It’s been 25 years since the publication of J K ROWLING’s novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in her critically and commercially acclaimed ‘Harry Potter’ series. In celebration of this anniversary, AKINA HANSEN looks back on its beginnings and legacy.
While sitting on a train travelling from the busy city of Manchester to London King’s Cross in 1990, J K Rowling had the germ of an idea for a novel. ‘The idea for Harry Potter fell into my head … A scrawny, little, black-haired, bespectacled boy became more and more of a wizard to me … I began to write Philosopher’s Stone that very evening.’
Prior to achieving commercial and critical success, Rowling struggled to get Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone published. It was initially rejected by 12 different publishing houses before finally finding a home.
Bloomsbury, a major UK publishing house, now home to authors such as Sarah J Maas, George Saunders and Susanna Clarke, was a relatively young publishing company at the time it took the punt on Harry Potter, ultimately making the deal to print 500 copies.
The publisher was concerned that if they placed a Joanne’s name on the book, that boys were unlikely to read it as they believed that boys were less likely to read a book by a woman. So it was decided that Joanne would be J K Rowling.
Upon publication in 1997, the book quickly went on to become an instant bestseller and within two years, 300 000 copies were sold in the UK. Today her series has sold over 500 million copies and has been translated into more than 80 languages. They have propelled Rowling into the literary stratosphere making her the only billionaire author on the planet.
This year marks 25 years since publication of the first book and, to celebrate, Bloomsbury has released a special commemorative hardcover edition featuring the much-loved original cover design, with artwork by Thomas Taylor.
The ‘Harry Potter’ books and their epic adventures have moved both children and adults alike and almost single-handedly changed many children who were not readers into total bookworms.
Rowling’s groundbreaking decision to have her fans grow up alongside her characters nurtured an intense bond between her readers and the stories and characters.
There are seven books in the series: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire the Order of the Phoenix, the Half-Blood Prince and the Deathly Hallows.
For the few who have not read the series, the novels follow a wizard boy named Harry Potter, and his friends Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, as they navigate being students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Over the course of the seven books, we see Harry and his friends fight the return of the evil wizard, Lord Voldemort, who terrorises the wizarding community and attempts to subjugate the wizarding body with the purpose of eradicating muggles (non-magical people).
Each book is set in a school year, and as the novels progress, the themes get darker and more mature. Early on we’re informed about the dark days of Lord Voldemort and the chaos and destruction he left behind, but it’s not until the fourth novel, Goblet of Fire, that we really learn about the extent of his reign of terror. Ultimately the underpinning arc throughout the novels serve as an allegory for tyranny and highlight the various bureaucratic failings that make way for the abuse of power.
Despite the dark themes that underpin the series, the novels are also filled with hilarious experiences and events that many young people identify with.
In late primary school I began reading the books, and when I entered my first year of high school, I eagerly anticipated the release of the last book in the series, The Deathly Hallows.
Dementor • Creature who drains the happiness and life out of humans.
The intensity with which my peers and I read through that final book, speaks to the bewitching and enduring nature of its material. We related to the characters in ways that only happen in extraordinary storytelling; we felt for their struggles and cheered for their successes in school, love, and friendships.
Much like the book series, the eight-part film adaptations proved to be commercially successful with the total value of the franchise estimated at a staggering 25 billion dollars. Over the years the films have gained much attention from their star-studded cast members, which featured the likes of Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh, to name a few. The ongoing popularity of the film franchise has helped draw in a new generation of readers, continuing to hook them them into the world of reading. The world that Rowling created, nurtured an intense longing and curiosity among its fans for the world of ‘Harry Potter’, which has resulted in spin-offs that include the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ film franchise and The Cursed Child play. Since 2010, you can even visit ‘The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’, a chain of themed areas at Universal Parks and Resorts, where you can try butter beer, chocolate frogs, and if you’re brave enough, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
After 25 years the power of Rowling’s storytelling has left us all still dreaming of what it might be like to receive a letter from Hogwarts, stepping onto the Hogwarts Express, putting on the sorting hat, imagining what our Patronus charms might be, picturing what we might discover in the Room of Requirement, exploring Hogwarts in the dead of night with our trusty Marauder’s map and invisibility cloak, and finally saying the words ‘Mischief Managed!’.
GLOSSARY OF USEFUL HARRY POTTER WORDS
Azkaban • A prison for wizarding criminals who are guarded by Dementors.
Chamber of Secrets • An underground room created by Salazar Slytherin that keeps an unknown horror.
Death Eaters • Witches and wizards who are loyal to Lord Voldemort.
Dementor • Creature who drains the happiness and life out of humans.
Goblet of Fire • A cup that is used to select the contenders in the Triwizard Tournament.
Gryffindor House • One of the four houses in Hogwarts that was founded by Godric Gryffindor.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry • A school that teaches the art of witchcraft and wizardry. It was founded more than 1000 years ago by the following witches and wizards: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin.
Hufflepuff House • One of the four houses in Hogwarts that was founded by Helga Hufflepuff.
Marauder’s Map • A map that shows all the secret passageways and the current whereabouts of everyone in Hogwarts.
Ministry of Magic • Government agency that helps hide the wizarding world from muggles.
Muggle • Non-magical person.
Order of the Phoenix • A secret society of witches and wizards that was founded to fight against Lord Voldemort.
Patronus • A charm that conjures up a magical guardian who protects against Dementors.
Philosopher’s Stone • A stone that produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.
Platform nine and three-quarters • The platform at King’s Cross Station where you board the Hogwarts Express.
Room of Requiremen • A secret room in Hogwarts that appears when a person is in great need of something.
Ravenclaw House • One of the four houses in Hogwarts that was founded by Rowena Ravenclaw.
Slytherin House • One of the four houses in Hogwarts that was founded by Salazar Slytherin.
Sorting Hat • The hat that places students in one of the four Hogwarts houses.
Triwizard Tournament • Competition between the three schools of witchcraft and wizardry. Each school selects a champion to compete in three magical tasks.
Unforgivable Curses • The Killing Curse (which kills instantly) the Imperius Curse (which takes complete control of another person) and the Cruciatus Curse (which inflicts torture). The use of these curses is illegal.