Once she was a struggling single mom, sneaking off to cafés to write after putting her daughter to bed. Now, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in her seven-volume epic about the titular boy wizard, J.K. Rowling finds herself guardian of an international pop phenom and a mythic world that’s bucking to be called Tolkienesque. And yet the more things change — and they have, from the full-time assistant she recently hired to keep her organized, to the hagglings with Hollywood over the forthcoming deluge of merchandise and movies — the more things stay the same. She’s still sneaking off to corner cafés in Edinburgh, Scotland, seeking solitude to write. ”It feels incredibly familiar, actually,” says Rowling, ”as though I’m right back where I was before Harry Potter [and the Sorcerer’s Stone].”
You referred to the darkness in your books, and there’s been a lot of talk and even concern over that.
You have a choice when you’re going to introduce a very evil character. You can dress a guy up with loads of ammunition, put a black Stetson on him, and say, ”Bad guy. Shoot him.” I’m writing about shades of evil. You have Voldemort, a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people’s suffering, and there are people like that in the world. But then you have Wormtail, who out of cowardice will stand in the shadow of the strongest person. What’s very important for me is when Dumbledore says that you have to choose between what is right and what is easy. This is the setup for the next three books. All of them are going to have to choose, because what is easy is often not right.
There’s a scene in Goblet where Cedric, who competes against Harry in the Triwizard Tournament, is killed by Voldemort, and at the end, Dumbledore must choose between informing the students of this evil, or keeping the knowledge from them. He chooses to tell them.
Dumbledore’s decision is 100 percent me. It would have been an insult to that boy’s memory not to tell the truth. But telling the truth has repercussions. People aren’t used to the truth, particularly from fixtures of authority. I hated killing Cedric, by the way, just hated it.
There’s some other horrific violence, too, like when Wormtail cuts up Harry’s arm to get the blood to bring Voldemort back to life. Very disturbing.
Yeah, that wasn’t good, I agree with you.
Have you ever thought ”Maybe I should tone it down”?
No. I know that sounds kind of brutal but no, I haven’t. The bottom line is, I have to write the story I want to write. I never wrote them with a focus group of 8-year-olds in mind. I have to continue telling the story the way I want to tell it. I don’t at all relish the idea of children in tears, and I absolutely don’t deny it’s frightening. But it’s supposed to be frightening! And if you don’t show how scary that is, you cannot show how incredibly brave Harry is. He’s really brave, and he does, I think, one of his bravest things in this book: He can’t save Cedric, but he wants to save Cedric’s parents additional pain. He wants to bring back the body and treat it with respect.