She may be one of the most successful authors in the world, but the notoriously private JK Rowling also manages to find time to share her innermost thoughts with Harry Potter fans. When she does, it doesn’t take long before the internet finds out, and thousands of people benefit from the Harry Potter author’s wisdom.
Here are some of the occasions Rowling proved as wise as her creation Professor Dumbledore:
1. ‘I know what it is like to be picked on’
When Sacia Flowers was 16, she summoned the courage to write to her favourite author. Harry Potter had given her strength: like him, Sacia’s drug addict parents were murdered when she was very young and she was bullied at school. As Washington newspaper the Herald wrote in 2010, “Both dreamed that they’d wake up one day and realize their misfortune was all a mistake.”
Rowling replied: “I know what it is like to be picked on, as it happened to me, too, throughout my adolescence. I can only wish that you have the same experience that I did, and become happier and more secure the older you get. Being a teenager can be completely horrible, and many of the most successful people I know felt the same way.”
2. ‘She’d be extremely proud’
After Emma Watson made members of the UN chuckle after interrupting her #HeForShe speech with the disclaimer, “You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN. It’s a good question and trust me, I have been asking myself the same thing,” Rowling made Hermione’s opinion on the whole thing very clear:
3. ‘Gryffindor for you, my lad…’
Scottish Super fan Johnnie Blue gave Rowling a beautiful notebook with a heartfelt message inside last summer. A few weeks later she responded. Here’s an extract:”What you say about Harry helping you at what was clearly a dreadful time in your life means more to me than I can easily express. I freely confess that I loathe bullying and the way it is still so often ‘handled’ in schools. Your experience is shocking and disturbing and that you have turned out to be a compassionate, moral, highly motivated person is high testimony to your courage. Gryffindor for you, my lad…”
She also added that, as “a connoisseur”, his handwriting was “fantastic”.
4. ‘Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light’
15-year-old Cassidy Stay read this line from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the memorial for her parents and four siblings after they were murdered by a gunman in Texas.
An online campaign to organise a meeting between Stay and Rowling led to the author writing her a letter, reportedly in the voice of Dumbledore, to whom the quote belongs. Although the contents of the letter remain private, a friend of Stay’s said that she received a care package from Rowling which included a wand, an acceptance letter to Hogwarts, a list of school supplies and a signed copy of the book she quoted.
5. ‘You will be determined’
In 1999, the same year Rowling published her third Harry Potter novel, she found time to respond to a questionnaire written to her shoes by American schoolgirl Emily Waldo. It’s more amusing than inspiring, but definitely worth a read.
Choice quotes include: “I know that her black sandals have met Kirk Douglas’s shoes, Donny Osmond’s shoes and Rosie O’Donnell’s shoes. Naturally, I don’t talk to them anymore.” Rowling also reveals, via her shoes, that her heroine was “writer and human rights activist Jessica Mitford”.
However, Rowling’s boots do offer advice to prospective owners: “You will be determined but also disorganised (a lot of my exercise comes from running back home to fetch things my owner has forgotten.)
6. ‘My truthful answer to you…’
In 2007, Rowling announced what some fans had always speculated: that Dumbledore was gay. In New York’s Carnegie Hall, at a reading of her seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling said something that “elicited a huge reaction and prolonged ovation”, according to fansite The Leaky Cauldron. Their transcript of her speech reads like this:
“My truthful answer to you… I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] …Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But, he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that’s how I always saw Dumbledore. In fact, recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying I knew a girl once, whose hair… [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, ‘Dumbledore’s gay!’ [laughter] ‘If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!'”
7. ‘But of course’
Rowling openly supports homosexual fans – and admonishes homophobic ones. This tweet was in direct response to a fan asking if there were openly LGBT students at Hogwarts. Meanwhile, when a ‘former’ fan accused Rowling of ‘blindsiding’ readers with the revelation that Dumbledore was gay, she responded:
8. ‘The most important thing is to READ as much as you can’
In 2004, Snitch Seeker forum user Kim Felton posted a letter JK Rowling had sent her, in which she answered a number of questions about the books and their characters. In answer to Felton’s question, What advice would you give to young writers? Rowling wrote:
“When writing I think a good starting point is what you know – for instance, your own feelings, or subjects you know a lot about. The most important thing is to READ as much as you can. This will teach you to recognise good writing, and by analysing what you like best, you can find out how to improve your own writing.”
9. Writing Natalie McDonald into Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
There is only one character in the Harry Potter books who was named after a real person: Natalie McDonald. Rowling had her sorted into Gryffindor, to the applause of the house ghost Nearly Headless Nick, in The Goblet of Fire after months of correspondence with McDonald’s mother Valerie.
Natalie, who was from Toronto, died aged nine after suffering from leukemia. Before she died, a family friend, Annie Kidder, contacted Rowling’s publisher to tell the author about Natalie and how much she loved the Harry Potter books. After failing to get hold of the family on the phone, Rowling wrote Natalie an email, but it reached the family a day after she died.
According to Kidder, Rowling’s email “didn’t patronise Natalie, or tell her everything was OK; she addressed her as a human being who was going through a hard time. She talked about her books and her characters and which ones she liked best.”
Rowling and Valerie became friends, eventually meeting. But not before the author included McDonald in her fourth novel, something Valerie only discovered when she read the book.