28/06/2015

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

I suppose it was fifteen years ago when I first picked up JK Rowling’s debut novel, before it was well known, with no idea that it would take the world by storm. I think one of my sons had been given it as a gift, or perhaps we bought it on offer before moving to Cyprus, thinking it looked interesting. I knew my sons had both liked it, and in an idle moment decided to try it for myself… and was quickly hooked!

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ (unfortunately re-titled ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ in the US) starts by introducing us to the small, bespectacled, boy with untameable hair, who has been neglected and ill-treated by his aunt, uncle and cousin. The first chapter is full of mystery, as strange people are evidently celebrating something; it’s a great start to a book, whether or not the reader knows what it’s about.

Harry, as a baby, is left with his relatives after the demise of his parents, and has a fairly miserable existence although he seems, mostly, quite stoical about it. Then, as he approaches his 11th birthday, mysterious letters start arriving, addressed to him. His Uncle Vernon, a large and caricatured pomposity of a man, goes to increasingly ridiculous lengths to stop Harry reading any of the letters, finally taking his family to a shack on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere.

But, as Harry turns eleven years old, his life changes in the most remarkable and unexpected ways. He meets the enormous Hagrid, whose hair is even more untameable, and who was expelled from Hogwarts school, but now works there as gamekeeper. Hagrid takes Harry to London where he discovers the bank, guarded by goblins, and shops with wizarding supplies, hidden from the eyes of the ordinary people, who are known as Muggles…

Eighteen years after publication, this book is considered a classic of modern children’s literature. The entire series of seven books, as is now well-established, is full of both classical and Christian metaphors and themes. Several authors have produced books about finding God in the Harry Potter books, and it was while reading a new devotional series based around the books that I felt inspired to re-read them.

It’s the first time I’ve read this book from the perspective of having completed the entire series, so it’s particularly interesting to see how the author lays the groundwork, right from the start, for the powerful climax to the seventh book. I love, too, that Harry is such an ordinary boy when we first meet him. He’s not particularly academic, he’s not sporty, he’s not good-looking or particularly confident, and he’s far from popular. What Harry does have, in abundance, is courage and loyalty, and the ability to stand by right decisions. That’s not to say he’s a goody-goody; far from it, in fact. He breaks school rules regularly, but in the typical British ‘school story’ style, he does so (usually, anyway) for the sake of the higher good.

It’s nearly ten years since the last time I read ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, although I did see the film in the meantime. I wondered what I’d think of it from the perspective of increased years, and it’s now being one of the world’s best-known books. I’m glad to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found myself wondering why it had taken so long to pick it up again.

The writing is crisp, the characterisation effective, the conversations realistic. The good vs evil theme is clear, and the message of the power of love is still as moving now as it was when I first read this book.

Suitable for children of about seven or eight and older; there are some scenes which could disturb a younger or sensitive child, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it aloud to anyone younger. But as well as children, this is a great read for teens or adults who have a couple of hours to spare; it’s the kind of book that has so much in it that there’s plenty for everyone, whatever their age and no matter how many times they’ve read it before.

Very highly recommended.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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