book review: harry potter and the philosopher’s stone

The first Harry Potter book (which I’ll snobbily refer to by its English title of Philosopher’s Stone rather than its American one) is the only one I’d read before, despite helping kids (and adults) find these things in the library for my entire tenure. I first read it when Pottermania was still swelling (pre Goblet of Fire, I think) and it was something I thought “Yep, that’s not bad for kids” and then left it alone.

The contrast between this and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is pretty stark. Where the Narnia book is succinct and to the point like a fairy tale, Rowling makes those scenes I half-remember drag on seemingly forever. But I did get through it in an afternoon so it couldn’t have felt that long.

There’s some good time dilation as the school year gets going but the thing I most appreciate about the book is that Quirrell is the bad guy in league with Voldemort and the obviously shifty Snape isn’t. It’s a bit of a counterpoint to the idea that everything useful about a person is some inborn talent/accident of birth. I mean, yes, Harry has to practice at Quidditch, but he’s “a natural.” This idea of being chosen and special and privileged being a burden is in there, but everything is up to some fundamental nature of the character. It’s all about inborn courage or inborn nastiness and such. No real getting into why people act the way they do. (TLTW&TW is way worse for this whole some beings are terrible and some are wonderful and the only one who can possibly change is Edmund.)

Now, I understand that Neville grows into a better role for himself than weakling with a moment of courage in the later books, so over the long haul there might be more about what a person “does” than what a person “is,” but in this lone book it is kind of there.

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