In 1997, a debut author gave us a new world that was both infinite and close to home. She gave us Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, the Weasley family, Sirius Black and Triwizard tournaments. She truly blessed us with Oliver Wood. She gave us our patronuses and a sorting hat. (Never trust anyone who can’t immediately tell you which Hogwarts house they are in.)
As Harry Potter fever grew, Rowling created a reason to wait for Waterstones to open at midnight while clutching a wand with a lightning bolt drawn on your forehead with your mum’s lipliner.
She created Hermione Granger who taught generations of girls never to apologise for who they were or to be embarrassed for wanting to succeed. Hermione showed us subtler forms of bravery than Harry taught, about loyalty, and about standing up for what is right even if it is to your friends (Neville helped with this too). Hermione inspired me how to hold my frizzy-haired head up high and put my hand up even higher, but also that it was okay to de-frizz if it made me feel good. She taught me that it was important to follow rules, but that sometimes it was more important not to.
And linked to this we can hold JK responsible for bringing Emma Watson into our lives, who continues in Hermione’s footsteps even after she hung up her Gryffindor robes for good in 2011.
Rowling wrote Harry Potter as a single mother living on benefits in Edinburgh and was famously rejected 12 times before Bloomsbury bought Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Her incredibly inspiring commencement speech at Harvard University in 2008 (be sure to watch at 2.56 to see just how much she means to that audience) has now been published as a pamphlet, Very Good Lives (Little Brown) so you can read gems such as “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better” whenever you’re in need of a pep talk.
She has always been open and honest about how the UK’s benefits system supported her, a key reason why she still lives here and is happy to pay our high tax rates: “I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque.”
She not just accepts but embraces the great responsibility that comes with her great power. She used to feature on the Forbes Billionaires List but knocked herself off it through the sheer amount of money she has donated to charity. In 2005 she founded the Children’s High Level Group, now known as Lumos, which is trying to end the institutionalisation of kids across Europe and help them find safe places to live. In her words: “You have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.”
She’s socially responsible and politically active, citing Jessica Mitford as her heroine. She’s vocally anti-Conservative, a keen supporter of the NHS and publicly campaigned for the “Better Together” team during the lead up to the Scottish Referendum. Whether you agree with her or not she challenges you to engage and to inform yourself.
In a blaze of glory she suddenly realised how amazing Twitter can be – and we realised how amazing she could be in 140 characters rather than 870 pages. Offering support to her Harry Potter cast, an affectionate dig at Matthew Lewis’ Attitude Mag cover, advice and tidbits to fans (her patronus is a pine marten) as well as her now notorious takedowns of homophobes and bigots including Rupert Murdoch as well as this glorious tweet in defence of Serena Williams.
But for all of these things, the way that she really changed our world is by making sure that there will always be a seat on the Hogwarts Express for us, whether we are brave, clever or kind, bespectacled, frizzy-haired or shy, and however old we are. As she once said: “Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
Pictures: Getty, REX