Two Vacancies: J.K. Rowling's Novel and a New Archbishop

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Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman; this is The World. Book stores get ready — J. K. Rowling has written a new book titled 'The Casual Vacancy' and it hits the shelves tomorrow. My colleague Alex Gallafent is here and Alex, what can we expect?

Alex Gallafent: Darkness and wonder, Marco. This is a tale of Muggles; of a small village churning with secrets. "Printeramus!", cried the publisher Little, Brown, his cape swirling while smoke…

Werman: Wait a second. Stop. I know the story well enough, Alex, to know that there is no Harry Potter and no Dark Arts. What's going on?

Gallafent: Harry Potter. It's just so hard to think of J. K. Rowling without that little boy wizard now. I mean, even she can't let it go. In an interview with our friends the BBC, J. K. Rowling said the years of Potter pressure forced her to rush at least two of the books — she's still talking about it.

J.K. Rowling: There were a couple of the Potters I definitely knew that they needed another year where I had to write on the run. And I read them and I think, "Oh God, maybe I'll go back and do a director's cut. I don't know."

Werman: Well, I guess Alex, after Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling can write pretty much whatever she wants, even if that means re-writing Harry Potter.

Gallafent: Yeah. In fact, she said Harry Potter has liberated her.

Rowling: No part of me felt, "Right, I've got to prove." I had nothing to prove. Now, I don't mean that in an arrogant way. I can pay my bills every day. I am grateful for that fact. I don't need to publish.

Gallafent: So, J. K. Rowling says she only writes now if she genuinely has something she wants to say on the page.

Werman: And, right now that's her new novel — 'The Casual Vacancy', I guess.

Gallafent: Exactly, and it's very, very different to Harry Potter. A bit of poverty, drug-taking, a portrait of teenagers who are self-harming; someone calling it a kind of Dickensian portrait of a small community and it's very much written for adults.

Werman: So, no Dark Arts but it is dark art. And the title, what does that refer to?

Gallafent: It's a bit of jargon from English local politics. One of the plots in the book revolves around a Parish Council. It's kind of like the smallest administrative unit there is in England. A casual vacancy is when a Parish Councilor either resigns or is disqualified from office or dies while in office and that's exactly the jumping off point for this book.

Werman: And the Parish part of that title, the Parish office that refers, I guess, to a local church?

Gallafent: Kind of. Today, Parish Councils in England are civil bodies. They are not religious. But, yes, the local parish means a small geographical area with a local parish church and a parish priest at its heart and it's conflict in one of those communities that J. K. Rowling's book is in part about.

Werman: Well, that's a very good point to pivot because that actually fits with something else in the news today — developments in the Church of England.

Gallafent: Right. So we're moving away from J. K. Rowling now. Churches in the U.K., Parish Churches are, as you say, part of the Church of England and that itself is part of the global Anglican Church. You know Anglican Churches are all over the planet. Both bodies are led…their principal Priest is the Archbishop of Canterbury and that's currently Dr. Rowan Williams. He's not like the Pope in the Catholic Church who has full jurisdiction, if you like, over Catholics everywhere. With Anglicans, it's more about moral authority; he's supposed to be a kind of a supreme spiritual leader. Today, in England, they are starting the process of picking a new Archbishop of Canterbury. Now, here's one of the people being talked about for the job — a British Bishop by the name of Graham James.

Graham James: The Archbishop of Canterbury's role is a hugely important one but of course it's a massively demanding one because you have loads of expectations placed upon you, but relatively little power.

Werman: Now, he mentioned big expectations. What kind of things?

Gallafent: Right now, the job is in large part just about keeping the Anglican Communion, the global Anglican Church; just keeping it together. In the 10 years that Rowan Williams has been Archbishop of Canterbury, Anglicans have been painfully divided over things like gay marriage or allowing women and gay men to become Priests when you think of conservative Anglican churches in African countries, for instance. None of these issues is subtle so it's kind of an impossible job.

Werman: Right. And so, why would anybody want this impossible job?

Gallafent: It's not something you're supposed to want. It's something you're called to do by God, and here's the Bishop Graham James again.

James: I'm fairly sure that the whole process will lead, I hope and pray, to God choosing somebody other than me.

Gallafent: And, if he gets the nod…

James: Well, I should pray a lot more [laughs].

Werman: The World's Alex Gallafent, thank you.

Gallafent: Thanks Marco.