Read like Rowling: Five Books that Influenced “Harry Potter”

Posted by Blair Thornburgh
The magic of the Harry Potter series (besides, you know, the wand-waving and stuff) is how easy the books are to sink into: the characters are delightful, the language is beautiful, and the lessons are profound. But these beloved tales of adventure and coming-of-age become even more rewarding when you’ve read all the books that its author relished as a reader.
The creatrix of the most beloved children’s series of ever is herself a ferocious bookworm (surprising, right?) who read and wrote stories all through her childhood and earned a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter. Here are five titles that cast a spell on Joanne Kathleen Rowling.

The Story of the Treasure Seekers, by E. Nesbit: In a 2000 interview with the Sunday Herald, Rowling called this children’s tale “a tour de force.” She also expressed a more personal connection with its author: “I think I identify with E Nesbit more than any other writer.
She said that, by some lucky chance, she remembered exactly how she felt and thought as a child, and I think you could make a good case, with this book as Exhibit A, for prohibition of all children's literature by anyone who can not remember exactly how it felt to be a child.”
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: Rowling has also praised this midcentury young adult novel for its “women who dominate the book. Clever, perceptive Cassandra, who tells the story through her journal; sulky, dissatisfied Rose, a beauty without Cassandra's brains, whose only escape, as she sees it, is marriage to a rich man; and the immortal Topaz, their young and beautiful stepmother, a hippy well before her time, who enjoys naked hilltop dancing, baking and playing the lute.”
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis: Few young readers escape childhood without a journey through CS Lewis’s wardrobe, and young Rowling was no exception: she “adored” the books. As an adult, however, she’s said that “reading them now I find that his subliminal message isn't very subliminal at all” and that “in the Narnia books the children are never allowed to grow up, even though they are growing older. I want Harry Potter and his friends to grow up as well as older.”
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge: Rowling has called this story her “favourite” and cited it in a 2002 interview as the biggest influence on Harry Potter, “perhaps more than any other book. The author always included details of what her characters were eating and I remember liking that. You may have noticed that I always list the food being eaten at Hogwarts.”
Macbeth, William Shakespeare: Besides the obvious spellcasting and potion brewing, The Scottish Play intrigued Rowling with its themes of fate vs. choice: “I absolutely adore ‘Macbeth.’ It is possibly my favorite Shakespeare play. And that's the question isn't it? If Macbeth hadn't met the witches, would he have killed Duncan? Would any of it have happened? Is it fated or did he make it happen? I believe he made it happen.”
Blair Thornburgh

Blair Thornburgh

BLAIR THORNBURGH is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in medieval studies and delivered a pretty good commencement speech. She lives in Philadelphia.