Wednesday, April 30, 2008

JK Rowling writes new book of fairy tales from Harry Potter universe

JK Rowling writes new book of fairy tales from Harry Potter universe

It is a bibliophile's dream and ultimate literary prize - a brand new JK Rowling book, handwritten and hand-illustrated by the author herself, lavishly bound and issued in an edition of just seven personalised copies.

In an extraordinary private publishing venture, the author of the record-breaking Harry Potter books has announced that she is to produce only seven copies of her next 160-page book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Harry Potter spin-off of five short fairy tales.

Rowling has decided to give six copies, each the size of a paperback, as gifts to friends who helped or supported her through the 17 years that it took her to complete the Harry Potter marathon.

She will sell the seventh at Sotheby's on December 13 to raise money for The Children's Voice, a charity that she co-founded two years ago with Baroness Nicholson, the Tory MEP, to campaign for the rights of European children, particularly in Eastern Europe where more than one million young people are trapped in institutions in grim conditions.

Each copy, written on hand-made Italian paper, is bound in leather and decorated with hand-chased silver symbols such as a heart, a skull and a tree stump. Each copy will also be adorned with different semi-precious stones.

Sotheby's has put a pre-sale estimate of £30,000-£50,000 on the charity copy, which will be decorated with moonstones, but Philip Errington of the auctioneers' books department, admitted that this was "cautious".

Observers predicted that the copy might easily fetch 10 times the estimate. Amy Maclaren, a spokeswoman for the author, declined to comment on whether Rowling's husband, children, agent, publisher or editor were among the friends who would receive copies.

But she added: "At least two of the six don't actually know yet."

Private publishing is not unusual - the 19th century artist and campaigner William Morris published many of his books in tiny editions through his own printing press and the first edition of T E Lawrence's classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom comprised just eight copies.

But Mr Errington called Rowling's new venture "unique" because each copy was hand produced. The Tales Of Beedle The Bard played a central role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in Rowling's bestselling series.

As the last book reached its climax, Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, bequeathed a volume containing five wizard fairytales to Harry's friend Hermione Granger. It helped provide clues to help Harry defeat his great enemy, Lord Voldemort.

One of the fairytales, The Tale Of The Three Brothers, is recounted in Deathly Hallows. It is retold in Rowling's new book and she has added the four unknown stories, The Fountain Of Fair Fortune, The Warlock's Hairy Heart, The Wizard And The Hopping Pot, and Babbitty Rabbitty And Her Cackling Stump.

Each is around 1,000 words long and the complete book contains around a dozen illustrations. Rowling, who says that she has no intention of publishing the book more widely, said: "The Tales Of Beedle The Bard is really a distillation of the themes found in the Harry Potter books, and writing it has been the most wonderful way to say goodbye to a world I have loved and lived in for 17 years."

Examples of Rowling's artwork are rare. Mr Errington said: "When you hear that an author is going to illustrate their own book you sometimes have a few concerns. But I think that Jo is a very assured artist."

A dedication in the copy to be sold reads: "Six of these books have been given to those most closely connected to the Harry Potter books during the last 17 years.

"This seventh copy will be auctioned; the proceeds to help institutionalised children who are in desperate need of a voice. So to whoever now owns this book, thank you - and fair fortune be yours!"

Rowling told the BBC: "It's a huge silent scandal how many children within Europe are institutionalised.

"A child with mental health issues was being taken from their family or given by their family to an institution and then placed in a cage and I really would like to do whatever I can to change it."

She said writing something other than Potter had been "like coming up from a deep dive" and disclosed that she has a "half-finished book for children" that is likely to be her next published book.

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