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JK Rowling booked into Britannica

SANDWICHED between a Jacobean dramatist and a New Zealand premier, Harry Potter creator JK Rowling has earned an entry in the hallowed pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica alongside the likes of Einstein and Freud.

The millionaire author joins pop star Madonna and film actor Sir Anthony Hopkins among the new names to be included in the 2002 version of the 234-year-old reference book.

The new names are part of an effort by the publishers to include famous people from popular culture in the traditionally conservative publication.

Others who find their way in include Dame Judi Dench, Peter Sellers, Bob Marley, Richard Branson, Gerry Adams, Tiger Woods, Giorgio Armani and US vice president Dick Cheney.

Rowling’s entry has been placed between William Rowley, a 16th-century Jacobean dramatist who wrote The Changeling with Thomas Middleton, and Wallace Edward Rowling, a premier in New Zealand in the mid-1970s.

Christine Hodgson of Encyclopaedia Britannica said the new entries showed the encyclopaedia was moving with the times. But cultural commentators said Rowling and others had not yet stood the test of time and should not be included.

Hodgson said the editors decided to include Rowling because she shot to fame in such a short time and has achieved global fame.

Hodgson said: "Britannica normally concentrates on academic types, but because public interest has changed and there is more interest in modern culture and pop stars, and that is what people want to read about, we have included for the first time people like Bob Marley and modern-day icons of pop like Madonna. There’s a more recognised culture around these people and it shows Britannica is moving with the times.

"At the same time, we continue to cover traditional subjects with the same scholarly excellence for which Britannica has long been known.

"They look at the career of each person and they would have wanted to see how JK Rowling’s career developed before she got an entry.

"She shot to fame in such a small span of time and has made herself known globally. The editors decided she was worthy of recognition.

"Harry Potter has sold millions and has caused a storm across the globe and, with films being made about her titles, that brought her to the editors’ notice."

"She has had a massive influence on children and adults."

Rowling is the world’s richest female author and has sold some 130 million copies of her books. They are available in 100 countries and have been translated into 25 languages.

Rowling’s Encyclopaedia Britannica entry says she was born in Chepstow, Wales, in 1965 and started writing at the age of six. Graduating from Exeter University in 1986, she moved to London where she worked for Amnesty International.

The entry explains how Rowling had the idea for the Harry Potter books in 1990 while she was on a train and went on to write stories in cafes and pubs.

In the early 1990s, she travelled to Portugal to teach English as a foreign language and, after a brief marriage and the birth of her daughter, she settled in Edinburgh where she lived on "public assistance".

The entry also explains who the characters in her children’s books are and mentions Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Rowling’s publicity agent, Dotti Irving, said: "She will be very pleased to be included. To think she has been included because her books have such a wide readership will be very important to her."

But Bonnie Greer, a social commentator, playwright and writer, said it was "unfortunate" that Madonna and Rowling had been included, because they had not stood the test of time.

"The Encyclopaedia Britannica has always had a timeless quality about it and has told us about culture in a permanent way," she said.

"Including pop icons like Madonna and JK Rowling is unfortunate because it’s pandering to a proliferation of popular culture. It should reflect what has actually stood the test of time. Unfortunately, Madonna and JK Rowling have not."

Rowling’s is one of 350 new entries in the 32-volume encyclopaedia, which includes 8,000 articles.

Sections of the encyclopaedia were also revised to take account of the September 11 terror attacks.

The pages were being printed at the time of the disaster, but work was halted to allow an update on entries for New York City, terrorism, the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

 
 
 

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