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

I decided to read these books all over again. The length of my workdays, and the fact that today I was working at one place or another from six-forty in the morning until nine at night, has put the kibosh on any adventurous reading I might feel like doing. I returned all my library books to the library with the intention of reading my books that I already own (but not yet Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, for which I’m still delaying gratification); and I came up with the bright idea of reading the entire Harry Potter series over from the beginning. My little sister and I have been having a big moan about how much we miss the prospect of new Harry Potter books now that the phenomenon is all, all over.

Also, I decline to call it Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. What is a sorcerer’s stone? The thing is called the philosopher’s stone! It has basis in alchemic legend! Why assume Americans are too stupid for this? Hmph.

In case you’ve been living under a rock: little Harry is a wee lad of eleven, and lives with his awful aunt and uncle and cousin, where nobody likes him and his glasses are broken and he gets in enormous trouble every time something strange happens around him (which isn’t un-often). And then, and then, and then – and then it proves that he’s a wizard, a really famous one because he somehow defeated the darkest dark wizard of all time when he was just a tiny baby, and he goes off to the wizard school Hogwarts, where he has all kinds of exciting adventures and meets loads of new people and flies brilliantly all around on his broomstick. And confronts the aforementioned dark wizard, all over again.

All the problems I remember with JK Rowling’s writing – crazy long sentences which bugs me as someone who likes to read aloud, and also a plethora of unnecessary verbs where “said” should be, and of course the ubiquitous adverbs – are still there. (I realize that last sentence was on the long side, but this is the same blog where I just used the word “unreviewy”, so the standards aren’t quite the same.) I’ve heard people say that JK Rowling is unoriginal, and Harry’s a cliche, and wizard school is a cliche. However, kids who have been mistreated and then find out they’re special are one of those plots that continues to be enjoyable for ages and ages – just like kids who go off to their relative’s strange old house for the summer and discover it is all full of magic. So I am not bothered by this, and since JK Rowling has created an unbelievably thorough and interesting world for her wizards, I can’t support charges of unoriginality.

I have to say, these are charming, charming books. She’s populated her world with good, bright, vivid characters, and she’s made up or borrowed from myth a ton of interesting places and things for Harry (and me!) to be introduced to. I like these books because every one of them introduces new places, new people, new stuff. And as well, I kind of enjoy this one because it’s lighter in tone than the later ones. I want to give Harry a hug and tell him to run away because I KNOW WHAT IS COMING. (JK Rowling was always saying that in interviews – that if she could talk to Harry, she’d tell him she was sorry; if she could spend a day as Harry, she’d run and hide, because she knows what’s in store for him, and I can totally see her point now.) As someone who held out reading them for a while out of a suspicion that they weren’t as good as everyone was saying, let me just say: They’re as good as everyone is saying.

Rereading this, I’m having flashbacks to eighth grade, which is when I first read this book. My friend Rachel lent it to me, and I read it on the bus so I wouldn’t have to talk to the irritating girl who sat with me. Her name was Terri, and she had a high-pitched voice and an annoying little sister who also rode our bus, and she couldn’t understand why it would bother me to have somebody poking their fingers at my face. I finished it, urged my sisters to read it, and ran straight out to the Books-a-Million to buy Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And then, oh my God, I think I maybe got the third book at the school book fair! I miss the school book fairs!

I’m also finding that I react to every character differently now, because I know the entire arc of their story. (If you haven’t had the joyous experience of reading the Harry Potter books, don’t read this paragraph. I mean it. Even I, queen of reading the end, did not want to know the endings of these books.) So when people show up who are going to die later, I feel urgently that everybody else should enjoy their presence while they can. When people show up who are going to be heroic later, I can only think of their future heroic deeds. I’m having surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, when you think about how tired I am) emotional reactions to everything. When Neville comes into the compartment looking for his toad, I could only think about how he slays Nagini later, oh, how Harry’s going off and he tells Neville, just if he gets the chance, “Kill the snake?” “Kill the snake.” Darling Neville! I wish I could tell him how brave he will be! And when Dumbledore’s giving his speech at the school banquet, I was filled with visceral rage about the nasty things Rita Skeeter was going to say about him later. Oh how I hate her, with her vile insinuations about his very touching paternal relationship with Harry. VILE VILE VILE WOMAN.

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9 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

  1. Great review. I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until I was halfway through college, and then every time a new book came out I would read all the previous ones before I read the new one, just to remember all the details! So I think I’ve read the first one three times. I find them all enjoyable. And I agree with you about the title. It’s annoying. Isn’t it published in Europe as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? They did that with the title of the Golden Compass, too. Originally it’s called Northern Lights and I like that title much better.

  2. I reread the entire series this summer and enjoyed it although it wasn’t as fuzzy as experience as you had :). The last three books really needed an editor. Really. (It probably doesn’t help that it kind coincided with my quest to read all of Diana Wynne Jones backlist. Rowling is good writer in her own right but I can definitely see where she got a lot of her ideas from (possibly).)

  3. I’m never bothered by seeing people’s influences. You can see it with everyone – it’s just a question of whether they do new things with the ideas they’re stealing. Neil Gaiman’s one whose ideas owe a lot to Diana Wynne Jones, but it actually just showcases his own creativity, to see what he does with them. (I think.) Plus I have years of emotional attachment to the Harry Potter books, so it’s hard for me to be completely objective about them. I’m on to Chamber of Secrets now, and I still have the warm fuzzies even though it’s by far my least favorite.

  4. True, but I guess for me it read more like Rowling doing a DWJ rather than showing mere influence. I was reading them both at the same time though. And I came to the series as an adult so there’s not nostalgic glow to overcome. (Unlike me and LOTR which I can’t be very objective about at all.)

  5. Pingback: Catching up « The Books of My Numberless Dreams

  6. Pingback: Childrens Audio Books » Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling « Jenny’s Books

  7. The critique of being unoriginal was not countered at all. Sure, Rowling has created a world of wizards and everything, but most things in it were stolen from Tolkien! Hence, Harry Potter is very unoriginal.

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