J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels and Cormoran Strike mysteries and screenwriter for the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, at the time she was writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was, in all her free time, casting astrological charts, interpreting them in involved, long, single-spaced typed efforts, and illustrating covers in creative water colors for the package. We know of three of these charts, have seen the covers for two, and one of them is available for close reading online at The RowlingLibrary. If you have a spare $75,000, you can purchase the two available via Paul Fraser Collectibles online here and here.
I will be discussing how this discovery re-fashions our understanding of Rowling as a writer, especially with respect to the alchemical qualities of her Hogwarts Saga and post-Potter efforts, in the next two parts of this three part series. In this piece, I will focus on the natural question to ask when something so outlandish appears without explanation, namely, ‘Why has it taken so long for these astrological charts and interpretations by the world’s best selling author to surface?’ Three thoughts come immediately to mind.
(1) Laziness and Incompetence: As I mentioned in my post about Rowling’s uses of Professor Trelawney as an embedded author figure, it’s not as if Rowling’s interest in astrology was unknown. First, there was Rowling’s admission in 2007 that she “did a lot of research into astrology for [Trelawney]. I found it all highly amusing, but I don’t believe in it.” We know, though, that she was entertaining friends with these astrological skills in 1994, too. Not enough to inspire research? Her 2012 profile in The New Yorker, ‘Mugglemarch,’ tells us that “Rowling did write a long, illustrated astrological birth chart for the newborn son of a friend.” Bingo. There it is, the very charts available at TheRowlingLibrary.
(2) Editorial ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ I found the article with astrological chart and interpretation at TheRowlingLibrary a year ago this week while perusing the site which was new to me. I had been corresponding with an editor there, Patricio Tarantino, and he had published some things I had written in this online journal. Surfing the articles listed, I clicked on one with the curious headline, ‘Exclusive: J.K. Rowling’s text from 1994 (Pre Potter-era).’ And there it was — posted in April, 2015, a story about the horoscopes cast and interpreted by Rowling in 1994 and which became public knowledge in 2010 when they appeared on the ‘Antiques Roadshow’ teevee series in the UK. One reason we missed this information beyond the absence of a determined search to find it after the mention in The New Yorker piece is that the story appeared in a non-major (at least in 2015) Potter fan site, a story that was not picked up by the two heavyweights, MuggleNet and Leaky Cauldron, and the headline the non-native speakers of English gave the piece says nothing about astrology or horoscopes.
(3) Wikipedia’s Decision to Kill the Story As mentioned, the astrological charts and interpretation became news in 2010 after the owner brought them to the collectibles experts on ‘Antique Roadshow’ for an appraisal. Why didn’t this merit a mention on J. K. Rowling’s wikipedia page? Because the know-better editors there decided that just because the author cast a few horoscopes and interpreted them doesn’t amount to a serious argument that she knew a lot about astrology. The writing includes humor, for instance; to the wiki-gatekeepers that had to mean it was a joke. An editor named Terry argues in vain for including some mention of this on Rowling’s page with two self-important know-nothings. Special marks here to ‘Serendipodous’ who offers as his clinching proof that the astrology story can be squashed because he was in a play once but is not an actor; Rowling’s one known set of astrological charts therefore do not ipso facto make her an astrologer…
Here is the whole exchange from the Wikipedia archives, ‘Rowlings (sic) An Astrologer?‘:
I have just finished wathching (sic) an episode of Antiques Roadshow (British TV series) and a lady brought two horoscopes of her own children that she claims JK Rowlings provided to her in a typed format and hand illustrated the cover around the same time as Rowlings was writing her first Harry Potter book. She was a friend of Rowlings and lived nearby. This may suggest that Rowlings was or is an astrologer. I notice no mention of it here at this topic. Does anyone know if Rowlings studied astrology? Terry Macro (talk) 07:47, 12 August 2010 (UTC)
see http://news.scotsman.com/entertainment/Rare-JK-Rowling-work-on.6449408.jp Terry Macro (talk) 08:05, 12 August 2010 (UTC)
It is not for us to do original research and make decisions independent of reliable published sources. Rowling was able to write astrologicalinterpretations of two children’s horoscopes – this is not a passing interest, Rowling definitely practiced astrology because only a competent astrologer can do a horoscope interpretation. The reason she did the two specific horoscopes in question is that it was for a friend and Rowling was too poor to buy presents, and did horoscopes instead. Some commentators claim that clues to Rowlings’ future writings in the Harry Potter series can be discerned in her horoscope interpretations. This information rightly belongs in this topic – but not overly emphasized. Terry Macro (talk) 23:29, 12 August 2010 (UTC)
It is also OR [original research] to draw any inferences from that article beyond what it actually says. All we have from that article is that Rowling cast horoscopes on that one occasion. Whether she habitually cast horoscopes is not mentioned.Serendipodous 01:32, 13 August 2010 (UTC)
I am not claiming that Rowling was a ‘habitual’ astrologer, nor that she was a professional astrologer or charged clients to do horoscopes. The article clearly indicates that Rowling could interpret a horoscope which means she had at some time studied astrology, either privately or formally. I am rather surprised you want to hide Rowling’s knowledge of astrology as most people in the world do not find astrology offensive. I know I was rather astonished to discover this fact while watching TV, and it seems curious that an encyclopedia would not want some small reference to this fact – especially as it has now come to light in the public domain. Terry Macro (talk) 02:00, 14 August 2010 (UTC)
The question isn’t whether she studied astrology at all. The question is whether this one mention of her using astrology is worth including. Does it have a bearing on her career or her biography? The answer, as far as I can see, is no. In my life I have acted once. Does that make me an actor? No. In the same way, one mention of Rowling casting a horoscope does not make her “an astrologer”. Serendipodous 07:08, 14 August 2010 (UTC)
I would question whether the cited article establishes that she genuinely cast or interpreted horoscopes – it makes that assertion, but that appears to rest on her use of the word “cusp”. The rest of the quoted material is humourous. Is a Pisces really fated to drink like a fish? – Ian Dalziel (talk) 10:53, 14 August 2010 (UTC)
I have read at least as many anti-Wikipedia phillipics as you have, how it is undependable, how it is biased, how it can repeat fake news and not be corrected for ages if ever. I think the criticisms are valid as far as they go but neglect what a remarkable resource Wikipedia can be, especially I have to add for Potter Pundits, The wiki-pages dealing with Rowling’s novels are well edited and include online referencing as well as text citations. I’ll leave for another day discussion of how much these pages were lifted from The Harry Potter Lexicon in their infancy; as they stand, they are great jumping off points and easy fact checking stations.
But now we know another back to the front of depending on Wikipedia to share information on any subject in the public domain. Trusting wikipedia to be comprehensive when clear sighted editors like ‘Terry’ can be stifled by all-seeing decision makers with the judgment of ‘Serendipodous’ means you will miss important stories like this one.
Which brings us back to Pundit ‘Laziness and Incompetence.’ As I said, I have known about this story for a year; I haven’t written about it because I was doing the research necessary to begin the conversation without going off half-cocked. In Part 2 of this series, I’ll share what I’ve learned about Rowling’s cited sources for her chart interpretation and whether she is an amateur with only Trelawney type skills or something of an adept. I’ll conclude in Part 3 with a look back at the Potter novels to see what knowing “a lot about astrology” means in possible interpretations of the Hogwarts Saga.
Your assignment tonight is to head on over to The RowlingLibrary and to read the horoscope Rowling cast for a young family as a gift. And then to let everyone here know what you think by writing up your thoughts in the comment boxes below!