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Barnes and Noble interview, March 19, 1999

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The Harry Potter Canon

"Whenever someone younger asks me for advice in writing, I always say "Read!", because that will teach you what good writing is like..."
-- J. K. Rowling (BN0)

The first of three Barnes & Noble chats.

Interesting facts and notes

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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."

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.

Commentary

Fan Theory: In this interview the author made a statement that caused much early excitement and discussion among fans: "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." Many suggested that perhaps Muggle-ish Aunt Petunia might suddenly find a hidden talent for spells, or that a squib such as Filch could conjure up something. But nothing ever came of this statement, an no Muggles or Squibs in the books expressed any magical skills. So in the canon as written there is no "late-in-life" character who suddenly became magical.

From the Web

Complete Interview Here on Accio Quote.

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The Harry Potter Canon