Rowling bids Harry Potter goodbye with last book

Friday, July 20, 2007
British author J.K. Rowling posed in this undated handout picture. The publication of the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," is due to be released globally in English-speaking countries immediately after midnight today. (JP MASCLET ~ Associated Press)

The author is reveling in the chance to focus on normal life with her husband and three children.

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Harry Potter's life hangs in the balance. Millions of fans are holding their breath. Meanwhile, his creator is baking a cake -- and keeping her secret.

On Saturday, readers around the globe will learn the schoolboy wizard's fate with the publication of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's fantasy series. Will Harry defeat his evil nemesis, Lord Voldemort, and restore order to the wizarding world? Will he die in the attempt, as many fans fear -- and as Rowling, an expert narrative tease, has hinted?

"Harry's story comes to a definite end in book seven," is all she would say a few days before publication, serving up tea and home-baked sponge cake in her comfortable Edinburgh house. Writing the final words of the saga felt "like a bereavement."

That sounds ominously final. So have we really seen the last of the staff and students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

"Because the world is so big, there would be room to do other stuff," Rowling said carefully. "I am not planning to do that, but I'm not going to say I'm never going to do it."

Rowling (her name rhymes with bowling, rather than howling), has wildly mixed emotions at leaving behind the character she conjured up during a train journey across England in 1990: a neglected, bespectacled orphan who learns on his 11th birthday that he is a wizard.

She's enjoying the absence of pressure from publishers and fans clamoring for the next installment in Harry's adventures. And she's reveling in the chance to focus on normal life with her husband and three children.

But after finishing the last book, "I felt terrible for a week."

"The first two days in particular, it was like a bereavement, even though I was pleased with the book. And then after a week that cloud lifted and I felt quite lighthearted, quite liberated," she said.

It has been an extraordinary journey. When Rowling created Harry Potter, she was a struggling single mother, writing in cafes to save on the heating bill at home. Now, at 41, she is the richest woman in Britain -- worth $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Her first book, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," was published in 1997, with a print run of less than 1,000.

By the time the book appeared in the United States in 1998 -- as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" -- Harry was on his way to becoming a publishing phenomenon.

The six Potter books have sold some 325 million copies in 64 languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek. "Deathly Hallows" has an initial print run of 12 million in the United States alone; more than 2 million copies have been ordered from Internet retailer Amazon.

The launch of each new book is now accompanied by choreographed chaos and military-level security. No book is sold until a minute past midnight on Saturday.

The series' success has been "a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon," said Joel Rickett, news editor of trade magazine The Bookseller. "It has brought a new generation to reading -- got kids absorbed in huge hefty hardbacks the way they wouldn't have been," he said.

While some critics have dismissed the books as lightweight kiddie fare, others have been impressed by their moral complexity and darkening tone.

Rowling was profoundly affected by the death of her own mother from multiple sclerosis in 1990 at the age of 45.

"My mum died six months into writing [the books], and I think that set the central theme -- this boy dealing with loss," Rowling said.

And she makes no apologies for exposing children to death.

"I think children are very scared of this stuff even if they haven't experienced it, and I think the way to meet that is head-on," she said. "I absolutely believe, as a writer and as a parent, that the solution is not to pretend things don't happen but to examine them in a loving, safe way."

Rowling predicts that some of Harry's fans will dislike "Deathly Hallows." But she is proud of it. "The final book is what it was always supposed to be, and so I feel very at peace with that fact," she said.

As for the future, she says she has no plans.

"I can never write anything as popular again," she said. "Lightning does not strike in the same place twice.

"I'll do exactly what I did with Harry -- I'll write what I really want to write, and if it's something similar, that's OK, and if it's something very different, that's OK.

"I just really want to fall in love with an idea again, and go with that."

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