Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling
|Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling|
|Genre: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Sue Fairhead|
|Summary: Harry's first eleven years are miserable, then a fairy godmother appears in the form of the giant Hagrid, whisking him off to Hogwarts School for Wizards where he makes friends and enemies, and finds himself in considerable danger.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: June 1997|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC|
Shortly before the sixth book in the Harry Potter series was published, I decided to re-read the first. I had read it a couple of times before: once shortly after it was published, before it was (in)famous, and once a few years later. It says a lot for a children's book that a middle-aged adult can re-read it with enjoyment every few years...
The story (if there's anyone left in the world who doesn't know) is a bit like Cinderella meets Mallory Towers, with a touch of the Wizard of Oz and a hint of The Hobbit. Harry, brought up by his ghastly relatives, gets the surprise of his life on his 11th birthday when he discovers that he was born a wizard, is due to go to Hogwarts school. He also learns that he is famous in the wizarding world, because he's the only person ever to have survived attempted murder by the dark and wicked Lord Voldemort.
Thus begins an exciting school story, with Harry and his new friends attempting to learn to harness and use their magical gifts, making plenty of choices, and thwarting evil. The school is presided over by wise old Dumbledore, most powerful of the good wizards. I suppose he's somewhat like Tolkien's Gandalf, but he reminds me more of the old and good wizard in CS Lewis's The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader". There is also a typical variety of fictional boarding school staff, including one who is not so nice.
Much has been made, in some circles, about the supposed 'evils' of the Harry Potter books, suggesting that children are being dragged into occult circles as a result of reading them. This, of course, is ridiculous. The 'magic' in the books - at least, in this first book - is just playing: waving wands, learning Latin words that approximate to commands, mixing potions, and so on. It really isn't a big deal. The most important parts of the story are a focus on unconditional love (quoted as the most powerful force in the universe), and the values of honesty, loyalty and courage.
I have to admit, I'm not entirely sure why the books became so incredibly popular. When I first read this book, I enjoyed it - I found it pretty hard to put down, if the truth be told - and I thought it had rather more to it than many modern children's books. But it doesn't have the depth or characterisation of the classic fantasy books by JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis. Perhaps it's the mixing of genres that gives it the wide appeal: there is not just the school story combined with an element of fantasy and adventure, there is also some humour, and very clever plotting with an unexpected ending.
The end of the book, in classic adventure style, has an exciting race through puzzles and problems, ending with Harry facing his opponent alone. Inevitably, he survives the ordeal since (a) it's a children's book and (b) we all know by now that there were six other books coming afterwards.
All in all, highly recommended to anyone from the age of about six upwards, including adults. It also makes a good read-aloud for the whole family, of whatever age.
Further reading: as well as the rest of the Harry Potter series, children might enjoy the Narnia series by CS Lewis which starts with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or The Hobbit, precursor to The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.
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