J. K. Rowling’s Literary Career And Her Harry Potter Books
The 2000s saw a steep increase in the acceptability of literature of all types, inspired by the coming-of-age of millions of people who enjoyed the works of writers such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and others. Joanne ‘Jo’ Rowling, who writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British author of the highly successful Harry Potter series of books. Not once she had told that she had been influenced by these above-mentioned writers.
J.K. Rowling was born to Peter and Anne Rowling in 1965 at Yate, Gloucestershire, England. Rowling enjoyed writing fantasy stories when she was a child, and she often read them to her sister. In 1990, while she was traveling from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry came fully formed into her mind. When she arrived home, she began to write immediately. However, she had to put her writing on hold due to her mother’s terminal illness. She had never told her mother about Harry Potter, but Rowling said her mother’s death heavily affected her writing. Having experienced the loss of a loved parent, she was able to introduce much more detail about Harry’s loss in the first book, as she had the same feelings as the hero. In 1996 she finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, found a literary agent and in 1997 it was published by a small publishing house “Bloomsbury”. When those few hundred copies of her first book were published and found their way into libraries and independent booksellers, Harry Potter became the heart of a phenomenon that has enchanted millions of Muggles worldwide. In America this book was published a year later under the title s “Sorcerer’s” seeming more exciting.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone is the first novel in the Harry Potter series. The beauty of fantasy, of myth, in children’s tales is in the depth lying just below the surface. With their simple prose and delightful images, such stories point to deeper truths; they illuminate aspects of the human condition; they teach us how to live. Philosophy and theology are threaded through such narratives, invading the popular culture, engaging the lexicon, and become part of the zeitgeist precisely because they speak to the core of who we are as human beings. It is for this reason that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter masterpiece has so captured the popular imagination. In the same vein as J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” or C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia”, Rowling weaves deep truths into her narrative as she expounds on the nature of love, of friendship, of sacrifice, of good and evil. Like her predecessors, Rowling keeps explicit religious references out of her work. However, as a product of her culture, Christian concepts of love, the soul, the afterlife seep in. These are most apparent in the seventh and last work, which actually quotes two passages from the bible and best embodies the mythical elements of the suffering hero whose sacrifice brings victory. The book was first published on 26 June 1997 by Bloomsbury in London.
When first published, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was dedicated to children aged from 9 to 11 by the publishers. New York Times states that 30 percent of the first three books of the Harry Potter series were purchased by and for a reader 35 or older. The books were sold out for miles. Could this be achieved with a merely children’s book? Not really. But neither would this happen to an adult book. This is another secret of its tremendous success- aiming on readers of all ages and of both sexes (Bolonik, Kera, New York Times, 08, 2000).
It is important to know that Rowling didn’t just throw together a clever children’s tale in her Harry Potter series. She is apparently a big fan of classical literature and follows many of those classical patterns. Indeed, in John Granger’s book ‘Looking for God in Harry Potter’, he tells us that the books follow the foundations of alchemy just as Shakespeare, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis do. It can be argued that she does not approach the depth or masterful storytelling of these bards, but she has touched a chord in today’s youth that we cannot ignore. There is something in this series that is larger than other contemporary fiction that kids cling to and relish'( Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale House), 2005).
According to Rowling, a major theme in the series is death: ‘My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry’s parents. There is Voldemort’s obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We’re all frightened of it” ( Telegraph, January 10, 2006).
There have been different attitudes towards the Harry Potter books. The first series received positive reviews. But, by the time of the release of the fifth volume, the books began to receive strong criticism. One of the first ones was Harold Bloom. As to his opinion, “Rowling’s mind is so governed by clichés and dead metaphors, that she has no other style of writing.” He thinks, that Harry Potter can be read only in extreme conditions, when there’s nothing else left to read, “Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind and spirit or personality” ( Wall Street Journal, 7-11-2000).
Academics and journalists in their turn have developed many other interpretations of the themes in the books, some more complex than others, and some including political subtexts. Themes such as normality, oppression, survival, and overcoming imposing odds have all been considered as prevalent throughout the series. Similarly, the theme of making one’s way through adolescence and ‘going over one’s most harrowing ordeals—and thus coming to terms with them’ has also been considered. Rowling has stated that the books comprise ‘a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry’ and that also pass on a message to ‘question authority and… not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth'( Harry Potter Book Series, p 464).
The story of Harry Potter is not just global, of course; it is also read and inflected as a local narrative. German reviews, for instance, often compare the young wizard to Goethe’s culturally influential Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1799); in Japan, the books have been marketed to appeal to the high cultural acceptance of the manga genre; a widespread belief in animism is said to create cultural receptivity in Indonesia; in China, magic and fantasy are thought to constitute an attractive turn from traditional didactic texts; while the tradition of magical realism, the pervasiveness of Disney and cartoon superheroes and the paucity of local children’s literature is said to influence readership in Europeanized Latin America.
The author (J. K. Rowling) has specified that the ‘conflict between good and evil’ is a pervasive theme through all seven books. It is such a common theme throughout children’s literature that it, not unexpectedly, drives nearly all of the book’s action. Potter characters are classified based upon which ‘side’ they are on, and reader frustration develops when the lines are not clear.
Rowling’s planned series of books, she claims, will take Harry through seven ‘forms’ or grades — from 11 to 17 years of age. Physically, he is growing into a handsome young man. Educationally, he seems to be an average student, frequently utilizing help from Hermione. Magically, he is learning, if given the chance, and can perform spells with vigor. Harry’s personality development is a bit unusual, for an abused child. His charisma seems to draw people to him, for better or worse. From an orphan with no knowledge of his parents he seems to be growing into a capable and caring individual.
Rowling’s decision to express these themes through a magical and exciting fantasy world is not a promotion of witchcraft, but rather a way to connect and speak to children in a manner that excited their imagination, creativity, and desire to read. A close examination of the Harry Potter books also reveals that Rowling is very clear about which kinds of magic belong to the Dark Arts and are thus associated with cruelty, tyranny, fear, and other negative elements of the everyday world. When conservative critics denounce Rowling for promoting witchcraft in her novels, it seems likely that, not only have they not read any of the Harry Potter books, but they have missed the important lessons that Rowling instills in her work.