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Cover of J.K. Rowling by Bradley Steffens won the 2007 San Diego Book Award for Best Young Adult & Children's Nonfiction and the Theodor S. Geisel Award for Best Book by a San Diego County author


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J.K. Rowling

Chapter Two - Page 2

Alternate World

At first Rowling gave little thought to the genre of story she was imagining. Wizardry simply offered Rowling a way to empower her young hero and allow him to escape from his stifling existence as the unwanted ward of his aunt and uncle. “There’s a small part of you that wishes you could alter external things to be the way they ought to be,” she observes. “That’s why there will always, always, always be books about magic, discovering secret powers, stuff that you’re not allowed to do.” 

To support this story line, Rowling created a magical world that exists side by side with—and slightly overlaps—the world of ordinary human beings. Only after she filled this alternate world with enchanted characters and fantastic beasts did Rowling begin to realize what kind of book she was writing. “I was about two thirds of the way through, and I suddenly thought, ‘This has got unicorns in it. I’m writing fantasy!’”

Rowling knew that for the story to work, she would need to give her fictional world enough detail to make readers feel that they had stepped into a real place. Through the summer of 1990, she spent hours mapping out the school where Harry Potter would learn his craft:

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was the first thing I concentrated on. I was thinking of a place of great order, but immense danger, with children who had skill with which to overwhelm their teachers. Logically it had to be set in a secluded place, and pretty soon I settled on Scotland in my mind. I think it was a subconscious tribute to where my parents had married.

The school emerged as an elaborate structure, several stories high, replete with enchanted staircases and secret passageways. Asked if she had sketched out a floor plan of Hogwarts to aid in her writing, Rowling replied, “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 image of what it looks like.


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