J. K. Rowling on Oprah: More Hogwarts Novels?

Ms. Rowling’s 30 August interview with Oprah Winfrey aired today and there were one or two interesting notes. The one the press jumped on, of course, was that the author was open to the possibility of writing more Wizarding World adventures. The comment that caused owls to start bouncing off my e-window was Ms. Winfrey’s saying, “I just loved that you said that you were not trying to convert people to Christianity” (Hat-Tip to Rumor).  Neither comment, though, should surprise anyone. The context of these quotations and my off-the-cuff thoughts are below the jump.

The Associated Press reported the “new Potter novels” possibility this way:

J.K. Rowling is leaving open the possibility. She told Oprah Winfrey in a taped interview airing Friday that she may someday write another novel in the popular series.

Rowling says the characters are still in her head and she “could definitely” write several new books about them. She says: “I’m not going to say I won’t.” For now, she feels she’s moved on to a new phase of her writing.

Though this caused an immediate Celebritology 2.0 post at the Washington Post — Should She? Shouldn’t She? — and a stir at Potter fan sites, it has been accepted among Potter Pundits for some time that this was inevitable. The confluence of the most successful film franchise in history, in which movies are making more than $1 billion for Warner Brothers, and Ms. Rowling’s remarkable commitments to several charities make a new Hogwarts adventure, be it prequel or sequel to Harry’s hero’s journey or something independent of that story line, a near certain thing. The question I heard at Infinitus this summer in Orlando was not if Ms. Rowling would write another book or screenplay from her sub-creation but how soon it would come out and what it’s subject would be (the assumption was “after an unrelated book was published” and “five years post Deathly Hallows,” i.e., 2012 or so.

Reading the Oprah magazine story about the interview puts the “not trying to convert people to Christianity” in context, but, really, other than Focus on the Family writers, who writes fiction with proselytizing intentions? Ms. Rowling has stated openly that she thought the books’ Christian symbolism was obvious and that she hadn’t (and still hasn’t) discussed the books’ remarkable Christian content only because she thought it would give away to much of the story to those who hadn’t finished it.

Are the books Christian? “Obviously,” she says. Are they Christian tracts meant to win souls for Jesus like an imaginary altar call? Obviously not. The author is Christian and is writing in a literary tradition that is Christian in themes, symbols, and story scaffolding, all of which she uses with no little genius. But she isn’t writing to do more than any book can, namely, “instruct while delighting.” Converting or preaching is a long, long way from “instructing” or, alas, from “delighting.”

What did she actually say to Oprah that invited the host’s response? From the Oprah magazine piece:

While Jo may have millions of fans around the world, she also has her critics. Some have labeled Harry Potter as being too dark and frightening for children. There have been religious critics who have accused the books of promoting witchcraft, and some have even campaigned for the books to be banned from schools. Jo says she wasn’t trying to make a religious statement when she wrote the books.

“I’m not pushing any belief system here,” she says. “Although there is a lot of Christian imagery in the books. That’s undeniable. But that’s an allusion to a belief system in which I was raised.”

Again, this is hardly news.

But how about this?

“I had this moment where I suddenly thought—it was like another voice speaking to me—and the voice said: ‘The difficult thing is going to be to get published. If it’s published, it will be huge,'” she says. “And that is exactly what it was.”

I’m not sure what to make of that. It’s remarkably open for an author that usually keeps her cards close to her chest to discuss “hearing voices,” which as Ron points out in Chamber, isn’t usually a good thing. This voice’s suggestion, of course, played out!

An interesting comment about magic which I think is an echo of her Harvard remarks about the power of imagination:

Jo says she can understand why some parents might find Harry Potter too mature for their children. However, she doesn’t think that the topics of witches and magic should be avoided altogether. She says these kinds of stories have been told for hundreds of years, and they will continue to appeal to children for hundreds of years to come because people like the idea behind magic.

“I’m not saying I believe magic is real—I don’t,” she says. “But that’s the perennial appeal of magic—the idea that we ourselves have power and we can shape our world.”

More about her struggles with depression, tastefully done:

Jo says she entered into a long period of depression after her mother’s death. It was this struggle with depression that inspired one of the darkest aspects of the Harry Potter books—the Dementors, dark creatures who feed off of human happiness.

“It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness,” Jo says. “I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are.”

And about her capacity to write several more Potter novels:

Jo says she planned for a long time to make the last word of the Harry Potter series be “scar.” At some point along the way, she changed her mind and wanted the final words to read “All was well.” Fans might take comfort in thinking that all was well with Harry and his friends, but only Jo knows for sure what really becomes of them.

Jo: [The characters] are all still in my head. I mean, I could write. I could definitely write an eight, ninth, 10th. I could, easily.

Oprah: You could. Will you?

Jo: I’m not going to say I won’t. I don’t think I will. I loved writing those books. I loved writing it. So I feel I am done, but you never know.

And the keeper, I think, from the whole exchange:

One thing Jo says she knows for sure is this: Love is the most powerful thing of all. This is a central theme that comes across in all the Harry Potter books.

“Love wins,” she says. “It does win; we know it wins. When the person dies, love isn’t turned off like a faucet. It is an amazingly resilient part of us.”

Love is not just a feeling or transient emotion, but “a part of us,” which is to say love is a human capacity that is also a supernatural function transcending death.

You’d think she was smuggling the Gospel. But she isn’t. She told Oprah she wasn’t.

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always.


  1. Hmmm, I didn’t see the show, so thanks for the recap. I sometimes wonder if Ms. Rowling really understands all that she put into the books – maybe some of the smuggling of the gospel was smuggled into her as well as into the books.

    I’m not sure I’d like to see her write more Harry Potter books. I love the seven that we have, and it seems that it is enough. Sometimes it’s a good thing to have something slightly not finished, left to the reader’s imagination.

  2. Thank you John for posting this!! I am still reeling at the comment ” that magic is when we can do it all on our own”. Sounds athiest to me…. I know that when I read the bible and Jesus basically says “the blind fall into the pit”, but how do you get yourself out…..Asking him for help for he is our strength. The interview seemed to be going in the politically correct direction and skirting around the truth. The look on Rowing’s face when Oprah told her she was glad she was not a converter to Christ with her books was priceless…I wonder what she was thinking?

  3. Lovely interview, and would have been better with a more knowledgable interviewer. That being said, I suspect Jo is much closer to a kind of mystic than even she knows. I also suspect that any future books will have Potter echoes , even if other personnel appear, since that is the way she thinks.
    One can only hope for another few books with as much thought and structure as her current canon

  4. Oh, yes. On Rowlings look on her face when Oprah said that she was not a converter:
    It was somewhat like she wanted to run away or scold her for asking. As face expressions go, it is hard to find the right word. It was sort of glaring and she squinted one eye and tilted her head and she hesitated a few seconds stuttering and then I believe Oprah changed the direction of the conversation. She looked uncomfortable and looked to the side like she was searching for a creative answer. I hope that helps. Those are the thoughts that were going through my mind anyway. I am sure others may have a different perspective. Thanks John as always. Angela

    P.S. Loved your appearance on the Twilight town of Forks video

  5. I found the interview on line at the Leaky Cauldron and really enjoyed watching it. It was nice to see Rowling so relaxed now that the series is done and she doesn’t have to be so cautious with answering questions. And it was nice to see an interview that was really a conversation. Of course, Oprah didn’t ask some of the questions that any of us would have, but that’s just not going to happen.

    As for her answer about magic, I took it to mean that’s the way most people view it and that’s why it will always have an appeal. Our society promotes the idea of each person being in control of what happens in his/her life. But as Rowling immediately followed that with the statement (which she has said before) that she doesn’t thing magic is real, I don’t see how that would make her an atheist – quite the opposite, actually. And she said several times that the she believes in God and that writing the story clarified her beliefs for her and that the books have Christian themes. It sounds to me like she is coming to terms with what she believes more than she was during the writing of the books. And I’m happy for her on that.

  6. Oops, that should be “she doesn’t think magic is real. . . “

  7. In the latest Touchstone magazine Sept/Oct 2010, there is an article by Robert Hart called Hard to Imagine: on John Lennon and the Poularity of Jesus. Fascinating article that just reminded me of this interview. Rowling has said before that her fame was likened to the Beatles mania type of fame and that she never wanted to be famous in that way. But, in her interview, she said things like she knew she would be huge and famous in the future, with cameras following her to the beach while in a bikini. I wonder if she has similar views about religion and Christianity like Lennon. With the fall of the poularity of the church and faith in Europe, especially England in post WWII times, it seems like religion is being pushed out of everything in secular land. But, in Africa where people still suffer greatly there, they are having a boom of converters to the Good News. Really with her fame and her power I wonder why she did not think of her books bringing Europe or the West back to the faith. Has her fame gotten to her? She was almost too honest in her interview for me and I hope she does not write any more Potter books, since it just needs to end and it would not be the same. It’s been done and it is finished.

  8. She said in the interview that she didn’t expect to become so famous that those things would happen. Her only reference to thinking this would be a big deal was a voice that told her that.

  9. rumor, I think that comparing J K Rowling’s comments on Christianity to that of John Lennon is a bit extreme, esp. as in relation to his song Imagine.
    J K Rowling is a Christian and a church attender, all her children are baptized that’s quite a difference from John Lennon’s backround and life story. Now in saying that, she is not an evangelical and does not elaborate about her beliefs in public. She has admitted to having moments of doubt or struggle about her faith but a the end of the day Actually I’m a bit surprised that so many are still mis-interpreting what Jo is stating to Oprah in the interview about not proselytizing Christianity in Harry Potter.

  10. I just remember her saying in an interview once that she felt like Graham Greene, she wishes her faith will come back to her. Frankly, I am not trying to judge her, I am going by her words alone. Maybe because of the books and the publicity she was or is trying to stay away from answering the questions outright and totally honest. Quite frankly I am confused about what she believes.

  11. The Greene quotations is quite a bit different:

    ““Like Greene, my faith is sometimes about if my faith will return. It’s important to me.”

  12. Sorry’ bout that, I wasn’t finished when my comments went up.

    So, At the end of most days Jo has admitted that she still is a believer.

    John, you answered most of the question in regard to the “obvious’ Christian symbolism within HP. Which is why I’m still surprised that some are confused by her answer to Oprah. I think Jo was also surprised to get that question from Oprah because she has answered it in a number of other interviews.
    As we know, Harry Potter was written in the tradition of many of the English writers that Jo admired, along with Christian symbolism, alongside as Jo has stated with the struggle of her own personal life and the death of her mother. Writing a Christian allegory in Harry Potter was never in her plans, nor is there a planned moral teaching throughout the seven books. The Christian symbols and the thought of life after death and portions of her own faith are there within the story because of the author’s own life story being infused within the fiction/fantasy itself, nothing more, nothing less in my observation.
    .This is really the answer that J R Tolkien, C S Lewis and others have stated when readers and critics try to pry out hidden meanings and allegories from their respective works that were never intended by the author. I remember a quote from C S Lewis where he stated that he had received hundreds of letters from readers of the Narnia series with almost as many interpretations and hidden meanings he supposedly had written within the stories. He then said, ” I wish I had really written all of those hidden meanings into Narnia, some of them were quite good”.

    The joy of reading a great book or series is that we the reader often place our own life story or struggles within the book we are reading, we then have the temptation to believe that the writer had the same intent.

  13. Ten years ago we weren’t discussing the question “Are Ms. Rowling’s Potter novels intentionally trying to bring readers to faith in Jesus of Nazareth?” and the author wasn’t having to face questions about the Christian content of her work. Then the talk was about if Christians could read the books without compromising and undermining their faith — and the author was accused of being a witch.

    From sorceress to evangelist — quite the trip in a decade, no? I hope someday we can arrive at the sane center opposite these silly extremes, a mean labeled “Literary Alchemist.”

  14. Oh! One more thought on this interview if I may John.

    I thought that the part of the interview that was more unique than any other JKR interview was the discussion on the importance and ultimate value of love. The element of love being the most powerful magic, within the Harry Potter series and then her very emotional thoughts in regard to 9/11 and the impact of love expressed by those who were on cell phones bidding good bye to their loved ones with their last words! I thought how meaningful and deep that part of the interview was as Jo’s voice was breaking at that point.

    In a literary scene, it was Harry walking into the forest, resurrection stone in hand knowing death was only moments away.

    I wonder if 9/11 was on her mind in a way that day she wrote those lines in that chapter.

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