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J. K. Rowling began her career in
the early 1990s, writing on restaurant napkins
and drinking cups of espresso while her newborn baby daughter, Jessica,
slept soundly at her side. Recently divorced and living on welfare,
Rowling could not afford to properly heat her small apartment, nor
could she buy a word processor, so she instead spent her days in
cafes and wrote nearly all of her first novel by hand. The result
of Rowling’s work, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry
Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK), was passed
over by dozens of publishers, who each believed it to be too long,
too complex, and far too slow.
Eventually, in 1996, British publisher
Bloomsbury Press bought the book, and Rowling’s career exploded
almost overnight. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone set
record sales, made literary history, and changed the way children
read forever. Quickly, Rowling began gathering prestigious awards. Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was eventually named Children’s
Book of the Year at the 1997 British Book
Awards, and in 1998 the book was pronounced Best
Book of the Year by both Parenting magazine and
the New York Public Library and deemed one of the best books of 1998 by Publishers
Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is
the seventh and final installment in the series. Released on July 21, 2007,
the book sold eleven million copies in the U.S. and UK on its first
day of sales, breaking the previous record of nine million, which
had been held by the sixth book in the series, Harry Potter
and the Half-Blood Prince. Across the globe, fans of the
series turned out at midnight to attend bookselling parties, many
of them dressed as their favorite characters, all wanting to be
part of what was clearly a historic event in book publishing history.
To date, the books in the series have sold 325 million
copies and been translated into sixty-five languages. With an estimated
fortune of more than $1 billion, J. K. Rowling
is now one of the richest women in Britain and the most financially successful
author of all time.
Still, Rowling has had to contend with considerable backlash, particularly
from Christian groups who believe the series’ pagan imagery is dangerous
to their children. Since 1999, the Harry
Potter books have sat atop the American Library Association’s list
of most protested books, with some American churches banning the
books altogether. The moral ambiguity of the seriesóthere is good
magic and Dark magic, but it is often unclear who is responsible
for what, and characters introduced as good are often later revealed
to be evilóis the cause of great controversy among parents and school
and religious officials. Rowling has cited her inspiration for the
series as ìThe idea that we could have a child who escapes from
the confines of the adult world and goes somewhere where he has
power, both literally and metaphorically.î Consequently, many of
the books’ supporters argue that the idea of a child controlling
his own destiny, making profound choices, and learning to control
his environment is what frightens parents, and it is not necessarily
the occult implications that have led to the books’ controversial
reception. Regardless, the Harry Potter books have been licensed
for a series of successful Warner Brothers films, the first five
of which have already earned spots on the list of the twenty highest-grossing
films of all time. In March 2001, Rowling
received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) medal of achievement
from Queen Elizabeth II of England. She married her second husband,
Dr. Neil Murray, later that same year. Rowling’s immense success
has guaranteed her a secure spot in the literary canon.