Well, well, well. I put the Jim Kay illustrated versions of the first three Harry Potter books (all that was available so far) on my Christmas list last year. They seemed like fun. And my husband and kids got them for me and they were so beautiful under the Christmas tree and then I looked through them, so carefully, and then put them on the shelf. Why? Because I read Harry Potter in the fall? Yeah, basically. I knew I’d get to them soon enough. It’s the fall! I pulled the books back down and started reading them, gingerly. As the fourth one is now available, I ordered that one and read it too before moving on to my old paperback copies to finish off the series for the year. And now I wait impatiently for the rest of the illustrated series to release, oh-so-slowly.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to like them very much. They seemed more like a collector’s item, and they are, because they are expensive and pieces of art as much as of literature. But so are many other picture books, just not as expensive. Not that they are expensive for money’s sake. Actually, at around $40 a piece and cheaper in a set and at many places (I paid more like $25 for my fourth one), they’re not more expensive than they should be: they’re enormous things (and I wonder what books five and seven will be like!), on thick, glossy paper, and colorful throughout, the illustrations extending to the very tips of the pages. I also, upon perusing the first one in a book store way back, was not that thrilled with the illustrations themselves. I thought they just weren’t my style.
I was wrong. I love these books. Let me first tell you the downside (besides price): they are too hefty and pretty to carry around with you. They take up a lot of lap space, and I feel like I’m handling a precious artifact as I try not to smudge the pages. (Perhaps cotton gloves is an idea?) That’s it. If you are okay with curling up at home to read these, using a table instead for your snack which you’ll eat with frequent napkinning, then they are definitely worth it for someone who loves Harry Potter. Even newbies could really enjoy reading Harry Potter the first time with these books, especially children. (Though later books in the original series get grimmer and more mature and are not really appropriate for children.)
Plus sides: first of all, they are NOT abridged. Full text. Second, the illustrations are beautiful and they are plentiful. Many pages just have a pattern set behind them, but there are illustrations about every other or every third turn of the page, it seems, and some of them are very elaborate. These are paintings, paintings that took research, planning, sculpting models, mocking, and time. They are also detailed, and I have enjoyed sitting and looking around at all those details, which does mean I’m reading slower, but it’s a fun experience. Other great things? Seeing the Wizarding World through new eyes. I have grown accustomed to seeing it through the eyes of Universal Studios, but not only does Jim Kay have a different imagination and the approval of J. K. Rowling, but he is able to do things on the page that a movie studio can’t do, due to limitations with money, CG, and casting. For example, Kay can present the characters just as they are described in the books. It’s a slightly different world with Kay than it is with Universal. And the best part? At least for an Anglophile? Though they are not straight-up UK editions (still The Sorcerer’s Stone and not The Philosopher’s Stone), they are put out in the US by Scholastic but retain the Bloomsbury illustrations and text: the British English remains in the text. I have been looking to buy a paperback set in the UK edition and have found it difficult, so I was super excited as I read these to see that the original language and expressions were left alone. I love it.
So, obviously a recommend. They are a bit of an investment, especially over a used paperback set (or one from your library), but I am really enjoying them. (Note: there is also a deluxe illustrated edition. They cost more and have cloth covers, but I can’t say what else.) This set has a place at the top of my bookshelves and I will continue to collect them. Book five—The Order of the Phoenix—is scheduled to come out in 2021. After that, who knows? I also want to point out that Minalima is releasing an illustrated version, one book at a time. The first one came out this year, but I have not held a copy in my hands, no thanks to the pandemic. It is a totally different style from the Jim Kay ones, with simpler, more animated-feeling illustrations and, so I hear, papercraft interaction? Like a fold-out letter, etc. They are in about the same price range, but dare I own another thing Harry Potter?
I believe I do.