Harry Potter and the Mysterious Wizard.

It has been brought to my attention that for years a debate has rolled around Harry Potter fansites, and among commentators, about the identity of the wizard I painted for the back cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The mystery has gained greater resonance because he was quickly replaced with a more clearly recognisable portrait of Albus Dumbledore. So who is this mysterious first wizard? And what sinister forces were brought to bear to bring about the change?

 According to many, the first picture shows an unaccountably young Dumbledore, while others think he must be Professor Quirrel or Nicholas Flamel, and perhaps that’s even the Philosopher’s Stone itself we see bulging out his pocket! Some have said that the “illustrator obviously didn’t read the text before illustrating it”. Or perhaps the text was too precious to be released before publication! Because this is Harry Potter, it’s even been suggested, breathlessly, that maybe I was privy to secret knowledge of the characters and books to come.

Well, though I’m afraid it’s rather dull, here’s the real explanation: when I was commissioned by Barry Cunningham to produce the cover art for a debut middle grade novel by an unknown author called J. K. Rowling — and yes, I did read it — I was asked to provide “a wizard to decorate the back cover”. So I did. The books are full of magical characters and sorcerers, so it wasn’t difficult to conjure up one of my own. It never even crossed my mind to depict Dumbledore. Well done, Chlidonias, for guessing correctly.

And the change? Well, the publishers found themselves repeatedly called on to explain why the wizard on the back didn’t correspond to the description of Dumbledore in the book. It was clear what readers wanted and expected, so Bloomsbury contacted me for a portrait of the famous head of Hogwarts, and the original wizard disappeared in a puff of smoke.

 So that’s the answer. The first wizard wasn’t anyone in particular. Except…

 …except he was, actually. He was based on none other than my own wonderful, magical father. Yes, my somewhat eccentric, embroidered skullcap-wearing dad is the wizard on the back of Harry Potter. Here he is boiling up a potion:

I’ll leave you to guess which wizard I prefer.

(See also: Me and Harry Potter)

33 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Mysterious Wizard.

  1. That's the wizard on the back of my copy – I didn't realise that he'd changed. I'll have to take a look next time I visit my bookshop!Love your magical Dad. Everyone should have a magical Dad :-)

  2. This is Thomas´Dad here…..Thanking you for your magical comments.Yes….life in many ways is a magical journey..and there are many ways we can cast a spell in other peoples lives.

  3. A great story. I have the copy with your Dad-Wizard on the cover! I presumed that it was Professor Quirrel…so this makes for an interesting read. Did you illustrate any other Rowling books?

  4. Brilliant, Thomas! I like your writing perhaps even more than your illustrations.Being mentioned in your blog I consider one of the great achievements of my life (not that I have many more). Thanks!

  5. I'm obviously a Johnny-come-lately as my copy has Dumbledore on it. I think it's rather too easy to look at the whole HP phenomenon with hindsight and to imagine which characters were going to catch the readers' imagination. After all, Dumbledore doesn't appear that often in the first book. Why not a picture of Mr Dursley I ask you? ;-)

  6. Interesting story! I've sent it around the Twitter machine…am sure there are plenty of Harry Potter fans out there who will love to read this.

  7. hi ive been searching for an answer to this for a long time, i know i have the copy with the picture of your dad on the back, its packed in a box somewhere, i have a question though, do you know which printing they changed the picture? i am just curious as someone has told me it is worth a lot and i would like to know if i need to insure it thanxp.s your dad makes a wonderful wizard!

  8. Hi, Cake Ladie.Thanks for getting in touch. I'm afraid I don't know exactly which edition saw the change in the wizard pictures. All I can tell you (glancing at my own bookshelves) is that the 33rd edition still had the old wizard on it, while the 42nd has Dumbledore. As for its value, I would say that unless you have a very early hardback, your book probably wouldn't be worth insuring. But it is worth preserving it in good condition, as the early paperbacks are already falling apart.best wishesThomas

  9. This is awesome, and there was I thinking he was the eccentrically dressed wizard who says hello to Harry on the street in the first few chapters.

    Did you know your “Mysterious Wizard” has his own wiki article, which calls him Wizzy?

    Is that really his nickname, and if not what name would you give him? :D

  10. Hi, Matt. Thanks for getting in touch. I had no idea there was a page for this character; so thanks for letting me know.

    I don’t know where the name ‘Wizzy’ comes from, but it doesn’t come from me. If I think of something better (which won’t be difficult!), I might post it here.

    T

  11. Correction: it DOES come from me, it seems, but only because I used that word as a quick file name. Perhaps I should just rename the file:-)

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