Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton Grad and Potterologist talks about her path to Harry

<nd chooses the wizard,” Mr. Ollivander tells Harry in the first installment of the immensely popular Harry Potter series.

And so it went in the publishing world for Cheryl Klein ’00, a Carleton graduate who helped edit the American editions of the last three Harry Potter books. 

“I find this idea both a little scary and remarkably comforting,” Klein said of Ollivander’s words during her convocation speech on April 23. “All your hidden internal qualities are finding an exterior [mode of expression]. But we don’t have wands. What we have instead is what we love.”

Klein’s speech, titled, “The Wand Chooses the Wizard: On Carleton, Children’s Books, and Creating Yourself,” was an optimistic ode to youth literature and one of its biggest themes:  staying true to who you are.

As a child, Klein was constantly reading, a self-declared “book-loving weirdo.” She was especially attracted to books about unpopular, displaced girls whose emotions matched her own. 

“I was torn between who I was and who I wanted to be, desperately,” she said. 

While reading, Klein took to the “be yourself” messages the books were sending in the form of two main structures:  the Rudolph story line, where a character’s differences end up helping other characters, and that of the Ugly Duckling, where the character finds a new community of friends that is more accepting of his or her differences.

“At some point I realized I was never going to be one of the popular girls. I set myself free to be a book-loving weirdo with my whole heart,” she said. “What fascinates me about these two structures is they don’t offer the opportunity for change. These stories say you cannot hide who you are.”

When it came time to apply for college, Klein came across Carleton, a school that offered a class solely on Jane Austen, one of her favorite authors in high school. She eventually found in Carleton a community of people just as quirky as she was.

“My life was taking the path I’d started in high school, the ugly duckling route, when I came to Carleton,” she said.

Fittingly, her first introduction to Harry Potter came on a road trip back to Carleton for her final fall term.  She began reading her roommate’s copy of Prisoner of Azkaban (the third of the seven-book series, for those who have somehow missed the craze) as she rode in the car, bought the first book at the bookstore along with her textbooks, and read the second over winter break. 

After working as a copy editor for The Carl and The Carletonian, writing for Sports Information, competing on the Quiz Bowl team and dancing in Ebony II, when Klein’s time at Carleton ended, she was without a job and unsure of what to do with her future, past a four-week program she would enroll in at the Denver Publishing Institute. The month between graduation and the start of the program found her envying her working friends and wondering whether the publishing path was a right choice.

“This uncertainty made me question everything I had done in my life,” she said. “The way other people take to religion or drugs, I took to mystery books, reading a set of 20 in four weeks.”
Looking around a bookstore one day, she found an issue of Harper’s magazine in which Harvard students asked author Dave Eggers how he “keeps his shit real.” Egger’s response had a profound impact on Klein.

He said, “There is no real shit or unreal shit. There is only saying yes to opportunities when they come… sometimes just for the experience of trying new things, of saying yes.”

So after the publishing institute, she moved to New York and applied for jobs in scores of publishing houses, including one that published books based on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. She ended up securing a job at Arthur A. Levine Books, the branch of Scholastic Inc. that originally bought the rights to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 

By then a huge fan of the series, Klein recalled the excitement she felt at the possible chance of working on the books. After having scoured the Internet in the CMC for news on Goblet of Fire before its release in July 2000, reading fan pages in utter disappointment that the book’s details were kept so secret, she would soon become one of the first ten people in the world to read the last three of J.K. Rowling’s books.

“The feeling never changed from the first time I read Goblet of Fire,” she said of reading the manuscripts. Only now, she was taking notes on her reactions, marking the places she started crying and the ones that felt incomplete or had holes that needed to be filled. 

Called the series’ chief “Potterologist” in an article by Time magazine, Klein was responsible for maintaining consistency in events, references, spellings and characters’ actions throughout the books. 

“Every time you see ‘Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans’… it was Bott’s B-O-T-T-apostrophe-S, not S-apostrophe, and ‘Flavor’ was spelled the American way, without a ‘u’,” she said. “If Harry forgot his cloak in one scene, I had to make sure we saw him go back to his room and get it” before using it again.

Klein says the Harry Potter books are a great example of the Ugly Duckling story line, where Harry leaves his cruel relatives to join the wizarding community at Hogwarts and capitalize on the things that make him different.

“You can only be who you are,” she said. “I still find that truth painful. We get letters at work addressed to Dumbledore with kids begging to come to Hogwarts because they don’t fit in where they are.”

But unlike books, Klein said, life can’t always be wrapped up neatly at the end. For her, the continued challenges and triumphs are what make real life worth living, and she encouraged students to take advantage of their college years to explore all of the opportunities available to them.

“Books have endings, but the real happy ending of life is its not having an ending,” she said.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *