Released on June 26, 1997, in the UK and on October 1, 1998, in the US, The Sorcerer’s Stone (The Philosopher’s Stone – UK) is the first book in the Harry Potter series.
Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… if Harry can survive the encounter.
– Back cover description
In 1996, Jo obtained a grant of £8,000 from the Scottish Arts Council, which enabled her to finish the book and plan the sequels. She sent the book to an agent and a publisher. The second agent she approached spent a year trying to sell the book to publishers, most of whom thought it was too long at about 90,000 words. Bloomsbury accepted the book, paying Rowling an advance of around £1,500. Editor Barry Cunningham was less concerned about the book’s length than about its author’s name, as the title sounded like a boys’ book and that boys would prefer a book written by a male author. Rowling therefore adopted the nom de plume J.K. Rowling.
In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print-run of 500 copies in hardback, three hundred of which were distributed to libraries. The short initial print run was standard for first novels, and Cunningham hoped booksellers would read the book and recommend it to customers. Examples from this initial print run have become quite valuable, selling for as much as US $33,460 in a 2007 Heritage Auction.
Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. rights at the Bologna Book Fair in April 1997 for US $105,000, an unusually high sum for a children’s book. They thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word “philosopher” in the title, so the American edition was published in October 1998 under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Rowling claimed that she regretted this change and would have fought it if she had been in a stronger position at the time. The change lost the connection with alchemy, and the meaning of some other terms changed in translation, such as “crumpets” to “muffin” and “jumper” to “sweater.” While Rowling accepted the change from both UK English “mum” and Seamus Finnigan’s Irish variant “mam” to “mom” in Sorcerer’s Stone, she vetoed this change in the later books.
Publishers Weekly’s report in December 2001 on cumulative sales of children’s fiction placed Sorcerer’s Stone 19th among hardbacks with over 5 million copies sold, and 7th among paperbacks with over 6.6 million copies. The total amount of sales over the years is unknown.
This summary is from SparkNotes.
Mr. Dursley, a well-off Englishman, notices strange happenings on his way to work one day. That night, Albus Dumbledore, the head of a wizardry academy called Hogwarts, meets Professor McGonagall, who also teaches at Hogwarts, and a giant named Hagrid outside the Dursley home. Dumbledore tells McGonagall that someone named Voldemort has killed a Mr. and Mrs. Potter and tried unsuccessfully to kill their baby son, Harry. Dumbledore leaves Harry with an explanatory note in a basket in front of the Dursley home.
Ten years later, the Dursley household is dominated by the Dursleys’ son, Dudley, who torments and bullies Harry. Dudley is spoiled, while Harry is forced to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. At the zoo on Dudley’s birthday, the glass in front of a boa constrictor exhibit disappears, frightening everyone. Harry is later punished for this incident.
Mysterious letters begin arriving for Harry. They worry Mr. Dursley, who tries to keep them from Harry, but the letters keep arriving through every crack in the house. Finally, he flees with his family to a secluded island shack on the eve of Harry’s eleventh birthday. At midnight, they hear a large bang on the door and Hagrid enters. Hagrid hands Harry an admissions letter to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry learns that the Dursleys have tried to deny Harry’s wizardry all these years.
The next day, Hagrid takes Harry to London to shop for school supplies. First they go to the wizard bank, Gringotts, where Harry learns that his parents have left him a hefty supply of money. They shop on the wizards’ commercial street known as Diagon Alley, where Harry is fitted for his school uniform. Harry buys books, ingredients for potions, and, finally, a magic wand—the companion wand to the evil Voldemort’s.
A month later, Harry goes to the train station and catches his train to Hogwarts on track nine and three quarters. On the train, Harry befriends other first-year students like Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, a Muggle girl chosen to attend Hogwarts. At school, the first-years take turns putting on the “Sorting Hat” to find out in which residential house they will live. Harry fears being assigned to the sinister Slytherin house, but he, Ron, and Hermione end up in the noble Gryffindor house.
As the school year gets underway, Harry discovers that his Potions professor, Snape, does not like him. Hagrid reassures Harry that Snape has no reason to dislike him. During their first flying lesson on broomsticks, the students are told to stay grounded while the teacher takes an injured boy named Neville to the hospital. Draco Malfoy, a Slytherin bully, snatches Neville’s prized toy and flies off with it to the top of a tree. Harry flies after him. Malfoy throws the ball in the air, and Harry speeds downward, making a spectacular catch. Professor McGonagall witnesses this incident. Instead of punishing Harry, she recommends that he play Quidditch, a much-loved game that resembles soccer played on broomsticks, for Gryffindor. Later that day, Malfoy challenges Harry to a wizard’s duel at midnight. Malfoy doesn’t show up at the appointed place, and Harry almost gets in trouble. While trying to hide, he accidentally discovers a fierce three-headed dog guarding a trapdoor in the forbidden third-floor corridor.
On Halloween, a troll is found in the building. The students are all escorted back to their dormitories, but Harry and Ron sneak off to find Hermione, who is alone and unaware of the troll. Unwittingly, they lock the troll in the girls’ bathroom along with Hermione. Together, they defeat the troll. Hermione tells a lie to protect Harry and Ron from being punished. During Harry’s first Quidditch match, his broom jerks out of control. Hermione notices Snape staring at Harry and muttering a curse. She concludes that he is jinxing Harry’s broom, and she sets Snape’s clothes on fire. Harry regains control of the broom and makes a spectacular play to win the Quidditch match.
For Christmas, Harry receives his father’s invisibility cloak, and he explores the school, unseen, late at night. He discovers the Mirror of Erised, which displays the deepest desire of whoever looks in it. Harry looks in it and sees his parents alive. After Christmas, Harry, Ron, and Hermione begin to unravel the mysterious connection between a break-in at Gringotts and the three-headed guard dog. They learn that the dog is guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone, which is capable of providing eternal life and unlimited wealth to its owner and belongs to Nicolas Flamel, Dumbledore’s old partner.
A few weeks later, Hagrid wins a dragon egg in a poker game. Because it is illegal to own dragons, Harry, Ron, and Hermione contact Ron’s older brother, who studies dragons. They arrange to get rid of the dragon but get caught. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are severely punished, and Gryffindor is docked 150 points. Furthermore, part of their punishment is to go into the enchanted forest with Hagrid to find out who has been killing unicorns recently. In the forest, Harry comes upon a hooded man drinking unicorn blood. The man tries to attack Harry, but Harry is rescued by a friendly centaur who tells him that his assailant was Voldemort. Harry also learns that it is Voldemort who has been trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Harry decides that he must find the stone before Voldemort does. He, Ron, and Hermione sneak off that night to the forbidden third-floor corridor. They get past the guard dog and perform many impressive feats as they get closer and closer to the stone. Harry ultimately finds himself face to face with Quirrell, who announces that Harry must die. Knowing that Harry desires to find the stone, Quirrell puts Harry in front of the Mirror of Erised and makes him state what he sees. Harry sees himself with the stone in his pocket, and at that same moment he actually feels it in his pocket. But he tells Quirrell that he sees something else. A voice tells Quirrell that the boy is lying and requests to speak to Harry face to face. Quirrell removes his turban and reveals Voldemort’s face on the back of his head. Voldemort, who is inhabiting Quirrell’s body, instructs Quirrell to kill Harry, but Quirrell is burned by contact with the boy. A struggle ensues and Harry passes out.
When Harry regains consciousness, he is in the hospital with Dumbledore. Dumbledore explains that he saved Harry from Quirrell just in time. He adds that he and Flamel have decided to destroy the stone. Harry heads down to the end-of-year banquet, where Slytherin is celebrating its seventh consecutive win of the house championship cup. Dumbledore gets up and awards many last-minute points to Gryffindor for the feats of Harry and his friends, winning the house cup for Gryffindor. Harry returns to London to spend the summer with the Dursleys.
For Jessica, who loves stories, for Anne, who loved them too, and for Di, who heard this one first.
Explanation: Jessica is J.K. Rowling’s firstborn daughter, then twelve years old. Anne was Jo’s mother, who unfortunately died of multiple sclerosis on December 30, 1990. Dianne, or “Di,” is Jo’s younger sister to whom she read The Sorcerer’s Stone before sending it off to be reviewed.
- ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 1999
- ALA/YALSA Best of the Best 100 (Selected from BBYA 1966-99)
- ALA/YALSA Top Ten Books for Teens, 1999 (Ranked #1)
- ALA Notable Children’s Books, 1999
- Book Links Lasting Connections, 1998
- Booklist Editors’ Choices, 1998
- Booklist: Top Ten Fantasy Novels for Youth
- CCBC Choices, 1998: Fiction for Children
- Publishers Weekly Best Books 1998
- School Library Journal: Best Books 1998
- School Library Journal: One Hundred Books that Shaped the Century
- Parenting magazine: Book of the Year, 1998
- Parenting magazine: Reading Magic Books, 1998
- Voice of Youth Advocates: Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, 1998
- Anne Spencer Lindbergh Prize for Children’s Literature
- American Booksellers Association Book of the Year (ABBY)
- CBC Not Just for Children Anymore!
- List International Reading Association: Children’s Choices, 1999
- International Reading Association: Teacher’s Choices, 1999
- National Council of Teachers of English: Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, 1999
- New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
- Wisconsin Educational Media Association Golden Archer Award (Middle/Junior High), 2000
- Sasquatch Reading Award (Washington), 2000
- Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award (New Hampshire), 2000
- Arizona Young Reader’s Award, 2000
- Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award, 2000
- Nene Award (Hawaii), 2000
- Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Award (Illinois), 2001
- Michigan Reading Association Readers’ Choice Award, 2001
- Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award, 2001
- Nominated for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature, 1999
- Nominated for Children’s Book Award (Massachusetts), 2000
- Nominated for Children’s Book Award (Utah), 2000
- Nominated for New York State Charlotte Award, 2000
- Nominated for Young Reader’s Choice Award (Pacific Northwest Library Association), 2001
- Nestle Smarties Book Prize, Gold Medal 9-11 years, 1997
- FCBG Children’s Book Award, Overall and Longer Novel Category Winner, 1997
- Birmingham Cable Children’s Book Award, 1997
- Young Telegraph Paperback of the Year, 1998
- British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year (NIBBY), 1997
- Sheffield Children’s Book Award, 1998
- Whitaker’s Platinum Book Award, 2001
- Commended for the 1997
- Carnegie Award Shortlisted for the 1997
- Guardian Children’s Award W. H. Smith Book of the Year Award, 1997
- New York State Children’s Choice Award Nominee
This report was provided to us by MuggleNet fan Irvin K. when pages of the original manuscript of the book were on display at the British Library Exhibit.
As a Potter fan, upon hearing that the manuscript for Philosopher’s Stone was on display in the British library (a convenient ten-minute walk from my dorm), I promptly made my way there first thing this afternoon. The exhibition cost £5, and was surprisingly empty. The exhibition itself is called “Writing Britain,” about depictions of Britain in British literature, with Harry Potter representing King’s Cross in London.
The exhibition on Philosopher’s Stone consists of a paperback of the book “kindly lent by the author,” two written pages from the manuscript, and a blurb talking about how Harry leaves Little Whinging via King’s Cross. The two pages are both from Chapter 6, “The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters.”
The first page is the first page of the chapter, written in light blue ink with lots of crossings out, and some hearts doodled in corners. The second page (above) is in black ink, the scene where Harry observes the Weasleys on the station. There are almost no edits of this scene, it’s almost exactly as it is in the book. But there were some interesting things to glean from the first page.
First thing to notice is different names. Apparently, Dudley was originally called “Didsbury”!! Certainly not a name I can picture him with; it sounds so posh. Maybe that’s why Aunt Petunia still calls him “Diddy.” Instead of “Didsbury,” which occurs twice on the page, we got “Dudley,” a historic English surname from Tudor times.
More interesting is that Harry’s faithful owl Hedwig was originally called “Kallicrater,” if I can make out the writing correctly (difficult because it was all crossed out). And Jo originally had the owl’s name just “come” to Harry out of the blue. Don’t know if that is the first name that would occur to him, which may be why the owl was later renamed “Hedwig” and Harry drew inspiration from his history textbook.
The next passage, all crossed out, references Harry’s familiar habit of putting up a calendar and counting down the days until he goes to Hogwarts. This makes a reappearance in the next few books, but was excluded from Philosopher’s Stone if memory serves me right.
Another small change is that in this draft, apparently the academic year starts nine days earlier. Harry approached Vernon on the eve of his journey via Hogwarts Express, and the date is given as “August twenty-first,” which would mean the journey itself would be August 22nd – and as we all know, the journey is always on September 1st in the books (which is seemingly always a Sunday – like magic!).
The remainder of the page is as we see it in the book, with only the occasional swaps between pronouns and names.