Today is the birthday of the literary character Harry Potter and Harry’s creator, J.K. (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling.
The British author was born on July 31, 1965. The idea of a story about boy wizard came to Rowling one day on a long train ride from Manchester to London in the Summer of 1990.
At her website, Rowling recounts the day Harry was born in her imagination:
. . . I was traveling back to London on my own on a crowded train, and the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head.
I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…
I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.
Perhaps, if I had slowed down the ideas to capture them on paper, I might have stifled some of them (although sometimes I do wonder, idly, how much of what I imagined on that journey I had forgotten by the time I actually got my hands on a pen). I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book. (1)
It took seven years for Rowling to bring Harry Potter to life in a published book. After rejections from several publishers, Bloomsbury Children’s Books published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in June 1997.
After the publication of Philosopher’s Stone, success and awards came fast for Rowling. She sold the American rights to her books to Scholastic Books and quit her job teaching French to write full time. When published in the United States, the title was changed from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because publishers felt that Sorcerer’s Stone would be more suggestive of magic, whereas Philosopher’s Stone was more suggestive of togas.
Sales of the seven books in the series have reached unprecedented numbers with more than 400 million copies sold.
In 2003, Rowling achieved the rare distinction of having one of her coined words added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) — a very rare achievement for a living author.
The word is muggle, defined as:
A person who possesses no magical powers. Hence in allusive and extended uses: a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way.
The editors of the OED had little choice but to include the word in the dictionary after considering the seemingly universal popularity of Rowling’s books and the fact that the word was being used every day by people all over the world. A similar feat was accomplished by J.R.R. Tolkien when the OED included his word “hobbit” in the 1976 edition of the OED. Tolkien, however, had died before seeing his word in the dictionary (2).
Seven Spellbinding Roots
The made-up language of spells in J. K. Rowling’s books is not a totally random creation. Hidden in the spells are word parts that resemble familiar Latin and Greek roots:
- Wingardium Leviosa! Root: LEV – To Raise Up Common Words: lever, elevator, levee, elevate
- Locomotor Mortis! Root: LOCO – Place Common Words: locomotive, locate, dislocate, allocate
- Expelliarmus! Root: PEL To Push – Common Words: propel, expel, repel, compel
- Lumos! Root: LUM – Light Common Words: illuminate, lucid, bioluminescence, elucidate
- Fidelus! Root: FID -Trust Common Words: confide, confidence, fidelity, infidel
- Expecto Patronus! Root: PATR – Father Common Words: paternal, patron, patronize, patriot
- Finite incantatem! Root: FIN – End or Limit Common Words: infinite, define, affinity, infinitesimal (3)
Today’s Challenge: I Put a Spell on You
What fictional character do you think special enough to warrant a birthday celebration? What makes this character so special, and what kind of things might be done to truly honor his or her birth and fictional life? Brainstorm a list of fictional characters that are so distinctive that although they are fictional they seem to be as real as any person who ever lived. Select the one you like the best and write a proclamation honoring the character’s “birth” and “life” as well as suggesting what kind of unique activities might be appropriate to celebrate the character’s birthday. (Common Core Writing 2)
Quote of the Day: The book is really about the power of the imagination. What Harry is learning to do is to develop his full potential. Wizardry is just the analogy I use. –J. K. Rowling