Ah yes as Deathly Hallows approaches, it is time to turn to J.K. Rowling’s modern day classic.
This is the first book in a seven part series about a boy who finds out that he’s a wizard. Now for those of you who haven’t read the series and have no doubt heard a great deal of negative hype about the book– THIS IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT WITCHCRAFT. Witchcraft involves communing with spirits to obtain power. This is a book about magic- the same kind of magic found in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This is not an ordinary boy who goes to school to learn supernatural ability. In this book, as in many fantasy books, the characters are born with special abilities and go to school to learn how to properly use these abilities.
The book has a rather unusual beginning. Most books start off by immediately introducing the Protagonist. Not so with this book. We start off by being introduced to the Dursleys- Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley- who have a very normal, very comfortable life. They are typical snobs. Their greatest fear is that someone will find out about Petunia’s sister Lily Potter because she and her family aren’t like the Dursleys. And the sisters have no contact whatsoever. Well, at this point the reader well imagines that these two worlds are due for a collision.
At the beginning of the tale, Vernon notices several strange things: there is a cat reading the street sign, there are alot of owls about it broad daylight. There are also oddly dressed people about who seem excited about something. Then Vernon hears the dreaded words, “The Potters.” He suspects that they are talking about his sister in laws family and becomes frightened. Once he gets home his suspicions about his sister in laws family are confirmed, and he goes to bed uneasy.
After everyone in the neighborhood is asleep, as strangely dressed man named Albus Dumbledore materializes on the street. The cat reading the signpost turns into a woman- Prof. Minerva McGonagall. They are awaiting the arrival of a gigantic man- Rubius Hagrid, who brings with him a baby with a lighten bolt shaped scar- Harry Potter. Harry Potter’s parents Lily and James have been killed by Lord Voldemort, a man so feared that no one will speak his name; instead they refer to him as You-Know-Who. Voldemort tried to kill Harry; but something about Harry brought about Voldemort’s partial destruction. Dumbledore has brought Harry to the Dursley’s because they are his only living relatives.
Ten years pass. Harry is now eleven years old. The Dursleys have mistreated him constantly. They force him to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. They treat him like a glorified servant. Well one day Harry receives a letter in parchment written in green ink. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia freak out and destroy the letter. At that point, they made a conscious effort to be nice to Harry. More and more letters for Harry come till the house is inundated. Uncle Vernon decides to take the family somewhere where “they” can’t find Harry. On July 31st however, Harry gets not only his letter but a visit from Hagrid who explains it all.
Harry is a wizard. The letter is from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he has been enrolled since birth. James and Lily Potter were wizards as well. Extraordinarily powerful ones. For the first time, Harry finds out what happened to his parents. Years ago, Voldemort became as evil as he could be and decided to take over the world. He killed anyone who got in his way. He terrorized the wizard community and muggle (non-magical) community alike. There were a band of good wizards headed by Dumbledore who took a stand against Voldemort- James and Lily were part of this group. On Halloween when Harry was 1, Voldemort went after his family. Voldemort was able to kill his parents but something about Harry cause Voldemort’s spell to backfire when Voldemort tried to kill him. Voldemort ended up separated from his body (like Sauron). Voldemort’s reign of terror was over. Harry ended up becoming a celebrity in the wizarding community known as “the Boy Who Lived.” As it turned out, Harry’s aunt and uncle knew this but kept it from him.
Hogwarts admits student once they turn 11, which is why Harry received the letter. Hagrid acts as Harry’s guide into the wizarding world. There first stop is Diagon Alley where Gringotts the wizard bank is located. In addition to getting money from Harry’s account, Hagrid removes a mysterious little package from a High Security vault. In Diagon Alley Harry is confronted with the first problem in wizarding society- prejudice. It turns out that some wizards like Harry are born to parents who are wizards. Other wizards are born to muggles and known as muggle-born. Pureblood wizards (nine generations of wizards) do not feel that Muggle-borns belong in wizarding society.
After a train ride from platform 9 3/4 in which he meets his two future best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Harry Potter arrives at Hogwarts. Part of the process is being sorted into a house- Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff- by the Sorting Hat. Each of the houses has a character trait namely- bravery, brains, cunning, and loyalty respectively. Voldemort was once a Hogwarts student and was in Slytherin; most evil wizards came from Slytherin. Harry ends up in Gryffindor (like Ron and Hermione) narrowly escaping being placed in Slytherin. At the Start of Year feast, Dumbledore announces that a corridor on the 3rd floor is off limits to those who do not wish to die a painful death. Then the feast begins.
Classes start and Harry feels right at home. He discovers magic is harder than he thought and that he has an aptitude for flying- a skill inherited from his father who was a Quidditch player. He also makes an enemy- Draco Malfoy a rich pureblood wizard. Well Harry ends up finding out that there is a 3 headed dog on the 3rd floor guarding something which is suspects is the little package Hagrid removed from the vault.
Due to many strange circumstances that occur during the year, Harry, Ron, and Hermione end up spending the whole year trying to figure out what the little package is and who is trying to steal it.
The package is the Sorcerer’s Stone which is an alchemic substance that can turn anything to gold and makes the Elixir of Life. Lord Voldemort is trying to steal it through another person. See Voldemort didn’t die the night Harry defeated him. His soul was separated from his body and he’s spent the past years trying to regain and body. The Sorcerer’s Stone was the first step in that process. Well Harry comes face to face with Voldemort and prevents him from getting the stone nearly dying in the process; Dumbledore rescues him. During the confrontation Harry learns something valuable- Voldemort wasn’t trying to kill his mother. In fact Voldemort gave Lily the chance to live.
Harry wakes up in the hospital bed. He and Dumbledore have the first of many poignant post-adventure conversations. The first thing Harry wants to know is why Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby. Dumbledore tells him that he cannot tell him the answer at that time because he is too young. The next question is how Harry survived against Voldemort twice. See Lily, in being given a choice to live, sacrificed herself for her son. That kind of sacrifice left a mark on Harry. Love was a shield that protected Voldemort from destroying Harry as a baby and caused such pain to Voldemort when he came into physical contact with Harry.
END OF SPOILERS
Needless to say, I loved the book. There is a great deal of classical themes and folklore in this book that gave a great deal of depth to an otherwise simple looking story. Well read people have field days with this kind of book. The story left me with several questions.
1. Why was Lily given the chance to live.
2. There is a 24 hour time gap between Voldemort being defeated and Harry ending up at his relative house. Where was he? Why did Dumbledore send Hagrid to retrieve Harry rather than going himself?
3. Seeing how Harry was so famous, why did Dumbledore send Harry to people he knew would not treat Harry well.
4. Why did the Sorting Hat want to put Harry into Slytherin?
5. Why did Snape and James Potter hate each other so much?
6. Why didn’t Voldemort die when the spell backfired?
7. Where was Voldemort all those years people thought he was gone?
8. What are the other means by which Voldemort could regain a body?
I love stories that have loose endings! What I liked most about the book was how well thought out and well developed the plot and characters were. I do love the Chronicles of Naria and Lord of the Rings, but one thing that irritates me with those characters is that they lack realness. Characters in those books fall into stock categories. In reality people are not like that. I think this is such a good moral story for children in this day and age because these days no one wants to accept responsibility for their actions. People use bad circumstances as an excuse not to rise up and do the right thing. Of anyone Harry has the best excuse for being a rude, mean, nasty person. Despite of his upbringing, Harry shows kindness, compassion, and is not afraid to stick up for those who are being mistreated- in short strength of character. Also the books shows that doing the right thing isn’t easy. There will be an internal struggle that you face; but you can still overcome it. In a lot of books, the protagonist is portrayed as having no struggle whatsoever to do the right thing. I know that as a child I always felt that typical protagonist were surreal. I often wondered would they have been so good if they had had a less than charmed life. To me they were less believable. Anyway, this author has an incredible gift for story telling. If you haven’t read the books, I suggest you do so! You don’t know what you are missing!!!