Fiction — audiobook. Read by Jim Dale. Listening Library, 1999. 8 hours, 17 minutes. Library copy.
Harry Potter’s name is said reverence and excitement because Harry Potter is ‘The Boy Who Lived’. Yet ten-year-old Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is in the magical world his horrid aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, are determined to keep him ignorant of and no idea why attempts to contact him via a letter have the Dursleys in an uproar. On his eleventh birthday, a large man by the name of Hagrid arrives to inform him that Harry is a wizard. A rather famous one at that who has been accepted to the premiere wizarding school in the United Kingdom, Hogwarts.
Equal parts confused and excited, Harry travels to Hogwarts from Kings Cross Station’s Platform 9 ¾ quickly becoming friends with Ron Weasley, youngest son of the large Weasley family. He begins courses with his housemates, including the know-it-all Hermione Granger, and becomes entranced by the magic of this new world. Yet dark magic lingers at Hogwarts and within Harry, who learns he the only person to survive an attack by Voldemort (who is referred to in hushed whispers as ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’), and Harry and new friends embark upon a dangerous adventure to locate the Sorcerer’s Stone before it can fall into the wrong hands.
Confession: The first time I read this book, I read only a few chapters before I asked my third grade teacher if I could return it to the school library and choose another book. Witches and wizards held no interest for a little girl interested in history and the American Girl dolls, and I avoided the series until the first movie was released when suddenly everyone was reading and discussing the series.
At twenty-three, I still believe this book to be the weakest one in the series. I have always remembered the wait for Harry to receive his letter to Hogwarts to be a bit of, well, a slog, and rereading it now I can understand why my younger self asked for a different book. I was perpetually bugged by the incessant insistence that certain characters are good and others are bad without much explanation other than house-based prejudice. There is nothing truly remarkable about the main characters in the first few chapters – Hermione is a know it all, Harry is learning about this world at the same pace as the reader, Ron feels slighted by his family, and Draco is a bully – and I am assuming that is entirely the point.
The setting is supposed to be the truly remarkable thing; the characters merely the vehicles in which the reader can imagine themselves there. The magic comes when Harry and friends learn, well, magic; the excitement of the setting comes during a quidditch match and when the Golden Trio engages in a series of magical tests to find the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Unfortunately, this excitement is tempered by the way the final battle in this particular novel is interrupted for the reader. All my questions and interests in the world of Harry Potter were left unfairly suspended as Rowling raced to wrap of the first year of Harry’s education. Fifteen years later, I was still unable to forge the fanatical connection others I know have with this particular book in the series hence my less than ecstatic review. (If memory serves me correctly, though, the darker the series gets, the more I enjoyed it.)