OK, so since Marcus (my laptop) ate the first draft of the review I had for y’all, here’s take two.
Here’s my intro post for this series: I Solemnly Swear I Am Up To No Good.
Okay. It’s been a while since I read the series, although with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone the time frame’s much shorter because I did my thesis on it. Which was fun, in its way, but as Lit students know, the quickest way to ruin the joy of something is to have to study it. So in a way this is really the first time in years that I’m rereading the books.
It feels a little silly to put a spoiler warning on a book that’s been out thirteen years, but just in case any of the people reading this post have been living under a rock the past decade and a half- there will be SPOILERS for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in this review. Please proceed with caution.
I think the moment I knew that I didn’t have just any book in my hands was when I read the first line- Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of Number Four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. With apologies to both Kals and Jane Austen, that is probably the best opening line in fiction. There’s just something about it that tells you that something not normal- that something special- is about to happen.
And indeed it does. I think, for me, a huge part of the magic (pun absolutely intended) of Harry Potter is that it’s so real. One of my other favourite books is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and while technically both series fall under the same genre, fantasy, LotR is classic High Fantasy- an epic, mythical tale set in a world that’s very obviously not our own, that we have no connection to other than as spectators. Harry Potter is nearly as vast in scope, but it’s grounded in our world- the Leaky Cauldron in Charing Cross Road, taking the train at Kings’ Cross- and yet, it’s so different- post owls! (clever nod to carrier pigeons there, Ms. Rowling…) moving pictures! And, of course, magic itself.
Another thing I’m really appreciating is Jo’s deft use of language. Her books aren’t comedies, not in the manner of, say, P.G. Wodehouse, but there’s a warm subtle wit that shines through every page. It’s in every clever turn of phrase, in the odd names she chooses (Diagon Alley, Flourish and Blott the bookstore, the rather shudder-inducing Professor Snape) and it is, I think, what gives Harry Potter such a broad appeal- while it may not be high literature (and I don’t mean that as an insult, because very few people actually read high literature unless forced) it is clever and funny and utterly enchanting.
I’m so glad I chose to reread the series, because now that I know what happens over the course of all seven books, I can spot the little Easter eggs Jo has included- Sirius’ motorcycle, old Mrs. Figg, Harry speaking to the boa constrictor, Firenze… every time I see one of them, it puts a little smile on my face because I know that I’ll see them again soon. I just love how Jo leaves these little loose threads here and there, and you don’t even realize she’s laying the foundations of a beautiful tapestry.
That said, however, there were a couple of things that ate at me this time around. They’re not huge, and probably come from being a little too over-analytical, but I’ll talk about them nevertheless.
First… wow, clueless much, Harry? Rationally, I get it. It’s a great narrative device, since the reader is introduced to the world via Harry, but I just don’t understand. If I found out I was part of a strange new world, I’d be trying to find out anything and everything I could. Then again, I’m probably the only person beside Hermione Granger who would actually willingly read Hogwarts: A History, so…
Second, and this is related to the first, I don’t understand how Hermione could not know what the Philosopher’s Stone is. I was nine when I read the first book, and I knew who Nicholas Flamel was. Ditto the Philosopher’s Stone. Then again, I was a precocious little know-it-all, to the point where my classmates bestowed the nickname ‘Walking Encyclopaedia’ on me back in fifth grade. So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that this is one time I managed to outsmart even Hermione. Plus, her knowing about the Stone would have pretty much torpedoed two-thirds of the story, so I suppose I can forgive her and Jo. 😀
That leads me to a related thought. I’ve got to love Jo’s genius in using Hagrid to introduce Harry to the Wizarding world. Aside from the sheer vindictive pleasure of Dudley getting a pig’s tail, Hagrid is the perfect introduction to the wizarding world, in a lot of ways. He’s obviously different, not to mention gentle and kindly, and perhaps more importantly, he tells Harry just enough information to be getting on with. Plus his (unconscious) prejudices play a huge part in creating Harry’s own opinions of his new world, especially of Slytherins. I imagine we’d have a much different Harry if, say, Minerva McGonagall had come to collect him, perhaps even a Slytherin Harry. Now there’s an idea. (Now I think of it, there are several rather excellent fanfics on the topic. And while my days as an active member of fandom are long since gone, I’d be happy to dredge up some links if anyone’s interested.)
But these are minor quibbles. I loved this book. I love this universe. And since this review is approaching the thousand-word mark, I had best wrap it up. After all, I’ve got six more books to read.
(For the record, comments are much, much appreciated. Come chat!)