With over 500 million books sold in 80 languages, the Harry Potter series by author J.K. Rowling has become the best-selling book series in history. The story chronicles the life of the titular character Harry Potter and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger through their seven years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
On the origins of the series, J.K. Rowling stated:
It was 1990. My then boyfriend and I had decided to move up to Manchester together. After a weekend’s flat-hunting, I was traveling back to London on my own on a crowded train, and the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head.
I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…
I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.
Perhaps, if I had slowed down the ideas to capture them on paper, I might have stifled some of them (although sometimes I do wonder, idly, how much of what I imagined on that journey I had forgotten by the time I actually got my hands on a pen). I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book.
The story focuses on Harry’s quest to defeat the most evil wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort, who killed his parents when Harry was only 1 year old. The main theme of the books, according to Rowling, is death; however, the story also focuses on friendship, right versus wrong, prejudice, corruption, and much more.
Originally, the manuscript was turned down by several agents but was eventually accepted by the Christopher Little Agency. In August of 1996, after the manuscript was turned down by several publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing purchased the rights and released Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in June of 1997.
In April of 1997, Christopher Little had arranged an auction for American publishing rights at the Bologna Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. Arthur A. Levine, the editorial director of Scholastic Books, won the auction for the American rights, changed the title of the first book to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and released the book in September of 1998.
In March 2001, Rowling wrote the two “schoolbooks” of Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for Comic Relief charity raising over £17 million. Today, every copy of the Bloomsbury edition sold generates a donation of £1.15 towards the charity.
On July 21, 2007, the finale Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released worldwide to celebrated acclaim with sales of 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of release, breaking down to 2.7 million copies in the UK and 8.3 million in the United States.
The entire series of seven books was made into eight blockbuster movies by Warner Bros. and became the highest-grossing film series of all-time.
In 2007, Rowling constructed seven handwriting copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard giving six of them to individuals that were instrumental to her success and the final one to be auctioned off for charity to benefit the Children’s High Level Group (CHLG). The book sold for £1.95 million to the online retailer, Amazon. On December 4, 2008, the book of fairy tales went on sale and was another major success thanks for the CHLG to a mountain of pre-orders. In the first week, 2.6 million books were sold worldwide generating £4.2 million for institutionalized children across Europe.
In 2008, Rowling submitted an 800-word untitled story as part of a charity event held by Waterstones called “What’s Your Story?”. The story recounts an adventure by Harry Potter characters Sirius Black and James Potter, Harry’s godfather and father respectively, prior to Harry Potter’s birth. The story was sold for £25,000 to Hira Digpal, the president of a Tokyo-based investment company.
The story of the Harry Potter audiobooks began on November 22, 1999, over two years after the first book was published, when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read by Stephen Fry, was released in the UK. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, read by Jim Dale, was released in the US nine days later, on December 1, 1999. These two men would continue their auditory journey through July 21, 2007, when both versions of the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were concurrently released with the hardback editions.
On September 7, 2005, the first digital editions of the audiobooks were offered exclusively on iTunes. They were previously available only on CD and cassette tape.
Today, the entire series is available in audiobook format in Danish, Dutch, American English, British English, German, and Polish, and the first two books are also available in Italian and Brazilian Portuguese. These can all be purchased in mp3 format on Pottermore.com. Additionally, both the Jim Dale and Stephen Fry versions are now available on Audible.com, as well as the German versions. The American editions can also be purchased at the WB Shop.