Harry Potter and the Mystery of the Author’s Name


(Written by Team Cotsen)

An O.W.L.-level quiz

But what’s in a name really? We could say that names are important. Think of how much effort parents put into giving their new baby the perfect name. Or we could argue that names do not really matter. After all “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Confucius cautioned that “if names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things”. But names just do so often fail to tell us anything useful about their possessors. Names can even be disadvantageous to their owners when they are interpreted through sweeping generalizations and preconceived bias.

Writer J.K. Rowling knows all about the contradictory nature of names—their undeniable influence and false promises.  When naming characters in the wizarding world of the Harry Potter series, she masterfully plays with the meaning, form, and sound of names. Think of Professor Trelawney, who teaches at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As a Divination teacher and the great-great-granddaughter of a celebrated seer, she is appropriately named “Sibyll” after Sibyl, prophetess in Greek legend. Her telling first name and impressive pedigree notwithstanding, Sibyll Trelawney appears to be an untalented fake with no real foretelling skills to pass along to young witches and wizards. However, after we have all dismissed her as a fraud, like Hermione has early on, we gradually learn that Sibyll is the progenitor of major prophecies that have had a profound impact. An irony turns on its head.

Or think of Tom Riddle. In bygone days when he answered to his birth name, Tom is known as school prefect, Head Boy, and winner of the Award for Special Services to the School. Handsome and well-liked by most Hogwarts teachers, Tom is expected to head for a spectacular future. In the story Tom himself tinkers with the power of naming by making a riddle out of it (see what I did there?). He anagrams his own full name Tom Marvolo Riddle in order to create his darker moniker out of the same letters–I am Lord Voldemort. When Tom reappears under that new title, he fashions a new identity imbued with so much terror that its mere mention sends fearsome vibes around, a bit like the naming of the Devil in superstition or black magic legends.

Other Harry Potter characters have suggestive names: for instance, Lupin, Black, Malfoy, as well as Harry.  Lupin’s name suggests his werewolf aspect and seems to add a sinister touch to his character in a world where neither Harry nor the reader knows whom to trust. Similarly, Sirius Black is first presented as a villain, a supposed “mass murderer” and a practitioner of dark magic.  Both names belie the true nature of these wizards’ benevolence (and their canine associations), as the reader discovers only after events unfold in the books.  Malfoy?  Bad faith, bad intentions, malefactor…  What about Harry?  Harry is a common nickname for Henry in England. Henry V, one of the great heroes of English history, is generally called “Harry” in Shakespeare’s play Henry V. What better, and more typically English, first name could there be for a heroic young wizard?

Some characters’ names seem to evoke the old-time and eccentric world of Harry Potter.  Filch, Snape, Slughorn, for instance.  All could be characters’ names out of a Charles Dickens’s novel, along with the likes of Pecksniff, Chuzzlewit, Magwitch, Miss Haversham, and Uriah Heep.

Meanwhile in the muggle world, Rowling and her publishers know all about the promises and misgivings of naming firsthand. Most people have noticed that the title of the first volume differs between British and American editions (Philosopher’s Stone versus Sorcerer’s Stone). The book’s American publisher, A.A. Levine Books, felt that the medieval alchemical connotations of the “Philosopher’s Stone” would be lost on an American audience, and that the alliteration of sorcerer and stone was more pleasing anyway. It is likewise common knowledge that her editor at Bloomsbury Publishing suggested using initials on the book cover of the first edition so as not to give away Rowling’s gender. A female author named “Joanne” was considered a potential turn-off for boy readers (and might still be perceived so, despite the phenomenal contributions that writers like Rowling and Suzanne Collins have made to the genre). Not to mention that the use of initials conjures up an association with older male English scholars and authors in the genre, such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Common knowledge—at least we thought it was, until a passage found in Marja Mills’s new book, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee (Penguin, 2014), made the children’s literature community do a double take at the issue:

“Harper Lee” had other benefits that became clear early on. Especially in the early years, not everyone knew the author was a woman. The name could be either. Would S.E. Hinton’s novel about troubled Tulsa teens have taken hold the way it did, especially with boys, if the name on the cover was Susan Eloise Hinton? Joanne Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone under that name, but her publishers were looking at the marketplace and so her future books came out under J.K. Rowling. (Mills, 224)

Did Rowling really publish the first installment of her fantasy series under “Joanne,” and change to “J. K.” in the second volume? On the Child_Lit mailing list where the question was posed, even die-hard Harry Potter fans and senior children’s literature scholars were confused by that statement for a moment, unsure if what they had remembered was accurate (Levin et al.).

We think the Cotsen Children’s Library can help clear up the confusion! After a nauseating (as usual) ride accompanied by a trusted libngo to the deepest vaults of Rare Books and Special Collections, we have emerged with several copies of Harry Potter books in their earliest published forms. (You have never heard of “libngos”? They are the special agents who guard library treasures. Yeah, we know the name is a mouthful and, occasionally, our libngos have been disgruntled that their title does not sound as fantastical as that of their colleagues who work for Gringotts.)

A few Harry Potter copies housed at the Cotsen Children’s Library. From left to right: an uncorrected proof (Cotsen 52989); first American edition (Cotsen 21739); a German translation (Cotsen 16930).

A few Harry Potter copies housed at the Cotsen Children’s Library. From left to right: an uncorrected proof (Cotsen 52989), first American edition (Cotsen 21739), and a German translation (Cotsen 16930).

You may have noticed that the name “J.K. Rowling” is not ubiquitous in all editions. The German edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire above displays the name “Joanne K. Rowling” on the cover, which encourages the speculation that the initials-and-last-name format does not carry the same connotation in Germany as it does in Anglophone countries.

Let’s take a closer look at the different editions of the first volume we have here at Cotsen.

First up, our earliest copy, the 1997 uncorrected proof of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (52989):

52989 front cover

The familiar initials “J. K.” are found here on the cover.

52989 title page

But the title page ascription has a typo! Apparently J. A. Rowling wrote this book . . . good thing it is just the uncorrected proof.

52989 copyright page

Notice how the copyright is issued to “Joanne Rowling.”

52989 signature

Cotsen’s copy is even signed by the author, as J.K. Rowling.

Next up, our copy of the 1998 first American edition, first issue (46385):

46385: The very familiar ascription to "J.K. Rowling" and Mary GrandPré cover art introduced the series to millions of American children, young adults, and grown-ups.

The very familiar ascription to “J.K. Rowling” and Mary GrandPré cover art introduced the series to millions of American children, young adults, and grown-ups.

46385: the title page with the vignette of Hogwarts

the title page with the vignette of Hogwarts

21739 copyright page

Unlike the British edition, the ascription “Joanne Rowling” does not appear on the copyright page of the American edition, or anywhere else for that matter.

46385: On the back of the dust jacket, notice how the author is referred to as the single mother "Ms. Rowling."

On the back of the dust jacket, notice how the author is referred to as the single mother “Ms. Rowling.”

Last but not least (and drum roll please), a copy of the definitive 1997 first British edition, first issue (Cotsen 36550):

36550: A much less familiar front cover, illustrated by Thomas Taylor.

A much less familiar front cover, illustrated by Thomas Taylor.

36550: Title page ascribed to J. K. Rowling!

Title page ascribed to J. K. Rowling!

36550: The copyright, however, is ascribed here to Joanna Rowling.

The copyright, however, is ascribed here to Joanne Rowling.

36550 back cover

back cover

A modest number of hardbound copies were printed for the first issue of the first British edition. Various sources on the Internet have given that total number as 350 or 500, and indicated that at least 300 of them were distributed to libraries. Cotsen has acquired one of the ex-library copies. Judging by the frayed book covers and by the crowded circulation stamps, which run to a second charge slip not shown in the photo below, this copy must have served the residents of Carlisle, UK very well.

36550 library stamp

The original owning library stamped front paste down endpaper.

36550: first charge slip

Though it is hard to make out here, the earliest stamped check-out date is “Sept. 11, 1998.”

In short, the answer to the quiz that began this post is: All of the following!

Quiz answer. Five points to...which house are you?


Levin, Sharon, et al. “Quick question, re: original cover for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.Child_lit. Rutgers.edu, 3 Sept. 2014. Web. 8 Sept. 2014.

Mills, Marja. The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee. New York: The Penguin Press, 2014. Print.

If that’s not enough Harry Potter love for you, check out these miniatures and doll houses made by Sally Wallace featured on Cotsen’s outreach blog:


Pop Goes The Page: Magical Miniatures 

A is for Apple … Adam … King Alfred … Abolitionist…

Alphabet Books: Some Variations on a Theme

The Pictured Alphabet, Front wrapper (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

The Pictured Alphabet (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

Language—and how learning about language can be presented in children’s books—was on my mind this past week, while cataloging three new ABC books here at the Cotsen Library. Before I began working with Cotsen books, I would have said that books about language or the alphabet–especially children’s books–would have been more or less “content neutral.” After all, what could be more straightforward than teaching letters of the alphabet, syllables, short words, and basic reading, right?  Wrong…as I’ve discovered–and enjoyed discovering.  Since letters, syllables, and words may seem to be just there on the page, it’s easy to overlook how language acts as a provider of meaning(s), in addition to being a container for meaning.

The anti-slavery alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)  Cotsen new accession

The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)
Cotsen new accession

But language is inherently charged with meaning, and its use full of cultural values and ideology, as various writers have observed. Language’s potential for both clarity or ambiguity can be used—or manipulated—by a writer or speaker.  Sometimes the way we use language is conscious and sometimes our use of language reflects our education, culture, and formative influences. Sometimes it’s both intended and unconscious.

In a book, meaning can also be shaped, extended, or modified by visual elements. This is particularly evident in children’s illustrated books, where the balance of text and illustrative elements can be more equal—or the visual can even take precedence over the text that it “accompanies.” Take early alphabet books, for instance. The New England Primer, the first primer (or ABC teacher and elementary reader) first issued in the United States in the 1670s, famously begins its alphabet rhymes with the verse:

In Adam's Fall... Detail (Cotsen 32844)

“In Adam’s Fall…” Detail
(Christopher Sower, 1764)
The New England Primer, (Cotsen 32844)

New England Primer,  First page of alphabet rhymes (Cotsen 32844)

New England Primer,
First page of alphabet rhymes (Cotsen 32844)

Accompanying this verse is a woodcut showing Adam and Eve standing under the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, apparently just before eating the apple. Apart from the mnemonic aspect of the rhyme itself–making it easy to remember (and recite)—the illustration complements the cautionary nature of the text in a pretty vivid way that likely stayed in young reader’s minds.

Language is being presented as more or less inseparable from religion and moral teaching: A is for Adam, the original co-sinner, for the eating of the Apple. Other illustrative examples in the Primer include Job, Queen Esther, and the whale that swallowed Jonah—along with a cat, a dog, and an “idle fool” with a dunce cap, everyday object-examples presumably readily accessible to children at the time. This is consistent with Locke’s recommended use of familiar, everyday objects—and pictures of them—as learning aids for educating children and for fixing concepts more vividly in their minds.

A is for Apple Aunt Lely's Picture Alphabet (McLougliin Bros., [between 1863 and 1866]) Cotsen 4393

“A is for Apple…”
Aunt Lely’s Picture Alphabet
(McLougliin Bros., [bet. 1863 and 1866]) Cotsen 4393

I’ve always found it interesting that some later alphabet books replace Adam with Apple. For a reader in this Age of Irony, it’s hard not to find this a little ironic, but it’s hard to tell if this would have seemed so to a nineteenth-century reader.  Perhaps it was ironic to some readers, but not to others. It’s always dangerous—although tempting—to view the past through the filter of our implicit present-day values and attitudes or to make sweeping, “historicizing” generalizations about what “everyone thought” at the time from our vantage-pont long after the original audience’s reception.

If nothing else, this change from Adam to Apple seemingly reflects an relatively increasing secularization in the mid-1800s, compared with the 1670s (nineteenth-century people were still generally religious, of course, but religion had been complemented, or diffused, by other spiritual and cultural influences).  Merely one of many ABC books using “A is for Apple” is McLoughlin Brothers’ Aunt Lely’s Picture Alphabet (New York, [between 1863 and 1866]).  McLoughlin Brothers, the preeminent American popular children’s book publisher of their time, was a master at providing books—and content—that people wanted to buy, so “marketability” must also have been at least a partial factor in the content they selected here.  Maybe fire and brimstone didn’t sell as well in the mid- and latter-1800s and early 1900s? Perhaps Apple was a little more “up-to-date” and familiar to children then too? Likely, some combination of all these factors factored into the text and illustration of this “A is for Apple” book.

From Apple to Apple Pie... Chromolithographed illustration from Aunt Lely's Picture Alphabet (McLougliin Bros., [between 1863 and 1866]) Cotsen 4393

From THE apple, to apples, to apple pie… Chromolithographed illustration from A, Apple Pie (Warne, & Co., [after 1885) Cotsen 31090

Apples are also nicely colorful objects, suited to the sort of chromolithographed color illustration that McLoughlin pioneered in the mid- late-1800s. So printing technology would seem to have played a part in this changeover too. Even though Aunt Lely’s Alphabet (pictured above) doesn’t have colored illustrations, many of McLouglin’s books did, and you can readily imagine how strikingly visual the large apple shown in Aunt Lely’s Alphabet would be if it was colored in bright red. (Chromolithographs are often notable for their extra-vivid, slightly surreal colors.)  Sometimes, the Apple even found its way onto an apple pie, as in Warne’s A is for Apple Pie, thus moving us all the way from a cautionary Garden of Eden to a veritable kitchen cook-book.

Three Recently-cataloged Alphabet Books

The Alphabet Ladder, Frontispiece pastedown (G. Martin , [bet. 1817 and 1839]), new accession

The Alphabet Ladder, Frontispiece pastedown (G. Martin, [bet. 1817 and 1839]), Cotsen new accession

The Alphabet Ladder, or Gift for the Nursery (London, after 1817) provides a relatively early example of a colored alphabet book; it dates from some time after 1817 (when its publisher George Martin began publishing) and features hand- or stencil-colored engravings.

The front wrapper of this sixteen-page book has a paper onlay depicting a Britannia-like Fame (name printed on her shield) standing atop a structure of alphabet letters—the alphabet ladder, perhaps?—and some fashionably-dressed children (the target audience for this not inexpensive one shilling book?); the frontispiece-like front pastedown provides a similar illustration, a striking visual presentation, I think.  (Compare the illustration shown on the right with the cover label shown at the bottom of this posting.)

The letter A is illustrated here by a (boy-like) King Alfred, instead of by Adam or an Apple, an interesting complement to the Bullfinch pictured below, a bird that would probably have been familiar to a child-reader at the time.

A is for King Alfred, The Alphabet Ladder,  (G. Martin , [bet. 1817 and 1839]), new accession

“A is for King Alfred,” The Alphabet Ladder, (G. Martin, [bet. 1817 and 1839]),
Cotsen new accession

English history is being used along with familiar objects perhaps to add a touch of history to visual examples making letters more vivid. Generally accepted as the first king of a united England, Alfred the Great would have a strong patriotic connotation to an English boy or girl, especially about this time, the era of the Napoleonic Wars, in which England and France of course figured large. So it’s not so very surprising that another illustrative colored engraving presents a sword-flourishing Frenchman, looking very much like Napoleon himself, complete with a bicorne hat tucked under his arm.  Parodic mockery of a vainglorious Napoleon was a staple of English satirists at the time and can be observed in a number of English children’s books.

Pictured above the Frenchman is a brightly-colored Egg Plum, another object familiar to children, as was the Bullfinch. This juxtaposition of historical personages and everyday items or animals may seem a bit strange to us now.

F is for Frenchman, The Alphabet Ladder,  Cotsen new accession

“F is for Frenchman…”
The Alphabet Ladder,
Cotsen new accession

But such combinations are not all the unusual in children’s ABCs, and it was also quite common for a publisher to “update” a book with some “new” or topical illustrations or textual content. A quick and dirty way to provide a “revised edition” perhaps and encourage some new sales? And what better way to entice a young reader than blatantly patriotic and relevant contemporary examples in wartime?  Offhand, I’d say that The Alphabet Ladder—and it’s illustrative examples—would appeal more to a boy that a girl; apart from the warlike soldiers, almost all of the children pictured inside the book are boys—adding an interesting gendered aspect to the  presentation of the actual alphabet, which is belied by the cover and frontispiece featuring two boys and two girls.

We find a similar juxtaposition of commonplace illustrative examples and patriotic ones in another new Cotsen title: Solomon King’s: The Pictured Alphabet (New York, ca. 1820). K is for Kite, another familiar object to a child then, but N is for…Napoleon, somewhat surprisingly perhaps in an American book of the time.

K is for Kite, N is for Napoleon, The Pictured Alphabet, (Solomon King, 1820) Cotsen new accession

K is for Kite, N is for Napoleon,
The Pictured Alphabet
, (Solomon King, ca. 1820)
Cotsen new accession

Another pair of facing illustrative wood-engravings shows a Dunce to illustrate the letter D and a Guard the letter G, the latter looking distinctly English (and I think grenadier guards were generally a European type of soldier).

D is for Dunce, G is for Guard, The Pictured Alphabet, (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

D is for Dunce, G is for Guard,
The Pictured Alphabet
Cotsen new accession

Yet another pair of illustrations shows a tankard—Quenching thirst, I guess—to illustrate the letter Q, which faces the letter T’s Trumpet, here having been affixed with the letters “US,” adding both a topical and patriotic military touch to the American publication.  (And while a tankard was more of an all-purpose drinking cup in 1820 then than it is now, the association with beer and ale must have been apparent when this book was published.  Imagine a children’s alphabet featuring anything like a beer mug now!)

Q is for Quench, T is for Trumpet The Pictured Alphabet, (Solomon King, ca. 1820) Cotsen new accession

Q is for Quench, T is for Trumpet,
The Pictured Alphabet,
Cotsen new accession

Some of these combinations suggest that the printing blocks may have either come from Europe, or been adaptations of European ones; 1820 is relatively early in American printing and publishing development, with type and book-printing blocks still often being imported from Europe rather than being manufactured domestically. King’s book is a fairly simple production—even a somewhat primitive one—small in size (just 3 ½ inches tall) with simple illustrations and no text other than the alphabet letters themselves; after all, it is a one penny book, as the publisher’s advertisement on the lower wrapper tells us. (In contrast, the relatively deluxe Alphabet Ladder has a cover price of a full English shilling for the “coloured” version.)  But The Pictured Alphabet is also quite a rare book now, no copy other than Cotsen’s being found in OCLC’s combined libraries catalog.  Sometimes, cheap books in wrappers must have been used and then discarded once their condition deteriorated—unlike more expensive books, which were often more likely to be retained.

And they sighed by reason of their bondage... The Anti-Slavery Alphabet,  Cotsen new accession

“And they sighed by reason of their bondage…”
Title page vignette The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)
Cotsen new accession

"For indeed, I was stolen out of the land," The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)  Cotsen new accession

“For indeed, I was stolen out of the land,”
Vignette on title page verso
The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)
Cotsen new accession

Another intentionally topical alphabet book—and one with a clearly moral didactic goal—is the Anti-Slavery Society’s: The Anti-Slavery Alphabet (Belfast, 1849). Apart from the very title and didactic approach of the text, there’s a striking wood-engraved title-page vignette depicting a slave sale, and another illustration on the verso side depicting a slave telling a seated white man and woman: “For indeed I was stolen out of the land.”

Even without the caption text beneath them, these two illustrations make their meaning clear. These illustrations are the only ones in this twelve-page book, somewhat unusual for the time perhaps, and the gathering of printed pages comes within plain paper wrappers with no text, advertising, or illustration on them. Perhaps this is a function of cost? Or perhaps the publisher like the Anti-Slavery Society didn’t think that such “marketing” aspects were appropriate (or needed) for a book presumably sold or given away by/to people of strong conviction? These conjectures are just a couple of the possible explanations.

A is for Abolitionist... The Anti-Slavery Alphabet, (Belfast, Anti-Slavery Society, 1849)  Cotsen new accession

A is for Abolitionist…
The Anti-Slavery Alphabet,
Cotsen new accession

But the four-line alphabet rhymes for each alphabet letter speak compellingly to the book’s underlying moral purpose: to teach children about the evils of slavery and move them to moral awareness, in part by making them aware of their own potential complicity for enjoying sweet treats made from slave-produced sugar. Apart from the A,B,C rhymes pictured at right, some other verses read:

I is the Infant, from the arms
Of its fond mother torn,
And, at a public auction, sold
With horses, cows, and corn.

S is the Sugar, that the slave
Is toiling hard to make,
To put in your pie and tea,
Your candy, and your cake.

U is for Upper Canada,
Where the poor slave has found
Rest after all his wanderings
For it is British ground!

Why “Upper Canada” and “British ground”?  While this book may seem directed at American audiences, it was printed in Belfast, Ireland. Escaped slaves often tried to reach Canada, via the Underground Railroad and other means, because slavery had been outlawed in most of the British Empire by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.  Canada was then part of the British Empire, and Upper Canada was the area what we now know as Southern Ontario, bordering New York State (Lower Canada being Quebec).

So, looking at this batch of three new Cotsen alphabet books, I think we can understand some of the many, wide-ranging “educational” goals that ABC books subserved, teaching language mechanics being just one.

Three Recently-cataloged Cotsen Library Alphabet Books Cotsen new accessions

Three Recently-cataloged Cotsen Library Alphabet Books
Cotsen new accessions