Harry Potter (Series) | Study Guide

J.K. Rowling

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Harry Potter (Series) | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter is one of the most popular heroes in literary history, with the seven novels selling more than 500 million copies. Rowling published the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in 1997, and completed the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a decade later in 2007.

The Harry Potter series follows the titular protagonist through seven years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after he learns as a child that he possesses magical gifts. Throughout the series, Harry's abilities unfold, and he faces perils beyond the scope of his school—namely the evil Lord Voldemort, or "he who shall not be named." The Harry Potter series owes its success to its incredibly creative and unique magical setting, crafted in detail by Rowling, and its exhilarating storyline. Perhaps most importantly, Harry Potter encouraged an entire generation of children to read during an era when television and video games seemed to reign supreme.

1. The first Harry Potter book had its title altered for American audiences.

Rowling's first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, had its title changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for publication in the United States. Although the philosopher's stone is a mythological item pertaining to the ancient science of alchemy—and the term sorcerer's stone is entirely made up—American publishers requested the change, believing that a reference to philosophy would be too confusing for American children. There are other subtle alterations in the U.S. edition, such as the word shan't being replaced with won't, as well as small tweaks from the original British English. Rowling refused some proposed changes, however, such as replacing the word mum with mom in the American edition.

2. The Harry Potter series has been criticized for encouraging children to pursue witchcraft and the occult.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of the Harry Potter books—and their effect of encouraging children to read—the series has been met with its fair share of criticism. Parents from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds, particularly in the United States and Britain, have accused the series of "promoting witchcraft" by portraying magic in a positive light. Some families called for the Harry Potter books to be removed from school libraries, as the novels "normalize acts of magic." This backlash from parents led to PEN America and the American Booksellers Foundation creating the "KidSpeak" program to encourage children to speak out against censorship of children's literature. One fifth grade student used this platform to fight back, stating:

I think the Harry Potter case is just crazy...If parents of kids eight and older complain, the principal should just talk to them and tell them that it's just fantasy.

3. Rowling and Harry Potter share the same birthday.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry—born in 1980, according to Rowling—learns he is a wizard on his 11th birthday. The date is July 31—which also happens to be the birthday of the character's creator, J.K. Rowling.

4. A decade after the release of the first Harry Potter novel, Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay.

Shortly after the release of the final installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in 2007, Rowling made a controversial declaration about the beloved Hogwarts headmaster, Dumbledore. During a Q&A meeting, Rowling revealed that, although it was never explicitly stated in the books, Dumbledore was gay. Although some conservative parents thought the revelation was unnecessary—and some critics called it a publicity stunt—Rowling was met with applause after making the announcement. The LGBT rights organization Stonewall issued a statement in support of Rowling, declaring there was "no limit to what gay and lesbian people can do, even being a wizard headmaster."

5. Rowling left a note on a marble statue in the hotel room where she completed the last Harry Potter novel.

Rowling was staying at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2007 when she completed the seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. To commemorate the event, she left a small note on a marble statue in her room reading, "JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows in this room on 11 Jan 2007." Hotel management refused to release to the public which room she had stayed in, but confirmed that she had, indeed, completed the novel there. It was later discovered the the room in question was room 552, which now boasts outrageous prices for dedicated Harry Potter fans.

6. Rowling doesn't actually have a middle name—the K is in honor of her grandmother.

Many fans have wondered what the K in J.K. Rowling's pen name stands for. It turns out that the author doesn't actually have a middle name; she chose the letter K to honor her grandmother, whose name was Kathleen. Rowling's decision to use initials as her author name was no accident. Her publisher suggested that, in order to appear "gender neutral" and not dissuade young boys from reading Harry Potter, she use initials instead of a real name. Rowling commented on the idea, saying:

It was the publisher's idea, they could have called me Enid Snodgrass. I just wanted it [the book] published.

7. Rowling was writing Harry Potter when she learned that her mother had died.

Rowling's mother, Anne, died shortly after the author had begun work on Harry Potter. Rowling had never mentioned the project to her mother, who had been battling multiple sclerosis for a decade. Rowling expressed her regret that her mother would never know of her daughter's tremendous success as an author or even that Rowling had started writing the books that made her a household name. She reflected on the sadness of the moment she learned of her mother's death, stating:

I know I was writing Harry Potter at the moment my mother died. I had never told her about Harry Potter...Dad called me at seven o'clock the next morning and I just knew what had happened before he spoke. As I ran downstairs, I had that kind of white noise panic in my head but could not grasp the enormity of my mother having died.

8. The Harry Potter films were originally going to be animated—until Rowling stepped in.

The critically acclaimed film adaptations of the Harry Potter series were almost made completely differently—and they owe their present form to Rowling herself. Due to concerns over the young cast aging quicker than the films could be shot, the Harry Potter films were almost made as animated features. Rowling firmly rejected the idea of an animated series and refused to have multiple books condensed into a single film. As a result, the films were shot back-to-back so that the child actors and actresses wouldn't need to be recast for later films.

9. There's a real "Platform 9 ¾" at King's Cross Station in London.

In the Harry Potter series, Platform 9 ¾ is the magical portal in King's Cross Station, London, that acts as a gateway for wizards and witches to access the special trains to Hogwarts. Due to the books' overwhelming popularity, a sign for a real Platform 9 ¾ was added to the London train terminal, where fans of the series often take photographs. Sadly, the sign couldn't actually be placed in its proper location between platforms 9 and 10 because the two are separated by train tracks.

10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was the longest text to appear in ancient Greek in more than 1,000 years.

All seven Harry Potter novels are quite long for children's books, but their true length wasn't put in perspective until a scholar translated the first book into ancient Greek. Upon completion of this Herculean feat, the translator, Andrew Wilson, realized he'd compiled the lengthiest text in ancient Greek since the writings of Heliodorus in the 3rd century CE. Because ancient Greek lacks the contemporary vocabulary necessary for parts of the translation, Wilson had to make some creative decisions—such as renaming Voldemort "Scaly Death." Wilson commented:

It was a lot of hard work but the most fun hard work I've ever done ... I suspect very few people will read it all the way through. You will need a degree in Ancient Greek to get a great deal out of it.

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