TIME Books

J. K. Rowling, Please Stop Talking About Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling
FILE - This Oct. 16, 2012 file photo shows author J.K. Rowling at an appearance to promote her latest book "The Casual Vacancy," at The David H. Koch Theater in New York. (Photo by Dan Hallman/Invision/AP, File) Dan Hallman—DAN HALLMAN/INVISION/AP

The author's desire to give her fans more information about her famous books only serves to illustrate their shortcomings


This week, J. K. Rowling broke her silence yet again about aspects of the Harry Potter novels, announcing in a chat that there was a Jewish wizard at Hogwarts and that the school was a welcoming place for all religions, save Wicca.

It’s nice that Rowling is so eager to engage with her fans. But if Anthony Goldstein’s religion were substantially important to the books, shouldn’t it have come up in the books? Rowling certainly gave herself enough pages over the course of an often-indulgent series to go down any avenue she wanted; her endless revisions, in the years since the Potter series wrapped up, represent an expansiveness that can be read either as a sign of Rowling’s imagination or of her lack of confidence as a novelist.

If Rowling’s novels convincingly depicted Hogwarts as a place welcoming to students of all religions, would tweeting about it seven years after her last novel’s release be necessary? And if the novels failed to carry that point across despite their author’s attempt, an announcement of how the author felt you should be reading her book would matter little.

The failure of Rowling’s style of ex post facto rewriting was carried across most poignantly by her declaring that Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster character and a fan favorite, was meant to be gay. It was a great moment in the gay-rights movement, and also a basically incoherent moment for literature, as the character, as written, did not “read” as gay, despite fans’ best attempts to retroactively construe the bland writing around him.

“I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy,” Rowling told a live audience, in disclosing an aspect of her novel that was not in her novel. This was sort of the problem. Rowling has a new-media-era eagerness to amplify her novels into a universe without end, one that can be revised or recast whenever she decides she has a new disclosure worth sharing. But her fans aren’t even happy, or are at least struggling to understand what the fuss is about: Take this week’s Pottermore “story,” one that included no new content at all.

If Rowling knew from before she wrote book one that Dumbledore was gay (as opposed to deciding, later, that it was a notion that would be embraced by the political mood of young readers), and didn’t let on in any comprehensible manner to her readers, then that’s a failing of her work. Or, more generously, it’s at least a decision about how to construct her novel that she abandoned in the spirit of fan-service. So, too, does fans’ uncertainty around religious aspects of the Potter series, about which Rowling clearly has strong opinions, seem to indicate.

A sense of the manner in which Rowling’s novels were constructed and why she might, now, feel regrets came through in her recent, regretful disclosure that she killed a character “for no good reason.” Whoops! But even a novel written hastily, under the pressures of publishers’ and fans’ expectations, exists as an object separate and distinct from its creator. Once it’s out in the world, intent matters little, or should. The Harry Potter books are objects that are sold individually, without a packet of disclosures, revisions, and rethinkings from Rowling; she owes it to her creations to allow them to stand or fall on their own. The more Rowling calls attention to what in her books is missing, the more attention she takes away from what’s actually in her books.

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Debunks Severus Snape Rumor

'Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince'
'Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince' Warner Brothers

The author also reveals what was in some of her earliest Harry Potter notes

Things are getting festive at Pottermore, with today’s new piece of content in J.K. Rowling’s series of new Harry Potter tales. Today, solve the (potentially easiest) riddle and you’ll be granted access inside Professor Slughorn’s exclusive holiday party, complete with house elves and mistletoe and all the mince pie you could ever want. The riddle reads as such:

With vampires and authors and a gatecrashing Malfoy, Slughorn’s Christmas party is one for (almost) all to enjoy. Much to the surprise of fans, friends and the rest, Which Loony Ravenclaw does Harry bring as a guest?

Even a Squib could solve this riddle! The answer is Luna Lovegood, obviously. Fans can click through the interactive festivities to find a new piece of content from Rowling about vampires, a species that don’t come up very often in the books. Rowling reveals that wasn’t the plan all along. According to her early notes, she toyed with the idea of a vampire teacher called Trocar, named for a “sharply pointed shaft inserted into arteries or cavities to extract bodily fluids.” Alas, Trocar was edited off somewhere along the line.

Read more J.K. Rowling Reveals the Only Harry Potter Character She Feels Guilty About Killing

But that didn’t stop fans from speculating about another character who could be a vampire: Severus Snape. “While it is true that he has an unhealthy pallor, and is sometimes described as looking like a large bat in his long black coat, he never actually turns into a bat,” Rowling writes. “We meet him outside in the castle by daylight, and no corpses with puncture marks in their necks ever turn up at Hogwarts.”

It might strike Potter superfans odd, of course, that others would continue speculating about Snape long after learning the truth about him. Especially because if he was a vampire, Snape could never be around someone after using his spell sectumsempra and not react to all the blood. Didn’t you guys read Twilight?

Red next: J. K. Rowling, Please Stop Talking About Harry Potter

TIME Books

Winnie-the-Pooh Could Be Leaving New York for Britain

School children view the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals at the New York Public Library in 2009.
School children view the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals at the New York Public Library in 2009. Marc Bryan-Brown—WireImage/Getty Images

British fans are keen for the bear to leave his home at the New York Public Library

The teddy bear on which the much-loved fictional Winnie-the-Pooh was based may be returning to Britain for a home-coming visit for the first time since 1976.

Angela Montefinise, director of media relations at the New York Public Library where the visiting public can currently view the bear, said the curators were “absolutely open” to letting Pooh travel provided he was taken good care of while on loan.

Speaking to The Times of London, she said: “These dolls are very fragile. It is our responsibility to ensure their preservation and protection so they can continue to be viewed by the public.”

Christopher Robin Milne, the son of English author A.A. Milne and a character in the children’s stories, apparently intended for the bear and his other childhood toys to stay in New York.

But British fans of the children’s stories have been clamoring for the bear’s return for several years. Politician Gwyneth Dunwood asked former Prime Minister Tony Blair to raise the issue with Bill Clinton during a 1988 visit, saying “Just like the Greeks want their Elgin marbles back so we want our Winnie the Pooh back.”

More recently, residents of Hartfield, the village from where Pooh hails, and notable English writers have joined the appeal. Gyles Brandreth, broadcaster and writer, said “for some of us our childhood is never over, so we’d love to have him back – if only for a holiday.”

[The Times]

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Confirms: There Are Jewish Wizards

J.K. Rowling at the Southbank Centre in London in 2012.
J.K. Rowling at the Southbank Centre in London in 2012. Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

There is room for everyone at Hogwarts. Well, room for everyone except Wiccans

J.K. Rowling says that there is at least one Jewish wizard in the Harry Potter universe: Anthony Goldstein.

In a Twitter question-and-answer session on Tuesday, one man, Ben Roffman, tweeted that his wife had teasingly told him there were no Jews at Hogwarts, meaning that she was the only one qualified to be “magical” in the family.

Rowling had some words for this Muggle wife: “Anthony Goldstein, Ravenclaw, Jewish wizard.”

The Harry Potter Wiki says that Goldstein was Harry Potter’s classmate and fought with him in Dumbledore’s Army. He was also in good company in a potpourri of religious backgrounds and affiliations represented in the wizardry school. Rowling went on to say in the Twitter exchange that the only people she “never imagined there are Wiccans.”

TIME Books

Adult Books Sales Are Down and Young Adult Soars in 2014

The Fault In Our Stars
Dutton Books

Book sales are booming, according to statistics released this week by the Association of American Publishers, which showed that in the first three-quarters of 2014, overall book sales increased by 4.9%.

But the real page-turners that flew off the shelves were for children and young adults–those categories increased by a whopping 22.4% from Jan.-Sept. 2013 to the same period in 2014, Media Bistro reports. To put things into perspective, adult fiction and non-fiction sales were down 3.3%.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that adults stopped reading. They might just be expanding their palates to healthy servings of John Green and other YA heavy-hitters.

Adults reading YA wouldn’t be a new phenomenon. According to a 2012 survey by Bowker Market Research found that 55% of young adult novels are bought by adults — 28% of which are made up of the 33 to 44 demographic. That statistic drew some criticism aimed at YA-loving adults this summer–balanced by an overwhelming wave of pieces defending adults who love the genre.

While the AAP didn’t track who bought what books, it did note that children and young adult ebooks increased a total of 52.7% in the first nine months this year. And a December study by Nielsen found that even though teenagers are tech savvy, only 20% of them buy ebooks and express a strong preference for print.

Although no need to hide The Fault of Our Stars in that Kindle — it’s no 50 Shades of Grey, after all.

TIME Books

9 Decent Pieces of Advice From the Worst People on TV

From left: Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds, Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds, Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly, Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds and Rob McElhenney as Mac in It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia Matthias Clamer—FXX

Surprising words of wisdom from the depraved characters of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

The five main characters from the FX show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—Charlie, Mac, Dennis, Sweet Dee and Frank—are some of the worst people ever portrayed in a TV series.

Each is delusional and profoundly narcissistic, which serves each character well in the service of their various schemes (except for the illiterate Charlie, who is just sort of a beautiful mystery), and yet somehow, even within the context of a group of mean alcoholics running a crappy bar in nondescript industrial Philly, they are remarkably unsuccessful people. Which makes their new self-help book, “The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today,” that much more intriguing.

Suffice to say that fans of the show will like the book. I did. But my purpose here isn’t to review The Gang’s foray into the written word. (Or drawn “word,” in Charlie’s case. Bless him). I’m here to relay the nuggets of decent advice I somehow did find in those pages. Here they are:

“When considering marriage, the first thing you need to do is create a framework for thinking about whether or not you should actually do it. The first question you have to ask yourself is “Am I totally high on crack?” If the answer is no, then the next question you should ask yourself is “Why, if I’m not totally high on crack, am I even thinking about getting married?” –Dennis

Four out of five households today don’t fit the traditional equation of mom plus dad plus two kids equals family. Divorce rates are high and being single is cool—so what’s the rush?

“If you wanna get by in this life, you better get yourself a good sidekick.” –Frank

Butch Cassidy knew this. So did Batman. So does everyone who gets elected President of the United States. Sidekicks are cool.

“Friends come in all shapes and sizes. Mostly they’re people-sized, but not always. Sometimes friends are shaped like other things. Like a bird with teeth, or a jar of glue, or a block of cheddar.” –Charlie

While I in no way recommend making friends with a jar of glue, I like this one because of the message of inclusion. Friendships come in odd forms and sometimes from unlikely places. Unlikely friends can be some of the best friends of all.

“As any exceptional actor will tell you, the most important element of acting is honesty. If you can fake that, you’re golden.” –Sweet Dee

An excellent piece of classic acting advice. Unfortunately, it honestly definitely did not come from Sweet Dee. Maybe George Burns, maybe somewhere else.

“If you steal and you don’t get caught, you don’t have to go to jail.” –Frank

I’m assuming you don’t need me to spell this one out for you. Pretty straightforward.

“Let’s face the facts: There are two kinds of people in this world: those who sweat the small stuff, and those who have the balls not to.”-Dennis

Keeping focused on the big picture and not getting bogged down in petty things takes chutzpah. Or courage. Or audacity. Or “balls,” I guess, if you’re Dennis.

“Basically, less evolved dudes tend to get weirded out if they can tell you’re wearing mascara. Go easy.” – Mac

All things in moderation. Plus there’s an implicit reminder not to be a judgmental dolt.

“A shush is the social equivalent of a slap in the face.” –Dennis

You know it, I know it, so just, if you’re going to do it, be prepared for the repercussions.

“It is illegal to keep a hummingbird as a pet in the United States of America, and any attempt to do so may be punishable by fines, imprisonment, death, or all of the above. If you have hummingbirds in your house, you should put this book down and go get rid of that bird immediately. Or suffer the consequences of the law.” –Charlie

That’s just good solid advice right there. And mostly true, actually.

Read next: The Top 10 TV Shows of 2014

TIME Books

Judy Blume Reveals Plot of New Novel

Author and producer Judy Blume attends "Tiger Eyes" New York Premiere at AMC Empire on June 7, 2013 in New York City.
Author and producer Judy Blume attends "Tiger Eyes" New York Premiere at AMC Empire on June 7, 2013 in New York City. Robin Marchant—Getty Images

The book is titled 'In the Unlikely Event'

Iconic children’s book author Judy Blume revealed details of her first adult novel since 1998 to People in an exclusive interview.

In the Unlikely Event, due out in June next year, takes place in Elizabeth, New Jersey — where Blume grew up — during a series of non-fictional plane crashes that took place between 1951 and 1952.

“These events have lingered in my mind ever since,” Blume said in a statement. “It was a crazy time. We were witnessing things that were incomprehensible to us as teenagers.”

Blume, who wrote classics including Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret and Blubber, last wrote the adult novel Summer Sisters 16 years ago.

Read more at People

TIME movies

What Is It About Gone With the Wind That Still Enchants Us?

LIFE Gone with the Wind - Front Cover

Read the introduction to LIFE's book Gone With the Wind: The Great American Movie 75 Years Later, excerpted here

Scarlett O’Hara famously vowed she would lie, steal, cheat or kill to survive. And just like its heroine, Gone with the Wind has shown remarkable resilience. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the film remains a fixture in popular culture. Its iconic status is more secure than ever, thanks to television, DVDs, parodies and revivals that roll around as regularly as national holidays. Just as amazingly, Margaret Mitchell’s 1,037-page novel has been in print since it became a best-seller in 1936, its life extended by a prequel, a sequel—and, of course, the movie.

The story of a small corner of the South in the 19th century, a war movie with no battle scenes, revolving around a heroine of questionable morals, has proved uncannily adept at crossing barriers of geography and time. The poster of Scarlett and Rhett posed against the flaming sky is as instantly recognizable in China or Ethiopia or France as the American flag. The movie is still the biggest blockbuster in history with ticket prices adjusted for inflation. And if it doesn’t have quite the must-see thrill it once did, if many of its transgressions appear fairly innocuous today, others are as fresh and controversial as they were in 1939.

Politically incorrect and racially retrograde, GWTW has offended so many sensibilities that the overture should be preceded by a trigger alert: Beware! This is history written by the losers. The Yankees are irredeemable villains; the slaves too happy in their subjugation to yearn for freedom. The marital rape, in which Rhett forces himself on Scarlett and—horrors!—she enjoys it, can still raise the blood pressure of feminists. But the allure of Gone with the Wind is more powerful, fed by fantasies that run roughshod over ideology.

I came to it as a Southern teenager in the ’50s, when the book was a sort of underground bible. We consumed it under covers with a flashlight, much as Margaret Mitchell read the romance novels her bluestocking mother deplored. The movie, ideally cast, preserved all the disreputable qualities of its heroine, the delicious ambiguities of good boy and bad boy in her two lovers. As with the book, we embraced the movie in a state of critical and political innocence. Max Steiner’s sweeping score is nothing if not relentless, yet who can hear the first few chords of Tara’s theme without experiencing a frisson?

There is a reason so many studios turned the property down. The book was too long, its legion of admirers too passionate. They would detect any alteration, would brook no compromise. And who could play the crucial and near-impossible role of Scarlett? A known movie star would bring too much baggage, an unknown wouldn’t have the chops. The budget would be prohibitive. Only producer David O. Selznick had both the ego and cultural pretensions to even attempt it, and he passed many an insomniac, pill-fueled night as the $4.25 million production went through five directors, 15 screenwriters, firings and rewritings, not to mention finding the leading lady only after shooting had begun. In the end, what should have been one of the great disasters was a triumph, not just a blockbuster and winner of 10 Academy Awards, but a showcase of a kind of filmmaking that we would seldom see again. Yet the irony can’t have escaped spectators: The New World’s most democratic medium had given us the portrait of an aristocratic past whose seductiveness depended on the denial of unpleasant truths.

The scapegrace daughter of a high-minded suffragette, Margaret “Peggy” Mitchell was a tomboy truant, then a flapper who acted up at parties while her mother marched for the vote and attended to the sick. From this dividedness comes Scarlett, an unresolved amalgam of the high-spirited party girl, thumbing her nose at proprieties, and the lost girl, longing for the love of a disapproving mother.

Officially she would have nothing to do with Selznick’s film, thus providing herself with deniability should her fellow Atlantans be outraged by the movie’s vulgarities. In her letters, she took a line of baffled innocence. The book had “precious little obscenity in it,” she wrote disingenuously to a correspondent, “no adultery and not a single degenerate, and I couldn’t imagine a publisher being silly enough to buy it.”

Macmillan bought it, of course. With very little effort on the publisher’s part, Gone with the Wind sold 1 million copies in the first six months, then (with a great deal of effort on the part of Selznick et al.) it became an Oscar-winning movie, all with its degeneracy intact. I’m thinking of such no-no’s as a house of prostitution patronized by Rhett Butler and other Atlanta notables; the marital rape; a near rape in Shantytown (Scarlett is attacked by a black man in the book, saved by one—Big Sam—in the movie); adultery of the soul if not of the body between Scarlett and Ashley; and a farewell punctured by a four-letter word not allowed on the heavily censored movie screens of the time. The offenses against gentility include a harrowing childbirth and, against virtue and Hollywood conventions, a heroine of unprecedented selfishness who lies and cheats her way through Reconstruction, stealing her sister’s man in the process. Mitchell’s way of rationalizing her she-devil protagonist was to maintain that Melanie was the heroine, not Scarlett. Or was meant to be.

But we teenagers knew forbidden fruit when we tasted it. In the uptight, prefeminist ’50s Scarlett was a slap in the face to all the rules of white-gloved ladylike behavior in which we were steeped, a beacon (however tarnished) of female wiliness and defiance. She looked marriage and adulthood square in the face—a life on the sidelines, matronly chaperones in dowdy clothes—and would have none of it. Proudly adolescent, a rebuke to grown-up hypocrisy and conformity, she’s the opening salvo in the teenage revolution, pioneer of a new demographic that would become official with rebel James Dean.

Naturally, the first American readers and audiences saw GWTW as a fable of the Depression, when men were laid off and women were compelled to find ways to survive. Later it would inevitably echo the reality of the Second World War, with men fighting abroad and women going to work for the first time. Perhaps more surprising is the way the movie has enraptured hearts and minds around the world. From postwar France, left-wing cine clubs in Greece and prisons in Ethiopia, there have come stories of people who are by no means sympathetic to slave-owning Dixie, but who nevertheless identify with the South and see it as a mirror of their own travails. Maybe it’s because GWTW is not about bravery on the battlefield but the courage of resistance, of holding it together, of coming through in the clutch—in other words, gumption, Margaret Mitchell’s favorite word. The Darwinian struggle is between, as Ashley says, “people who have brains and courage . . . and the ones who haven’t.”

This confusion of good and evil, of winners and losers, is embedded in the very marrow of Gone with the Wind, as it is in the idealized vision of the South so long cherished by the former Confederacy. Margaret Mitchell spent hours as a child on her grandmother’s porch, listening to relatives tell war stories. She claimed not to have realized until she was 10 years old that the South had lost the war. And so it is that in the face of unacceptable defeat, she gives spiritual victory to her characters. If Scarlett is the motor, Yankee-like in her drive, the impractical, ungreedy Ashley embodies the South’s moral ascendancy. Audiences, as well as characters in the movie, tend to cut Scarlett a surprising amount of slack, rationalize her selfishness as necessary (and very American) expediency. GWTW is full of such questionable fudgings and South-justifying sentimentalities, and its reception, never unmixed, has been plagued by stories that haunt us. Butterfly McQueen could never escape the role, or voice, of Prissy. And though Hattie McDaniel would end up winning the Oscar for playing Mammy, she couldn’t attend the premiere in segregated Atlanta.

Still, it’s important to give Mitchell and Selznick the benefit of context—different time, different rules; and they were more progressive than many around them. As a Jewish man, Selznick understood persecution and didn’t want to go to his grave with the racist legacy of D.W. Griffith. He listened to advisers and blacks on the set, and dropped the word n-gger (used in the book by blacks in reference to one another). Mitchell was a product of the Jim Crow South, but wound up funding education for blacks at considerable risk to herself.

The film, with all its complications and controversies, with all its success, proved as much a burden for its authors as a joy. Margaret Mitchell was overwhelmed by attention and ailments and died at age 48. Selznick, too, suffered from the stress, and Vivien Leigh, the third obsessive of the trio, gave so much of her unstable self to the incandescent Scarlett that she displayed symptoms of burnout the rest of her life.

You are about to embark on a fascinating journey into the heart of an American epic—some would say the American epic. As you read the juicy stories about the making of the movie and the making of Mitchell, you may find, as I did, that the film remains a testament to the manic dedication of Selznick, Mitchell and Leigh . . . and to a fourth partner, the viewers, who have made the film—intensely—their own.

LIFE’s book Gone With the Wind: The Great American Movie 75 Years Later is available here.

See photos from the Gone With the Wind set here, and from the making of the movie here

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Reveals the Only Harry Potter Character She Feels Guilty About Killing

"He is not the first wizard whom Voldemort murdered because he knew too much (or too little)"

Correction appended, Dec. 15

J.K. Rowling had few qualms about killing important characters in the Harry Potter books but she has revealed she regrets allowing the death of one of her creations.

In a new short essay uploaded to the Pottermore website, Rowling describes her guilt at killing one minor character: Florean Fortescue.

Fortescue, the owner of the Diagon Alley ice cream parlor, first meets the boy wizard in the third novel, The Prisoner of Azkaban, when he gives Harry Potter free ice creams. He is mentioned again in the sixth book, The Half-Blood Prince, when Bill Weasley says that Fortescue, a “good man” was “dragged off” and later killed by Voldemort’s servants, the Death Eaters.

On Pottermore, Rowling writes: “I seemed to have him kidnapped and killed for no good reason. He is not the first wizard whom Voldemort murdered because he knew too much (or too little), but he is the only one I feel guilty about, because it was all my fault.”

Rowling adds that she had originally planned for Fortescue to be the “conduit for clues” to help Potter in his search for the deathly hallows in the final book but she found a better character to play that role. “The problem was that when I came to write the key parts of Deathly Hallows I decided that Phineas Nigellus Black was a much more satisfactory means of conveying clues,” she writes.

This essay is the latest addition to the Pottermore Christmas series, in which new pieces of writing and surprises are being uploaded to the site over 12 days.

MORE: J.K. Rowling’s new Harry Potter story is quite a tease

Correction: The original version of this story misstated which book Fortescue is mentioned in again. It is the sixth book, The Half-Blood Prince.

Read next: J. K. Rowling’s New Harry Potter ‘Story’ Is Better Than Mistletoe


Play With Potions in J.K. Rowling’s Third Day of Christmas ‘Story’

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival - Day 2
J K Rowling poses on Day 2 of The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Oct. 6, 2012 in Cheltenham, England. David Levenson—Getty Images

Hermione's hair isn't reacting well to what's coming out of her cauldron

On the third day of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series ahead of Christmas, we take a trip to potions class with Harry and co. Sadly, Malfoy is there as well. Today’s riddle goes as such:

“His potions lessons are full of interesting things. With students keen to see what each day will bring. With his large moustache and rotund shape, who teaches this class after Professor Snape.”

“Slughorn” is the answer. But, like we learned from Rowling’s first riddle in the series, his full name won’t do the trick. Only “Professor Slughorn” will get you inside Harry and Ron’s double Potions class where they’re mixing up Felix Felicis, also known as liquid luck. The cauldrons and books in the classroom reveal extra surprises.

MORE: Reading Harry Potter Provides Clues to Brain Activity

It’s still a bit unclear what the famed author is actually doing with this roll out. Pottermore fans were promised new Potter content, but it seems scarce three days in. Perhaps Christmas will bring a more satisfying surprise. There’s still plenty of time for mischief to be managed.

Read next: J.K. Rowling’s Christmas Present to You Is More Harry Potter Stories

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