Harry Potter Timeline
The life and times of Harry Potter and his creator
by Shmuel Ross
Joanne Rowling is born to Peter
and Ann Rowling in the British town of Chipping Sodbury. She
has no middle initial.
(Much later, Rowling decides that July 31st is also Harry Potter's birthday.)
While stuck on a delayed train between Manchester and London,
Rowling gets the idea for Harry Potter. She begins writing his
story that night.
After a 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis, Rowling's
mother dies. This later affects the tone of the Potter books:
"Harry's feelings about his dead parents had become much
deeper, much more real."
Rowling—now teaching English as a second language in
journalist Jorge Arantes.
Rowling and Arantes have a daughter, Jessica Rowling Arantes.
Now separated from her husband (they divorce in 1995), Rowling
moves near her younger sister, Di, in Edinburgh, Scotland. She
takes along her daughter and her ever-growing book manuscript.
Writing whenever she can, often in cafés, Rowling
finishes her first book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's
Stone. Her literary agent warns her "You do realize, you
will never make a fortune out of writing children's books?"
Several publishers reject the book, finding it to be too long
and slow for children.
British publisher Bloomsbury Press accepts the book, giving
Rowling a $4,000 advance.
Scholastic Books wins an auction for the U.S. rights to the
series, giving Rowling an advance over $100,000, a record for a
foreign children's book. She is able to quit her teaching job
and devote her time to writing.
The first book in the series—Harry Potter and the
Philosopher's Stone—is published in the United
Kingdom. The first print run is 500 copies. Because Bloomsbury
is afraid that young boys won't want to read a book by a woman,
they suggest she use her initials. Joanne adds her
grandmother's name, Kathleen, to her own, producing "J.K.
The book is an instant success, selling well and winning
The second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of
Secrets, is published in the United Kingdom, with a first
print run of over 10,000 copies.
publishes the first book, renamed Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone, in the United States. The changes go
beyond the title: illustrations are added to the start of each
chapter, and British spelling, punctuation, grammar, and
vocabulary are translated into American English. The first
print run is 50,000 copies.
and the Chamber of Secrets is published in the United
States, with an initial printing of 250,000 copies. The U.S.
release had been scheduled for September, but Scholastic
discovered that impatient fans of the first book were ordering
copies of the sequel from the U.K. At 341 pages, this is only
slightly longer than the 309-page first book. It shoots to the
top of bestseller lists.
The third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of
Azkaban, is published in the United Kingdom. It sells more
than 68,000 copies in the first two days.
The third book
is published in the United States, again ahead of schedule,
with a first printing of 500,000 copies. This one is 448 pages.
The Harry Potter books hold the top three positions on the
New York Times bestseller list.
Nancy Stouffer, author of the 1984 book The Legend of Rah
and the Muggles, has been publicly claiming that Rowling
stole ideas from her. In Stouffer's book, muggles are little
people who care for orphans; the book also includes a character
named Larry Potter. Scholastic and Warner Bros. (who have the
film rights to the series) sue her, wanting a judge to rule
that there was no violation of Stouffer's copyright or
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