Accio Quote!

1999
Barnes and Noble interview, March 19, 1999

Welcome, Ms. Rowling. We are so happy that you could join us from England this afternoon to discuss your hit children's book HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE. Is this your first online chat?

It is my second online chat, in fact, but first in America!

Thank you for your book. It is complicated and wonderful! What got you interested in magic, wizards, and mystical stuff?

I have always been interested in it, although I don't really believe in magic. I find it in a picturesque world. There is also a lot of potential for humor with magic. And thanks very much for the compliment. I think it is great that people like complicated books. I do!

I know that you are going to publish a third book, because I can already order it, but why is it not coming out until July?

The books are always published in Britain first, and the pub date in Britain is July 8th...it won't be available anywhere until that time.

Have you ever read Jane Yolen's WIZARD HALL? It is another story about a boy in wizard school who saves his school from a terrible beast created by a former teacher. That's where the similarities end. I like Harry much more!

I am really glad you like Harry more! No, I have never read that book.

Is Harry a compilation of a few little boys you have known? Perhaps your own child?

No, Harry is the only one of the three major child characters -- Harry, Ron, and Hermione -- who isn't based on a real child. Harry came fully formed out of my imagination, but there is obviously a lot of me in Harry.

What were you like as a little girl, Ms. Rowling? I am sure you had a great imagination. Did you believe in fairies and magic?

I don't believe in magic in the sense that I write about it, but I do believe that extraordinary things can happen in the world for which we don't yet have an explanation. I was a little bit like Hermione in the book when I was young. I wasn't as clever, and I really hope I wasn't as annoying. I did consciously base her on me when I was about 11.

What is the inspiration for Harry Potter? What's the story behind your amazing book? I love it!

Thank you for loving it. I never get tired of hearing that! Explaining where the story came from is always very difficult, because I don't really know. The idea came to me very suddenly on a train journey from Manchester to London in 1990, and I have been writing about Harry ever since.

How did you decide what to name your characters and places?

I collect unusual names. I have notebooks full of them. Some of the names I made up, like Quidditch, Malfoy. Other names mean something -- Dumbledore, which means "bumblebee" in Old English...seemed to suit the headmaster, because one of his passions is music and I imagined him walking around humming to himself. And so far I have got names from saints, place-names, war memorials, gravestones. I just collect them -- I am so interested in names.

Who are some of your favorite heroes and heroines in children's literature? Why?

My favorite book when I was about 8 was THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE, and the heroine, Maria, because she was a very interesting heroine -- she wasn't beautiful, she was nosy, she had a temper. She was human, in a word, when a lot of girl characters tend not to be. I really like Eustace in THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER by C. S. Lewis (third in the Narnia series). He is a very unlikeable character who turns good. He is one of C. S. Lewis's funniest characters, and I like him a lot.

How many more sequels will you be writing about Harry Potter?

There are going to be seven Harrys all together. He will be 17 in the final book, which means he will have come of age in the Wizarding World. In Book 7, he will become a full wizard, and free to use his magic outside school. I am currently writing Book 4, and Book 3 will be out in July.

Harry Potter has become somewhat of a hero for kids. Do you think fictional characters can be effective role models for kids? Perhaps as effective as real-life people?

Interesting question. Yes, definitely. The advantage of a fictional hero or heroine is that you can know them better than you can know a living hero, many of whom you would never meet. You can have a very intense relationship with fictional characters because they are in your own head. Having said that, I didn't set out to preach to anyone; if people like Harry and identify with him, I am pleased, because I think he is very likeable. But I truly didn't set out to teach morals, even though I do think they are moral books.

You said earlier that Harry is the only character who is not based on someone you have known. Did you have friends like Ron and Hermione when you were growing up?

As I said, Hermione is a caricature of me. Now Ron, that is interesting. I didn't mean to base him on anyone, but after I had been writing a bit, I realized he was a lot like a childhood friend of mine from school.

Stayed up until 4am reading HARRY POTTER last night -- loved it! Do you write strictly fantasy?

The Harry books are the first things I ever had published, and I am so pleased I gave you a sleepless night!

So many of the most beloved characters in children's literature begin their lives being raised by wicked adults -- James in JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, Cinderella. Why is this such a classic fairy tale format? Why do you think it works so well?

All through literature -- and not just children's -- the hero has been removed from the family setting. In Greek myths you have the extreme with Romulus and Remus. It serves the important function of enabling the hero to act without the fear of destroying his family and disappointing people who love him, or -- which is very important -- having to expect frailties in his parents. I think that it serves an important function for readers, particularly child readers, to be able to explore adult cruelty, whether or not they are experiencing it themselves.

Why did you name Harry Potter -- Harry Potter?

Because Harry is one of my favorite boy's names. But he had several different surnames before I chose Potter. Potter was the name of a brother and sister who I played with when I was very young. We were part of the same gang and I always liked that surname.

We are reading your books as fast as we can get them! Which books did you enjoy when you were a child?

I am sorry I am not writing faster. A book I loved when I was younger was Paul Gallico's MANXMOUSE, which is a funny, magical, very imaginative book. I really loved it. I don't know if it is still in print. I also liked anything by E. Nesbit. Anything by her! Her life and everything just strikes a chord with me.

The last time you visited America, did you notice a difference [between] American kids and English kids?

No. I was delighted to find that when I did readings, you laughed at exactly what English kids laughed at. I was nervous at what the reaction would be, but I think it was really identical. My favorite question from an American child was "Do you know the Spice Girls?"

Who is the illustrator for your Harry Potter books?

I have about 15 illustrators, because in every country where Harry is published there is different artwork, and there will be still more. It is wonderful to see different representations of Harry from all these different cultures. The illustrator in the USA is one of my favorites, and she is called Mary Grandpre.

What progress is being made in the movie version of HARRY POTTER?

Slow but steady progress. It is at a very early stage, but I will be coming over to Hollywood in about a week to meet with the film people. But they haven't started auditioning for kids -- so there is still time!

Are you pleasantly surprised by the success of HARRY or did you realize a void for this book?

I am astounded by the success of Harry. I never thought much past publication. All my energies were concentrated on seeing the book in print. So it has been a very pleasant shock.

I want to know what Dudley does with his life.

That is a question I would love to answer, but it will ruin some surprises. I will only say that Dudley's privileged existence starts to change for the worse in Book 4.

My class wanted to know how your daughter was taking all the fame of Harry Potter books, and also if she likes reading them. Thank you.

My daughter is only 5, so I haven't read them to her yet. She has got a very vivid imagination like her mother, and I think they might give her nightmares. I have promised that I will read them to her when she is 7.

Do you have any tips on writing or any interesting habits you undergo when you write?

Whenever someone younger asks me for advice in writing, I always say "Read!", because that will teach you what good writing is like, and you will recognize bad writing too. As for me, I can write almost anywhere. I don't need to be in a study. I am used to writing with a lot of background noise and when I only have an hour to spare.

Did you think of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY when you were writing HARRY POTTER? I thought of it when I was reading it. (I read it in three days, and my friend who is with me read it in one, and he has read it five times.)

I love your friend and no, I didn't think of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. I think that Charlie and Harry are quite different characters, although I do think that CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is a wonderful book.

What's going to happen in the next book? I heard that you can get it in England, but I can't wait to read it. Can you tell us a little?

In Harry's second year, he discovers that he has a very unusual power which is normally associated with dark wizards, and he also has to solve a mystery involving voices that only he can hear.

Your books are awesome, but what is the name of the third book of Harry's adventure?

Awesome -- what a great word, especially when applied to Harry. The third book is called HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.

Hi, Ms. Rowling. How does a Muggle-born like Hermione develop magical abilities?

Nobody knows where magic comes from. It is like any other talent. Sometimes it seems to be inherited, but others are the only ones in their family who have the ability.

What was your favorite part of the book?

I have got several favorite parts. One is Harry's first quidditch match. Another is the chapter in which Harry finds the magical mirror. There are other bits I like, but I don't want to spoil things for those who haven't finished the book (but if you finished it, you'll know what I mean).

I heard that they changed the cover in England to appeal to an adult audience. How do you feel about this? What do you think is the perfect age to discover Harry?

It wasn't my decision to repackage the book for adults. It was my British publisher's. They took that decision because it had become apparent that adults were reading Harry too. They wanted to reach more adults by getting it into the adult section of bookstores. As far as the perfect age is concerned, I am bound to say any age.

Sometimes when we are writing, we ask ourselves, What is in my character's pockets or backpack? It helps us find out what kind of person that character is. What is in Harry Potter's pockets? What is in Voldemort's?

OK...in Harry's pockets there are some chocolate frogs just in case there is a wizard card inside one of them that was missed. His wand, of course, and probably the latest quidditch ball from the Daily Prophet. Voldemort at the moment doesn't have pockets because he is a kind of spirit, but once he gets his pockets back I don't think any of us want to know what is in there.

Why did they change the name of the book from HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE to HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE in the US?

Well, once again that was my American editor's choice. He felt "philosopher's stone" gave a false impression of what the book was about. He wanted something more suggestive of magic in the title, so we tried a few alternatives and my favorite was "sorcerer's stone."

When are you going to have a web page? Soon, we hope!

Well, Scholastic has a Harry Potter page. One of the pages is: www.scholastic.com/tradebks/harrypotter. There might be another web page for Harry at some point, but that is likely to be related to the film.

How did you think of all the strange things that wizards do, like the post arriving by owl, or floo powder, or what unicorn blood is used for?

I spent a lot of time inventing the rules for the magical world so that I knew the limits of magic. Then I had to invent the different ways wizards could accomplish certain things. Some of the magic in the books is based on what people used to believe really worked, but most of it is my invention.

How would you describe your personality? Are you outgoing or quiet?

I can be very outgoing with the right people, but I have always liked to spend time alone. I have got the perfect temperament for a writer, because I don't need to be surrounded by people all the time.

Will there be, or have there been, any "late blooming" students in the school who come into their magic potential as adults, rather than as children? By the way, I loved meeting you, and hearing you speak, when you came to Anderson's in Naperville. I can hardly wait until you tour again.

Ahhh! I loved the event at Anderson's. It was one of my favorites. That is completely true. No, is the answer. In my books, magic almost always shows itself in a person before age 11; however, there is a character who does manage in desperate circumstances to do magic quite late in life, but that is very rare in the world I am writing about.

How much input do you have concerning the movie version of Harry? Are you contributing to the screenplay?

I script approval, and the producer has been keen to hear my ideas, so I do have some input, but the greatest power you have as a writer or novelist is to sell the rights to the people you believe will make the best film, and I believe I have done that.

I have always loved reading tales that bring the world of fantasy to life. Did you have any idea that Harry Potter would appeal as much to adults as it does to kids?

In one way it did surprise me, but that was because I had never imagined a lot of people liking the book. And in another way it didn't surprise me, as I really wrote the book for myself -- and I am after all an adult, just barely!

Well, you have many fans out there who were thrilled to chat with you this afternoon, J. K. Rowling. Thanks so much for taking the time to hang out in our Auditorium this afternoon, and we hope you'll come back soon. Do you have any final words of wisdom for the online audience?

Thank you very much for all your questions. I just wish I could see your faces.

[Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, J. K. Rowling. Before you go, do you have any closing remarks for your online fans?] I'm sorry to everyone who didn't have their questions answered, but if they keep reading, I bet most of their questions will be answered in the end.

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