Michelle Isenhoff

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, JK Rowling, 1997, Book Review

I first delved into Harry Potter more than a decade ago. Since then, thousands of reviews have been written covering all seven of the books, so why add another? Two reasons: First, not everyone has read them yet. Yes, there is a generation of kids who have grown up with Harry, but there are more following behind every year. Perhaps some of my readers haven’t yet visited Hogwarts. I’d love to guide them on their first journey. Second, many of my readers are conservative parents who may want the opinion of another conservative parent. As this was my third trip to Hogwarts, I’m up to the task.
First, content. That’s what all the controversy is over, isn’t it? It’s true, Harry Potter has good and bad elements in it. Witches, spells, and witchcraft scare many off, and I respect those opinions. The occult is real, dangerous and scary. But in my opinion, Harry Potter is about fun and magic. There’s an overwhelming innocence to these books that reminds me of the old Disney movie, The Sword and the Stone. Remember Merlin? That’s Dumbledore. And the young boy with the goodness to draw the sword from the stone? That’s Harry. Harry is the embodiment of Goodness in a very clear battle of Good vs. Evil. But be warned, Evil is extremely evil. Voldemort has a darkness to him that does make me uncomfortable at times. And the series does get darker toward the end. Yet right always wins out, and the darkness is never celebrated.
There is another complaint I sometimes hear. While Harry may represent Goodness, he is, in fact, quite naughty. He’s forever flaunting school rules and getting away with it. Getting rewarded for it. Yes, he’s always striving to defeat evil–the job always seems to fall to him–but the way he goes about it is usually sneaky and underhanded. Of course this adds greatly to the suspense. Who isn’t on the edge of their seat while Harry’s under his invisibility cloak dodging Snape in the castle corridors at night? But I’ll grant, Harry is no role model.
Yet in Harry’s defense, this series is as fun, as twisting, as exciting as they get.  Setting aside Harry’s incredible adventures for a moment, lets consider the setting.  Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, is an old castle in a remote part of northern Britain.  Lit by flaming torches, surrounded by a lake and a forest that contain magical creatures, full of secret passageways and shifting stairways, and haunted by a handful of quirky ghosts.  I mean, Harry’s dorm is in a castle turret!  How cool is that?  What kid wouldn’t want to attend Hogwarts?
Then there are the scraps Harry gets in. There’s always danger at Hogwarts. You can’t give a bunch of kids wands and broomsticks and not expect to visit Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing now and then. But Harry find the big adventures. After all, Voldemort, the most powerful wizard in centuries, wants him dead. Yet there always seems to be this protective net around Harry. His mother’s sacrificial love has given him a defense nearly impenetrable by evil. And the all-wise, all-knowing Professor Dumbledore is always hovering in the background, keeping an eye on things. He lets the kids handle situations as much as they are able, yet his power is always just around the corner waiting to back them up.
Now let’s deal specifically with the events in The Sorcerer’s Stone. This is book one. It sets up the series. Here we meet the awful Dursleys, Harry’s Muggle (non-magic) relatives who raised him. We find out about Voldemort’s horrible rise to power and his astonishing disappearance. And we learn why he hates Harry so much. In this shortest book in the series, Voldemort makes his first attempt to regain power. The object he needs is hidden at Hogwarts, and his stooge is in place to get it for him. But Harry, who inexplicably defeated Voldemort as a baby, is also at Hogwarts in his first year of school. The clash is certainly exciting.
I’ve seen several of the Harry Potter books listed among the top twenty or so works of children’s fiction. I can’t say I agree with that  JK Rowling isn’t a beautiful writer, and I wouldn’t classify her with the greats. But she does write a rousing tale. She has an astonishing imagination, and she knows how to get kids to turn pages. Her work is fun, suspenseful, and extremely engaging.
In a nutshell, Harry Potter is magic, and I love it. I did not allow my kids to read this series before age 12. But by that age, they know right from wrong.  They understand the spiritual forces of good and evil. And they’re old enough to take Harry for what he is–fun fiction. I highly recommend that kids be able to experience the magical world of Hogwarts for themselves, or at the very least, read and discuss it with some parental guidance. It’s so worth the ride!
My other Harry Potter reviews:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, JK Rowling, 1997, Book Review

7 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, JK Rowling, 1997, Book Review

  1. Michelle,
    As always, great review. Very reasonable and level headed. I’m glad that you’ve taken the time to point to The Sword in the Stone (one of my favorites as a kid). I don’t think we need to demonize any book that has some form of magic in it. And interesting point about Harry bending (or outright breaking the rules).
    I have to admit that I haven’t read the books (I know, I know). I wasn’t quite ready to read YA literature when it was first introduced and now that I’m ready, I’ll have to wait a few years until I can get the movie plots out of my head. But I’ll get to them one day.
    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    1. Definitely read them someday. They’re a treat. I haven’t seen all the movies yet, but the ones I have seen aren’t nearly as good as the book. I’m reading through the series again behind my daughter and we’re watching each movie together after we finish the book, just her and I. Very fun! My boys, who are younger, are already anticipating their turns in a few years.

      1. That’s a great idea. Maybe by the time my daughter is 12, it’ll be far enough away from seeing the movies that I’ll be able to read them anew. My memory isn’t that good anyway 🙂
        Everything I’ve heard about the movies is that they’ve progressively become better and at least a little closer to the books.
        Paul D. Dail
        http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

  2. I read the first book and I really liked it! I can’t wait to read the 2nd book now! I’m only 9 and my mom says I can’t read the second one until I am a bit older because she said they get darker. I haven’t seen any of the movies. Are they scarier than the book?

  3. I’ve only seen two of the movies so far. I don’t think they’re scarier than the books, but your mom’s right, the stories do get darker. She’s a wise lady, Erik. I wouldn’t let you read them yet, either. 🙂 But it will give you something to look forward to when you’re a little older. In the meantime, there’s so MANY good books waiting to be read right now!

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