Tag Archive: Harry Potter

Books That Should Have Been Illustrated: Part 2

Guest blog by Scribbly Roo, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer working from her home studio in Norfolk, UK, where she writes and illustrates her own graphic novels and children’s picture books.


With the release of the new illustrated versions of the Harry Potter series due to be launched only a few months from now, it seemed fitting that Ms Parfitt and I discuss what books we wish were illustrated. As an artist, myself, I often enjoy sketching scenes from the books I have read, and some publications are so full of rich imagery and imagination that it seems almost a crime that they do not contain a single illustration.

So here are the books that get my fingers itching to illustrate:

The Dark Towers Series by Stephen King

I had to list this first, as I just finished the final installment last week and am still adjusting to life without another Dark Tower book to read! Seven books make up the epic tale of Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his quest to find the point where all worlds meet- The Dark Tower. During his journey, he remembers friends of old and meets new friends from other worlds, including our own. The tale stretches across so many different landscapes that beg to be painted. We walk by Roland’s side, watching him encounter creatures like flesh eating Lobstrosities and the evil half-baby half-spider Mordred. Oy is one of my favourite characters, and the one I could sketch for hours. He is a billy-bumbler, described as a cross between a badger, a racoon and a dog. With his “intelligent, gold-ringed eyes” and “surprisingly graceful neck” I can’t help but liken him to my border collie, Simm.



The series has a number of spin-off comics attached to it, thanks to Marvel and King working together, and there has been talk for around eight years now of producing several films and a television series based on the books, but personally I’m a stickler for the original text. If I could spend the next ten years illustrating The Dark Tower series and nothing else, I’d be a very happy bumbler.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

ChocolatSet in a fictional little town in France, ‘Chocolat’ begins as the town’s inhabitants are taking down carnival decorations that marked the beginning of Lent. A mysterious woman and her daughter move into the old bakery opposite the church, and anticipation grows as rumours of her opening a chocolate shop spread.
‘Chocolat’ is a beautiful book, full of delightfully real characters, quaint french settings and, of course, the magical art of the chocolatier. What better way to capture all this than with illustration? The descriptions of Vianne’s edible creations, flamboyant window displays and the sensuous aromas of melted chocolate and spices floating down the street would make fantastic images. Even some portraits or character studies dotted throughout the text would be interesting- accentuating the rivalry between Vianne’s unorthodox ways and the parish curé’s disapproval. I wonder if perhaps the addition of illustrations would bring this much-loved book to a willing younger audience too. Because who doesn’t love chocolate!?

Will and Tom by Matthew Plampin

I don’t often read books based on historical conjecture, but ‘Will and Tom’ captivated me within the first chapter and I had to continue. The story covers a week in 1797, West Yorkshire, when budding but rather introverted artist Will Turner (J.M.W. Turner, to us) is commissioned to sketch Harewood House. There, he unexpectedly comes face to face with his charismatic childhood friend and rival artist, Tom Girtin. In the next week, their complicated relationship in exacerbated by their aristocratic surrounding, of which Tom fits into seamlessly, while Will is constantly mocked and ridiculed.


Woven throughout all of the drama are passages describing the acts of putting pencil to paper, the colours Will imagines he would use to paint the night sky or a passing scene which captures his imagination. The artist in me desperately wants to see these sketches within the pages as I read. As a point of reference as well as a fictional aid to make the story more real. It is only a possibility that Turner and Girtin really met at Harewood House, though it is true they were taking similar tours of the north at that time, so their paths may well have crossed. What is interesting, however, is the art that is referred to. The sketches Will took of the house and the surrounding estate are very real. So why aren’t they printed with the text!? No doubt its something to do with complicated permissions and copyright procedures, but this book positively yearns for a few Turner sketches in the least, not to mention some images from Girtin’s “Eidometropolis”, his 18ft by 108ft 360 degrees panorama of London which he exhibited in 1802, only a few months before his early death.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

In a similar vein to ‘Will and Tom’, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is threaded with beautiful imagery of Clare’s art, from her therapeutic paper making, to the intriguing sculptures she creates. Niffenegger herself is an artist and paper maker. Her understanding of the processes really gives life to her descriptions. Perhaps, if she illustrated the book herself, she could release it as a deluxe edition.



Though, of course, this book is a complete work of fiction, the artwork described feels real. Interestingly, the far-fetched idea of a man plagued with a time-traveling-related genetic disorder is also made fantastically realistic. We watch from Clare’s perspective as she meets the love of her life when he appears out of thin air in the gardens of her family home when she is just a child. At this point, he is from the future. Later, she meets him in the present when their ages are the same. This is the first meeting for Henry, who is still yet to time travel into Clare’s past. Its confusing to explain, but fantastically easy to read and comprehend in the book. Throughout, Clare’s artwork is a metaphor for her relationship with Henry- she creates birds and wings and things that feel insubstantial or fleeting, as hard to capture as Henry’s illness. Niffenegger‘s vivid imagery paints each scene with all the clarity she uses to convey Clare’s artistic process. The whole book is like a grown-up fairytale. And what fairytale doesn’t suit illustration?

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Last but not least is the book that started this two-parter blog between myself and Georgina Parfitt. We were discussing the possibility of writing a review of the new television adaption of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ but the talk quickly moved to imagery and illustration. Arguably, I shouldn’t be mentioning this book, as it is already illustrated- a fact of which I was not aware until writing this blog, as I listened to the audiobook version and have never seen the physical publication. I’m thrilled to hear one of the books on my list is actually illustrated! And no book is more suited to it than this.



Clarke’s beast of a novel is set in 19th Century England, during the Napoleonic Wars. Magic, which once thrived in England, is returning in the arms of two magicians- the stuffy and reclusive Gilbert Norrell, and the imaginative and charismatic Jonathan Strange.

As with ‘The Dark Tower’ I think this kind of other-worldly magic cries out to be drawn. The realms of fairy, the castle of Lost Hope, the gentleman with the thistledown hair. Clarke’s writing is Dickens-like, each scene creating a wonderfully clear tableau in the mind of the reader. Her characters, of which there are many, are all fantastic individuals, each with their own secrets and motives. The gothic settings in Yorkshire almost feel as remote and mysterious as the fairy world Jonathan Strange discovers he can travel to through mirrors, and the Raven King would be a marvellous subject for a wood engraving, surrounded by thorns and celtic knots.

The artist lucky enough to have been given the task of illustrating Clarke’s novel is Portia Rosenberg. And she doesn’t disappoint. Rosenberg, who has also illustrated Alexandre Dumas’s ‘The Black Tulip’, has captured ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ in 28 wonderful yet understated drawings that have the quality of old fashioned woodcarvings or etchings akin to those plates in Dickens novels. Faced with so many details and descriptions, instead of being overwhelmed and trying to fit everything in, Rosenberg hasn’t fallen into that trap, instead leaving her illustrations  uncluttered, but with enough life in them to inspire the reader to create more complex images in their imaginations. The only thing I can fault is that 28 drawings is not nearly enough to capture all of the incredible imagery in the book! But maybe I’m just being greedy.

I could go on with this list of books that should be illustrated for at least another two parts. My note book page for this article is covered in titles that I’ve not yet mentioned! Other tales of magic like Patrick Rothfuss’s ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, epic classics like ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas and the dystopian worlds of Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ and James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner’. But I’ve share my opinion, and we here at Towerbabel want to know what yours is. What do you think about illustrated books? Which books do you think would be improved with some images? Tell us what you think on Twitter and here on the Forums page.

Next week I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite illustrated books- and they’re not just for kids. See you then.

Writers Who Doodle – Part 3

We’ve seen how Sylvia Plath, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov and Lewis Carroll sketch and paint alongside their writing lives, now for the third and final installment of Writers Who Doodle, I’m looking at an assortment of my favorite writers old and new, showing just how loyally doodling has stuck beside writing through our literary history.


William Blake, though he may be most famous for his well-studied poetry collections Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, grew up incorporating text and pictures. He was bought books by his parents and would illustrate and study them, then later, he became apprentice to an engraver in London and copied the Gothic, religious imagery that he saw in local churches. His paintings, like his poems, have a darkness and a romance to them, a Gothic sensibility.

william blake

This, from The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy, shows the pale forms and solemn respect for Greek mythology that often accompanied his words.


Dr. Suess has a huge brand that has developed from his storybooks to feature films and theme park rides and tons of merchandise. This brand’s success has been ensured by the instantly recognizable style, not just in the stories’ playful rhymes but in their illustrations. Little noses, long limbs, funny animals in funny colors, combinations of images that don’t usually belong – all adds up to create the unmistakable world of Dr. Suess.

dr suess


Beatrix Potter is a perfect example of a writer who always made drawing a part of her writing life, in fact she may have spent more time thinking and working in sketch form than in written form.

peter rabbit

Her faithful characters, Peter Rabbit and a whole world of other animals, stayed with her from childhood to her published career, constant companions, as if they were her muses and just by sketching them she could conjure whole networks of stories. Drops of gentle watercolor and thin, unadorned lines typify her illustration style. The influence of this style can be vividly seen in children’s books since.


J.K. Rowling is definitely more associated with her writing gripping stories, creating the world of Hogwarts and building a billion dollar brand, but she also used drawing to get to know her characters during the writing process of Harry Potter. Scenes of Gringotts, Harry on the doorstep of the Dursleys’ house (below) and Hogwarts show how she envisioned the locations of Harry’s world and illuminate her excitement at filling in the details of her books.


Visual art continues to be vitally important and connected to our writing lives. Even writers with no illustration experience find the urge comes to them to accompany their characters with portraits, their scenes with landscapes and their ideas with symbols and doodles that help them realize their fictional worlds.

Do you find sketching helps you write? Tell us about your sketchy habits! Or send us your doodles!

And if you enjoyed our Doodle series, check out our posts on J.R.R. Tolkien’s illustrations and The Lost and Found Art of Book Binding.

In Defence of Gluttony – #FoodFiction

Wind_in_the_willows Rackham3 mole & rat picnic


Some of my fondest memories of books come from scenes where the author has indulged in an elaborate, gluttonous description of a meal. From the feasts of The Lord of the Rings, to the humble but gorgeous grilled cheese of Heidi’s mountain home in Johanna Spyri’s series, I devoured those scenes as a child and remember them vividly now. Here are a few of my absolute favorites for you to enjoy and to maybe spur on your own indulgent eating scenes.

And it may seem frivolous, but these passages inspire an important lesson: if you enjoy writing it, we’ll probably enjoy reading it. There’s a lot to be said for taking pleasure in details and descriptions; happy moments are what readers take with them as readily as the tragedies and the twists.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The kettle soon began to boil, and meanwhile the old man held a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork over the fire, turning it round and round till it was toasted a nice golden yellow color on each side. Heidi watched all that was going on with eager curiosity.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

“You want to be careful with those,” Ron warned Harry. “When they say every flavor, they mean every flavor – you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you can get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a booger-flavored one once.”

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

“There’s cold chicken inside it,” replied the Rat briefly; “coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrolls-

And the odd one out…

Ulysses by James Joyce

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

Ulysses is a treasure chest, but the treasure is a little strange and off-smelling; if you don’t fancy filling your story with sweets and cakes, food is a strong way to create a reaction of disgust or a sense of unease in your reader too.

And let us know what your favorite foodie passages are by sending us a comment or a tweet.

Picture: The Wind in the Willows – illustration by Arthur Rackham

What Writers can Learn from Pottermore


It’s an exciting time for Harry Potter fans. Not only is it the official House Pride Week at fan website Pottermore (today is actually Slytherin day, boo,hiss), but J.K.Rowling has also rewarded her fans with brand new content, a two-part history of the Quidditch World Cup. And on top of all that, plans have been revealed for a new Hogwarts Express ride at Universal Studios Orlando this summer causing families the world over to start excitedly making holiday plans.

Hardcore fans who have been sorted by the virtual Sorting Hat will have the chance to celebrate with their fellow Ravenclaws, Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors and Slytherins by submitting drawings and banners and tweeting pep-rally chants this week, and as increasing detail of Harry Potter’s world comes into focus, we realize how far away the original books seem and yet how influential they remain. In the generation of self-publishing and self-promoting, the writer must be creative if he or she is to enjoy a legacy beyond the printed page, so there’s a lot to admire about the Harry Potter franchise.

Obviously not all of us have Pottermore’s budget for marketing… But there are a few lessons to be learned from the success that Harry Potter has maintained beyond its original text.

  1. Membership

The Sorting Hat scene is one of the highlights of the Harry Potter series in print and on film because it appeals to our desire to belong to a clan. This is a much-used device in young adult fiction, but Rowling has managed to extend the life of the book’s house system in such a way that readers have stayed loyal to their groups and now feel strongly enough to post on social media, draw pictures and “dual” users from other houses. Give readers a sense of membership, and they’ll become loyal followers.

  1. Scale

One of the key features of the Harry Potter world that makes fans so enamored with it is that it’s limitless. The sadness they felt at hearing that Rowling wasn’t going to be making any more books was short-lived because soon Pottermore and Universal Studios added dimensions to Harry’s world that didn’t even exist in the original vision. The thought that this fictional world is as extensive and real as our own is a huge draw for readers, and planting those seeds as you write your fiction could open up a world of possibilities for your writing too.

  1. Choice

It’s no secret that consumers love choice – they don’t love being overwhelmed by it, but they love being able to customize their experience to their own tastes. This is something that Harry Potter has in buckets. I especially admire the way J.K. Rowling has enabled the diverse age groups and interests of Harry Potter fans with her products and experiences, by building all the virtual, print, film, and visitor experience dimensions with the same energy, so that fans really can choose how they interact with Harry and Hogwarts.

Pottermore can teach us to aim high with our ideas and use our writing to create a world that readers can feel a part of. Any other books or enterprises that can teach us good writing practice? Tell us about them!