During an October visit to Manhattan, sat down with TIME senior editor Nancy Gibbs and talked about her books; their three main characters, Harry Potter and his two best friends at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley; and what they mean to her. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
The bonding that takes place among Harry, Ron and Hermione is because each of them is disadvantaged in some way. Hermione is deeply insecure under her know-it-all manner, and the way to underline that aspect of her is to make her come, like Harry, from a different world [her parents are both Muggles, i.e., nonwizards], so that this is scary to her, and she copes with it the only way she knows how to cope, which is to overachieve.
"Harry has been catapulted into this [the Hogwarts experience], and he operates on a need-to-know basis only. He doesn't really want to go looking things up. The whole thing is very surreal to Harry. He copes in a very different way from Hermione--he's sort of sink-or-swim, I'll just deal with it minute to minute, which is possibly a more boyish way of coping, rather than go over and over all the angles, as I think a lot of young girls do.
"As much as Ron loves his father [a wizard who is unusually curious about the nonmagic world], that can also be an awkward thing for a child, to have a particularly unconventional parent. It's plausible that these three kids would get on so well together because they are all to some extent oddities in the world."
"Harry's more likely than Hermione and Ron to be depressed. He's got to fight harder against that because he went through 10 years of neglect [from his cruel relatives], and that leaves you with an enormous emptiness inside you. He really is a damaged person. So yes, he's more vulnerable. He's also a very brave person, who's going to keep fighting against depression.
"I admire bravery above almost every other characteristic. Bravery is a very glamorous virtue, but I'm talking bravery in all sorts of places. It was brave of Harry to answer back to the Dursleys [his aunt and uncle]; they had all the cards, and he was standing up for himself even then. That's why I love him so much. He's a fighter."
"No one's wholly good.
I would say Harry has flaws and failings. He was too proud [in the fourth book] to talk to Ron about what was bothering them both. Harry was walking around thinking, 'I'm the one with all the problems,' and he did have a lot of problems, but Ron had been a faithful friend for three years, and I would have cut Ron a little more slack. And what about Ginny [Ron's younger sister]? Poor Ginny, languishing in love for Harry, and he's merrily asking out other girls right under her nose! But that's just a boy thing."
"If we're going to talk about flawless little gentlemen, I don't think Harry is one. But he's an old soul compared to Ron, who's just your classic 14-year-old. I see Harry as an old soul. And you meet kids like that; I've taught kids like that. They are my people. I like those kids."