I’m currently reading an unauthorised biography on the Harry Potter author, J. K. Rowling which explores her early life and the influence it had on the Harry Potter novels. And while it is really interesting to learn where she came from, I think the biographer is labouring the ‘influence’ side of things.
The biographer points to a grumpy primary school teacher who was a stickler for the rules and of whom all the children were afraid. He concludes that this is where the idea for Professor Snape first appeared (even though J. K. herself has stated Snape was based on a later science teacher who gave her grief in high school).
There are no stories about this primary school teacher in the Harry Potter books, so it is purely speculation on behalf of the biographer that there is any connection. It almost feels like he is just looking for a way to squeeze his research into the book.
The biographer also tells us of a wood that J. K. may, or may not, have walked past in her day to day travels when she was a child. Supposedly (according to a neighbour interviewed for the book) there were tales of witches and fairies living in this wood. The biographer then draws the rather ambitious conclusion that this might have been where J. K. was introduced to magic.
When I was a kid there was an old lady living on my street who all of us kids thought was a witch. I thought a unicorn lived in the paddock near my primary school. My friend assured me she had seen fairies playing in her mother’s garden. We are introduced to magic everywhere, the idea that just one place is what defines it for us, to me, seems a bizarre assumption.
There are dozens of examples in the book where the biographer has tried to link parts of J. K.’s past to her books where no apparent links seems to be. I know that I’m just as likely to name a character after the last person I spoke to, or the newsreader on TV, or the neighbour’s dog that keeps coming into my yard. So isn’t it possible that the same could be true for J.K.?
It makes me laugh to think about what links someone could make reading my stories and comparing them to my past. I hate to think about what conclusions they would draw when they linked the names of my friends to characters which share their moniker (I would also probably need to apologise to a lot of people).
For me, for the most part, stories are just stories. Imagination is not restricted by one’s history, it can fly us to places we have never been. Yes parts of your life will influence them, or inspire them, but not every name, every character or every setting is a reflection of your youth.
Sometimes we just make things up.