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Essay: A Conversation with J.K. Rowling A Good Scare

4 minute read

At the approach of Halloween, we asked the author of the Harry Potter books what she thinks children should know about good and evil, magic and mayhem. Why did her series take a dark turn in this year’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Bloomsbury), for example? Rowling plans to spend Halloween at home in Scotland with her daughter Jessica, 7, who wants to dress as the broomstick-riding hero. Says the author: “Halloween, you’d not be surprised to know, is my favorite holiday.” Her comments:

I consciously wanted the first book to be fairly gentle-Harry is very protected when he enters the world. From the publication of Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ve had parents saying to me, “My six-year-old loves it,” and I’ve always had qualms about saying, “Oh, that’s great,” because I’ve always known what’s coming. So I have never said these are books for very young children.

If you’re choosing to write about evil, you really do have a moral obligation to show what that means. So you know what happened at the end of Book IV. I do think it’s shocking, but it had to be. It is not a gratuitous act on my part. We really are talking about someone who is incredibly power hungry. Racist, really. And what do those kinds of people do? They treat human life so lightly. I wanted to be accurate in that sense. My editor was shocked by the way the character was killed, which was very dismissive. That was entirely deliberate. That is how people die in those situations. It was just like, You’re in my way and you’re going to die. It’s the first time I cried during the writing of a book, because I didn’t want to kill him. It was the cruel-artist part of me who just knows that’s how it has to happen for the story. The cruel artist is stronger than the warm, fuzzy person.

My daughter has read all the books now, and I said to her about the ending of Goblet of Fire, “When you reach Chapter 30, Mommy’s going to read it to you, all right?” Because I thought, I’m going to have to hug her, and I’ve got to explain the stuff. And when the character did die, I looked at her to see if she was O.K., and she went, “Oh, it’s not Harry.” She didn’t give a damn. I was almost thinking, “Is this not scary at all?” She was just like, “Harry’s O.K., I’m O.K.” She’s a feisty little thing. In some ways, I think younger children tend to be more resilient. It’s kids who are slightly older who really get the scariness of it. Possibly because they have come across more intense stuff in their own lives.

Is evil attractive? Yes, I think that’s very true. Harry has seen the kind of people who are grouped around this very evil character. I think we’d all acknowledge that the bully in the playground is attractive. Because if you can be his friend, you are safe. This is just a pattern. Weaker people, I feel, want that reflected glory. I’m trying to explore that.

It’s great to hear feedback from the kids. Mostly they are really worried about Ron. As if I’m going to kill Harry’s best friend. What I find interesting is only once has anyone said to me, “Don’t kill Hermione,” and that was after a reading when I said no one’s ever worried about her. Another kid said, “Yeah, well, she’s bound to get through O.K.” They see her as someone who is not vulnerable, but I see her as someone who does have quite a lot of vulnerability in her personality. Hermione is me, near enough. A caricature of me when I was younger. I wasn’t that clever. But I was that annoying on occasion. Girls are very tolerant of her because she is not an uncommon female type-the little girl who feels plain and hugely compensates by working very hard and wanting to get everything just so.

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