Thursday, June 11, 2009

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

“To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The two things most human beings would choose above all –the trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.” --Albus Dumdledore

In some ways, Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone if you are an American who would presumably find Philosophy boring and repellant) is a forward to the greater story-arch that flows from Azkaban all the way into Hallows. It introduces the characters and the concepts. It gives us outsiders a primer on the imaginary world that Rowling created, just on the rim of reality. It sets up the pattern of events that will be the structure of most of the books to follow. And it gives us a glimpse at the stakes we are dealing with.

The Harry Potter series is a story about growing up, learning right from wrong, learning that sometimes the people who should be good are bad, and sometimes the people we judge to be bad aren’t so much. It is a story about the fact that sometimes evil tries to kill people but other times it is just people being selfish or narrow-minded or ignorant. It is about friendship and relationships; life and (more importantly) death; about love and sacrifice.

Here in the first book, the stakes are not huge. There is danger, but nothing that feels life-threatening. After all it is a story about a bunch of eleven year olds. Rowling eases the reader into the world she has created and lays the ground rules as it were. Compared to “the real world” Hogwarts is an exciting, wonderful, and safe place. There are rules and authority figures, but like every school ever—these are not always respected and quite often make little sense.

On the other hand, there is real good and evil in the magical world. Most of the time this reality is evident behind the scenes in a sort of mystery that the students loyal to Dumbledore and on the side of good must try to figure out if they want to help. They are shielded from evil by the teachers, but want to do their part to fight evil and do what is right. In this book, they become aware of a plot to try to bring the greatest force for evil back to full power.

The main antagonist in this book is a professor in the school named Snape. He hates Harry with a passion, and everyone who hates like that has to be bad, right? He is mean and spiteful and in every circumstance obviously guilty. The problem is none of the other teachers will believe that he is bad. This character is not as developed as some of the other bad guys in future books will be, but his character is one to watch as the series progresses.

Most of all, Sorcerer’s Stone is a joy to experience. Rowling’s narration places us alongside little eleven-year old Potter as he goes from a joyless, servile existence to a magical world of wonder. It is familiar enough territory taken from countless fairy-tales, but fleshed out in a detailed, modern, and exciting way that is a breeze to read. Oh, and if the last time you read this first book in the series was before you read the last book you need to give it another read. The first and seventh books have a special connection on many levels. The amount and complexity of things already present in this book that are revealed to be important later on is impressive.


  1. Hmm...I'm guessing you really think people should reread the series again - or at least the first one again. Two hints...I think I'll have to.

  2. Oh, by all means. Like the Narnia books, they are worth an occasional reread. I guess I've read this first one at least 5 times now. Reading them out loud to you kids is also a treat!

  3. Very well done, as usual. I will have to read #1 again; I concentrate on 4-7 so much. I miss the whole experience (waiting for the new book, wondering where JKR would take us) so much. It felt like we were having our own Dickensonian moment. I think I'll have to write about it in my blog!


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