J.K. Rowling on “Larry King”
Transcribed by the HP Galleries
Larry King (LK): Was Potter the first thing you wrote?
J.K. Rowling (JKR): No, I’ve been writing since I was six years old, so it’s…
JKR: Yes, probably the 23rd thing I wrote, really.
LK: Children’s books.
JKR: No, never children’s books. That’s the weird thing. I thought I was going to be a writer for adults, but Harry was the first I tried to get published.
LK: You never submitted anything before.
JKR: Because I was acute enough to know they weren’t worth much. I think one of my strengths as a writer is normally I know when I haven’t come up to scratch, and I just knew I wasn’t ready.
LK: So if people come over and say, “Let’s publish some of those works…”
JKR: No one has, but that’s because I’ve made it very clear that they’re due for the shredder. I wouldn’t want them published.
LK: Is Potter all you’re ever going to write?
JKR: No, I’ll be writing until I can’t write anymore. It’s a compulsion with me. I love writing.
LK: Do you remember how… it’s impossible to say how an idea came about. Do you remember, though, the creation of this concept?
JKR: Yes, it came to me on a train going from Manchester to London in England, and it came very suddenly. I just…
LK: What came?
JKR: The idea for this boy who didn’t know what he was until he was eleven and then got this invitation to go off to wizard school, and I had this very physical response to this idea. I felt so excited. I just thought it would be so fun to write.
LK: So you went right away and started writing.
JKR: Literally. Got off the train, went home, and started writing.
LK: Do you know, JK, where you’re going?
LK: You do? You plot it out?
JKR: Yes, I spent five years – it was five years before – between having that idea and finishing the first book, and during those five years I was planning the whole seven-book series, so it’s already written in stone. That’s how it’s going to happen.
LK: Now they’re doing a movie. I ran into Mr. [Alan] Rickman, who is going to be one of the stars of the movie.
JKR: Yes, he’s playing Snape. Good choice.
LK: Have you approved the script?
JKR: I have script approval, and the writer Steve Kloves has been incredibly generous in allowing me to answer questions. It’s actually been a lot of fun for me because I’ve seen other… writing is a very solitary business and to work collaboratively on something, although… I mean, it’s Steve’s script, as I say. He’s allowed me some input. Yes, it’s been a really interesting experience.
LK: But it is apples and oranges, movies and books?
JKR: Very much so.
LK: You can’t film a thought.
JKR: Absolutely. Absolutely true, and my true media is definitely the novel. I work best alone, probably. I love writing novels. I have no desire to do anything else.
LK: Do you like the young man they’ve selected to play him?
JKR: I love… Dan is great. It was a very difficult process. Finding Harry was very hard. It was like trying to find Scarlett O’Hara, this one. And I think everyone was getting slightly desperate. And I was walking down the streets of Edinburgh and London and looking at boys who passed me in a very suspicious looking way. I was thinking, “Could it be him?” And then the producer and director walked into the theater one night, and they found Dan. And Dan is an actor. And he’s just perfect. And I saw his tests, and I really had everything crossed that Dan would be the one, and he is.
LK: The pressure is going to be enormous on that movie with this millions of readers. You’ve got 48 million books in print.
LK: This movie is a guaranteed opening night hit. It almost has to be good.
JKR: I hope so.
LK: I mean, it better.
JKR: Obviously, I hope so because I’m going to be sitting there like everybody else, really wanting to watch Quidditch. That’s the thing I want to see most. I’ve been watching Quidditch, which, for people who don’t know, is a game played on broomsticks, quite a complicated game. And I’ve been watching this inside my head for ten years, so to be able to physically watch it, I feel like a kid when I think about that.
LK: Anything in the selection of the name “Harry Potter”?
JKR: Harry was always my favorite boy’s name or has been for a long time. And if my daughter had been a son – I was already writing Harry Potter when she was born – she probably would have been Harry, and then Harry would have been called something else because it’s too cruel to name…
LK: Is it more common in Great Britain? It’s the name of one of the princes, right?
JKR: Yes, but don’t ask me, “Did [you] name him after Prince Harry?” It’s not that common a name. It’s one of those names that’s always slightly unusual. It’s quite an old-fashioned name. I like it.
LK: It was once very popular in America. We have a song “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”
JKR: Sure, yes.
LK: But how has all the success affected you? It has to affect you.
JKR: It has. Obviously, it’s had a massive impact. Day to day not much. People might be surprised to hear that, but my day is really very what it always was, which is trying to get time to write, which used to be difficult because I’m a single parent, and I was doing a day job. And now it’s difficult because the phone never stops ringing, so I still walk out of the house to write. Occasionally, obviously, I’m on the Larry King show. This was not a feature of my life.
LK: You also don’t have economic pressure anymore.
JKR: I don’t have economic pressure anymore. And every day people constantly say to me, “What’s the best thing about that?” and without a doubt the best thing is I don’t have to worry. I mean, every day there will be single mothers out there who I think will really understand nothing means more to me than the fact that I don’t have to worry about that anymore because it’s a difficult way to live.
LK: I’ll ask more on that. But let’s take first… we went around Washington. Here’s a question from a youngster for J.K. Rowling: “I’d like to know if any of your characters of the Harry Potter series are like any real-life characters you’ve ever met.”
JKR: Right. Yes, a few people were inspired by living people. I have to be careful what I say here because some of my characters aren’t too pleasant, but Hermione, who is one of Harry’s best friends, was most consciously based on a real person, and that person was me. She’s a caricature of me when I was younger. Ron, who is Harry’s other best friend, is a lot like my oldest friend, who is a man called Sean. I was at school with him, and the second book is dedicated to Sean.
LK: Did you think it would do as well with adults?
JKR: No. In all honesty, I didn’t think it would do this well with anyone. I thought I was writing quite an obscure book that if it ever got published would maybe have a handful of devotees because I thought it is kind of a book for obsessives. I thought, “Well, maybe a few people will like it a lot.” I never expected it to have broad appeal.
LK: You might have thought it would be a cult following, a small intense group.
JKR: Yes, I think if you’d sort of given me a multiple choice one, and one of them had been mass acclaim, and one had been cult I’d have picked “cult,” yes.
LK: A family group with a question for J.K. Rowling taped in Washington. Watch.
Video: I’d like to know how you come up with the spells and if you have to research those. If that’s something that you come up entirely on your own out of your imagination or whether it’s something that you researched and had to find out about magical spells and potions.
JKR: I’d say at least 95 percent of it is made up by me just out of nowhere. And then I meet people at book signings who whisper to me, “We are trying the spells.” And I think, “Well, don’t bother because I know I just made them up. They don’t work.” But there’s a small percentage of the stuff in books that is my modification of what people used to believe was true. For example, there is an object in the second book, which is the Hand of Glory. This is very macabre, but people used to believe in Europe that, if you cut off the hand of a hanged man, it would make a perpetual torch that gave light only to the holder, which is a creepy but wonderful idea. So I used that. That’s a very ancient idea. I didn’t invent the Hand of Glory.
LK: How do you for think for an eleven-year-old when you’re not eleven?
JKR: Because I find it phenomenally easy to think myself back to that age.
LK: You can put yourself back to eleven.
JKR: Very easily. This is where it all comes from. I often get asked, “Do you get ideas from children? Do you ask children what they’re interested in?” No. This is entirely about my memories of childhood.
LK: Why not then a heroine? Why isn’t this Helene Potter?
JKR: Very good question. I was – this is weird – writing the books for six months before I stopped and thought, “Well, he’s a boy.” How did that happen? Why is he a boy? Why isn’t it Harriet? And number one, it was too late. Harry was too real by then for me to try to put him in a dress. That wasn’t going to work. And then there was Hermione. And Hermione is an indispensable part of the books and how the adventures happen. And she’s so much me that I felt no guilt about keeping the hero who had walked into my head. It was uncontrived. It wasn’t conscious. That’s how he happened. So I kept him that way.
LK: Our remaining moments with J.K. Rowling. The newest, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The movie… what’s the title of the movie?
JKR: They’re doing a really great thing, which is [that] it will be Sorcerer’s Stone here and Philosopher’s Stone in Britain.
LK: In our remaining moments, let’s get another question. A pair of sisters are together. Watch.
Video: I want to know where you got the names for certain things like the literary references behind them. Like why is Hogwarts called Hogwarts?
JKR: I love names, as anyone who has read the book is going to see only too clearly.
LK: You are a name freak.
JKR: I am a bit of a name freak. A lot of the names that I didn’t invent come from maps. Snape is a place name in Britain. Dumbledore is an old English dialect word for “bumblebee” because he is a musical person. And I imagine him humming to himself all the time. Hagrid is also an old English word. Hedwig was a Medieval saint. I collect them. If I hear a good name, I have got to write it down. And it will probably crop up somewhere.
LK: What do you make of the critique in some elements of the United States, especially in the Christian right, who have said that this book deals with demons and things?
JKR: What it deals with is good and evil. And like a lot of classic children’s literature, it deals with good and evil. So my feeling is that their objection is utterly unfounded. I mean, occasionally, I wonder, “Have they read the books?” I think they’re very moral books. If we are going to object to depicting magic in books, then we are going to have to reject C.S. Lewis. We’re going to have to get rid of the Wizard of Oz. There are going to be a lot of very… a lot of classic children’s literature is not going to be allowed to survive that, so… and I’m very opposed to censorship. So no, I can’t agree with what they’re doing at all.
LK: In how many languages are you printed?
JKR: I think it’s definitely over 30. I know it’s 29 countries. But obviously, there are different dialects.
LK: How much mail do you get?
JKR: Avalanches of mail. This is why I’m… it’s people…
LK: Yes, why are you here? There’s no…
JKR: Exactly. Some people [say], “Why are you still doing this? You don’t…” No, I’m not trying to sell a book. What I’m trying to do is reach people because I have millions of readers, and they ask me questions. And so to do this and to be able to answer questions in this way because if I visited every school that wants me to visit them, if I gave every reading a library would like me to give, I would never eat, sleep, write. I’d never see my daughter. So this is a way of reaching people without physically having to go everywhere.
LK: Do you think, Jo…? Jo, is your name, right?
LK: Do you think, Jo, that the pressure is going to be enormous when the Potter series is done, and we get your first book after that?
JKR: I’m never going write anything this popular again. And I…
LK: That would be impossible.
JKR: It would. I’ve been reconciled to that since Philosopher’s Stone came out. The whole thing knocked me off my feet. I didn’t expect it at all. And in a way, that will be okay because it will be… I will then probably be the writer I always thought I would be. I would be the writer I aspired to be: someone who was just getting on quietly with writing. So although this has been a fabulous experience, I don’t think I’m going to cry when the journalists pack up and go home and don’t want to speak to me so often. That’s truly not what it’s about for me.
LK: But you will not again write just for yourself?
JKR: I will always write just for myself. And that… the next book might be for adults. It might still be for children. If I’m always known as a children’s…
LK: But I mean, ones that you won’t bring forward?
JKR: Oh, yes, right. Okay.
LK: They will come forward?
JKR: You mean…
LK: You’re not going to write a book and put it away anymore?
JKR: Well, I might do. I don’t know. That could definitely happen.
LK: That’s right. You don’t have to, Jo.
JKR: No, I don’t have to publish. We all know that. The only reason to keep writing now is if I really enjoy the writing.
LK: A great pleasure meeting you.
JKR: And you, too. Thank you very much.
LK: Continued success.
JKR: Thank you.