On February 3, 2000, classrooms across America went online to ask J.K. Rowling their burning questions about Harry Potter. Below is the transcript from that interview.
WARNING: The transcript below reveals plot elements from books in the Harry Potter series. If you have not read all these books, you may not want to continue.
Did you make up the plot in every aspect first by charting the characters and knowing exactly what you would do with them, or did you just piece a lot of it together as you wrote?
I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. It's more fun. :-)
Do you now or have you in the past kept a journal? If so, do you believe that it helps in your writing?
I've never managed to keep a journal longer than two weeks. I get bored with my life. I prefer inventing things.
What is Nearly Headless Nick's last name?
It's in Book I: De Mimsy-Porpington. ;-)
Why does Professor Dumbledore like sherbet lemons?
Because I like sherbet lemons! And he's got good taste. :-)
Was it hard to think of the monsters' names?
Some of the monsters are from folklore, so I didn't invent them. In Book IV you'll see some creatures I did invent, and I had fun making up their names.
What do you think has been your greatest experience because of Harry Potter's success?
The last American tour. Because for the first time I realized how many children love Harry. It was a moving experience for me.
What makes some witches/wizards become ghosts after they die and some not?
You don't really find that out until Book VII, but I can say that the happiest people do not become ghosts. As you might guess, Moaning Myrtle!
How long have you been writing?
As far back as I can remember. The first story I finished was when I was six years old.
What would your advice be to any other young people that would want to write stories?
The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary. And it's a lot of fun! And also, start by writing about things you know - your own experiences, your own feelings. That's what I do.
What did the Potter parents do for a living before Voldemort killed them?
I'm sorry to keep saying this, but I can't tell you because it's important to a later plot. But you will find out later!
In the first book you said Slytherin house Quidditch captain was sixth year Marcus Flint. If there are only seven years of Hogwarts, why is he in the third book?
He had to do a year again! :-)
How do students at Hogwarts get educated in Muggle subjects? Do they even need to know other things besides magic?
They can choose to study Muggle subjects. In the third book, Hermione takes the class Muggles Studies, and that's where they learn about Muggles in school.
Since Harry Potter's parents were sorcerers and Petunia was Harry's mother's sister. Shouldn't Petunia be a witch or wizard?
No. As Hagrid explains in Book I, sometimes a witch or a wizard occurs in an otherwise Muggle family, just as a Squib is a non-magic person who occurs in an otherwise magic family.
Do you think that you will write about Harry after he graduates from Hogwarts? Isn't there a University of Wizardry?
No, there's no University for Wizards. At the moment I'm only planning to write seven Harry Potter books. I won't say "never," but I have no plans to write an eighth book.
Will we ever get a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who lasts more than a year?
I'm not telling you. ;-)
Is Harry Potter ever going to fall in love with Hermione or is he going to fall in love with Ginny Weasley?
In Book IV Harry does decide he likes a girl, but it's not Hermione or Ginny. However, he's only 14, so there's plenty of time for him to change his mind. ;-)
If you had to choose one teacher from your books to teach your child, who would it be and why?
It would be Professor Lupin, because he is kind, clever, and gives very interesting lessons.
How many countries have you visited since writing Harry Potter?
Um...let me think. Spain, Italy, France, America. That's all. I will be visiting lots more, but because my daughter's still so young, I don't like to travel too much. Unless I can take her with me.
Will Harry ever get a break and not live with the Dursleys?
I'm not going to tell you! ;-)
Will we ever see Scabbers again?
Yes. You will see Scabbers again.
Will Harry ever get to go with his godfather (Sirius Black)?
He is in contact with Sirius Black in Book IV, but as Sirius is on the run, it's difficult for them to be together at the moment.
Is it true you're doing 7 books, one for each year that Harry will be at Hogwarts?
Yes, it is true.
Do you have an actual floorplan for Hogwarts? Do you use it when writing the books?
I haven't drawn it, because it would be difficult for the most skilled architect to draw, owing to the fact that the staircases and the rooms keep moving. However, I have a very vivid mental image of what it looks like.
What made you think of the people's names and dormitories at Hogwarts?
I invented the names of the Houses on the back of an airplane sick bag! This is true. I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character.
Do you take real people you know and put them in your books?
The closest I've come to putting a real person in my books is with Gilderoy Lockhart, who is an exaggeration of someone I once knew. John Weasley is a little bit like my oldest friend, a man I was at school with, whose name is Sean. But neither of them are accurate portraits.
How long does it take to write one Harry Potter book?
It depends. The quickest, so far, was a year.
How does it feel to know that millions of kids are reading your books?
Amazing! I don't think I really realized how many there were until I visited the States and met thousands and thousands of people at book signings.
How did you come up with Harry Potter?
Harry just sort of strolled into my head, on a train journey. He arrived very fully formed. It was as though I was meeting him for the first time.
Why are the gnomes bad? What do they do?
Gnomes eat the roots of your plants, and make little heaps of earth, like moles do. They are also a bit of a giveaway that wizards live in a house.
Did you ever meet a boy like Harry?
I probably met a boy like Harry, since I've been meeting readers of the Harry books. But he wasn't based on anyone real.
Are any of your female characters, like Hermione, modeled after your own daughter?
No, if Hermione was based on anyone, she was based on me when I was younger. But my daughter is turning out to be a bit like me, so she is a bit like Hermione. :-)
Was there a particular teacher who encouraged you to write when you were a child? If there was, how did he or she encourage or help you?
I had some wonderful teachers, but I never confided that I wanted to be a writer. So, no. Writing for me is a kind of compulsion, so I don't think anyone could have made me do it, or prevented me from doing it.
Where were you born and what was your childhood like? I was born in a place called Chipping, so perhaps that explains my love of silly names.
How can two Muggles have a kid with magical powers? Also how does the Ministry of Magic find out these kids have powers?
It's the same as two black-haired people producing a redheaded child. Sometimes these things just happen, and no one really knows why! The Ministry of Magic doesn't find out which children are magic. In Hogwarts there's a magical quill which detects the birth of a magical child, and writes his or her name down in a large parchment book. Every year Professor McGonagall checks the book, and sends owls to the people who are turning 11.
Does Harry give Christmas gifts to his friends? The books mention only gifts he receives. I am interested in knowing whether he gives gifts and if they are appropriate for the receiver.
Ron is very sensitive about his poverty, and Harry knows that Ron might be offended if he tried to give him too much. Ron feels awkward accepting too much from Harry.
Do you have a role model, if so, who?
I don't really have a role model, but I have a heroine! Her name was Jessica Mitford, and she was a human rights activist.
When you were my age, did you ever write a book? I am in the fifth grade.
Yes, as a matter of fact I did. I wrote a story about seven cursed diamonds. I thought it was a novel. I think now it was really a very long short story.
Where is Azkaban?
In the north of the North Sea. A very cold sea.
We are Windy Hills Elementary. Do you write every day, and for how long do you write?
I write nearly every day. Some days I write for ten or eleven hours. Other days I might only write for three hours. It really depends on how fast the ideas are coming.
How do you feel about receiving the British Book Awards Children's Book of the year?
Very, very honored. :-)
Where did Sirius Black and Buckbeak go after they went into hiding?
Somewhere nice and warm!
Do you have any pets/animals? If so, did any of your ideas for monsters come from watching them?
I have a very violent rabbit. ;-) If I'd known what her personality was like, I would have called her Fluffy, after Hagrid's dog!
How many languages is the book published in?
Oh goodness! Twenty-five, I think!
Would you get a mythical pet from one of your books? If you could, which one?
If I could, I would choose a Phoenix, because they have such useful properties, as Harry finds out in Book III.
Did you have any help writing any of the books?
No, I did it all by myself! :-)
Why did you choose the lightning bolt as a trademark for Harry Potter?
Just because I decided that it would be an interesting and distinctive mark.
Do you still write in cafes, or do you have to stay out of public places while you write so people won't bother you?
I still write in cafes, but I go to different ones now!
Is the island that Azkaban is on located at the southern end of the U.K. since Black had to pass the Dursley's place on his way to Hogwarts?
No, he didn't have to pass the Dursley's place. He just wanted to.
Who is your favorite character?
I love, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Professor Lupin.
How old is Professor Dumbledore?
Wizards have a longer life expectancy than Muggles!
When the seventh book in the series is finished, are you going to start on a new topic?
Yes, but what it is, I don't yet know!
What would you think if a person made one of your Harry Potter books into a computer game?
I'd like to play it!
How do you visualize Hogwarts in its entirety?
A huge, rambling, quite scary-looking castle, with a jumble of towers and battlements. Like the Weasley's house, it isn't a building that Muggles could build, because it is supported by magic.
Were you ever involved in a school like Harry Potter's school?
No, I wish I had been! :-)
Would you ever want to consider another job if you had the opportunity?
No. I'm doing the thing I love best in the world! Although I did enjoy being a teacher. :-)
Do you already have titles for all seven Harry Potters?
Yes, I do. And I'm not going to tell you what they are. ;-)
Does your daughter help you with ideas for the books?
No, the ideas are all my own. But my daughter does love the books. :-)
Who is you favorite author?
Jane Austen. I find her un-put-downable. :-)
What kind of books did you read when you were young?
My favorite books when I was younger were by Paul Gallico, Elizabeth Goodge, and E. Nesbitt.
When you were stuck on the train was there anything that triggered your imagination, and did that incident inspire Book III?
I have no idea where the idea came from, it just fell into my head!
Scholastic says: We are almost out of time Ms. Rowling, thank you so much for joining us. Do you have any parting words you would like to share with our audience?
Don't let the Muggles get you down! :-)