The Philosopher's Stone
In Brief: A school tale with magical embellishments; the friendship between the main characters.
Series: Harry Potter
Published in: 1997
Age Range: General
Setting: Hogwarts School for Witchcraft & Wizardry
- Harry Potter is the hero who discovers after 11 years with his grotesque relatives that he is enrolled as a pupil at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft & Wizardry.
- Harry's best friend is Ron Weasley the youngest son of a large & poor wizarding family and who stands by him throughout the difficulties of his first year at Hogwarts.
- Hermione Granger is the class know-it-all whose friendship with Harry & Ron, prickly at first, is cemented after they save her from a mountain troll.
- Draco Malfoy is the rich son of a snobbish pure-blood wizarding family who fosters a bitter rivalry with Harry Potter.
- The headmaster of Hogwarts is Albus Dumbledore, wise and powerful who combines a dignified manner with a gentle sense of humour.
- Rubeus Hagrid is Hogwarts' gigantic gamekeeper, cheerful, loyal, a little careless and prone to taking in monstrous creatures to look after them.
Harry Potter is an eleven-year-old orphan living with his uncle and aunt Mr & Mrs Dursley and his cousin Dudley. He believes that his parents were killed in a car crash when he was one. The Dursleys maltreat him appallingly, keeping him locked in a cupboard and dressing him in cast-offs. He is, nonetheless, a well-balanced boy to whom strange things sometimes happen. Eventually he is found by Hagrid, a half-giant, who tells Harry that he is a wizard of wizard parents who is to go to Hogwarts School of Wizardry.
At the school, Harry makes friends and enemies among pupils and teachers. He is no more than average at most subjects, but finds that he's a natural broomstick rider which gets him onto the house team for Quidditch, most popular sport in the wizarding world. He and his friends learn that the Philosopher's Stone is being hidden at the school by the headmaster Albus Dumbledore and they manage to prevent it from falling into the hands of Lord Voldemort who was stripped of his power when he failed to kill Harry 10 years ago.
See The Harry Potter Series for general comments.
NB For reasons which elude me, the publishers saw fit to change the title of this book in the American market, calling it “The Sorceror's Stone”.
At one level, this is a children's adventure book of a fairly formulaic variety: orphaned boy finds a hidden aspect to his life, goes to school, makes friends, makes enemies, gets on the school team, foils an evil plot and defeats the chief bad guy. It could be the line up for a 1950s film.
And yet... something in all this line-up has made for the most popular book (and series) in the history of children's fiction and fiction in general. In case you weren't aware, at one point the three books then in the series occupied all 10 positions in Amazon's top 10 book sales, by virtue of different editions and talking books and so on. It is very difficult to put one's finger on this formula for success. Indeed this first book was rejected by many publishers before Bloomsbury, a small house, took a chance on it.
One obvious point of attraction is the veneer of the magical world, running parallel with ours and clearly touching it in many areas, which overlays the plain wood of the old school story formula. Harry and his friends study Transfiguration, not Maths, Potions, not Chemistry, and they play Quidditch on Broomsticks, not football. All these aspects of Harry's life are wittily depicted without interfering with the run of the story.
Another undoubted appeal is that of the friendships within the story, and in particular that of Harry, Ron & Hermione. They have their ups and downs but the reader has the confidence that they'll stick together. Likewise the simplicity of Albus Dumbledore, the mentor character, analagous to Gandalf of Lord of the Rings fame or to Merriman in The Dark is Rising. The reader feels secure in the knowledge that here lies power and wisdom but without ostentation or arrogance.
While the whole book is, in a way, about magic, the author manages not to give it too much importance. It is, perhaps, an all-embracing plot device. There's an amount of school rule-breaking, by Harry and by others, some of which goes unpunished, indeed condoned by the headmaster but none of it seems to be cause for any concern.
Albus Dumbledore got to his feet. He was beaming at the students, his arms opened wide as if nothing could have pleased him more than to see them all there. 'Welcome!' he said. 'Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you! He sat back down. Everybody clapped and cheered. Harry didn't know whether to laugh or not. 'Is he - a bit mad?' he asked Percy uncertainly. 'Mad?' said Percy airily. 'He's a genius
Tuesday 1st January 2002