It is hard to put into words the influence that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has had on my life. Exactly twenty years ago, in 1997, I was an eleven year old girl who had just started Secondary School. In the school library, I spotted a story about a boy my age, who was really a wizard and got to go to Hogwarts, a school for witches and wizards. The front cover drew me in and I couldn’t wait to read it. I was the first person to borrow this book from the school library and from that moment on, I was captivated by the universe that J.K. Rowling had created. I wished that Hogwarts really existed and that I could go. It is Rowling’s book that ignited my passion for reading, which has stayed with me since.
Fast forward to 2017. Harry Potter is now a global phenomenon. It has been adapted into many films, stage productions, theme parks, and has spawned the a spin off film (soon to have a sequel). It was impossible, twenty years ago, to predict that Professor McGonagall’s words in the opening chapter would become the truth… “every child in our world will know his name!”. Even the people who have not read any of the Harry Potter books will have at least heard of it. It has become increasingly hard to miss. Harry Potter has become an integral part of British literary culture, and has catapulted into a global franchise since the turn of the twenty-first century.
For those few who have not read the book, it features an orphaned boy, Harry Potter, living with his negligent aunt and uncle, who make him sleep in the cupboard under the stairs. Harry’s parents were killed by an evil wizard, Voldemort, when he was a baby. Voldemort tried to kill Harry but the curse backfired, vanquishing the dark lord and leaving Harry with a lightning shaped scar on his forehead. Harry was left an orphan, living a miserable life with his aunt and uncle who dote on their own son and ignore Harry. Harry’s life improves when a giant, Hagrid, arrives to inform Harry that he is a wizard and has been enrolled into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry, and the reader, is then propelled into the wizarding world, hidden from normal people (Muggles). Harry goes to Hogwarts, where he makes friends, learns to fly a broomstick, learns spells and enchantments and meets mythical creatures and monsters.
A lot of the criticism of the Harry Potter series is that it is written in simple language, which is somehow seen as a way to demean the book. However, it is impossible to ignore that these books have been loved by adults and children alike for decades. The fact that Rowling inspired a whole generation of children to read, myself included, has to be noted. Rowling deserves a lot of credit for creating a book that has remained a staple of children’s literature for the last twenty years, these books have been some of the best selling books of all time. Yes, the language is simplified, but that’s because the target audience for this book was children. It was never written for adults. Rowling also deserves a lot of credit for coining hundreds of words in this series, for example, Muggles and Quidditch. Even the spells she invents, derived from Latin, are worthy of recognition. She creates a whole wizarding language which is seamless and instantly understandable to the reader.
The environments, creatures and characters which Rowling creates are, forgive the pun, magical. The school of Hogwarts seems like a character in itself, with its wonderful elements; changing staircases, enchanted forests and ghosts. The magical creatures Rowling embeds into her story are ones that we are all familiar with; unicorns, centaurs, dragons and trolls. But once again, Rowling gives them a life of their own. Most wonderful of all are the characters she creates. There are stock characters throughout this book; the evil bully, Malfoy being one of them, but she gives them a multidimensional quality and they never seem boring or overworked. Ron and Hermione, Harry’s best friends, are the key characters in this book and I don’t think the series could ever work without them. Ron is much more than just the ‘sidekick’, and Hermione is much more than just a ‘bookworm’. These characters hold their own and become role models for the readers. Growing up, Hermione was always my role model, making me see that reading is important in life. Hermione has remained a strong female role model in the film adaptations. Emma Watson is an equally wonderful role model for young women, and her being a UN ambassador for women’s rights is incredible.
Harry, the protagonist, I like less than Ron and Hermione. I think he is definitely carried through the series by his friends. I find him quite a dull, annoying character who is surrounded by much more interesting characters. I may be being harsh but sometimes I want to reach into the book and slap him and shout at him (SPOILER ALERT) ‘It’s not Snape!!’. However, the most infuriating character in this novel is Peeves. I am glad that he features less as the series continues, and really glad he was cut out of the films. He is so unbelievably childish and annoying. But I suppose it may teach children to laugh at poltergeists, rather than be terrified of them, as I was at a young age (and still am).
Annoying characters aside, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a great book for children. It uses the standard ‘good vs evil’ framework but never lectures children with overt morals. It is a great adventure into a wonderfully rich, magical world which Rowling beautifully creates. With a lovely mix of adventure, humour, magic and terror, it is a truly enjoyable read. Reading it back again as an adult, certain points shout out as being important to the future series (the fact that Harry has a feeling that Snape can read minds) and lovely details which stand out when you have read the whole series, such as James’ wand being ‘excellent for transfiguration’.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the most influential book I have ever read. It shaped who I am as a person. It kick started my love for reading, it had a profound effect on the genre of books I love the most; fantasy. Harry Potter has been a huge part of my life for the last twenty years. I am sure I am not the only reader who feels this. Rowling inspired many generations, mine included, and deserves a lot of credit for it. Her Harry Potter series has had a huge influence on many children’s lives and an even bigger influence on children’s literature. The fact that she hasn’t been knighted a Dame is sad for someone who created a British cultural icon who has been turned into a global phenomenon.
RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐