Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Tween Tuesday is a weekly meme created by GreenBeanTeenQueen, one of my favorite blogs. Surprise, surprise - it features books aimed at Tweens.
This is one of my reviews for the Banned Book Challenge. Go to the main post on StephSuReads' site here and my post discussing the challenge here.
Readers are in for a delightful romp with this award-winning debut from a British author who dances in the footsteps of P.L. Travers and Roald Dahl. As the story opens, mysterious goings-on ruffle the self-satisfied suburban world of the Dursleys, culminating in a trio of strangers depositing the Dursleys' infant nephew Harry in a basket on their doorstep. After 11 years of disregard and neglect at the hands of his aunt, uncle and their swinish son Dudley, Harry suddenly receives a visit from a giant named Hagrid, who informs Harry that his mother and father were a witch and a wizard, and that he is to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry himself. Most surprising of all, Harry is a legend in the witch world for having survived an attack by the evil sorcerer Voldemort, who killed his parents and left Harry with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. And so the fun begins, with Harry going off to boarding school like a typical English kid?only his supplies include a message-carrying owl and a magic wand. There is enchantment, suspense and danger galore (as well as enough creepy creatures to satisfy the most bogeymen-loving readers, and even a magical game of soccerlike Quidditch to entertain sports fans) as Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione plumb the secrets of the forbidden third floor at Hogwarts to battle evil and unravel the mystery behind Harry's scar. (courtesy of Amazon)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a revolutionary book for so many readers. It was for me, and I didn't read it until I was 18. I grew up hating any and all fantasy. I was not a fan of A Wrinkle In Time and was never interested in reading Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. Harry Potter was the first book that really made me like fantasy. It wasn't until reading Twilight that I fully accepted fantasy - paranormal, urban, and high fantasy. I remember being enthralled by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I finished it and immediately read the second and third books.
Surprisingly, the last few times I've re-read the Harry Potter series, I am full of criticism about the first book. It is so juvenile. It plays on stereotypes of children's literature, like the Dursley's who are a level of mean and stupid that feels like something out of a Roald Dahl novel. The writing is a little sloppy. For example, during the quidditch games, the point-of-view suddenly switches from Harry to Hermione and Ron. The plot also flies along. Harry doesn't even get to Hogwarts until page 85 out of 223 (British edition). Months go by in a matter of paragraphs. Some lines sound like a soliloquy. For example, Hermione's famous lines just before Harry drinks the potion to meet Quirrel: "Me!...Books! And cleverness! There are more important things - friendship and bravery and - oh Harry - be careful." This is actually one of my favorite lines in the book and in the movie, but can you really imagine any kid actually saying something like this in the spur of the moment? Other lines are just too kiddish. For example, "There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them."
I have to remember to take Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with a grain of salt. On its own, it is a marvelous book. An engaging, fun read. It's only in comparing it to the later books, which are just so much deeper and better written, that the first book seems unworthy. It is a juvenile book, because Harry is a child. He sees and understands the world as a child. And the book is meant to be read by young children, whereas the later books are more geared toward older children and adults. Plus, it was Jo's first book - you have to cut her some slack for beginner's errors.
Harry Potter is a frequently challenged book. Unlike many other books when I can at least understand why a parent might not want their child to read the book, I cannot understand why anyone would have a problem with Harry Potter. There are people who don't like books that positively portray witchcraft and magic. But Harry Potter does not condone witchcraft - it does not condone evil. On the contrary, it is a classic tale of good and evil. It just happens that both the good and the bad people are witches and wizards. Plus, Deathly Hallows, if not the whole series, makes blatant allusions to Christianity, a la C.S. Lewis. Some people have also argued that Harry Potter encourages children to disobey adults and portrays adults in a negative light. This may be true, but this is a classic theme of children's literature. If you don't kill of the adults, you make them stupid or neglectful so the kids can rule the day. Harry Potter goes overboard in its portrayal of the Dursleys, but it also features strong positive adult characters, such as the Weasleys and Dumbledore. As the books go on, all of the adult characters, with the exception of Mr. Dursley, become more complex. The good characters have flaws and the evil characters have valid reasons for their personalities. I can understand not wanting young children to read the later Harry Potter books. It is a level of evil that would terrify many younger kids. But I can't understand how someone can justify that no one should read the books. I think the books are among of the best series of children's literature ever written.
For this read, I tried to focus on the little things in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone that become more significant later. I am simply in awe of how well-thought-out the series is. On re-reads you can capture so many things - in people's personalities and little asides - that we reader about in later books.
Rating: 4 / 5 (The book would probably merit a higher rating if the later books weren't so much better).
Tidbits from the Sorcerer/Philosopher's Stone that become significant later: (all page references are from the British edition)
1. Hagrid brings baby Harry to the Dursley's on a bike he borrowed from "young Sirius Black." (pg. 16)
2. "Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them." Harry isn't afraid of Aragog, the giant spider in Chamber of Secrets like Ron is. (pg. 20)
3. Harry spoke with the boa constrictor at the zoo; we later learn that he is a parseltongue, like Voldemort. The snake theme reappears in the serpent in Chamber of Secrets and Nagini (pg. 25-26)
4. When Aunt Petunia is telling Harry about how Lily was a freak, you can just see envy oozing off her like green sludge (pg. 44)
5. Gringotts. "Yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob in," says Hagrid. What do they do in Deathly Hallows? (pg. 50). We also meet Griphook on pg. 57.
6. Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic. "'There's a Ministry of Magic?' Harry asked...'Course,' said Hagrid. 'They wanted Dumbledore fer Minister o' course, but he'd never leave Hogwarts.'" We learn later that Dumbledore chooses not to seek higher positions, because he knows power is his weakness. (Pg. 51).
7. "It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather - just one other." We later learn that the feather comes from Fawkes. Plus, how influential brother wands can be. (pg. 65)
8. We meet Ollivander, the wand-maker who becomes important in Deathly Hallows, and also seems to skirt the line between admiring and fearing Voldemoret. (pg. 63-65).
9. Dumbledore's chocolate frog card, "Professor Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945." We certainly learn much more about this in Deathly Hallows. (pg. 77).
10. During the Sorting, we briefly learn the names of people in other houses who make appearances later, Hannah Abbott; Susan Bones; Terry Boot; Millicent Bulstrode; Justin Finch-Fletchley; the Patil twins; Blaise Zabini (pg. 89-91)
11. Snape: "The hook-nosed teacher looked past Quirrell's turban straight into Harry's eyes." (pg. 94). It was Lily's eyes that Snape was seeing.
12. Bezoar: "A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons." (pg. 103) Comes up again in Half Blood Prince.
13. There are references to Quidditch Through The Ages, which Jo releases a separate book on pgs. 108 and 133).
14. Snape was injured by Fluffy, the 3-headed dog. "One of his legs was bloody and mangled. Filch was handing Snape bandages. 'Blasted thing,' Snape was saying. 'How are you supposed to keep your eyes on all three heads at once?'" (pg. 134). This makes me wonder - if Dumbledore entrusted Snape to protect Harry, why didn't he tell Snape more about how to get past the enchantments guarding the Sorcerer's Stone. At the time, the Sorcerer's Stone wasn't connected to Harry, but surely Dumbledore knew that Harry was likely to discover it and come to blows with Quirrell/Voldemort. At this point, it's difficult for me to understand just how much Dumbledore has planned out.
15. "Snape was in the middle of the stands opposite them. He had his eyes fixed on Harry and was muttering non-stop under his breath." (pg. 140). We know now that Snape was trying to protect Harry; that's revealed later in the book. It becomes even more meaningful when we realize just how hard Snape works throughout the years to protect Harry.
16. Harry receives the invisibility cloak for Christmas. (pg. 148). Harry now has one of the Deathly Hallows, and he doesn't even know it. Dumbledore gives him the cloak. I think this is his first direct intervention into Harry's life.
17. Our first real meeting with Dumbledore comes when he finds Harry obsessed with the Mirror of Erised (pg. 156-57). Once again, another sign of Dumbledore's plotting - placing the Mirror of Erised, which Harry will later need to find the Sorcerer's Stone, somewhere where Harry can find it. We also see Dumbledore tell Harry a white lie about his deepest desires: "'What do you see when you look in the Mirror?' 'I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woollen socks.'" (pg. 157). Deathly Hallows reveals Dumbledore to be a much more complicated man, although even Harry realizes in Sorcerer's Stone that Dumbledore was probably lying.
18. "Harry didn't know whether he was imagining it or not, but he seemed to keep running into Snape wherever he went...[he] sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds." (pg. 162). Snape was following him - protecting him. And we learn that Snape can read minds in a way, through Occlumency.
19. Snape threatens Quirrell about the Sorcerer's Stone (pg. 165-66). You might say this is another one of Dumbledore's plottings. Dumbledore seems to know that Quirrell is guilty, as does Snape. But Dumbledore just allows Harry to be put into such a dangerous position. I wonder if Dumbledore already knows that Voldemort has overtaken Quirrell's body.
20. Harry gets his invisibility cloak back, "Just in case." (pg. 190). Dumbledore wants Harry to go after the Stone.
21. "'Professor Dumbledore left ten minutes ago,' she said coldly. 'He received an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off for London at once.'" (pg. 194). Dumbledore must have known that the message was fake, meant to lead his out of the castle, yet he left anyway.
22. "'If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort's coming back!...D'you think he'll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor win the House Cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I'll have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there. It's only dying a bit later than I would have done, because I'm never going over to the Dark Side!'" (pg. 196-97). "The Dark Side." Ha Ha. Harry's watched too many movies. You see here that Harry has some understanding of Voldemort's threat, but it's still with the mentality of a child. I can't imagine Voldemort would care that much about the House Cup (although maybe he would). And Harry would never get the chance to go to the Dark Side. Voldemort would never let Harry live, but Harry just doesn't know enough about Voldemort yet.
23. The enchantments guarding the Sorcerer's Stone: Flying keys, wizard's chess, potion's riddle (pg. 202-08). A coincidence that the enchantments play perfectly to Harry, Hermione, and Ron's strengths? I doubt it. Dumbledore practically made this for them.
24. "'[Snape] was at Hogwarts with your father, didn't you know? They loathed each other. But he never wanted you dead.'" (pg. 210). No mention of Harry's mother here. Snape worked so hard to keep any connection between him and Lily away from Voldemort's knowledge.
25. "'The effort involved nearly killed you. For one terrible moment there, I was afraid it had.'" (pg. 215). Dumbledore is afraid for multiple reasons. Harry's death would leave nothing to stop Voldemort, other than Dumbledore, and ruin all of Dumbledore's plans. At the same time, Dumbledore honestly care for Harry and doesn't want anything to happen to him. Makes it hard to keep purposely putting Harry in harm's way.
26. The invisibility cloak: "'Your father happened to leave it in my possession and I thought you might like it.'" (pg. 217). We learn more about this later.
27. Harry's father saved Snape's life. Dumbledore explains that Snape worked so hard to save him this year, because "'Professor Snape couldn't bear being in your father's debt...I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father quits.'" (pg. 217). We know that he protected Harry because that's what Dumbledore said was necessary. But I wonder making he and James "quits" also played into his motivations, or if Dumbledore was just making that up.