Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The first time I finally got around to reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone a few years ago, the effort was made in the spirit of thoroughness more than anything else. I was just starting to get into urban fantasy and, as Harry Potter seemed to qualify, I figured it was about time that I experienced the story that had enraptured fans throughout the world. While the story itself was charming, I didn’t find much to recommend Rowling’s writing in terms of style. I’ve read many a children’s story told in terms plain enough for a child to understand, yet still sophisticated enough to interest an adult reader. I could easily see how the tale of Harry’s indoctrination into life in the wizarding world would appeal to an adult audience, yet I had more difficulty believing that adult readers would be as enamored of Rowling’s writing if it were describing something slightly less magical.

On this second go-around, I tried not to carry that bias into my reading experience,

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

and the payoff was better because of it. I’ll never know what it was like to first learn of Harry and Hogwarts, as I failed to read the books as a child before pop-culture saturation influenced how all readers view Rowling’s characters and locales in their minds. My vision is pretty much that shown in the movies, and I’m okay with that. Yet, it does make for a somewhat jarring experience when attempting to reconcile the books with the films. Reading about how Neville accompanied Harry and friends during their punishment in the Dark Forest is only one example of the numerous little changes made in the transition from page to screen, yet unlike most fans, I continually have to remind myself that Rowling’s version is the true story, no matter how familiar I am with the film’s depiction of events.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was undoubtedly a magical experience for young readers first venturing on a vicarious journey to Hogwarts, and I’m glad to say that I have even begun to appreciate Rowling’s writing style a bit more the second time around. Though I do feel that Rowling was pandering perhaps a bit too much to what she perceived as young readers’ comprehension abilities, I suspect that her writing is equally a reflection of the dry British humor that I’ve come to love so much in recent years. Given my preference for first-person narration over third-person perspective, it’s not surprising that I didn’t care too much for Sorcerer’s Stone when I first read it, yet as my reading horizons have expanded to explore, if not love, different avenues of storytelling, so has my appreciation for Sorcerer’s Stone grown.

Still, that’s not to say I don’t yet have serious quibbles with Rowling’s debut effort. The pacing seems curious at best, especially when (inevitably) compared to the film version. While I understand that it was necessary to establish Harry’s dismal life with the Durselys in order to contrast it with his overwhelming immersion into the wizarding world, when one considers that the entire story is just over 300 pages in length, I was shocked that it took nearly a hundred for Harry to get into the magical swing of things. I adored reading about Harry’s first encounters with Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express, yet as he began to acclimate to life at Hogwarts, I was once again surprised by Rowling’s pacing, as she spends a minimal amount of time on what wind up being crucial plot elements. Even her description of classes seems cursory, which is somewhat disappointing to this reader who sorely wishes that she had the opportunity to learn about Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Overall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a delightful introduction to Rowling’s magical world, yet it doesn’t deliver on all of its promises. I would be fascinated to see if Rowling stuck to the same format if given the chance for a rewrite after having gained the knowledge and experience from writing the rest of the series. Even so, I’m thoroughly looking forward to my second go-around with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this weekend.

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