The Story of Harry Potter
Even if you have lived at the North Pole since 1997, you will probably have heard of JK Rowling and her Harry Potter series of books. Harry Potter himself is arguably the world’s most loved cultural icon from the past 10 years.
To put Pottermania in perspective, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book, sold more copies in the first 24 hours of its release in July 2005 than The Da Vinci Code sold in the entire year of 2004. Consider The Da Vinci Code’s impact but it doesn’t even compare to Harry.
The books have been a goldmine, a very deep one. JK, or Joanne Rowling OBE, was named by Forbes Magazine as the second richest female entertainer in the world behind Oprah Winfrey. There have been several reports in the UK about how she’s left the Queen and her considerable coffers trailing in her wake. Bloomsbury, her UK publisher, grew from a small independent publishing house to a major force on the back of her books. The world’s publishing industry now talks about the ‘Potter Years’ and the ‘Non-Potter Years’ - such is the financial impact of the series on global bookselling.
Apparently, more than 300 million copies of her books have been sold and they have been translated into over 60 languages.
However, the bottom line is that the Harry Potter books have been bought, read and loved by millions and millions of people around the world. And not just children, adults too.
The first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997 by Bloomsbury after around a dozen other publishers had rejected the manuscript. Those dim-witted publishers probably feel rather like Decca – the record label that rejected The Beatles. Imagine being the person who tossed the manuscript into the garbage bin – “Wizards, spells, broomsticks, English boarding schools… Darling, it just won’t work.”
Born in Gloucestershire, Rowling studied at the University of Exeter and eventually moved to London where she worked as a researcher and secretary for the human rights organisation, Amnesty International.
She moved to Porto in Portugal where she taught English and married a Portugese television journalist. The marriage ended in 1993 and Rowling moved with her young daughter to Edinburgh, where she continued to work on her debut novel while unemployed. Apparently, her daughter was her constant companion while she wrote as she couldn’t afford childcare – anyone with kids will appreciate how difficult it is to write a shopping list let alone a book while trying to care full-time for a young child.
Scholastic bought the US rights to the Philosopher’s Stone but it was bizarrely published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic thought the Americans wouldn’t be able to handle the world ‘Philosopher’ even though the book is packed with words like 'muggle' and 'quidditch'.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published in 1998 and JK’s following started to grow and grow. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published in 1999. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire followed in 2000. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came in 2003. By then, JK had reached superstar status and needed to make few promotional appearances to sell books.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince arrived in July 2005 but not before an immense worldwide media fanfare. In the UK, there was an attempt to sell stolen advance copies to a tabloid newspaper – an incident where gunshots were fired. A savage price-cutting war among retailers meant the book could easily have been called Harry Potter and the Half-Price Prince. The publishers went to court to ensure the midnight embargo on sales remained watertight. JK, now a super superstar with luxury homes galore, launched the book with an exclusive reading at Edinburgh Castle at midnight.
JK’s fame is almost endless even though she keeps a low profile and shies away from appearances in public where she’s likely to be mobbed by fans or chased by the paparazzi. She’s been a guest star on The Simpsons. There are at least 30 books about the Harry Potter books or Rowling herself. She holds the record for the fastest-selling books of all-time. There’s an asteroid named in her honour. There are countless websites dedicated to the Harry Potter phenomenon. Everyone knows the meaning of ‘Muggle.’ People like Stephen King and John Irving, authors who have experienced a modicum of success themselves, have begged her to spare Harry’s life.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be her last Harry Potter book. It’s an intriguing situation – millions of people will read the book on July 21 and then have to accept that there will be no more Harry Potters. It won’t be easy. Probably something else from come from JK but that’s it for Pottermania.