The original pitch for 'Harry Potter' that J.K. Rowling sent to publishers has been released
Can you believe that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter?
Yes, it's been two decades since the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, landed on bookshelves. And to celebrate, the British Library in London has opened a special exhibit called Harry Potter: A History of Magic.
The exhibition features "centuries-old British Library treasures" as well as a collection of original material from the archives of the series' book publisher Bloomsbury and author JK Rowling herself. There's a sketch of Hogwarts, annoted by Rowling, Rowling's handwritten list of teachers and subjects at the school, plus original chapter drafts (even some chapters that didn't end up in the final books).
There's also the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, who features in the first book and was a real historical figure:
A handwritten original draft of The Philosopher's Stone's chapter 17, The Man With Two Faces, written on lined paper with pen:
And an early artist's impression of the Hogwarts Express:
One of the most exciting things of all, though, is the original pitch for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that allowed the whole series to take off in the first place.
It's a crumpled, water-damaged collection of A4 pages, typed by Rowling in 1995 with words describing the very basic synopsis of the book-come-movie it phenomenon later became. Rowling took this pitch, along with the opening chapters of the first book, with her when visiting prospective book publishers, trying to convince them to offer her a book deal.
What's crazy about it all is that it took ages for a single publisher to accept the pitch and help realise Rowling's ideas into books. They clearly didn't see the potential the stories had. Everything in this synopsis will sound familiar to you, which makes it even more incredible to think that 12 different publishers turned it down before Bloomsbury eventually accepted Rowling's pitch. Those other publishers would be kicking themselves now!
Rowling's original pitch reads:
"Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died in a car-crash — or so he has been told. The Dursleys don't like Harry asking questions; in fact, they don't seem to like anything about him, especially the very odd things that keep happening around him (which Harry himself can't explain).
"The Dursleys' greatest fear is that Harry will discover the truth about himself, so when letters start arriving for him near his eleventh birthday, he isn't allowed to read them. However, the Dursleys aren't dealing with an ordinary postman, and at midnight on Harry's birthday the gigantic Rubeus Hagrid breaks down the door to make sure Harry gets to read his post at last. Ignoring the horrified Dursleys, Hagrid informs Harry that he is a wizard, and the letter he gives Harry explains that he is expected at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in a month's time.
To the Dursleys' fury, Hagrid also reveals the truth about Harry's past. Harry did not receive the scar on his forehead in a car-crash; it is really the mark of the great dark sorcerer Voldemort, who killed Harry's mother and father but mysteriously couldn't kill him, even though he was a baby at the time. Harry is famous among the witches and wizards who live in secret all over the country because Harry's miraculous survival marked Voldemort's downfall.
So Harry, who has never had friends or family worth the name, sets off for a new life in the wizarding world. He takes a trip to London with Hagrid to buy his Hogwarts equipment (robes, wand, cauldron, beginners' draft and potion kit) and shortly afterwards, sets off for Hogwarts from Kings Cross Station (platform nine and three quarters) to follow in his parents' footsteps.
Harry makes friends with Ronald Weasley (sixth in his family to go to Hogwarts and tired of having to use second-hand spellbooks) and Hermione Granger (cleverest girl in the year and the only person in the class to know all the uses of dragon's blood). Together, they have their first lessons in magic — astronomy up on the tallest tower at two in the morning, herbology out in the greenhouses where the...
And this is where the front page ends. The rest of the synopsis is still on display, through tucked behind this initial page. This is the British Library's most popular exhibition to date, with over 30,000 tickets already sold (the most in-demand advance tickers ever). Rowling herself has high praise for the showcase, saying:
"The British Library has done an incredible job. Encountering objects for real that have in some shape or form figured in my books has been quite wonderful and to have several of my own items in the exhibition is a reminder of twenty amazing years since Harry was first published."
Now excuse me, I'd best be off to go join the queue with the thousands of other muggles hoping to catch the exhibition sometime in this lifetime.