Ms. Rowling Interview in El Pais (2/2008)

Readers in Spain have their copies of Deathly Hallows today — and an intriguing interview with Ms. Rowling in El Pais magazine, to boot. SnitchSeeker has the first “complete transcript translation” I’ve been sent [hat-tip, Bob Trexler!], but, alas, we know it isn’t complete because in previous reports on this interview from the same source we read about her comments on Neville Chamberlain as a model for Cornelius Fudge and about her ex-husband not being in the books (I tell you, the guy in lavendar is Philip Pullman…). And those notes aren’t in the “complete transcript.” Nothing yet at our best source for JKR interviews; if you didn’t think the quiet demise of Accio Quote was going to be painful, this is your moment to reflect and reconsider.

Two quick comments on what we have in this interview and my favorite parts before opening the gates for your comments about your favorites:

1. What good is it?

I don’t want to re-hash our discussion of the importance, if any, allowed an author’s post-publication revelations and interpretations (though feel free if the Spirit moves you along those lines). I want to know what use any English writer can make of this interview as it stands. We don’t have a copy of the original English transcript, the Spanish publication copy [whoops; that is available], or the name of the translator. There is certainly evidence that one of the translations, maybe both, is flawed (“the faith of the Dursleys” rather than their “fate;” how many of you were as surprised as I was that Ms. Rowling offered to wrote an 8th book about the Dursley’s religious beliefs?) and incomplete (see above) and heavily edited (see the remarks at interview’s end which seem to have been pulled from their place in the original Q&A as follow-ups).

2. The Struggle to Believe

Ms. Rowling insists once again that the “obvious” Christian content of her books not be used to categorize or pigeon hole her as a “religious person.” She says:

Q: You said that you saw your soul as something undeniable.

A: Yes, that’s true. But I also have said that I have many doubts regarding religion. I feel very attracted by religion, but at the same time I feel a lot of uncertainty. I live in a state of spiritual flux. I believe in a permanent [trans. “eternal”? “immortal”?] soul. And that is reflected in the last book.

This is in keeping with her endorsement of the TBA Democratic Party candidate for POTUS and her several previous statements since Deathly Hallows was published about her “struggle to believe.” Ms. Rowling seems to want it made clear, however evident and firm her place is within the English and Christian Literary Tradition, that she is not a SNL “Church lady” or in sympathy with the “Religious Right” (the Death Eaters reading their main man, C. S. Lewis).

FYI: I have my doubts about religion. Anyone who has actually worshipped in community, especially in the US, or been searched in the airport line as a terrorist suspect (as I am every time I fly; Norman noses are vaguely Semitic I’m guessing) has to have doubts about religion and its efficacy (see Thomas Merton’s concerns about the monastics he met in his first week as a Cistercian novice in Seven Storey Mountain). The ever growing community of “spiritual, not religious” believers speaks to the near omnipresence of these doubts. Unfortunately, Ms. Rowling’s having expressed doubt about “religion” will be read by many in the US, no doubt [sic], as her profession of not believing in spiritual realities or the Christian God.

And perhaps that is what she meant to say? Or, no, it couldn’t be? And, remind me again, what distinguishes our concern for the particulars of her faith from gossip about someone we cannot know any better than we know Jane Austen, Neville Chamberlain, or Attila the Hun?

This seems to be one of the subjects about which the more Ms. Rowling cares to reveal, the more she will obscure, confuse, and distract the readers of her books. Terry Mattingly opined in 2002 that Ms. Rowling would eventually show herself to be a member of a sacramental church whose believers share liberal leanings theologically and politically and a long history. We know now that he was right. And we’re learning she wants this left-lean to be given at least equal billing with her always-incipient faith. I get it.

I love Harry Potter. True, there isn’t much about Fandom that I like outside of the charitable and engaging discussions we have here online and that I have had in person with friends and serious readers at conferences and my talks. The exercise of following Ms. Rowling’s interviews and trying to figure out what value (to include of course “no value”) each has in understanding the novels and consequent Potter mania is well above surfing Harry sites on my hierarchy of Potter pleasures, but well below reading and listening to the stories and sharing ideas with others about them.

My favorite bit in this interview? It’s near the end.

Q: The fantasy in literature completes people.

A: Yes, that’s right. Humans need fantasy and magic. We have a need for mystery. Sir Frank Frasier [sic; James George Frazer](in The Golden Bow[sic; Bough]) says that in religion the man depends on God, but in magic the man depends on himself, which allows us to measure the capacity of man and magic becomes an ideal existence. Magic carries a human existence, in Book 6 the Prime Minister says to the Minister of Magic “You can do magic! Surely you can sort out anything!” and the minister answers: “Yes, the trouble is, the other side can do magic too.” We need magic and I defend it at all cause. Magic is a very important part of literature and that’s why it’s always going to be there.

Q: There’s this dialogue between Harry and Professor Dumbledore: “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

A: And Dumbledore says: “Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth would that mean that is not real?” That dialogue is the key; I’ve waited seventeen years to use those lines. Yes, that’s right. All this time I’ve worked to be able to write those two phrases; writing Harry entering the forest and Harry having that dialog.

I’ll wait for a certified translation before I can make sense or use of her first comment, which, if she is attempting an apologia for magic in literature via Frazer (or just an answer to the question as we have it) will be almost as interesting as the answer given. This makes her sound like she’s had two or three too many to drink.

The last question in this small set seems pretty straightforward and will be the lead quote of the revised Unlocking Harry Potter chapter on Postmodernism. I already used the line from Deathly Hallows she loves (or is she drunk?) in How Harry Cast His Spell because it explains Potter mania so succinctly. The reading of these novels happens only in your head; the affects of this imaginative experience are undeniably real.

Your comments and corrections, please — not to mention nominations for “most likely mistranslations” and “intriguing revelation about Harry.” Any delighted Fitzgerald fans out there? Lemmeno.


  1. Travis Prinzi says

    Two excellently-selected “favorite moments,” and perfect timing, as I was just in the middle of the “what is real” section of my own work.

    I’m definitely looking forward to an official translation of the comment about magic, as this is really the first time Rowling’s begun to offer some kind of explicit theory for the need for magic in literature. Parsing that out will be interesting. As it stands, it doesn’t make a ton of sense. It’s almost an argument that falls in on itself, because what she’s saying about magic could be true of just about anything in which two people can make a choice about how to use something.

    Good to see you back to regular blogging, John.

  2. It looks like the El Pais interview is different from the article in XLSemanal which has the comment about the Ministry of Magic. It’s not unusual for several publications to sit in on one interview and do different pieces. We at AccioQuote will be looking into it. We’re keeping an eye out for the Q&A from the James Joyce Awards as well. 🙂

    – Meann of

  3. Two interviewers and two different magazine articles: that explains a lot! Thank you, Meann. Please let us know when or if Accio Quotes is able get translations for one or both that aren’t as confusing in English as the Spanish would be to this gringo.

  4. Arabella Figg says

    I remember the post DH “Dutch Interview,” posted on this site earlier, with some of its brain-twinking translations. I, too, shall wait for the whole.

    However, regarding the strange magic answer, perhaps she was attempting to say that magic in stories is entirely of the human realm and its purity cannot be achieved by human characters; both bad and good use and abuse it, tainting its value. This would be versus true spirituality. Maybe?

    However, I don’t think the Relgious Right find a sympathetic brother in Lewis. I think Lewis, a reasoned thinker, would be appalled.

    Remus Loopy and Curious Black are giving Fullatricks looks that say “paps fritas, to you, baby!”…

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