*Possible spoilers for later books*
As I mentioned in my last post, I had so much fun with this reread! It was such an emotional and nostalgic journey, retracing Harry’s steps from the cupboard under the stairs to Diagon Alley to Hogwarts hero, that I was completely swept up in the magic of it all! Even though I’ve said my relationship with Harry Potter can be quite complicated, if you’re thinking this will be full of serious griping straight away, I’d say you’ll be sorely disappointed with this review 😉 (but also don’t expect pure gush- expecto patronum the unexpected 😉 )
I adore the writing in the earlier books. From the first line, the subtle humour comes across, there are lovely elements of foreshadowing and so much personality in the characterisation. My exact words in my notes were: gosh that’s how you write a children’s book. And while there’s some things I’m not crazy about, like the use of ALL CAPS to express anger (I’m an everything-is-italicised person- JK 😉 ), it’s used minimally in book one, so I didn’t mind it.
Rowling’s precision in this book allows for the most wonderful world-building. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you all about how much I love the idea of owl post or how much I still dream of playing Quidditch (on a broom, not a spacehopper). There are so many glorious details- everything from the Mirror of Erised to the Chocolate Frog cards- that it would be impossible for me to cover everything! Not only is it incredibly vivid, but there’s a trunk load of secrets packed in- it’s no mystery why this captured the hearts of so many children!
Speaking of which, I realised recently how brilliantly coded Harry Potter is and what a master Rowling is at creating a thrilling plot. There are so many hints for things that happen wayyy later in the series- like Sirius getting a mention or Hagrid saying about Gringotts “Yeh’d be mad to try and rob it” (*wink wink nudge nudge*)- which are all that more satisfying for knowing where it’s headed. It’s no wonder I spent so much time between books combing through for hints of what was to come.
This also came into play for the characterisation– for instance there is plenty of set up for Hagrid’s role in later books. There isn’t as much for Dumbledore here- he’s somewhat more distant- but that adds a wondrous layer of mystique to his character. I do question him being careless with Harry’s life, while not trusting him with the truth- but I figure that comes more from my attitude towards him in later books than anything in this book (or perhaps is just more evidence of Rowling’s mastery with foreshadowing).
I absolutely *love* the moment the Golden Trio become friends– it’s probably my favourite part in the whole book. It allows for Hermione’s character to develop *so much* in a really short space and I love getting to know her more here. I’m a bit iffier when it comes to Ron cos I’ve always liked him the least- but I have a good friend (hi Jenni if you’re reading!) who ingeniously broke down why Ron actually makes total sense as a character. She basically pointed out that everyone knows someone who’s basically average across the board and doesn’t really stand out- and personally I prefer that to the “he’s got hidden depths argument”. That said, once I saw him as more of an everyman, I felt a bit freer to think of him in terms of the “Big Five” personality traits (yes I’m a dork- what of it?) and considered that one of things that grates on me is that his disagreeable temperament makes him somewhat rude, but more importantly competitive, which doesn’t balance out with his lack of conscientiousness, consequently leading to his lack of productivity and the development of his resentful side (told you I was a dork 😉 ).
Anyhoo, he’s basically a mini version of his later self- much like Harry. Draco Malfoy’s very obvious goading to go to a midnight duel totally works because he’s incredibly rash and doesn’t think of the consequences of his actions. Incidentally, while Draco comes across as a snotty nosed git here, I have to admit I was pretty impressed with his scheming and love how he used Harry’s weakness against him at the age of 11. I may not be a Slytherin, but that’s smart as hell. And like everything else, there are a lot of clues for later books about things that might cause a problem later on– like the whole subplot around saying Voldy’s name.
In terms of Voldy’s introduction, I have such mixed feelings about the “Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die” line. I mean it’s so awesome in the ahh I know where that’s going kind of way, but it also nods to some of the attitudes towards evil that I had issues with the later books. I did however think the symbolism of killing something as pure as a unicorn only leading to a cursed life was SO PERFECT. I also liked how believable the Dursley’s cruelty was, partly thanks to its specificity. Plus, I loved the obvious (to all of us now) misdirection with Snape- who really does seem irredeemably evil in book 1.
The one real downside for this book is that it’s the one I’ve read the most, so I never get as fully excited about it and always feel a little fatigued by the end. Because of that I have trouble rating it- given I usually give it between 4 and 5, I went for an indecisive…
Rating: 4½/5 bananas
Phew- first review done! I hope you liked reading it (and I didn’t make anyone too mad with my analysis). What do you think of the Philosopher’s Stone? I’d love to hear your thoughts!