This post contains affiliate links, and is written with people familiar with the books already in mind. Very mild spoilers for illustrations.
The illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is delightful and worth the price. As a long-time fan of J. K. Rowling’s enchanting and thrilling world, I initially had hesitations about purchasing the new edition.
What if the illustrations don’t do the book justice? Whenever there is a debate between the merits of literature against visual media, most bookworms are eager to remind everyone that ‘books allow you to visualise everything.’
Yet that wasn’t my concern.
I love illustrations in books, especially in the fantasy genre. My most prized literary possessions are a deluxe edition of The Hobbit and various Folio Society editions.
I was worried that the illustrations would be a gimmick, or an excuse to sell more books. Although I knew Jim Kay was a talented artist, with many credits to his name, I remained a cynic.
I was wrong. The illustrated edition of this prized children’s classic is a complete treasure. Kay creates his masterpiece with rich colours that look soft. One of the best things about The Philosopher’s Stone is that it increases your curiosity regarding the magical world. It’s a universe you want to know more about and even live in. Kay knows that and treats us to pictures that will draw anyone in.
A particular artwork that will charm even the harshest critics is the single full-page spread. The less I give away, the better!
Kay’s illustrations are not busy, they tend to feature few characters. Jim Kay acknowledges that this is the first Harry Potter book, and we’re excited to see our favourite characters on the page. That’s why he treats us to full-pages of single characters, such as Severus Snape. (Who is terrific!)
This is great, as the art evokes a more striking emotional reaction. Considering J. K. Rowling’s prose is fast-paced, and does not dwell much on the many emotional beats in the first book, that is an asset. The illustrations, I’d argue improve the prose. Although I enjoyed re-reading The Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling trail-blazes through events rather fast.
That’s not an awful thing and is a prominent trait in children’s literature. Jim Kay knows that literature imparts to the soul, which explains why his illustrations conjure up ardent feelings.
However, there are drawbacks. One is that Kay illustrates events that are well known in pop culture and cinema. A vast majority of the illustrations have a counterpart in the Harry Potter movies. That said, there are exceptions. For one, the scene where Harry and Hagrid are on a boat.
I wished for more details (didn’t have to be a full page illustration) of events that didn’t make the film. Although Jim Kay is brilliant, the scenes that are illustrated remain a predictable choice.
Adding lesser illustrated scenes would have added a richness to this edition of the Philosopher’s Stone. Yet, Kay shows original thought. He includes graphs and diagrams about magical creatures, such as trolls. This adds to the immersive and enchanting world of Hogwarts. It seems more real, and that’s because of the choices by Kay.
Overall, dismissing the illustrated edition as predictable is unfair. Reading it felt like two great minds, J. K. Rowling and Jim Kay, were both creating a story together. And that only adds to the magic.
The illustrations have strains of innocence within them. As said earlier, the colours are soft and the lines are not black with sharpness. I hope that in future illustrated editions of the later books, that the darker themes of Harry Potter are explored.
As for now, these illustrations remind us of the joy and magic that Harry experiences during the first novel. Although things get darker, it’s nice to escape to a simple time.
Jim Kay lets us do that.