In an exclusive excerpt from Philip W. Errington’s new book, J.K. Rowling: A Bibliography 1997–2013, EW brings you a sneak peek into some of the most fascinating secrets from the world of Harry Potter. From alternate book titles (Harry Potter and the Death Eaters?) to the high-level security measures used to transport top secret manuscripts, even the most zealous Potter fan will learn something new.
The Sorcerer’s Stone
1. Nigel Newton, the founder and chief executive of Bloomsbury Publishing, said that the day the Bloomsbury editorial committee considered Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, “I cast my vote…in favour, as did everybody else, with alacrity. My confidence came from the fact that my then-8-year-old daughter, Alice, had read it for me the night before and came down the stairs glowing about it.” The company offered a 1,500-pound advance.
2. The reason the American edition is called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and not Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone like the British version is that Arthur Levine, the editor who acquired the U.S. rights for Scholastic, felt it didn’t convey magic overtly enough for American readers. “So the title [that I suggested] to Jo was Harry Potter and the School of Magic. Jo very thoughtfully said, ‘No—that doesn’t feel right to me.’ ”
The Chamber of Secrets
3. In August 1997 Emma Matthewson—who became Rowling’s editor at Bloomsbury beginning with the second book—sent the edited draft of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets back to the author, saying, “My first thought I should say right now is that it is going to be absolutely brilliant!… Enclosed is the manuscript where I have written various comments and suggestions…generally, as we’ve discussed, the manuscript is over-long. I have suggested some possible places for cuts.” Rowling returned the manuscript to Bloomsbury in October with a note that said in part: “I’ve done more to it that you suggested, but I am very happy with it now, which wasn’t the case before. The hard work, the significant rewrites I wanted to do, are over, so if it needs more cuts after this, I’m ready to make them, speedily.” Rowling noted that losing a song for Nearly Headless Nick, which was cut in the rewritten manuscript, was “a wrench,” but admitted the tune was “superfluous.”
4. The publisher’s blurb for an American edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets mistakenly claimed that Aunt Petunia, rather than Aunt Marge, would be accidentally inflated by Harry in the next book. In the early days, there were a number of such problems with details. Even The New York Times got it wrong when trying to describe Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for its best-seller list: “A Scottish boy, neglected by his relatives, finds his fortune attending a school of witchcraft.”
5. Before long, the books were so famous that Bloomsbury had to “secure [Matthewson’s] house…. The first thing we did was make sure she had a computer that wasn’t attached to the Internet. No hacking in the world could get at something that wasn’t plugged-in.”
The Prisoner of Azkaban
6. After completing a revision of the third volume, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling wrote Emma Matthewson: “Finally! I’ve read this book so much I’m sick of it. I never read either of the others over and over again when editing them, but I really had to this time…. If you think it needs more work, I’m willing and able, but I do think this draft represents an improvement on the first; the dementors are much more of a presence this time round.”
The Goblet of Fire
7. Title possibilities for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire suggested by Rowling included Harry Potter and the Death Eaters, Harry Potter and the Fire Goblet, and Harry Potter and the Three Champions.
The Order of the Phoenix
8. By the time Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came around, Bloomsbury had to resort to subterfuge even to take delivery of the manuscript. Nigel Newton recalled: “[Rowling’s then agent] Christopher Little phoned me out of the blue and said, ‘Nigel, drink at the Pelican tonight?’ and I said, ‘Drink at the Pelican? Yes, Chris, 6 p.m.’ That was where he had delivered the previous book to me. So I drove to the Pelican, a pub off the Fulham Road, in a state of high alert. And I went in and there was a massive plastic bag at his feet…. He said nothing about that and I said nothing and he just said ‘Drink?’ and I said, ‘A pint, please.’
So we stood at the bar and drank our pints and said nothing about Harry Potter. But when we left I walked out with the carrier bag. It was a classic dead letter drop. So I put this bag into the back of my car and drove it home. By this stage the series was so enormous that I was almost frightened to be in physical possession of it.
My three children and wife were all enormous fans themselves so I couldn’t say anything to them. I shoved it under the bed. I had another typescript sitting there…so I stuck [the] top four pages of David Guterson’s East of the Mountains on the top and then stayed up all night reading it, which my wife did find a bit odd.”
The Half-Blood Prince
9. To try to ensure consistency within the books, and keep track of characters, spells, and the like, Bloomsbury had to create an in-house file known as the HP bible.
10. Correspondence between Rowling and Matthewson makes it clear that Rowling reworked the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. “I do think that revised opening is a masterstroke,” Matthewson wrote Rowling. “What I think is wonderful about this book is that for the first time readers will really and truly begin to appreciate the breadth of the vision you have.”
The Deathly Hallows
11. In an attempt to keep Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows a secret, early proofs were titled Edinburgh Potmakers. “This was not the only spurious title given to the novel,” noted Errington. “Another printout of the text in the editorial files at Bloomsbury is entitled The Life and Times of Clara Rose Lovett with the thrilling subtitle ‘An epic novel covering many generations.’ ”
12. Arthur Levine had 71 questions for Rowling after reading early versions of Hallows: “I wish we could convey adequately our feeling that all of these detail questions are merely a result of the absolutely phenomenal level of detail in Harry’s saga.” Errington pointed out that as always, “American and English diction was, once again, an issue of editorial discussion. Correspondence in the Bloomsbury files includes the note ‘If you mean underpants and not trousers here, can we spell out ‘underpants’ for the U.S., so readers understand fully how embarrassing this is for Ron?” This request was annotated “OK (U.S. only).”
(c) Philip W. Errington, 2015, Bloomsbury Academic, An Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.