Once again, out of the mundane, came the magic. J.K. Rowling wrote the original manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in several cafes in Scotland on a manual typewriter. We all know what happened to that book.
Now, literally from Rowling’s attic, comes “The Ickabog.”
She announced it through her Twitter account last May 26:
As you can see, she made two very important points about the book: It wasn’t a “Harry Potter” spin-off in any way, and would be available for free.
The story begins while Rowling was working on the latter part of the seven-book “Harry Potter,” writing bits and pieces of the tale whenever she could. She had originally planned to publish it after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
But after that book came out, she had a change of heart. She wanted to go on a five-year hiatus, but came out with the uneven, lukewarmly-received domestic drama “The Casual Vacancy” and a new identity, the pseudonym Robert Galbraith who wrote “The Cuckoo’s Calling.” (That series’ hero, maimed detective Cormoran Strike now has a series of books and TV shows of his own).
“I decided I wanted to step away from children’s books for a while,” she said on the Ickabog.com. “At that point, the first draft of ‘ The Ickabog’ went up into the attic, where it’s remained for nearly a decade. Over time I came to think of it as a story that belonged to my two younger children, because I’d read it to them in the evenings when they were little, which has always been a happy family memory.”
The quarantine then happened.
In the midst of the lockdown, she thought about unearthing the old manuscript to publish for free on the internet, a new bit of Rowling magic for children in quarantine. Her teenaged children were supported, and thus she began working on the book again. “For the last few weeks, I’ve been I’ve been immersed in a fictional world I thought’s I’d never enter again.” She began reading chapters every evening out loud to family members.
Rowling also revealed that “The Ickabog” does not have any magic in it, which is interesting, considering the story. In the far-off Kingdom of Cornucopia, King Fred the Fearless rules over a land of plenty, but is out of touch with his subjects. One day, he hears about the legendary Ickabog, the monster that is said to steal sheep or even people, out in the Marshlands, and decides, out of vanity, to prove he is a worthy king by riding out and vanquishing this creature.
As a project, “The Ickabog” has five magical gifts. even if there is no magic within the actual tale.
The first, is that it is free, with Rowling uploading a new chapter several times a week until July 10 on the Ickabog website. This gives readers something to distract themselves during these tense times, something with wonder.
The second, is that is a book that is supposed to be read aloud, something that children can share with their parents, in particularly children aged 7-9, who can indeed read to themselves if they so wish. It’s an all-ages book, after all.
The third is the magical contest. Rowling is calling on all kids to join in the Illustration Competition. If you are 7-12 years old, you can be part of the actual “The Ickabog” book! In every chapter released, there’s something new to be drawn. It is thus something that children can engage in to distract themselves. A parent or guardian must enter for you. The rules on how to join starting on the “Ickabog” website. If you win, you will indeed be part of the print version of the book, with the US and UK editions currently up for grabs; more editions will be open for competition soon. Parents and guardian can post their wards online using the hashtag #theickabog. While she isn’t the one choosing the winning entries (the individual publishers will do that), Rowling has promised to look at each entry and comment on each post: “I want to see imaginations run wild! Creativity, inventiveness and effort are the most important things: We aren’t necessarily looking for the most technical skill!”
The fourth piece of magic: the complete version “The Ickabog” will be published in English print, ebook and audiobook in November, with translations to follow soon after.
Finally, and most significantly, all of the proceeds from the sales of “The Ickabog” will go towards groups hit hard by the COVID 019 pandemic. This is a unique project that puts creativity, productivity and philanthropy in a single magical package, Rowling putting her considerable celebrity and following to work for a good cause.
So far, the response to Rowling’s announcement has been dynamite. The new chapters are being read like crazy and so many interpretations of the characters and creatures from the book are showing up on Twitter. True to her word, Rowling has commented on every single entry: “I’m so impressed with the skill and imagination in these pictures! I love both of them. Can’t decide whether I’d rather hug them or run away from them!”
And what exactly is The Ickabog? That’ll be telling. Come to https://www.theickabog.com/ and find out everything.