Does Rowling Use a Mind Palace to Manage Her Fictional Worlds?
In a recent addition to the frequently asked questions section of her website, J.K. Rowling was asked the question “How do you manage two very different fictional worlds (Cormoran Strike and the Wizarding World ) […]?” She responded by saying, “I’ve never had any problem moving between fictional worlds, even if I’m working on them simultaneously. […] I envision the different fictional worlds as different rooms to which I have access.”
This technique of visualizing different information as being stored in different rooms sounds a lot like the memory enhancement technique used for centuries called the “method of loci.” The method of loci was invented by the ancient Greeks and Romans and involves visualizing different facts as images and placing them in different rooms in an imaginary house. When you want to recall the facts, you simply pretend that you are walking through the house and seeing all the different objects.
All over the world, there are memory athletes who use this technique to compete in memory championships, where they are asked to memorize long strings of binary numbers or the order of an entire deck of cards. Memory athletes have developed set images in their mind for every card in the deck, and as they see each card, they will place the image along the route that they take through their imaginary house. In this way, they are able to keep track of the order of all 52 cards in their deck.
This method of loci has been popularized by Sherlock Holmes, who calls it his Mind Palace. In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes says to Watson, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose” (Conan Doyle 23). In the TV series Sherlock, we get to see the huge mansion that Holmes uses to store and retrieve all of the information that he finds useful. If you know how to store information properly in your brain, then being able to access it at any time is not as difficult as it may seem.
We know that J.K. Rowling must have a highly impressive memory, given how many intricate plots and small details she needs to keep track of. Since Rowling has shown herself to be interested in both the ancient Greeks and mystery books, she has almost certainly heard of the method of loci. Is this visualization strategy what she uses to help her keep track of her different fantasy worlds? Rowling said about moving from one world to the next, “At worst, when entering one of the rooms, I have to spend a bit of time re-orienting myself, finding my bearings again, checking what I’ve put in which drawers. However, they’re discrete places in my head, and the moment I re-enter one of the worlds, the characters are as fully real to me as when I left them.” To me, this sounds a bit like J.K. Rowling has a mind palace of her own!