:15 p.m.: Rowling has previously stated that despite suspicions, Arantes is NOT the mystery man behind the Lockhart character. Thanks to reader Siv for posting the pertinent link in the comments section.)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

HOW SOON IS NOW?: If you want a Rowling playlist for your iPod, her favorite group is the Smiths, and she’s also a fan of the Clash.

A TOPICAL DEPRESSION:Rowling had plenty of personal challenges in her life — there are many stories about the single mom’s lean-money days before the “Potter” phenomenon — but some of her darkest days were due to clinical depression. She said the chilling shadows of depression inspired the Dementors, the soul-sucking wraiths of the “Potter” books. “The absence of hope,” she once said of depression. “That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.”

THE “IT” GIRL:Rowling is a role model to many aspiring writers and a hero to millions of readers, but whom did she admire during her own life journey? Rowling named her first daughter after her own idol, Jessica Mitford, the author and journalist who was born in England in 1917 and died in California in 1994. Rowling once wrote of Mitford: “Jessica Mitford has been my heroine since I was 14 years old, when I overheard my formidable great-aunt discussing how Mitford had run away at the age of 19 to fight with the Reds in the Spanish Civil War: ‘And she charged a camera to her poor father’s account to take with her!’ It was the camera that captivated me, and I asked for further details.”

KING’S DECREE:Rowling’s writing approach has become a template — Rick Riordan’sPercy Jackson” books, for instance, are a painfully obvious imitator — and her success leads to a lot of comparison. The commercial victories of Stephenie Meyer’sTwilight” books, for example, conjured up plenty of “Potter” analogies, but Stephen King (who knows a bit about bookshelf sensations) made it clear that Rowling is writing for the ages, not just the season. “Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”

POOR MEMORY: Rowling is one of the richest women in Britain (her net worth is north of $1 billion), but her days of struggle still have strong impact on her memory and political compass. Earlier this year, she wrote an essay entitled “The single mother’s manifesto” for the Times of London in which she railed against the Conservative Party. Here’s an excerpt: “Nobody who has ever experienced the reality of poverty could say ‘it’s not the money, it’s the message.’ When your flat has been broken into, and you cannot afford a locksmith, it is the money. When you are two pence short of a tin of baked beans, and your child is hungry, it is the money. When you find yourself contemplating shoplifting to get nappies, it is the money.”

— Geoff Boucher


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RARE PHOTO: The day Daniel Radcliffe met Rupert Grint…

David Yates reveals where he will split “Deathly Hallows”

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Rowling takes a ride with Potter in Orlando

Dumbledore diss? Gambon sees “no point” in reading Rowling

Daniel Radcliffe talks about life after Hogwarts

Upper photo: J.K. Rowling in July 2007. Credit: Ian West / Associated Press. Lower photo: Rowling at the 2009 premiere of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” in London. Credit: Rune Hellsted / Associated Press.

UPDATED: Joanne Rowling’s first name was spelled incorrectly in one reference in an earlier version of this post.

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70 Responses to Happy birthday J.K. Rowling — here are 10 magical facts about the ‘Harry Potter’ author [Updated]

  1. Jubilee,
    You know what, you're absolutely right. There was a less hostile way to express the idea in my head (which was to say that Riordan's boy demi-god was a direct result of Rowling's boy wizard). Thanks for the comment.

  2. Jubilee003 says:

    I think it's a little rude to say "painfully obvious imitator" when talking about Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson.
    Riordan was a teacher and he could see what the kids needed and he did it.
    But his series is mainly dedicated to his son who is dislexic and ADHD.
    Yes Percy Jackson is a "Harry Potter goes to summer camp" but besides the "this kid is powerful, he is predicted to fight the evil" there's nothing similar.
    Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, Bartimaeus Trilogy, Ravensvliff, Eragon.
    They're all books about young powerful boys fighting their way to a peaceful world.
    I like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter equally because they have great plot, characters and ethics.
    Rowling only opened the path.

    • John says:

      Well said. I recently discovered the Percy Jackson series and the books are great.

    • lynn says:

      yah…i definitely agree with u… harry Potter came first and it's unique plot is very enthusiastic.makes you crave for more,so it gained a billion fans. but i can say that Rick Riordan's Percy jackson series is also captivating. they're both good actually.

      if only the producers of the Percy jackson movie followed and based the real story on the book, it would have been the next big thing like HP phenom

      • Isabel says:

        So true! If they didn't totally screw up the first movie, down to the characters and at some points the plot. They just spent the whole movie searching for these three beads!

    • Allison says:

      Thank you. You took the words right out of my mouth.

    • Lily says:

      You've missed the point by taking it out of context.
      'Rowling’s WRITING APPROACH has become a TEMPLATE…'
      You may think it 'rude' to make the connection between the two authors, but you still admit that it's true, 'Rowling only opened the path'. Therefore, you have no argument.

    • Dim says:

      I really definitely agree and that was a bit rude on their part because, I am a big fan of Percy Jackson.

    • Marie says:

      Maybe Riordan isn't a "painfully obvious imitator." As I haven't read him, I can't say. However, the incredible surge in children's books about magical worlds published after Harry Potter became popular should be noticed. It may just have been publishing companies buying more manuscripts about magical worlds, because the Potter books created a new market. But the proliferation of this particular genre post-Potter is a fact.

    • nayna says:

      Agreed-Percy Jackson is a unique character. Very different from Harry in SO many aspects.He holds his own place and is not an imitation.

  3. rais says:

    Me & my lil sis rolled around in the floor watching Percy Jackson. I'm sorry to know about the authors sick boy. But Really Its "Completely" same patterned! Really Really Cheap Copy of the Classic Harry Potter Series. Even Twilight seems digestable to Percy Jackson(Even the title name comes from Potter). Its like Using Joseph Gordon Levitt in replacement to Heath Ledger (That guy so imitates Heath)

    • Allison says:

      Excuse me? It might have same patterns, but so do many other books! So honestly, don't go comparing Twilight to any Percy Jackson books! Honestly!!!

    • ShootPointBlank says:

      I think including accurate greek mythology in putting it in a modern setting is a bit more innovative than sparkling vampires. Or at least it has more thought put into it, since I gotta admit that sparkling vampires are innovative . . . or just plain wrong.

      Besides, the movie didn't really do the book justice. Only similarity I see is the whole "boy defeats evil" concept. Plotwise, I mean, come on, it uses greek mythology as a background! Saying the two series are the same is like saying apples and oranges are the same because they're fruits

    • nayna says:

      What rubbish- Percy Jackson is a DEMIGOD-not a wizard.The magic in his world is very different .He uses a sword and no spells.I personally prefer the Harry Potter series,but Percy Jackson also TOTALLY RULES!
      Are you sure you've actually even read the books ?You couldn't have written that if you had-only a total imbecile would do that.
      Comparing Rick Riordon with twilight….tch tch…

    • niss says:

      well to compare twilight series to percy jackson in the first place is really offensive to percy jackson fans. seriously, the only think i digested from Twilight series is that you can’t survive a single second of your life without your sparkling boyfriend around. Percy Jackson has waaay more meaningful things within. and FYI, Rick riordan finished his first draft of The lightning Thief on 1992, before J.K Rowling published her first Harry Potter book. so people arguments of how percy jackson is a ‘cheap imitation’ of rowling’s wotk is totally invalid. thank you.

  4. Victoria says:

    thats why chocolate helps when you face a dementor.. lol

  5. siv says:

    From JKR's official website in the Toxic section of the Rubbish Bin where she addresses rumours:
    Gilderoy Lockhart is based on JKR's first husband
    No, he most certainly is not. I have always been honest about the fact that Gilderoy Lockhart WAS inspired by a real man (see the 'Extras' section). For obvious reasons I am not going to identify the person in question – however irritating he was, he does not deserve that – but I can state categorically that I never married him. I do not lie about the inspiration for characters (although at times like these, I wonder why I don’t refuse to answer these questions at all!)
    source: http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/rubbishbin_v

  6. Sarah says:

    Dear Mr. Boucher,
    Thank you for the great article on Jo Rowling. However, I must respectfully correct you on one extremely important fact- her full name is Joanne, not Joanna.
    You can see that here on her official site.
    Sarah :)

  7. Brett says:

    Rowling has proven herself to be a masterful writer in the genre of boy wizardry stories. I personally found DC/Vertigo Comics' "Books of Magic" with boy wizard Tim Hunter, released some 7 years prior to Rowling's first book, to be much more enjoyable as a series, but no one can say that Rowling didn't take the genre into a much more fanciful and very entertaining direction.

  8. Juan-John says:

    Now if only she'd enter the 21st Century and allow her books to be converted to digital e-books….

  9. Tina Huffman says:

    Of all authors, why is Steven King so often quoted as an arbiter of who can write and who can't??? He claims Stephanie Meyers can't write; has he reread Tommyknockers lately? If the press is going to ask an author to comment on another's writing ability, at least pick a truly literary author, Elizabeth George comes to mind, or any number of others.

    • Stosh says:

      Too right! How low of Stephen King to say "…Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a darn. She's not very good." Really? While I agree with many who think Rowling's ability to write a beloved whole new addition to our world in the form of a magical community was genius, Meyer definitely wrote stories and characters that captured the hearts and minds of millions. I wonder if he has read "The Host".

      Although Stephen King has written great stories, many of his are NOT gems. Some have such vulgar and base elements to them I really wish I hadn't read them at all. It has gotten to the point where I won't read one of his new stories unless someone I know has read it first and recommends it.

      • Lily says:

        When determining whether someone is a good writer or not, you need to consider not just the story and its elements, but the sentence structure and word usage. Meyer's texts are full of basic errors that any good writer would avoid. If you are unaware of the techincal errors that Meyer makes, perhaps you could check out some of the many websites that are dedicated to pointing them out.

        Yes, these books have 'captured the hearts and minds' of many people, but most of these people are young people who are ignorant of writing conventions. I fear that by young people reading these books at a critical learning stage, they will pick up Meyer's terrible writing habits.

      • Churl says:

        The point is that King is no one to use as an authority on high literature … sure, the Twilight books might not be Serious Art, but neither is King. He has moments of great writing, but these are often found amid truckloads of kitsch, camp, cliches, and clunky dialogue.

        What's more, I've found King to be more and more tiresome now that he feels the need to weigh in on politics and other authors, sometimes in his syndicated column, sometimes in interviews, and often in his own fiction.

        Don't get me wrong: I've read most of King's work, and he can be a lot of fun. He obviously knows how to write stories that millions of people worldwide want to read — but the same could be said of Stephanie Meyer.

        All I'm saying is that King's not exactly a poet laureate … take his literary judgement with a grain (make that a pound) of salt.

  10. Sara Nowak says:

    Steph meyer cant write for her life. at least you can see the inner meannings the influences etc that drived rowling to write her books while twilight is just plain crap with no meannign.

  11. Cza says:

    When I first read the "Percy Jackson" series, I noticed the similarities of the story to "Harry Potter". The trio (Harry, Ron, Hermione; Percy, Grover & Annabeth), the school (Hogwarts, Camp Half-Blood) even the headmasters (Prof. Dumbledore; Chiron), and an "evil" professor who turned out to be good (Prof. Snape; Mr. D/Dionysus). It has the same pattern but both has a unique storyline. Percy Jackson is dedicated to Mr. Riordan's son, wherein the sign of being a demigod is being dyslexic (their brains can only read Ancient Greek) and ADHD (battle reflexes). I salute both authors for making the younger generation to read. I loved Ms. Rowling ever since I was young, and now, she made me realize what I want in life.

    Bravo Rowling and Riordan! :)

    • alicia says:

      I agree, I thought the Percy Jackson books had a good storyline, even if it was very similar to Harry Potter. However I never could read the books (Percy Jackson) because the first person point of view really bothered me. I don't think Rick Riordan is a very good writer, but his story was good. It might have been improved greatly had he chosen to write in third person, but whatever gets kids to read is fine by me. But me, I'll stick to watching the movies.

  12. Eleanor Ross says:

    I honestly think both Rowling and Riordan are brilliant. Meyer has entertaining books, but that's only because of the plot. Truthfully, Meyer's writing quality is not that great. I also think that harry potter and percy jackson's similiarities are pretty universal. It can be found in so many books, that they all have an underdog character that ends up being very powerful.

  13. Nicole says:

    I think that Rowling, Colfer and Paolini are absoloutly brilliant. Meyer's books are good but definitly not as good as Artemis Fowl, Eragon and Harry Potter. I also think that Twilight really has no meaning! But the series that I've already mentioned do.

  14. Marl says:

    Rowling is really a great writer and Mayer is not and I agree with Stephen King. I both read all the Harry Potter series and Mayer's Twilight series and Harry Potter series are far more better than that of Mayer's Twilight series.

  15. Claire says:

    That really irritates me about the Percy Jackson comment. I've read and loved both, and I've listened to Rick Riordan speak. He's genuinely an ordinary father who told stories to his dyslexic, ADHD kid because he had issues reading and they both loved Greek mythology, and his kid and middle school classes encouraged him to write it down. I think there are many differences between them, but maybe this is just because I know Riordan absolutely did not copy off Harry Potter. He even pointed out in his speech that he's mystified by others accusing him of that.

  16. Misty says:

    Comparing Percy Jackson to Harry Potter isn't fair. I mean, they're both really good and I've read them lots, but they are in no way similar. So if you're gonna say that, shut up. I agree with Claire. And most of the other people here. If, though, you'd rather watch the movies to the Percy Jackson books, don't bother. They're terrible, boring, rubbish, and follow a really cronically different storyline to the books.

  17. CarolyC says:

    Art imitates life. All of the best writers/stories 'borrow" from other archetypal stories. Jesus, greek and roman gods, the norse pantheon, all have something in common. Self-sacrifice, nobility of spirit, and a darned good story! I loved Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Eragon, Wheel of Time, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson for the same reason: they are well-written, inventive RETELLINGS of a basic story of self-sacrifice. That is just what a good archetypal story should do–speak to our heart in a new and unique way.

  18. […] Stephen King: Rowling is talented, Meyer can’t write More in: Uncategorized, Harry Potter […]

  19. Djg says:

    If you're going to call Riordan an imitator then let's talk about how Rowling ripped off Neil Gaiman and several others with her unoriginal ideas.

  20. […] Stephen King: Rowling has talent, Meyer can’t write […]

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  22. KathrynB says:

    I never read the Percy Jackson series and initially I was resistant to reading Harry Potter due to the fact that they were generally aimed or catergorized as children's books but obviously I am of a changed opinion regarding that. JK Rowling had a well developed, ingenious plot with her style of writing that kept you hanging on to every word. Stephanie Meyers…well I read maybe 50 pages and felt sick to my stomach from her lack of ability to not only write but the inane, redundant lackluster plot. Even one of the stars in the Twilight films dislikes the books saying it describes some immature woman's sexual wet dream.

    And Stephen King has a lot more credits and more veracity as a writer for this generation so he is well equipped to judge in this area.

  23. […] Stephen King: Rowling has talent, Meyer can’t write More in: Books, Movies, The Hunger Games […]

  24. Annabel says:

    This is an eye-opening interview, and of course I love JK Rowling and Harry to no end, but some of the points made about other authors were extremely unfair. Rick Riordan's books are similar to Harry Potter, but come on, the only consistent theme is a young boy, thrown into a new, magical world. The stories are different, the characters, everything! I don't see the same people comparing Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, and the similarities there are undeniable. Yet, both brilliant sagas, amazing stories.
    Stephen King slating Stephenie Meyer like that was low, too. She's a talented woman who came up with a great story, memorable characters, and she recieved publicity for that! So what if she has a fanbase to rival Harry Potter's, you don't like the books, you don't read them. Two brilliant phenomenons can co-exist side by side without the need to push one down.

  25. […] Stephen King: Rowling is talented, Meyer can’t write More in: Movies, Fright Night, horror, vampires […]

  26. Jasper Kruger says:

    So King is WRONG when he says Rowling is aiming at young people? Rowling has said she is writing for herself. Makes you wonder who is right.

  27. olive says:

    Geoff Boucher,
    I'm sorry but I must say your totally wrong!
    I have read the Twilight saga, Percy Jackson series, and the Harry Potter series and l love them all, saying that the “Percy Jackson books, for instance, are a painfully obvious imitator" is very wrong of you, though there are some similarities, Percy Jackson has a totally different story, and if you think about it both Harry and Percy are like any other heros, these certain types of heros almost always over come evil, if the author wants them to. There are stories of heros who over come evil through going on quests that where made even before J.K Rowling was alive, therefore you can't call the Percy Jackson series a imitator, that would be like calling the Harry Potter books an imitator to stories made before its time, which is not true.
    As for the Twilight Saga there awesome to, gust like the harry potter series, in fact the twilight series is what got me reading in the first place, if it wasn't for Stephanie Meyers books, i would never have read the Harry Potter series.
    i truly love the Twilight saga, Percy Jackson series, and the Harry Potter series equally, and
    J.K Rowling, Rick Roirdan, and Stephanie Meyers deserve a big high-five for there truly awesome work

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