Merchandise Review: Bloomsbury “Reinvents” the “Harry Potter” Children’s Editions
Some months after being announced, the new UK editions of the Harry Potter series, illustrated by Jonny Duddle, will finally be released tomorrow. MuggleNet was kindly offered a set from Bloomsbury a little early, and we can now offer up our review of the entire set.
Gradually revealed over the last few months, this fresh take on the Potter paperbacks and hardbacks have, generally, been well received by the Potter fandom. Yet while they appear impressive on screen, when seen in print, with all the vibrant artwork on show, they make for a pretty spectacular collection. Perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of seeing them for real is the array of colors used across the set. From the electric green Basilisk on the front of Chamber of Secrets to the burnt orange sunset on Order of the Phoenix, the colors are spectacular. Even when lined up to reveal just the spines, with the snippets of artwork across the middle and the updated Harry Potter name logo, they will certainly pop on a bookshelf.
As for the scenes of the cover art, they’re more of a mixed bag. There seems to be a style clash between the more naturalistic backgrounds and animals and the cartoony style of the humans. This is particularly noticeable on the Philosopher’s Stone cover, where the faces of Harry and Hagrid are very rounded, reminiscent of Duddle’s work with Aardman and his own children’s book series. While this may not be to everyone’s taste, it is more than likely an intention on the part of Duddle and Bloomsbury, to make the designs appear darker and “scarier,” both in color and content, as the books develop.
However, the back cover illustrations, exclusively revealed on MuggleNet, very much carry through with this comic book imagery of the characters. Featuring Harry, Hermione, Ron, Snape, Draco, and Hagrid, the style of these humans, particularly in the unnaturally exaggerated faces of Snape and Malfoy, seem closer to that of the Series of Unfortunate Events novels or even Quentin Blake’s much-loved designs for the Roald Dahl books.
We have noticed in the MuggleNet comments a number of discussions surround the representation of Harry across the covers. Like or loathe his look, there does appear to be a disparity in his ages. While he clearly changes across the covers, from the round, big-eyed face of PS to the sterner, leaner look of DH, it is fair to say that he doesn’t really age and certainly not by six years! One could suggest this to be an error, but when taken into consideration with the new editions as a whole and the promotion around this launch, it could be seen as a deliberate move to appeal to a new audience.
It has come to a point that we current fans, the Potter generation as it were, have to realize that we aren’t the main audience for these books anymore. We may be at the forefront of Warner Brothers’s minds when Fantastic Beasts comes around, but to Bloomsbury and Scholastic, we already own these books, perhaps multiple copies of them. We aren’t heading out in hordes to buy the latest set and therefore aren’t likely to have been considered much in the design process. It is worth noting that both publishers chose digital painters for their new editions, in comparison to the traditional approach of the original illustrators, Cliff Wright and Mary GrandPré. Kazu Kibuishi’s background is in comic books and graphic novels, while Duddle’s is in animation and his own children’s series. The publishers are aware that when new readers come to Harry Potter now, they, unlike us, are going to read the books all together. And so the eight- or nine-year-olds picking up these books for the first time could well be put off by the later books in the series if Harry suddenly looked like a young adult on the covers; this ambitious aging process is more relatable.
From Bloomsbury’s press release announcing the reinvention of the books to the stars adorning the covers and the numbered spines (1-7), it is clear that a new and younger audience base is the intended target for these editions. The aforementioned stars carry through the books, framing the chapter titles and contents page. The new map, while cute, is very simplistic and not the detailed item our generation of fans may hope to one day see in the elusive encyclopedia. The much-publicized inclusive Pottermore content is little more than a double-page advertisement for the site. That said, some of this information does actually appear to be new but more on that in another article! To cap it off, the last page of each book includes an invite to join the Harry Potter Book Night, which takes you to Bloomsbury’s separate Harry Potter site.
Whether or not you are fan of these new editions – this writer is very much steering toward the positive – there is one thing that all Potter fans can take heart from; both Bloomsbury and Scholastic are invested in keeping the magic alive. It would be very easy to continue republishing the books purely for profit, but their investment in new design talent and activities such as the book night prove their continued interest in maintaining, nurturing, and growing the Harry Potter community for a long time yet.