Something you need to know about me is that if it says Harry Potter on the cover, I AM THERE. I’m the biggest fan of the books. If you haven’t read them (either out of ignorance or rebellion), you really should check them out. Be careful around Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, though. It was written at a stage when “here be dragons” still littered JK Rowling’s storytelling maps, and it’s a bit more child oriented than the rest.
Harry Potter is a 10 year old kid who, unknown to himself, is a wizard. He ekes out a fairly shitty existence with the Dursley family. They say his biological parents died in a motorcycle accident, but of course it was something far more sinister than that. He uses his magical powers on occasion, always in uncontrollable outbursts (they seem to be like the wizard version of wet dreams), and therefore when a giant called Hagrid shows up and tells him that he is to begin enrolment at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he is only moderately awestruck.
Later books (starting at Book 3) channel Lord of the Rings. This first one is more derived from Roald Dahl. There’s everything here: a quirky and likeable cast of characters, a plot that is propelled forward by one zany MacGuffin after another, and (another noticeable Dahl trait) funny but disturbing depictions of child abuse. The story gets grim at times, but the lighthearted atmosphere remains.
The only problem with this book is that characterisation is a bit one dimensional. The Dursleys are your typical Cruel Parents, Snape is the Cruel Teacher, even Harry has a damned time separating himself from Frodo Baggins, Rand Al’thor, etc. There’s not much attempt at subtlety and nuance. Later books would get better at this and eventually moral ambiguity would be the center of the series’ ethical outlook. But not here. Everyone’s personality can be summed up like stats on a D&D character.
I don’t want to undersell JK Rowling, though. She is a great writer. She shares Stephen King’s talent for funny and evocative metaphors, and sometimes I reread parts of the book just to enjoy the language. There’s not a boring page in the book, even the dull scenes are packed with funny moments, character building, world building, [x] building. You can see JK Rowling laying the groundwork for later books like a builder laying bearers and joists for a house. It’s brave, considering she didn’t know there would be an audience for Philosopher’s Stone.
Forget romance, and pain, and Harry wondering whether his heroes are really so great. Forget all that crap. This first book is about fun. Harry would have to grow up some day, but for now…it’s party time!