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Harry Potter and the Sorcererís StoneReview - Harry Potter and the Sorcererís Stone
by J. K. Rowling
Scholastic Paperbacks, 1998
Review by Margo McPhillips
Sep 6th 2000 (Volume 4, Issue 36)

When the Controller of my company told me she was reading the Harry Potter books and enjoying them greatly, I took note. This is a fairly staid businesswoman whom I would not suspect of reading fantasy at all, much less children's fantasy. I decided they were safe for me, a fantasy lover, who had put off reading them thinking they might be too childish. I went to Amazon and bought all four in one fell swoop.

It took me a little over a day to finish the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The reading is very fast and action packed but, for an adult, there's also time and space to consider what is being read and how it is affecting one. The books are very juvenile but they attract memories connected to old wrongs and shame and somehow help one feel better. Things one knew as a child but which adults denigrated are shown to actually be true and the reader feels vindicated, just as Harry and his friends do, winning out at the end.

A feature of the author's writing style which stood out most for me was her characterization and how she made each child in the story have their own unique set of skills. In the end, denouement scene, a clever, many-piece puzzle was solved by Harry and each of his friends having to call on their individual, best selves. Even the "loser" child, whose friends put him in full body paralysis to get him out of their way, got points to help their cause and an important message, "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."

As an adult reading the books I can see why adult reviewers might want to rain on Rowling's parade. The writing is good but not excellent. However, the books clearly have a lot of heart and warmth. I cried twice where the story intersected my own life story. I have read excellent fantasy that stretched my head and heart and good fantasy like this which strengthened my heart and spirit and wouldn't complain about either.

I think though that many of the things that make the book only good writing, as opposed to excellent, are only obvious to adults and, since it is children's fantasy, I don't think judging it by adult standards is appropriate. There's nothing cloying about it, like Barney, just good silliness; the school train leaves from platform nine and three-quarters, the candy, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, include vomit, pepper, and ear wax flavors. A lot of the strength of the books is in their seeming, to adults, silliness.

Children's perceptions are different and the balance of power when a child is different, all in the adults favor. These books right that and even the playing field some. Teachers in our world are often arbitrary and silly. When in high school, my stepson got points off his English papers, several times, because his name wasn't centered correctly at the top. Harry and his friends have to write three-foot-long compositions and measure them with a ruler, his friend Ron wailing because his is still eight inches short. Five hundred words or three feet, what's the difference? They both seem arbitrary but one is more interesting to consider because it never is.

Of course characters are overdrawn and a bit stereotypical. Bad adults are really bad and good adults; really fair, wise and good. But there are a few surprises, the author uses the reader's penchant to follow along with the stereotype to surprise instead, very effectively. I would recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy , children's literature or even mystery. Because the playing field is larger, with ghosts and a magical world involved, it's harder to figure out the exact details of the mysteries involved ahead of time. I'm sure I won't reread any of these books but I'm very glad I'm reading them in the first place and know they have added some good cheer and even a bit of self esteem to my arsenal.


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