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5 things women can learn from JK Rowling

Athira Nair
1st Aug 2016
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When little Harry Potter was left at the Dursleys’ doorstep 35 years ago, Professor McGonagall exclaimed, “He’ll be famous — a legend … there will be books written about Harry — every child in our world will know his name!”

Her words could not be truer. Products of British author JK Rowling’s rich imagination, the Harry Potter books went on to become record-breaking bestsellers. The orphan boy wizard who fought dark forces to save the wizarding world — Harry Potter’s story was as much about magic as it was about friendship, bravery, loyalty, and sacrifice. Immediately after the first book in the seven-part saga was published in 1995, a global fandom proudly called themselves ‘the Harry Potter generation’.

J K Rowling

On Sunday, Harry celebrated his 36th birthday, and his creator JK Rowling shares the birthday cake — she turned 51 on the same day. Curiously, the author of the series has a story that is as magical — and as inspiring — as Harry’s. Twenty years ago, Joanne Rowling was just a single mother who had a story to tell the world. Little did she know that it was a story to be told over and over, in thousands of languages, screens, and theatres.

No success story begins in victory. It was after many rejections that Rowling got a publisher to accept her work, but it came at a cost. She was asked to change her name, as the publishers believed that a book written by a woman would not appeal to readers. She took her grandmother’s name — Kathleen — as her middle name, and became JK Rowling.

As fate would have it, in 2013 – six years after publishing the final book in Harry Potter series and after becoming the world’s most famous and richest fiction writer-Rowling changed her name again. Writing under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, she wrote crime thriller series now popularly called as the Cormoran Strike novels.

Harry Potter stories will continue to charm the world for years to come, not just because of the stories, but because of the equally marvellous little notes of wisdom Rowling has left among the pages.

  1. Keep your dreams alive
  2. Being a single mom and living on social welfare, JK Rowling had her struggles. Her mother succumbed to multiple sclerosis, without ever knowing the legacy Joanne was to leave behind. Working part-time at Amnesty International and working out of cafes to save on electricity bills, Rowling’s life in Edinburgh was as middle class as it gets. But the fighter that she is, she overcame her depression and worked on an idea that came to her during a train journey. She held on to the dream of seeing her work in print, and there came a time when the world was waiting for what her pen would produce next. Today, the Elephant Café at the heart of Scotland’s capital city — where Rowling wrote the majority of her first book — has become famous as the ‘Birthplace of Harry Potter’.
  3. Always have an opinion/be politically vocal
  4. Women have been shut down from political positions as they are considered incapable of having an opinion. Well, patriarchy quietly melts off in front of JK Rowling. Through her Twitter handle, Rowling has made her opinions heard, and unlike many female celebrities who are popular for their glamorous Instagram photos, Rowling uses the platform to communicate with her fans, and was active in the Scottish referendum and Brexit campaigns. Whether it was in fighting the sexists trolling tennis star Serena Williams or in her views on Donald Trump, Rowling spoke out loud, and the world sat up and listened.
  5. Break the stereotypes and kick some ass!
  6. There are few authors who have broken stereotypes in the manner Rowling has — one of the few to come to mind is Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird. Rowling has been blunt in her portrayal of women as unattractive, motherly, beautiful, or evil, and sometimes all in one. It was the ultimate maternal character Molly Weasley who killed the most savage Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange. While Harry’s mother Lily Potter died to save him when he was a baby, his worst enemy — second only to Lord Voldemort — was Dolores Umbridge. Most importantly, Harry owed his many escapes to his best friend: a nerdy girl with bushy brown hair and large teeth, also the smartest witch of her generation — Hermione Granger.
  7. Be the champion of the marginalised
  8. Rowling has said that hatred of Muggle-borns among wizards represented racism, and the stigmatisation of AIDS patients was the subtext in the ostracisation of werewolves in the wizarding world. When Nymphadora Tonks fell in love with werewolf Remus Lupin, she had to remind him that love does conquer all. Harry’s friend and saviour Dobby was the symbol of everyone who fought slavery through the centuries, and politics at the Ministry of Magic could not be more similar to the ugly fights in the real world. Every single time, there were losses for both sides, but Rowling reminded her readers “to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated.”
  9. Build friendships, and nurture them
  10. Just like Harry survived Lord Voldemort due to the unconditional love and support from his friends, Rowling also found strength in her friends. In her speech at Harvard University in 2008, Rowling said: “The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, people who have been kind enough not to sue me when I took their names for Death Eaters…. So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships.”
  11. Remember your friend from school who was as excited about Harry Potter as you? It may have been years since you talked, but go give her a call now – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is releasing today!

Image credit: Shutterstock 

 

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