The J.K. Rowling Index

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Foreword: Harry, a History

Index ID: FWHAH — Publication date: November 4th, 2008

Note: Foreword for the book "Harry, a History" by Melissa Anelli.

Over and over again they asked me the same question, with tiny variations. “What is it that makes Harry Potter so popular?” “What’s the magic formula?” “What advice would you give anyone wanting to write a children’s bestseller?”

And I always gave them non-answers. “It’s not me you should ask.” “This has taken me by surprise as much as anyone.” “It’s hard for the author to be objective…”
As Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. The trouble is, nobody knows what they are.” Harry just happened. The idea slid into my mind on a train journey from Manchester to London, and I wrote it the way I thought I would like to read it. I then had the immense good fortune to find an agent who liked it. After a lot of rejections, Chris found a publisher prepared to take a chance on an overlong novel (45,000 words was consdiered about the right length for a nine-years-old then; Philosopher’s Stone was 95,000), set in a boarding school (a horribly unfashionable subject), by a completely unknown author.

When I started writing the Potter series I was aiming to please nobody but myself, and the more I was asked, the more I was sure that I ought not to try and analyse the reasons for its gathering popularity. I knew that if I tried to find this formula everyone was talking about, I would become self-conscious, start “doing” J.K. Rowling rather than being her. I was concerned for the safety of the fragile glass bubble within which I wrote, and which was still bobbing along intact on the swirling tide of madness that was gathering around Harry Potter, the still centre of the storm.

For similarly self-protective reasons, I kept myself as ignorant as possible about the degree of a fan activity that was taking place both on the Internet and off it. Occasionally friends or journalists would impart some starling piece of information about what was going on out there; it tended to harden my resolve not to know. If that sounds bizarre or, worse, ungrateful, then I can only say that a day in my shoes would have convinced you otherwise. The letter I received daily made it perfectly clear how invested in the characters’ futures my readers had beome. “Please don’t kill Fred or George, I LOVE THEM!” “If Hermione becomes Harry’s girlfriend that will show that you can be smart and still team up with the hero!!! This would be a really good message!!!!” “Why didn’t you let Harry go and live with Sirius and be happy?” “I read somewhere that you are going to make Draco and Harry become friends and fight evil together, I think this would be a good thing and show that Draco is not all bad.” “Ms. Rowling, your books are a safe place in a dangerous world. May I urge you to resist commercial pressure: let your characters keep their innocence.” “DON’T KILL HAGRID. DON’T KILL HAGRID. DON’T KILL HAGRID” (repeated hundreds of times over ten sides of A4 paper).

Not until some time in 2002 did I finally crack and do the thing that people assumed I did daily. I googled Harry Potter.

I knew, of course, that there were fan sites out there. My postbag was full of mentions of them, my readers assuming that I was au fait with what was happening online. My PA, Fiddy, had had contact with a few of the webmasters. But I was still utterly unprepared for what I found during that first, mammoth trawling session.

The fan sites were so professional looking; easily up to the standard of any of my publishers’ sites. And they had tens of thousdans of visitors. They had forums, message boards, editorials, rolling news, fan art, fan fiction, quotes of the da from my books… and the shipping wars… my God, the shipping wars…

I had already heard of the Leaky Cauldron; it was one of the biggest and most popular Harry Potter sites on the Net, and I had been told about a couple of great things they had done (freeing the already-free Dobby got my attention). But I had never seen it for myself, never realised exactly what went on there. I sat and read editoriales, predictions, theories that ranged from strange to wild to perfectly accurate. I was, frankly, stunned… and I remain stunned.

Reading the book you now have in your hands has been an astonishing experience from me. It is as though I have, at last, achieved the ambition I held for years: to go along to a bookshop at midnight on Harry Potter publication night, in disguise, and simply watch and listen.

At long last I understand what was going on while I was holed up writing, trying to filter my exposure to Potter hysteria. A great chunk of my own life has been explained to me; Melissa has filled in an enormous number of blanks, taken me to places I wish I could have visited with her (like the House of Pancakes, to meet the United States’s most promiment anti-Harry Potter campaigner); explained jokes that fans assumed I understood; introduced me to people they thought I knew; filled me in on arguments I had inadvertenlty started. She has reminded me of incidents I had half forgotten in the furore surrounding every publication from 2000 onwards – the stolen truck full of copies of Order of the Phoenix, that irksome “Green Falme Torch,” and the endless War on Spoilers…

The online Harry Potter fandom has become a global phenomenon with its own language and culture, its own wards and festivals, its own celebrities, of which Melissa is certainly one. She was a fan who ended up with her own fan club, one of the online fandom’s most tireless champions and representatives, endeavouring, always, to be fair and honest and impartial.
So this book is a history of a community, written by an insider, and I have found it inspiring, moving, humbling, amusing, and, on ocassion, downright alarming. It can be read as a warts-and-all exposé of a fan mentality or as a story of the world’s biggest book group or as the personal journey of a group of people who would never otherwise have met. The tale of the online fandom is every bit as extraordinary as Harry’s own, and it has left me with a feeling of awe and gratitude. At last, I know what was really happening out there – and it is wonderful.

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Fan Sites (Desktop Website)

Index ID: FSDW — Publication date: May 15th, 2004 to May 11th, 2007


I love this site, which I discovered towards the end of writing Order of the Phoenix, and which made me feel exceptionally guilty, as you can imagine. I am so proud of the fact that a character, whom I always liked very much, though he never appeared as much more than a brooding presence in the books, has gained a passionate fan-club.

At the launch of Goblet of Fire at King’s Cross, London, I shook hands with a woman who leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, ‘Sirius Black is sexy, right?’ And yes, of course she was right, as the Immeritus club know. The best-looking, most rebellious, most dangerous of the four marauders… and to answer one burning question on the discussion boards, his eyes are grey.

The fan art on here is very good. For a while I had a picture of the four marauders drawn by Laura Freeman on my desktop. It is a particularly accurate portrayal of Sirius and Lupin.

Godric’s Hollow

A great site run by real enthusiasts. The people who designed this site have really Thought It Through – my kind of people. I am however shocked at the number of moderators who want to be sorted into Slytherin… and you should know that the Hufflepuffs’ common room isn’t a dungeon, it’s more a cellar – a subtle but important difference.

The Harry Potter Lexicon

This is such a great site that I have been known to sneak into an internet café while out writing and check a fact rather than go into a bookshop and buy a copy of Harry Potter (which is embarrassing). A website for the dangerously obsessive; my natural home.


It’s high time I paid homage to the mighty MuggleNet. Where to start? I love the design, (I currently favour the ‘Dementor’ layout), the polls (I actually voted in the ‘Who’s the Half-Blood Prince?’ one), the pretty-much-exhaustive information on all books and films, the wonderful editorials (more insight there than in several companion volumes I shall not name), 101 Ways to Annoy Lord Voldemort (made me laugh aloud), the Wall of Shame (nearly as funny as some of the stuff I get)… pretty much everything. Webmaster Emerson, Eric, Jamie, Damon, Ben, Matthew, Rachel, Jaymz and Sharon, I salute you.


The Harry Potter Automatic News Aggregator was the very first Harry Potter website I ever visited, though it has changed almost beyond recognition since those early days. A fantastically user-friendly fansite, faster off the mark with Harry Potter news than any other site I know, and with all kinds of brilliantly inventive touches. I particularly like the points system, whereby dedicated posters can work their way up from ‘Muggle’ to ‘Auror’ and beyond – though speaking of titles, I hoped that ‘High Inquisitor’ (moderator name) would have died out when Umbridge was run (galloped?) out of Hogwarts. On the other hand, ‘Guillaume’ and ‘Broggy’ (surnames of two of the masterminds behind HPANA) are just begging to be used for fictional wizards.

The Leaky Cauldron

It is about the worst kept secret on this website that I am a huge fan of The Leaky Cauldron, which I have mentioned before now in News items. I have met one of its founders, Melissa, on two occasions; outside the Albert Hall before I did the reading for ‘Order of the Phoenix’ and after the premiere for ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’, and in a matter of mere months I will be talking to her properly as she will be coming over to Edinburgh to interview me on publication weekend.

‘Leaky’, as it is affectionately known to its many fans, is a wonderfully well designed mine of accurate information on all things Harry Potter. It also attracts a lot of knowledgeable and entertaining debate. So to Melissa, B.K., Kristen, Sue, John, Nick and Natalie, congratulations and thank you! And Heidi… thank you very much for the present for Mackenzie… she wears it often!

I’ve had a few fan letters from South America mentioning this fansite, so I thought I’d pay it a visit. Now I’ve done so, I understand why this site draws loyal fans. I love the distinctive, woodcut-style graphics and I was particularly touched by the fact that Harry was almost level with Ron and Hermione a close second in the ‘favourite character poll’. At least they appreciate my hero over at Potterish. I was also grateful to note that they told their visitors to take the ‘news’ that I’ve written 750 pages of book seven with a pinch of salt. Thanks, Potterish: have a Fansite Award in appreciation of your style, your Potter-expertise and your responsible reporting.

Harry Potter Fan

How could I not love a fansite whose contributors include people named Thaddeus and Aunna? This is a great Australian site with an impressively young staff who have produced some really insightful editorials; I wish I could highlight a couple of them, but that would be waaaay too revealing. If you head over to FAQs, however, you will see some of the open letter questions answered (at long last, yes, I know… but I had to finish “Deathly Hallows” first)

So congratulations and thanks, Andy, to you and all your talented colleagues.

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