Editor's note: Today, July 31, is J.K. Rowling's birthday. We wish her continued success. In honor of her many achievements, we republish this open letter.
Dear Ms. Rowling:
I am writing to you today for a couple of reasons.
First, I want to tell you how much pleasure I’ve been taking in the Harry Potter series. Now, I realize that you’ve heard that from thousands of fans, and that there’s no reason that my enjoyment deserves any special consideration from you.
Still, I did want to tell you how much the amazing adventures of your boy wizard and his intrepid friends—Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and the rest of your brilliant creations—have meant to me. In fact, I am distraught that, with the next installment, Harry’s story will end. All the hours that I’ve spent bewitched (that’s the word, isn’t it?) by his fantastic epic have been amply repaid. Repaid in wonder, excitement, laughter, awe, thrills, caring, hope, and—yes—inspiration.
Speaking of “repayment” brings me to my second point.
I read something not long ago that worried me about you. It was a profile of you in the Daily Mail last August 24, focusing on your lifestyle. What concerned me was not that comfortable lifestyle: the global travel, the luxurious hotels, the glamorous vacations, the nice homes, the servants.
No, I am not troubled by your wealth. What concerned me was that—at least according to the article—you seem to be troubled by your wealth:
At times over the past nine years she has seemed to be in open rebellion against her wealth…. For, it emerges, her wealth has made her uncomfortable to the point of soul-searching, if not actual anguish. And although she is now far more sanguine about the “ludicrous” amount of money which she earns, she still seems to believe, deep down, that she does not really deserve to be so utterly, stinking rich.
And so she has quietly but steadily been engaged in giving away great chunks of her money…. She said: “It just seems, well, this came to me through doing the thing I love doing most. I suppose I feel I haven’t suffered enough.”
Please, Ms. Rowling: tell me it isn’t so!
Tell me that you don’t really believe this. Tell me that you don’t really mean that you “haven’t suffered enough” to deserve your material comforts. Tell me that you don’t really think that the rewards of life should come from suffering rather than from “doing the thing I love most.”
I do not believe that “suffering” is, or should be, the price of ultimate happiness.
Ms. Rowling, your Cinderella story is legendary. As the article summarizes it: “Her life now is, naturally, very different from the hand-to-mouth struggle of the days before Potter was published. Back then, she famously nursed cold coffees in an Edinburgh cafe for hours as she wrote, her daughter Jessica sleeping in a buggy beside her. She subsisted on £70 a week benefits, and her flat was infested with mice.”
If suffering were the price for your current lifestyle, I would say that you’ve done your share.
However, I do not believe that “suffering” is, or should be, the price of ultimate happiness. Nor do I believe that the degree of one’s happiness ought to have any relationship to past hardship.
In fact, with all due respect, I must tell you that I think you have it backward: the world is rewarding J.K. Rowling precisely for “doing the thing I love most.”
Because of your love for creative writing—because you aspired to cast your most cherished dreams, hopes, and fantasies on paper—because of the tenacity, determination, diligence, and care with which you nurtured that love—and because that love has brought joy and inspiration to millions—we, your grateful readers, choose to repay you in the only way we can: by buying your remarkable stories.
For us, Ms. Rowling, this is a fair trade. Actually, for any one of us, it is an incredible bargain. Just think: for only a few dollars (okay, pounds), each of us reaps the extraordinary benefits from years of your own personal investment: an investment of devotion, tears, concentration, fears, frustration, research, imagination, intelligence, and sheer hard work.
In exchange for the decade that you’ve spent at your desk, feeling chained and drained as you fought for the perfect word, we trade merely a few hours of our earnings. And, for that small price, we buy a ticket to the world that you created, and to which only you could transport us.
The marketplace is but a barometer of human wants, reflecting the values of innumerable people. And it rewards creators like you only to the extent that your work satisfies their needs, values, and wants.
So, if the marketplace’s verdict is that J.K. Rowling has satisfied the needs, values, and wants of millions of paying customers—and if it therefore rewards you for sharing with us Harry Potter and his world—then you should regard every dollar you’ve earned as a token of honor, appreciation, and vindication.
Ms. Rowling, I want you to know this: you are morally entitled to every single penny of your earnings. You did earn it, you know. You are not being repaid for your suffering, but for your love. And, in truth, what we pay you is a measure of our love.
So, please: don’t feel guilty, not for a moment. Enjoy what you have earned, Jo Rowling.
Oh, yes . . . may I call you “Jo”?