“Severus, please.” — This Day In (Story) History

Picture of Albus Dumbledore falling off the Astronomy Tower in Hogwarts after being hit by a killing curse from Severus Snape.

June 30, 1997

**Warning, spoilers ahead if you don’t know the Harry Potter story**

Dumbledore, a complicated man, good hearted but also much aware of his own dark side always looming just out of view, had set into motion things that he hoped would lead to the demise of Voldemort.

But there was a problem.

When the time came Snape hesitated. He wasn’t willing to do such a horrendous thing, and maybe deep inside not wanting to leave himself so very alone in the world.

“Severus, please.” pleaded Dumbledore.

Now many people hear Dumbledore say this line and think he is pleading for Snape to save his life, but it’s really the opposite.

Dumbledore sees that Snape is hesitating and finally does something he hasn’t done throughout their time together.

Picture of Severus Snape at the moment he kills Albus Dumbledore in The Half Blood Prince.Through the years Dumbledore has consistently told Snape what to do in no uncertain terms, making him be a part of plans that Dumbledore controls.

But on this day Dumbledore finally, humbly, asks Snape “please”.

And so on June 30, 1997 Albus Dumbledore dies by the hand of Snape and falls off the astronomy tower to the grass below, having sacrificed himself in an effort to save the world from Voldemort.

This was a shock to the fans of the Harry Potter series to say the least, but death and the importance of dying well is a central theme that JK Rowling deliberately infused into the Harry Potter story.

Death was on her mind a lot when she put together the Harry Potter story and she struggled daily with both her mother’s death and possibly her own if she couldn’t keep things together…

Read more about JK Rowling’s struggles while writing Harry Potter in the story Beyond Fear, Beyond Death.

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06/30/2013
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Beyond Fear, Beyond Death: JK Rowling’s Struggle To Write Harry Potter

A picture of author JK Rowling wearing pink lipstick and an orange shirt.This post is a request by long time blog reader The Ikarians, who left me a voicemail comment a little while back requesting the story of how JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book.

I had known some of this story already, but after looking into it more I found some very interesting parts of the story that I don’t think gets talked about too often…

A CHILDHOOD UNDER THE STAIRS

When JK Rowling first stepped foot on to the set of the original Harry Potter movie she was in total shock.

Up until that day she had never realized the house Harry lived in was the exact same layout as the house she herself had grown up in, with cabinet under the stairs and everything.

The movie makers had built the set of the house by what was described in the book, bringing to life a part of her childhood that she didn’t even know she’d written into the story.A picture of the cupboard under that stairs that Harry Potter lived in.

Luckily she never had to sleep in a cabinet under the stairs or anything like that, but her parents were definitely very open about how they would have preferred another child.

Before she was born they were expecting a boy and had even picked out a special name for him, but surprise…they got her instead. She was Joanne instead of the ‘Simon John’ that they had wanted and she never forgot it.

And when her parents had another child which turned out to be a girl they were often equally as open about how delighted they were in her sister but not her. How did she feel during times like this? In her own words: “I went up to my room and wept.”

This kind of a childhood left her on very shaky ground, and even though she was often able to hide it from others by pretending to be strong and confident (even to the point of being bossy and coming off as a know-it-all) inside she felt unsure of herself and afraid to be who she really was.

HARRY APPEARS …BUT THERE’S NO PEN

The story of Harry Potter first came into JK Rowling’s life when was in her twenties. She was stuck in a train station waiting on a train that was supposed to be going to London, but for the time being was going absolutely nowhere.

An illustration of the face of Harry Potter smiling and wearing his trademark glasses and scar.It was hard for her to mind too much though, as she had always loved trains and train stations. Trains were a deep part of the folklore of her life and she had grown up hearing romantic tales of how her parents met and fell in love at King’s Cross train station.

All of a sudden while she was sitting there on the train a vision of a boy popped into her mind, she could see him and his story very clearly, here was this scrawny little boy who didn’t know he was a wizard and was setting off toward a far off wizarding school.

The world of Harry Potter came flooding into her mind with all it’s little details like how exactly the wizarding school was run and the various characters who had adventures there.

But there was one major problem: she didn’t have a pen.

Frantically digging through her bag she first searched for a pen or pencil, but then eventually for any kind of writing instrument at all that she could use to start bringing this story to life on paper. Anything would do, an eyeliner even, but there was nothing.

A drawing JK Rowling made of the Harry Potter characters, including Dumbledore, Hagrid, and Severus Snape.And so she had to sit there all during the wait and the train ride just thinking about the world of Harry Potter. As soon as she got home she started writing and writing.

She had always wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote her first book, called ‘Rabbit’ at around six years old. She loved books a lot and she loved writing even more and had secretly harbored the dream of becoming a writer someday, but was riddled with self-doubt.

When her childhood best friend Sean Harris (who later became the inspiration for Ron Weasley) had found out about her dream he encouraged her to keep writing and not to give up. And indeed over the years she had always kept scribbling away longhand on whatever paper was around but she’d never truly commited herself to the goal of becoming published.

And now here was the story of Harry Potter calling out to her, a story that her heart leapt with joy at the thought of writing. She even started to make very detailed things like diagrams of the lives of every student of Hogwarts and drawings of the characters so she could ‘know what they looked like’.

But despite this world that was coming alive on the paper in front of her she still felt unsure of herself, she was afraid to dedicate herself to writing a book about child wizards going to wizarding school, even if it was her dream.

And then tragedy struck.


ATTACK OF THE DEMENTORS

Just a few months after JK Rowling put her first Harry Potter ideas to paper her mother died after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

JK Rowling wasn’t close to her father, in fact in many ways she had spent her life in fear of him, but things with her mother were different and the loss left her utterly devastated.

An illustration of Harry Potter standing at the Mirror Of Erised looking at his parents and family.Her mother never saw any of the pages of the book in progress or even knew about the world of Harry Potter, yet her death changed the book on a very deep level. JK Rowling describes it like this:

“Her death is on virtually every other page of the Harry Potter books.

At least half of Harry’s journey is a journey to deal with death in it’s many forms, what it does to the living, what it means to die. What survives death.

It’s there on every single page.”

After the trauma of losing her mother she made big changes in her life. The book was put to the side and she moved to Portugal to work as a teacher, got married, and had a daughter.

This was a more conventional route, much safer than wagering everything on pouring herself into trying to get a book published.

However, the marriage rapidly fell apart. She had spent her life afraid of her father and now she’d ended up marrying a man much like him. The marriage lasted a mere thirteen months and a day, and soon she was on a desperate plane ride back to the UK with no money and a new baby to take care of.

Picture of a Dementor flying through the air in the movie Prisoner Of Azkaban.To put things bluntly, her life was now in shreds and there was nowhere to hide from it. She was now literally as poor as you could get in the UK without being homeless.

It wasn’t long before she sank into the darkest depression of her life. For most people the Dementors are just spooky characters in a book, but to her they came from real terrors, a deep unrelenting depression and haunting thoughts of suicide.

She described this time in her life as:

“The cold absence of feeling, the cold hollowed out feeling. It was only because of my daughter that I got help.”


BEYOND FEAR, BEYOND DEATH

JK Rowling was terrified about what growing up around a extremely depressed mother would do to her daughter. Or worse, growing up around no mother at all. So she sought out medical help for her depression and started attending therapy sessions under the care of a doctor.

And while the therapy sessions helped keep her suicidal thoughts at bay, outside of the sessions she was faced with a life that had hit absolute rock bottom. But to her surprise, this ended up being a source of great strength …there was nothing left to do but to face her failure. This rock bottom failure gave her a freedom she had never experienced before, for the first time in her life she felt free to be her true self:

“Failure was a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was. I began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”

A picture of The Elephant Room, the coffee shop cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter.

She threw herself into putting the Harry Potter story on paper no matter what, even if in the end it got rejected by every single publisher and never got published. This was her dream, this was who she was…and really what did she have to lose?

During this time her daughter had a hard time falling asleep and the best way to get her to rest was to take her around in a stroller each day until she dozed off. After these walks JK Rowling would stop into a local coffee shop called The Elephant House, sit at a particular out of the way table, and write and write.

And so in this way Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was written out longhand over many afternoons in a coffee shop and then later typed up on an old typewriter.

The rest is, well, history.

A picture of the book cover for JK Rowling's first published book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.Through the writing of Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone (er, Philosopher’s Stone) she was not only able to fulfill her dream of becoming a published author but she also experienced an unexpected side effect… becoming the richest author in the entire world.

She didn’t just coast on the success of the first Harry Potter book though, she made sure the entire series was good and infused it with the wisdom she’d learned throughout her life. From the shaky ground of her childhood, to the crushing death of her mother, hitting rock bottom, and the struggle to write the first book. How had she overcome all this? The message of the Harry Potter series in her own words…

Love is the most powerful thing, beyond fear, beyond death.”

Her love for her family, of writing, and of the story of Harry Potter helped her overcome the hardships of life and ultimately gave her what she needed to succeed.

JK Rowling had come a long way from the girl who so desperately tried to hide who she was, who sitting in her childhood home would have never dared to dream that one day she’d actually be walking through the set of a movie …a movie based on a book written by Joanne ‘K’ Rowling.

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09/20/2012
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Happy Birthday To JK Rowling!

A picture of JK Rowling of the Harry Potter series with hand on chin and looking thoughtful.A big Happy Birthday to JK Rowling who turns forty-seven today.

Without her we wouldn’t have had one of the best and most loved stories of our time :).

Even now after the Harry Potter books and movies have come to an end I still see lots of people posting and talking about their love for the Harry Potter series every single day that I go online.

And this story which is part of the lives of people around the world all started with her sitting at a typewriter in a small apartment and pouring out her imagination. That’s pretty damn incredible if you ask me.

Here’s to many more years of great stories from JK Rowling!

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07/31/2012