Fictional characters are like children. They’re born out of the author, filled with scraps of identity and brimming ideas, and are nursed into being as the chronology unfolds. Like all good parents know, you just can’t pick one favorite. Each child is a masterpiece in his or her own way, and in the case of the character—a unique pillar of themes, feelings, and fictional skin. But, like all honest parents know, you can totally pick favorites. And so can Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling.
Today, courtesy of Twitter, we learned that J.K. Rowling’s favorite character (Harry excluded) is Dumbledore. Rather than admitting defeat (aw, not Hermione?), or trying to prove why it should be any other character (Hermione’s clearly the brains), we’re interested in why Dumbledore appeals to Rowling, and furthermore, why any of her characters appeal. What’s the inspiration behind her unique cast?
Her favorite (or second favorite after Harry) was inspired by none other than Rowling’s father, with whom Rowling endured a strained relationship throughout her childhood. Her less than perfect relationship with her dad allowed for idealized imaginings to emerge in her writing, the most patriarchal, of course, as Dumbledore.
Harry is somewhat informed by Rowling’s own life. The two share similar surface details such as their birthday (July 31), and similarities between Rowling’s childhood home and the Dursleys’. But, they also share deeper similarities like the presence of childhood traumas, which for Rowling included relocations and a fatally ill mother.
Harry Potter was also inspired by her childhood neighbor, Ian Potter, who had a tendency to saunter around the local streets in wizard garb. Not much embellishment needed there.
An author can’t help but see a little bit of herself in all her characters, and Hermione is no different. Rowling claims that as a young girl she was just as much of a bookworm, and just as driven.
Although Ron doesn’t have a direct correlation to anyone in Rowling’s life as far as we know, he does hold an uncanny resemblance to Rowling’s own childhood friend, Sean. Ron is the archetypal goofy best friend, so we can only hope that Sean was the same. Wiry red hair and a wonderful sense of loyalty would be a plus.
Hagrid was also influenced by Rowling’s father, serving as another manifestation of the ideal patriarchal figure. Rowling attributes her unfulfilling relationship with her father, among other things, as one of the single most influential forces in her writing.
Yet, in odd juxtaposition to a father figure, Hagrid is also inspired by a huge bearded Hell’s Angel biker Rowling met many years ago. Dad + Bad Ass = Hagrid.
It’s inevitable that at least one of the professors in Harry Potter was molded into character by a real teacher. I’m sure we’ve all had the Snape type of professor, but Rowling’s happened to be the head of the science department, a Mr. John Nettlehead. Rowling clearly had a love-hate relationship with the professor, or at least a love-hate relationship with science in general.
Aunt Marge is anything but the sweet little old granny that gives you red lipstick kisses and fresh baked cookies. Similarly, neither was J.K. Rowling’s own grandmother. Much like Aunt Marge, she preferred the company of her canines over her pesky grandchildren.
Harry’s tormentors were Rowling’s tormentors, and, stripped of metaphor and black cloaks, these dark terrors came in the form of depression. After the loss of her mother and a brief, unsuccessful marriage, Rowling suffered from clinical depression: a personal battle that emerged as a fictional one between Harry and the Dementors (and really, all other sources of evil—including: Death Eaters).
As much as an author’s world lays the groundwork for believable characters, people aren’t the sole contributors to a character’s development. As the author writes, the characters take on a life of their own. Dumbledore began as a shell of prior relationships and experiences, but is filled up with richness the further into the books you get. He becomes so much more than just an ideal father figure or role model. He begins to carry moral weight, slight mannerisms, and flaws that make him just as lovable to the reader as he is for Rowling. We fully approve of him as her second favorite.
Who’s your favorite character (excluding Harry)?
Featured image courtesy of Stratford Library