Rowling Talks Tarot on 60 Minutes (1999)

“[I don’t believe in magic] in that sense. I find [magic] fascinating and I find it fun and I could read your cards for you now and I would hope we would both find it amusing but I wouldn’t want either of us to walk away believing in it.” [Grim face of determination]

We already knew  from Sean Smith’s 2001 biography of Rowling that Jo Rowling read tarot cards with her friends at the Wyedean Comprehensive where she was Head Girl as a high school student.

One [of her friends from school] recalls, ‘Jo would entertain us with her brilliant wit and colorful stories. She was very inventive and clever at reading tarot cards and palms and weaving a story around it which was pure make believe but had us alternately gripped and then laughing’ (Sean Smith, J. K. Rowling: A Biography, p 62).

She claimed fluency in this art in one of her first American television interviews in 1999, too, seventeen years after graduation. As Beatrice Groves noted in her LeakyCauldron piece about the History of Magic Exhibition, from which series of articles I first saw the video clip above, the first of the books that she discusses with Stahl is Fortune Telling by Cards. “I know a lot about foretelling the future without, I have to say, believing in it.” Troubled Blood shows that she is still more than familiar with the Wicked Pack of Cards.

Do you think she was coached before this 1999 interview to be sure she said she didn’t believe in magic? That look she gives Stahl after saying she wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about her ability to tell fortunes with tarot cards is unusual. I suspect that, if the coaches existed, they weren’t delighted she brought up divinatory cartomancy!

Here’s the thing — the clip above was never aired on television, at least not in the United States. You can read the transcript of the show that was broadcast at Accio-Quotes; there’s nothing about her not believing in magic, Fortune Telling by Cards, or her reading Lesley Stahl’s future from the tarot card deck in her purse. There is this important bit in the transcript I was delighted to find:

ROWLING: But I don’t really think of these [new stories] as sequels. I see this as one huge novel that has been divided for the reader’s convenience into seven.

But magic? And tarot cards? That part of the 60 Minutes interview had to wait for a website called to post in 2007 and Beatrice Groves’ posts with same in 2018. Where got it, who knows? And, no surprise, only Professor Groves picked up on the tarot card reference after this site put the clip up on YouTube — and that only eleven years later.

Imagine the differences in the conversations during the Potter Panic if 60 Minutes in 1999 had aired the interview with the tarot cards segment and Wikipedia had not decided in 2010 to block the posting of information about Rowling’s skills in astrology on her Wiki page. Perhaps we should just be grateful.

Rowling’s Admitted Literary Influences

I have hunted, trust me, but I have been unable to find a collection online in a single post of all the writers that Rowling has admitted in any one of her many interviews as having read and admired. I do not mean authors to whom Rowling has alluded in her stories by using a character name, poem title, or even an epigraph or longer poem reading. For that, Beatrice Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter and her work online since in tracking Rowling’s post-Potter ‘allusive-ness’ are the brilliant go-to resources. What I want is a single internet page reference, frankly, of ‘Rowling’s Admitted Literary Influences’ or ‘Confessed Favorites’ or just ‘Books I have Read and Liked’ for my thesis writing so I needn’t do an information dump that will add fifty-plus citations to my Works Cited pages and do nothing for the argument I’m making.

Here, then, is my best attempt at a collection, one in alphabetical order by last name of author cited, with a link to at least one source or interview in which Rowling is quoted as liking that writer. It is not meant as anything like a comprehensive gathering of Rowling’s comments about any author; the Austen entry alone would be longer than the whole list should be if I went that route. Each author gets one, maybe two notes just to justify their entry on the list.

Even noting that necessary brevity, I am alarmed, frankly, at how short the list I have gathered is — only 58 [update: 87 as of 28 December 2020] writers in twenty-two years of interviews and thousands of tweets? — and hope very much that you, serious reader, will add the ones you know I’ve missed in the comment boxes below with the link or links to the relevant interview. 

Especially if you can find and send a working url to her praising Edmund Spenser, Henrik Ibsen, or the genius of the Blue Oyster Cult lyricist!

After the jump — ‘Aeschylus’ and ‘Alcott, Louisa May’ to ‘Whitman, Walt’ and ‘Wodehouse, P. G.’! [Read more…]

Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Quotation Gaffe

The day after Rowling gave her Commencement Address at Harvard in June 2008, I posted a review of the talk here at HogwartsProfessor, ‘Rowling Rocks Harvard: On Failure and Imagination.’ I thought it was a brilliant speech (still do) and, in addition to giving the two principal points she made full marks, I admired how The Presence side-stepped the several significant IEDs she might have intentionally or unintentionally triggered.

I didn’t make a big deal of it, but I was careful to note that Rowling’s quotation of Plutarch — “What we change inwardly will change outer reality” — was almost certainly not from Plutarch. It’s a great line, perhaps the most often quoted one from her Harvard talk, but, having had to read a lot of Plutarch back in the day, it seemed a real stretch to me. I included in a parenthetic note about the quotation in the post an aside that it was probably Otto Rank, the Freudian psychoanalyst, rather than the author of the Moralia and Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans who actually wrote the line.

Why did I think that it was Otto Rank rather than Plutarch? Wanting to know from which of Plutarch’s many, many works this quotation had been lifted for inscription in stone on the University of Exeter Classics corridor, I did a simple internet search for the quotation and Plutarch. The only thing that popped up was a page from a quotation site online,, one that had collected bon mots about ‘Achievement’ for students or speakers in need of a great line to raise the class grade for a paper or talk. “Achieve the status of a well-read person without having to do the reading!”

That page went offline in 2012 but can still be accessed via the WayBack Machine. Here is what the relevant portion of the page looks like: [Read more…]

J. K. Rowling on The Daily Show (2012)

TheRowlingLibrary strikes again! The good folks at TRL have posted an interview Rowling did with Jon Stewart in 2012 as part of the promotion tour for the then just published Casual Vacancy. Enjoy!

Shepherd and Biddle: Rowling’s Favorite A-Level Teachers (1998 Interview)

Just when you think that nothing new will be found in the Rowling Archives, a new-old-interview pops up. Here is a 1998 interview with new literary sensation, ‘Joanne’ Rowling rather than ‘J. K.,’ in which she discusses her favorite teachers, the one who prepared her for A-Levels in English and the other who helped with her French. The only reason it is called an “interview” is because Rowling answers the question, “Who were your favorite teachers?” It is, in other words, a testimonial from the Pre-Potter Mania author, not yet hesitant to share personal information with Rita Skeeter, rather than a questions-and-answers back-and-forth. Enjoy!

Lucy Shepherd was one of my English teachers at Wyedean comprehensive, near the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. I became head girl there – possibly the only head girl to be warned about smoking behind the bike sheds.

She was quite young – in her twenties and didn’t look authoritarian, but she had no problems with discipline because she had an aura around her that inspired respect. I had a great relationship with her, but she did not try to be friends or court being liked. In fact, she was rather abrasive, but also dry and funny. Yet she was the only teacher I ever went to with a boyfriend problem, although she would not have been most people’s first choice for a friendly chat.

I still remember the books I did with her for A-level English literature – Tender is the Night [Fitzgerald], Decline and Fall [Waugh]. She gave me a sharp appreciation of what’s good in writing and what makes a book good. [Read more…]