My literary Christmas present to myself has been take the time to reread the entire Harry Potter series, now that it’s complete. The Potter phenomenon is ten years old this year. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Raincoast, 223 pages) came out in 1997, seven years after J.K. Rowling first got the idea for the book while travelling on a train. The manuscript was not an immediate success, having been rejected by eight publishers before Bloomsbury picked it up in the United Kingdom. Canada’s Raincoast Books seems to have been more discerning than that.
With very little promotion the books took off by word of mouth and three of them were published in rapid succession, creating a renaissance in children’s fantasy publishing, which had been bogged down in R. L. Stine’s high impact Òhorror story lite” territory for a number of years.
Book one gave us Hogwarts School and the basic plot outline that Rowling would follow for the next several books.
In a kind of reverse Enid Blyton formula (her stories always took place during school holidays), Rowling gave us a series of adventures that started in the mundane world, usually around Harry’s birthday, and then moved to a boarding school and took place mainly during the school year. Only in the last novel of the series would she break away from this entirely.
Harry’s close friends Ron and Hermione (a name hardly used since Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, though I seem to recall it from an old Agatha Christie novel as well), his mentor, Professor Dumbledore, and the arch-villain Lord Voldemort.
The book was a quirky adventure tale about an 11 year old orphan whose world is turned upside down when he finds out that everything he’s ever been told about himself is a lie. The tale is told in mostly straightforward prose with a leavening of humour and enough layers that it appealed to adults as well as its target market of 9 to 11 year olds. By the time the third book had appeared the publishers had decided that the bright primary colours on the covers by Thomas Taylor and Chris Wright were unappealing to adults and had begun to market a set of the books with toned down adult covers featuring iconic elements from the story rather than the characters.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Raincoast, 251 pages) took place when Harry was 12, expanded the story line, began to flesh out the character of Lord Voldemort and, unlike a good many sequels, did not suffer by comparison with the original,
Now that the entire heptalogy (seven books) is in print it seems clear that Rowling had a plot outline for the entire series quite early in her writing. Rereading the first two books now I am picking up all sorts of tidbits that turn out to be important in the later books.
At the risk of being entirely too sentimental I have to say that this year’s Christmas holiday has been made even more enchanting by my decision to spend some time at Hogwarts.