Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Review: When I first read this book many years ago I had no idea how much so many people would love it.  I thought it was somewhat interesting and told a few family members about it, and that was it.  A couple years passed before I picked up the second or the third, which were out by then.  And I had no problem with that.  It is fairly obvious to me now that a series for which I could wait patiently for years, not even thinking about the books, before I read the next installment must not have captivated me.  I am sorry to say that this rereading (not the first) has failed to change my opinion of the book.

For many series, the first book can become the most boring either because it is reread the most as each new book is released or because it has to take up a lot of time setting up and explaining things readers come to take for granted.  That is not really the case for Sorcerer’s Stone, where Rowling very skillfully grabs the reader’s interest from the start with strange goings-on around Privet Drive and then keeps it by introducing magical items through Harry’s fresh eyes.  None of the magic and wonder is lost with rereading; it is still a surprise to see a wall of brick part to reveal Diagon Alley, still a marvel to see the underground vaults of Gringotts, and still a delight to hear the Sorting Hat introduce the Houses for the “first” time.  Unfortunately, the magic ends with the magical world.

Characterization, in my opinion, has never been Rowling’s strong point, and it is glaringly obvious in Sorcerer’s Stone. We like Harry mainly because we feel bad the Dursleys are so mean to him.  We dislike Draco because he seems mildly unpleasant. And we suppose we must like Ron because he’s the protagonist’s friend.  Hermione has almost surprisingly little presence in this book.  What we come to recognize as a great and strong friendship among the trio has yet to be established.  In terms of heart, Sorcerer’s Stone is barely beating.

Voldemort also presents problem because he is not remotely scary.  He becomes a legitimate threat only in Order of the Phoenix, but quickly loses any villain credibility by failing to do anything particularly impressive in that book or in Half-Blood Prince.  I had hoped that, after reading Deathly Hallows and finally seeing what it is we were supposed to be afraid of all this time, that I would uncover some clues in Sorcerer’s Stone that revealed what horrors Voldemort is capable of.  No such luck.  It is creepy that he is a second head hidden under someone’s turban, yes, but that is more disturbing than threatening or paralyzingly terrifying.

Rowling’s imagination and her cleverness with details and clues and tying vast amounts of information together are her strengths, and nowhere is this made clearer than in Sorcerer’s Stone. The world of Hogwarts is brilliant—magical, if one will tolerate the word—but her writing is not.  She improves with each book, and I believe Deathly Hallows to be her best, but Sorcerer’s Stone after more than a decade still leaves me scratching my head as to why so many people read Chamber of Secrets.

Published: 1997

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