JK Rowling… A Year in the Life

JK Rowling © JK RowlingThis film follows J.K. Rowling from October 2006 - October 2007; the year in which she completed the final novel in the Harry Potter series:  ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.’

It’s an intimate, personal encounter, in which J.K. Rowling talks simply and honestly about her life and her writing. It was not made as a glitzy publicity film because I wasn’t very interested in making something anyone else could have done. Instead, the aim was to make something more quietly revealing, to discover what Rowling really thought, and to discuss some of the central themes of her work; childhood hopes and fears, loyalty and betrayal, chance and fate. I didn’t ask very much about magic, or quidditch, or the twists and turns of the Harry Potter story, as I wanted to get to the heart of what her writing was really about.

Because, essentially, I believe that, however complicated and fantastical the narrative might be, the over-arching truth is that Harry Potter is an epic saga about the nature of death and the redemptive power of love.

The story blends the magisterial sweep of classical narrative (The Odyssey) with medieval quest (think of Beowulf, The Holy Grail narratives, or Rowling’s use of the Forest as a place of mystery and encounter). It is a classical “coming of age” tale, filled with the tension between security and freedom, and the need for children to spread their wings and fly away (Peter Pan, Mary Poppins). The narrative also features universal archetypes (the hero alone, the faithful friends, the implacable enemy) but Rowling has drawn on this literary tradition and transformed it into something that is uniquely, and magically, her own; a contemporary tale that is fearless in its treatment of the almost impossible difficulty of leading a good life in a world where death is ever present and evil, true evil, is never far away.

JK Rowling © JK RowlingIn this she has shown that it is our choices that define us; that our weaknesses can sometimes be our greatest strength, and that without faith in love, friendship and loyalty we are nothing.

The story is as complicated, and as simple, as that.

Some literary critics have been rather snooty about both her work and her popularity. I am not one of those people. I think that hers has been an amazing achievement, and that she has written something that is profound, lasting, elemental and true. As a result, I can only echo A.N. Wilson’s review of her work in ‘The Sunday Times”:

‘There are not many writers who have J.K.’s Dickensian ability to make us turn the pages, to weep – openly, with tears splashing – and a few pages later to laugh, at invariably good jokes. The sneerers who hate Harry Potter, or consider themselves superior to these books often seem to be hating their harmlessness – the fact that they celebrate happy middle-class family life, and the adventures of children privileged enough to attend a boarding school. But, as W.H. Auden said in another context, why spit on your luck? We have lived through a decade in which we have followed the publication of the liveliest, funniest, scariest and most moving children’s stories ever written. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.”

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