LOS ANGELES — Over 10 years and seven "Harry Potter" novels, author J.K. Rowling has given the world a singularly unique literary universe, where wizards and witches exist and magic is as close as a train ride to Hogwarts. But for 1,600 students, the most magical gift of all was a chance to meet their literary hero in person.
Rowling began a cross-country Open Book Tour at the Kodak Theatre on Monday (October 15), where she read from Chapter 3 of her latest novel, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and answered several audience questions before signing a copy of the novel for each student.
For Rowling, the chance to interact with her fans was a "real treat," she said.
"Things had got a little unmanageable signing-wise in terms of the numbers turning up, but I really missed being able to interact directly with readers," she told a group of reporters during a morning press conference. "So we were looking for a way to manage kids and ensure that they were safe and so on, but also [to give them the opportunity to] have direct contact [with me] and answer their questions in person. This seemed like the ideal way to do it."
Although she invited questions about the books, most of the early student questions had to do with Rowling herself, with the schoolchildren all curious about what most inspired her growing up, what parts of her life were reflected in the novels, and whether she always had such a vast imagination.
But like in the novels themselves, it was the great question of Severus Snape that brought down the house. A wide grin across her face, Rowling said she delighted in the fact that, even after "Deathly Hallows," there was still some speculation as to the true leanings of the erstwhile Potions Master.
"Snape is vindictive, he's cruel. He's not a big man," she insisted. "But he loves. I like him, but I'd also like to slap him hard."
Earlier, Rowling said she was particularly pleased with how Snape's story played out throughout the course of the series, contrasting his character arc with that of Dumbledore.
"Although [Dumbledore] seems to be so benign for six books, he's quite a Machiavellian figure, really. He's been pulling a lot of strings. Harry has been his puppet," she explained. "When Snape says to Dumbledore [toward the end of 'Hallows'], 'We've been protecting [Harry] so he could die at the right moment' — I don't think in book one you would have ever envisioned a moment where your sympathy would be with Snape rather than Dumbledore."
Rowling struck a conversational tone during the Q&A session, with quick asides for loud audience reactions (never louder than when she mentioned Lupin and Tonks, two casualties of book seven — their names elicited a deafening "Awww" from the collected readers). When one girl came up to the microphone holding a plush Hedwig doll, Rowling thanked her for bringing the owl back to life, expressing shock that after "Deathly Hallows" was released, most early commenters were upset she killed Harry's pet. "And I murdered a human in the first chapter!" she laughed.
But fans waiting for yet another chapter in the life and times of Harry Potter may have to wait long, she said. Regarding a long-rumored "Harry Potter Encyclopedia," Rowling told reporters that "It's not coming along, and I haven't started it yet. I never envisioned that as being the next thing I did. I wanted to take a break and a step back and then [do that] in due course."
But that doesn't mean she won't be writing something soon, she exclaimed.
"I will always write," she said. "I want to fall in love with something the way I fell in love with Harry."