Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone introduced a boy wizard bearing a lightning-shaped scar and a magical cast of supporting characters.
Penniless single mother J.K. Rowling finally succeeded after a series of rebuffs from publishers, and the book became the first instalment of a seven-novel series that has sold 450 million copies worldwide and spawned eight blockbuster films.
The Potter universe now encompasses theme parks in the United States and Japan, and a permanent exhibition at London’s Warner Bros Studios, helping to turn Rowling into a billionaire.
No other children’s book has achieved quite as much in terms of both commercial and cultural impact, turning an entire generation of boys and girls into enthusiastic readers who would happily join midnight queues at bookshops as each novel came out.
If some of the early reviews took issue with Rowling’s pedestrian writing and bald characterisation, everyone agreed about the narrative verve on show in The Philosopher’s Stone, starting with the delivery of a letter that will, like alchemy, transform the 11-year-old hero’s life forever.
“Once you start reading it, you enter a magical world, a world where you could be special, a world with clever things, with the idea that it all just might exist,” Durham University education professor Martin Richardson says, adding that “the characters become part of the family. It starts to enter the nation’s DNA.
“I think people will be reading Potter in 20, 30, 40, 60 years’ time, even if it’s only for the story.”
Far beyond Britain and English-language markets, the saga wove itself into the world’s literary DNA.
The seven volumes have been translated into 79 languages in 200 countries, and June26’s 20th anniversary featured fancy-dress reading parties around the world starting in Australia and ending in Canada and the US West Coast, at libraries, bookshops, and British embassies.
Marie Lallouet, editor-in-chief of a children’s literature digest at the National Library of France, underlines the scale of the books’ appeal beyond Britain, which already had a rich stock of literature conjuring tales out of the worlds of boarding schools and magic.
“Harry Potter re-validated children’s literature in the eyes of adults, and encouraged an entire generation (of French children) to learn English so that they could read the books as soon as they came out in English,” she says.
Rowling managed to magic “something very powerful” into existence, Lallouet says, by portraying one boy’s struggle to come to terms with his tragic beginnings against the backdrop of an existential struggle of good against evil.
The first print run of The Philosopher’s Stone produced 1,000 copies – all now highly sought after by collectors – and earned Rowling a £1,500 contract from Bloomsbury after numerous rebuffs from other publishers.
Since then, the seven volumes of the saga have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide. The books were adapted into eight movies, with the last volume, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows divided into two feature films. The first two films were directed by Chris Columbus, the third by Mexican Alfonso Cuarón, the fourth by Mike Newell and the last four by David Yates.
The movies have netted US$7.2bil (RM31bil) worldwide, the books US$7.7bil (RM33bil), and merchandise US$7.3bil (RM31.3bil), according to data from statisticbrain.com dating from September 2016.
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, a two-and-a-half-hour play staged in London since July 2016, follows the hero as an adult and father of three.
In the production, Potter struggles to cope with his past while his family legacy proves to be a burden on youngest son Albus Severus Potter, “the cursed child” of the title.
The Harry Potter studios in Leavesden, north of London, invites fans to immerse themselves in the Potter-world at a permanent exhibition, welcoming 6,000 visitors a day.
There are also theme parks created by Universal Studio in Orlando, Florida, and Hollywood in the United States, and Osaka, Japan.
VisitScotland, the Scotland Tourist Board, has set up a four-day guided tour from Edinburgh to the Highlands via the Glenfinnan or Edinburgh Viaduct, which feature in the saga.
Joanne Rowling was born into a modest family in Chipping Sodbury, western England, on July 31, 1965. (Rowling doesn’t actually have a middle name; the “K” is for her grandmother, Kathleen, and was added because the publisher felt a book by a female author would have less appeal for Harry Potter’s initial target audience of young boys.)
She studied French and Classics at the University of Exeter before going to teach English in Portugal, where she began to chronicle the adventures of Harry Potter.
Rowling married Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantesa in 1992, giving birth to their daughter Jessica in 1993. The couple divorced in 1995 and the author moved to Edinburgh.
After finishing the novel, she joined forces with publisher Bloomsbury in August 1996.
Named Britain’s best living writer in 2006, she has accrued a fortune of £650mil (RM3.6bil), according to the Sunday Times rich list published in May.
She remarried in 2001, to Scottish doctor Neil Murray, and the couple have a boy and a girl. – AFP