Potter And The Philosopher's Stone
by J. K. Rowling
Bloomsbury Publishers 1997
GOB RATING: 5.4
Not as deep or with the same finesse as C. S. Lewis's Narnia stories, this comes across with the mixed feelings of those classics and the Worst Witch with a dash of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
The idea of a wizards school, of children learning magic and having fun on broomsticks seems very popular at this time, even before J. K. Rowling released this tale. At first it melds with these but has a few qualities they do not. It is in the modern vein, with phrases, people and situations we can all relate too, but it also, though not graphically, deals with death. From the start the murder of Harry's parents is treated as horrific, not simply tragic, and in the finale moments of the book another character succumbs to a horrid end.
It does have the obligatory bullies, swats and nerds, it does have the incompetent and vindictive teachers and it does have a large dose of fantasy creatures. Amazing also was the lack of illustrations, often resisting the child's imagination to their own pictures of the scenes and characters. Thank goodness, stimulation for the mind!
I found the beginning very funny, Harry's suffering at the hands of the Dursleys and the eventual successful delivery of the invitation was a section all its own: grey, believable and funny, it set, ironically, the feel for the book more then it did Harry. Harry comes across as plain, staid, intelligent but not gifted as a normal boy may be, less it be for getting himself ridiculed by the Dursleys.
Once Harry reaches Hogwarts however, the book changes gear a little, still Harry is the benchmark against which everyone else is set, but they are clear characters, defined equally with Harry. Even Scabbers, Ron's toad is as well developed and coloured in as any main character, that is adequately, not in-depth.
The plot seems obvious, but the steps to get there and occasional deviations into Rowlings fantasy land, her ideas are laid out before us and it is these that set the scene again. The Mirror of Erised, the chess sets, ghosts, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans (reminiscent of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), these all seem to me to have been little bursts of inspiration which Rowling incorporated into the book; and it is some of these which gives flavour to an otherwise linear tale. Harry is us, the onlooker, we learn as he does and it took me a while to realize this is how we should see him, Harry is the reader, the unwitting but drawn lead who is pulled and pushed from event to event, chance finding all his abilities for him.
Despite the school of 'Willy Wonkers', in the end they are powerful beings, a feeling that the Head, Albus Dumbledore, is a 'Gandalf' among them, one who knows far more than he lets on. The brilliant thing about the book is the finale, after the school-antics of dodging night-patrols, sneaking into off-limit areas, getting their own back on bullies and ultimately letting their whole House down, Harry's ending glory is well handled and as human (ignoring the magic of course) and believable an account as it could be.
Not the best children's book in the world but one that should be given to a child at least one Christmas before they are twelve.
Depth: 4, Readability:
7, Layout: 5,
GOB RATING: 5.4
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Last updated: 18th October 2001