Only 500 copies of the first edition of the first Harry Potter book were published, and a very special one is up for auction, crammed with notes and drawings by JK Rowling, writes Martyn McLaughlin
FOR avid fans of Harry Potter who have long wondered what went through the mind of JK Rowling as she sculpted her world of muggles and magic, there is a particular book that offers a unique glimpse of her vivid imagination.
The “definitive” copy of the first instalment of the boy wizard’s adventures will today go under the hammer, allowing the winner to pore over Rowling’s personal margin notes, annotations and illustrations of her beloved characters.
It’s a unique first edition hardback of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in a seven-part series that went on to sell more than 400 million copies worldwide and spawn several blockbuster film adaptations.
Sotheby’s, which is auctioning the edition for charity this evening in London, described the book as a providing remarkable insight into the creative genius of the author.
Personalised across 43 pages, Rowling’s copy features 22 illustrations and around 1,100 words of notes.
The first is on the title page, where she writes of how the publication “changed my life forever”. Elsewhere, she reflects on the scattershot way she wrote the book, and how 16 years after its publication, every memory of that process remains with her.
“I wrote the book … in snatched hours, in clattering cafés or in the dead of night,” she writes. “For me, the story of how I wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is written invisibly on every page, legible only to me. Sixteen years after it was published, the memories are as vivid as ever as I turn these pages.”
In the chapter that introduces readers to Quidditch, the wizard world’s competitive sport, she writes how the game “was invented in a small hotel in Manchester after a row with my then
boyfriend”. She also questions whether using a badger to represent Hufflepuff – one of the four houses at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft where Harry studies – was the right choice.
She writes: “Perhaps Hufflepuff would have the respect it deserves from fans if I’d stayed with my original idea – a bear to represent it?”
Among the edition’s drawings is a rough sketch of the Hogwarts crest, and one of the orphaned baby Harry wrapped in blankets and left on a doorstep with a note.
Dr Philip W Errington, director of printed books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, said: “This can undoubtedly be regarded as the definitive copy of any Harry Potter book.
“Not only is it a fine copy of a first edition of the first book, but the author has significantly personalised it with numerous written comments and many impressive and evocative illustrations.
“The personality of the author leaps from these pages and we are treated to a remarkable insight into her creative genius.”
Proceeds from the sale of the first edition – which had an initial print run of 500 – will go towards English PEN, a worldwide writers’ association that campaigns to defend writers whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk, and to the Lumos Foundation, a children’s charity founded by Rowling. The auction, entitled “First Edition, Second Thoughts”, includes 49 other annotated first editions by notable authors including Alan Bennett, Ian McEwan, and Tom Stoppard, who were asked to revisit their famous works and jot down notes and thoughts.