J K Rowling’s Harry Potter first edition went under the hammer today for charity. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in America) sold for a staggering £150,000 pounds sterling ($228,000). The book was sold at a London auction on Tuesday.
The first edition copy of Rowling’s first in the Harry Potter series of novels, contained the authors handwritten notes and the original illustrations went to an anonymous bidder.
The charity book sale was run by Sotheby’s and it was a joint effort that had been organised with the the English PEN writers’ association. The first edition was full of Rowling’s personal annotations, including editorial decisions, comments on the process of writing and a note on how she came to create the game of Quidditch.
The author also drew about two dozen illustrations in the book which included a sleeping baby Harry on a door step and an Albus Dumbledore Chocolate Frog card.
Rowling and dozens of other best-selling authors were asked to “scribble second thoughts, marginalia or drawings” on a first-edition copy of one of their books to help the books on auction raise interest in the fundraising charity event.
But Harry Potter wasn’t the only character in literary fiction to raise a substantial sum for charity. A copy of Roald Dahl’s best-selling children’s book Matilda that contained new drawings by illustrator Quentin Blake fetched 30,000 pounds ($45,500), while an annotated copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed novel The Remains of the Day was sold for 18,000 pounds ($27,300).
Besides J K Rowling, Dahl, Blake, and Ishiguro, other authors donated books for the charity and these were Ian McEwan, Seamus Heaney, Lionel Shriver and Yann Martel. By the auction’s end the sale raised a total of 439,200 pounds ($666,310).
Author J K Rowling has a backstory that leaves an impression. The sale of her first book in the Harry Potter series brings up images of her as a single mum, living in squalid conditions and struggling to keep the roof over her small family’s head.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, indeed the beginning of the Harry saga, was written during a time of unbelievable stress and unhappiness. During the period Rowling was working on the book, she was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide.
She has said that it was the feeling of her illness which brought her the idea of Dementors. The soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book. The author had to sign up for welfare benefits and she has said that her financial status was as, “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.”
The cause of all this despair was her separation from her husband. She was, at the same time that she was writing the Potter books, attending classes to earn her teaching degree. She completed the first novel while surviving on state benefits. She continued to write, a lot of times in cafes, especially Nicolson’s Café and The Elephant House, which was owned by her brother-in-law Roger Moore. She also wrote wherever she could get Jessica to fall asleep.
In a 2001 BBC interview, Rowling denied the rumour that she wrote in local cafés to escape from her unheated flat, remarking, “I am not stupid enough to rent an unheated flat in Edinburgh in midwinter. It had heating.”
In an interview on the American TV programme A&E Biography, she revealed that one of the reasons she wrote in cafés was because taking her baby out for a walk was the best way to make her fall asleep.
The rise of J K Rowling is a testament to the woman’s drive, talent and passion for writing. To me, her backstory is almost as interesting as Harry Potter’s and it is definitely encouraging to hear. I think that the unidentified bidder made a brilliant purchase. It will be interesting to see what the next “collector” pays for it.
By Michael Smith