J.K. Rowling is the adored British author of the Harry Potter series of books. Her rise to fame has a touch of magic to it, given that she composed much of her first work, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone in poverty, often planning out her chapters in cafés near her tiny apartment in Edinburgh, where she lived with her daughter, Jessica.
Prior to Rowling penning the Harry Potter books, her life was one of struggle and loss. Her mother died in 1990 after a prolonged battle with multiple sclerosis. Her first marriage, to Jorje Arrantes in 1992, ended just over a year later. She met Arrantes while teaching English in Portugal, but returned to Scotland following the divorce. Unable to find work, Rowling struggled to support herself and her daughter on State Aid assistance. Her financial circumstances would not change until the late 1990s, when the Harry Potter series exceeded all expectations for success.
Aided by a grant from the Scottish Arts Council, Rowling was able to complete her first novel, but initial encouragement from publishers was virtually non-existent. She was told to find a day job, and the UK publisher, Bloomsbury, only published an initial 1000 copies of the novel, titled in the UK as Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.
Within a half year of its publication in 1997, the novel achieved its first award, the Nestle Smarties Book Prize. A few months later, it received the British Book Award for Best Children’s Book of The Year. By 1998, Scholastic purchased publication rights, and Rowling, now on her third installment of the series, was enjoying great success.
The popularity of the series has made Rowling the most popular children’s author ever. The interest in the books from both adults and children created a resurgence in avid reading among younger children eager for the next installment of Harry’s adventures. Her estimated wealth from publication of the six books so far, as well as her work on the four Harry Potter films is approximately half a billion Great Britain pounds (GBP), or just over one billion US Dollars (USD).
The novels have grown progressively darker in tone as Harry has aged. The sixth novel, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, ends with the death of a beloved character. Younger readers were quite devastated by the ending, which is both disturbing and tragic. Though the books are considered children’s fare, parents should probably read them first to determine their suitability for their individual children.
Film adaptations have been reviewed positively, but frequently leave Harry Potter fans unhappy as important details are left out or changed. Rowling has been significantly involved in all aspects of the filming, approving adaptations, but serious fans often find the films a pale imitation of the novels. The films tend to sacrifice the humorous elements of the novels, focusing instead on the various mysteries Harry, Ron and Hermione must solve. The fourth film, which earned a PG-13 rating for violence, is considered to be the best film to date, because it deftly blends humor and suspense.
Rowling was encouraged to use her initials rather than her first name Joanne, because it was thought her books would primarily appeal to young boys who might not read the book if it was known to be written by a woman. To her close friends she is known as Jo. Her life since the success of her novels has a fairy tale quality, which she often claims she finds hard to believe.
Queen Elizabeth II honored Rowling in 2000, titling her as an Officer of the British Empire. She remarried in 2001, to Dr. Neil Murray, with whom she has two children, David and Mackenzie. In her public life, she devotes time to causes dear to her, including relieving world poverty, supporting Amnesty International, and funding research towards a cure for multiple sclerosis.
Rowling is currently at work on writing the seventh and last Harry Potter book, though she might publish an encyclopedia of Harry Potter terms at a later point. Millions of fans eagerly await the climax of this delightful series, though some fans mourn the fact that the end of Harry’s story is in sight.