Harry Potter and the Crucible of the Soul
I would like to share a bit about the events that precipitated the writing of Harry Potter and the Crucible of the Soul.
In 1998, when there was no Harry Potter phenomenon, I heard of the J.K. Rowling book from my children. Their friends had read an "amazing" book and encouraged them to read it too. I was very protective of my children; to the extent of having sway over the books they could read. I looked into Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. There were whispers of a popular children's book that dealt with witches and wizards, dark magic and death. I was reluctant to let my kids read about such dark stuff. There are too many "children's" books that have the ability to take away the innocence of childhood in just a few paragraphs, or by the casual insertion of "adult" words and situations. I didn't want my children exposed to "dark" or "adult" ideas before they had sufficient background by which to judge the material. This may sound prejudicial. It is. It is also a parent's duty to raise their children in a manner that they feel is most conducive to their children's best interests. In order to fulfill what I saw as my duty as a parent, I made a deal with my kids...I would read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and determine if it was appropriate for them.
The book was a quick read. It was immediately evident that Ms. Rowling used the wizarding world as a medium to tell a coming-of-age-story. The characters were believable. Their fears and friendships, their struggles and triumphs, their conflicts and growth, all combined to create characters in whom a reader could readily invest emotional capital. I allowed my children to read the book. I had no idea what that initial decision would mean in my life.
When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published, I had no idea that it would become a series of books. The book was basically self-contained. It chronicled a conflict that appeared to be resolved in the single edition. True, the allusion to Voldemort not actually being vanquished was put forward by Dumbledore; but I had read other single books that didn't wrap up all the loose ends. What book can? When Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published, I saw that Ms. Rowling had more plans in store for her characters.
As I read the second book in the series, I saw that the reading level was elevated, the conflicts were more pointed, and room was left for additional books. At least I hoped there would be additional books. I was hooked. I, along with millions of other readers, eagerly awaited each additional book. What was going to happen to Harry, Ron, and Hermione? The characters had been painted with such vivid word-colors that readers had become invested. We wanted to know what was in store for our friends at Hogwarts.
As readership increased, it became obvious that the demographic was changing. Each successive book raised the reading level. Adults read the books. Kids who had read the first three books in the series had grown up with Harry and his attending challenges. His dogged drive to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges fostered the same spirit of fierce determination in readers. It also fostered a bit of a mania when each new edition came out. Avid readers wanted to know what would happen next. I was one of those who wanted to know. It wasn't just about my kids anymore. Ms. Rowling had accomplished what all authors hope to accomplish...her characters had become real. I was as invested in the characters as if I were sending my own children off to school in far-away Britain.
The penultimate Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince left Ms. Rowling's fan base clamoring for more. I too looked forward to what was touted as the final chapter in the Harry Potter saga. In the first six books I had seen the numerous hints and build-ups preparing readers for the final conflict. A single terrible thought wormed its way into my brain...what if I wrote my own version of Book Seven for my family? The thought was crazy. I had written short stories. Indeed, my goal had been to write stories, two pages or less, that developed characters, conflict, and resolution. These short stories demanded careful consideration of each word. The idea that was rattling around in my head involved a considerable expansion of that short-story mentality. My initial intent was to write a story that used Ms. Rowling's style, incorporated her generous clues pointing toward her final book in the Harry Potter series, and to do so in about fifty to one-hundred pages (I marvel at screen-writer's adaptations.) I started my version about three months before Ms. Rowling's seventh book was due for purchase. I told myself that I had plenty of time to meet my goal. I was sorely mistaken.
I outlined my story and began writing. My initial idea was to start at an action point in the story and have Harry tell the back-story as a memory. My story actually started with a conflict on the stairway landing to Dumbledore's office. The device didn't work well. I scrapped it and started over. The project took on a life of its own. I had written about twenty chapters. Ms. Rowling's book was due out in two weeks. I realized if her book was available, and there were significant similarities between the two versions (an unlikely occurrence), I would be accused of stealing her ideas and incorporating them in my story. I stopped writing where I was, and skipped ahead to the conflict and resolution chapters. I wrote the final chapters sealing the outcome of my story, and then went back to fill in the middle thirty-odd chapters. Ms. Rowling's final Harry Potter book was published and I was no where near completion of my version. Everyone around me was sworn to secrecy. They could read the "official" book seven, but the topic of Harry Potter Seven was forbidden within my hearing. My family complied. My friends complied. I avoided all contact with stories and internet sources that might tip me off as to Ms. Rowling's direction in her story.
My new problem was a lack of urgency. Little did I know what "crucible of the soul" I would face as I struggled to complete my story. With the official version in print, my version devolved into an exercise in futility. My family was patient. They could see how important it was to me to complete what I had started. They allowed me to read out portions of my work. They agreed to edit my writing. Some of them became absolutely sick of the project. It was a challenge to stay focused. I have a time-demanding occupation, so writing is a steal-time-when-you-can avocation. I took notebooks to my kid's sporting events and wrote during time-outs and breaks between competitions. I wrote on vacations. I wrote early in the morning and late at night. I wrote during my lunch breaks. I wrote while my wife drove us to appointments. Finishing the book became a slow-motion mania. Problems arose. Computers, containing the only copy of the book, crashed (I know...backup, backup, backup.) Pages were lost and had to be rewritten. When I finally joined the middle with the end, the work of editing began. (I firmly believe it is a rare author who can edit their own work. As the author, you know what you intended, and you read those intents into your work. Authors seldom make good editors.)
Writing my iteration of the Harry Potter saga involved intensive study of Ms. Rowling's writing style. I saw how she increased the reading level of each successive book. I noted the speech patterns of characters. I looked at how often she introduced new words, characters, spells, or concepts; and I attempted to mimic those techniques. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I hope it's not the quickest way to a copyright infringement lawsuit. All the characters and concepts in my work are directly attributable to J.K. Rowling. Without her vision, the world of Harry Potter would not exist. My writing does not stand on its own. Thank you Ms. Rowling for sharing with us the children of your imagination. If at any time in my work, I put words into the mouths of your children, if I cause them to do, or be, something against your intent, I apologize.
This work was originally intended for my family alone. I have been encouraged me to make it available to others. I will give you a bit of my reasoning for going along with that plan. I saw clues in Ms. Rowling's books that piqued my interest (I used only Ms. Rowling's' published works as resource, no movie adaptations or fan fiction stories were considered.) I asked questions of situations for which I wanted answers. I saw possibilities.
I have a theory that as we read, or watch, other's work unfold, we have a tendency to mentally jump ahead. We make assumptions about what will happen. We anticipate. That anticipation is what makes endings so satisfying. We like to try to out-guess the author. It is my opinion that we write (or imagine) the ending to a work before we actually get to the end. We are all authors of a sort.
So...what did I see that made me want to devote the equivalent of almost a year's full-time labor? I started to question subtle facts. Why was McGonagall watching the Dursley's home? Dumbledore didn't send her because he was surprised to see her there. Why wasn't Sirius' arrival after the destruction of the Potter's home questioned. Why was Hagrid given the task of gathering and delivering Harry? If it was so important to get Harry under the care of his relatives, why didn't Dumbledore do it himself? Why did Dumbledore allow Harry to face circumstances that could have killed him? Why didn't Dumbledore reign in Snape's animosity toward Harry (we assume he wouldn't have allowed Umbridge's actions had he known.) Why did Dumbledore trust Severus Snape? Why did Dumbledore commit to telling Harry "another time" about acquiring the Peverill ring and not make good on his promise? What caused the secret passage behind the mirror on the fourth floor to cave in, yet Slytherin's chamber, in the same castle, lasted intact a thousand years? A lot of little things bothered me, so I set out to answer the questions for myself. I hope I have provided, in an entertaining format, some answers to these and other conundrums.
I would like to thank my family and friends for putting up with my maniacal behavior as I have labored over this work. I would like to thank my sons Adam and Steven for salvaging crashed computers containing manuscripts. I would like to thank my son Steven for his constant encouragement to finish the story even after Ms. Rowling's book seven had been published. I would like to thank Emily and Joshua Hayes for editing. I would like to thank Anthony McMinn, Ben Buchmiller, and Adam and Heather Hayes for reading the rough draft and offering suggestions. I would like to thank my nine-year-old son Gabriel for letting me read the book aloud to him. I would like to thank my wife, Loa, for tempering my expectations of reader's response to my writing.
And mostly, I would like to thank J.K. Rowling for putting her author's imagination on trial in the arena of fickle public opinion. It would be a treat to speak with Ms. Rowling about her books, but the chances of that are remote in the extreme. I do not fool myself about any connection with Ms. Rowling just because I have studied her style. I echo the thoughts of Cormoran Strike in The Cookoo's Calling "He had never been able to understand the assumption of intimacy fans felt with those they had never met."
Thank you Ms. Rowling for opening our minds to the power of perseverance.