Magical Childhood of J.K.Rowling

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May-17

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In his book, 'J.K.Rowling – The Wizard Behind Harry Potter', author Marc Shapiro writes that when J.K.Rowling would sit down to write the adventures of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, a change came over her. She’d cease to be an adult and would become a child who’d want to believe in the unbelievable. And once she became that, almost anything could and did happen.

The real victory of Harry Potter books, to a very large extent, is the fabulous depiction of life at Hogwarts. One could be tempted to think the first few books are actually a Chronicles of Hogwarts, the hostel life with the Dark Lord being the biggest bully in the playground. Having said that, what sets it apart is the brilliance with which J.K.Rowling captures the school life. The initial anxiety-cum-excitement of  new school, the group wars, sneaking out into sections of the hostel that are forbidden, terrifying and endearing teachers, it would seem the Harry Potter books were written in the schools of England where the author lurked in foyers and classrooms, overhearing conversations, observing, smiling and writing.

But J.K.Rowling did no such thing. She just tapped into her own childhood memories. This is what she had to say in an interview with Time magazine:

 


So it would be interesting to go back into the early years of the real wizard behind this wizarding world.

A similarity in where they started

Harry Potter story starts in number four, Privet Drive, located in the village of Little Whinging, Surrey. It is close to the bustling city of London. J.K.Rowling was born on 31st July, 1966, in a little hamlet of Chipping Sodbury which was about a half hour drive from the bustling town of Bristol. In later years she would look back on her birth at Chipping Sodbury as an omen of things to come. This is what she had to say:


Early Life

J.K.Rowling was an inquisitive kid. Her eyes were always wide in amazement at the world around her. Peter and Ann Rowling, her parents, could almost predict that one of the first word out of their daughter’s mouth would be ‘Why?’

As against Harry Potter, whose early life was spent in the cupboard under the staircase with spiders, J.K.Rowling describes her early life as ‘dreamy’. She’d play imaginary games in her room or in the tall grass in the garden. She was quick to invite other children to join her in her games, though even at that age she was fond of playing ‘Let’s Pretend’.

Realizing that their daughter had an imaginative mind, and hoping to nurture it further, her parents fed her on a steady diet of fairytales and fantasy stories.

 


The Young Story Teller

Marc Shapiro writes, “When she was at play, her stories were full of characters and details, light-years beyond those generally produced by a child her age.”

Her imagination, powered by her parent’s story reading sessions particularly involving fairy tales and fantasies, began to throw up fantastic, well-plotted stories with larger-than-life characters. Still, it was the birth of her sister Di, born when Rowling was barely two, who would perhaps have the most profound effect on the formative years of the story teller.

By the time J.K.Rowling turned five, she would tell tall tales of fantastic creatures and imaginary places to her three year old sister Di. Most stories centered around rabbits, and one of Di’s favourite was the story where she (Di) fell down the rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family. This would make the three year old roar with laughter.

Di would sit enthralled by her older sister’s stories, and because they weren’t written down, each telling would have a different ending. Encouraged by Di’s response, J.K.Rowling wrote her first story. It was a story about a rabbit called Rabbit, who catches measles and is visited by a number of friends, including a giant bee names Miss Bee.

Ever since Rabbit and Miss Bee, I knew I wanted to be a writer,” she told School Library Journal. “I cannot overstate how much I wanted that. But I would rarely tell anyone so. I just never really spoke about it because I was embarrassed, and because my parents were the kind of parents who would have thought, Ah, yes, that’s very nice, dear. But where is the pension plan?

Di was Rowling’s captive and first audience. And perhaps her first brush with fandom.

 Another of Rowling’s story attempt was a story of chills and adventures called The Seven Cursed Diamonds. “At that age, I thought it was a novel. But I think now it was only a very long story,” Rowling would recall later.

A Nomadic Life

In first nine years of her life, J.K.Rowling changed four towns. Born in Chipping Sodbury, she stayed there till about five. After that the family moved closer to Bristol to the town of Yate. Within a year, Peter and Ann Rowling found the grass on the other side of Bristol greener. So they shifted to yet another town Winterbourne.

Rowling sisters were quick to adapt to their surroundings and made new friends with relative ease. J.K.Rowling was quite outgoing and usually didn’t shy away from rough and tough games. Though she was never the athletic sort she did earn their respect by not worrying about falling over and hurting herself. She was, writes Shapiro, very much a tomboy, engaging in just about every rough- and-tumble game.

But it was in Winterbourne that Rowling would meet two kids, brother sister duo, who would end up making an immeasurable contribution to the world of literature. Their names were Ian and Vikki Potter. “Their surname was Potter,” Rowling would later recall. “I always liked the name.”  

When she turned nine, the family packed their bags again and shifted to the town of Tutshill, situated in Chepstow near the forest of Dean. This was, as Shapiro writes, “much a bustling town with streets, stores and schools.” It was here that J.K.Rowling found an audience for her story reading sessions beyond Di. The local kids, though they didn’t know what to make of the little girl who used big words and told funny stories, gladly made place for regular story time with the young author.

School Years

The Stupidest in the class

J.K.Rowling hated the Tutshill Primary School. Particularly a teacher who ‘scared the life out of her’. She was strict, no-nonsense type and ruled the class by the book. Unfortunately, in some subjects, it seemed J.K.Rowling’s book was different.

The teacher made her sit on the last bench to the far right of the classroom. Later J.K.Rowling would write:

I was as far right as I could get without sitting on the playground.

This was the ‘stupid’ row. In this teacher’s class, all the bright students sat to the left and the dim ones to the right. And J.K.Rowling was the last on the right.

It wasn’t just the tough teacher, she also had problems making friends. She’d become a far cry from the usual outgoing girl who made friends easily. In an interview with Salon magazine, she said:


But Rowling was bent on proving her teacher wrong. The signs of determination, which she would later need while writing Harry Potter, were clearly on display here. By the end of first year she was rewarded.

 


Beaten up at Wyedean Comprehensive School

By the time Rowling was out of the Tutshill Primary School she had become confident, got steadily good grades and regained some of her popularity. But that was shattered again when she came to Wyedean Comprehensive School.

She became insecure at the prospect of attending school with older children, was going through puberty and was self-conscious.

 


But the young author made her niche alongside other girls who were “quiet, smart and on the fringes of being popular”.

She also found comfort in sharing stories with them during lunch hours. In an essay she wrote:


But her rite of passage came when she was attacked by the toughest girl in her class. Though she would have preferred to run away, she did stand up and fight. It got her notorious fame for a while, though she soon reverted to timidity and would spend weeks peering nervously around the corner in constant fear of being ambushed.

I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “It was hit back or lie down and play dead. For a few days, I was quite famous because she hadn’t managed to flatten me. The truth was, my locker was right behind me and it held me up.

 

Head Girl in final year at Wyedean Comprehensive

By the time she reached her final year at Wyedean Comprehensive, she’d grown out of her old insecure form like a snake sheds its old skin. In her own words, she flowered in her teen years, personally and socially. She was popular, outgoing, and regularly got good grades. So good that she was made the Head Girl.

While she was fine with the Head Girl’s role of showing dignitaries around school, there was one requirement she dreaded the most. Giving a speech to the whole school. So she found an innovative way around it. She laughingly recalls in an interview:


Post Wyedean J.K.Rowling would undergo another confidence crisis, but this one was far more telling because it had to do with her writing. For the longest time she wasn’t sure if she was ready to face the world with her published work, though in her heart she had long before committed to a life of an author. This constant pull and push would wreak havoc in her life, making her choose odd jobs which she hated, causing some amount of anxiety in her parents who just couldn’t understand what was wrong with their older daughter.

But that is a story for another time (rather another post). Right now all we can say is that J.K.Rowling had a magical outlook towards life, and only when we read about it in detail do we realize it could have been only her to write the Harry Potter books.       

All the information above is taken from J.K.Rowling – The Wizard Behind Harry Potter written by Marc Shapiro.


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