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'A Year In The Life' of J.K. Rowling: from 'Harry Potter' to 'a political fairy tale'

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Just as I sat down to write this, I saw a new Variety report that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has “jumped the $100 million mark in its first 24 hours.” More millions made from the imagination from J.K. Rowling, yet if there’s one thing you came away with after watching the documentary J.K. Rowling: A Year In The Life, it’s probably something along the lines of, “Jolly good for her.”

Rowling has long seemed one of the best sorts of literary superstars: hard-working yet unafraid to express the pleasure she takes in her success; possessor of, as she said in this film, a “short fuse” but also full of sly humor when she speaks. A Year In The Life was shown in Britain in 2007, and was overseen by novelist-filmmaker James Runcie. I’m still not quite sure if I don’t believe the scenes of her typing the last words of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows weren’t re-staged for the camera crew, but even if they were, who cares? What came across was a complicated, likable person, a writer who has worked very hard and, to judge from some of the questions Runcie put to her, still does.

There’s no reason, for example, for Rowling to have to answer whether she believes in God, especially when her response is a slightly tortured, tentative, “Yeeeees,” as though she was trying to re-convert to her original faith right in front of us. But that’s one reason she’s so charming: unpretentious (with a fondess for expensive high heels), blunt (she hasn’t had any contact with her father “for a few years”), and emotional. Runcie knew what he was doing when he saved the last bit — a visit to the small apartment where she wrote the first Potter book and she began quietly weeping, saying that her life had  been “very hard” and this was the place where she turned her life around.

The bestselling author she reminds me of most is Stephen King, in the sense of being enormously popular, prolific, and wealthy, and also down-to-earth and a force for good in the popular culture. She’s generous with charity; she speaks her mind about social issues she’s passionate about (though she was careful not to attempt any proselytizing during this prime-time hour). No recluse, probably a good cook (that birthday cake she was making for one of her kids looked yummy), and at work, she said, on “a political fairy tale.” Jolly good for her. And, therefore, for us.

Did you watch? What did you think?

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