J.K. Rowling will always be best known for her stories about a boy wizard and the world he inhabits, but she has written several works outside of the Harry Potter universe. If you’d like to see what Rowling’s writing is like when she is not telling a story about wizards, check out one of these books…
The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancyis a contemporary novel that touches on many of the issues Rowling couldn’t easily put in Harry Potter: drugs, prostitution, rape, the list goes on. This is not a novel for those looking for a Potter-like escape, but it is a deftly told story that addresses some of the biggest social issues of modern Britain in bleak, insightful ways.
The premise? When a well-known local politician dies suddenly, the town of Pagford is thrown into an unexpected politic struggle over the question of who will fill his council seat, exposing the social fractures of the seemingly sleepy English town. The plot is told in seven parts (one for each Horcrux), and is definitely a slow burn, but it actually works as an interesting companion to Harry Potter.
I have heard several people mention The Casual Vacancy‘sinterpretation of modern Britain as the Muggle world Dudley Dursley inherits, the one Harry doesn’t have to live in because of his magical escape, and I think that is a fascinating framework. Don’t go into this novel if you’re looking for something like Harry Potter, though. There is no magic here. Only the unflinching mundane.
The Casual Vacancywas made into a BBC/HBO miniseries starring Rory Kinnear, Emily Bevan (Amy from the wonderful In the Flesh), and Michael Gambon, if that’s more your speed. You can check out the for The Casual Vacancy trailer here.
The Cormoran Strike Detective Series
Written under the pen name Robert Galbraith, the Cormoran Strike series follow the adventures of London-based private detective Cormoran Strike, a surly war veteran and illegitimate son of a famous rock star. Injured both physically and psychologically in the warm, Strike uses the skills he developed as a Special investigation Branch officer in the military to crack cases the police are unable to solve.
The crime series has three installments so far: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil. Rowling is currently working on the fourth book in the series.
The Cormoran Strike series is not doing anything new in the crime genre, but it does include two interesting main characters and some clever cases, using an old-fashioned structure to explore contemporary issues, like celebrity culture, privacy, and a boundary-crossing press.
Very Good Lives (and other non-fiction)
In addition to her novels and screenwriting, Rowling has written many non-fiction essays, book introductions, and op-eds. Her arguably most well-known pieces of non-fiction actually started as a speech. In 2008, Rowling delivered the Harvard Commencement address, a 24-minute speech on the “fringe benefits of failure” and the “importance of imagination.” Here’s a short excerpt:
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared …
The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.
In the time since, the speech has been published as a book called Very Good Lives, complete with illustrations to accompany the words.
Elsewhere in the non-fiction world, Rowling has written about children’s rights and modern-day “orphanages” for The Guardian, reviewed Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitfordfor the Telegraph, and wrote a profile on Gordon Brown for Time Magazine.
Her Twitter account
If this seems like a weak ploy to add another item to this list, then you’ve obviously never stopped by Rowling’s Twitter handle. The woman was born to snark, criticize, and empower in 140 characters. If you are a Harry Potter fan, then you already know how witty and insightful Rowling can be, but if you need a quick example, just read a sample of her tweets…