For the past decade, Hollywood has been obsessed with finding the next great young love story. And with good reason: love stories, especially those between lovers very much in their formative years, always capture the heart and mind of movie audiences. From ‘There’s Something About Mary’ to ‘Love Story’, we’ve seen it all: the quirky, lovable heroes and the beautiful, head-turning heroines who challenged social norms and redefined what it means to fall in love.
When ‘Harry Potter’ was first unleashed upon the world in July 2001, it became an immediate sensation, cementing JK Rowling’s status as a best-selling author and introducing generations to the magical world of Harry Potter. For those who managed to stay up until the early hours of the morning to watch the film, the wait for the long-anticipated final chapter was almost unbearable. Twenty three years later, the series’ seven films continue to garner critical acclaim and multimillion-dollar box office returns, solidifying Rowling’s place among the great storytellers of all time.
The fascination with the young wizard’s journey is understandable. After all, at the time of ‘Harry Potter’s’ premiere, Rowling was the world’s most eligible bachelor, having split from longtime companion Colin Higgins just four months prior. The author was also a member of the super-exclusive literary group, the Inklings, alongside CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and HG Wells. Her life seemed to be going perfectly, capped off with the success of her groundbreaking Harry Potter series.
In reality, things were far from perfect. Due to her extremely private nature and her determination to protect her work, Rowling endured a tumultuous journey to the screen, engaging in a lengthy legal battle with Warner Bros over the use of specific characters and precious story elements. She would later go on to become a single parent and, in 2014, married American entrepreneur and real estate developer, Maisy Waufftgen. The union would produce a daughter, Marigold, born in 2018.
The Making of Harry Potter
Prior to ‘Harry Potter’s’ premiere, JK Rowling had spent more than a decade writing the series, which serves as her magnum opus and, arguably, as an ‘Ode to Annoyance’. Rowling’s literary agent, Joanne Holmes, revealed in 2007 that the author was “overworked, exhausted” and struggling with depression” at the time of ‘Potter’s’ writing. As a result of her tribulations, Rowling was forced to overcome her perfectionism and adopt a more relaxed approach to writing, which would later pay off in spades.
The first book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, was published in July 2000 and, two months later, Penguin Books published the first of seven novel-length installments, eventually selling more than 150 million copies worldwide. The series became an instant bestseller and, for a time, the most popular children’s book ever. This was no mean feat, considering that it was up against some fierce competition, including Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ and the perennial ‘Chicken Little’ author, Alvin Schwartz’s ‘The Incredible Journey’. In the United States, ‘Harry Potter’ sold 72,000 copies in its first three days and broke the record for most copies sold in a single day, previously held by Schwartz’s ‘The Jungle Book’. In 2010, the film adaptation of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ became the highest-grossing movie of all time, raking in an incredible $743 million at the box office.
Although JK Rowling remained an extremely private woman throughout her career, she wasn’t quite as guarded about discussing her finances. In an interview with The Telegraph in March 2007, the author revealed that “[t]here was definitely an element of greed” in keeping everything so secret. The decision, she said, was borne of necessity, as she was driven by a fear of losing control and having her creative process “jeopardized” by needless speculation. She continued:
“I’ve always been very private about my finances, and I needed to protect my work. Publishers were starting to ask questions, and I needed to protect my ideas. If I’d been more open about it, I don’t think I’d have been able to keep control of my creativity.”
Rowling’s agent at the time, Michelle Wermerskis, disputed this, explaining that the entire publishing industry was in the grip of a “book bubble” at the time and that many literary agents and executives were struggling to find new ways to market and sell their clients’ work. She claimed that the decision to keep financial information private was more about protecting JK Rowling’s creative process than anything else.
It’s no secret that ‘Harry Potter’ was a labor of love for JK Rowling. Aside from writing the books, the author also carefully wrought each scene and scene-setting, overseeing every detail of the production and often playing a key role in the casting calls, especially later on in the series. In 2010, she spoke about her affection for the film adaptations:
“It’s such an unusual story for children, but it is so special for me because it’s about friendship and it’s about loyalty. Those are things that, as a parent, you want your children to believe in. I didn’t realize how much I missed those values until I saw the movie. It’s a bittersweet thing to see your books come to life in a way you never could have imagined, but it’s also exciting to see how other people have interpreted your stories and see that they’ve seen things in your stories that you didn’t even see yourself. That’s the great thing about books: they can be completely different from what you intended and yet still hold the same value.”
Twenty three years after ‘Harry Potter’s’ premiere, the franchise continues to thrive, with JK Rowling’s original manuscripts and production notes, along with those from fellow ‘Potter’ screenwriter Steve Kloves, being deposited in a library in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of an ongoing legal battle between the author and Warner Bros.
The screenwriter, Shane Brennan, has said that he believes the enduring popularity of ‘Potter’ is due, in part, to its status as a “love letter” to the fans. He continued:
“I think there’s also something about being a child, a young child, and feeling the emotions of a child. There’s this purity and this honesty in the stories that draws people in. It’s not very often that you’ll find people who will admit that they’re addicted to reading a book, but I know that I am. I love the idea of getting lost in a book and being able to escape the mundanities of adult life for a while.”