Scholastic Releases New Illustrated Books: Will Harry Never Die?

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort (spoiler alert!) kills Harry Potter. But not really. Voldemort really only killed the part of himself that resided within Harry, and Harry then came back to do away with the rest of him. I guess you really can’t keep that boy wizard down.

After Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, we knew that Harry Potter wasn’t really over, because we had the remaining movies to look forward to. Around the same time that Deathly Hallows, Part 2 hit theaters, was announced. Now four years later, Pottermore is six books in, with one book left. However, we still have the Fantastic Beasts trilogy to come after that. And now too, we have the illustrated editions.

The what? That’s right. Illustrated editions. Little more than two years after Scholastic released the 10th anniversary editions, they’re releasing another set of books: the illustrated editions. Now, I actually really love the 10th anniversary edition covers. Let’s not kid ourselves: Kazu Kibuishi can draw. But nothing can replace the classic Mary GrandPre covers in my heart, nor in the hearts of millions of original readers in the United States. But that’s just it: Scholastic thinks that in order to entice non-original readers to read the books, they need to create new covers from time to time to make the books appear “fresh” or “new” to a newer, younger audience.

And perhaps they think correctly, because this is certainly not a new concept. I certainly can’t count the number of editions and covers there are of the Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia, and I certainly wasn’t around when these books were first published, so I certainly can’t call the first editions my favorites. (For many Narnia fans, their go-to favorite covers were illustrated by Pauline Baynes. For me, however, the covers that I grew up with and absolutely love were illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg in 1994. Perhaps new readers to the series prefer the 50th anniversary editions illustrated by David Wiesner.) All I can say is that I’m so glad that the Harry Potter series was never made over with the dreaded movie tie-in editions that so many books-to-movies get. Those covers, I think, would have been really terrible.

But I still think that these illustrated editions are too much too soon. We were given hundreds of new illustrations to accompany the Harry Potter series when Pottermore was released. I always thought that was partially the purpose of the Pottermore platform—to be an illustrated companion to the books, in addition to functioning as an online encyclopedia, as well as an interactive experience. And yet, despite that you can read so much new content by JKR for free on Pottermore, fans still want the published encyclopedia. And certain fans will still buy these new illustrated editions.

Listen: there’s nothing wrong with wanting these additional illustrations, but the more and more that we illustrate or film for a theatergoing audience, the less we leave to the imagination, and that’s the beauty of books. Rowling in particular describes so vividly, that I prefer to picture in my own mind’s eye what a scene looks like, rather than letting an illustration or a movie (especially a movie) do that for me. Why? Because so often filmmakers and illustrators get it wrong. I’m not talking about the occasional oh-I-pictured-it-differently-but-this-is-still-really-good sort of reaction. I’m talking about the flat-out NOPE.

And I’m sorry to say that’s the reaction I felt when I saw the first images released from the Sorcerer’s Stone illustrated edition, which was exactly the opposite reaction that I felt upon seeing the Pottermore illustrations for the first time. I would’ve much rather had “Pottermore-inspired” illustrated editions than the ones Scholastic is selling us. And that’s the key word, isn’t it? Selling. Every time a new edition is released, hidden inside is a ploy to get more money from an already-existing (and very large) fan base, rather than investing in new books and authors and stories.

I should mention too that it’s not just Scholastic behind this project, though they are the American publishers. In addition to Scholastic, as well as Bloomsbury (the publisher in the United Kingdom), many of the original Harry Potter publishers from around the globe will be joining in publishing and distributing these illustrated editions.

I would love to hear your opinions on the new Harry Potter illustrated editions. Here they are:

The Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone illustrated edition will be released globally on October 6th, 2015, and then one-per-year will be released the six years after that. Each book will be full color throughout and will include a ribbon bookmark and illustrated endpapers. The illustrator (which I have so far neglected to mention) is Jim Kay, who according to his website has been a full-time illustrator for as long as I have been a full-time teacher—or, seven years. Now I’m jealous, because wow this talented man has done so much more in that time than I have. What a talent! Not that I’m changing my tune (at least, I’m not completely changing my tune) about the illustrations. But I have to admit that they are well done, even if they’re not at all what I picture when I read the Harry Potter series.

With this, we are guaranteed to have new Harry Potter books through 2021. With new books, new content on Pottermore, new movies, new merchandise, etc, I have to wonder again: will Harry Potter never die? Will there be new movie remakes? More new book editions? New video games (admittedly, I still want to see a Hogwarts MMORPG) or remakes?

John Green has famously said before that books “belong to their readers… which is a great thing–because the books are more powerful in the hands of my readers than they could ever be in my hands”. Harry Potter has definitely had a very powerful impact upon the world, and I do not know (nor do I want to know) where I would be today without Harry Potter. However, I think that the Harry Potter legacy is best left in the hands of its fans. We are, after all, “book eight”.

The question, though, is whether Harry Potter will ever be allowed to live on through the fans. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, I know the answer to my original question. Harry Potter will certainly never die.

So what do you think about the illustrations? Will you buy the books? Share your thoughts in the comments.