JKR: “Fame is something I have to get through.”

From the Telegraph’s article describing The 100 most powerful people in British culture:

#14 J.K. Rowling, 42, author. Harry Potter brought her fame and fortune, and she in turn has given a break to the British film industry, by insisting the films of her books be shot in Britain with an all-British cast. Has said:

‘I never wanted [fame] and I never expected it and certainly didn’t work for it, and I see it as something that I have to get through, really.’

She has made four assertions about fame here, each of which is counter-cultural in a celebrity-consumed world: fame isn’t an end to be desired in itself, or expected, or worked for, or, when thrust upon the unwilling, to be neglected as a chore (lest it eat you for lunch).

Two thoughts for your discussion beyond grading her efforts to “get through [it]:”

(1) How much of Harry Potter’s response to fame is an echo of Ms. Rowling’s beliefs as stated?

(2) Is she right about fame?


  1. I think we do see Harry reacting to and dealing with fame in the same way that Rowling speaks of it. Harry never wanted fame, and it was most notable in GOF and OP, when the news media went after him, first because he was in the TriWizard Tournament and then when the Ministry was intent on discrediting him in OP.

    It was interesting that it was Hermione, and not Harry, who decided to use his fame in a way that got out the message about Voldemort with the interview for the Quibbler.

    Rowling seems to have found her unsought fame has been useful for causes that are dear to her–Multiple Sclerosis funding and awareness, children’s rights, the rights and needs of single parents, etc. Not bad for someone who never thought she’d be famous.

    It speaks to our responsibility as ordinary citizens, I think. If we have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world, we should do it. I admire her for her willingness to speak out.

    And, yes, I think she is right about fame. Those who seek fame for the sake of being famous don’t seem to lead very happy lives, do they? But those who, for whatever reason, become famous and find positive ways to use it, have a way of remaining very grounded in who they are apart from the fame.


  2. I once read an interview with Tom Hanks that has really stayed with me (though not literally; I can’t footnote it, unfortunately).

    In it, Hanks was asked if he was really worth $20 million a movie.

    His (paraphrased) answer: “The $20 million isn’t for making the movie. We would make the movie for free; we’re actors, we love what we do. The $20 million is to compensate for the fact that I can’t go to McDonald’s with my kids, I can’t see a movie in a regular theatre, I have to live a life behind locked doors and guarded walls…”

    People think they want to be famous. But they don’t really. They want to have *controlled* fame. They want to be recognized and lauded and appreciated when they feel like it, but still lead their own lives. And that’s not possible.

    Take poor Britney Spears. A confused girl, to say the least. Someone who could really benefit by spending some time in church, wouldn’t you say?

    Well, she tried. Some months ago, before she (apparently) went completely over the edge. She showed up at our church one Sunday wearing a big hat and sunglasses (for disguise and protection, one assumes — though it was also right after she shaved off her hair).

    There were bodyguards and rent-a-cops everywhere. When Lee tried to drop us off in front of the church, our way was blocked at the driveway and we had to answer a virtual quiz before we could pass. Paparazzi were kept somewhat at bay, but lurked behind trees, having climbed up steep hillsides to sneak in.

    Inside the church, more bodyguards, earpieces in place, wandering. A guy with a really big camera was forcibly escorted out in the middle of the service.

    And when she left, surrounded by her entourage and bodyguards, the paparazzi went crazy. They drove the wrong way down the street to chase her. One of them drove up over the curb and into a hillside just below the church, disabling his car. Another almost ran over one of our traffic cops. All of this with people leaving church, little kids being walked across the street, etc. It was a madhouse.

    And all the poor girl did was try to go to church on Sunday morning.

    She’s never been back….

    Fame is also creepy. I am not famous, not in any way, shape or form. But there are a handful of people out there who know who I am. And I still remember how creeped out I was when a waiter recognized my name from my credit card and started gushing (eventually of course asking if he could send me his headshot). It was intensely uncomfortable.

    So yes. Ms. Rowling (who, unlike the millions of wannabe actors and rock stars and ‘American Idol’ contestants, never *wanted* to be famous) is right about fame. Boy, is she right.

  3. I believe Rowling understands and has cautiously accepted the power and social responsibility that comes from fame and consequently reflected her personal circumstances onto Harry. Consider the interaction between Harry and Dumbledore at King’s Cross. Harry’s fervent claim that he, AD, would have made a much better MOM than Fudge or Scrimgeour receives this response:

    “Would I?” asked Dumbledore heavily. “I am not so sure. I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” -Albus Dumbledore, (DH, ch. 35, p. 718).

    What do we know from this short confessional?
    1.) Rowling understands the dangers of power; it is both a weakness and
    temptation for the less mature. We know that AD was referring to his
    teen years; however, the message applies for anyone not humbled
    by their circumstances nor swayed by the limelight. JKR uses her
    global fame to support charitable causes and to speak out for others
    in need. She also keeps family uppermost in her list of life-priorities.

    2.) Power for power’s sake does not make for good leadership. LV was a
    horrible leader; an abuser of the people who committed their lives to
    do his bidding. He sought to rule the Wizard and Muggle worlds on his
    own terms and without conscience. Rowling has maintained an
    appearance of balance in her life; should the scales be tipped in a
    negative direction, the world is unaware of it at this time (save for the
    occasional post-DH revelation that ruffles our feathers).

    3.) Servant leaders, like Harry, do what needs to be done without seeking
    personal gain and thereby garner the loyalties of their followers.
    These leaders are often surprised to find themselves in the spotlight
    and credit others for keeping them grounded. Servant leaders are
    generally groomed to lead without realizing their own potential for the
    position. Harry certainly qualifies as a Servant Leader. Rowling
    presents herself in public as a grounded wife and mother, author and
    philanthropist. Her public persona is quite sedate; classy, collected,
    and controlled.

    Ms. Rowling may have been summating Dumbledore’s struggle with his youthful quest for power through the Hallows, but I feel she was also revealing some of the awe she felt in her acquired celebrity status.

    PJ, looking to the day when I hear, “Well done….” and in awe of her family.

  4. In this case, like character, author. Or should that be, like author, character? Either way, JKR is living it as Harry did in the canon. Bully for her. Practicing what one preaches is good, very good. Excellent role-modelling in literature and life!!

  5. Arabella Figg says

    A lot of insight and wisdom from all of you. What struck me as I read this:

    Young people naively eager for fame without a clue as to the cost. And a rejected contestant on American Idol, whining, “But I wanted to be famous withougt having to work for it.”

    While not a celeb watcher, I’ve noticed Brad Pitt seems really happy and fulfilled with his hands-on humanitarian work in New Orleans. Perhaps this has filled a haunting hole left by privilege and the fame machine.

    Shakespeare said: “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Sounds quite Dumbledorish. Rowling exemplifies the last two andn unknowingly writing away in coffee shops, bestowed this burden on Harry.

    To quote the 7-year old wannabe wiz rocker (who could speak for millions of young people) in the Wizard Rockumentary posted above, “Harry Potter doesn’t want to be famous. I want to be famous.” As Ron would say, “you’ve got to get your priorities straight!”

    Kitties care not for fame, just love and treats…

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