Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Book
I’m trying to remember when I first read HP1. I am pretty sure I was in 7th grade because I remember clearly taking it along with me on a class truip to Italy and a teacher admiring it. The copy I read for this is a signed first edition: alas, it is totally worn and appears to be have chewed (?) in several places. Nonetheless, it gives me a huge thrill to see JKR’s signature on the flyleaf.
So. Who else gets a little thrill upon reading this? It’s the beginning of an era and it’s SO EXCITING.
I love the beginning of this book. I love the way JKR sets up right away that those who put a very high premium on normalcy and fitting in are in trouble from the start. And the Dursleys get set up right away as the Bad Guys (at least the first Bad Guys) in part because of that. The part that bothers me is the Fat=Bad thing, which continues more in the other books but is of course especially noticeable with the Dursleys. Dudley is so often described as some kind of bad guy simply because he is, you know, fat. And Vernon, too.
But obviously the Dursleys–wait a minute! I forget the VERY beginning. The part where Dumbledore drops Harry off at Privet Drive. It is not until Book Seven when we find out why he did so, and until then I confess to some serious anger at Dumbledore for leaving Harry with these people. Obviously, the backstory that we learn later explains this rather well, but until then it seems a mystery why on earth Dumbledore, who clearly cares for Harry, would leave him with such a person. And we are not now dealing with the information we find out later, but the information we receive in the first book. So upon reading about the Dursleys AT FIRST we clearly know that they are jerks. But at least for me, it doesn’t become obvious until Harry arrives at Hogwarts just how much the poor kid has missed out on.
AND SPEAKING OF HOGWARTS.
Seriously, how much do I love the beginnings of this book? I love, love, love the very beginning of the Hogwarts Adventure, from the letters to Hagrid’s arrival. And Hagrid’s reaction to the Dursleys makes me laugh every time. His scorn is something to behold, as is his rage.
It’s really easy to forget how the mythology of HP builds at the beginning of this book. Harry is so clearly held in the public imagination as The Chosen One: I suspect it would be hard to find anyone who does not know at least a little of his origin story. The basics, at the very least.
And so. It is hard to remember how strange it must have felt, reading about how Harry is a famous, how he is the only one Lord Voldemort was ever defeated by, etc. It’s a cool beginning, is what I’m saying.
Meantime, there is the fantastic Getting-To-Know-Hogwarts. There’s the list of supplies, which I remember poring over–so much more exciting than my “pencils, notebooks, calculator, highlighters” lists. So mysterious. We didn’t know, then, what was in store for us.
And Diagon Alley! Who else remembers the thrill of “seeing” that for the first time? The wonder at the fantastically described bookstore, Madame Malkin’s robe shop, and especially Ollivanders. And there is meeting Draco Malfoy for the first time, an event that does not seem too important at the time but of course is rather a Big Deal.
And then there’s Ollivander’s. I love Ollivander’s and I also love that we don’t have any sense at the time of how tremendously important it will turn out to be. We get a glimpse (” ‘I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather – just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother – why, its brother gave you that scar.”) but we don’t really know how tremendously important wandlore will be, eventually.
And then there’s the train, and Harry’s confusion about how on earth to get into Platform Nine and Three Quarters, and of course the marvelous Fred and George (a toilet seat!). Actually, the Weasleys, generally. I love how kind Harry is to Ron, buying him snacks (“we’ll take the lot!”) and I love our first glimpse of Neville (poor Neville, losing his toad) and of course Hermione, who at first comes off as a bit snobbish and a general pain in the ass.
Then we get to the castle, and the first glimpse of it, and then the introduction of McGonagall. She’s one my favorite characters and I love how she starts out incredibly stern and eventually begins to soften (somewhat!) She’s such a great counter to Dumbledore’s gentleness and humor.
Of course the first of many feasts is where we get our first look at one of the most fascinating characters in the Potterverse. I speak, of course, of one Severus Snape, who fixes Harry with a look so potent that for all his amazing acting skills Alan Rickman can’t quite catch it. (Close though!) One of the things I really like about the Snape intro is that we don’t have much of a sense of WHY he hates Harry so much, and of course that is a story that basically takes seven books to explain. But at first, Snape makes SUCH a compelling villain (he makes a compelling villain right up until the end, actually, and some feel that even then he is still The Enemy). It’s a really cool narrative thread to have Snape be essentially evil. He is occasionally Over The Top, but for the most part he just comes across as the totally unfair, creepy teacher we’ve all had at some point (mine was the art teacher who would kick off every year by telling us how she planned to kill herself someday, and then be kind of mean the whole year…although luckily she couldn’t take off points). But Snape’s Potions class provides some really nice groundwork (“I can teach you to bottle fame, brew glory and even put a stopper in death”) for both the importance of Potions in later books (Polyjuice Potion, werewolf potion…) and also just generally Snape’s general awareness of of the ways in which the Wizarding World works.
Now let’s talk about Hermione. In case you don’t remember, Hermione starts off as an obnoxious know-it-all, rather than the charming and helpful know-it-all she becomes. Harry and Ron dislike her. From the perspective of time and age, Hermione comes across as merely an insecure eleven-year-old, nervous about starting at a school where she she is an outsider (in the sense that she’s Muggle-born) and she is just…well, she’s insecure. It happens. And she has the buck teeth and that hair.
But then there’s the troll. As I’m sure you all remember, someone (::cough cough QUIRRELL cough cough::) lets a troll into the school (and this is one of the many times when Dumbledore yells something and everyone immediately shuts up, a power that I would really appreciate) and Hermione, who has run out of the Great Hall in tears, gets trapped in the bathroom with said troll. In a moment that gets called back rather brilliantly in the fifth book, Ron tosses out a Wingardium Leviosa that lifts the club out of the trolls hand. Eventually, of course, the club knocks the troll out, and then McGonagall arrives with her Minerva Fury ™ and takes off some points, but then gives some back to Harry and Ron. And, as JKR writes, there are some things you just have to be friends after, and fighting a giant troll is one of them.
After that, we get into the Main Mystery of the book. Harry had seen Hagrid go into a vault at Gringotts and remove a small package: then we learn that the vault has been broken into. But of course Gringotts is supposed to be totally secure!
After the whole Norberta business (Hagrid is a bit of a weirdo, wins a dragon off of a mysterious stranger (::cough cough Quirrell cough cough::) and then is all confused when for some reason the dragon doesn’t totally take to living in a hut and has to be sneaked (snuck?) up to the Astronomy Tower to send the dragon to Ron’s brother Charlie. Of course they are caught and then McGonagall gives them dentition and takes–gasp–ONE HUNDRED FIFTY points from her own House!)
Anyway, after that parenthetical, it’s time to get to the Real Mystery. it’s time to encounter Voldemort, folks.
Voldemort first shows up in the Forbidden Forest, when the kids are out on Dentition with Hagrid. Hagrid tells them about how someone has been killing the unicorns, and here we start with a fundamental belief of JKRs. To kill a unicorn, we learn, will keep you alive–but at a terrible cost. You will have, at best, a half life. Harry wonders why anyone would live that way, and the answer, of course, is if your name is Voldemort.
Harry comes across a shadowy figure in the forest, bent over a unicorn, sucking its silvery blood. And of course his scar hurts. Obviously, his scar hurts whenever there’s something wrong.
So then we get to the really cool part. The Trio has figured out that the Sorcerer’s Stone has been hidden inside the school, and they know that it can offer endless life. Of course, they think Snape is behind it, and no one can blame them, despite Hagrid’s continued insistence that “Professor Snape is a Hogwarts teacher!”
So they get past the three headed dog, our buddy Fluffy, by playing him music, and then they get down into the depths. After getting past Devil’s Snare, there’s the flying to find the key (Harry sees it of course–oh rats! In the first book, Harry discovers his incredible ability to fly and to be a Seeker, it is the first thing in the magical world that he feels naturally gifted at, he is the youngest Seeker in a hundred years, and after he flies into the air and catches Neville’s Remberall, which that jerk Malfoy had thrown up in the air, McGonagall makes him Seeker rather than punishing him. Oh, and the first Snitch he ever catches he does so in his mouth. This will be important later).
So he flies, finds the key. Then it’s Ron’s Time To Shine, which he does by beating McGonagall’s chess set (the twins: “that’s MY brother! MY brother who beat McGonagall’s chess set!” Hee). Ron is great in this scene. It’s the first time he really comes into his own, especially when he announces that he must be sacrificed. It’s cool, that’s all I’m saying. So he stays there, having been knocked over by the other side, and Harry and Hermione continue, because it’s her Time To Shine.
I love this part. It is brilliant, Hermione is right, to use logic rather than brute magical force. Hermione figures it out right away, while Harry is clueless. This is especially nice because the traditional logic trope is that women are way too emotional to be logical. Hermione, meanwhile, is an inherently logical creature. So is McGonagall, for that matter.
So Hermione makes Harry take the one that will take him onto the next stage and she takes the one that will bring her back to Ron (or, as Lavender would later say, Won-Won). This is when Hermione says that bravery is important. Gee, JKR, obvious much? (but I like the scene anyway, although I think Hermione is undervaluing her own skills).
Then Harry goes into the last room, where the Mirror of Erised is. OH LORD I FORGOT THE MIRROR! So Harry, who received his famous (Hallowed, you might even say) Invisibility Cloak as an anonymous Christmas gift, has taken to wearing it while exploring it the school at night. He finds the mirror and looks inside, and sees his parents. But when he brings Ron back to meet them, Ron sees himself as Quidditch captain and Head Boy. Harry’s confused until Dumbledore shows up one night with his usual Mysterious Act, and tells Harry that the Mirror of Erised shows nothing more or less than your heart’s deepest desire. (guess what desire is backwards?) Then Dumbledore says that he is moving the mirror, because focusing too much on one’s deepest desires can ruin one’s ability to actually live. So true.
So ANYWAY the Mirror of Erised is there. You know who else is there? Not Snape! It’s Quirrell, can you believe it? I couldn’t, when I first read it. But we get to the beautifully creepy description of Voldemort (“I have strength enough….for this…”) as his face pops out of Quirrell’s turban. Love that. Love.
Anyway, then Harry looks in the mirror and sees the stone gets dropped into his pocket. Then he feels something in his pocket. Guess what happened? My goodness, that Dumbledore sure is clever, isn’t he? Of course, Dumbledore will happily point that out…
So then there’s the part where we get our first hint of the whole Love Is Greater Than Evil theme, where Harry touches Voldemort/Quirrell and he basically burns up, and for the first of many (many) times Harry is knocked out and wakes up to see the lovely face of a certain Albus Dumbledore.
“What happens to you in the dungeon is a complete secret, so, natural, the whole school knows,” Dumbledore says cheerfully as he visits Harry in the Hospital Wing where poor Potter will be spending a great deal of time. Then there’s the Fred and George wanted to send him a toilet seat thing, and the Bertie Botts thing…
Oh yea, and the yes that was Voldemort thing, and the your mother transferred some love to you and so Voldemort couldn’t bear your touch thing.
And THEN there’s the final banquet, during which Dumbledore makes his announcement. I love his announcement. First he gives Ron fifty points for the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has ever seen and Hermione fifty points for cool logic in the face of fire. Then sixty to Harry for pure courage and outstanding nerve. At this point, they are tied with Slytherin for the House Cup. And then Dumbledore, bless him, says that it takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies–and a great deal to stand up to your friends. And then awards Neville Longbottom ten points, and Harry and his buddies win the House Cup.
And then Harry has to go home. And thus ends the beginning of a beautiful epic.