Harry Potter 25th anniversary: things you probably didn't know about the book

We go behind the scenes a quarter of a century on from the release of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone'

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On Sunday, it will be 25 years since a bushy-faced half-giant burst into our lives and changed everything with four monumental words: “Yer a wizard, Harry.”

And, though the wizard in question was bespectacled orphan, Harry Potter, 11, the friendly oaf transformed all our lives on June 26, 1997, when he flung open the doors to the wizarding world with a sweep of his pink umbrella.

The first novel by JK Rowling was published by Bloomsbury in an initial run of 500 copies. Fans would later hear how struggling single mum Rowling spent hours in an Edinburgh coffee shop working on the novels.

Today, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has sold 120 million copies and counting, while more than 500 million copies of the entire seven-book series have flown off the shelves.

JK Rowling first had the idea for Harry Potter during a train ride. Photo: Warner Bros

The subsequent film franchise is the fourth highest grossing of all time with $9.2 billion in worldwide receipts, according to fan site Movieweb. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times puts JK Rowling's earnings at $1.1 billion, in a rags to riches tale that suitably mirrors Harry’s own rise from the cupboard under the stairs.

The 2000s saw Harry Potter mania take over the world, as Potterheads queued up and camped out for every new book release, each declaring themselves a proud Gryffindor, a cunning Slytherin, a brainy Ravenclaw or a lovable Hufflepuff.

But even the Hermione Grangers of the world don’t know everything about Harry and co.

Here, we take a look at some little-known trivia dating right back to the first drafts, from early rejections to the original character names.

Hold onto your sorting hat.

Chapter one — The boy who lived

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling. Courtesy Bloomsbury

JK Rowling first had the idea for Harry Potter during a train ride when the idea “fell into her head” and later penned the Hogwart’s school houses on an aeroplane sick bag.

And, though Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was an immediate success, at one stage it seemed as though the book would never be published.

Initially, no one wanted anything to do with “a story about a wizard with a stone” and the manuscript was rejected 12 times by publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury.

Early drafts of the book also detail a slightly different list of Hogwarts school subjects. Herbology was called “herbalism” and divination was compulsory from the first year, along with alchemy and a subject simply called “beasts”.

Even the early character names were different to those published. Hermione Granger’s surname was initially Puckle, while Neville Longbottom started life as Neville Puff.

Draco Spinks was Malfoy’s earliest name, Luna Lovegood was called Lily Moon and Dean Thomas was known simply as Gary.

Over the years, Rowling has revealed countless trivia about the wizarding world and proudly announced that a sorting hat quiz had put her in Hufflepuff.

In a radio interview in 1999, she explained that she named the Hogwarts headmaster after an old English word meaning bumblebee because she always imagined Dumbledore humming to himself.

And, despite being the golden boy in the books, Rowling admitted it is Albus rather than Harry who is her favourite character in the series.

The movie cast and characters

Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Courtsey:  Warner Bros.

Just as Rubeus Hagrid was the one to get the story started, the actor that played him, Robbie Coltrane, was the first to be cast in the film series.

It is rumoured Robin Williams was initially keen on the role of the lovable gamekeeper and Haley Joel Osment, of The Sixth Sense fame, was considered to play Harry, but Rowling intervened and insisted on an all-British cast, a role that eventually went to Daniel Radcliffe.

Harry’s best friend, Ron Weasley, was played by flame-haired actor Rupert Grint, who secured his part by recording a self-penned rap about his suitability for the role.

However, Grint nearly found himself out of a job when Rowling almost killed him off part-way through the franchise. She later explained how she considered a grisly end for the teen wizard out of sheer spite when she was in a dark place personally.

The guillotine also narrowly missed muggle-loving Arthur Weasley, who was due to bite the dust in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but was saved when Rowling decided to kill off Sirius Black instead.

Greasy-haired Draco Malfoy was one of the later roles to be cast, with actor Tom Felton initially auditioning for the roles of Ron and nemesis Harry.

The teen actors were guided by a seasoned group of older British actors, though not all of them played parents and teachers. Shirley Henderson, who played Moaning Myrtle, 14, was 36 years old when she took on the role.

Fans may also be shocked to discover that Rowling regretted pairing Ron and Hermione — played by Emma Watson in the films — together, saying she was ruled by “wish fulfilment” rather than plot, though others have agreed the pair are ill-suited.

Behind the scenes

The young cast brought to life the characters of Harry, Ron and Hermione, but becoming the teen wizards wasn’t without its challenges.

In the books, Hermione’s buck teeth were referenced constantly, but the fake gnashers she originally wore during filming made it difficult for her to speak and the cast decided to bin them in favour of Watson’s pearly whites.

Much is also made of Harry’s dazzling green eyes in the novel, but coloured contacts proved too much for Radcliffe who had an extreme allergic reaction to lenses, which were again scrapped.

In the second film, Radcliffe was also made to shave one leg in a scene where he explains he’s missing a sock. As for his scar, the jagged lightning bolt was applied to his forehead over 2,000 times and he went through 160 pairs of glasses.

Filming schedules also meant the young actors had to squeeze in their schoolwork whenever they could and the studying scenes were often the only chance Radcliffe, Grint and Watson had to complete their homework.

Mischief managed.

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Updated: June 25, 2022, 2:44 PM
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