Celebrations mark 20th anniversary of first Harry Potter book

It has stood the test of time as a prescient assessment of one of the 20th century's literary sensations.
JK Rowling with a first edition in 1997. Picture: Mark Beltran/Daily Mail/REX/ShutterstockJK Rowling with a first edition in 1997. Picture: Mark Beltran/Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock
JK Rowling with a first edition in 1997. Picture: Mark Beltran/Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock

When, in the year of the Scottish devolution referendum, The Scotsman cast a critical eye over the debut offering by an unknown children’s author, the words leapt off the page.

“The book makes a stand for the power of inventive storytelling in the face of formula horror and sickly romance,” wrote reviewer Lindsey Fraser, pictured above

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Noting how the writer used “classic narrative devices with flair and originality” while delivering a “complex and demanding plot in the form of a hugely entertaining thriller”, Fraser was unstinting in her praise. The author stood out as a “first-rate writer for children”.

Two decades on, few would disagree with such a glowing assessment of JK Rowling’s talents.

The book, Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, was published with an initial hardback print run of just 500 copies, but the series it spawned has sold nearly 500 million copies.

The seven novels of the boy wizard’s adventures have been translated into 79 languages, with the franchise spun out into cinema, theatre productions, video games and even theme parks.

With tomorrow marking exactly 20 years since the release of the first book, Fraser said she vividly remembers her first encounter with Rowling’s creation.

In 1997 she was working for the Scottish Book Trust, as well as writing reviews for newspapers. One day, she was sent the manuscript of Philosopher’s Stone by Roz de la Hey, then part of the Bloomsbury marketing department. Within a few pages she was hooked.

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“It was a welcome relief from the gritty realism which seemed to dominate at the time. It was inventive and witty, a real page-turner, and I loved the relationship between the three children.

“It was also longer than usual, so there was room for the plot to develop. There was a classic feel to it – it reminded me of the way I felt when I read a really involving book as a child.

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“So it was a win-win situation – a book we could talk about with children, and a local author. We included it in our summer reading promotion. I remember Bloomsbury was quite grateful to us for that!”

The explosion in hype, she said, came as soon as it emerged that US publisher Scholastic Press had bought the rights to the book for £100,000.

As part of the anniversary celebrations surrounding Philosopher’s Stone, events are taking place across the country. In Edinburgh, a pop-up exhibition is being staged tomorrow at the National Library of Scotland. The highlight is a rare first edition of the book, filled with personal notes and drawings by Rowling.

The Edinburgh Bookshop is organising a 20th anniversary party in Morningside’s Christ Church, while dozens of bookshops across the UK will be holding Harry Potter book quizzes.