Requiescat in Pace, Christopher Little

Christopher Little, the literary agent to whom in 1985 the unknown Jo Rowling submitted three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in hopes of gaining representation to publishers for the book, died on 7 January “after a long illness,” a euphemism for cancer or AIDS. Little succeeded in finding a home for the oversized novel — Stone being twice as long as the accepted length for stories aimed at the ‘Age 9-12’ bracket for whom Rowling claimed to be writing  — at Bloomsbury’s small children’s book division. It had been turned down by all the major publishers in the United Kingdom, but Little persisted. The rest is history.

The folk tale of Christopher Little as Rowling’s representative did not have a happy ending: Rowling and Neil Blair, a lawyer at the Little Agency, broke legal contracts with him in 2011 to set up The Blair Partnership (a bit of foul play rectified by a large payout to Little the following year). That departure was the birth of Rowling, Inc., in which the global financial interests of the Author Become Juggernaut are aggressively represented by barristers and bean counters so that Rowling, as she once put it, unlike Agatha Christie, does not wind up “fleeing the tax man”  every year until her next book comes out. The fairy tale of the princess discovered and well-served by Sir Cadogan ended with her dismissing him with enough money to buy a new horse and castle. 

Little took the break hard but weathered on gamely with millions of pounds in the bank; the year after his break with Blair and Rowling, he merged his agency with that of Curtis Brown.  He died on 7 January at home with his family.

The Presence has not broken her Twitter silence of more than a month to acknowledge her first representative’s demise five days ago. One hopes she reconciled with the man before his death and has privately expressed her condolences to the Little family and to the Agency that had the courage and good judgment to believe in her when she was a nobody. 

Regardless, rest in peace, Christopher Little — and thank you for all you did to advance J. K. Rowling’s career as a writer and to steward the Harry Potter phenomenon from its birth, growth into a mania, to its adult life as the Shared Text of the 21st Century.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Holiday greetings and a few Nativity hymns from a choir of nuns at the St Elizabeth the Grand Duchess Convent and students at the St Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary in Etna, California!

St Photios Orthodox Theological Seminary, Etna, California

Nick Jeffery: Rowling Library Titles

Chris Calderon sent me the question, “How many titles can you spot in J.K. Rowling’s new color coded personal library collection?” The link goes to the Rowling tweet in April, one she made during the first Covid Lockdown in the UK. I had corresponded with Nick Jeffery and others at the time and I vaguely remembered that he was working on identifying as many titles as he could. I shared Chris’ question with Nick, he shared his remarkable findings, and I asked for and received permission to post them here.

After the jump, then, Nick Jeffery’s list of the identifiable books in the Rowling bookshelves as of her April, 2020, tweet. In addition, Nick shares his compilation of identifiable titles from the 2000 Bloomsbury Goblet of Fire Adult Edition book cover photo, a discussion we had here — with much less success – in August 2019: ‘Name That Not Quite Legible Book Title! The Mysteries on Rowling’s Bookshelf.’ The Jeffery lists do not allow us to add these authors and titles to the Literary Likes List, but they are suggestive and encouraging, believe me, for Serious Readers of Rowling-Galbraith.

Thank you, Nick! Everyone else — prepare to be astonished and delighted. Enjoy — and please do share the titles you have identified, as well! [Read more…]

Rowling-Murray Wedding Anniversary 19

Yesterday was the 19th wedding anniversary of Joanne Rowling and Dr Neil Murray, who were married in a private ceremony at their recently acquired Perthshire castle on Boxing Day, 2001. If you want to send off a present, fashionably late (no flowers!), the gift, both by modern and traditional reckoning, for the 19th wedding anniversary should be in bronze.

A quick three notes to mark the occasion, none worthy of being set in bronze, alas:

(1) The Rowling-Murray marriage, if her recent comments on ‘Tracks of My Years’ are any measure, seems to be in good shape. It has, at least, its good moments.

Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers – on a moving marital moment and lockdown being a special time with her family

JK: Well I think of all the love songs written, this might be my favourite. It’s such a beautiful, simple sentiment, but I have an additional reason for choosing it, which is that it took lockdown for my husband to say to me… I was playing it in the kitchen while cooking something; he walked in, he said,  ‘This always makes me think of you when you’re down in London’ and that was a very moving marital moment so now it has an extra layer of meaning for me. [On lockdown]…. Well, I hope that all listeners have had the happy experience that I’ve had of it being quite a special time. We also have teenage kids and it’s been kind of wonderful to spend that extra time with them.

Contrast this comment with her comments about the REM song, ‘Everybody Hurts,’ on her November, 2000, appearance on the BBC program ‘Desert Island Discs.’ Go to 26:00 in the interview to hear that story.

(2) She Married Harry Potter? One reason the Potter-Murray match may have worked out is that Rowling says he has all the qualities of the man who lived in her head for twenty years, rent free, that is, The Boy Who Lived. From the MTV.com report on the Carnegie Hall event in 2007 (grateful hat-tip to Patricio at TheRowlingLibrary.com):

When asked by an 18-year-old 12th grader, “Which of the Potter characters would you marry?,” Rowling giggled. “The truth is, in my younger days, I dated Ron more than once,” she admitted, giving an inside look at why Hermione (the closest character to Rowling’s younger self) might be attracted to Harry’s best friend. “He’s fun to write, but not so much fun to date.” And once she had learned her lesson, Rowling said, “I married Harry Potter,” referring to her second husband, Neil Murray. “He’s up there [in the wings]. I just mortified him,” she laughed. “But he looks like Harry would look like, at a certain age. I married a very good person and a gutsy person. And that’s who Harry is.”

From the 2007 Interview with Rowling in Holland at Deathly Hallows‘ publication there (big thank you to Beatrice Groves):

When did you decide to draw a parallel with the Nazis? With Voldemort, who strives for the rule of the”pure blood”, and with Draco Malfoy as a young soldier who is just ?
Immediately I think. I’m not exactly sure. I think The Second World War in anchored in all our minds, right? Draco Malfoy does indeed stand for that type of boy. He wouldn’t have killed Dumbledore , he couldn’t. As long as things are imaginary, okay, but once it becomes reality, the thing becomes more difficult. No, that I gave him that light blonde hair is not because I wanted to make him into a scary Nazi. You give your characters the appearance that you find attractive; that is why I gave my hero dark hair, green eyes and glasses. I’m married to a man who looks like that.

(3) Whom Did He Marry?

I want to think he married Robin Ellacott, which is to say, (a) a brilliantly thoughtful woman (b) with PTSD from a previous marriage, (c) one who is working on her issues but who is loyal and supportive to those she loves (d) while knowing her vocation and insistent that she heed this calling. I was going to add “fearless,” but “brave” and “tenacious,” in Rowling’s case even “stubborn” are probably more accurate. I forgot “sense of humor”!

And who wouldn’t want to be married to Robin Ellacott? “Everyone loves Robin” is a refrain one hears not only in the Strike novels but from the author in interviews. She has her problems, of course, but she doesn’t have any real character flaws or “faults” I can think of off-hand.

Here’s the thing. From Dr Murray’s description of what it is like living with Jo Murray, I think the character he married wasn’t Hermione Granger or Robin Ellacott or even Sybil Trelawney, all character stand-ins for J. K. Rowling in their way. He married Cormoran Strike. From the 2012 New Yorker profile, ‘Mugglemarch:’

She also met Neil Murray, a friend of her sister’s. Rowling resisted being set up: “He was just out of a marriage himself—I just thought that would be complicated. I wasn’t up for that.” But they eventually found themselves seated next to each other at a charity event in Edinburgh. He was aware of the Harry Potter books but hadn’t read them. The couple have a son and a daughter together. A few years ago, a documentary crew travelling with Rowling recorded what seems to be Murray’s only public comment about his wife: “Jo detaches herself,” he said, in her hearing, with a smile. “When she’s very stressed, she’ll detach herself and only trust one person, and that’s herself. So everyone else gets blocked out and she becomes more and more stressed and less and less able to accept any help.”

That doesn’t sound like a lot of “sunshine,” does it? My guess, though, is that, aware as he was of the problem and, as casually as he shared this in her presence and in front of cameras, that his awareness — and frustration? — wasn’t news to her, they’ve worked on this. “That talking thing” that Robin does with Cormoran (or invites him to try after his blow-up in the American Bar)? My bet is that it was Dr. Murray who said that to her rather than Robin/Joanne who suggested this to him.

Either way, nineteen years in the global spotlight, two teenage children, and a working marriage — these are not small but significant achievements, ones worthy of at least a Bronze Medal. Congratulations, Dr. and Mrs. Murray!

 

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 HarryLatino.com to post in 2007 and Beatrice Groves’ posts with same in 2018. Where HarryLatino.com 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.