On this day in 1965, Joanne Rowling, better known the world over as J.K. Rowling, the author and creator of the celebrated Harry Potter book series, is born near Bristol, England. Beginning in the late 1990s, Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels became international blockbusters, selling over 400 million copies and being translated into more than 60 languages. The books also spawned a series of movies, video games and other merchandise that made Rowling one of the wealthiest people in the entertainment industry.
Rowling attended England’s University of Exeter, where she studied French, and later worked for human-rights organization Amnesty International in London and as a language instructor in Portugal. The idea for Harry Potter came to Rowling when she was riding a train from Manchester, England, to London in 1990. She began writing the first book that night. Rowling finished the book while living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she struggled financially as a single mother and battled depression. Her completed manuscript was turned down by a number of publishers before she got a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing in August 1996.
The first Harry Potter book debuted in Great Britain in 1997 under the title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The book was released in the United States the following year and renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Children and adults alike were captivated by the story of the bespectacled boy wizard Harry, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, their adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Harry’s struggles against his enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort.
On November 16, 2001, the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opened in America and was a huge box-office success. It was directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) and starred British child actor Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson in the role of Hermione. A roster of celebrated actors took supporting roles in the film and its various sequels, including Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Richard Harris and Gary Oldman.
The seventh and final (according to Rowling’s predetermined plan) Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, debuted in U.S. bookstores on July 21, 2007. Like all the previous Harry Potter books, it is slated to become a movie, to be released in 2010. To date, the Harry Potter films are the most financially successful series in history, having surpassed both the Star Wars and James Bond franchises.