Feeling real, if not realistic

I continued on with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, finding myself increasingly liking it. And that made me happy; I didn’t want to dislike the book or the series. I majored in English and Journalism in college, and like many English majors, I went through my phase as a literary snob. But while there’s nothing wrong with discerning tastes, I don’t want to be someone who isn’t open to new things, even if they’re flawed. It’s too soon for me to judge the writing in the series as a whole, but let’s just say that first book isn’t exactly Dickens. But that’s fine. It becomes highly enjoyable regardless.

The main reason I grew to like the book was the characters. My friend Grant put it best, saying that many of his favorite parts of the series are when nothing hugely important or exciting is happening, but you just see the characters living and interacting. And I completely agree. They’re mostly flat characters so far, but they’re characters who are remarkably likable and just feel real.

Which is not to say it’s necessarily realistic. And I don’t just mean in the way that magic, as a concept, might not be realistic; I’ve read far more bizarre premises that were still more realistic, because the premise was grounded in reactions that make sense and flow with reasonable expectations. I’m not sure that’s a strength of the first Harry Potter book. Would a kid really take it that well, finding out he was a wizard? Would he have really been so clueless before Hagrid came? (Harry thinks back to a memory of running on the ground and suddenly finding himself on the school roof; he’d previously assumed a gust of wind had caught him without him noticing.) Would teachers at a school of magic really take so few precautions in protecting first-year students, many of whom only recently found out magic was even real? An unrealistic premise is fine, but then the rules of that world should play out in fairly realistic ways; the series is kind of up-and-down so far in how well it’s done that.

Yet somehow, while often being unrealistic, the world of The Sorcerer’s Stone still manages to feel real. And I think therein lies the genius of the first book, because that’s really a remarkable thing to pull off. And it’s those characters, and their relatively quiet moments, that accomplish it. They suck you in.

My favorite chapter in the book was probably the Christmas one. Ron is embarrassed by his mother’s sweaters, in the way children get embarrassed by their parents. His older brothers force him to wear it anyway, the way older kids enjoy goading their younger siblings. And Harry is delighted by all of it; the first “normal” family he meets is a magical one. You can just picture it and feel it. It’s tender and it’s funny and it feels real. Thanks to moments like that, the book picks up steam; the characters start to matter to you, and thus everything that happens to them takes on a little more importance.

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