Othen JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone she didn’t just bring characters to life with words, she also drew illustrations. They weren’t included when the book was published, but now the author’s original drawings will appear alongside his story for the first time when the book is reprinted to mark his 25th anniversary.
One sketch shows Rubeus Hagrid, Professor Albus Dumbledore and Professor Minerva McGonagall huddled together in a moonlit Privet Drive, while a small series of five drawings depict Diagon Alley. All reveal Rowling’s early sentiment for the characters now familiar to children around the world as the stars of a series that has sold over 500 million copies and been translated into 80 languages.
The book is being reissued next month as part of the silver anniversary celebrations, this time complete not only with Rowling’s sketches from the early 1990s, but also the famous cover drawn in 1996 by an early designer, Thomas Taylor.
“I’m often asked if I was paralyzed by the pressure of producing the cover art for the very first edition,” says Taylor, 48. “But that’s because nowadays it’s hard to imagine a time when no one had heard of Harry Potter. I was a newly graduated art student in 1996 and was looking for my first break in the drawing.
It had seemed like a good warm-up job for a budding young illustrator: creating illustrations for a new children’s book about a wizarding schoolboy. Twenty-five years later, Taylor’s cover has become one of the most recognizable images in world literature.
The new hardback will be on sale for a year and includes an explanation of a mystery that has long baffled most devoted readers. When Taylor was commissioned at age 23, he was asked to provide an additional image of a wizard for the back cover. Puzzled for quick inspiration, he wrote, he drew a study of his own “magical” father, Robert, wearing a pointed hat and smoking a big pipe. “’Who is it?’ readers wanted to know. “It’s not Dumbledore, it’s not Quirrell and it’s not Snape,” he wrote.
The pressure to solve the puzzle quickly grew intense, with fans suggesting rival interpretations.
“Was there a secret here?” Was this a hint of something that would happen in later books? And what was in the pocket of the mysterious wizard’s coat? The questions kept coming, Taylor recalls. “Conspiracy theories began to grow, and the trickle of letters and emails to Bloomsbury became a torrent, until finally I was asked to replace my father with an Albus Dumbledore painting.”
Addressing the Observer, Taylor also solved another thorny question that puzzled fans – what made the odd shape in the wizard’s deep pocket. “I thought it might just be a hedgehog,” he said. “Maybe that’s the kind of thing he needs. I didn’t plan on it becoming a huge thing that would follow me throughout my life, though. You expect your first job to be completely forgotten.
Taylor’s father died in 2020 and the original sketch was auctioned off after the films were released. “I thought all the old footage would definitely be replaced with stills,” he said. “I don’t know who has it now.”
In March, a perfectly intact first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone fetched £69,000 at auction. There were only 500 copies of the first print run in 1997, of which about 300 were for libraries and schools and the rest for bookstores. Crucial typographical errors mark them, including the double appearance of a wand on the list of required items for students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, on page 53.
Taylor didn’t get his own first edition, but when he looks proudly at the cover illustration, showing “The Boy Who Lived” with his lightning bolt scar standing next to the Hogwarts Express on platform nine and three quarters with his bolt scar flash, he knows what changes he would make.
“I would do it completely differently now,” he said. “Harry was about to get on the train at King’s Cross so I thought he should just wear some old clothes. I’ll put him in something different now. And maybe too much of it of the station is visible.
Taylor, now an established children’s author with her own book series, The Eerie-on-Sea Mysteries, optional for filming, admires Rowling’s images in this edition, which were first seen six years ago years on the Pottermore fan site. “I love his designs,” he said. “I really like it when a writer does their own images, and these are really lovely. They should be in every book, really.
Taylor got his chance after leaving a portfolio containing sample images of wizards and dragons in the Bloomsbury offices. The publisher phoned him at the children’s bookstore where he worked and Barry Cunningham – the publisher who rescued Rowling’s book from the pile of unsolicited manuscripts of aspiring writers – asked him to paint Harry Approaching of the Hogwarts Express.
“There was back and forth on how to draw Harry simultaneously approaching the train from the front, without presenting the back of his head to the reader, and then I was given a printed manuscript to read in my own train back home,” he recalled.
As a result, Taylor was one of the first people to read the book.
The anniversary hardback will be published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books on June 9.