The boy who lived had, in fact, lived ever since 1972.
A short story entitled “Harry Potter” was published in a communist Poland, on March 19, 1972, in a literary magazine Życie Literackie. Its author, Jan Rostworowski (1919-1975), was a Polish poet and short story writer. In 1940, as a soldier of the Polish Army, he came to Great Britain, where he spent twenty-eight years.
Rostworowski’s text published 25 years before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone tells a story of a seventeen-year-old Harry Potter who, unlike J.K. Rowling’s protagonist, does not receive his Hogwarts letter.
In fact, his life is rather ordinary – as a shopkeeper, he delivers the original Cracovian sausage and pickles. He is not quite talkative, as he replies mostly with “Oh yeah” and “Oh no.” In the end – he suddenly vanishes.
Bogusław Rostworowski, the son of Jan Rostworowski, explained that the story was, in fact, the poet’s memory from times when he used to deliver meat to an English shop. The character of Harry Potter was to depict the shop owner.
Rostworowski made the name up – however, it is important to highlight that the surname “Potter” was rather popular in England at that time.
Apart from the name of the protagonist, the only similarities to J.K. Rowling’s works which can be found in the Polish text are two passages. One of them is: “The telephone in Harry’s house does not ring, but chirps like a bird” – which for the Potterheads might resemble magical carrier owls. The other is that the narrator casts a curse on “Mr. P.” Apart from that – the texts are not at all alike.
Is it possible that J. K. Rowling had ever seen Rostworowski’s work before publishing the Harry Potter series? It’s highly unlikely because when the Polish Harry Potter story was published, Rowling was merely seven years old, and was living near Bristol, in a small village Winterbourne.
On the other hand, let’s have a look at what J.K. Rowling said in 2000, in an interview for Scholastic, when asked from where she got the name for Harry Potter:
“Harry” has always been my favourite boy’s name, so if my daughter had been a son, he would have been Harry Rowling. Then I would have had to choose a different name for “Harry” in the books, because it would have been too cruel to name him after my own son. “Potter” was the surname of a family who used to live near me when I was seven years old and I always liked the name, so I borrowed it.
Maybe both authors knew the same shop owner? Right now, I am trying to find out where exactly Jan Rostworowski lived during his stay in Great Britain.
The news about the Harry Potter short story hit the Polish internet back in 2011, but now you can see it with your own eyes, as it was recently digitized by the Digital Library of Malopolska.
“Harry Potter” – a short story by Jan Rostworowski
“Harry Potter” – a short story by Jan Rostworowski, published in a Polish literary magazine Życie Literackie in March 1972.
The front cover of Życie Literackie No. 12, from March 19, 1972 – “Harry Potter” short story in the table of content.
An illustration for “Harry Potter,” created by Piotr Turnau.
Page 10 of Życie Literackie with the entire text of “Harry Potter.”
Via Radio Zet.
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