Title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Author: J. K. Rowling
Series: First book in the Harry Potter series
Publication date: June 1997
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Length: 223 pages
Genre: Fantasy, young adult, fiction
Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who are mean to him and make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs.
(Dudley, however, has two bedrooms, one to sleep in and one for all his toys and games.) Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed forever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard!
When I discovered the first book for the Fanboy Book Club for Young Adult (you can check out our goodreads group here) was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I immediately joined up.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting anything new to come from this reading, it was a reread after all, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that wasn’t the case. In fact, my dad suggested I apply all the knowledge I gained in my first year at uni, to analysing the series (I’m pretty sure he was joking though, he thinks my love for this series should’ve died away when I became an adult. Honestly, who hurt his generation?), which is exactly what I did. Stepping into Rowling’s world for the 11th time (I think? I lost track years ago, but it’s probably more) was wonderful, and my newly gained appreciation for narrative elements served to make me notice the narrative styles Rowling uses. The book opens up with a 3rd person narrator who relays the text like a fairy tale. Taking care to explain elements where needed while leaving others shrouded in mystery, but always engaging closely with the audience. However, this changes once Harry becomes the focaliser. There’s a clear distinction between the two voices: on the one hand we are presented with an omniscient narrator who carefully chooses which elements are essential to tell in order to further the story, while on the other we are confronted with the mind of an intelligent and quick yet oblivious 11yo boy. This distinction persists, to a lesser extent, with other characters as well, with the narration adapting to each character in turn.
Speaking of characters, I love the mix of oddballs thrown in in this first book, and particularly the Golden Trio. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are each brilliant characters on their own, but their flaws are neatly balanced out when they come together: Harry’s rash behaviour is tempered by Hermione, Ron’s resentment towards being the middle child is all but gone while he defeats that chess set (on a side note, can you imagine McGonnagal finding out an 11yo beat her chess set meant to protect the stone from dark wizard? No wonder she never cut him a break later, she saw what he could do before anyone else did), and Hermione realises rules are not absolute. The character development in those three alone is phenomenal, but they’re not unique; the secondary characters like Neville also grow, if to a lesser extent, and I commend Rowling for making this seem natural in a mere 200 pages.
Since I’m so familiar with the story, I didn’t pay close attention to the plot. I’ll say this though: it was well paced, and the twist at the end was very well done. Even knowing it was coming, I couldn’t discern elements that could have given it away, even if it all makes sense once the big reveal happens.
The only issue I had was the under-representation of the other Houses. I might be biased what with being a proud Ravenclaw and all, but the other houses are barely mentioned after the sorting, unless it’s Slytherin and that’s only through Malfoy (who is a walking stereotype at this point).
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a solid start to the series, and I enjoyed reading it for the umpteenth time, I highly recommend it to everyone (what are you doing with your life if you haven’t read it already??).