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35 Things You Might Not Know About Harry Potter

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1. ROWLING AND HARRY SHARE A BIRTHDAY. 

They both blow out candles on July 31 (happy birthday, JKR!). And that’s not the only influence Rowling had on her characters: She’s said that Hermione is a bit like her when she was younger, and her favorite animal is an otter—which is, of course, Hermione’s patronus. Plus, both Dumbledore and Rowling like sherbet lemons (Rowling said that the wizard’s “got good taste”).   

2. SHE INVENTED THE NAMES OF THE HOGWARTS HOUSES ON THE BACK OF A BARF BAG. 

In 2000, Scholastic gave schoolchildren across the U.S. the opportunity to ask Rowling questions about Harry Potter. When one student asked her, “What made you think of the people's names and dormitories at Hogwarts?” Rowling responded, “I invented the names of the Houses on the back of an airplane sick bag! This is true. I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character.” 

3. EARLY ON, ROWLING WROTE A SKETCH OF THE FINAL CHAPTER OF THE FINAL BOOK. 

Rowling calls the idea that she had the first chapter of Deathly Hallows written and locked away in the safe “rubbish.” But there was a small element of truth to it: “I had, very early on—but not the first day or anything, probably within the first year of writing—I wrote a sketch for what I thought the final chapter would be,” she told Harry Potter's big screen portrayer, Daniel Radcliffe, in an interview for the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD extra features. “I always knew—and this was from really early on—that I was working toward the point where Hagrid carried Harry, alive but supposedly dead, out of the forest, always. I knew we were always working towards a final battle at Hogwarts, I knew that Harry would walk to his death, I planned the ghosts—for want of a better word—coming back, that they would walk with him into the forest,  we would all believe he was walking to his death, and he would emerge in Hagrid’s arms.” 

And that mental image is what kept Hagrid alive, despite the fact that he “would have been a natural to kill in some ways,” Rowling said. “But because I always cleaved to this mental image of Hagrid being the one carrying Harry out … That was so perfect for me, because it was Hagrid who and took him into the world, and Hagrid who would bring him back … That’s where we were always going. Hagrid was never in danger.” 

4. THE DEMENTORS ARE BASED ON ROWLING’S STRUGGLE WITH DEPRESSION AFTER HER MOTHER’S DEATH. 

Rowling’s mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died in 1990, after which Rowling suffered a period of depression. She would use the experience to characterize the Harry Potter’s dementors, creepy creatures that feed on human emotion. “It's so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who's never been there, because it's not sadness," Rowling told Oprah Winfrey. “I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it's that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That's what Dementors are.” 

5. SHE CREATED QUIDDITCH AFTER A FIGHT WITH HER BOYFRIEND. 

“If you want to create a game like Quidditch, what you have to do is have an enormous argument with your then-boyfriend,” Rowling said in 2003. “You walk out of the house, you sit down in a pub, and you invent Quidditch. And I don't really know what the connection is between the row and Quidditch except that Quidditch is quite a violent game and maybe in my deepest, darkest soul I would quite like to see him hit by a bludger.” 

6. THE WIZARDING WORLD’S PLANTS COME FROM A REAL BOOK. 

“I used to collect names of plants that sounded witchy,” she told 60 Minutes, “and then I found this, Culpeper's Complete Herbal, and it was the answer to my every prayer: flax weed, toadflax, fleawort, Gout-wort, grommel, knotgrass, Mugwort." The book was penned in the 17th century by English botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper; you can read it here.

7. A PROPOSED TITLE FOR THE AMERICAN VERSION OF PHILOSOPHER’S STONE WAS HARRY POTTER AND THE SCHOOL OF MAGIC

Rowling turned that down, saying, according to American publisher Arthur Levine, “No—that doesn’t feel right to me … What if we called it the Sorcerer’s Stone?” (The French edition, Levine points out in J.K. Rowling: A Bibliography, is called Harry Potter a L'ecole Des Sorciers.)

8. ROWLING MADE COMPLICATED OUTLINES FOR THE BOOKS. 


Click to enlarge.

You can see a partial outline for Order of the Phoenix above. The outline has chapter titles, a general outline of the plot, and then more specific plot points for certain characters. (Based on this outline, it looks like Rowling thought about calling Dolores Umbridge Elvira Umbridge instead!)

9. ARTHUR WEASLEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE. 

In a battle between good and evil this epic, not everyone would make it through alive—that would have led to “very fluffy, cozy books,” she told Meredith Vieira. “You know, suddenly I [would be] halfway through Goblet of Fire and suddenly everyone would just have a really great life and … the plot would go AWOL.” 

Which is not to say that Rowling knew exactly who was on the chopping block. She thought about killing Arthur Weasley after he’s attacked by Nagini in Order of the Phoenix, but instead opted to save him, partly because “there were very few good fathers in the book. In fact, you could make a very good case for Arthur Weasley being the only good father in the whole series.” (She also “seriously considered” killing Ron, then thought better of it.) 

Instead, Lupin—a character she had no intention of killing when she began the books—and Tonks died during the final Battle of Hogwarts. “I wanted there to be an echo of what happened to Harry just to show the absolute evil of what Voldemort's doing,” she said. “I think one of the most devastating things about war is the children left behind. As happened in the first war when Harry's left behind, I wanted us to see another child left behind. And it made it very poignant that it was [Lupin and Tonks's] newborn son.” 

10. TO KEEP DEATHLY HALLOWS FROM LEAKING EARLY, BLOOMSBURY GAVE IT CODENAMES. 

You probably wouldn’t have been so interested in reading Edinburgh Potmakers or The Life and Times of Clara Rose Lovett: An Epic Novel Covering Many Generations

11. HALEY JOEL OSMENT COULD HAVE PLAYED HARRY. 

When Steven Spielberg was attached to direct the film adaptation, he wanted Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment to play Harry. But the director eventually left over a creative clash with Rowling, and new director Chris Columbus had to find his star. Some 300 kids tested for Harry Potter over a period of seven months; Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry McGuire) even expressed interest. “There were times when we felt we would never find an individual who embodied the complex spirit and depth of Harry,” Columbus said

Then, one night, Heyman went to the theater with screenwriter Steve Kloves (who ended up penning all but one of the Potter scripts). “There sitting behind me was this boy with these big blue eyes. It was Dan Radcliffe,” he told HeroComplex in 2009. “I remember my first impressions: He was curious and funny and so energetic. There was real generosity too, and sweetness. But at the same time he was really voracious and with hunger for knowledge of whatever kind.” He persuaded Radcliffe’s parents to let their son audition, and the rest is history.

12. RUPERT GRINT’S AUDITION WAS UNUSUAL. 

Nine-year-old Emma Watson’s first audition for the role of Hermione took place in her school gym; she auditioned a total of eight times. Grint, then 10, sent in a video audition, and went in a rather unusual direction: “I found out that you could audition by sending a picture of yourself and some information to Newsround,” he said in 2002. “I did my own video with me, first of all, pretending to be my drama teacher who unfortunately was a girl and then I did a rap of how I wanted to be Ron and then I made my own script thing up and sent it off.” 

He had some competition, though: Tom Felton auditioned for both Ron and Harry before ultimately being cast as Draco Malfoy.

13. THERE’S A VERY GOOD REASON HARRY’S EYES AREN’T GREEN IN THE MOVIES.

In the books, Harry’s eyes are described as “bright green”—but Radcliffe’s are blue. When Sorcerer’s Stone was in pre-production, Heyman called Rowling and told her their options: They’d tried green contacts; they could also trying making Radcliffe’s eyes green in post-production. How important was it, he wondered, for Harry’s eyes to be green? 

Rowling said that the only thing that was really important was that Harry's eyes looked like his mother’s eyes, so whoever played Lily Potter would need to have some resemblance to Radcliffe. This was a relief for Radcliffe, who had an an extremely adverse reaction to the contacts. (He was also allergic to the glasses, which made him break out in acne.) 

14. THE BROOMS USED IN THE SERIES AREN’T REGULAR BROOMS. 

They were made by modeler Pierre Bohanna using aircraft-grade titanium. “People think of them as a prop the kids are carrying around, but in reality, they have to sit on them,” Eddie Newquist, chief creative officer of the firm Global Entertainment Services, which puts on Harry Potter: The Exhibition, told Popular Mechanics. “They have to be mounted onto motion-control bases for green-screen shots and special-effects shots, so they have to be very thin and incredibly durable. Most of these kids weighed 80 pounds, 90 pounds [at the beginning]. Now they're all adults, so they're up over 120, 130 pounds, and you have to really make sure your brooms can withstand that.” 

15. THE ROLE OF PEEVES WAS CAST AND FILMED—THEN CUT. 

British comedian Rik Mayall was cast as Hogwarts’s prank-happy poltergeist in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He showed up and shot the scenes, which were later cut when director Chris Columbus decided he didn’t like the look of the ghost. Mayall described the experience in a 2011 interview:

I got sent off the set because every time I tried to do a bit of acting, all the lads who were playing the school kids kept getting the giggles, they kept corpsing, so they threw me off.

Well, they asked me to do it with my back to them and they still laughed. So they asked me to do it around the other side of the cathedral and shout my lines, but they still laughed so they said they’d do my lines with someone else. So then I did a little bit of filming, then I went home and I got the money. That’s significant. Then a month later, they said: ‘Er, Rik, we’re sorry about this, but you’re not in the film. We’ve cut you out of the film.’ … But I still got the money. So that is the most exciting film I’ve ever been in, because I got the oodle and I wasn’t in it. Fantastic. 

He didn’t tell his kids his part had been cut, though, and when they went to see it, “they came back and they said: ‘Bloody good make up. You didn’t look like yourself at all dad,’” Mayall said. “They thought I was playing Hagrid, Robbie Coltrane’s part.” 

16. THE ACTRESS WHO PLAYED MOANING MYRTLE WAS MUCH OLDER THAN A STUDENT.

Shirley Henderson was 36 when she played the bathroom-haunting ghost of a 14-year-old student who was killed by a basilisk’s stare in Chamber of Secrets. Playing a ghost was tougher than playing a real person, she told the BBC, “because of all the technical stuff it involved. I had to be strapped up to this harness so it looked as if I was flying and so I could be pushed through the air and twisted and turned over and over again. It's physically very tiring on your body. It also requires a lot of concentration, because there's all kinds of people shouting stuff like 'Turn, do this, look at this' so they can do all their stuff with the computer effects while I'm trying to act it out. But once you block all that out, it's great fun. Really good fun.” 

17. PRISONER OF AZKABAN DIRECTOR ALFONSO Cuarón ASKED THE TRIO TO WRITE ESSAYS ABOUT THEIR CHARACTERS. 

Alfonso Cuarón wanted Watson, Radcliffe, and Grint to write essays about their characters from a first person point of view. According to Heyman, “they all responded very much in character … Dan wrote a page, Emma wrote 10 and Rupert didn't deliver anything.” Grint told Entertainment Weekly, “I didn't do mine, because I didn't think Ron would. Or that was my excuse. At the time, I was actually quite busy with the real schoolwork involved with my exams, and I just didn't do it. But in the end, it felt right because that's what Ron would have done.” 

18. ROWLING SHOT DOWN ONE OF Cuarón’S IDEAS. 

Rowling wasn’t precious about all of the details of her books (see: Harry’s eye color). “Inevitably, you have to depart from the strict storyline of the books,” she told Radcliffe. “The books are simply too long to make into very faithful films.” But that didn’t mean she’d let everything slide: “Sometimes I would dig my heels in on the funniest things,” she said. “I’d say yeah, change the costume, that’s not a problem … And then all of a sudden I’d say, ‘Why would they do that spell? They wouldn’t do that there.’”

Take, for example, one shot that Cuarón wrote into Prisoner of Azkaban, which Rowling called “rather bizarre.” “I think Flitwick was conducting, and there were miniature people in an orchestra inside something,” she told Radcliffe. “I said to him, but why? I know it’s visually exciting, but part of what I think fans really enjoyed about the literary world is that there was a logic that underpinned it. There was always a logic to the magic, however strange it became. And I know it’s intriguing to go through the mouth of whatever it was and see these little people, but why have they done it? For you to film it, that’s just what it feels like. Normally, with the magic, there’s a point. So we had a bit of discussion.” 

19. ROWLING TIPPED ALAN RICKMAN OFF TO SNAPE’S MOTIVATIONS. 

“I told him really early on that Snape had been in love with Lily, that’s why he hated James, that’s why he projected this amount of dislike onto Harry,” Rowling told Radcliffe. “So he knew that. Then you told me that he’d been saying … ‘I just don’t think Snape would do that, given what I know.’” She laughed, continuing, “And I thought, ‘Alan, are you really milking this now?’” 

She also tipped Radcliffe off to Harry’s (partial) fate after seeing him in Equus. Radcliffe asked her, point blank: “Do I die?” 

“You get a death scene,” Rowling told him. 

“I saw you double-take,” Rowling said. “Neal, my husband, afterward, said, ‘What did Dan ask you?’ And I said ‘He wanted to know if he’s going to die.’” When he asked what she’d said, Rowling told him, “I’m not telling you!” Though her husband was tipped off to Dumbledore's fate ahead of time, Rowling kept Harry’s ultimate fate a secret till the end.

20. THE ACTORS COULDN’T PLAY CONTACT SPORTS.

Instead, they played golf. ''[At Leavesden Studios], Rupert Grint and my brother [James] and I would hang out at the driving range downstairs quite a bit,” Oliver Phelps, who played George Weasley, told EW. “I mean, I say driving range, but it was a mat and a 150-yard cone at the other end. Golf was one of the only sports we were allowed to do in our contract because it was relatively quite safe. We couldn't do any contact sports.”

21. THE MOVIES FEATURED SOME HIGH TECH VISUAL EFFECTS … 

Visual effects artists were tasked with bringing many of the fantastic magical elements of Harry Potter to life, including everything from fire-breathing dragons and club-swinging giants to zombie-like Inferi and Voldemort’s snake-like face (which was created by using practical makeup and digitally removing Ralph Fiennes’s nose). One of their most challenging sequences came early in Deathly Hallows, when members of the Order of the Phoenix arrive at Privet Drive to whisk Harry away to a safe spot. Multiple Harrys, Mad-Eye Moody says, will confuse the Death Eaters on their trail—so some of the wizards chug Polyjuice Potion and transform into Harry.

The transformation was tough for visual effects artists to pull off. "We needed to have a little bit of the attributes of Harry, and a little bit of the attributes of whoever we started with—George, Fred, Ron, Hermione," Nicolas Aithadi, VFX supervisor at Moving Picture Company, told Popular Mechanics. "The tricky part is you have to be able to read the Harry part and the George part. What we keep from each of these characters has to be perfect." They accomplished it by coating the actors’ faces in UV paint, then having them make faces in the Mova Contour Reality Capture system, which has 29 cameras and can capture 50,000 points of information, creating a 3D mesh cloud they could use as a basis for the transforming faces. 

According to Phelps, it was completely different than anything they’d ever done before. “There are probably 30 different facial expressions they tried to get you to do,” he told Popular Mechanics. “I never realized how wide I could open my mouth until we did that scene, so that was quite cool.” Because of the UV paint, the VFX artists had one piece of advice, Phelps said: “They were quite keen to say, ‘Just don't go to any nightclubs tonight, because you'll look like a floating head.’” 

22. … BUT NOT ALL THE EFFECTS WERE COMPUTER GENERATED. 

Animatronics were made for the actors to interact with on set, including baby mandrakes, Hedwig, the Monster Book of Monsters, and Buckbeak, which was used on-set for close ups. “He could stare at you, his eyes could follow you, he could bow, and every one of his feathers was dyed and put in by hand,” Newquist told PopMech. “There are tens of thousands of them, and they look absolutely gorgeous.”Other creatures were built to give the animators reference for lighting, like the giant Jack-in-the-Box from Prisoner of Azkaban and house elf Kreacher. 

23. THE FILM’S MAKEUP ARTISTS APPLIED THE LIGHTNING BOLT SCAR MANY, MANY TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF EIGHT FILMS.

Five thousand eight hundred times, to be exact. In our 2014 interview with Radcliffe, he told us, “The lightning scar, on the first two films, we essentially painted it on, and after that we used Pros-Aide, which was like a glue [to put it on]. It was very simple.” The scar was applied to his face 2,000 times; the rest went on film and stunt doubles. Radcliffe also went through 160 pairs of Harry’s round-frame glasses. 

24. HELENA BONHAM CARTER KEPT HER BELLATRIX TEETH.

“I loved my [fake] teeth!” the actress told EW. “I kept them because they're not going to fit anybody else. I keep them in a blue plastic thing in the bathroom and bring them out when I miss [Bellatrix].’”

25. THERE COULD HAVE BEEN AN OFFICIAL HARRY POTTER MUSICAL.

Rowling has turned down a lot of proposed Harry Potter ideas—including, she told Winfrey, a musical that Michael Jackson wanted to do. Earlier this year, Rowling announced that she’s working with a team to bring a new Harry Potter story to the stage; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will hit the West End in 2016.

26. DUMBLEDORE WAS GAY.

In 2007, when asked by a fan whether or not Hogwarts’s favorite headmaster had ever been in love, Rowling responded, “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” She revealed that he had fallen in love with Grindelwald, “and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was.” 

Rowling said she found the reaction to the news very interesting. “To me it was not a big deal,” she told Radcliffe. “This is a very old man who has a very terrible job to do. And his gayness is not really relevant. Very relevant to him as a character, because I always saw him as a very lonely character. And I think that there is in fact a hint of it in [Deathly Hallows] because of the relationship he has with Grindelwald. He fell very hard for this boy ...  And don’t you think it was perfect that Dumbledore, who is always the great champion of love … his one great experience of love was utterly tragic.”

This led to one very necessary tweak to the Half-Blood Prince script. “In an early draft of that script, Dumbledore said to Harry … I remember a young woman with eyes of flashing whatever, raven-haired… and I read this and I scribbled on my copy of the script, ‘Steve, Dumbledore is gay,’ shoved it up the table,” she said. “And Steve [said,] ‘Oh.’ So that’s why that line didn’t make the film.”

27. ROWLING ACKNOWLEDGED THAT A HARRY/HERMIONE PAIRING MIGHT HAVE WORKED.

In an interview with Emma Watson for Wonderland magazine in 2014, Rowling said that “I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment,” saying that they ended up together “for reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it … The attraction itself is plausible but the combative side of it … I’m not sure you could have got over that in an adult relationship, there was too much fundamental incompatibility.” 

She noted that “in some ways Hermione and Harry are a better fit,” and that she felt that “quite strongly” when she wrote a particular scene in Deathly Hallows, where Harry and Hermione are in the tent. “I hadn’t told [Steve] Kloves that and when he wrote the script he felt exactly the same thing at exactly the same point,” she said.

28. BACK IN THE DAY, THE MALFOYS HUNG OUT WITH RICH MUGGLES.

“Until the imposition of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692, the Malfoy family was active within high-born Muggle circles, and it is said that their fervent opposition to the imposition of the Statute was due, in part, to the fact that they would have to withdraw from this enjoyable sphere of social life,” Rowling wrote on Pottermore. In fact, one Malfoy might have had designs on the British Throne: “There is ample evidence to suggest that the first Lucius Malfoy was an unsuccessful aspirant to the hand of Elizabeth I, and some wizarding historians allege that the Queen's subsequent opposition to marriage was due to a jinx placed upon her by the thwarted Malfoy,” Rowling writes. The Malfoys gave up their Muggle fraternizing when the Ministry of Magic, “the new heart of power,” was founded.

29. MOANING MYRTLE HAS AN INTERESTING INSPIRATION.

Rowling wrote on Pottermore that the whiny, bathroom-dwelling ghost was inspired by “the frequent presence of a crying girl in communal bathrooms, especially at the parties and discos of my youth. This does not seem to happen in male bathrooms, so I enjoyed placing Harry and Ron in such uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

30. MUGGLES CAN’T MAKE POTIONS.

And that’s because you can’t make potions without wands. “Merely adding dead flies and asphodel to a pot hanging over a fire will give you nothing but nasty-tasting, not to mention poisonous, soup,” Rowling wrote on Pottermore. Though her least favorite subject in school was Chemistry, she admitted that “I always enjoyed creating potions in the books, and researching ingredients for them. Many of the components of the various draughts and libations that Harry creates for Snape exist (or were once believed to exist) and have (or were believed to have) the properties I gave them.”

31. ROWLING’S EDUCATION CAME IN HANDY.

At university, she minored in Classics, and she put that education to good use, peppering the books with Latin. “It just amused me, the idea that wizards would still be using Latin as a living language, although it is, as scholars of Latin will know,” she said in 2000. “I take great liberties with the language for spells. I see it as a kind of mutation that the wizards are using.” Expelliarmus, for example, combines expellere, meaning “drive out” or “expel,” with arma, meaning “weapon,” and knocks weapons from an enemy’s hands. Incendio, which lights a fire, comes from incendiarius, or “fire-raising.” And Hogwarts’s motto is Draco Dormiens Numquam Titillandus—“Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon.”

32. THERE WAS ONE HARRY POTTER QUESTION ROWLING FEARED THE MOST.

It was “What was Dumbledore's wand made of?”

“That would have been quite a telling question,” Rowling told Time. “Because I had this elder thing in my mind, cause elder has this association in folklore, it's the death tree. I thought, ‘What am I going to say?’” Thankfully, no one ever asked.

33. STEPHEN KING THOUGHT DOLORES UMBRIDGE WAS A GREAT VILLAIN.

In his review of Order of the Phoenix for Entertainment Weekly, King said, “The gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter” [PDF].

34. YOU CAN SPOT A CRUMPLE-HORNED SNORKACK IN THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER ...

It’s on the second story of the Magical Menagerie. Luna’s father, Xenophilius Lovegood, claimed it was a real creature, but it was never found. Rowling said that Luna, who became a naturalist, had to eventually “accept that her father might have made that one up.”

35. … AS WELL AS ARTHUR WEASLEY’S FLYING CAR.

The flying Ford Anglia—which Harry and Ron flew into the Whomping Willow and later saved them from Acromantulas in the books—can be found in line for the Dragon Challenge roller coaster, just over the bridge and before entering the castle.

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Background: iStock. Book Covers for "Invisible Man" and "The Underground Railroad": Amazon. Book Cover for "The Hate U Give": HARPERCOLLINS.
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25 Amazing Books by African-American Writers You Need to Read
Background: iStock. Book Covers for "Invisible Man" and "The Underground Railroad": Amazon. Book Cover for "The Hate U Give": HARPERCOLLINS.
Background: iStock. Book Covers for "Invisible Man" and "The Underground Railroad": Amazon. Book Cover for "The Hate U Give": HARPERCOLLINS.

Black History Month gives us 28 days to honor African Americans and the ever-expanding contributions they make to culture. Literature in particular has been a space for black authors to tell their stories authentically, and bookworms seeking good reads can choose from an array of fiction, poetry, historical texts, essays, and memoirs. From literary icons to fresh, buzzworthy talent, we're highlighting 25 books by African-American authors you should add to your reading list today.

1. KINDRED // OCTAVIA BUTLER

Kindred by Octavia Butler
Background: iStock. Book cover: Amazon.

Octavia Butler's Kindred (1979) is one of a string of novels she penned centering black female protagonists, which was unprecedented in a white-male dominated science and speculative fiction space. This story centers Dana, a young writer in 1970s Los Angeles, who is unexpectedly whisked away to the 19th century antebellum South where she saves the life of Rufus Weylin, the son of a plantation owner. When Dana’s white husband—initially suspicious of her claims—is transported back in time with her, complicated circumstances follow since interracial marriage was considered illegal in America until 1967. To paint an accurate picture of the slavery era, Butler told In Motion Magazine in 2004, she studied slave narratives and books by the wives of plantation owners.

2. HUNGER: A MEMOIR OF (MY) BODY // ROXANE GAY

Hunger by Roxane Gay
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In the second entry of her divulging 2017 memoir Hunger, Roxane Gay reveals, "… this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood."  The New York Times best-selling author pinpoints deep-seated emotions from a string of experiences, such as an anxious visit to a doctor's office concerning gastric bypass surgery and turning to food to cope with a boy raping her when she was a girl. In six powerful parts, the daughter of Haitian immigrants and National Book Award finalist reclaims the space necessary to document her truth—and uses that space to come out of the shadows she had once intentionally tried to hide in.

3. THE FIRE NEXT TIME // JAMES BALDWIN

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
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James Baldwin is a key figure among the great thinkers of the 20th century for his long range of criticism about literature, film, and culture and his revelations on race in America. One of his most widely known literary contributions was his 1963 book The Fire Next Time, a text featuring two essays: one a letter to his 14-year-old nephew, in which he encourages him not to give in to racist ideas that blackness makes him lesser. The second essay, "Down At The Cross," takes the reader back to Baldwin's childhood in Harlem as he details conditions of poverty, his struggle with religious authorities, and his relationship with his father.

4. BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME // TA-NEHISI COATES

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Penguin Random House.

After re-reading James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time, Ta-Nehisi Coates was inspired to write a book-long essay to his teenage son about being black in America and forewarns him of the plight that comes with facing white supremacy. The result was the 2015 National Book Award-winning Between the World and Me. New York magazine reported that after reading it, Toni Morrison wrote, "I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates." Throughout the book, Coates recounts witnessing violence in "the streets" and police brutality growing up in Baltimore, reflects on his time studying at historically black Howard University, and asks the hard questions about the past and future of race in America.

5. INVISIBLE MAN // RALPH ELLISON

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
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Ralph Ellison's 1952 classic Invisible Man follows one African-American man's quest for identity during the 1920s and 1930s—and decades later, this is a struggle that many continue to encounter. Because of racism, the unnamed protagonist, known as "Invisible Man," does not feel seen by society and narrates the reader through a series of unfortunate and fortunate events to fit in while living in the South and later in Harlem, New York City. In 1953, Invisible Man was awarded the National Book Award, making Ellison the first African-American author to receive the prestigious honor for fiction [PDF].

6. BELOVED // TONI MORRISON

Beloved by Toni Morrison
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Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel Beloved puts Sethe, a former slave in 1873 Cincinnati, Ohio, in contact with the supernatural. Before becoming a freed woman, Sethe attempted to kill her children to save them from a life of enslavement. While her sons and one daughter survived, her infant daughter, "Beloved," died. Sethe's family becomes haunted by a spirit believed to be Beloved, and Morrison provides a layered portrayal of the plight of post-slavery black life with a magical surrealism edge as Sethe learns she must confront her repressed memories of trauma and her past life in bondage.

7. ALL ABOUT LOVE: NEW VISIONS // BELL HOOKS

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
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In the 2000 book All About Love, feminist scholar Bell Hooks grapples with how people are commonly socialized to perceive love in modern society. She uses a range of examples to delve into the topic, from her personal childhood and dating reflections to popular culture references. This is a powerful, essential text that calls on humans to revise a new, healthier blueprint for love, free of patriarchal gender limitations and dominating behaviors that don't serve humankind's emotional needs.

8. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X // MALCOLM X, ALEX HALEY

The Autobiography of Malcom X
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In 1963, Malcolm X would drive from his home in Harlem to author Alex Haley's apartment down in New York's Greenwich Village to collaborate on his autobiography. Unfortunately, the minister and activist didn't live to see it in print—The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published in 1965, not long after his assassination in February of that year. The books chronicles the many lessons the young Malcolm (born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska) learned from witnessing his parents' struggles with racism during his childhood; to his troubled young adulthood with drugs and incarceration; and his later evolution into one of the most iconic voices in the movement for black liberation.

9. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD // ZORA NEALE HURSTON

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Harper Perennial.

During Zora Neale Hurston's career, she was more concerned with writing about the lives of African Americans in an authentic way that uplifted their existence, rather than focusing on their traumas. Her most celebrated work, 1937's Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an example of this philosophy and brings to light Janie Mae Crawford, a middle-aged woman in Florida, who details lessons she learned about love and finding herself after three marriages. Hurston used black southern dialect in the characters' dialogue, to proudly represent their voices and manner.

10. THE NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS // MICHELLE ALEXANDER

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
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The Jim Crow laws of the 19th and 20th centuries were intended to marginalize black Americans who, during the Reconstruction period, were establishing their own businesses, entering the labor system, and running for office. Although a series of anti-discrimination rulings, such as Brown vs. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act, were passed during the Civil Rights Movement, Michelle Alexander's 2010 book argues that mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow impacting black American lives, especially black men. In the text, Alexander explores how the war on drugs, piloted by the Ronald Reagan administration, created a system in which black Americans were stripped of their rights after serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.

11. SISTER OUTSIDER: ESSAYS AND SPEECHES // AUDRE LORDE

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Penguin Random House.

Originally published in 1984, Sister Outsider is an anthology of 15 essays and speeches written by lesbian feminist writer and poet Audre Lorde. The titles of her works are as intriguing as the content is eye-opening. For example: "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power" examines the way people, especially women, lose when they block the erotic—or deep passion—from their work and while exploring their spiritual and political desires. In "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," Lorde explains how feminism fails by leaving out the voices of black women, queer women, and poor women—which are ideas that are still shaping conversations within feminism today.

12. THE AUDACITY OF HOPE: THOUGHTS ON RECLAIMING THE AMERICAN DREAM // BARACK OBAMA

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Canongate Books

Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope was his second book and the No. 1 New York Times bestseller when it was released in the fall of 2006. The title was derived from a sermon he heard by Pastor Jeremiah Wright called "The Audacity to Hope." It was also the title of the keynote speech the then-Illinois State Senator gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Before becoming the 44th president of the United States, Obama's Audacity of Hope outlined his optimistic vision to bridge political parties so that the government could better serve the American people's needs.

13. THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: THE EPIC STORY OF AMERICA'S GREAT MIGRATION // ISABEL WILKERSON

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Penguin Random House.

During the Great Migration, millions of African Americans departed the Southern states to Northern and Western cities to escape Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the failing sharecropping system. Isabel Wilkerson, the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism, documented these movements in her 2010 book, which involved 15 years of research and interviews with 1200 people. The book highlights the stories of three individuals and their journeys, from Florida to New York City, Mississippi to Chicago, and Louisiana to Los Angeles. Wilkerson's excellent and in-depth documentation won her a National Book Critics Circle Award for the nonfiction work.

14. BROWN GIRL DREAMING // JACQUELINE WOODSON

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Penguin Random House.

Jacqueline Woodson's children's books and YA novels are inspired by her desire to highlight the lives of communities of color—narratives she felt were missing from the literature landscape. In her 2014 National Book Award-winning autobiography, Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson uses her own childhood story in verse form, to fill those representation voids. The author came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and subsequently the Black Power Movement, and lived between the laid-back lifestyle of South Carolina and the fast-paced New York City. Through her work, we are reminded of how family and community play a role in helping individuals persevere through life's trials.

15. REDEFINING REALNESS: MY PATH TO WOMANHOOD, IDENTITY, LOVE & SO MUCH MORE // JANET MOCK

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Amazon.

Janet Mock, an African-American and Hawaiian transgender activist and writer, began her career in media as a staff editor at People. In 2011, Mock decided to share her story with the world and came out as a transgender woman in a Marie Claire article, and after landing a book deal, she released this New York Times bestselling memoir in 2014. Mock used her platform to speak in full about her upbringing as a young girl of color in poverty and identifying as transgender—a courageous move that set her on a path to being an inspiring voice for those facing difficulty in accepting their identity.

16. FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES // CHARLES M. BLOW

Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In his 2014 memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow opens up about growing up in a segregated Louisiana town during the 1970s as the youngest of five brothers. In 12 chapters, Blow offers an extensive look at his path to overcoming the odds of poverty, the trauma of being a victim of childhood rape, and his gradual understanding of his bi-sexuality. Although these are hard truths to tell, Blow told NPR in 2014, he wrote this book especially for those who are going through similar experiences and need to know their lives are still worth living, despite their painful circumstances.

17. I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS // MAYA ANGELOU

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
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If you read anything by the late, great, prophetic poet Maya Angelou, her 1969 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings should be at the top of your list: It provides an in-depth look at the obstacles that shaped her early life. Angelou's childhood and teenage years were nomadic, as her separated parents moved her and her brother from rural Arkansas to St. Louis, Missouri, and eventually to California, where at different times she lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland. Besides the blatant racism she saw unfold around her in the South, a young Maya also faced childhood rape, and as a teen, homelessness and pregnancy. Angelou, who was at first reluctant to write the book, achieved much success with the text as she became the first African-American woman to have a non-fiction bestseller.

18. BABEL-17 // SAMUEL R. DELANY

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
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In 2015, Samuel R. Delany told The Nation that when he first began attending science fiction conferences in the 1960s, he was one of only a few black writers and enthusiasts present. Over the years, with his contributions and the work of others like Octavia Butler, whom he mentored, he opened doors for black writers in the genre. If you're looking for a sci-fi thriller taking place in space and centering a woman leader protagonist, Delany's 1967 Nebula Award-winning Babel-17 is the one. Rydra Wong, a spaceship captain, is intrigued by a mysterious language called Babel-17 that has the power to alter a person's perception of themselves and others, and possibly brainwash her to betray her government.

19. SPLAY ANTHEM // NATHANIEL MACKEY

Splay Anthem by Nathaniel Mackey
Background: iStock. Book Cover: New Directions Publishing.

Readers of Nathaniel Mackey's poetry are often intrigued by his ability to merge the worlds of music (particularly jazz) and poetry to create soul-grabbing rhythmic prose. Splay Anthem is a masterful work exhibiting his style, and the 2006 collection includes two poems Mackey had been writing for more than 20 years: "Song of the Andoumboulou," a ritual funeral song from the Dogon people of modern-day Mali; and "Mu." Splay Anthem is woven into three sections, "Braid," "Fray," and "Nub," in which two characters travel through space and time and whose final destinations are unclear. Mackey's nonlinear form is deliberate: "There's a lot of emphasis on movement in the poems, and there's a lot of questions about ultimate arrival, about whether there is such a state or place," he said in an excerpt from A Community Writing Itself: Conversations with Vanguard Writers of the Bay Area.

20. THE HATE U GIVE // ANGIE THOMAS

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Background: iStock. Book Cover: HarperCollins.

Angie Thomas is part of a new crop of African-American authors bringing fresh new storytelling to bookshelves near you. Her 2017 debut young adult novel, The Hate U Give, was inspired by the protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. It follows Starr Carter, a 16-year-old who has witnessed the police-involved shooting of her best friend Khalil. The book, which topped the New York Times bestseller chart, is a timely fictional tale which humanizes the voices behind one of the largest movements in present times.

21. NOT WITHOUT LAUGHTER // LANGSTON HUGHES

Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes
Background: iStock. Book Cover: Penguin Random House.

Take it back to where Harlem Renaissance legend Langston Hughes began his novelistic bibliography. In 1930's Not Without Laughter, Sandy Rogers is an African-American boy growing up in Kansas during the early 1900s—a story loosely based on Hughes's own experiences living in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. Hughes vividly paints his characters based on the "typical Negro family in the Middle West" he grew up around, he explained in his autobiography The Big Sea. In this way, Hughes paved the way for more storytelling about black life outside of urban, big city settings.

22. SALVAGE THE BONES // JESMYN WARD

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
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Jesmyn Ward's 2011 novel Salvage the Bones merges fiction with her real life experience surviving Hurricane Katrina as a native of a rural Mississippi town. Ward tells a new story through the eyes of Esch, a pregnant teenage girl who lives in poverty with her three brothers and a father who is battling alcoholism, in a fictional town called Bois Sauvage. Through this National Book Award-winning tale, Ward writes an emotionally intense and deep account about a family who must find a way to overcome differences and stick together to survive the passing storm.

23. DON'T CALL US DEAD // DANEZ SMITH

Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
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Don’t Call Us Dead is a cathartic series of poems that imagine an afterlife where black men can fully be themselves. Danez Smith's poignant words take heartbreaking imagery of violence upon the bodies of black men, and juxtapose them with scenes of a new plane, one that is much better than the existence they lived before. Upon arrival, it's a celebration, as men and boys are embraced by their fellow brothers and are able to truly experience being "alive." Smith's prose sticks, and you will think more deeply about the delicacy of life and death, long after you've put the book back on the shelf.

24. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD // COLSON WHITEHEAD

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
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Colson Whitehead brings a bit of fantasy to historical fiction in his 2016 novel The Underground Railroad. Historically, the underground railroad was a network of safe houses for runaways on their journey to reaching the freed states. But Whitehead invents a literal secret underground railroad with real tracks and trains in his novel. This system takes his main character, Cora, a woman who escaped a Georgia plantation, to different states and stops. Along her journey, she faces a new set of horrific hurdles that could hold her back from obtaining freedom.

25. DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS // WALTER MOSLEY

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
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If you're into mystery but don't know Walter Mosley, it's time to catch up. The crime-fiction author has published more than 40 books, with his Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins series being his most popular. Mosley's 1990 debut (and Easy's debut as well) Devil in a Blue Dress takes the reader to 1940s Watts, a Los Angeles neighborhood where we are first introduced to Easy, who has recently relocated to the City of Angels after losing his job in Houston. He finds a new line of work as a detective when a man at a bar wants him to track down a woman named Daphne Monet.

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7 Fascinating Details We Learned From Classic Movie Novelizations
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Universal Studios

Before the rise of on-demand entertainment sources, fans who fell in love with movies didn’t have many options beyond waiting for a theatrical re-release or home video rental. Revisiting Star Wars or King Kong instead meant picking up a novelization, a book-length prose adaptation that often expanded or added to a film’s plot.

Working from early drafts of a script sometimes meant that the writers assigned to these projects referenced details that weren’t present in the finished film. These facts can range from minor (Indiana Jones’s crushing student in Raiders of the Lost Ark may have been more of a stalker) to major (the Gremlins novelization depicts Mogwais as aliens from another planet). Check out seven of the more intriguing reveals found in the paperback versions of classic films.

1. E.T. HAD THE HOTS FOR ELLIOTT’S MOM

Steven Spielberg had enjoyed William Kotzwinkle’s 1974 novel The Fan Man so much that he invited Kotzwinkle to take on a plum assignment: novelizing the director’s big 1982 release, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Although Kotzwinkle stuck to the film’s fish-out-of-water clothesline and the friendship between the titular alien and human friend Elliott, he took some time to delve deeper into the accordion-necked creature’s proclivities—specifically, the idea that E.T. was not quite the asexual being portrayed in the film.

In the novel, E.T. is depicted as having a crush on Mary, Elliott’s (single) mother. After musing that it was unfortunate Mary was showing signs of being lonely, E.T.

"…crept down the hall to Mary's room and peeked in. The willow-creature was asleep, and he watched her for a long time. She was a goddess, the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. … Mary, said his old heart. Then upon paddle feet, he tiptoed over to her bed and gazed more closely.”

Perhaps watching someone while they sleep is considered acceptable on E.T.’s home planet. In any event, neither the prose version of Mary nor her onscreen incarnation (played by Dee Wallace) acknowledged that E.T. wanted to swipe right.

2. RENÉ BELLOQ AND INDIANA JONES WERE COLLEGE RIVALS.

Karen Allen and Paul Freeman in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Lucasfilm Ltd.

In the opening sequence of 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, we learn that two-fisted archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) will go to considerable lengths to acquire rare and valuable artifacts. We also discover that his archrival, René Belloq, will go a step further in seizing them. Belloq meets a satisfying, face-melting end during the movie’s climax, but viewers never learn that he and Indy had problems going back to graduate school. In Campbell Black’s novelization, it’s revealed that the two were classmates who drifted apart when Belloq plagiarized one of Indy’s essays. (The book also mentions that Indy’s love interest, Marion Ravenwood, was only 15 when Professor Jones seduced her, a fact best left on the cutting room floor.)

3. THE XEROMORPHS MIGHT BE PRETTY SMART.

In Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of 1979’s Alien, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is shown to be at odds with android Ash (Ian Holm) for his duplicitous behavior. Conversing with his decapitated head, Ripley discovers that Ash knows more about the Xenomorph terrorizing the crew of the Nostromo than he had let on. Near death, Ash hints that the alien might be intelligent and that she should try to communicate with it.

“Did you?” she asks.

“Please let my grave hold some secrets,” Ash replies.

Onscreen, the creature seemed less interested in interacting with humans and more preoccupied with treating them like incubators. In fairness, signs of intelligent life were hard to come by in that universe following 1986's Aliens.

4. ROCKY FORFEITED HIS WORLD TITLE TO FIGHT IVAN DRAGO.

Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV (1985)
MGM Home Entertainment

After watching his friend Apollo Creed get pummeled to death without doing anything to stop it, a penitent Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) travels to Russia to get revenge in 1985’s Rocky IV. The film makes it clear that Balboa’s bout with steroided Soviet hulk Ivan Drago is personal: He declares he’s not being paid for the match and will do it over the Christmas holiday, leaving his skittish wife and son to wonder if Rocky will be cognitively functional in time for eggnog.

The accompanying novelization, which is credited to Sylvester Stallone but may have been written by a ghostwriter, elaborates on Rocky’s obsession with the bout. After Creed’s death, Rocky tries to petition the sanctioning body for boxing to permit him to fight Drago. They refuse, and Rocky is forced to give up his heavyweight belt in order to compete. There are other complications—black sheep brother-in-law Paulie wrecks Rocky’s car—but most of it seems to be in the service of inserting details in place of the film’s trademark montages.

The book does correct one of the movie’s subjective flaws: Rocky is quick to throw in the towel during Creed’s beating, making Drago less an accidental murderer and more of an actual one.

5. GREMLINS ARE SPACE ALIENS THAT SPEAK ENGLISH.

The canon established by Chris Columbus’s script for 1984’s Gremlins says only that the Mogwai are a race of adorably over-fuzzed creatures that spawn demonic offspring when they get wet or are fed after midnight. In George Gipe’s novelization, readers learn that Mogwai are actually an alien race dispatched to different planets in order to display a “peaceful spirit.” Gipe also had the notion to have Gizmo and Stripe converse in the Queen’s English, with Stripe calling his rival “my dear enemy.” Joe Dante, the movie’s director, said Gipe “made up” their galactic backstory, telling Empire in 2014 that Mogwai are the result of dragons and pandas mating. It's as good an explanation as any.

6. JANINE DESIGNED THE GHOSTBUSTERS LOGO.

A screen shot from the 1984 film 'Ghostbusters'
Columbia Pictures

Released in 1984, Ghostbusters succeeded where many movies subsequently failed, mixing comedy with special effects in a story about four guys who treat ghost entrapment like pest extermination. Their secretary, Janine (Annie Potts) seems unaffected by the whole enterprise, answering the phone with “Gahhstbustahs.” But in the novelization by Richard Mueller, it’s revealed that she was responsible for the most iconic image of the business: the crossed-out Ghostbusters logo.

7. FERRIS BUELLER FUNDED HIS DAY OFF WITH SAVINGS BONDS.

Novelizing a John Hughes screenplay must have seemed like a thankless task. The prolific writer/director had a very distinctive voice that was carried by his adolescent characters. One of his most enduring creations was the title teenager of 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, an episodic tale of a high schooler (Matthew Broderick) who decides to skip class to hang out with his friends.

The film never specifies how Bueller comes up with the cash he spends in the course of his truancy, but the novel by Todd Strasser fills in the gaps. Apparently, Bueller convinces his father to give him the location of his savings bonds, which he proceeds to cash in at a local bank. He also steals a few bucks from his sister Jeanie.

The book provides other details, like what Ferris and his friends ate at the French restaurant and the fact that Ferris is apparently friendly with Garth Volbeck, the juvenile delinquent played by Charlie Sheen that Jeanie runs into in the police station near the end of the film.

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