Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (by JK Rowling)

I'm surprised by how much I like J K Rowling's writing. It's intended for children - or, in the later books, teenagers - but she's such a good writer that her work appeals to adults too. The themes are timeless and moral, the characters very well developed, the writing often amusing, and the plots extremely clever. I read my favourite books every nine or ten years, usually, but I seem to be re-reading the Harry Potter books much more frequently than that, at least so far.

I first read 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' about four or five years ago. It wasn't nearly as well known then as it is now; I read it more out of curiosity than anything, since my sons had enjoyed it, and was very impressed. I've read the others as they came out; most recently I read the fifth book 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' aloud, having previously re-read the third (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), which was probably my favourite, to get myself in the Potter mood.

These two piqued my interest again, so I decided to go back and re-read the first in the series, to remind myself how it all started.

'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' is the shortest of Rowling's books, so far, and introduces all the characters we get to know and love throughout the series.

Harry is an orphan, living with his aunt and uncle who neglect him, and his cousin Dudley who bullies him. Harry has been told that his parents died in a car crash when he was a baby, and that he should be very grateful to his aunt and uncle for providing him with a roof over his head - if only a broom cupboard.

Then strange things start happening, and on his eleventh birthday he meets Hagrid, a giant, who is the gamekeeper at Hogwarts School. Harry learns that he is a wizard, and is going to attend Hogwarts, even though his aunt and uncle find the subject terribly embarrassing and want to keep it quiet.

Harry also learns how his parents died, who he really is, and discovers that he has a large amount of money in Gringott's bank. He also learns about Diagon Alley, the hidden part of London where magical books, cauldrons, wands and so on can be bought by students of Hogwarts.

Harry soon makes friends and settles in, although he also manages to make a few enemies. He finds himself to be rather well-known due to the way his parents died while he survived. And towards the end he gets involved in a dramatic battle of good vs evil, in a very exciting plot which had twists that totally surprised me the first time I read it. Even knowing who the 'bad guys' were this time around, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Definitely recommended - if there's anyone left who hasn't read it! Note that it has the slightly strange title of 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' in the USA.

(I re-read this just two years later - here is a longer review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone written then)

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