Archive for the ‘Rowling, J.K.’ Category

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling ~ 1997. This edition: Bloomsbury, 1998. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-7475-32679-9. 224 pages.

This is the book that started a pop culture empire.

Isn’t it astonishing how certain things capture the collective imagination, and what springs out of what was first a nebulous idea in someone’s brain? The only things I can think of comparable to how the Harry Potter multi-media phenomenon took off are the Star Wars sequence and, to a much lesser extent, The Lord of the Rings.

The social buzz that started with the publication of this first book in what would turn out to be a seemingly endless string of ever-bulkier sequels and spin-off novelty projects was well-deserved; this is indeed a frequently humorous novel with broad appeal, but I must say I personally have dodged the bullet of full-on Harry Potter addiction that so many have succumbed to.

I did read the first three novels in the series with great enjoyment when I had novice readers in the household, so it was rather nostalgic for me to revisit this one with an eye to its entry on the Century of Books list.

In a nutshell, this is your typical school story with a twist, in that it includes a parallel world to the one we inhabit, in which magic is part of the everyday, and there is a certain amount of back and forth between the two cultures. I strongly suspect J.K. Rowling read her fair share of Diana Wynne-Jones, because the parallels are certainly there, though Rowling took things out of the mainly-for-juveniles realm as her series grew and flourished.

A book as popular as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone went on to become needs no extra words from me, but in case you have been living in a secluded cabin in a deep dark forest and have only now been introduced to the internet, here is the publisher’s blurb:

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!

Harry Potter’s story is that of the classic underling who comes into his own.

Orphaned under mysterious and shocking circumstances as a wee baby, Harry experiences a childhood of repression and psychological abuse by his “blood relations” – his mother was Aunt Petunia’s scorned sister – so his initiation into his true place in the magical world is doubly poignant. Harry finds his first true friendships with fellow students Ron and Hermione, and father figures in the school headmaster Dumbledore and school groundskeeper Hagrid. He discovers he has unsuspected athletic abilities, along with innate magical powers, both of which come in handy as he finds himself facing an astoundingly evil figure, Lord Voldemort of “the Dark Side”, the killer of his parents and now the threatener of all the good in Harry’s twin worlds.

The story is fast-moving and engaging, and deserves most of the good things which has been said about it. If you haven’t read it, you probably should, if only for a deeper understanding of all of its pop culture references in our nowadays world.

I suspect you will find it both better and worse than you expect. Better because it is a very competent example of the classic school story and the downtrodden young hero coming into his own, and quite possibly worse because you may then think, as I did and still do, that there are a lot of other similar books out there which quite simply didn’t catch the buzz that this one did.

Dissected, there isn’t a whole lot of new in this one, aside from some imaginative interpretations and enhancements of classic school scenarios. All of Rowling’s ideas are essentially secondhand, but obviously her recreation of what came before has been a stupendously winning one.

My rating: 10/10






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