Reading my way through the first installment of Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was kind of a weird experience this time around. Shortly after the first three books came out (you fans remember – the ETERNITY that seemed to pass between the third and fourth book) I devoured all three of the first books probably a dozen times each. I was enamored. And I still am, but its been a few years since I actually sat down to read all the books from the beginning and it just felt…different.
When I first read Harry Potter, I was in a kind of awe. I’ve always liked to read, and I love stories, but suddenly here was a book that just took me to a whole different place. It was like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe but better because it was somehow more real. Harry and Co. didn’t have to go to a magical land – theirs was the flip side of my world. H0gwarts could exist. Kings Cross is a real place. So it made me believe, even more so, that Harry’s story could be my story. Which is a feeling I’ll always carry in my heart towards these books.
But, on this go around, being almost 23, there was something else lurking below this nostalgic surface and pure adoration. I was noticing things that were bothering me. J.K. Rowling’s writing style definitely matured with her books (some say be the natural process of writing, some say she planned it that way in order to ‘mature’ her books along with her readers) and this one felt like a book meant to be read in middle elementary. The blunt lines of story telling were effective, but not as moving as some of the parts in her later stories. And the characters all seemed…different. There was Ron, being bratty to Hermione, Hermione being a know-it-all, and Harry when he was still so innocent as to be somewhat cloying. It was hard to read them this way, and find them slightly annoying in their faults, knowing what was coming ahead of them and knowing what great fictional people they grow in to. Perhaps this is why I always avoid going back to the very beginning of the series when I do re-reads. I tend to start with the fourth book, occasionally the third.
There are a lot of great things, too, about going back and re-reading Sorcerer’s Stone. Something that I never would have noticed before, but now can’t stop noticing, is just how well Rowling used names to set up the scope of her story in a book of only a few hundred pages. Want to know the bad guys? Draco = dragon.
Lucius = Lucifer (I just realized Lucius technically doesn’t arrive until the second book, but still). Malfoy = MALfoy (‘mal’ meaning bad in almost every language). The good guys? Harry and a family full of people named Arthur and George – English monarchy, anyone? No, the name association thing doesn’t work for every character, but there is definitely something to be said about the subtlety. In addition, Rowling does some of her funniest work in name puns (a herbology teacher named Sprout!? A book about poisons by someone named Jigger? Yeah, that’s good stuff!), some of which I was able to pick up on even as a kid. I think it indicates a certain amount of respect for the intelligence of children, to use tools like these to provide insight instead of just saying “Draco Malfoy was a bad, bad boy”.
All in all, I really enjoyed going back to read The Sorcerer’s Stone (you’ll notice that a summary is rather conspicuously missing, mostly because I’m assuming most of you have read the books, seen the movies, or heard from friends. Just in case this is a false assumption: Harry is treated bad at home. He finds out he’s a wizard. He goes to wizard school, cool stuff happens, and he has his first of many show-downs with Ultimate Evil Lord Voldemort) if for no other reason than it has allowed me to appreciate just how much better the later books get.
To end, because I just can’t help myself and because they just look like such wee-babies: