Much of the world, by this time, is familiar with Harry Potter. if you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, you know someone close to you who has. And chances are they loved it.
Per haps they grew out of it. Maybe they just lost interest in it, or perhaps they love it just as much today as they did 10 years ago, or longer. Maybe, just maybe, they’ve become even bigger fans. Maybe they joined the local Quidditch team. Or practice incantations and invocations in the deep of night.
The fact is, this story is everywhere.
So, why am I reviewing this book? Read on!
Harry Potter was written by J.K. Rowling. She wrote the first novel while riding the train to and from work. It was based off of characters she made up telling her children bedtime stories. It took her multiple tries before a publisher would print her book.
Her last novel was finished in one of the most expensive hotels in the UK. The first, in a tiny home, with her family. She is a true success story, rising to fame and fortune based off of her literary work, and some pretty fun movies.
Which is why it’s so interesting to see her style change and grow as she wrote the series. She started in Sorcerer’s stone using simple descriptions, like green grass, and emerald green. But by the final book, her prose was much more detailed.
But the story, both hers and Harry’s, starts with this book.
It’s a simple enough beginning. Dumbledore drops baby Harry off on the doorstep of his closest blood relative. Though they are “the worst kind of Muggles”, Dumbledore does it anyways. This first scene set so much of the series up. Hagrid delivering baby Harry on Sirius’ old motorcycle, and getting emotional. Dumbledore knowing more than he tells even his closest advisors. And Professor McGonagall ever the voice of reason and logic, but edged with caution and almost, but not quite, fear.
And the Dursley’s. The Dursleys were, indeed, the worst kind of Muggles. They were mean, cruel, and down right abusive to Harry. But, for some reason (a spell perhaps?) they couldn’t get rid of him. Instead, they used him as slave labor, and gave him hand-me-downs. they even tried to stop him from going to Hogwarts – but of course there would be no stopping him. Again, they would send Hagrid to collect Harry. Probably not the best idea, but hey, Dumbledore knows what he’s doing, right?
And off Harry goes, introducing us to the world of magic. This is a common literary trope, along with dead parents, that JK leans into heavily in the book. She uses the red herring trope masterfully, and shows she had a long term plan for the story. Through Harry’s eyes, we learn of magic, and the wonders thereof. (And at the end of the story, when it’s ripped away from Harry and he has to return to the Dursley’s, we feel his pain, and strongly empathize with him. )
JK introduces Harry’s frienemy, Draco Malfoy. While he’s mostly an antagonist through much of the series, we ultimately learn that Draco isn’t REALLY such a bad guy….deep….deep down. The concept of the Houses brings a natural drama to all the proceedings. From this point on, it’s Gryffendor cs Slytherin, framing every conflict in the series to come.
We learn Harry has a natural aptitude for flying. One of the only things he is able to do without effort or trying. Pretty useful later int he series, but in the first scene with a broomstick, he impresses McGonagall, and is recruited to the Quiddich team. This is a fairly easy trope to identify, as being naturally good at sports and instantly recruited to the school team is quite the wish fulfillment for quite a few people. Harry as the reader surrogate really hits all the right notes.
As the year progresses, JK uses weather, and holidays to indicate the passage of time. This is an issue many authors have, when telling a story. It happens too fast, too often, with never a break in the action from one page to the next. And it simply isn’t how life is. Harry goes through almost an entire year before ultimately solving the riddle of the Sorcerer’s Stone location, and getting past all the traps, and ultimately having his showdown with Voldemort. He has days, and months, before he happens upon a lead. This is much more realistic than any TV police procedural. Polyjuice potion? Takes a MONTH to brew. Sorry, that lab work won’t get to you in an hour.
JK has 7 years, and 7 books, she had to try to write for. In this beginning book, she was trying to tell as complete a story as possible, while still keeping the story moving along, so they would age through the course of the book. She intended her audience to, quite literally, grow up reading her books. And they did!
By the end of the story, Harry has overcome obstacles, had a friend (Professor Quirril) turn to an enemy, encountered a Red Herring (Snape), had an enemy (Snape) turn into a friend (sort of), and saved the day, because he was “The Chosen One”. She successfully used the literary tropes we are used to seeing, a sort of writing short hand, to be able to write an efficient story, and not describe every little detail or scene.
I think the big reason that this series is so successful, is that JK didn’t talk down to her audience. While the book was marketed for kids, it was never really a children’s book. The central theme is death, loss, and family. These are some seriously deep issues for a ‘children’s book’.
As an introduction to reading, however, it is perfect. As a child grows, so does their understanding of the book. new levels, new truths are understood upon a second, third, and fourth reading. As their reading comprehension grows, so, too, does their appreciation for the skill required to write such a masterpiece.
I was introduced to this series by a friend, who bought me the first 4 books (the ones that ere out at the time), and by the time the movie came out, I was a fan.
Buy this book. Share it with your children. The entire series is…if I may….MAGICAL.