With half a billion Harry Potter books printed in more than 70 languages worldwide, it's safe to say that a large portion of the human population has experienced the magical journey of the so-named child wizard. But not everybody knows the equally gripping story of Potter creator J.K. Rowling, whose rags-to-riches tale includes many hardships, spans several countries, and continues to unfold.
According to Rowling's own website, "Jo conceived the idea of Harry Potter in 1990 while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King's Cross." The then-aspiring author spent the next several years mapping out every plot in her magical universe by hand, often on paper scraps.
"Mid-twenties life circumstances were poor and I really plummeted," Rowling later said of this period.
After the death of her mother in 1991, Rowling left an unfulfilling job in London for a blank slate in Porto, Portugal. Working as an English teacher by day and creating a complex magical universe by night, Rowling crafted the very first chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in Portugal. During her time in the country, Rowling also fell in love; in 1992, she wed a man named Jorge Arantes and welcomed a daughter, Jessica, the next year. However, the relationship was short-lived; after a tumultuous marriage, Rowling ended the relationship and left the country with her daughter mere months after giving birth.
Rowling and infant Jessica were destitute upon their arrival in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the late Winter of 1993. The author asserts that she was "as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless" and had to borrow funds in order to get on her feet.
With only three chapters of Sorcerer's Stone, a small child, and a few belongings to her name, Rowling moved into a tiny apartment, surviving off of welfare benefits when times were especially tough. "Mid-twenties life circumstances were poor and I really plummeted," Rowling later said of this period, admitting that she was deeply depressed following her divorce and move to Edinburgh.
She was "as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless."
It was during this period that Rowling, who eventually found work as a secretary before training as a teacher, dove even more heartily into the enchanted world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter. With young Jessica tucked into a stroller, Rowling passed many hours by writing in Edinburgh cafes, such as the now-famous Elephant House. After years spent working on her first novel, Rowling finished a manuscript of Sorcerer's Stone in 1995.
Rowling sent copies of the manuscript to 12 publishers, fielding many rejections in her quest to see Harry Potter in print. During this period, the struggling mum was so poor that she mourned the loss of a paper folder when a publisher didn't send it back with her rejection letter.
.@Coffee_Is_love I really minded about the folder, because I had almost no money and had to buy another one.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 23, 2015
It wasn't until August 1996 that Bloomsbury Publishing took a chance on Harry Potter, ordering 1,000 printed copies to be released the next Summer. After it hit shelves, Scholastic paid $105,000 — 10 times the average rate for a children's book at the time — for the US publishing rights to Sorcerer's Stone. The rest, as they say, is history.
Scholastic paid $105,000 — 10 times the average rate for a children's book at the time — for the US publishing rights.
The Harry Potter series went on to sell more than 400 million copies worldwide, was adapted into eight beloved (and record-breaking) films, and earned Rowling more than $1 billion, plenty of which she has donated. She reportedly even lost her billionaire status due to excessive charitable giving.
Since achieving success with Harry Potter, Rowling has gone on to author several other bestselling books, masterminded a widely lauded musical, and delved into the Potter universe yet again to create the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film franchise. The author is also famously cheeky on Twitter, never hesitating to direct her signature quick wit at politicians or internet trolls.
But perhaps most important has been Rowling's work with her own charity foundation, Lumos. The organization works to support millions of impoverished children and their families by building "community-based services that provide children with access to health, education, and social care."
Harry Potter who? We're more captivated with J.K. Rowling's riveting life story than with any witch or wizard . . . and we can't wait to see where else the inspiring author will go.