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Movie Review - Magic Beyond Words: The J. K. Rowling Story (2011)

By Edited Aug 12, 2016 1 2

Anyone who is an aspiring writer will enjoy this story about Joanne Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series.  I cried with joy at the scene where Joanne received notice that her first book “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” had been bought by a publisher.  That is any writer’s dream.  She receive $105,000, more than anyone had ever been paid for a children’s book.


J. K. Rowling

                                                                J. K. Rowling - Wikimedia

“Magic Beyond Words:  The J. K. Rowling Story” is a Made-for-TV film and is based on the book “J. K. Rowling: A Biography”, written by Sean Smith.  The film was unauthorized, which I assume means that Joanne Rowling was not consulted  concerning the facts and events which are represented to the public as truth.  Being an American, I am unable to criticize the manner in which places in England and Edinburgh, Scotland are portrayed, which is the case for some reviewers in the United Kingdom.  Therefore, this was not a noticeable flaw for me, and the film was a sheer delight, as it related an authentic rags-to-riches story of a young girl whose dream, even as a child, was to be a writer.

The actress who played Joanne, Poppy Montgomery, bears a striking resemblance to Joanne, and does a creditable job of portraying her in periods of angst as well as joy.  I was totally taken in by the believability of her interpretation.


The opening scenes reveal that Joanne is a happy child in a lower middle-class home surrounded by loving parents and one younger sister, Diane.  Joanne, whose family refers to her as Jo, was an excellent student in school, but was criticized by the headmaster on one occasion for drawing creatures on a pad in class instead of   paying attention.  She refuted his remarks by answering correctly every question he asked her about the lesson on that day.


Poppy Montgomery

                                                          Poppy Montgomery - Wikimedia

Joanne had her heart set on going to Oxford University, but in spite of her excellent record she was not accepted.  She settled on Exeter where she obviously received a first-rate education, graduating with a B.A. in French.  She moved to London, taking on some incidental jobs, until she landed a job as a researcher at Amnesty International.  In her spare time, she dabbled in her story about a boy who did not realize he was a wizard.  She named him Harry Potter.

It was during this time that Joanne’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was forced to spend her days in a wheelchair.  She eventually died in 1991, an event which devastated Joanne, as her mother was her chief cheerleader in everything that Joanne did.

Joanne Falls in Love

After her mother died, Joanne took a job in Portugal teaching English to adults.  There, she met a handsome journalist named Jorge Arantes.  She was totally fascinated with him, and they married within a short time.  Jorge had to serve time in the military, and when he returned home, his old job was not waiting for him.  He had a difficult time finding another job, and resorted to alcohol, which caused problems in their marriage.  Joanne had a beautiful little girl she called Jessica after her favorite author, Jessica Mitford, and after a short while, she and the baby left Jorge and settle in Edinburgh, Scotland where they could be near Joanne’s sister, Diane.

In Edinburgh, Joanne was forced to seek assistance as a single mother with a child, and was able to receive benefits and housing assistance.  During this time, she worked on her story about Harry Potter, which she entitled “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”  She was able to secure a teaching job at Leith Academy in Edinburgh which allowed her to get off the “dole” and also to enroll Jessica in a child care situation.  She was also able to buy a typewriter.

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
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(price as of Aug 12, 2016)

Joanne Needs an Agent

Joanne tried to find an agent and was turned down in at least one instance.  Children’s books were not noted for bringing in large profits to a publisher.  Her manuscript landed in the “Unsolicited Pile” a the Christopher Little Agency and sat there for quite some time, until one of the female editors read the story and loved it, and encouraged Christopher to take a close look at it.  He took the editor’s word for it, read the manuscript, and sent for Joanne to meet with him in London.

Christopher’s first suggestion was that Joanne should use just initials in her pen name, since young boys traditionally do not like to read a story by a female author.  Joanne did not have a middle name, but she liked her grandmother’s name of Kathleen.  Hence, she became J. K. Rowling for ever after.  Christopher also advised her to get an attorney who would protect her rights in any negotiations.


Daniel Radcliffe

                                                         Daniel Radcliffe - Wikimedia

A Reply from Bloombury

Christopher sent Joanne’s manuscript to several publishers.  At least a dozen of these passed on the Children’s book.  The female editor who first endorsed her book informed Christopher that Bloomsbury had just opened a Children’s division, and might possibly be interested.  They followed up.  Christopher got a phone call from Bloomsbury shortly thereafter.  They wanted to publish it.

It was not long before Scholastic Books in New York City informed Christopher that they were willing to publish the book in the United States, but would use "the Sorcerer’s Stone” rather than "the Philosopher's Stone."

In just three years, Joanne Rowling rose from her status of single mother on welfare to being one of the richest women in England.  Her seven books in the Harry Potter series have sold over 400,000 copies.  In addition, the Harry Potter film franchise is a billion dollar operation.

Not long after, the second book in the series was published, with the title of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” followed by five additional novels.  This is truly an amazing story, and an inspiration to many writers.  I myself have made new resolutions with regard to my love for writing, and I can only thank J. K. Rowling for showing me that hard work and determination does pay off.  I loved this movie.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
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Nov 1, 2015 2:13pm
I wasn't aware of Jo's rag-to-riches story. It is definitely a lesson in determination and never giving up. If I remember correctly, Stephen King was turned down by 12 publishers, threw the manuscript away, and his wife pulled it back out of the trash and sent it to another publisher. I think this type of rejection probably happens far more often than most writers realize. I am really glad Jo didn't give up. It's a powerful story.
Nov 1, 2015 3:04pm
Maybe IBers have a chance.
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