Harry Potter is one of the most famous orphans in all of fiction. Was his creator, English author J.K. Rowling, adopted in real life?
J.K. Rowling was not adopted and was raised by her birth family. The protagonist of her novel series, Harry Potter, was orphaned as a baby and raised by his unpleasant aunt and uncle. Rowling founded a charity, Lumos, dedicated to keeping children away from traditional orphanages and placing them instead in community housing and foster care.
For more on J.K. Rowling’s relationship with her parents, how it informed Harry Potter and the role of Lumos in trying to protect vulnerable children around the world, read on.
J.K. Rowling was born on July 31, 1965, in Gloucestershire, England. Her birth name was just Joanne Rowling and, when asked by her publishers to use her initials instead of her first name, she adopted her paternal grandmother’s middle name, Kathleen.
Her parents were a Rolls-Royce aircraft engineer, Peter James Rowling, and a science technician, Anne. Peter and Anne met on a train departing King’s Cross Station, the same station from which Harry Potter leaves for Hogwarts.
Rowling also has a younger sister, Dianne, who is almost two years younger. The family moved to Winterbourne when Rowling was four and later to Tutshill when she was nine, both in Gloucestershire. She was an avid reader and wrote fantasy stories as a child.
Her teenage years were unhappy after her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, passing away ten years later at just 45 years old. Anne’s passing sent Joanne into a deep depression.
Her father, Peter, remarried soon after and his daughters were very displeased by the haste with which he moved on. This led to a breakdown in Joanne’s relationship with her father.
Rowling has openly discussed how she feels that the character of Hermione Granger is largely based on herself as an eleven-year-old.
However, her personal history was also a key source of inspiration for the character of Harry Potter. She has said that the decision to make Harry an orphan was informed by her mother’s illness and his sense of loss likely provided an avenue for Rowling to articulate her own emotions.
In 2005, J.K. Rowling founded Lumos, a charity that seeks an end to institutionalizing children in traditional orphanages. She was inspired to do so after seeing a newspaper article about how children were kept in caged beds in some institutions, horrified by the photographs.
The group was originally founded as the Children’s High Level Group but renamed to Lumos, after a spell that conjures light in the Harry Potter novels.
One of the group’s main initiatives has been encouraging the EU to ensure that funding is diverted away from traditional orphanages and institutions and instead goes towards community services.
Their belief is that small group homes and foster care can provide a caring and productive environment for children to develop, whereas traditional orphanages can leave them with no love, relationships or prospects when they are forced to leave as adults.
They have also pointed out that the majority of children in orphanages and other institutions are not there because their parents have died but because their parents are unable to care for them.
This is usually caused by poverty, war, discrimination, disasters or disability. By committing funds towards improving communities and providing support, their belief is that many children could be prevented from needing to enter an orphanage in the first place.
By 2016, about a decade into the existence of Lumos, the group claimed to have taken more than 17,000 children away from traditional institutions. These children were taken into foster care and small group homes, providing an environment more akin to a family situation, and found adoptive parents in the local community for many children.