Top positive review
illustrations complement text but can't be expected to turn HP into a picture book
October 11, 2019
I am thrilled with this book. It is true, as others have said, that there is less "theme-ing" than previous books--fewer smaller illustrations throughout the chapters. This doesn't bother me for two reasons. One, the illustrations that are here are SO lovely, and we get lots of full-page illustrations, including one of the Yule Ball (with Hermione in the proper blue robes! Magnificent!) and Ginny, which so many fans wished had appeared in the second book. Two, in my opinion it is less likely that very young fans will be reading the fourth book than the first, second, or third. The brilliance of the early Harry Potter illustrated editions is that they might draw more young fans to the books, but by the time they get to the fourth book (or their parents allow them to read it--lots of parents don't let their kids continue past the third until they are older), they understand that the books are longer and the ratio of text to illustrations is going to be different.
These illustrations are intended to complement the text, not turn Harry Potter into a picture book, and they do this amazingly well. The level of detail they provide is fantastic.
It hurts my heart to think that Jim Kay might hear less than wonderful feedback about his work here. I am glad he took the extra year to give us this fourth illustrated edition. Honestly, to fully illustrate the longest Harry Potter books, an artist would probably need five to six years or they would need a team of artists, not one.
EDIT: A number of people have taken issue with this review, so I did some counting. If you are curious about how this book compares to the Prisoner of Azkaban illustrated edition, here are some numbers and thoughts. I chose PoA because although it is 120 pages shorter than GoF, it is the closest comparison available. Also, many fans (myself included) found PoA disappointing, and it may be useful to compare critiques of PoA to those being made about GoF.
Prisoner of Azkaban:
- 200 pages that are “themed only.” This includes any page with a colored background covered by text. The majority of these themed backgrounds are used more than once, often repeated throughout a chapter, and many seem to be dots of watercolor on a light background.
- 52 small illustrations; 22 fill half a page, 30 less than half a page.
- 52 pages with full-page illustrations behind/around text. These illustrations were distinct enough that they clearly, in my view, transcended the “themed only” category.
- 33 full-page illustrations; nothing is on the page except the illustration. With a book length of 328 pages, that’s an average of one full-page illustration for every 10 pages.
- Overall illustration count (sum of last three categories): 137, or 41.8% of the book
So how does Goblet of Fire: compare?
- 55 pages that are "themed only"; may be black or have a basic design/border (all GoF chapter openers fell into this category). There are not many watercolor-dot pages.
- 41 small illustrations, defined as a half page or smaller; I counted these before PoA and had not yet adopted a half-page category. My fingers are pretty tired from flipping through 700 pages, though, so this is the only number I can offer for now.
- 56 pages with full-page illustrations behind/around text.
- 42 full-page illustrations. While some chapters have many, and others none at all, for a 454-page book that’s an average of one full-page illustration for every 11 pages.
- Overall illustration count (sum of last three categories): 139, or 30.6% of the book
The lack of “themed-only” backgrounds in GoF represents a significant shift from PoA. After flipping through them side-by-side, I can see how you might say, “GoF is so empty!” I can also hear the complaints: "GoF has only two more illustrations than PoA! What did Jim Kay need an extra year for?"
While PoA has many gorgeous illustrations, some are noticeably basic or repetitive. Several pages feature extreme close-ups of black dog fur; a ripped piece of canvas and a length of rope serve as chapter headings; two spreads in “The Firebolt” feature the same snow-covered scrub; Scabbers appears SO many times (to be fair, you could make this same argument about “Potter Stinks” badges in GoF).
The majority of GoF’s illustrations are extremely detailed. It’s almost like the lens zooms way out in the two-page spread of the Durmstrang ship in front of Hogwarts, and pictures like the close-up of Ron in his outrageously orange room and Molly Weasley in her kitchen deliver the promised Easter Eggs. We see the faces of so many minor characters: Frank Bryce, Arthur Weasley, Bagman and Crouch, the Malfoys, Ollivander, Madam Maxime, a Slytherin running from a Skrewt, kitchen house elves, Moody. The scenes depicting Voldemort’s rebirth and Priori Incantatem are breathtaking.
Again, the quality of GoF’s illustrations is what enables me to say both “there’s less theme-ing” and “I’m not bothered by it.” While pages that are “themed only” add to the book’s mood and I can see why you’d miss them, I prefer more full-color, large, meticulously executed illustrations. I’m glad Jim Kay spent less time dabbing watercolors on beige backgrounds and instead focused on delivering detailed faces, creatures, and settings.