Sorcerer’s Stone: final thoughts

I don’t know how detailed to be in discussing the first two books. I’m not going to shy away from spoilers in discussing any of the series, because it’s all been out for years, and most people who might actually read this already know what happened (and maybe a few who won’t care). But now that I’m done with Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, it’s harder to go back and give a blow-by-blow account of my thoughts; perhaps I’ll change that for subsequent books when I can give more of a running diary. So without being exhaustive, here are a few more impressions from reading Book 1.

I think the first book does a good job of balancing what Harry is and isn’t good at in terms of magic. We know early on that he defeated a powerful evil lord as a baby, and he’s famous for it. So the reader know there’s obviously something special about Harry, and you fully expect that he’s going to become a great wizard. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting to see him come in and immediately dominate everything at Hogwart’s. So in fact, nearly the opposite becomes true, as we instead see him struggle plenty in class. Hermione becomes a good foil for him in that respect; she’s the smartest student, and because of that, she is, in many ways, far more talented than Harry. Yet nor is Harry hapless. He’s a natural at flying, and wins his first Quidditch match, despite having only recently even heard of the sport. It’s a good balance of showing how naturally gifted Harry is, while also making him work to become truly great.

I felt like there wasn’t quite enough about how Harry felt about his parents. I know it will be revisited in future books, but still, I think there were missed opportunities. Harry does ask questions about his parents, but he doesn’t go crazy trying to find out everything he can about them, which is what I would have thought he’d do, after being told so little by his aunt and uncle. He nearly becomes obsessed with the magical mirror that allows him to see his parents for the first time, and there is an emotional connection established where the reader really feels for him as an orphan. But that connection isn’t used to its fullest. Near the end, when Hagrid gives Harry a photo book of his parents, Harry is too overcome by emotion to speak. That’s a great reaction — but that’s all we get. The remainder of what he must be feeling and experiencing is left by the wayside.

Having seen the movies, I didn’t get to be surprised by the reveal that Quirrell, not Snape, was the first book’s villain. I think I would have seen it coming regardless, but it’s impossible to say that for sure. I was mildly confused by the details of Quirrell’s melding with Voldemort. As far as we know, Voldemort was on the back of his head for the entire book, yet we’re also told Voldemort was the one feasting on unicorn blood in the forest, when that creature was described in more inhuman terms. Regardless, the book does a good enough job of developing its villains. Neither Quirrell nor Voldemort is a fully realized villain, but Quirrell isn’t intended to be, as he’s disposable, and enough hints are given about the who/what/how of Voldemort that the reader is hooked and intrigued to see him developed more over the course of the series.

The trials to get to the Stone were creative enough, and the adventure that Harry, Ron, and Hermione go on to get there is fun. Of course, the same “feels real, but not realistic” problem is heavily implicated in those trials. Hogwarts is said to perhaps be the most secure place in the world to hide something, and powerful wizard professors have all contributed to the protections. Yet three first-year students are able to get past all those protections. Sure, Quirrell had already defeated the troll for them, but that hardly seems like it would have been insurmountable, with the gang previously defeating another troll through dumb luck. The only really good protection was Dumbledore’s, since it was unlikely anyone would go to such effort to find the Stone without wanting to use it, as he required.

The flaws in the book are mostly understandable, as the first installment was largely intended for children. Those flaws did still take me out of the moment sometimes, but by and large, Rowling manages to suck you into this world. There’s an adventurous tone with mostly likable characters and a couple dark undercurrents. When you’re done, you’re ready to see where else this world can go.

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