Silver Reviews

HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE

by J.K. Rowling

Bloomsbury

0-7475-3269-9

223pp/Ł10.99/1997

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Cover by Thomas Taylor

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) introduces the eponymous hero of J.K. Rowling’s juvenile series about a young wizard who has been raised by abusive relatives who successfully attempt to hide his background and powers from him.  His aunt and uncle succeed until Harry’s eleventh birthday, when he is suddenly visited by Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft.  Hagrid spirits Harry away from his relatives to allow him to begin his study of wizardry in an environment based on an English public school.

At Hogwarts, Harry makes friends and enemies as he struggles through his first year, discovering, not only that magic exists, but also his own important role in the recent history of magic.  Rather than being killed in a car accident, as his aunt and uncle have always maintained, Harry’s parents were killed by an evil wizard, Voldemort, whose power was destroyed when he attempted to kill the infant Harry.  Even as Harry learns about his own past, it seems that Voldemort still has supporters at Hogwarts who wish to see Harry destroyed.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone plays into children’s desire to be able to have an effect on their environment when they see themselves as powerless.  Harry’s dream of escape from his relatives’ abuse comes true in a manner, which should, theoretically, allow him to exact vengeance against their slights, should he so desire.  Rowling just allows this possibility to hang while she focuses on Harry adventures at Hogwarts.

One of the reasons Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone succeeds as well as it does is because Rowling tells her story without trying to over explain or talk down to the reader.  In addition to following Harry’s adventures at the school and allowing Harry to discover the rules of magic, Rowling includes a mystery for Harry and his new-found friends to solve.  A mysterious artifact, the philosopher’s stone, disappeared shortly before an attempt was made to steal it.  If it falls into the wrong hands, it could mean the return of Voldemort. 

Rowling handles the mystery aspects of the story as well as the magical aspects.  She is willing to dish out clues and red herrings and builds a large cast of characters from which the reader can choose their suspects.  Characters and events are not always as they seem and some antagonists suddenly turn into friends, or at least allies.

Because Rowling has created a background which covers Harry’s parents’ relationships with so many of the characters who teach at Hogwarts, many of them have motivations in their dealings with Harry which are not immediately evident to either Harry or the reader.  It is this complexity that makes Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone an enjoyable book for children or adults.

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