Saturday, January 26, 2008

That's All She Wrote

She has drawn millions of readers to her tales of Harry Potter's epic struggle with evil. That story came to a thrilling, bittersweet conclusion this year in the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Because she enchants us, entertains us and compels us to carry her rather heavy books around for days, TFK names J.K. Rowling the 2007 Person of the Year.
By her own definition, Joanne Rowling is a Muggle. She invented that term for a person who has no magical powers or wizard heritage, so she probably knows best. But in classrooms, libraries and comfy chairs around the globe, readers have realized a greater truth: Rowling is one of the most magical beings they will ever encounter. With a wave of her pen, she conjured up Harry Potter.
The 42-year-old author concocted Harry 17 years ago on a train ride from Manchester to London, England. As her devoted fans know, Rowling (rhymes with bowling) spent a lot of time in coffee shops finishing the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, as a single mom in Scotland. Now, 400 million copies of her books have been sold, they have been translated into 65 languages and Harry Potter's name is known from Manchester to Manhattan to Manitoba.Fame, Fortune and Love
"It happened very, very quickly," Rowling said of her fame and fortune, brought about by the first book's wild popularity. "I had written a book that I was told repeatedly was uncommercial, overlong, wouldn't sell. So when it happened, it really was a profound shock."
Mostly, it was a nice shock. Rowling has made more money than she ever imagined, and is beloved by her fans. But the pressure to produce each new book was stressful for her. And some religious groups objected to the representation of sorcery in Harry Potter books. No one was more surprised than Rowling that people protested against her tales. She described her books, at an event in October, as "a prolonged argument for tolerance and a prolonged plea for the end to bigotry." Indeed, her hero always fights for fairness and honesty. Harry wields Rowling's favorite weapon: love.A Generous Spirit
One event in Rowling's life that, she says, deeply transformed the nature of Harry's character was her own sense of loss after her mother died at age 45, of a disease called multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis research is one of many charities that Rowling supports.
In mid-December, she auctioned off a handwritten, bejeweled copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book that the character Hermione receives from Albus Dumbledore in his will. At auction, the winning bidder paid $4 million! Rowling is donating the money to a charity she cofounded called The Children's Voice. "This will mean so much to children in desperate need of help," she said in a statement after the auction. She added that writing the collection of wizarding tales was "the most wonderful way to say goodbye" to Harry.
But is it really goodbye? "There have been times since finishing, weak moments," she told TIME, "when I've said, 'Yeah, all right,' to the eighth novel." Now she's busy writing a novel for grown-ups, and a book she calls a political fairy tale. "If, and it's a big if, I ever write an eighth book about the (wizarding) world, I doubt that Harry would be the central character," she says. "I feel like I've already told his story. But these are big ifs. Let's give it 10 years and see how we feel then."
For now, Potter fans can thank goodness that Rowling hopped aboard that train in Manchester 17 years ago and let her imagination take them for an unforgettable ride.

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