True Story from Carnegie Hall: “Main Line Boy Meets JK Rowling”

This newspaper story about a young man that won a seat in Carnegie Hall the night of Ms. Rowling’s reading and Q&A last month is worth reflecting on and re-reading. Not only what happens to him but his understanding and description of the night in New York are also instructive and challenging. Please let me know what you think.

Main Line Boy Meets JK Rowling
by Phyllis Rubin
Main Line Life

Danny Garfield, lifelong resident of the Penn Wynne section of Wynnewood, was home alone after school. His older sister was at a sports practice and both his parents were working. He was 13 and it was a few days before his Bar Mitzvah. He is tall for his age, with long hair and an engaging smile, giving him the appearance of an older teen.

His dog wanted to go out. As Danny opened the door, something told him to check the gates in the yard, and sure enough, one was open. He rushed outside, closed the gate before the dog got away, and, feeling relieved, went inside. As he reentered the house, he realized he had missed a phone call, since someone was leaving a message. He listened.

Could it be? He had won the national sweepstakes to attend JK Rowling’s only public reading in the U.S. tour for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Friday October 19, at New York City’s Carnegie Hall!! “Nothing like this had ever happened to me before,” Danny recalled. “I’ve never been lucky. I called my mother at work. I was kind of in shock.” What a unique Bar Mitzvah present!!

Danny’s family had played their part in creating the historic phenomenon of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows selling 15 million copies worldwide in its first 24 hours of publication, having purchased 3 of the books. No one except his father could wait to read the book.

Danny was required to bring a parent with him to Carnegie Hall. Even though his father’s 50th birthday was only a few days prior to the reading, and meeting a world-renowned author would certainly have been a unique treat, his father gallantly allowed his mother, a great Harry Potter fan, to accompany Danny.

The day finally approached. Danny left school early and, with his mother, boarded Amtrak for New York. The 1000 winners (from over 38,000 entries) and their guests – of all ages, races and parts of the U.S. – gathered at Carnegie Hall, some dressed as characters from the story. Danny’s luck did not hold out for the seat assignment lottery, as he and his mother found themselves in the second to last row in the upper-most balcony. “If you want to know what the ceiling in Carnegie Hall looks like, you can ask me,” he jokes.

Joanna K. Rowling had spent 17 years planning and writing the 7 books. She began writing as a single mother on public assistance, planning Harry’s labyrinthian story in numerous notebooks, in public cafes as her baby slept in her stroller. Today, Rowling’s daughter is a mature teen, and the author is a household name and the second wealthiest woman in Britain, after the Queen. During the period when she was writing her longest books (#4 – #7), Rowling also married a physician and had 2 more children.

In Carnegie Hall, the excitement was near-explosive when, at 7 o’clock, Joanna K. Rowling strode onto the stage wearing black slacks and a long embroidered jacket. She received an outrageously wild standing ovation. Danny speculated, “everyone applauded and cheered really long and loudly because, like me, probably no one had expected to win. I really liked the energy of the crowd. It felt like all 2000 of us were friends.” She sat and read in a chair that “looked like a throne,” reported Danny, large and elaborately carved, with bright red deeply tufted upholstery, centered on a Persian rug. “She said she’d read one of her favorite parts of book 7, when Ron returns to Harry and Hermione,” Danny tells. “It was the first time she’d read it in public. She read really well, bringing the characters to life. She did all of their voices. It was much funnier hearing her read than when I read it myself. It was great!”

After the reading came the now-famous question and answer session. The question that elicited the answer, “I always saw Dumbledore as gay,” was only the 6th out of 16. Danny’s take? “It doesn’t matter. It hasn’t changed the story.” While it’s true that the audience responded with enthusiastic approval, similar passion was shown for the revelations that Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbott got married, and that the main lessons Rowling wanted to communicate in the books was a “prolonged plea for an end to bigotry and for tolerance,” as well as “you should question authority and not assume that the press and the government is giving you all the information.”

Danny recalled, “I liked how she answered very personally to each person. Sometimes she asked them questions! When one girl said her mother had never read the books because she was too busy, JKR said, ‘If I had time to write them, she has time to read them!’ and all the mothers there cheered.”

By 8:30, the book signing began. Rowling moved to sit behind a long table in front of a mountain of brand new Deathly Hallows and, over the next 3 hours, she signed her name into 2000 books as the audience members filed before her. Danny and his mother watched from their balcony perch, waiting their turn. Danny soon turned his attentions to his new iPod, a Bar Mitzvah present. His mother reports, “It was extraordinary! She interacted with every single person! For me, writing my name 2000 times would feel like a punishment, but she sustained an animated warmth for close to 3 hours, as she made eye contact and interacted with each of the 2000 readers present!” Rowling held an animated 5-second chat, or had a high-five or a hug for everyone, especially the young children.

Like a selfless Gryffindor, Danny had decided that he would forgo bringing his own Deathly Hallows for JKR to sign, (his mother brought his sister’s copy) in favor of bringing a photograph of his school class for her to sign and display in their classroom. “Everyone was so excited about me going,” he knew it would please them all.

After 2 ½ hours, it was Danny’s turn to step before the author for his 5 seconds of facetime. He and his mother walked down the umpteen flights of stairs with their co-balconyists, passing a small army of red-coated ushers and Scholastic Press associates who officiously kept everyone on course. Danny describes the scene. “I could see how beautiful Carnegie Hall is, and how amazingly high up we’d been sitting. On the main floor, we still had to wait in line more. Finally, I walked up to her, put my class picture on the table and asked if she could sign it. But, they reacted like I’d attacked her.” The Scholastic Press Dementors swooped in and “yanked me away,” admonishing him that Rowling was only signing books, and thrust “a just-signed copy of Deathly Hallows into my hands.” While Danny could not notice, his mother saw JKR call an apologetic “I’m so sorry,” after him, with a beseeching look.

Danny, who had never been the object of such force, was quite shaken. “I knew I’d done nothing wrong, but they’d made me feel like I had. I also knew that my classmates would be very disappointed.” He said that the handlers’ reaction had “spoiled the moment” with JKRowling. “At that moment, I’d almost regretted coming at all.”

Fortunately, even though it was near 11:00pm when they left Carnegie Hall, his mother bought him a very large chocolate chip cupcake. A visit the following day to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum salvaged the trip as Danny was thoroughly entranced with the exhibit of Ingo Maurer’s innovative lighting and a walk in Central Park.

With greater perspective a week later, Danny recounts that his classmates were very understanding and appreciative of his efforts. His mother realized that Danny’s encounter mirrored one of the literary devices Rowling uses in the Harry Potter books: that of limited perspective. Danny and his mother viewed his bringing the photo as an honorable, generous act of a maturing 13-year old. The Scholastic security people saw a long-haired teenager who was trying to be disruptive.

In the end, Danny observes, “It was good. I gave my old copy of Deathly Hallows to my father, so now we each have one. I keep the book JK Rowling signed in my room, and I’ve got a good story.”


  1. I’d say that both Danny and his mother have done a stupendous job of overcoming their own limited perspective. A very mature and philosophical take on a disappointing moment.

    But limited perspective is practically a condition of employment for security people. This story reminded me of one I read recently in connection with another of my fandoms: “Weird Al”. I was there, and the security there was also overly-officious. Al himself was clearly feeling frustrated by it; he meets with fans frequently, and he’s amazingly patient and attentive and friendly. His autograph lines are slow, because he doesn’t rush or cut anybody off (full disclosure here, I’ve met up with Al at signings and behind various theaters after concerts ten times, and he now knows my name).

    I’ve done a lot of thinking about celebrity since I started to follow Al and his career, and I lean toward the conclusion that Scholastic and Virgin Megastore and their various security imps have altogether too limited a perspective in thinking of these meet & greets only as a marketing and publicity tool. Celebrity is a funny thing; it magnifies the importance of a few of our fellow mortals out of all reasonable proportion. Why should we even CARE about people we may only meet in person for a few minutes in a lifetime, or not at all? But it does, and we do. But there’s a use for this quality of inordinate magnification: when the mortal under the magnifying glass is doing his or her best to genuinely treat those fans as people, with respect and empathy, as I believe JKR was trying to do and as I know Al does, that moment of genuine caring is also magnified, and can be a surprisingly powerful source of encouragement. So I’m sorry when security people who just want to get the event OVER WITH already short-cirucuit that experience.

  2. It seems like a story that has something missing. Were the people who won the tickets told that they could only have a copy of Deathly Hallows signed? And how is asking to have a copy of his class picture disruptive? I don’t understand it.

    I had thought that if I won, I would have to think about which book to take for the signing. Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t get to go after all.

    What a shame that Danny had that experience though. Sounds like his mom was able to help him work through it though. It also sounds like Rowling doesn’t have as much control over the book events as we all tend to think.


  3. Were the people who won the tickets told that they could only have a copy of Deathly Hallows signed?

    Everyone who won was told – in black and white, and repeatedly – that Ms. Rowling would sign either the complimentary copy of Deathly Hallows each received that night, or a personal copy of any of the seven Harry Potter books. These were the only things that would be signed, according to Scholastic’s rules. All winners were asked to read the rules carefully before signing the contract.

  4. Arabella Figg says

    Thanks for clearing this up, Dr. Sturgis. But weren’t the security guards a little rough? It’s not like he put a questionable box before her. It sounds as if they didn’t trust the author to quickly say, “sorry, only books,” then give a signed book.

    Nevertheless it’s a good lesson–always read the fine print. He’ll never be careless with a contract again.

    Thudders just knocked over a knicknack…

  5. JohnABaptist says

    In defense of security guards in general…

    When we think they are perhaps a little rough or a little hide-bound and unsympathetic, we need to counter that image with three faces:

    Mark David Chapman: baby-faced harmless appearing young man that shot John Lennon dead in cold blood.

    Sirhan Sirhan: studious appearing, earnest, white jacketed [stolen apparently] seemingly hard-working waiter in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. Shot Robert F. Kennedy dead in cold blood.

    John Hinkley, Jr.: pudgy, sleepy-eyed, young, casual spectator strolling down a Washington Alley. Came within less than one-inch of killing President Ronald Reagan.

    Oh that three security details had been a little tougher, a little more hide bound, a little more sensitive to some slight deviation, some tiny ripple in the ordinary flow events.

    You can always apologize to a young (or old) person after the fact. You can’t push a bullet back down the barrel of a gun.

    Who would want to harm Ms. Rowling? Who would want to shoot “The Walrus”?

    I hope Ms. Rowling’s traveling companions remain twitchy, uptight and humorless. I like having her around.

  6. Arabella Figg says

    John, I think you’re fishing for reaction regarding the high enthusiasm of the crowd in an electric atmosphere and the DIG (Dumbldore is gay) part. But Dr. Sturgis has already filled us in on this so it doesn’t seem new. However, it’s nice to see it reported elsewhere, even in a local blog? newspaper? And from a young fan’s point of view.

    Hairy Plotter refuses to “fish,” he just listens for the can opener…

  7. It’s true that you can always apologize after the fact, but I’ve never known a security guard to do so. If it’s something that’s clearly a matter of safety, that’s one thing. And that’s what metal detectors are for. In the case of such a big, high-profile event as the Rowling appearance, they probably should have had them. It’s the pettiness that irks. That, and truthlessness (at the last concert I attended, the security guys invented a whole new imaginary tunnel). The other side of the public-appearance coin is that for celebrities, the goodwill of their fans is a career asset, and with the Internet, word of mouth can go around the world overnight. Even if the star isn’t the one who hired or trained (or didn’t train) a rude, unfeeling security detail it still reflects badly on him or her, because most people don’t stop to think who’s actually providing the security. And somehow I don’t think the Secret Service is either twitchy or rude. Most stars don’t get security of that quality, though.

  8. Rules are rules are rules….

    We may not like all of ’em, but I’m glad we have ’em.

    Oh, don’t get me wrong…I believe Danny was sincere in his desire to share his good fortune with his classmates by returning from New York with an autographed photo from Carnegie Hall. What I don’t understand is how he and his mother could have discounted the rules Dr. Sturgis has plainly described : “Everyone who won was told – in black and white, and repeatedly – that Ms. Rowling would sign either the complimentary copy of Deathly Hallows each received that night, or a personal copy of any of the seven Harry Potter books. These were the only things that would be signed, according to Scholastic’s rules. All winners were asked to read the rules carefully before signing the contract.”

    And what about the fans standing directly in line behind Danny and his mother? Evidently the entire episode lasted but a few seconds…but still! I know I would not have appreciated someone upsetting the spirit of the evening, no matter what their intentions might be. Danny wasn’t being malicious…just young and hopeful…yet the outcome was the same: loss of a positive memory for a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

    JAB, you are right on the money AGAIN with your insights. My son has been involved in security work and has remarked several times that the general public is limited in its perspective when the issue of safety is concerned.

    Arabella, when Danny says the Security people “yanked me away,” I can imagine any number of scenerios which may have occurred. Of course, to a young person not focused on anyone else’s job at the moment, the swift and economic movements of trained Security personnel would seem harsh. I was struck by the writer’s use of “Scholastic Press Dementors.” The imagery of swooping and reaching beings was clear. Was the writer also intimating that the presence of Security was oppressive, overshadowing the magical atmosphere of fan interaction with JKR? I also found Danny’s quote disheartening: “I knew I’d done nothing wrong, but they’d made me feel like I had.” WHAT??? Evidently Danny didn’t get the memo about books-only. Perhaps this is where we hold Mother accountable for failing to review the contract with her son!?! Unfortunately, I see this all the time at school: students demanding their rights to do *this and that* when, in fact, they (and their parents) have already signed off on the Code of Conduct/Discipline included in the School Handbook.

  9. Arabella Figg says

    pj, you made several excellent points. I repeat what I said earlier, that Danny got a good lesson in carefully reading contracts. And perhaps Mummy was at fault.

    But you reminded me of something I meant to comment on earlier–the biased, emotional tone of this article. It was as if his aunt or mother had written it. Poor Danny! Evil Rowling security! It’s not written in the impartial journalistic voice. As a writer of both punditry and features, I can tell you this article crosses too many lines. I suspected at first it was urban legend fodder.

    So, in a sense, Rita’s Quick Quotes Quill might have produced just such a piece as this.

    Mrs. Fleasley is playing with a pheasant feather by the fireplace…wow, try saying “pheasant feather” five times quickly!

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