First of all - Happy Birthday to Emma Watson!
Last month I officially commenced The Harry Potter Book Club. Over the past 30+ days, a good handful of us began to read (or reread) these delightful books, and I am here to review and discuss The Sorcerer's Stone with you all. I tried my best to read this book with an entirely fresh perspective, going back in time to 1997 when this volume was brand new and the story was a puzzle of exciting mystery and anticipation.
This is just a general collection of my impressions and thoughts, so feel free to use them as a jumping point for our discussion. You can also go way off course and share absolutely anything you want from this reading experience!
I hate to state the obvious, but SPOILERS ABOUND. If you have never read this book, I feel sad. But this is a spoiler-filled review.
Albus Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. He was beaming at the students, his arms open 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!
1. First Impressions
are sometimes the most important. Were you able to finish the book this month? If so, what did you think? What did you think of J. K. Rowling's writing style? Answers vary depending on whether it's a first-time read or a reread, but I'd love to hear your initial thoughts.
Questions: What was going through your head the moment you finished the last page? Who is your favorite character so far? If it's your first time reading, do you feel compelled to continue? If it's not, did anything specifically jump out at you this time around?
2. Fear and Jealousy
can be so destructive and ugly. They can rot a person to their very core. I remember vehemently hating the Dursleys when I read these books the first time, and it wasn't until I finished the series that I realized how sorry I felt for them. There's a very complex family dynamic that's going on here that isn't completely realized until the last book. I'm paying much closer attention to them this time around.
The biggest thing that jumped out at me this time around is this: you have to wonder why Dumbledore really left Harry there, instead of with a wizarding family that would have loved and cherished him. The Dursleys' relationship with Harry has always been driven mainly by fear and jealousy, and while it's a horrid thing to watch, it also exposes impressive and important qualities in Harry that seem to be inherent from the beginning: bravery, humility, goodness, fairness, hope. Could that have been Dumbledore's purpose all along?
Questions: Did you secretly wish the snake had taken a bite out of Dudley before escaping the zoo? Do you think Dumbledore left Harry with the Dursleys to build character and shield him from a childhood of entitlement and excess? How do you think Harry managed to maintain such noble character traits while living beneath the stairs (and beyond)?
3. A Huge Life Change
very rarely comes in the form of a giant man breaking down your door and declaring, "Yer a wizard, Harry!" but when it does, it makes for great reading. I absolutely adore the shack-on-a-stormy-rock scene, because the Dursleys finally get scared spitless and Harry finally learns about the secret we've been dying to tell him since page 1. The introduction to the wizarding world is pretty overwhelming for the poor boy. It's even worse when he has to leave it again to go back to his dull and miserable life with the Dursleys until the school year starts!
On a side note, Hagrid's life story seems awfully tragic to me. He was expelled from Hogwarts, and apparently in the wizarding world that means you never get another chance to legally practice magic. You are trapped in a magic-less life forever. Granted, he doesn't strictly adhere to that rule...but doesn't it seem a tad extreme that an 11 year old could get into mischief at school and end up exiled forever?
Questions: How easy/difficult is it for you to read the supernatural/magical? How do you feel about the fact that Hagrid was expelled from Hogwarts, and is never allowed to use magic again?
4. Harry's First Choices
about who to spend his time with arrive early on in his introduction to the wizarding world. He spent 11 years in the forced company of the Dursleys, never having the time or the means to build other relationships. Luckily he has great instincts, and thus the trio was born. He was also able to immediately recognize Dursley-esque characteristics in others, and knew he wanted no more of that.
He has a keen eye, perhaps paying more attention to the needs of others to make up for all of the years that he was undervalued and ignored. He is naturally attracted to other possible outcasts, in which he is able to see the strengths that he desires and admires. Hermione, the brilliant muggle-born, and Ron, the loyal boy from a poor family, become his core. Although Hermione doesn't actually join the boys until chapter 10, after earning their immediate dislike for her know-it-all tendencies. But as J. K. Rowling writes in chapter 7, "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."
5. The Mirror of Erised
is an incredibly poignant segment of this book. I was reminded that this isn't necessarily a book just for children, as much as it is a story about children. The series grows along with the reader. There are many intricate tragedies in this book (including the worst detention ever concocted, like whoa). The loss of innocence (unicorn blood), the Mirror, facing death. Harry encounters all of these and despite them or because of them he is more emboldened than ever to stand firm against the dark side. The more I think about the Mirror, the sadder I feel. It's the very first time Harry is able to see his parents. Until Hagrid gives him a scrapbook of his parents at the end of the book (sob!), he had never even seen a photograph of them.
This chapter also brings us one of the best Dumbledore quotes: "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." For those of you who have seen the movies, I would like to announce that the real Dumbledore of the books is quirky, strange, mysterious, magical, and wonderful in every way. He is not mean, he is not creepy, he does not scream or throttle people. He is definitely my favorite character to reread. That is all.
6. The Mystery of Snapeis one of the greatly debated Harry Potter universe subjects. Is he good or evil? Either way, I think it's fairly clear that even though he saves Harry's life a time or two in this book, he also goes out of his way to make Harry's life miserable in the meantime. Despite the fact that Harry's father James has been dead for 11 years, Snape takes it upon himself to continue dishing out his pent up wrath on his only child. We get some explanation from Dumbledore at the end, but it doesn't provide a lot of comfort, to me or to Harry.
"Well, they did rather detest each other. Not unlike yourself and Mr. Malfoy. And then, your father did something Snape could never forgive."
"He saved his life."
"Yes..." said Dumbledore dreamily. "Funny, the way people's minds work, isn't it? Professor Snape couldn't bear being in your father's debt.... I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father's memory in peace...."
Harry tried to understand this but it
made his head pound, so he stopped.
7. The Ending!
J. K. Rowling does a mighty fine job of weaving together a story. She brings a lot of elements full-circle, including the Mirror of Erised and the various personal talents of the trio that allows them to successfully navigate the puzzles and charms that lead to the Sorcerer's Stone.
This book is really about laying the groundwork for the kind of hero Harry is going to be, and how he's going to empower himself by choosing goodness and love instead of power in and of itself. Quirrell says, "There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it." He's immediately proven wrong when Harry demonstrates that the power he has within is greater than anything Quirrell (or Voldemort) could ever know.
"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason.
It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
Dumbledore now became very interested in a bird out on the windowsill, which gave Harry time to dry his eyes on the sheet.
Questions: Were you surprised when the stuttering, turban-wearing Quirrell turned out to be the one who was after the Sorcerer’s Stone? Was there anything in the plot that led you to suspect him? Was there a particularly heartfelt moment in the book that got to you?
Thanks for joining our Harry Potter Book Club for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone!!
Share your thoughts below, but be careful of spoilers if it's your first time through this series because there are a few. If you've read them/seen them before and are commenting, try to only mention plot points from this book and avoid big series-wide spoilers. Thanks!!
The next review will be up on the blog one month from today, on May 15th, in celebration of Professor Sprout's birthday. See you then!
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