Emerson Spartz and Melissa Anelli – “The MuggleNet and Leaky Cauldron Interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part 1”
Emerson Spartz, MuggleNet: Who[m] do you discuss Harry Potter with?
J.K. Rowling: When I’m working on it, you mean? Virtually no one, which is, for me, it’s a necessary condition of work, I have this reputation for being reclusive. Now, that came, I’m not sure that it holds so true in America, but in Britain, you really can’t read an article on me, and I read probably a hundredth of what’s out there so I know it must be happening more, without the world reclusive being attached to my name. I’m not reclusive in the slightest. What they mean is that I’m secretive and I don’t do a lot of – I’m secretive because that for me is [a] necessary condition of work. It’s got nothing to do with the franchise, it’s got nothing to do with trying to protect “the property” – I hate it being called “the property” but other people call it “the property” – it’s because I think if you discuss the work while you’re doing it you tend to dissipate the energy you need to do it. You will meet, we’ve all met, a hell of a lot of people who stand in bars and discuss the novels they are writing. If they were writing they’d be at home actually writing it. Very occasionally I might tell Neil that, I say, I’ve had [a] good day, or II wrote [a] good joke, it made me laugh, whatever, but I would never discuss in details. And then once I’ve handed in the manuscript then my editors, and that’s Emma, who is my UK editor, and Arthur, who is my American editor, they would both see the manuscript at the same time. They collaborate on what they both think about it and then they come back to me and suggest things. Of course, it’s very liberating once someone’s read it to be able to then discuss it, so you know I’ve kept it quiet for 18 months while I’ve been working, and then you get this explosion because you really want to talk to someone about it now, so Emma and Arthur are the ones who get my first effusions, and then it’s wonderful to hear what they think. They were both very positive about this book, they really liked it. And then we have arguments as well, obviously.
Emerson: This is a strange question, but how many times have you read your own story?
Jo: That is not a strange question, it’s a very valid question because once the book is published I rarely reread. A funny thing is, when I do pick up a book to check a fact, which I obviously do a lot, if I start reading, then I do get kind of sucked in myself, and I may read several pages, and then I put it away and go back to what I’m doing, but if for example I was heading to the bath, and I wanted to pick up something to read, I’d never pick up one of my own books. Therefore there are thousands of fans who know the books much better than I do. My one advantage is I know what’s going to happen, and I’ve got a lot of backstory.
Melissa Anelli, the Leaky Cauldron: How many boxes is it, now, of backstory?
Jo: It really is hard to say because I’m so disorganized, but yeah, there’[re] boxes. It’s mainly in notebooks because the backstory is so valuable, so I mainly need that in a format I can retrieve because I lose stuff. So it’s harder to lose a book than it is a bit of paper.
Emerson: When Book 7 is out, will you keep the website open to keep answering questions?
Jo: Yeah, I don’t see the website closing, like on the stroke of midnight when the seventh book’s finished. No, definitely not. My feeling is, I couldn’t possibly answer all the questions, because the novel is the wrong form in which to, for example, present a catalog of your characters’ favorite colors. But people actually want to know. It’s that kind of detail, isn’t it? So I’m never going to answer everything that an obsessive fan would want to know in the novels, and the website is another way of doing that. Also, I think people will continue to theorize about the characters even at the end of Book 7 because some people are very interested in certain characters whose past lives are not germane to the plot. They’re not central to the story, so there is big leeway there still for fan fiction, just as there is… I mean, Jane Austen. I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and you wonder about the characters lives’ at the end of the story. They still exist, they still live, you’re bound to wonder, aren’t you? But I am as sure as I can be currently that [Book] 7 will be the final novel, even though I get a lot of really big puppy dog eyes. “Just one more!” Yeah, I think it will be [Book] 7.
Emerson: Seven books is a long series.
Jo: Yeah, exactly, I don’t think they’re going to say you wimped out, come on!
Melissa: If you were to write anything else on the Harry Potter series, would it be about Harry Potter himself or another character or a reference book?
Jo: The most likely thing I’ve said this a few times before, would be an encyclopedia in which I could have fun with the minor characters and I could give the definitive biography of all the characters.
Melissa: Okay, big, big, big Book 6 question. Is Snape evil?
Jo: [laughs] Well, you’ve read the book, what do you think?
Emerson: She’s trying to make you say it categorically.
Melissa: Well, there are conspiracy theorists, and there are people who will claim…
Jo: Cling to some desperate hope [laughs]…
Emerson and Melissa: Yes!
Emerson: Like certain shippers we know!
Jo: Well, okay, I’m obviously – Harry–Snape is now as personal, if not more so, than Harry–Voldemort. I can’t answer that question because it’s a spoiler, isn’t it, whatever I say, and obviously, it has such a huge impact on what will happen when they meet again that I can’t. And let’s face it, it’s going to launch 10,000 theories and I’m going to get a big kick out of reading them so [laughs] I’m evil but I just like the theories, I love the theories.
Emerson: I know Dumbledore likes to see the good in people but he seems trusting almost to the point of recklessness sometimes. How can someone so…?
Jo: … intelligent…
Emerson: … be so blind with regard to certain things?
Jo: Well, there is information on that to come, in [Book] 7. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in Books 5 and 6 that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems, and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner? He has none of those things. He’s always the one who gives, he’s always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. So I think that, while I ask the reader to accept that McGonagall is a very worthy second in command, she is not an equal. You have a slightly circuitous answer, but I can’t get much closer than that.
Emerson: No, that was a good answer.
Melissa: It’s interesting about Dumbledore being lonely.
Jo: I see him as isolated, and a few people have said to me – rightly, I think – that he is detached. My sister said to me in a moment of frustration… It was when Hagrid was shut up in his house after Rita Skeeter had published that he was a half-breed, and my sister said to me, “Why didn’t Dumbledore go down earlier, why didn’t Dumbledore go down earlier?” I said he really had to let Hagrid stew for a while and see if he was going to come out of this on his own because if he had come out on his own he really would have been better. “Well, he’s too detached. He’s too cold; it’s like you,” she said!” [laughs] By which she meant that where she would immediately rush in and I would maybe stand back a little bit and say, “Let’s wait and see if he can work this out.” I wouldn’t leave him a week. I’d leave him maybe an afternoon. But she would chase him into the hut.
Emerson: This is one of my burning questions since the third book: Why did Voldemort offer Lily so many chances to live? Would he actually have let her live?
Jo: Can’t tell you. But he did offer, you’re absolutely right. Don’t you want to ask me why James’s death didn’t protect Lily and Harry? There’s your answer; you’ve just answered your own question, because she could have lived and chose to die. James was going to be killed anyway. Do you see what I mean? I’m not saying James wasn’t ready to; he died trying to protect his family, but he was going to be murdered anyway. He wasn’t given a choice, so he rushed into it in a kind of animal way. I think there are distinctions in courage. James was immensely brave. But the caliber of Lily’s bravery was, I think in this instance, higher because she could have saved herself. Now any mother, any normal mother would have done what Lily did. So in that sense, her courage, too, was of an animal quality, but she was given time to choose. James wasn’t. It’s like an intruder entering your house, isn’t it? You would instinctively rush them. But if in cold blood you were told, “Get out of the way,” what would you do? I mean, I don’t think any mother would stand aside from their child. But does that answer it? She did very consciously lay down her life. She had a clear choice.
Emerson: And James didn’t.
Jo: Did he clearly die to try [to] protect Harry specifically given a clear choice? No. It’s a subtle distinction and there’s slightly more to it than that but that’s most of the answer.
Melissa: Did she know anything about the possible effect of standing in front of Harry?
Jo: No, because as I’ve tried to make clear in the series, it never happened before. No one ever survived before. And no one, therefore, knew that could happen.
Melissa: So no one – Voldemort or anyone using [the Killing Curse] – ever gave someone a choice and then they took that option [to die]…
Jo: They may have been given a choice, but not in that particular way.