Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Written by J.K. Rowling
Published by Scholastic Inc., 1999, 312 pages

There's something to be said for being the last person on the planet to read and review a book – you certainly don't need to worry much about plot summaries or "spoilers."

And if I'm not the last person to succumb to the HP experience, then I'm in a group with a very small membership. I've seen a couple of the films and read all about the legal fracas over who has the right to talk about the books and who hasn't. Like everyone else, I've been aware of the phenomenon of Harry Potter for years.

But until now, I had resisted reading any of the books. Not sure why, really. I guess deep down I just felt, as my husband always says, there are some forms of virginity that shouldn't be tampered with. Well, I've finally shed the innocence and read the book and become an initiate. And it wasn't at all painful.

So, for any other Potter virgins out there orbiting Jupiter, the bare (and I mean completely skinned) bones of the story are these. Harry Potter is a young English orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle and cousin Dudley – the Dursleys. The three Dursleys mistreat Harry and force him to sleep in a cupboard under the staircase. As Harry's eleventh birthday nears, he begins to receive mysterious letters which his uncle attempts to hide. But on the eve of his birthday, Harry is visited by a giant named Hagrid who is there to bring Harry his admissions letter to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry finds out for the first time that he's a wizard, and the son of wizards – a fact his aunt and uncle have kept from him all these years.

A month later, Harry makes the journey to Hogwarts and on the way meets two other young wizards-in-training, also just arriving – Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The three soon become fast friends and have many adventures and fun times learning the ins and outs of wizardry. Harry eventually tangles with the evil Voldemort, the "Dark Lord" who killed Harry's parents when he was just a baby (that's when Harry was a baby, not Voldemort – is this making any sense?), and who is seeking the Sorcerer's (read: Philosopher's) Stone in order to restore himself to power. After their struggle, good triumphs over evil, Voldemort is vanquished after nearly killing Harry, and the Stone is destroyed (or said to be, anyway). After that, the school term is over and everybody goes home for their summer holidays.

I know I haven't said anything about Harry's owl, or his magic broomstick, or the sorting hat, or Professor Dumbledore, or Snape, or Quirrell, or quidditch, or Fluffy the three-headed-dog. Or Voldemort drinking the unicorn blood. And there's a lot more to be discovered. Ms. Rowling does have an imagination – you have to give her that.

I never really understood why the publishers thought they needed to change the book's title for the American market – why "sorcerer's stone" should be any more acceptable or convey any more meaning than "philosopher's stone." I assume they wanted potential readers to make the connection with Tolkien's Ring trilogy, where sorcerers play a mighty role. And I suppose the term "philosopher's stone" does have a slightly less romantic sound – unless you're a student of alchemy.

I must admit I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. Well, I've always liked fairy tales and stories that involve magic, so I suppose that's not so surprising. And I can see how once a kid reads the first book, he/she would want to go on and read the whole series – I'm a series addict myself. What I don't understand is what makes these books so special to young readers. As I say, it was enjoyable, but certainly no better than any of Lewis's Narnia books, and nowhere near as interesting as Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence (I'm on the third book in that series and Harry and Hogwarts pale by comparison).

So while I'd definitely recommend it as a good read, I can't say I'm making haste to read any of the other Potter books. I certainly have no plans to buy any – if I do read another, it'll have to come from the library or a book swap. Given the evidence of her recent behavior, I'd say Harry and his friends have already brought J.K. a lot more money and fame than is good for her. She doesn't need my $8.99.

The Once Upon a Time II Challenge
Young Readers Challenge


  1. Shhh...I haven't read any of them and haven't had any desire to do so. I even fell asleep during the movies. My bad.

  2. I think that a lot of the appeal for young readers has to with a couple of factors:

    1) Plot. JKR's prose sometimes annoys me (particularly in the later books) but boy, can that woman write a plot. The first book won't even give you much of a taste compared to what happens over the next half-dozen. They're very good for complicated twists and turns and for continuity between books. the action, you may have noticed, is also very fast-paced (particularly in the first three books).

    2) Age. I was about twelve when the first one came out (I think) and so when I was reading the series as it came out, I was aging along with the characters. That in itself can be pretty exciting. And of course, the series gets more complex as the characters age -- and as the first readers age. It worked quite well.

    3)I forget my third point, although there was one. Perhaps it'll come back to me.

  3. Hi! You've been tagged! Now you get to do one of those fun meme things. If you want!

  4. b-b--
    You are VERY bad! But the hubby has slept through all the movies, too - also through all the Star Wars movies, and the X-Files movie! I bet your dad would have stayed awake for them.

    Yes, I can see how reading the books when you're closer to the age of the characters would make them more exciting. And you're right about Rowling's ability to "keep the plot boiling." I think I just became a little overwhelmed with all the wizardry. Maybe I'm more of a Muggle at heart.


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