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Harry Potter - Harry and me

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The Harry Potter Canon

Rowling relates details about her own life leading up to writing the Potter books. She also describes the process of writing and of creating her magical world.

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My favourite book was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. It was probably something to do with the fact that the heroine was quite plain but it is a very well-constructed and clever book and the more you read it, the cleverer it appears. And perhaps more than any other book, it has a direct influence on the Harry Potter books. The author always included details of what her characters were eating and I remember liking that. You may have noticed that I always list the food being eaten at Hogwarts.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was the first thing I concentrated on. I was thinking of a place of great order but immense danger, with children who had skills with which they could overwhelm their teachers. Logically, it had to be set in a secluded place and pretty soon I settled on Scotland, in my mind. I think it was in subconscious tribute to where my parents had married. People keep saying they know what I based Hogwarts on - but they're all wrong. I have never seen a castle anywhere that looks the way I imagine Hogwarts.

I wrote lists of all the subjects to be studied - I knew there had to be seven.

The characters came first and then I had to find names to fit them. Gilderoy Lockhart is a good example. I knew his name had to have an impressive ring to it. I was looking through the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - a great source for names - and came across Gilderoy, a handsome Scottish highwayman. Exactly what I wanted. And then I found Lockhart on a war memorial to the First World War. The two together said everything I wanted about the character.

I almost always have complete histories for my characters. If I put all that detail in, each book would be the size of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but I do have to be careful that I don't just assume that the reader knows as much as I do. Sirius Black is a good example. I have a whole childhood worked out for him. The readers don't need to know that but I do. I need to know much more than them because I'm the one moving the characters across the page.

In the Spanish translation, Neville Longbottom's toad - which he's always losing - has been translated as a turtle. Which surely makes losing it rather more difficult. And there's no mention of water for it to live in. I don't want to think too much about that .

In the Italian translation, Professor Dumbledore has been translated into "Professore Silencio". The translator has taken the "dumb" from the name and based the translation on that. In fact "dumbledore" is the old English word for bumblebee. I chose it because my image is of this benign wizard, always on the move, humming to himself, and I loved the sound of the word too. For me "Silencio" is a complete contradiction. But the book is very popular in Italy - so, it obviously doesn't bother the Italians!

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The Harry Potter Canon