Currently reading all of the HP books in preparation for Saturday. Yes, I know spoilers have been leaked on the net, but I’ve been steadfastly avoiding them. Here’s my take on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and the series.
This is a nice, colourful little book. It’s obviously a children’s story. It’s strongly reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s writings. It combines a whole host of familiar elements together into something, well, familiar, but well executed. Magical boarding schools and child wizards have been done before, but Hogwarts has a great deal of warmth. It snags the “immersivist readers” – readers who want to be in that universe, (or in some extrapolation of that universe.) I think most children are immersivist readers. I was. With JKR’s world, it’s easy to daydream about. It’s accessible. You can imagine yourself (or a persona character of yours) there at Hogwarts, learning magic, making friends with the main characters. There’s some literary universes that attract the immersivist readers more than others. I’m thinking of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar. And Pern. (When I was twelve, I was the only female bronze dragon rider in all Pern).
If we’re looking for common qualities across these immersivist universes, I’d say that they:
- Are accessible – you can easily grasp the main premise of the world (e.g. magic boarding school, life-bonded talking telepathic dragons/horses/wolves etc.)
- Have a warm universe. It’s not a horrible world; there might be danger or terror, but the core of the world is warm and nice.
- Are linked to the reader’s wish fulfilment. The lead character starts off ordinary, and by the end of the text, they know that they are special, with their magic or life-bonded talking telepathic dragon/horse/wolf etc.
So Harry is special, he’s a wizard and he’s linked to an immersivist universe which makes it special and exciting for readers who find some spark of excitement in what Hogwarts has to offer and imagining themselves there.
Another comment: JKR has a talent for characterisation. Harry’s emotions and anxieties are well written. They’re consistent and believable in the book’s framework. As an awkward ten year old, Harry is works. Other characters are more based around archetypes, so you can quickly identify what the character is like from JKR’s use of common tropes. Sometimes she subverts these, particularly with her treatment of Snape in this novel – going from obvious villain, to Harry’s saviour-with-a-grudge.
JKR’s main structural technique for these books, the Agatha Christie-style “cozy” mystery, is nicely executed here. When the villain explains his dastardly plans at the end, you can re-read Philospher’s Stone and see that everything is consistent with those plans. As the first novel in the series, Philosopher’s Stone benefits from its inherent simplicity, characterisations and immersivity (I think I invented a word.)