Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

It has been eighteen years since the lines “Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” were first released to the general public.

I read it shortly after it’s publication, at the age of ten and it coincided with a class project on creative writing. One of the pieces of work we had to do was write a book review about a title we had recently enjoyed.

That was the very first book I reviewed, and now eighteen years later, I’m returning to it to see how it’s stood the test of time.

That, perhaps, sounds slightly ridiculous, since we all know the juggernaut that the Harry Potter brand has become, but sometimes it’s worth looking at things objectively, and separate of their going legacy and re-evaluate them for what they are.

In short, is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a good book?

Ten year old me, certainly seemed to think so. Unfortunately, I don’t have my original review, but I do remember three things about it. I know that I drew a picture, copying the now-iconic face of Harry Potter from the front cover and I remember stating that the authoress (I’m sure I used that word) had a done a great job in setting up for a second – and maybe even a third – book and that I would very much enjoy reading it if and when it came.

Today, it was very difficult for me to read something that I knew so well, especially if I put it down for a period of time. It’s a book I could read without actually needing it in front of me I know it so well.

It us, however, hugely underwritten, when compared to the later novels. While a lot of us might agree that some of the later books in the series (stand up Order of the Phoenix) were hugely overwritten, Philosopher’s Stone rattles through the events of Harry’s first year at breakneck speed.

The moment Dumbledore confronts Harry about the Mirror of Erised, for example, takes place over just a single page, in later books, that would have merited at least a chapter just to that one conversation. It is tantalisingly brief and Dumbledore himself remains an enigmatic character throughout.

Harry has two conversations with Dumbledore in the whole book, once at Christmas, and then once at the end of the book, after the events behind the locked door on the third floor corridor.

No wonder ten year old me wanted more, the book was astonishingly brief, and as such it suffers a little bit for it. The characters are well-developed and the plot, while more basic than later ones, proceeds at a good pace, but there is a lack of warmth and everything feels too streamlined.

Still, it’s a great introduction to the series, it sets some things up nicely for the on-going series (whether those set-ups were intentional or not) and for a ten year old boy looking for something more to read, it’s a great gateway novel.

In reading Philosopher’s Stone, I’m reminded that the series did not become a runaway success straight from the beginning, it wasn’t really until the third book was released that it became a hit amongst adults as well as children.

Back to my question then… is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a good book? That really depends on who’s answering. The nearly 28 year old me says it’s comfortably on the high end of average, the ten year old me say it’s the best book he’s ever read. And that’s a good thing, because it wasn’t written for me, it was for him.

I’ll finish this review with the way I finished my review eighteen years ago, with my favourite quote from the novel, a quote that comes my favourite scene, one that sets the tone for the remainder of the series.

‘Ah! Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans! I was unfortunate enough in my youth to come across a vomit-flavoured one, and since then I’m afraid I’ve rather lost my liking for them – but I think I’ll be safe with a nice toffee, don’t you?’

He smiled and popped the golden-brown bean into his mouth. Then he choked and said, ‘Alas! Ear wax!’

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