Harry Potter is the biggest-selling book series of all time. The books have gone on to produce one of the biggest movie series of all time. If you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, you’ve surely been living under a rock? But is the first book The Philosopher’s Stone actually any good?
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An introduction to Harry Potter
For the one person reading this who’s never heard of Harry Potter – it’s a seven-book series written by British author J.K. Rowling. The Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the series was first published in 1997 to commercial and critical success. The first book was then turned into a film in 2001 to, once again, huge critical and commercial success. What then happened was a snowball effect that saw Harry Potter become a household name across the world and become synonymous with the British.
Harry Potter is a boy who was abandoned at a very young age with his nasty Aunt and Uncle who make him live under the stairs. One day he is visited by a man who tells him he’s a wizard and whisks him off to Hogwarts, the wizarding world’s most famous school. Harry then makes friends, saves the world multiple times and comes up against some of the darkest, most evil wizards to ever live, fighting alongside some of the most powerful and greatest too.
The books instilled a huge sense of friendship – they’re imaginative, they’re witty, they’re sad at times, happy at others. They are a journey unto themself with some of the latter books hitting the high-hundreds in page numbers. They’re a book series that will likely never be matched for popularity. But what is the first book like? If you read the first book now, would the same success snowball from it or was it the subsequent books that built upon it making it the phenomenon it is today?
Plot – 4.5/5
The plot of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is simple: a young boy lives with his mean aunt and uncle whom he despises. His Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia clearly dislike him and so treat him so, having him cook for them, clean for them and live underneath the stairs. One day he receives a letter saying he is due at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, however, his Aunt and Uncle quickly dismiss this and move away. He’s then visited by a large man, Hagrid who claims to be the groundskeeper at this school and tells him he must come with him to Hogwarts. On their journey there, Harry realises he’s incredibly famous due to the scar on his head: the most powerful evil wizard to ever live – Lord Voldemort – tried to kill him as a baby but he survived.
During his time at Hogwarts, he makes two very important friends Hermione and Ron – the three of them quickly realise that someone is trying o steal something from Hogwarts and people may well be in danger if they don’t soon figure it out.
It’s hard to review the plot for this first novel is there’s so much nostalgia and love for this series in my heart. However, even without this, I must say, I found my reread of it utterly captivating. I was turning the pages so quickly or always had the audiobook on. The mini-stories within the larger story are written at such a good pace that they’re interesting within their own right, let alone the overarching story and direction you can feel Rowling taking you in. It’s not the strongest Harry Potter book plot-wise – you’ll have to wait and find out which my favourite is as I slowly review them all – however, it is a very strong entry and has a first hundred pages that would captivate any reader.
Characters – 4.5/5
One of the things mentioned throughout the Harry Potter series is the incredible friendship that J.R. Rowling develops between the main three: Harry, Ron and Hermione. However is this friendship evident in the first book? Well… yes. It’s obvious Rowling was aiming this book at people in high school – the relationships are tricky and well earned and the dynamics between characters isn’t always smooth. But what builds over the book is an obvious bond between the three main characters. Ron is the nervous but pure-hearted character, Harry has been thrown into this world and must adapt to it around him and Hermione is a magical genius but who doesn’t necessarily play well with other people. How they all develop over the few hundred pages is great to see and definitely makes you want to read the subsequent books.
The supporting cast throughout this book is also utterly wonderful. Hagrid is the big friendly giant who you can’t help but love, Dumbeldore is a wise and mysterious character who seems to have much more going on than the simple role of Headmaster, Malfoy is utterly diabolical and annoying as all good enemies are, and everyone else that pops in either offers comic relief or builds on the storyline.
The Philosopher’s Stone summary – 5/5
If you’ve read the previous 900 words and gotten to this point then I congratulate you. If you’re somebody who has already read HP a million times over and are simply here to read another view – thank you. If you’re somebody who has never read the books and wants to know if they’re any good – I hope I’ve summarised the book well enough for you.
I would recommend Harry Potter to absolutely everybody. It transcends the fantasy or YA genres some would argue it fits into. The Philosopher’s Stone is a very solid first book and you can see why (after her many attempts to actually have it accepted by publishers – google it) J.K. Rowling hit a home run with this first novel.