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JK Rowling On The Transformative Power Of Stories

Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

That was a quote from JK Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard in 2008. I saw it online not long after that and I have to say that it’s one of the best and most moving speeches I’ve ever heard.

The speech is great for a lot of reasons but the most interesting aspect of it to me was her description of how stories had transformed her life…long before the first Harry Potter book was ever written…

Libraries And Cafes

Rowling had a lot of struggles during her years in college due to the conflict between what was expected of her and what she was compelled to do.

Her parents wanted her to pursue a standard university experience that would eventually lead to a lucrative corporate ladder type career and steady paycheck. They had lived their whole lives in poverty and wanted a secure future for their daughter.

But despite the pressure to lock herself into the path that was a sure thing she was continually drawn to the much less tangible world of stories. She ended up spending her college years sitting long hours in libraries reading Greek mythology and in cafes penning her own tales.

Inward Change

What Rowling intuitively knew was that in the pages of certain books were stories that could change everything…

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch:

“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

Awesome and so true. You can see the legacy of this revelation in the way she has written the Harry Potter books. Deeply woven into each of those novels are stories that seek to affect positive changes in the reader.


If you think about the underlying themes in the Harry Potter series you can see that there is something more there than the average storytelling techniques.

Rowling strove not just to write an account of interesting fictional adventures but to also to transform the reader in a way that will help them like she was helped when taking shelter in the world of Classics.

And who knows, over time those kind of real world transformations might eventually earn her works a spot on the Classics shelves in libraries of the future. Pretty cool to think about :).