This is a Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Review. My background when it comes to wizarding is that I missed out on Harry Potter entirely during my childhood. Last year, at the age of nineteen, I watched the first two movies. But this isn’t about that, this is about the book.
I just finished the first Harry Potter book, the first of Harry Potter that I’d ever read.
What’s to come is a fairly mixed review, and I know fandoms can get very hairy, so if you don’t like hearing the bad parts about the Harry Potter book, you might want to skip this review.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Okay, so let me start by saying I did end up enjoying this piece, but that it took far too much work to get to the good parts. Specifically, it took eight chapters before the book actually had me interested. You might argue that that’s an average time, about halfway into the book before the rising action begins to become noticeable. You’d be absolutely right about that. In fact, in one book that I’m very fond of, Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, it takes about 70% of the book for things to finally start to pick up. I’m now going to explain the difference between Harry Potter and Guards! Guards! when it comes to characters.
In Guards! Guards!, the characters are all very interesting and unusual. Harry Potter and his friends are all fairly normal. Even though they’re wizards, they can only use their powers in Hogwarts where magic is normal. None of the characters have many defining traits except Hermione, who is an intelligent and assertive girl. I like that in a character, so I’m not complaining, but because I’m comparing, I’ll talk about Carrot.
Carrot is a burly and tall young man who thought he was a dwarf for most of his life. His dwarf father broke the news to him one day and said he should go to the city and be with other humans. Like all dwarfs, Carrot follows the law to the exact word. He ends up become a watchman, and the lazy night watch have a very difficult time trying to inform him that they don’t really arrest anyone for minor crimes… or for any crimes. They just walk around at night and try not to get hurt by the thugs and shady characters present in the city. See, Carrot has a lot of interesting parts, and sensible motivations and he’s not even the main character. He does end up arresting many jaywalkers and other offenders of even the smallest rule, because he is so dwarfish.
See, even Hermione, the most interesting Harry Potter character doesn’t come close to having that kind of development or uniqueness. Maybe it was because the children are supposed to be relatable. It doesn’t help that every single female character has “authoritative” as a personality trait. Name one carefree female character in the Philosopher’s Stone. I mean, there’s Ron and his twin brothers, but they’re boys.
Harry Potter is very hard to get a read on. He’s not timid or bland, which is nice. In fact, thinking about him now, I don’t have much to complain about. What he does usually makes sense, and he’s rather brave. I appreciate that in a main character, braveness. I think he might develop into a very compelling character in future books, but for now it’s very hard to get a good read on him.
I think it’s only specifically said once, but Harry Potter is considered a chosen one. I’m certain he will become the only one who can stand against Voldemort in the future. He’s very famous for having survived an attack from Voldemort. I don’t consider it all that amazing, but luckily neither does Harry Potter. The problem with the chosen one is that they’re destined to succeed. It can really kill a lot of tension.
I think I’ll put all the fantasy elements here too. So, there are a lot of generic fantasy elements in Harry Potter. Dragons, wizards, witches, centaurs, potions, spells, enchanted castles with secret passages, an old man as head wizard… I don’t really have to spell it out for you. Honestly, I don’t like the use of tropes and archetypes, it strikes me as lazy. However, there are some stories that use them very well as tools. Harry Potter stands somewhere in the middle.
I also think it should be noted that not a lot of narratives actually use fantasy elements like this. Rowling uses fantasy tropes normally. Dragons breathe fire and fly. Wizards cast spells. Brooms fly. Honestly, I can’t think of any work of fiction that has used these elements in such a normal way. Everyone’s always trying to mess with them and put a new spin, but not here. It’s admirable, but I still would prefer original content.
A lot of Harry Potter’s actions were reactionary. Things happened to him, and he reacted. The only time he was really doing things out of his own motivation was at the end when he raced to get the stone. I guess also with the mirror. But the rest of the book, he was mostly having things happen to him. It felt like, amazed that he was about being a wizard, he was being dragged along the plot as opposed to leading it. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’ll change in the future. But for now, I think it bogged down the book as a whole.
As a side note, I think that Harry Potter really has to stop getting into trouble for things he didn’t really do. It’s annoying more than anything, and it continues in the second book, and possibly it’s worse.
Here are some other small things that bugged me.
Quidditch is a sport made to be read, not played. Let me explain the game from a writer’s perspective. Quidditch is a game with seven players on each team. Six of those players basically play a joke game, a game that has nearly no value in the outcome. Then the last player on the team chases the snitch. Whoever gets the snitch wins. So far, throughout the whole first book and the first game in the second book, whoever has caught the snitch has won. What’s the point of goals worth ten points if the snitch is worth one hundred and fifty? Why not just hit bludgers at the enemy team, and hold the quaffle until your seeker get’s the snitch? It’s funny, because J.K. Rowling also admitted she got tired of writing this sport. “To be honest with you, Quidditch matches have been the bane of my life in the Harry Potter books.” It’s just not all that.
I really didn’t think Gryffindor should have won the cup at the end. They should either have tied or lost by ten points. I don’t think you should get points for doing plot stuff, really. There’s enough school time that you could get points the normal way. What’s more, I think it would have been a great, “I’ll get them next time” kind of moment for the second book. (Although, I don’t know if she knew she was getting a second book.)
Finally, I don’t know about you but I found the fact that Harry saved the day with the power of love to be a bit cheesy.
I was listening to the audiobook. When I’m home, most of the time I’m writing on this blog or eating, or showering, or playing games… I’m sure you understand. I had started reading it, got through four chapters of a regular book, but then I found out about the audiobook. I can listen to music at my job you see. So the wonderful benefit is that I get through a book in about two days, so everything is fresh when I write the review.
So all that said, I actually enjoyed the novel after chapter eight. I was hooked, waiting for my next chance to get back to work, and therefore the book, during my lunch break. I’ve always preferred adult fiction, even when I was younger. Before grade nine I read authors like Michael Scott (Secrets of the Immortal), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), C.S. Lewis (Narnia), Jeanne Betancourt (Pony Pals) and many many of the great illustrated classics. During and after ninth grade, I made a hard switch to adult fiction, Michael Crichton (Jurrasic Park), Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), and Terry Pratchett (Discworld). I still read Crichton, shame he’s no longer alive. Harry Potter is a bit outside my regular pool of books.
Finally, I’m not a kid anymore, and this is a book for children. However, I don’t know that that’s a really good reason, as there are still children’s novels that I find interesting. (Narnia is still nice.)
So, while this is an opinion, I’ve brought up a lot of factual points, so something to consider at least. I don’t think it’s fair to judge the series by the first book. I heard it doesn’t get good until the third or fourth book, which is worse in many ways than having two books in a row that don’t pick up until the eight chapters.
Score? Well, I like to rate out of 100 as out of ten or five gets messy. So, I’d give Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a 62/100. Good but not great. Gripping, but no page turner. Lots of potential that I’m certain will deliver in the future.
As you might be able to tell, I love reviewing things. Books, movies, games, anything really. There’s a very good chance I will finish the series and review every single Harry Potter book. In fact, you have my word. Here’s the next review!
P.S. For some fiction, check out Alice and Finch, it’s also about children.
Interested in getting the book yourself? You can buy it here, Philosopher’s Stone (Amazon Affiliate)