The Wizarding World of Jim Kay: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone



Animage Minerva McGonagall killing time until baby Harry is delivered on p. 2.

I’ve been watching Pottermania unfold since fall 1998, when Bonnie Bernstein, Cotsen’s first Outreach Coordinator, predicted glory for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by a then unknown British woman writer.   I’ve gone back and forth about collecting Harry Potter in depth for Cotsen.  Strictly speaking, the original Scholastic edition didn’t have enough illustrations to be in scope as Mary Grandpre was commissioned to create just chapter and jacket art for it.  Her unpublished color illustrations were only made available recently.

Harry Potter lends itself to full illustration, but it seemed to take a long time to commission this edition.  J. K. Rowling is one of the very few children’s book authors consulted about the choice of illustrator for her works, so she must have been on board when Bloomsbury announced in 2013 that Sorcerer’s Stone would be reissued in 2015 lavishly illustrated by Jim Kay, the 2011 recipient of  the Greenaway Medal for Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. 

Kay’s wizarding world has nothing of Grandpre’s pastel “soft geometry.”  If the publisher wanted to kickstart the creation of a body of contrasting interpretations appealing to different parts of the Harry Potter fan base, Kay was a perfect choice, as he tends towards the dark.  His Gothic-tinged style adds a more contemporary fantasy-sci-fi-horror twist that makes Harry Potter look edgier than it is, although not as unsettling as the imaginary worlds of Mervyn Peake.

With carte blanche to create an indelible sense of place, Kay rises to the occasion in these representations of two key locations: Hogwarts and Diagon Alley.


View of Hogwarts on the front free endpaper.

There’s none of Hogwarts’s grand thrusting geometry in the whimsical four-page spread of Diagon Alley.  Will Honeyduke’s in Hogsmeade inspire something similarly playful in the colorful, cluttered, surrealistic manner of  Colin Thompson?


Detail of one of Diagon Alley’s most famous emporiums on p. 64.

Fleshing out the creatures in Hogwarts also plays to Kay’s  artistic strengths–and a peculiar predilection.  Unlike Ron Weasley, Kay does not suffer from arachnophobia.   Here is an elaborate border design about the life-cycle of a moth from George McGavin’s Bugs, the next children’s book Kay illustrated after A Monster Calls.   It makes a nice contrast to the headpiece for chapter 15, “The Forbidden Forest.”


Detail from “The Life of a Bug” spread.


Where’s the spider on p. 196? Kay’s curatorial experience at Kew Gardens is evident in the sensitive handling of the leaves.

Rowling doesn’t provide much detail about the inside of the cupboard under the stairs at Privet Drive, but Kay draws it as a paradise of spiders, which makes for a pretty nasty bedroom.  Imagine the attention the monstrous Aragog will receive in The Chamber of Secrets…


Harry at home on p. 16.

Kay’s warty, lumpy, scaly things look as if you could reach out and touch their disgusting bits.  Three illustrations are devoted to the dim mountain troll  and four illustrations of dragons, including an exquisite guide to dragon eggs, the somewhat schematic double-page spread of the Norwegian Ridgeback, and the headpiece of baby Norbert, whose fangs and wickedly curving claws only Rubeus Hagrid could love.


Little Norbert staring down the reader on p. 183.

All the things that go bump in the night down Hogwarts’ corridors are deliciously menacing, especially the ghosts on pages 94-5 that look like animated three-dimensional x-rays.  The transparent figure of Nearly Headless Nick with the gaping hole above the ruff is gross yet elegant.  His fatuous expression makes him look more pathetic than scary.


Gryffindor’s ghost, Sir Nicholas Mimsy-Porpington, who bears an unmistakable resemblance to Basil Fawlty on p. 103.

Kay has said that it was critical for him to establish character in the first of the seven-volume fantasy-cum-school-story.  His representations of the flesh-and-blood inhabitants of Rowling’s wizarding world do not hit off their characters quite as  successfully as the magical and macabre ones, but I’m looking forward to see how he develops them in future volumes.

Among the full-page color illustrations is the sumptuous series of portraits, where  Hogwarts’ faculty members are immortalized in the high Northern Renaissance style.  Dumbledore is shown with the signature knitting needles and sherbet lemon candy and McGonagall is resplendent in green velvet (I am counting the portrait of the back of Quirrel’s turbaned head as a double portrait of him and the Dark Lord).  Kay’s models look something like the actors in the films, with the exception of the potions master.   His Snape may disappoint the fans of the late Alan Rickman’s fans. Rickman may have been twenty years older than the character he played, but when he strode away, black robes billowing, or cradled Lily’s body in his arms, it didn’t matter.   Perhaps Kay is still thinking how to put his mark on Harry Potter’s most complicated character.


The potions master.


Harry under a Sorting Hat pieced together from fabric scraps too splendid by half on p. 99. If he is afraid of being placed in Slytherin, his expression does not show it.

The portraits of the major characters raise an awkward question about anxiety of influence.  There’s every reason to think that films impress themselves on artists’ imagination the same way Tenniel’s Alice has.  But could Kay be under pressure (spoken or unspoken) to make the characters conform more or less to their film likenesses so as not to ruffle the fan base?. Or is he paying tribute to the many great British actors like Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Imelda Staunton, and Jim Broadbent whose performances as Sirius Black, Teddy Lupin, Dolores Umbridge, and Horace Slughorn are so memorable?

If I were to take issue with an aspect of Kay’s interpretation of Sorcerer’s Stone, it would the handling of the theme of friendship.  Enjoyable as the slapstick pictures for the Privet Drive section are, there could have been fewer, as they are less important overall than scenes where Harry, Ron Hermione, and Draco form the alliances and enmities that play out over the series.  Draco being fitted in his Slytherin robes, with Madame Malkin’s tape measure rising up like a snake poised to strike, brilliantly establishes him as Harry’s antagonist, even without Harry in background.  But with Harry nowhere to be seen in the picture of Draco stealing Neville’s Remembrall, it is a gorgeous fall landscape, not the unfolding of a dramatic rivalry.


Draco taunting Harry and Neville with the Remembrall high over head on p. 122.

The busy full-color plate of the wizard’s chess board fails to communicate the urgency of Ron, Hermione, and Harry racing to reach the philosopher’s stone before Voldemort.  Instead showing Ron’s cool nerve as he advances  Harry and Hermione across the board, Kay draws a crowd of playing pieces that threaten to crush the children.  To an American, the pieces look more like cocktail lounge tikis than grotesques based on the  Lewis chess set.


Playing wizard chess on p. 226.

Maybe it was a conscious decision to keep the illustrations featuring two or more people to a minimum, as Kay seems more comfortable drawing posed single figures.  He shows that he can create an emotional encounter between a child and an adult.


Harry notices Dumbledore after looking into the Mirror of Erised for the third time on p. 173.

Or a child’s sense of embarrassment at being in public with a grown-up who is nice but peculiar.  Perhaps there will be more intimate images like these in the later volumes.


Harry and Hagrid in the Underground on p. 56.

Sorcerer’s Stone in red paper-covered boards is a nice piece of commercial bookmaking for $39.99.  The atmospheric double-page spread of Harry on platform 9 3/4 is repeated on the dust jacket and the gold foil stamping and embossing on the jacket is more tasteful than tacky.  Two lovely views of Hogwarts appear on the endpapers.   The book opens flat so no text or illustrations disappear into the gutter (caveat: some Amazon customers complained they received copies with damaged or defective bindings).   The heavy coated paper pages has been printed with streaky ink washes and ink splatters to give them a well worn and vaguely medieval look.  Overall the illustrations are rather well printed, although some pictures are not as sharp as the digital previews, according to Potterheads.  There’s even a red ribbon marker and imitation headbands.

The  large trim size allowed for setting the text in two columns which gave a great deal of leeway to the uncredited graphic designer.  Smaller ovoid illustrations are placed between columns, long narrow rectangular images are run across the bottom or down the side of a page, and little square vignettes are tucked in corners.  The two-column format also made it possible to fit the text and 115 illustrations into a 252-page volume measuring 27 x 23 cm. about 1 inch thick (the original edition was 320 pages, 20 cm. tall and an inch thick).

The Kay edition will look grand on a table or on a shelf, but the original Scholastic edition was more reader-friendly.  Devouring the Kay Potter under the covers with a flashlight seems as unlikely as throwing it in a tote for beach reading.  And volumes 4-7 are much longer then the first three, so will the number of illustrations be increased, making it necessary to issue Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows in one stout or two slimmer tomes?

With the demands of producing a new volume every year between 2016 and 2022, let’s hope Kay can keep up the pace and the quality…  This fall I’ll be waiting in line for my copy of Chamber of Secrets.


The four friends celebrating the Great Hall on p. 245. To be continued!


Lady Diana Beauclerk Draws a Travelling Zoo

Before the establishment of zoological gardens in the early nineteenth century, people living outside of London with its Tower Menagerie were unlikely to have the opportunity of seeing large exotic animals unless the proprietor of a travelling menagerie rolled into town.  George Wombwell (1777-1850) was the greatest of them all.   Around 1810 he began touring the seasonal fairs, where it was easy to gather a crowd.    Eventually he had three units, each with its brightly painted wagons and brass bands, covering the circuit.

Cotsen recently acquired a late eighteenth-century drawing by Lady Diana Beauclerk that documents the visit of a travelling menagerie to an unspecified location in the English countryside.   Perhaps the animal show of Gilbert Pidcock, which was on the road in the late 1700s, is depicted here, although there is no way of being sure because the wagon has no identifying marks.   The showman gestures with his staff towards the enormous lion, whose head seems to be lowered, possibly exhausted after a long bumpy ride on bad roads.  Wonder and awe, not fear, animate the faces in the little crowd standing a safe distance from the creature’s cage on wheels.  At least two little ones are being held up so they won’t miss seeing the noble beast.


Lady Diana Beauclerk, ” A travelling menagerie.” ca. 1790? Provenance: Theodore Besterman-Paula Peyraud.

The drawing is signed “D.B.” in the lower left hand corner and “D:B:” below the border in the middle.  Those initials belong to the one the most celebrated amateur woman artists of the period: Lady Diana Beauclerk (1734-1808), daughter of the Honorable Elizabeth Trevor and Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough.  She also has the distinction of being the first of the celebrated Di Spencers.


Sir Joshua Reynolds’ 1768 portrait of Lady Diana.

A number of her drawings survive and perhaps this one of the travelling menagerie  is related to others she did on popular entertainments: one of a showman with dancing bears, and another of street musicians.  While there is no reason to think Lady Di drew any of them for the delight of her children or grandchildren (nor is there any evidence they were intended as illustrations for a book, much less a children’s book),  the drawings open a window on the experiences of children in the late Georgian period.

beauclerk dancing bear

Lady Diana Beauclerk, “A performing bear” ca. 1790. The showman is jabbing the bear to make it dance. There is a second bear with a monkey on its back to the left. A trumpeter, who probably played to gather an audience, stands with his back to the wall. Lydiard House, Swindon, Wiltshire.

beauclerk street musicians

Lady Diana Beauclerk, “Street musicians” ca. 1790. The young woman is playing a hurdy-gurdy to the accompaniment of a tambourine. In the background a man is operating a peep show for two young customers.

Who was the artist of these charming drawings?   Lady Diana would have been notorious even if she had not been part of the fast set of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.   Beauclerk has probably been the inspiration for many characters in Regency romances…  Dr. Johnson dismissed Lady Di as a “whore”  but Edmund Burke was more forgiving on account of her two dreadful marriages, the first to the dissolute womanizer Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who succeeded in divorcing her for adultery on the third try in 1768.   Diana may not have felt the need for absolute discretion when her husband was rarely home at night.

Two days after the divorce was final, she married her long-time lover Topham Beauclerk.  He should have been an improvement over Bolingbroke, as  the great-grandson of Charles II, a friend of Horace Walpole and Dr. Johnson, a wit, and notable book collector.  But his personal hygiene was as appalling as his temper and Lady Di was frequently the victim of his rages.  Even his friends said Topham was so filthy that it was possible to catch lice from his wig.

After Topham’s death in 1780s, Lady Di’s life must have improved dramatically, now that she was the mistress of a pleasant small house, a regular income, and peace to devote to a range of artistic pursuits.   Probably her best known works are the designs she executed for Josiah Wedgewood, which were used on plaques, jugs, and other ceramic pieces.

Plaque,_modeled_by_Lady_Diana_Beauclerk_(1734-1808)_-_Wedgwood,_undated_-_Brooklyn_Museum_-_DSC09014She also created a series of nine drawings which were inset in the door of an elaborate ebony cabinet that Horace Walpole commissioned from Edward Edwards.

beauclerk cabinet

The Beauclerk cabinet, originally in the Great North Bedchamber, Strawberry Hill. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.