Just wanted to start with the obvious.
And to continue with the obvious, I am kicking off my hopefully month long Harry Potter reviews with the first book, the properly titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone written by the amazing J.K. Rowling. And just to get this out of the way, in case some Muggle has popped into our time from the 1980’s, Harry Potter is a seven book series about an orphan boy who is a wizard, raised for a decade by his cruel human family, and is finally ushered into the magical world on his eleventh birthday. Harry goes to Hogwarts school, meets best friends Ron and Hermione, and finds out his parents were killed by evil Lord Voldemort. Each book follows a year in Harry’s life, with escalating dangers and mysteries along the way. Everything else you can wiki. Or just ask Hermione since she knows everything.
With that bit of good book blogging housekeeping out of the way, we can get to the meat of this start. With plenty of spoilers spoiled along the way, and certain plot points already known by me after watching the first handful of movies years ago.
J.K. sets the stage right away by showing the magic and caring of the wizard world. These characters live in a technocolour universe filled with love. Then J.K. shows us the flipside with Harry having spent ten years with these vile and nasty slice of the worst of humanity. These characters live in a drab hate filled shelter of evil. To put it bluntly, I Hate The Dursleys. With every book, Harry was chucked off back to these abusive bastards every summer and I knashed my teeth. While J.K. tries to inject some humour here, I found the torment they put Harry through hard to read.
When Harry is finally rescued by Hagrid and we are thrown headfirst into the magic, you could almost hear the collective applause from the audience of us. It is not just because Harry is among other wizards, but because he is now surrounded with love. Two of the first Hogwarts students he meets become lifelong friends and show him astonishing devotion. This trio becomes such a cornerstone to the story, an emotional lynchpin for us to all rally around.
Even with the happiness of this new life and new friends and new school, Harry still faces so many of the insecurities that plague his age. Thinking he is in trouble when he is not, or dealing with bratty classmates, becomes daily occurances to him. J.K. does an expert job bringing this theme to the fore when needed, such that my identification with Harry was very real.
To match this age frame of problems, the mystery and main threat are also on the more juvenile level. This is not to say the plot is childish or not worthwhile or sufficiently dangerous, because it most certainly is. J.K. has always stated that Harry Potter was purposely constructed to escalate as the characters age and grow into themselves. The logic puzzles and mental games required at the conclusion are designed to prominently feature the skills of Harry, Ron and Hermione. With this ending, it becomes even more obvious that J.K. is playing the long game here, with a hidden history just lurking in the distance. Without any advance knowledge of the Horcrux’s, I guessed about the portion of soul or something residing inside of Harry.
The ending starts the usual trope of having the mentor explain it all to our hero. While this might be slightly overused, I did not mind this last minute explanations of previously unseen or unknown events. In fact, I welcomed them. Unlike other stories featuring information bombing at the end (looking at you, Battlestar Gallactica), J.K. still made these conversations with Dumbledore exhilarating. And I totally bought the mother’s love being the reason for so much happening.
J.K. ends with the promise of more, but also leaves wiggle room for this book being the finite story. Harry is heading back to that horrible abusive house, but this time armed with the knowledge so many children in his situation do not all have. He has friends. He is special. He can fight back. He will win. Thanks for this happy ending J.K.
P.S. Harry Potter is copyright 2012 to J.K. Rowling. Her newest book, The Casual Vacancy, is due out on Thursday, September 27th, 2012.