I’m guessing that the majority of my readers don’t need convincing that J K Rowling is a brilliant author. If you haven’t read any of her books, perhaps you’re wondering what the hype is about… Rowling joins the exclusive club of my other recommended authors: Terry Pratchett, Stella Gibbons, David Wiesner and Daphne du Maurier.
The Harry Potter series (abbreviated to HP) is incredibly successful and popular. In seven volumes, published between 1997 and 2007, we follow the story of Harry, a young wizard. The stories become complex and increasingly longer, so I won’t try to summarise the plots. In essence, they have the theme of good vs. evil that recurs in most literature. They’re also about friendship, courage, loyalty and growing up. Being set in a world of magic spells, dragons, potions and broomsticks would ordinarily categorise the books as fantasy. However, the crossover into ordinary life – our world – gives the books a broader appeal. Add the British sense of humour and you can see why so many people love the series. J K Rowling has created something new by placing witches and wizards in our contemporary world and adding a dash of the traditional children’s boarding school story. I also reckon the popularity of the books (and the films based on them) has encouraged thousands of people to read.
Every HP fan has their favourite book in the series. Mine is the last one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s the one that we were all waiting for, sick with excitement, back in 2007, and it didn’t disappoint (even though certain characters were unnecessarily killed off). I would say that my least favourite is the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It’s the longest in the series but also the least exciting. I feel that after the success of the first three books, Rowling’s editors pretty much let her have free reign with the rest, as they knew they would sell. I still love them all but I wish the later ones were more compact.
Two thin books were published for Comic Relief back in 2001; Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, both based on fictional textbooks. The latter was the basis for the Fantastic Beasts film series (of which the second instalment was released last year), each of which have a screenplay written by J K Rowling. The Tales of Beedle the Bard was published in 2008 and is a collection of five Brothers Grimm-like folk tales from the wizarding world. These are all worth reading and complement the series. Large format colour illustrated editions are available of Fantastic Beasts, Beedle the Bard and some of the novels, if you have the cash and the shelf space. Rowling also wrote a play with Jack Thorne, called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was published in 2016. It’s not as good as reading a novel and some aspects of the story didn’t seem right to me, but I’m sure that watching the play would be a better experience than reading it. In addition, extra material about the world of HP has been released via Pottermore, the official website.
Rowling’s standalone book for adult readers, The Casual Vacancy, is set in a small town called Pagford and follows the intersecting lives of several characters. I’m impressed with how she gets under each character’s skin and makes them so believable. There is humour but at times it’s quite a dark read. It’s what I’d call a social commentary novel. I see similarities with South Riding by Winifred Holtby and also the novels of Thomas Hardy. I don’t know what her reading tastes are but I hope she’d be pleased with that comparison. There was a good BBC TV adaptation of the book, although it did alter a few aspects to make the ending not quite as tragic.
Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym which Rowling uses for her crime novels featuring investigator Cormoran Strike, beginning with The Cuckoo’s Calling in 2013. I can’t comment on these, as I haven’t read them. I’m not a fan of hard crime novels, even if J K Rowling is the writer (and indeed she probably wanted to distance herself from her reputation as a children’s fantasy writer by using a pseudonym). The novels were adapted for BBC TV as Strike.
J K Rowling is also a figure of hope for many aspiring writers. Famously her story is ‘rags to riches’, with her first novel rejected by twelve publishers before being accepted by Bloomsbury. I’m glad she achieved success in the end. I can’t imagine being without the adventures of Harry and his friends.