Happy Birthday JK Rowling

Authors, Banned and Challenged Books

By: Lisa Hoover

JK Rowling was born July 31, 1965 near Bristol.  Now is a great time to revisit JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Rowling’s Harry Potter books are a great reminder that even the most popular books (the Harry Potter series has sold more than 450 million copies) can be subject to censorship and calls for banning. 

As Patricia Peters discussed on this blog before, “Rowling’s books shifted the censors’ attention to fantasy with challenges asserting that Harry Potter glorified magic and the occult, confusing children and leading them to attempt to emulate the spells and curses they read about. There were some concerns over the violence and the increasingly dark tone of the later books in the series. But most of the censorship attempts aimed at Harry Potter were for religious reasons.” 

Peters goes on to tell us “controversy has continued, especially after Rowling announced that she always imagined Dumbledore was gay. I didn’t find any instances of books being censored following that announcement, but several outspoken critics took this pronouncement as just one more reason that the Potter books are not appropriate for children.”

There are many good messages in Harry Potter; tolerance, forgiveness, strength in the face of adversity, standing up for what is right – the list goes on. But Rowling’s story is almost as inspirational. According to the biography on her website, her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when Rowling was a teenager. Before the Harry Potter series was published, she was a single mom on welfare, according to Biography.com. She has also been open about struggling with depression, and provided virtual support to fans struggling with anxiety and depression. 

In 2008, Rowling revealed that she had contemplated suicide while dealing with depression as a single mother following her divorce. She eventually sought help, using cognitive behavioral therapy, according to The Telegraph. She says she has chosen to be open about her struggles “to challenge the stigma associated with the condition.” The dementors in the Harry Potter world are often described as a symbol for depression. 

A dementor attempts to “kiss” Harry Potter in one of the films. Copyright Warner Bros.
A dementor attempts to “kiss” Harry Potter in one of the films. Copyright Warner Bros.

“That is exactly what they are,” she reportedly said in a 2000 interview. “It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It’s a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.”

As for her career, that too is inspirational. Rowling started writing at the age of six. Before she became a successful, published author she worked a series of jobs, including a job as a researcher at Amnesty International, according to her biography. “There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them,” she said later.  “My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.” She also taught English in Portugal, before returning to the UK and teaching in Edinburgh. 

Her first Harry Potter book was published in 1997 under the name JK, with the K (which stands for Kathleen, after her grandmother) added at the request of her publisher, who was not sure that the audience of young male readers would be interested in a book by a woman. 

Rowling is also well known for her charity work, with Forbes reporting in 2012 that she dropped from billionaire status after giving millions to charity. Rowling is the founder of the charity Lumos and served as a patron of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Scotland for several years, now supporting MS research through the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, according to her biography. She has also been a patron of Maggie’s Centres for Cancer Care and has fundraised for Doctors Without Borders. Much of her charitable work is done through a trust, the Volant Charitable Trust, which she created in 2000. 

Scholastic cover of Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone

While many of Rowling’s characters are good role models for her readers, she is also a great role model herself. She shows that personal struggles are nothing to be ashamed of, and that they can be overcome – and in fact, you can even go on to help others. It is fortunate that libraries continue to ensure that children have access to books and authors, including Rowling and Harry Potter, that can inspire them even when those books are challenged. 

References: 

Biography.com. (2019) J.K. Rowling. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/writer/jk-rowling July 12, 2019. 

JKRowling.com. (2016) J.K. Rowling. Retrieved from https://www.jkrowling.com/about/ July 12, 2019. 

Johnson, S. (2008) JK Rowling contemplated suicide. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1582552/JK-Rowling-contemplated-suicide.html July 12, 2019 

Peters, P. (2017). Harry Potter and 20 Years of Controversy. OIF Blog. Retrieved from https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=10636 July 12, 2019.


Lisa Hoover

Lisa Hoover is a Public Services Librarian at Clarkson University and an Adjunct Professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about 1st Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules, Pandora and Nyx and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.

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