Brief Biography of J. K. Rowling
Rowling was born outside of Bristol England to Peter James Rowling, an aircraft engineer, and Anne Rowling, a science technician. As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories and was very precocious. Rowling attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother worked. Rowling then attended the University of Exeter, studying French and Classics. After, Rowling worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary in London for Amnesty International. She later moved to Portugal to teach English at night, and to write during the day. There, she met Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes. They married two years later, and their daughter, Jessica, was born a year after that. The couple separated a few months after Jessica’s birth, and Rowling moved with her infant daughter to Edinburgh, Scotland. Rowling, who had gotten the idea for Harry Potter in 1990, wrote the first book while completing a teacher training course. Rowling then finished Harry Potter in 1995. Initially, only 1,000 copies were printed. Five months later, the book won its first award, and in early 1998, an auction was held in the United States for the rights to publish the novel, which was won by Scholastic Inc. for $105,000. Harry Potter became a sensation, growing larger with each book and shattering sales records. Harry Potter is now a global brand worth an estimated $15 billion, and the books have been adapted into record-breaking films as well. In 2001, Rowling remarried and had a second child. She has also become a noted philanthropist, donating significant money to combat poverty, social inequality, and MS, or multiple sclerosis, a disease from which her mother passed away. She continues to write, and has written several crime novels under a pen name, Robert Galbraith.
Historical Context of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter is set in Britain in the 1990s, and some academics have argued that the wizarding society in Harry Potter reflects some of the issues pulsing through Britain at the time. For instance, Lana A. Whited writes about the legacy of a racial and class caste system found in both Britain and the wizarding world: that the tensions between “Mudbloods” (a derogatory term for wizards who have non-magical parents), “pure bloods” (wizards whose parents are both from lines of wizards, and are thus “pure”), and “Muggles” (entirely non-magic people), echo the tensions between different races and classes in 1990s Britain. Additionally, Philip Nel suggests that the unflattering characterization of the conventional, materialistic Dursleys represents Rowling’s reaction to the family policies in Britain at the time. The British government treated straight married couples as the preferred norm, while Rowling was a single mother. Thus, Harry’s strongest relationships are based on “affection and loyalty”—the chosen family he finds in Ron and Hermione—rather than traditional family.
Other Books Related to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
is the first in a series of seven books centering on protagonist Harry Potter. Rowling also wrote a few companion books to the series, including The Tales of Beadle the Bard
and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
(the latter of which has also been turned into a movie). Rowling draws from a long tradition of British children’s fantasies that have moral underpinnings, such as C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
, in which normal children are transported to a magical world through the wardrobe in their caretaker’s home. Some of Roald Dahl’s novels also bear resemblance to the Harry Potter
series. For instance, in James and the Giant Peach
, James tragically loses his parents and has to live with a pair of unpleasant aunts, similar to Harry’s plight living with his nasty aunt, uncle, and cousin. In Roald Dahl’s Mathilda
, an otherwise regular child discovers she has telekinetic powers and is constantly picked on by her obnoxious family, echoing Harry’s surprising discovery of his own magical powers, as well as his miserable life with the Dursleys. Some readers have also noted parallels between Rowling’s characterizations and the works of Charles Dickens, in which the names of characters express their owner’s traits.
Key Facts about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Full Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
When Written: 1990-1995
Where Written: Manchester, England; Porto, Portugal; Edinburgh, Scotland
When Published: 1995
Literary Period: Contemporary
Genre: Children’s fantasy, children’s fiction
Setting: England; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Climax: Harry finds the Sorcerer’s Stone and prevents Voldemort’s return to power.
Antagonist: Voldemort, Professor Quirrell, and Draco Malfoy
Point of View: Third person
Extra Credit for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone