With over 500 million books sold in 83 languages, the most recent being Yiddish, 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 to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and released the book in September 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 made seven handwritten copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, giving six of them to individuals who were instrumental to her success and the final one to be auctioned off for charity to benefit 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 for CHLG thanks to a mountain of preorders. 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.
On December 6, 2013, Bloomsbury announced that Jim Kay would be the illustrator for new fully illustrated editions of all seven of the Harry Potter books. Jim Kay was the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2012 for his illustrations in the book A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. The illustrated editions for Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban were released in October 2015, October 2016, and October 2017, respectively. Both Bloomsbury and Scholastic initially announced that the illustrated editions would be published one per year but Jim Kay is being given more time in order to illustrate Goblet of Fire, due to it being significantly longer than the first three books. Its expected release date is for sometime in 2019. The illustrated editions were initially published in more than 21 languages around the world.