The Phenomenon "Harry Potter" - The Secret of its success

Seminar Paper, 2003

19 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)



1 Joanne K. Rowling – The Creator of Harry Potter

2.1 Publishing History of the Harry Potter Series
2.2 A Cinderella Story
2.2.1 Joanne’s Story
2.2.2 Harry’s Story
2.3 Central Themes of Harry Potter
2.3.1 Good vs. Evil
2.3.2 Growing-Up
2.4 The Internet
2.5 Commercialisation
2.6 Voices against Harry Potter
2.6.1 Christian Fundamentalists and the FFL
2.6.2 Plagiarism?

3 Conclusion

4 Reading List

5 Pictures

1 Joanne K. Rowling – The Creator of Harry Potter

At the age of six, Joanne Kathleen Rowling[1] wrote her first short story about a rabbit named Rabbit, who had the measles and was visited by his friends. Amongst them was a little bee called Miss Bee.

However, she never told anyone about her “burning ambition”[2] to become a writer, not even Ms Shephard, her English teacher at Wyedean Comprehensive School. Ms Shephard was a great influence on young Joanne as “she inspired trust”[3]. Shephard’s comments on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone“meant more to [Joanne Rowling] than any newspaper reviews”[4].

After finishing secondary school and her studies in French and Classics at Exeter University, Joanne Rowling started to work as a research asssistant at Amnesty International which was a “very, very interesting place to work”[5], but at the same time a huge mistake, because Joanne Rowling admits that as a secretary she would be anybody’s “worst nightmare”[6].

It was during a delayed train journey from Manchester to King’s Cross Station in London, when she was obviously hit by magic. The story about a little orphan named Harry Potter, who has to live with his old-fashioned relatives and finds out that he is a wizard, came to her mind. And because she had no pen or notebook with her, she had to think it. So, Hogwarts - School of Witchcraft and Wizardry came to life in her imagination, and as she invented it, it “felt like research”[7]. “It was a question of discovery why Harry was where he was, why his parents were dead”[8]. At the end of the journey she knew “it was going to be a seven-book series”[9].

The next five years, while she moved to Portugal, got married, had a baby, got divorced and moved back to Britain, she continued writing the first book of the series Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (HP1)[10] which she finished in 1995.

2.1 Publishing History of the Harry Potter Series

One year and many rejections later, Joanne Rowling’s novel was accepted by the small London-based publishing company Bloomsbury. From that time on Joanne Rowling’s life changed rapidly. The Scottish Arts Council donated £8.000 to her for writing her second novel Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (HP2) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in a first edition of 500 copies and was “selling surprisingly well”[11]. Only three months later, the US-American company Scholastic bought the rights for the US market in an auction for $105,000. Joanne Rowling was shocked by the sudden “burst of publicity”[12], she “felt frozen by all the attention”[13].

The following year, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published, with 10.150 copies printed in the UK, and went straight to the top of the best-seller lists, where it has been joined later by the third book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (HP3) the following year, and the fourth book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (HP4) the year after.

By that time the Harry Potter Series has already become an international phenomenon. It has been published in 115 countries, and translated into 25 languages[14].

It seems that every book in the series establishes new records only to be broken by the next book in the series. What once started with 500 copies of the first book reached its latest climax with the publication of the fifth book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HP5) in June 2003 with 8.5 million copies printed. About 200 million copies of the five books have been sold worldwide.

2.2 A Cinderella Story

If the Harry Potter series belongs to the circle of fairy tales, the life of Joanne Kathleen Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, certainly belongs to it, too.

It starts with a little girl, born in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, England, who “always, always wanted to be a writer”[15] and it ends (for now) with a woman who has became one of the most successful authors of children’s books and richer than the Queen of England.

But it is not really a fairy tale, because it all happened in the real world.

How did it happen? What is the “magic” behind Harry’s success?

2.2.1 Joanne’s Story

One of the facts that probably helped to sell the books is the so-called Rowling legend. It is a moving story about a poor young divorced mother who writes a children’s book at a coffee house table and suddenly becomes rich and famous overnight – a great myth-making detail which publishers readily exploit in order to arouse the public’s interest. As far as the German market is concerned, the method worked. When the German publishing company Carlsen started to publish Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen[16] in November 1998 it was not as successful as HP1 and HP2 were in the English-speaking world. It was not until the media started to report about the dismal life Joanne was forced to live before she became famous – she was presented as a poorer than she actually was – that the books started to sell well in Germany.

Part of the legend is that Joanne Rowling had to go to local coffee shops to write her book, because she could not afford to pay for the heating of her apartment.

2.2.2 Harry’s Story

Not only Joanne is often compared to the fabulous Cinderella, but also Harry.

In the first chapters of HP1, the reader learns how Harry’s life had been before his eleventh birthday until he received the letter from Hogwarts - School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.


[1] see Picture 1

[2] Lindsey Fraser, Conversations with J.K. Rowling, New York 2001, p.22.

[3] ibid, p. 19.

[4] ibid, p. 19.

[5] ibid, p. 36.

[6] ibid, p. 35.

[7] ibid, p. 39.

[8] ibid, p. 39.

[9] ibid, pp. 39.

[10] see Picture 2

[11] Lindsey Fraser, Conversations with J.K. Rowling, New York 2001, p. 46.

[12] ibid, p. 47.

[13] ibid, p. 47.

[14] see Pictures 6 -10

[15] Lindsey Fraser, Conversations with J.K. Rowling, New York 2001, p.22

[16] see Pictures 4 and 5

Excerpt out of 19 pages


The Phenomenon "Harry Potter" - The Secret of its success
University of Bamberg  (Centre for British Studies)
Introdution to british media and communication science
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1020 KB
Phenomenon, Harry, Potter, Secret, Introdution
Quote paper
Isabel Zosig (Author), 2003, The Phenomenon "Harry Potter" - The Secret of its success, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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