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Book review: <i>Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone</i> by J. K. Rowling

Ah, Harry Potter. In this case, I want to state that I read this little number hot off the press before Harry became the blistering sensation that he is today, with his appalling hair and several movies and whatnot. I was right there in the thick of things, and I remember two girls pointing and snickering at my reading a children’s book on the train. I remember reading it and thinking “Well she isn’t Roald Dahl, but she’s pretty close...”. Anyway, when Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone first hit the shelves in 1997, I think everybody was wondering whether Harry was just going to be a flash in the pan or if J.K. Rowling had the makings of a classic on her hands. I think that now, we all know the answer to that. And I don’t think her reputation is undeserved. (I think she produced the fifth book on a bad day, but I’ll save that for another review.)

The content

What, have you been hiding under a rock or something? Harry Potter’s parents were killed in a car crash when he was very young, and he was sent to live with his detestably middle-class aunt and uncle and his spoiled and obese little cousin named Dudley. That’s what he thinks, anyway, until his eleventh birthday rolls round and he discovers that he was in fact born to wizard parents and has connections to a whole new magical world, complete with an arch-nemesis and all. He then gets whisked away to Hogwart’s School of Magic and the novel rollicks through a years worth of Harry’s friends, enemies, teachers, and adventures, culminating in Harry saving the day with the assistance of his new wizarding friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, whatnot, etcetera. I’m sorry. It just feels so banal, giving the plot like that when the whole Harry Potter phenomenon seems so out there in the public sphere. I feel like a fat and dull little child giving a recitation in front of the class about a book the the whole class has already read and understood better than me.

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone follows that quirky and charming English style boarding school novel literature (I’m thinking Enid Blyton, I’m thinking What Katy Did, I’m thinking all those indominable kid goes new school, kid has mini adventures, kid learns “moral lesson”, kid goes home, kid comes back next book and does it all again next year. Which is quite a nice style because it’s predictable and comfortable and formulaic and you can step into the next book in the series as though it’s your favourite pair of bedsocks and you’re settling in for the winter. Harry Potter is a perfect example of this style of writing. J.K. has a nice dry British wit, and a sense of humour, and a true empathy for the eleven year old spirit. And, unlike the movies, I found her characterisations well rounded and not too stereotypical.

This first Harry Potter is incredibly stylish for a first novel, holds quantities of promise and delivers, taps into the feeling of “children’s classic” with such immediacy, and most importantly takes all the bits and pieces that make up a great story and does them so nicely and in just the right amounts. I loved Harry Potter, although now every man and his illiterate dog will tell you how great it is too. But don’t let that scare you away!

Who is this book for?

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone isn’t just a kids book—although, of course, it is suitable for the kiddies and don’t they just love it, particularly now they own all the merchandise. It’s worth a read at any age because it is going to join the realms of “timeless classic”. So it might be better to say who it’s NOT for... don’t read this book if you are old and bitter and have no childlike spirit remaining in your person. If this doesn’t describe you, go nuts!

If you like this book, you would also like...

Go your other timeless classics in the realm of Fantasy, like Tolkien’s The Hobbit, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Michael Ende’s The Never Ending Story (make sure you get a decent translation), the list goes on. For younger readers, there are some fantasy sets for kids that aren’t anywhere near as classic nor timeless but are still good for the kids, like Emily Rhodda’s Deltora’s Quest.

In short

Title: Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone
Author: J.K. Rowling
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 0747532745
Year published: 1997
Pages: 190
Review Type: