Seven J. K. Rowling Biography Mysteries

You have all seen the click-bait posts everywhere online about ‘J. K. Rowling’s Favorite Authors’ or Twenty Harry Potter Movie Events You Missed!’ or ‘Ten Things You Never Knew About J. K. Rowling!’

Today I’d like to turn that last subject on its head — what are the biggest mysteries or holes in The Presence’s biography that researchers have not yet explained, she and her very loyal group of old friends are never going to tell us, and are probably none of our business?

Join me after the jump for my ‘Top Seven Rowling Biographical Mysteries’!

(1) The Seven Year Boyfriend Who Has Never Been Named

Rowling dated a man in Manchester for seven years. She told a reporter in 2000 that her divorce wasn’t caused by her being flighty or erratic in her relationships: “I’m not the kind of person who bales out without there being serious problems. My relationship before that lasted seven years.”

We owe this guy big time, right?”

“[Quidditch] was invented in a small hotel in Manchester after a row with my then-boyfriend. I had been pondering the things that hold a society together, cause it to congregate and signify its particular character and knew I needed a sport. It infuriates men . . . which is quite satisfying given my state of mind when I invented it.”

And wasn’t it when she coming home on a train from a visit with the same man that Harry Potter first occurred to her?

I conferred with Nick Jeffrey and he confirmed that this is indeed a missing person in Rowling’s biographical hostel.

No, I have blank between her musician boyfriend at school [about whom she wrote at some length here] and the boyfriend she met at college, and lived in South London and Manchester with.

I’d like to think he was an accountant, and the locations would fit with someone in the financial industry, but no positive ID.

I love that last possibility! Could he be the model for Matt Cunliffe?

This boyfriend tops my list of Biographical Missing Pieces because I think her departure for Portugal was in the wake of her mother’s death and her break-up of this seven year hitch, and her hook-up and marriage with Arantes has something of a rebound-relationship quality consequently.

Definitely, though, none of anyone’s business. If he hasn’t surfaced to date, I doubt he’ll be stepping up to any microphones soon.

(2) The A Levels Reading List

This has been an ongoing search that Potter Pundits in the UK and I have been researching off and on for several years. What works of fiction did Rowling spend her last years at Wyedean Comprehensive studying to prepare for the UK A Levels?

It’s much trickier a question to answer than you’d think. The latest effort to discover this list involves a school Christmas program that went up for auction, a program that lists Rowling and two friends given a performance derived from Cider with Rosie. Maybe the two friends remember the A Levels reading list?

I can tell you the local schools have been less than forthcoming with information that surely is not private or any way compromising to Mrs. Murray. But a goldmine to Rowling Readers!

(3) The Two Adult Novels Never Finished

In 2001 Rowling told Neil Matsuda that Harry Potter wasn’t her first attempt at writing a novel:

I was 25 when I had the idea for Harry and I had been writing – if you include all the embarrassing teenage rubbish – for years and years. And I had never been so excited by an idea in my life. “I’d abandoned two novels for adults prior to that. Actually, I was still writing the second novel when I had the idea for Harry and for six months I tried to write them simultaneously – then Harry just took over completely.

She recently mentioned the title of the second book — The Private Joke — “a very bad book” that she’d been working on when Harry “took over” but we’ve no idea what these two novels were about and why they were never finished.

I am alone as far as I know in thinking that Rowling revisited one of these books as something of a prank and published it as Casual Vacancy, her first supposedly post Potter work. I think it complements the Galbraith secret identity lark; in addition to writing a book under a different name to see if anyone reads it for reasons other than it is by the author of Harry Potter, why not publish something by Joanne Rowling that no one would have ever read because the author was an unknown wannabe?

I suspect only our grandchildren will know the truth post mortem auctoris.

(4) The Yacht

Twenty some years ago Rowling laughed out loud at the suggestion she would buy a yacht:

“Yes, I have got more money than I ever dreamt I would have. Great! I have stopped worrying about money. For a few years there I really worried about money. I lived with it like it was a person living with me.”

But, I ask, aren’t you going to buy something, like a yacht perhaps? This makes her bark with laughter. 

I was told by a seeming madman not too long ago that she not only got over this aversion to Big Spending but that she’d bought a $30,000,000 yacht that she bought from Jonny Depp.  Variety reported in March, 2017:

J.K. Rowling, staggeringly wealthy author of the phenomenally popular “Harry Potter” novels that begat the blockbuster film franchise, has her celebrity-pedigreed yacht “Amphitrite” available for both charter and purchase. The 156-foot-long boat, formerly christened Vajoliroja and previously owned by Johnny Depp, can be chartered at a high-season rate of about $130,000 per week, plus expenses, and is also for sale, per online listings, at not quite $19.2 million.

Ownership of multimillion-dollar water craft can be difficult to trace — they’re often owned through inscrutable offshore corporate ventures — but Depp is reported to have sold the boat in the fall of 2015 to an American businessman who quickly flipped it to Rowling sometime in late 2015 or early 2016 for about $27 million, substantially below its current price tag.

A 2019 article reports it has been sold and that Rowling lost close to $10 million on the sale. I doubt we’re ever going to hear the full back story here or even learn how often the Murray clan used the boat (again, none of our business, nothing remotely related to her work, etc.). It does put her one million pound matching funds challenge to help orphans in Ukraine in context, however. The Presence has a lot of money, enough that losing close to eight figures (!) is not a life crisis.

(5) The Rector of the Anglican Church She Attended as a Child and Young Woman

Rowling told Amini in 2008 that she attended church in her village, St. Luke’s in Tutshill, until she was 17. She had told another reporter that she went to services, though she was the only one in her family that was interested. The family lived in ‘Church Cottage,’ right next door.

Whoever was the pastor at this small church must have been a remarkable man (I don’t think women were being ordained to the priesthood at that time in the Anglican Communion).

Though anything but an evangelist or an orthodox Christian in any sense of that word, Rowling’s artistry and what she describes as her “intensely spiritual life” (deRek) draw in large part from Christian elements in the English literary tradition. Mythology is as big a deal perhaps, but Rowling’s chiastic structures, literary alchemy, and symbols of Christ and resurrection? Her work would not be what it was except for her awareness of and borrowing from the Christian vaults beneath the British Library and the ‘Bod.’

I want to know about the rector of the church who preached for at least five years to the young woman with freckles in NHS specs about the life in Christ. His is an extraordinary legacy by extension.

(6) The Steve Vander Ark ‘Scottish Book’ Copyright Law Suit

The Barracuda Barristers of Rowling, Inc., were unleashed in 2007 against RDR publishers who were going to put out a print edition of the invaluable Harry Potter Lexicon website. Neil Blair, on the highest of his high-chairs, proclaimed “There is a big difference between a free fan website, […] and a for-profit book that attempts to make money out of Ms. Rowling’s original works.” Read the sordid history of this and other copyright infringement claims involving Rowling at this MuggleNet survey piece.

The weird thing? MuggleNet, via its owners, Media Lab Books, is now publishing book after book (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters) that are nothing if not straight-from-the-text collations of “Ms. Rowling’s original works,” or, frankly, from other people’s work. And, unlike MuggleNet today, Steve Vander Ark, who had not cashed in with books as had Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz by 2007, was essentially working night and day at that time for nothing to promote Harry Potter and its fandom — without attacking the author. MuggleNet today has officially separated itself from the transphobia and bigotry they claim makes Rowling anathema — and yet they continue to publish, without prompting censor or punishing, humiliating litigation, books “for profit” that attempt “to make money out of Ms. Rowling’s original works.”

I’d like to know why RDR and Vander Ark were put through the juridical wringer in 2007 and when and why all the rules changed so those who castigate Rowling shamelessly and libelously are given the green light to cash in with fan-servicing texts.

I consider this a biographical mystery rather than a corporate decision outside Rowling’s control only because of her repeated description of her emotional state after finishing the Potter series as a grieving condition in which she was devastated. Was that why the RDR litigation was initiated so soon after Deathly Hallows was published? Have the rules changed as the years have passed and the separation anxieties of the mother-author have become less dominant?

(7) Transgender Controversy Origins

We know that The Silkworm was the first Cormoran Strike story with respect to its conception. Everyone who has read it knows, too, that it is about a book within the book, Bombyx Mori, an autobiographical allegory and revenge drama supposedly written by Owen Quine. You’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten that a distinguishing characteristic of Quine’s work up to and including Mori in Robin’s words is “how characters keep swapping their gender or sexual orientation” (168). Pippa/Phillip Midegley, the “pre-op” transgender woman savaged in Mori as the parasitic Epicoene, is simultaneously pathetic and murderous in her anger about her surrogate father’s betrayal and to earn the love of her adopted mother, Kathryn Kent (330-331). That’s another Bad Dad and Selfless Mother for the Rowling menagerie.

I think it fair to think possible that Rowling in this first book was laying out a theme of her new series, namely, the roles of men and women and the tortured lengths and consequences people go to and experience in their search to realize their vocations in the context of societal mores and biological demands. Robin’s struggle with her calling as a detective and the increasingly audible ticking of her biological clock is the most obvious example of this theme, but Strike is involved here as well. He dreads the idea of being a Bad Dad because of his unresolved Oedipal issues and fears having to be responsible for anyone else, especially a woman because that has been the cause of the greatest emotional pain in his life (cf. Leda, Lucy, Charlotte).

This theme is not original to the Strike series. There are strong shades of it in Casual Vacancy and hints of it in the Hogwarts novels. But in the five Strike books, it is almost an omnipresent if invisible character, like London and Leda Strike’s ghost.

My best guess is that it grew to such an issue, a volcanic island appearing in her Lake of Inspiration, due to issues involved in her second marriage, nuptials celebrated at the height of Potter Mania.

I have suggested that the sixth crisis of Rowling’s life, the only one on my list of seven outside the public view, was the struggle in the Murray marriage between her vocation, life as a wife and mother, and loyalty to Jessica Arantes, not to mention her being the bread winner and public face of the clan. We have no evidence of that other than the Strike and Pig books and their themes. I’d like to know more about that on the one hand; on the other, probably best that the Murray’s save that for the Mommy Dearest tell-all autobiographies Jessica, David, and Kenzie will be offered millions to write in their dotage.

Here’s hoping they don’t ever need the money that badly or have their mother’s fierce loyalty to do what’s right.

Which wraps up my top seven Rowling biographical mysteries. Please share your thoughts on this set and feel free to share your own in the comment boxes below!



  1. About the unknown boyfriend, Rowling told Ian Parker in 2012 that she left for Porto in part because of her break up with the old flame:

    In 1991, she took a job as an English teacher in Portugal. “It was total fight or flight,” she said. “I’d had a terrible time. Several things happened at once. My mother died, which was obviously the huge one. A long relationship I’d been in ended — and a couple of other things,” including being made redundant from an office job in Manchester.

    That answer highlights the break-up and raises more questions about the “couple of other things” from which to choose to fly rather than fight. Dad issues?

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