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JK Rowling at Exeter College, Oxford

By Hugh Fraser, Storynory’s editor.

JK Rowling.

I saw JK Rowling – the Harry Potter author – at an event organised by Exeter College, Oxford yesterday. Oxford’s Sheldonian theatre was packed with young undergraduates It was lovely to be back in a big room so full of fresh-faced bright and brainy young things – not yet carrying too much baggage of life.

JK was interviewed by the college’s English Tutor, Jeri Johnson. She knew JK from a court case in New York where she had been an expert witness.

JK was worried about doing a “tutorial” in front of a thousand or so people. Actually she came across as very well read – and at one point Jeri Johnson quipped that she felt like she was the one having a tutorial.

JK is pretty and petite, she crosses her very skinny legs and leans back in her chair away from her interviewer (pictures were very strictly forbidden on pain of “eviction”). She is lively and witty. But is she profound?

The subject chosen by JK herself for the event was “Morality and Mortality in Harry Potter.”

The essential point is that Harry Potter overcomes his fear of death while Lord Voldemort is running away from death. There is a French derivation of his name, connected to JK’s mother’s name, that means “flying.

Her mother, (Anne Rowling – née Volant), died aged 45 while JK was writing the books. That had a big effect on her writing. Death is her big theme.

One young student fought back the tears as she described how, aged 8, she read the Philosopher’s Stone. It was the first time she recognised her own morality and beliefs in a book . JK was very touched.

A student from China stood up and repeatedly bowed to JK and as she wept buckets and described how reading Harry Potter inspired her that she could achieve “anything” and that’s how she aimed to go to Oxford.

The boys were less emotional – and in my view more on the button. One asked how come death is the worst crime in Harry Potter, while death is also described as something easy and not to be feared like falling through a veil. She replied that he was right that was exactly her view – not attempting to tackle the paradox at all.

Another asked if Witches and Wizards believe in God. She said only one person – a child – had asked that before, and the reply was that some wizards – like Dumbledore – do believe in God.

Another questioner pressed the religion thing. He noted the absence of both Americans and Organised Religion in Potter. She replied to the Americans part of the question – (she is working on a film script with some American wizards in it). But not about the religion part.

If you are choosing to talk about Morality and Mortality in your books, how can you skip the religion question? Perhaps she is too much of a public figure to stray into such controversial territory. But it there is was.

Full marks to JK for writing about death in a children’s book. Full marks for facing a room of the best and brightest and discussing her work with learning, wit and charm. But a Fail for saying anything profound. Perhaps authors are best leaving it to readers to discover profundity in their texts?

I was most interested in how her work had so moved and changed the lives of young people. That was very impressive and striking.

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32 Responses to “JK Rowling at Exeter College, Oxford”

  • Asia says:

    Dear lilly just so u know Harry potter maried Ginny

  • Hermione granger says:

    I read all the books when I was 8

  • Smita says:

    Why don’t you guise just do it!
    Why don’t you?

  • H.P. says:

    J.K. Rowling is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Nisha says:

    Bertie do you wanna know what its about?

  • Bertie says:

    Dear Nisha well done on starting your first book so young

  • Nisha says:

    I’m gonna be a writer when I grow up, too. I’m allready working on a book. I’m on the seventh chapter of it and its called “first term at Ellary Hill”.
    Bertie do you wanna know at what age I started writing this book? when I was ten. I’m still ten.

  • Kara says:

    I’ve read all the books

  • Gargi says:

    Omg I love harry potter I’m on the 6th right now !!!!!!! I always wanted to meet JK Rowling!!!!!!! I have the wand the spells and I keep pretending I go to hogwarts !!!!⚡

  • Harry says:

    Thx for reply I love your story’s and I listen to you story’s in Canada, Vancouver every evening ….. Thx thx thx thx thx thx thx

  • Bertie says:

    Dear Harry, I don’t know any more than is written here.

  • Harry says:

    If jk is writing a new book how many is she writing

    Bertie please reply

  • Harry says:

    If jk is writing a new book how many is she writing

    Bertie please reply

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear lily,
    I’m not Bertie I know, but J.K Rowling’s writing a book about Harry Potter . I know because I’m a Harry Potter geek and I spend all my days in searching on Harry Potter series and the rest. I’m not really ashamed of it :D . Then I found this piece of news : jk is writing a book, it will be finished next year or two. She has made a season called Sirius Black and the secret keeper. She is making a movie called fantastic beasts and where to find them . Actually, it’s more of a series :D

    P.S this is for all Harry Potter fans.

  • Amelie says:

    I LOVE!!!!!!! Harry potter I have read all the books five times! And I want to be a writer just like JK when I am older!

  • Lily says:

    harry potter is cool

  • Lily says:

    J .k Rowling hope you make more book about harry i want to know who he marry and his life i have the same name as Lily potter!(;

  • Lily says:

    (: I love it ! i am on book 5

  • Lily says:


  • Lily says:

    I LOVE IT!!!

  • Lily says:

    I love it i read it all day! so cool J.K Rowling is an amazing writer! harry potter has tons of amazing details. (; I hope she writes more books! (:(:(: LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! COOL!(:

  • Margie says:

    Pineapples are a summer treat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • keven says:

    Iam upsets with harry potter

  • Anonymous says:


  • Nisha says:

    My sister loves Harry Potter

  • flora says:

    Why did jk rowling make fred die in the 7th book?!?!:(

  • flora says:

    I love harry potter!!!jk rowling is awsome

  • Suzie says:

    That’s ok, I probably did sound like I was crying! It was a great day, and I hope I can get to the harrogate event in July, and ask more (apparently tearful) questions! :D

  • Bertie says:

    Dear Suzie, Sorry I’ve been slow answering comments, but delighted you discovered the piece and sorry if I overestimated your emotion. But yes it was a good question, and JK was clearly touched by what you said.

  • Suzie says:

    I am very amused to hear that I was holding back tears… and I’m a 23 year old PhD student! I was simply very nervous to be holding the mic in front of so many people. But I’m glad my question was a good one.

  • Sandy says:

    Would have enjoyed the article more if the author would have engaged spellcheck for a few words before putting it before the readers. So on that score I would give this article a ‘fail’ but on content…interesting so a ‘pass’

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