Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #49, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.” -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Let’s be real. You have no interest in reading a review of the first of the Harry Potter series, and I’m just posting it because it’s January 2nd, and I need to get four more reviews in under deadline. I wasn’t even supposed to read Harry Potter this year, but after the slog of Anna Karenina, I needed a break. This break happened to coincide with Christmas vacation, and obviously there are only three choices for Christmas reading material: A Christmas Carol, Holidays on Ice, or Harry Potter.
Still—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a great goddamn book. I fear this has gotten lost in all the hype of seven books and eight movies. Young adult lit that takes its audience seriously is rare, and this is the best modern example we’ve bot. It’s plotted tightly, set in a richly detailed world with its own fully-realized lore, that has funny, relatable characters and witty dialogue, topped off with a good message that isn’t simultaneously condescending. This is YA lightning in a bottle. It never happens, and seven books of it have spoiled us to the point that we now take it for granted.
Well, I don’t. I remember the young adult section in my library. The young adult section in my library is the reason that I graduated to adult classical literature far earlier than I developed the tools to understand it. You can only read the Phantom Tollbooth so many times, and though I read and enjoyed both the Babysitter’s Club and the Sweet Valley Twins series, I was fully aware that they were the literary equivalent of rotting my teeth with too many fun-sized candy bars.
I wish Harry Potter had been around when I was a kid. There were times when I sorely needed escape, and damned if Hogwarts isn’t an amazing place to escape to, full of warmth and wonder, characters that I would have wished to be friends with, and an every-man main character on which lonely kids can project their own youthful struggles and disappointments. More to the point, the books espouse an admirable set of values: courage, friendship, and smarts. Hermione, consummate nerd, is the alternate hero of the series, and her ambition and unapologetic intelligence should cause mothers of teenage daughters to throw these books at their head and pray with all their might that their daughters will be more into Hermione than Bella Swan.
The first book, in my mind, is still the best. It’s plot stands alone as a great story, but it lays a lot of hints for the story to come (for those that doubt Rowling had the whole story mapped out in her mind while writing the first book, you should consider re-reading it. It’s a completely different experience reading it, once you know what’s coming. The groundwork she lays in the first book is masterful), as well as accomplishing the grunt groundwork of establishing the characters and relationships that will anchor the series. It’s just a brilliantly satisfying read, and if you’re one of those too-cool-for-school Harry Potter hold-outs: hey, don’t worry. Enough time has passed that no one will know if you pick it up and get hooked. You can still hate on Hunger Games to maintain your reputation for literary and pop culture superiority, and no one will be any the wiser.
Recommended for: Anyone who doesn’t have a chip on their shoulder about reading and enjoying lit written for young adult audiences. On another note, if you are one of those people, I probably don’t want to know you. Not because you don’t read YA, but because you’re probably a real dick about people who do.
Read When: You need an escape, or a palate cleanser. Or when it’s Christmas, and you need to take a “nap” (read: some time away from your chaotic family).
Listen With: The sounds of a crackling fire. Or, for those in fireplace-less apartments, the sounds of the fake Yule Log that’s available On Demand, and is surprisingly popular for being a channel that is literally a fake fireplace.