Harry Potter’s been read (“The Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets”). The data’s been collected and processed. And, after careful analysis, I have come to a sound conclusion. Now, there’s only one thing left for me to do.
Eat my words:
You guys, I was wrong. “Harry Potter” does not suck. And you were right! The world-building is impressive. And J.K. Rowling’s writing is charming and witty. And I do want to immediately jump on a plane & visit “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” My first stop will be “Olivander’s,” where I’ll gleefully await a wand to choose me. Will it be made of mahogany? Maple? Willow? (Something tells me willow). Will it contain holly? Unicorn hair? Phoenix feathers? Oh, I can’t wait! I even kind of want to get a pet toad and name it “Trevor.” Whoever heard of a pooka having a pet? No one! But I don’t care!
Since I’m the only one left in the wide-universe who hasn’t read the entire series (I think babies are now just born with an intimate, intrinsic knowledge of the complete works), I won’t spend too much time going over the plot. I will provide a brief outline, just in case there’s some sad soul left who’s in the same boat as me (or who’s in the same boat that I was in) – though even then, they’d have to be particularly obstinate to not have seen the movies, which follow the same basic plot. I’ll also address what I liked & didn’t like about each of the books… though I think I’ll save “The Chamber of Secrets” for another post, given that the first list is likely to be lengthy.
Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction (Ages 9-12)
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
Publication Date: September 01, 1998
Hardcover: 208 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: If you take away the particular breed of Irish folklore, Animagi and pookas are pretty much the same thing.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is about a young boy named Harry Potter. Harry’s parents died when he was a baby and he’s been living with his mother’s sister’s family for the past 11 years. This family – The Dursleys – took Harry in reluctantly, as his mother & aunt were not close. The Dursleys force Harry to live in a cupboard under the stairs and treat him with all manner of contempt and neglect. Fortunately, Harry soon discovers that his mother & father were a witch and a wizard, respectively, and that they both attended a wizarding school called “Hogwarts” where Harry’s just been accepted (without even having applied). He discovers that he’s famous, that his parents were killed in an attack launched against them by the Darkest of wizards (“He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”/”Voldemort”), and that he – miraculously and inexplicably – survived, somehow diminishing the Dark Lord’s powers in the process.
Harry starts the school year, making friends and enemies along the way, and everything’s going swimmingly until he learns that Hogwarts is guarding a precious, powerful item – and that their security system has been compromised from within. Who’s to be trusted? Who’s to be feared? Will Harry be able to keep this treasure from falling into the wrong hands?
What Made the Story Totally Worth Eating:
1. The world-building is impressive.
Rowling’s thought of everything. There’s not a piece of this world that’s lacking its reflection in Harry’s. The modes of transportation, modes of dress, retail shops, banks, pubs, streets, alleyways, sports, food, architecture, educational system and social structures are all new, novel, richly-imagined, and detailed. Reading “Harry Potter” is a delightful exercise in escapism.
2. The writing is charming and witty.
There were a few examples that I really enjoyed. I loved when Harry gets a sweater from Ron’s mom for Christmas & Ron’s twin brothers, Fred & George, note that Harry & Ron don’t have letters sewn onto theirs. George says, “I suppose she thinks you don’t forget your names. But we’re not stupid — we know we’re called Gred & Forge” (202). I was enchanted when one of the teachers, Professor McGonagall, calls Dumbledore (the headmaster) “noble” and he responds, “It’s lucky it’s dark. I haven’t blushed so much since Madam Pomfrey told me she liked my new earmuffs” (11), and when Dumbledore offers McGonagall a lemon drop and she says, ” ‘No thank you’… coldly, as though she didn’t think [dropping baby Harry covertly, in the night, onto an unsuspecting family’s doorstep] was the moment for lemon drops” (11). I shook my head in amusement over the desperate exchange that occurs when Hermoine needs to battle a wild, damp plant, intent on strangling Harry: ” ‘Light a fire!’ Harry choked. ‘Yes — of course — but there’s no wood!’ Hermoine cried, wringing her hands. ‘HAVE YOU GONE MAD?’ Ron bellowed. ‘ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?’ (278). Humorous moments like these occur all throughout the book, and this time, none of them were wasted on me.
3. The Dursleys.
They’re so good that they don’t even need a complete sentence for their bullet-point. They can stand alone. It’s like how “Cher” and “Madonna” don’t need last names, and how “Prince” (sometimes) doesn’t even need a name, just a symbol. (If Prince’s symbol is , what would the Dursleys’ be? Maybe something like ?Bonus points if you can identify who that chin belongs to).
The Dursleys are the type of people you love to hate. Rowling writes, “Mr. Dursley was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large mustache. Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors” (1). Their son is named Dudley, “and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere” (1). This in spite of the fact that when Hagrid observes Dudley “kicking his mother all the way up the street, screaming for sweets” (13), it’s not a singular tantrum. They don’t like anything out of the ordinary (including Harry, his parents, magic & Hogwarts). When Mr. Dursley observed wizards celebrating on the day that baby Harry managed to defeat Voldemort, he was “rattled.” He “hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination” (5). Judgmental, uppity, gluttonous, realists… how could you not revel when they get their just desserts? If I had to name one thing that Rowling excels in, it’d be writing exceptionally loathsome side characters – the everyday villains, so to speak… the people you wish you could just send to a remote island, where they’d be sure to annoy each other to death (if they didn’t starve first, because you know they wouldn’t be able to work together to survive). Voldemort, the epic villain, is decently-crafted, but he’s nowhere near as well-drawn as the bratty, small-time guys.
4. It made me appreciate “The Magicians” by Lev Grossman even more.
I almost shouted out loud when I found the name of Grossman’s protagonist hidden amongst a list of authors who’d written Harry’s textbooks. Quentin Trimble writes The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection. (The other authors’ names are worth commenting upon as well, as the list involves quite a bit of wordplay. Magical Theory, for instance, is written by Adalbert Waffling. A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration is by Emeric Switch, and One Thousand Magical Herbs is attributed to Phyllida Spore).
What I Spit Back Out:
1. The prose was very straight-forward.
While I will admit that I was mostly wrong when I said that “The Sorcerer’s Stone” wasn’t well-written, I wasn’t completely wrong. The prose is playful and it is witty … but it’s not beautiful. There are some writers whose prose is so rhythmic and lilting and special that it’s almost music. Or poetry. And these writers & their prose can be found within the Children’s Literature genre (again, I direct you to “Liesl & Po” by Lauren Oliver). J.K., however, is not one of those writers. She writes to convey a point, to conjure up an image, to create a mood; she doesn’t write to fit words together like puzzle pieces. Reading her words feels nothing like when you find the two bits of blue sky that lock perfectly together. It’s more like building a Lego castle. Almost any two shapes can be combined. It wasn’t unpleasant to read – playing with Legos is a lot of fun – but it had nothing to do with subtle shades of color, rounded curves, or sharp edges.
Despite the lack of lyricism, I am relieved to say that I’ve undergone a conversion experience. Hopefully, I’ll be welcomed into the fold with bright smiles and open arms. Fear not, my friends, your cups of tea are now safe — as are my life & limbs! At least, for as long as I can keep quiet about the fact that I’ve never read a word or seen an episode of “Game of Thrones.”
Pooka Rating: 4 out of 5 Nibbles.
P.S. My blogging plans for the immediate future include finishing the series.