Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Why did I pick it up?

Everyone else in the world has read it and there isn't a website you can go to that won't eventually contain some mention of Harry Potter. Go to iwastesomuchtime.com and you'll find Potter-heads talking about the books and thanking Rowling. Go to fmylife.com and you'll find people complaining about their lovers dragging them to movie premiers or conventions. The cheezburger conglomerate of websites has one fully dedicated to Harry Potter and it's mentioned in RageComics, WebComics and various others. Hell, there's a site associated with "Taste of Awesome" that has "Taste of Harry Potter" with memes and other stuff.

I ignored the entire explosion for as long as humanly possible. I didn't even buy the books until last year and even so they were from a used bookstore. For some reason it took a while to find the second book. I would have read it sooner but I was in the middle of ploughing through the Song of Ice and Fire series then became series-overloaded and read a bunch of stand-alones.

I finally cracked open the spine of Philosopher's Stone because I didn't want to continue in what I thought was a stand-alone but turned out to be book 1 of 7. Anyway, I started it on National Reading Day (Jan 24) while waiting to meet up with a friend and finished it Sunday Jan 25 in the morning.

Before we continue let it be known I am forming these opinions from (sort of) two points of view: 1) An avid reader who's lost count somewhere around book 2000 of how much she's actually read 2) A first time reader. Big difference of opinion between the two? Yep. Shall we?

The Review of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling:

If you don't know what this series is about by now then dig yourself out from under your rock and Google it. I kid. The book opens with the celebration of Voldemort disappearing through the eyes of the Muggle family the Dursley's. We find out the Potters are related to the Dursley's through Petunia Dursley. The Potters die and Harry is left on the doorstep of the Dursley household by Hagrid in thanks to Dumbledore.

Harry grows up as most kids do but he's forced to live in a cupboard, is barely allowed food, and isn't allowed anything his annoyingly spoiled rotten cousin Dudley is allowed. I took a step back here and thought that someone in this poor kid's school should have noticed some form abuse but it was never mentioned.

I mean, Harry was wearing hand-me-downs that obviously didn't fit him, was being beat up, had glasses that were taped together and was half-starved. You would think a teacher might have become suspicious of something. But no, Harry lives in Hell until his 11th birthday.

Then the letters are delivered. And delivered. And delivered which was freaking hilarious. Vernon's attempts to prevent Harry from finding out he's a wizard are comical and the (second) introduction of Hagrid is awesome.

Harry realizing he's a wizard and the entire scene about buying his supplies and getting to Hogwarts was well described. The magic has rules, it has to be taught, their are different veins of it, and it's complex. It's a good magic system and works for the book.

Admittedly I knew kind of how the book ends and who the minor bad guy was. It was still cleverly hidden under the guise of Snape being the one out to get Harry during Harry's first year at Hogwarts. Another thing that bugged me is the simple fact of people saying Harry convinced the Sorting Hat to put him in Gryffindor. All Harry did was think "Anything but Slytherin" and the Hat said "Oh, okay, Gryffindor then." There was no convincing and no arguing between the two.

You can kind of guess someone is leading Harry along in the discovery of who's trying to swipe the philosopher's stone and how he finds out in the first place. We find out it was all Dumbledore in the end which I suspected. It still made for an entertaining read, especially watching these kids figure things out and put the pieces together.

It did strike me as odd to remember these kids are only 11. Hermione seems way too brilliant to be only 11. And magic or not, what school let's kids wander about without guides when there's a random missing stair in the middle of a stairwell? It seemed at times the group was more akin to middle or later teens than pre-teen, especially Harry's reactions when facing the mini-bad.

Harry being as good as a kid who's been on a broom most of his life is unbelievable. Natural or not there should be some stumbling about, some kind of fear, something when Harry gets on the broom the first time to get back Neville's dropped rem...stone thing. Sorry, I suck with names. Harry being able to control a broom because his father was a natural is like saying the kids of Nascar racers can get into a Nascar racing car and have no issues even though they've never driven. Ain't gunna happen no matter how good your parent is.

Harry being given a flute by Hagrid when there's no indication Harry even plays music is too convenient when it so happens the flute is the object that stops Fluffy from attacking them. Also, what 11 year old who's never held a flute knows how to play it well enough to subdue a Cerberus? The fact two 11 year olds can do it is too neatly bowed. I would have rather one of them know a spell for putting the creature to sleep then just happen to know how to play a flute a mentor just happened to give them.

Then the school year passing so damned quickly with no real mentions of a lot of the spells they learn or how Harry's adjusting to magic life. There's not even a whole "OMFG WHAT!?" panic scene. I don't care who you are or how young you are: you see magic for the first time and you're gunna freak out for a while.

What also throws me off is some of the names. You have two main males as Harry and Ron. Normal, simple syllables, easy to pronounce. The main female? Hermione. The Hell? I'm not 100% sure I'm saying it right in my head. Why does it have so many more letters than the other two? If this is the case, shouldn't she be the hero, not Harry?

With the simplicity of Harry and Ron, we've got names like Vernon, Petunia, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Neville, and Seamus. There are other simple names like Draco and Snape but if we really wanted a contrast between the trio of heroes and the others Hermione's name should be more like Harry or Ron.

And yes, I do get some of the names not matching up because wizards/witches vs muggles but Hermione comes from a family of non-wizards. Harry's parents were both magical. Ron's whole family is magical. And yet other wizards are Albus, Severus, and Quirinus Quirrell. The HELL? I'm also leaning towards Quirrell being killed because wow, that name would've pissed me off to keep writing it over and over.

Would I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone again?

Yeah, probably. It is enchanting and funny.

The Negatives

Besides the aforementioned naming, the disbelief of Harry master a broom so quick, and the disbelief at times that these kids are 11: I can't think of anything. So, off we go to Amazon to see what those 1-star review said.

There are A LOT of negatives about Pottermore which is a little disturbing. Something so huge and directly connected to the author should not be giving buyers such issues. There are some translation issues which is again, bad research on someone's part. One review said the book was too long. At 309 pages, um, no, it's about average. Any shorter and it'd lose the descriptions entirely and those descriptions are what make the book magical.

One review said the characters were too stereotypical and the plot was ripped off from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Fair enough. I dare said reviewer to find me a book that isn't ripped off from some other book in some way though. I also dare said review to find me a book without stereotypes in any sense of the word. Stereotypes are stereotypes because in some instances they're completely true.

We've all known the preppy, know-it-all nerdy girl in school. I was one. The fat kid being the evil jerk? Yeah, there were some over-weight boys in elementary who were jerks and greedy. It does annoy me that Dudley is pictured as dark haired in the movies when it so obviously says he's blonde in the books.

Other reviews said the books were boring and like most other wizardly stories out there. JK Rowling is an average author with a typical story and that's fine. She wrote the right book at the right time for the right audience and became famous. One in a million chance and it took. I say good for her.

The concept that seems to irk most reviewers is the fact Harry lied, disobeyed rules, and did "bad guy" things to save the world. Yeah, cuz heroes can't do bad. How many times have the Avengers destroyed a city to save it? How many times have good guys kept a secret in order to save the world? We all know how horrible Dr. Greg House was but people LOVED his character and he saved people.

Also, Harry's 11. He's totally allowed to hate the people who hate him or treat him wrong. Saying he can't hate his enemies is ridiculous. Having the entire book in Harry's perspective? Uh, yeah, why not? His name's the one in the title, what did you expect? No we're not going to see Draco, or Ron or Hermione's perspective because THEY are not what the book is about. Though I am sure there was a perspective shift to Hermione when Harry almost fell off his broom in Quiddich. No way would Harry have seen Hermione going after Snape to stop him from jinx-ing Harry's broom.

I do agree with one reviewer in saying the villains all seem completely unredeemable. There's no gray-area when it comes to the villains but apparently Snape is a pretty good guy even though he's evil. Plus this is only book one so nothing is solid yet.

Final review: 2/5 for avid readers out of the age bracket. Some things were too unbelievable (flute and broom handling), the names threw me off, and the story itself was kind of, eh. Entertaining yes. There were some good one-liners and nice comic relief ("But there's no wood!" *snickers*). For intended audience and non-avid readers: 4/5.

Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.

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