Reading Harry Potter for the first time: Part 1 (Philosopher’s Stone)

Warning: Spoilers for all 7 books throughout! Long post! Much snark!

After finishing a massive dense non-fiction book about nutrition, I was in desperate need of something light-hearted and fun to read next. I’d been thinking about finally reading the Harry Potter series for a while, and it seemed like the best time to start: winter is still here, and I want to sit inside and read, but nothing too strenuous. So I decided to take the plunge.

I’ve seen the movies except the last, and pretty much know all the spoilers by now. But I was still curious to read the books after seeing passages and quotes from the books and finding them a great deal more substantial than the movies. Rowling has a reputation for being a master storyteller, so I thought it was about time I read them.

I also thought it was about time I let go my original reasons for avoiding the books; that Rowling shamelessly ripped off – I mean borrowed – elements from my favourite childhood book, The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. Ibbotson may want to forgive her and shake her hand or whatever, but it took me a while before I could. (I will say I think Platform 13 will always be the superior book simply because of the mistmakers and the Margaret Thatcher harpies)

mistmaker

When they are happy they go “aaaaah” and create mist. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, Rowling.

But, OK, I realise it’s been almost two decades and I am a grown-ass woman and I need to let it go and just read the Harry Potter Books with an open mind. Lots of people I love and respect absolutely adore them, so there must be some value I can find in them to warrant getting through all 7 books.

Note: I have a feeling I did read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a while ago, but I think I was jet lagged at the time and have very little recollection.

Chapters 1 – 5: Yer a wizard Harry!

Setting up a series of books like this must be quite some task, and I’m impressed at how many characters are woven into the story so early on. Hey, Hagrid mentioned Sirius Black! Wasn’t he a wolf? And all the Weasley family – she must have really known where she was going with this from the beginning.

I’m a bit confused about the concept of Muggles though. How can there be mixed families? Is it genetic? Can two wizards produce a Muggle offspring? That would be really shitty if your whole family has super powers and you don’t. And how can Hermione come from a family of non-Muggles? Was she adopted? Or do wizards get chosen, like the Slayer?

There’s clearly some muggle/wizard tension which I totally understand, having wanted to be a witch throughout my childhood, I would be really jealous of anyone who actually was a witch. And I guess if you have superpowers you would look down on those who don’t. It’s human nature. Or wizard nature.

Harry isn’t half so annoying as I had expected. He’s actually quite a sweet boy. I like the descriptions of Diagon Alley. I like that you have loads of different shops for different things. That’s what I like about Haarlem actually. You can go to the cheese shop, and the fish monger and it’s all nice and old-timey feeling. Imagine if Diagon Alley was Diagon Superstore, where you could get all your wizarding goods under one roof.

Good choice, Rowling.

Chapters 6 – 10 Off to Hogwarts

Obviously, Harry meets Ron on the train and they become BFFs immediately. I feel like there should be a note at this point: “This does not happen in real life. Remember this when you start your first term at uni”. I like that Hermione is weird and bossy. Maybe I could have played her part in an alternate reality where I wasn’t too old to audition.

It’s nice that Harry is so excited about going to boarding school. I’m glad he finally gets money and nice things and an owl. I wonder why boarding schools use trunks though? We had them at school (at least in the early years). Is the advantage that they are more easily stackable compared to suitcases?

Sorting incoming first years into houses based on their characteristics at 11 years old seems like a really bad idea and a great way to perpetuate the terrible people coming out of Slytherin. Can the school really hold no responsibility for creating these evil wizards?

Also, is Hufflepuff really ever going to win the House Cup when all the clever and sporty and ruthless ones go to the other houses? There is NO WAY Hermione is a Gryffindor and not a Ravenclaw. I really hope this is explained later on, and not just because she is slightly more brave than she is smart. Because she’s a massive nerd.

What are the fees like for this school?? Golden plates and goblets? I went to a British boarding school and we had to drink out of plastic cups. And… these 11 year old kids get four-poster beds with velvet curtains!!! Way to make the rest of us feel bad about our lives, Rowling! #lifegoals

There’s a lot of very British slang in here. Was this changed for the US versions? I remember reading that the title was changed from Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone because American audiences didn’t know what a philosopher was. So was this referred to as the Sorcerer’s Stone throughout?

So apparently lots of Harry’s classmates had come from Muggle families and had had no idea that they were witches and wizards. Is a witch just a female wizard? There’s definitely a kind of patriarchy in this world.

Why is there no sort of Witchcraft & Wizardry elementary school? Why do they need to wait until they are 11? Might make the whole process much less stressful if they could have built up some knowledge from a young age. They seem to get a lot of homework. Or maybe they just like to complain about it?

Oh Snape. I can’t imagine Snape as anyone other than Alan Rickman. 😦

Snape is really mean though. I’m sure he has his reasons, but bullying a little kid isn’t cool. Meanness aside, that potions class sounds excellent. Unlike Quidditch, which sounds boring and reminds me of people at school who went on and on about lacrosse like it was the most important thing in the world. If I could ride brooms, I would have invented more than one sodding sport – like broom racing, synchronised brooming, broom acrobatics, underwater brooming, and gladiator style broom fighting.

So Harry’s a natural at Quidditch. Snooze. I hate sports. And now Draco’s challenging him to a wizard’s duel. Ffs boys, calm down. Do we ever find out why Draco is such an unnecessarily massive dick to Harry? Other than he and his family are supposed to be the bad guys?

Bludgers. BLUDGERS. Quidditch sounds violent and dangerous. But I guess if you can magically heal broken bones, that must take some of the danger away. Did someone really create magical balls that only serve to hit people in the face though? I bet they were in Slytherin.

Seekers and the Golden Snitch seem to have nothing to do with the actual game of Quidditch. And yet the game only finishes when one of the seekers catches it? Are we supposed to believe that this world of magic is just so wacky that people are ok with Quidditch matches lasting months?

Awarding points to houses seems rather arbitrary and at the whim of the teachers. How do they keep track of it all? Do they have little slips they fill in? And do your house points count towards a personal total at the end of the year? If not, seems a bit pointless to take 5 points off Hermione for going after the troll but 10 points to Ron and Harry for saving her. Also, it must have been so obvious that Hermione was covering their asses. McGonagall isn’t an idiot.

“But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them”.

TRUE FACT.

Chapters 11 – 15 Sleuthing around

Oh god, this chapter is titled Quidditch. Kill me now.

Hermione keeps being painted as a bossy know-it-all who hates to break the rules, but it seems to me that it’s a relatively dangerous school to attend and these rules might actually be a good idea? I know she’s a bit naive in putting her trust in somewhat sketchy authority figures, but why are Harry and Ron’s characters flaws not brought up constantly? Can’t tell if it’s sexist, or pointing out sexism. The ratio of male to female characters also seems strikingly off right now. I don’t think this book has even passed the Bechdel test yet.

“Wood cleared his throat for silence.
‘OK men,’ he said.
‘And women,’ said Chaser Angelina Johnson”

Fine, maybe Rowling is aware of it.

The Christmas holidays at Hogwarts sounds totally delightful. I hope there’s a Hogwart’s themed hotel somewhere.

There IS! Well kinda.

I love how the teachers get drunk and merry too. I wish I’d gone to Hogwart’s.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that”

Good advice from Dumbledore. I think there’ll be more of this to come.

The three of them are running around like the Famous Five but accomplishing absolutely nothing, instead of studying. Listen to Hermione! You do actually need to pass the exams. And now the dragon has bitten Ron on his quill-holding hand.

So Draco gets 20 points taken off him for being out of bed, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione get 50 points each for the same crime? This points system, man. So unfair. Seems like Hogwart’s has a bit of a toxic culture amongst the staff, lots of power tripping going on. And then they get ostracised by the whole school for all the points they lost. This is a pretty barbaric system. Detention taking place at 11 o’clock at night in a dangerous forest? BARBARIC.

Are there actually any pastoral staff in this entire school? Aside from Dumbledore, all the professors seem to exist just to dole out punishments, rather than doing any teaching, or acting in loco parentis. When they are out of class they seem to just be left to their own devices to manage their own time, and punished if they leave certain areas. Why not give these 11-12 year olds some help or guidance with their revision? Or some after school activities to stop them wandering off?

Chapters 16 – 17 Exciting climax

Wherever Hogwart’s is, it seems to have a lovely climate with snowy winters and properly hot summers. I miss that. Summers and winters here seem to blend right into each other.

These three kids have an overinflated sense of their own importance and seemingly a very poor understanding of the Philosopher’s Stone situation. Good job they’re so plucky.

But why aren’t the grown ups doing anything???

Oh right, it’s a kids book.

“It’s only dying a bit later than I would have done, because I’m never going over to the Dark Side!”

Wait, the Dark Side? Isn’t that Star Wars? Who said anything about Harry going over to the Dark Side? Harry sounds like he’s having a bit of a meltdown.

“Voldemort killed my parents, remember?”

Yes, we remember. It’s literally the point of the entire book series.

Since when is booby-trapping the place with a series of cute tests the best way to protect a valuable and dangerous object? I mean, chess, really? If three little kids who have been studying wizardry for less than a year can get past it, perhaps they need to re evaluate their security strategy. Oh wait, I forgot, Harry is the Chosen One.

Having said that, Hogwart’s doesn’t seem to teach conventional subjects at all, so maybe Hermione’s right about the logic puzzle preventing some of the greatest wizards from getting past, although it does seem absurdly easy.

OMG it’s Quirrell! He’s the bad guy! And he’s doing the Bond villain thing where he explains the situation to the hero… “and I’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids”.

And now Quirrell is gloating before he’s actually won. This is why you gloat after you’ve killed your nemesis, people.

Voldemort has got to be under that turban. I think I remember that from the movies.

Why did mirror Harry put the Stone in real Harry’s pocket when he’s standing right by Quirrell/Voldemort? That seems… risky?

Oh right, having the Stone in your pocket burns human flesh. Neato.

So the Stone’s been destroyed and Harry’s woken up with a shit load of presents. And questions for Dumbledore. But Dumbledore’s not telling us why Voldemort wanted to kill Harry in the first place. My money’s on a prophecy of some sort that Harry would overthrow him.

“to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever”

Right in the feels!

So let me get this straight – Dumbledore kind of figured they were going to go after Quirrell, so left them a bunch of cryptics clues in the hopes that they would do so, and hope that they would just be lucky enough not to get killed? That sounds like a very responsible headmaster. Using little kids to fight your battles for you when you’re one of the more powerful wizards AND Voldemort is actually afraid of you. Dick move, Dumbledore.

And then he cheats with some “last minute” points so that Gryffindor win the House Cup. Not only that, but Harry only gets 60 points for literally saving the whole school?

If everyone hates Slytherin so much – even the headmaster, why do they let them in to Hogwart’s? And why do they put them in a house together?

Sam’s verdict

All in all, a really fun read, and I’m definitely excited to read the Chamber of Secrets. I think that the books are going to get more complex and more grown-up as the story progresses. But a solid start for sure.

Finnish book cover

Creepy Finnish book cover

Up next: Part 2 – The Chamber of Secrets

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5 thoughts on “Reading Harry Potter for the first time: Part 1 (Philosopher’s Stone)

  1. It’s not having the stone that burns flesh; it’s the residue of mother’s love That Harry’s mum protected him with by dying. (True story)

  2. Pingback: Reading Harry Potter for the first time: Part 2 (Chamber of Secrets) | Samantha Stein

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