One of my close friends gifted me a copy of A History of Magic for my birthday. It is a big book published by Bloomsbury and has pieces from different people on Harry Potter and its lore (it’s a bit pricy unfortunately with a whopping tag of 30£). It does not really add to the story as one would imagine an additional Potter book would do-like Quidditch Through the Ages or Fantastic Beasts or Where to Find Them-but it gives insight to its creative process. It has nine chapters and I decided to write posts on each of them to give you an idea. Hence our first chapter: The Journey.
The tittle immediately reminds me of the sixth chapter of the Philosopher’s Stone: “The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. It is the first time both Harry and us are on the train to Hogwarts, and the first time we meet the future friends. So even after everything, that particular chapter stands out. Not only Harry sees his fame in person (through Weasleys’ treatment of him-especially Ginny who wants to go and see Harry herself) but also we get to see Harry’s character. He is afraid of all being a prank and so scared and alone, I don’t think it’ll be wrong to say we have all been there at some point in our lives. Even though every train ride is packed with action, this is the only one where we see the old Harry, who everyone hates in fear of Dudley and realise how broken and abused he is. In an interview Rowling said that she liked the idea of a nobody, which Harry clearly is, to be the hero. And this particular journey is the starting point of Harry’s realisation of his importance.
This is the Harry we meet, a sketch by Jim Kay before he added in the necessary colour-green for his eyes! Joanna Norledge thinks that this portrait “brings to life a young boy who seems both innocent and fragile. His large, expressive eyes, however, suggests a depth of character hidden beneath the surface. We get the feeling that there is a lot more about Harry Potter for us to discover…” and we witness his transformation from this wide-eyed child to the brave man who fights Lord Voldemort.
However, this chapter is not just about this. It is actually about the journey of Rowling herself: how she managed to write it and get it published. We all know that she got rejected multiple times, publishers thinking kids wouldn’t read books as long as the Philosopher’s Stone is and she had to use initials as, again, publishers thought that boys would not read a fantasy novel written by a woman James Tiptree Jr style. Yet, Harry Potter managed to be undoubtedly the most successful children’s book series. So how did that happen?
It is a nice coincidence that Rowling had the idea of Harry Potter while delayed on a train in King’s Cross. The importance she attributes to the Hogwarts Express is a nice homage to her literal and metaphorical journey there. Once she was finished with the first book, she wrote a synopsis of it and sent it to various publishing houses. According to the book, the synopsis had “folded corners, tea stains and crumpled grip marks at the bottom” suggesting that it passed through many hands until Bloomsbury picked it up (eight publishers rejected it before them). The reason Bloomsbury picked up the story was that the founder and Chief Executive Nigel Newton took the script-which was written up to the chapter “Diagon Alley”-and made his daughter read it. Alice was eight years old at the time and loved what she had read so far. It is thus, thanks to that little girl Bloomsbury gave a chance to Harry.
Rowling not only wrote a very, for lack of a term, descriptive descriptions for her characters and places, she also made sketches of them, highlighting things she thought were the most important. Here is a drawing by Rowling, showing Harry with the Dursleys. They almost look exactly the same as she describes them in the first chapter appearance-wise, but they also reflect their character. Petunia is a woman who does not really like anybody-especially poor Harry- and is very snobbish. This is reflected in her stance in the drawing. Vernon has that tough but has-no-clue kinda standing, enveloping his family. Dudley folds his arms, closing himself off to any advances Harry may make and again looks tough, as he has a habit of harassing Harry around the house. All of them are dressed smartly-except for Harry who is not considered as family and wears Dudley’s old clothes that are way too big for him. Even though Dursley have everything they want and more (*cough* Harry *cough*) they do not smile. Yet, the little abused Harry is the one that depicted as smiling despite his position in that house. I like that attention to detail Rowling has, as this is a quite an important thing for the upcoming books. It is so astonishing to see that she had thought of things that would not be important until a few book later, although it was hard for her to get the first one published. She plans ahead, and that is exactly why it is fun to re-read the series: you can find so many easter eggs or foreshadowings you might not have paid attention to the first time you read.
She is also like that when it comes to the layout of Hogwarts itself. She sent this drawing to the publishers, saying that this is how she had always imagined Hogwarts. Again, we see some details that stick out. She added the giant squid to the lake even though it does not really have a role in the series, but has become like a mascot for the school. Hagrid’s hut stands out on the grounds, but we all know Hagrid has always been important for both Harry and Rowling, starting from chapter one. On the left we see the quidditch pitch, which is a new imaginary thing to be introduced. It is no wonder why she spent so much time to perfect it-there are teams all around the world now playing quidditch as good as they can. The Whomping Willow, however, looks out of place in this drawing. It would not have importance up until the third book, and would not be mentioned in a scenario until the second. Yet Rowling insists that the Whomping Willow must stand out. Again, that shows how farsighted she is.
This is how and why Rowling became a successful writer. She has not given up when publishers rejected her (who is laughing now?) and tried hard. It is clear that she was passionate about the story; she drew sketches, thought of possible future events and details. Not to mention her tone and the pace of the book are very entertaining to the kids. This is why Rowling is the most successful woman writer in our era and is still relevant. She continues to add to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as she challenges herself at every opportunity-she wrote the screenplay for the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” which turned out to be much better than that pathetic excuse of a play The Cursed Child. So, her journey continues. Both as a writer and as the creator of the world of Harry Potter.