"I would have been crazy to expect this. No one - no one could have expected this. I thought I was writing a little book that a few people might quite like. That's what I thought. I loved it."
-- J.K. Rowling (DRS)
J.K. Rowling on The Diane Rehm Show, WAMU Radio Washington, D.C., October 20, 1999 (re-broadcast December 24, 1999)
Interesting facts and notes
Jo refer to Voldemort as "the most evil wizard for hundreds and hundreds of years." Presumably she hadn't invented Grindelwald yet, but it would seem that she intends Voldemort to be more evil than his predecessor.
"I wrote what I wanted to write. And I wrote the sort of thing that I knew I'd like to read, I'd like to read *now* as an adult, and I knew that I would have liked to have read it when I was 11. And in a sense, I'm too close to it to be able to see whether there's, you know, a particular thing that draws children in, and in many ways I don't want to analyze it too much, because I'm scared that if I decide that it's factor X that is making children in these numbers like it, I might try a little too hard to put a lot of X in book 4 or 5. And I don't want to do that. I just want to write it the way I'm writing it at the moment, and enjoy writing it, and do it my way, without trying to, you know, work to a formula."
I met a really nice boy yesterday, here in Washington. He said to me, "when I'm reading, it's like a there's video playing inside my head". And I said - I said to him, "that's one of the best things you could say to me, because obviously you can visualize it really really clearly." I mean, that's your aim. That's your aim as a writer. You *want* people to be in there, living it.
When I'm writing, I don't aim for any - any age group. I write these books entirely for myself. And in fact, before - before my British publisher Bloomsbury told me that they were going to market the books as for 9 year olds and above, I really had no idea. A vague idea, obviously. I mean, I was aware they weren't for 3 year olds, and I knew that probably 19 year olds would be wanting to read other stuff, although I've met quite a few 19 year olds since, so that's - that's a really nice thing. The optimum age, I'd definitely say is 9+ for these books.
DR: Is there a certain amount of very sophisticated mythology that you're trying to work in here?
JKR: There's - I'm not trying to work it in, but... If you're writing a book that, I mean, I do do a certain amount of research, and folklore is quite important in the books, so where I'm mentioning a creature or a spell, that people used to believe genuinely worked - of course it didn't - but, you know, it's still a very picturesque and a very comical world in some ways - then I will find out exactly what the words were, and I will find out exactly what the characteristics of that creature or ghost was supposed to be. But I hope that that appears seamlessly. Children often, often ask me how much of the magic is in inverted commas "real" in the books in the sense that did anyone ever believe in this? I would say - a rough proportion - about a third of the stuff that crops up is stuff that people genuinely used to believe in Britain. Two thirds of it, though, is my invention.
DR: What about words? You seem to have this *marvelous* facility to make up words - create words.
JKR: I love making up words. There are a few key words in the books that wizards know and muggles, as in us - no-magic-people, don't know. Well, "muggle" is an obvious example. Then there's "quidditch." Quidditch is the wizarding sport. A journalist in Britain asked me... She said to me, "now, you obviously got the word "quidditch" from "quiddity," meaning the essence of a thing, it's proper nature," and I was really really tempted to say, "yes, you're quite right," because it sounded so intellectual, but I had to tell her the truth, which was that I wanted a word that began with "Q" -- on a total whim -- and I filled about, I don't know, 5 pages of a notebook with different "Q"-words until I hit "quidditch" and I knew that was the perfect one - when I finally hit "quidditch." Yeah.
DR: So that's how you look for words, coming out of yourself, just writing again and again.
JKR: Yeah, keep trying and... Yeah. Fill sides and sides of paper until you get the right one.
DR: It's sort of like painting a landscape.
JKR: In a way, yeah. Broad strokes and fine strokes. Yeah.
DR: This idea of wizardry... The idea of people actually dying. How scary do you regard that to be for young people?
JKR: Erm... It's scary in exactly the same way that the Grimm's fairytales - If you read the original versions of the Grimm fairytales, on which many of the Disney films are based on, which most of our modern anthologies of fairytales are based -
DR: Snow white, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast...
JKR: Precisely, and these are folktales. And folktales are generally told for a reason. They're ways for children to explore their darkest fears. That's why they endure - that you have archetypes, you have a wicked stepmother, this threatening figure who should be nurturing and who isn't. So these images crop up again and again and again... If you read Grimm's fairytales in the original, they are very brutal -
JKR: - and they are frightening. And in fact, I think, more frightening than anything I've written so far. I mean, children being murdered. There are horrible things. But this is centuries back, and I don't think children have changed that much. I think they still have the same worries, and fears. And literature is an *excellent* way, because they have to bring their own imagination to it, so this is something they *really* participate in, when they create the story inside their own head after reading it on the page. It's a fabulous way to explore those things. Now, I don't set out thinking, "this is what they're going to learn in this book", ever. I have a real horror of preaching to anyone, or of trying to make, you know, enormous points. You know, I'm not driven by the need to "teach" children anything, although those things do come up naturally in the stories, which I think is quite moral. Because it's a battle between good and evil. But I do think, that to pretend to children that life is sanitized and easy, when they already know - they don't need me to tell them - that life can be very difficult. If it hasn't happened in their own family, one of their friends' fathers will be... dying. Or some - you know, they're in contact with this from a very early age. And it's not a bad idea that they meet this in literature. It's not a bad idea that they can see a character who is - I mean, Harry is a human boy, he makes mistakes, but I think he came as a very noble character, he's a brave character and he strives to do the right thing. And to see a fictional character dealing with those sort of things, I think can be very very helpful.
DR: Now, Jo, you know that there is talk of *banning* these stories. There's question in the minds of some library boards of directors as to whether these books should be on the shelves, because they do involve witchcraft in the [*not sure*] minds of their superiors. They do involve killing. They do involve some frightening things, as you've just outlined. What's your reaction to that kind of controversy?
JKR: For me - for me it's very simple. Of course parents have a perfect right to decide what their children see or read. I do *not* feel, however, that they have the right to decide what *all* of our children see and read. That's something different. So that's my position. If anyone doesn't want to read the books, of *course*, don't read them! But to stop other people reading them, I think, is very unfair.
DR: So to take them off the shelves of book stores or a library...
JKR: I would - yeah, I have a problem with that aspect. No book is going to be for every child, and no book is going to be greeted with open arms by every parent. My feeling is, if we ban every children's book that makes mention of magic - or witches or wizards, we are going to be - what are we going to be doing? Removing three quarters of the children's classics from the book shelves.
DR: Do you feel yourself drawn in any way to witchcraft?
JKR: [laughs] Not in the slightest. Children -
DR: I didn't think so.
JKR: No. Not in the slightest. Children ask me, of course, "do you believe in magic?" and I've always said "no, I don't". I believe in different kinds of magic. There's a kind of magic that happens when you pick up a wonderful book, and it lives with you for the rest of your life. That is my kind of magic. There's magic in friendship and in beauty and... Metaphorical magic, yes. But in the sense that, do I believe that if you draw a funny squiggly shape on the ground and dance around it, then something... Not at all, I find the idea, frankly, comical.
Q: I've been listening to you talk this morning, and I know you've been talking about children and what they see in the real world, but I remain upset and disappointed by a report that I read in the newspaper, that in book 4 - that you felt the need that somebody needed to die - to be killed by "He Who Must Not Be Mentioned" - Voldemort.
JKR: Well, that's erm... -
Q: - and I want to ask you why? Because our children know what the real world is, and your books are such an inspiration to the imagination.
JKR: Erm... I didn't read that piece, but it has been... I'm not going to say that no one is going to die in the books. I'm not going to say that. But to say that I felt the need to kill someone, just for the fun of it, is completely false. I don't want to be doing that for no good reason. I do sometimes get letters expressing these kinds of views. People saying, "well, I really love your books, but I don't want you to do this". Well, I'm afr- I don't want to... I'm not in the business of setting out to offend anyone, I don't want to upset anyone, but the bottom line is, I *have* to be free to write the books the way *I* want to. I'm not writing to order, I can't write to order. Now, in a sense, it's very nice thing that people are saying this, because it means, I mean they
DR: They care.
JKR: Absolutely. They wholeheartedly... They love the characters. Now, that is the *best* that could happen. For 5 years I was writing about these characters - no one read a word about it. Can you imagine what it feels like to me to see a huge queue of people who all know Harry and Ron and Hermione and Hagrid - these characters who lived with me for 5 years and no one knew about them, if you still - I mean, on the other side of the Atlantic! It's the most wonderful thing to me. I totally appreciate that people feel a very personal interest in these characters. But I still have to be able to write them the way I always planned to write them. You know, they've been plotted very carefully since 1992. The larger plot has been in place.
Q: You had all 7 books plotted out - the outlines?
JKR: I did, yeah.
Q: You did. So you didn't write one or two, and then as they became popular, then write the rest.
JKR: No no, not at all. I always planned that we would see Harry from starting at Hogwarts to finishing at Hogwarts, which is... In my world wizards come of age at 17 - age 17. So in book 7 you'll see Harry come of age, which means he's allowed to use magic outside school, and you'll see the end of that school year. So it will be 7 years in his life.
DR: Jo, you've lost some loved ones in your life. How has that affected your thinking about what children know and don't know?
JKR: It's affected me profoundly, obviously, and therefore it's in the books. I lost my mother at age 25. And that and the birth of my daughter were the two most life altering, character changing things ever to happen to me. Nothing before or since has ever affected me in the way that those two things did. I do not at all regard with glibness the prospect of killing even a *fictional* character. Not at all. There's a part of book 1 where Harry sees his dead parents in an enchanted mirror. I was quite taken aback when I reread that chapter to see how much I had directly given Harry my own feelings, because I wasn't aware of that as I was writing. As I was writing, I'm trying to do the thing properly - that needed to happen for plot reasons - as people who've read the book, they will know - Harry had to find out how that mirror worked. But when I reread that chapter it became very clear to me that I'd given Harry almost entirely my own feelings about my mother's death.
DR: Harry *sees* his parents -
JKR: Yes. For the first time. He can not remember what they looked like. They died when he was one year old.
DR: - as perhaps you long to see your own mo-
JKR: I think we all do. I think that's very common. I've met many many many people now who've said that that chapter moved them, because you do have this appalling thirst just to see them again. And it would never be enough, but that point is made in the book. You know, Harry has this obsession with returning to the mirror, to keep staring at his parents. Ultimately it's not healthy. You do have to let go. And they would want you to let go. You know, this is a very important point.
DR: Do you have a question?
Q: Yeah. Why did you start to write the books about Harry Potter?
JKR: Why did I start to write the books about Harry Potter. There's a really good reason why, Sam. I'd had other ideas for books - many ideas for books before then, and short stories and poems, and I'd written all sorts of things. This was the first idea that I had that gave me a kind of physical sense of excitement. You know how when you get really excited about something, your stomach turns over. That is how I felt. The moment I had the idea, just excitement flooded through me and adrenalin flooded through me. And I think that's... You can normally tell a good idea by that kind of very physical response to it. I was so excited. I just thought this would be such fun to write. And that's really what gave me the impetus to keep writing about him.
DR: Thank you. How do you feel about that movie... business?
JKR: I feel really excited. Me, in fact - coincidentally, 'cause has Celeste just asked about it - because of quidditch. Because I've been able to see this game playing in my head for years now. And to actually - to imagine being able to watch it, literally watch it, would be the most fabulous thing.
DR: But how much final control do you actually have?
JKR: Well, we're at a very early stage here. I have script approval, but the script's not even finished yet. Warner Bros. have been very keen to ask my views on all sorts of things. They got a really great writer, Steve Kloves, which I couldn't have been happier about. He would have been my first choice. He has a very similar sense of humour to me. He really gets the books - he really likes Hermione, which is not that common, so we're OK there. So, so far I'm really happy.
One reader, Marty, who calls himself an adult reader. He says he loves the books, but finds it hard to accept that they are actually for children.
JKR: Well, it's an interesting point, because... I never saw them as, you know, exclusively *for* children, ever. As I said, I was 30 when I finished book 1. I'm now 34. I'm still writing what I know I'd like to read now. But I am aware that I would have liked to have read it when I was much younger. It depends what Marty means. I mean, certainly the sense of humour is mine. It's not what I think kids find funny, it's what I find funny. So, yes, I'm writing for anyone who wants to read the books - anyone at all. I hope that answers the question.
DR: You've got the last chapter -
JKR: Yeah, of the 7th book. Written.
DR: - of the 7th book, already written.
JKR: Yeah, which I'm now starting to think I should put in a safe. I mean, friends of mine joked to me about that, when I started telling it - they said, "you know, you wanna be careful, 'cause what if a fanatic came 'round the house and found it?" And I would just laugh about it. And kids - friends of mine's kids - have come round and joked, and pretended to, you know, get in the study and look for it. And I have actually hidden it now. Because, I mean, it would be an absolute disaster if anyone read that before - before it was published. So yeah, it might have to go in a safe.
DR: I am so delighted that you have turned so many young people on to read it.
JKR: There is nothing, nothing better than that. There is no higher compliment. And I've met very many parents in Britain - and here now - who have said, "Oh, he wouldn't read", or "she wouldn't read", and -
JKR: And that is the absolute highest compliment. It makes me feel I wasn't wasting space on this earth after all.
J.K. Rowling on The Diane Rehm Show