Fantastic Beasts 2 dropped this week, proving that the Harry Potter mania is not yet over. I first stumbled across Harry at a Scholastic Book Fair (yup!) in my small town. The name Harry Potter sounded so undeniably British to me, and I brought the book to my grandmother, a Trinidadian woman who had lived in London in the 1950s and 60s and was thoroughly affected by the culture. Together, we devoured the books and patiently waited for more. It was an incredible inter-generational literary experience, which is exactly why J. K. Rowling has a $1-billion net worth.
This franchise has benefited from having talented designers and illustrators working on the covers from day one. In the decades since the 1997 UK release of Harry Potter, there have been an endless amount of boxed sets, special editions and of course, movie tie-in covers. Let’s take a look at just the first book and some of its better incarnations.
Original Cover: UK vs US
The first book was released differently in the United Kingdom and the United States – most notable is the title change. The Philosopher in the UK became a Sorcerer in the States . American publishers thought that “philosopher” sounded boring and people wouldn’t know what it meant, while “sorcerer” sounded exciting like a Hollywood movie. This makes me roll my eyes, because one of the best things about reading is that you learn new words. Plus, the Philosopher’s Stone is an actual, historical thing. Oh America.
Thomas Taylor, an an author and illustrator of his own children’s books, illustrated the UK cover. Check out his blog and you’ll find a rough sketch of this cover, and some anecdotes as to what it was like when the book blew up and suddenly he had the press calling him, looking for any possible angle on what was becoming the most popular book of a generation.
The US cover was illustrated by Mary GrandPré, an award-winning American illustrator who’s art has graced the pages of The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, as well as all seven of the Scholastic editions of Harry Potter. She even did the art for Tales of Beedle the Bard and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (when it was a small companion handbook to Harry Potter, and not the mega-franchise it is today).
Mary’s version was the one I first read (although I do believe I had a box set featuring all the original UK illustrations at one point – lost among the stacks in my parent’s garage). Harry looks equally astonished in her illustration. She popularized the typographic logo of Harry’s name, turning the P into a lightening bolt. This logo was later used on the movie posters. This cover is more active, and perhaps does a better job of selling the story as an adventure, which it most certainly is. The unicorn dancing gaily past Harry on his broom is my favourite part, but we all know what unicorn blood does to Harry’s nemesis…
My grandmother wasn’t the only adult who discovered the magic of Harry Potter. Thousands, then millions of adults across the world picked up the book and put themselves in the shoes of an adolescent attending wizarding school. To capitalize on this, covers were made with a more adult audience in mind.
This cover by Bloomsbury (the original UK publisher) features the mystical philosopher’s stone itself. In my admittedly very brief research, I found mention that traditionally the philosopher’s stone was referred to as “the white stone”. The stone on this, uhm, less than exciting cover is a ruby red. The whole thing is frankly uninspired, exactly what a boring adult would be attracted to, right? (Wrong.) Luckily, the name alone is enough to sell books. No creative cover required.
However, leaving the colourful and childish illustrations behind does lend a certain seriousness to the book – before it had that name brand currency it might have tricked people into thinking you were reading a philosophical treatise by a Mr. Harry Potter.
Bloomsbury did it again in 2013, but managed to somehow make the cover even less appealing. What is with this modern graphic design that does absolutely nothing for the magical wizarding world of Harry? The pink?? What? I don’t even know what to say about this cover except I hate it. I hate it!
The one saving grace is the interesting train illustration – I wish that it wasn’t a duo-toned blue and completely overshadowed by the text going a bunch of different ways.
Bloomsbury redeemed themselves a little with this signature edition of Harry Potter. This is a cover I can get behind. The cursive of his name looks like it might be Mr. Potter’s signature, and the chess illustration is adult enough but still nods to the climax of the story. Of all Bloomsbury’s adult covers, this one is my favourite. It does still lack something that the children’s covers convey easily, but it’s the best of the three in my opinion.
Which of these is your favourite? Which do you think is the most effective in conveying the magic of Harry Potter?