On February 3, 2000, classrooms across America went online to ask J.K. Rowling their burning questions about Harry Potter.
Here are some of the most important canon questions and answers from the interview [transcript]:
Did you make up the plot in every aspect first by charting the characters and knowing exactly what you would do with them, or did you just piece a lot of it together as you wrote?
A. I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. It’s more fun. 🙂
Why does Professor Dumbledore like sherbet lemons?
A. Because I like sherbet lemons! And he’s got good taste. 🙂
Was it hard to think of the monsters’ names?
A. Some of the monsters are from folklore, so I didn’t invent them. In Book IV you’ll see some creatures I did invent, and I had fun making up their names. But I’m not going to say what they are. 🙂
What makes some witches/wizards become ghosts after they die and some not?
A. You don’t really find that out until Book VII, but I can say that the happiest people do not become ghosts. As you might guess, Moaning Myrtle!
What did the Potter parents do for a living before Voldemort killed them?
A. I’m sorry to keep saying this, but I can’t tell you because it’s important to a later plot. But you will find out later!
In the first book you said Slytherin house Quidditch captain was sixth year Marcus Flint. If there are only seven years of Hogwarts, why is he in the third book?
A. He had to do a year again! 🙂
How do students at Hogwarts get educated in Muggle subjects? Do they even need to know other things besides magic?
A. They can choose to study Muggle subjects. In the third book, Hermione takes the class Muggles Studies, and that’s where they learn about Muggles in school.
Since Harry Potter’s parents were sorcerers and Petunia was Harry’s mother’s sister. Shouldn’t Petunia be a witch or wizard?
A. No. As Hagrid explains in Book I, sometimes a witch or a wizard occurs in an otherwise Muggle family, just as a Squib is a non-magic person who occurs in an otherwise magic family.
Do you think that you will write about Harry after he graduates from Hogwarts? Isn’t there a University of Wizardry?
A. No, there’s no University for Wizards. At the moment I’m only planning to write seven Harry Potter books. I won’t say “never,” but I have no plans to write an eighth book.
Is Harry Potter ever going to fall in love with Hermione or is he going to fall in love with Ginny Weasley?
A. In Book IV Harry does decide he likes a girl, but it’s not Hermione or Ginny. However, he’s only 14, so there’s plenty of time for him to change his mind. 😉
If you had to choose one teacher from your books to teach your child, who would it be and why?
A. It would be Professor Lupin, because he is kind, clever, and gives very interesting lessons.
Will we ever see Scabbers again?
A. Yes. You will see Scabbers again.
Do you have an actual floorplan for Hogwarts? Do you use it when writing the books?
A. I haven’t drawn it, because it would be difficult for the most skilled architect to draw, owing to the fact that the staircases and the rooms keep moving. However, I have a very vivid mental image of what it looks like.
What made you think of the people’s names and dormitories at Hogwarts?
A. I invented the names of the Houses on the back of an airplane sick bag! This is true. I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character.
Why are the gnomes bad? What do they do?
A. Gnomes eat the roots of your plants, and make little heaps of earth, like moles do. They are also a bit of a giveaway that wizards live in a house.
Are any of your female characters, like Hermione, modeled after your own daughter?
A. No, if Hermione was based on anyone, she was based on me when I was younger. But my daughter is turning out to be a bit like me, so she is a bit like Hermione. 🙂
Where were you born and what was your childhood like?
A. I was born in a place called Chipping, so perhaps that explains my love of silly names.
How can two Muggles have a kid with magical powers? Also how does the Ministry of Magic find out these kids have powers?
A. It’s the same as two black-haired people producing a redheaded child. Sometimes these things just happen, and no one really knows why! The Ministry of Magic doesn’t find out which children are magic. In Hogwarts there’s a magical quill which detects the birth of a magical child, and writes his or her name down in a large parchment book. Every year Professor McGonagall checks the book, and sends owls to the people who are turning 11.
Does Harry give Christmas gifts to his friends? The books mention only gifts he receives. I am interested in knowing whether he gives gifts and if they are appropriate for the receiver.
A. Ron is very sensitive about his poverty, and Harry knows that Ron might be offended if he tried to give him too much. You will see in Book IV that Ron feels awkward accepting too much from Harry.
Where is Azkaban?
A. In the north of the North Sea. A very cold sea.
Where did Sirius Black and Buckbeack go after they went into hiding?
A. Somewhere nice and warm!
Would you get a mythical pet from one of your books? If you could, which one?
A. If I could, I would choose a Phoenix, because they have such useful properties, as Harry finds out in Book III.
Why did you choose the lightning bolt as a trademark for Harry Potter?
A. Just because I decided that it would be an interesting and distinctive mark.
Will we see the Marauders map in a future book?
A. Yes, you’ll see it in Book IV. 🙂
Is the island that Azkaban is on located at the southern end of the U.K. since Black had to pass the Dursley’s place on his way to Hogwarts?
A. No, he didn’t have to pass the Dursley’s place. He just wanted to.
A. I love, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Professor Lupin.
How old is Professor Dumbledore?
A. Wizards have a longer life expectancy than Muggles!
How do you visualize Hogwarts in its entirety?
A. A huge, rambling, quite scary-looking castle, with a jumble of towers and battlements. Like the Weasley’s house, it isn’t a building that Muggles could build, because it is supported by magic.
Do you already have titles for all seven Harry Potters?
A. Yes, I do. And I’m still not going to tell you what they are. 😉
Scholastic says: We are almost out of time Ms. Rowling, thank you so much for joining us. Do you have any parting words you would like to share with our audience?
A. Don’t let the Muggles get you down! 🙂
First Scholastic online chat