Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K.Rowling
Created: Mon Mar 22 18:27:04 2010 | Last modified: Mon Mar 22 18:27:04 2010
Well here we go. At last I got around to reading a Harry Potter book (having already seen this movie though), so here's my review. Since Harry Potter is quite a well-known character, I'll skip the introductions and go straight to my impressions of this book.
This book was tough to read when I first started. In fact, I put it down several times before getting through the first ten pages or so. It appears as though J.K.Rowling had a tough time deciding how to introduce the famous kid wizard, Harry Potter, to the world.
The one fact that strikes you immediately is that J.K.Rowling is as unsubtle as you can get: her writing style is straight and simple. You're either white or black with no shades of grey inbetween. So we are introduced immediately to the Harry's terrible aunt and uncle whose treatment of Harry Potter would make Oliver Twist feel almost as though he were in heaven. To Dumbledore the great and good wizard: the headmaster of Hogwarts. To Voldemort the evil and dark wizard who is the enemy of Harry Potter and the rest of society. There are no complexities in character at all and that allows Rowling to develop her story with lightning quick speed unhindered by emotions. That speed is both an asset and a problem.
The world of Harry Potter is created by Rowling with such serious intent that after a while, the Muggle (non-magic, normal human beings) world almost seems unreal. There is little doubt that Rowling is dead serious about her story, something that immediately differentiates her from Enid Blyton who, in spite of writing fantasy fiction, managed to keep her stories suited for the pre-teenage group. Not so with J.K.Rowling.
Having said that 'Philosopher's stone' develops very quickly into a suspense filled thriller as Harry Potter gets his feet wet in the world of magic: with the game of Quidditch which is the equivalent of football in the magical world, teachers like Snape and McGonnagal, his new friends Ron and Hermione and also with master Dumbledore himself. J.K.Rowling builds up her world with great detail as we learn of the different subjects and systems involved in magic, the levels which have been attained by senior wizards and so on. Her system is complete by the time you get through half the book.
The story builds up to a brilliant climax and leaves the reader turning pages furiously to get to the ultimate clash: the one between Harry and his arch-enemy, Voldemort. There is a surprise climax and that I will not reveal here.
One of the few things about 'philosopher's stone' is that the story is rather lacking in humour: something that strikes you very quickly, even in the first few pages. J.K.Rowling quickly weaves her charm, but she is unable to rise above her own creation and laugh at it: something that greater authors have been able to achieve. As a result, her characters and situations are rather more heavy than she would probably have liked. Also her characterization is wafer-thin, so you are not really emotionally attached to the hero, in this case, Harry Potter. She is a great teller of tales with a great imagination, but her work lacks in emotional depth: something that the movie managed to reflect as well.
In the end, Harry Potter's first book "philosopher's stone" comes off as a good read and nothing more. Every character in the story remains a cut-out caricature. Harry's "muggle" uncle, aunt and nephew are perfect examples of this. Even Enid Blyton's characters in series like 'Famous Five' and 'Secret Seven' had more depth. While managing to create a parallel universe, Rowling forgets the human beings involved. Even Harry's dead parents evoke no sympathy and repeated references to 'You Know Who' (Voldemort) keep getting more and more irritating. Nothing scary about him if you ask me except that he's supposed to be the most feared dark wizard around.
I might have come off sounding more than critical of Rowling, but I must admit that this book demands your attention simply because of the strong story-line. Humour could have lightened the story a great deal, but the lack of it doesn't hinder it in any way. The story gets stronger and stronger from the beginning to the end and rattles along at a furious pace. Sure, the parts where Harry's Hogwarts experiences are narrated do slow down the story, but they don't stop the flow completely.
I rate this book 4/5. It missed out on a full 5 rating simply because of the lack of characterization and the lack of humour - both qualities which would have raised this book to a higher plane altogether.