Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
(or The Sorcerer's Stone, if you must)
By J.K. Rowling

First published: June 1997
Series: Harry Potter #1

Read: 11 - 13 January 2011
Pages: 223
Challenges: 1st in a Series Challenge #1

I assume everyone already know what this book is about, so I will not bore you with a summary. You all know Harry Potter is a young boy who goes to wizard school and have all sorts of scary and exciting experiences, right? And if not, well, there you have it.

A Good Start to a Great Series

This was the second time I read The Philosopher's Stone, but last time was more than five years ago, so there were quite a few things I had forgotten about. I'm glad I decided to start from the beginning again before reading number 6 and 7.

To put it short, I really like it. It is not the best book I have ever read, nor do I think it is the best book in the series, but it is a good start. Rowling does a great job of establishing the setting and the characters and everything makes sense. Her imagination is definitely her biggest strength. The reader feels just as much in awe as Harry does when he walks along Diagon Alley (which is a fantastic name by the way) and tries to digest everything he sees. Things like Quidditch and the ceiling of the Great Hall really amaze me. This is a great passage that really showcases how imaginative Hogwarts is:

There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn't open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren't really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot. The people in the portraits kept going to visit each other and Harry was sure the coats of armour could walk.

Then of course there are the characters. They are all wonderful, I don't know how else to say it. Everyone from Harry to Ron and Hermione to Hagrid to Draco Malfoy to Albus Dumbledore; they all come alive on the pages. They have very distinct personalities, and none of them are two-dimentional or indeed all good or all bad. I think my favourite characters in this first book are the Weasleys (yes, all of them), and I must admit I have a bit of a soft spot for Professor McGonagall.

As this is the first book in the series (and only 223 pages long), Rowling does not go into too much detail. We see the outline of a bigger picture with You-Know-Who lurking in the shadows, but there is still so much to learn about Hogwarts and the magical world that we do not really have time to think about that until later.

My only complaint is that the ending feels a little rushed, like Rowling is taking the easiest way out. It doesn't bother me that much, but knowing what comes later in the series I know she can do better than this. But then I have to remind myself that the main characters are only eleven years old and their powers are still limited.

I wish I had read this series while I was still a teenager. I was 14 when The Philosopher's Stone was released, and I think I would have been able to identify with the characters (especially Hermione) on a much deeper level if I had been around their age. Fortunately these books can be enjoyed by everyone, young or old. I certainly enjoyed The Philosopher's Stone.

My rating: 5 out of 6

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