Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

Name: Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone

Author: J.K. Rowling

Year: 1997

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy

Since the last time I wrote a book review the world has changed dramatically because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks I have been migrating my blog from Blogger to WordPress and looking at some of my previous content in 2019 I can’t believe just how much 2020 changed everything.

I have also been finding myself looking for nostalgic things during this time – as well as reading books I’ve been watching old movies and playing games that I loved as a child – one of these book series was Harry Potter which I can’t quite believe I haven’t written about before.

Plot

This section does contain spoilers

The novel begins on a “dull and grey” Tuesday with the Dursley family but very strange and mysterious things happen to Vernon Dursley as he goes to work that day – he sees people dressed in cloaks everywhere as well as a cat looking as though it was reading a map. He also overhears a conversation about his wife’s sister and her husband, the Potters – a family they haven’t seen for several years and their son Harry. Late at night we learn the cat was actually a witch called Professor McGonagall who can change her shape and is a teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Later the headmaster Professor Dumbledore appears out of nowhere and the school’s gamekeeper Hagrid appears on a flying motorbike carrying a baby. We learn a dark and powerful wizard called Voldemort went to the Potters’ to kill them the night before but somehow couldn’t kill Harry and ending up destroying himself – the only person to have ever survived him. Professor Dumbledore has decided their son Harry should grow up with his aunt and uncle away from the magical world.

The story then moves to 11 years in the future where Harry Potter is of secondary school age. However very strange things keep happening around him – he somehow ended up on the school roof when jumping behind the bins, his hair grew back overnight and in the zoo he manages to let out a snake from a glass cage by making the glass disappear.

He then receives his letter to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry which his Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia get rid of. However the letters keep coming until they are chased to a battered house on a small island off the coast when Hagrid turns up to let him know the truth. He’s a wizard!

Hagrid accompanies Harry to Diagon Alley where he buys his school supplies and visits Gringotts the wizard’s bank to collect money from his parents vault which was left to him as an inheritance, as well as visiting another vault with Hagrid which Harry sees only has a very small package in which Hagrid takes from there. A month later he goes to Kings Cross to catch the Hogwarts Express to Hogwarts, where he befriends Ron Weasley and is sorted into Gryffindor House during the sorting ceremony.

During his first week Harry discovers there was an attempted robbery at Gringotts though the vault was emptied the same day and suspects it was the vault he visited with Hagrid. His suspicion is confirmed when he arranges a midnight duel with Draco Malfoy, the school bully and ends up on the third floor corridor which is out of bounds. There him, Ron and Hermione are greeted by a three-headed dog which seems to be guarding something behind a trapdoor on the floor. A few weeks later at Halloween a troll is let into the castle and Harry and Ron go to rescue Hermione and they see one of the teachers, Professor Snape heading away from the dungeons in it’s direction.

They ask Hagrid who accidentally confirms the dog is his pet Fluffy and it is guarding something and that the object is between Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel. The trio start to investigate who Flamel was and continue to do so until Christmas – Harry receives an Invisibility Cloak which was his father’s with a note to use it well and decides to go into the restricted section of the library to find out more.

Whilst on his nighttime wandering Harry overhears what seems to be Snape threatening Professor Quirrell and learns the Stone has enchantments from all the teachers so believes Snape is trying to get out of Quirrell how to bypass his enchantment.

He also discovers a mysterious mirror which shows him his parents and other lost relatives. The next night he takes Ron with him but he doesn’t see his family but sees himself wining the Quidditch Cup, being a Prefect and Head Boy. The third night Harry goes back alone and is interrupted by Professor Dumbledore and learns the Mirror of Erised shows people what they want more than anything.

A few weeks later Harry is eating some Chocolate Frogs with collector cards in them and finds a reference to Nicholas Flamel on Professor Dumbledore’s card. From this they finally make the connection that the three-headed dog is guarding the Philosopher’s Stone – a stone that can turn metal into pure gold and can make a potion which makes people immortal.

They then suspect that Snape is trying to steal the stone for himself and set out to try and stop him. 

One day, they visit Hagrid where he has randomly received a dragon egg from a bet in the pub, even though they are illegal under wizarding law. Harry, Ron and Hermione help him get rid of the dragon after it has hatched but in doing so get caught and receive detention in the Forbidden Forest. Whilst on detention they investigate with Hagrid a dead unicorn and he sees a hooded figure drink its blood who then tries to attack him.

A centaur called Firenze rescues Harry who asks him who might want to drink unicorn blood to keep alive until they can get to the stone. It is at this point that Harry realises it is a plot from Voldemort to try to resurrect himself as an immortal and suspects Snape might be working for him. After his detention Harry is doing his exams when he overhears Quirrel running away from Snape and realises he might’ve cracked and told him what he was going to do. He also realises how odd it was for Hagrid to be offered a dragon egg in the pub and realises it might’ve been a ploy to work out how to get past Fluffy and that Hagrid told him whilst drunk he falls asleep to music.

The only other protection him, Ron and Hermione can see is that Professor Dumbledore is there so they go to tell him what they know but then learn from Professor McGonagall that he has received a letter to go to the Ministry of Magic. They then realise that Snape is going to try to steal the stone that night and decide to go through the trapdoor themselves to stop him.

They bypass Fluffy by playing on a flute before encountering a series of traps and enchantments, including a real-size wizard’s chess set which ends up injuring Ron and a riddle involving 7 bottles – some of which are poison and some are potions to bypass fire on the doors where they came in and to proceed. Unfortunately there is only enough for Harry to go through the next door and Hermione has to go behind.

In the final chamber Harry receives a shock when he realises it isn’t Professor Snape who was trying to get the stone, but Professor Quirrell. In a final twist we learn Professor Quirrel has actually been possessed by Voldemort and has two faces with a turban hiding Voldemort’s. However Quirrell cannot get the stone as it is in the Mirror of Erised from before. He tries to get Harry to retrieve it and Harry sees himself but this time not with his parents but holding the stone. In the mirror Harry puts the stone into his pocket and somehow the stone ends up in Harry’s real pocket. He tries to escape but Voldemort discovers he has it and orders Quirrell to kill him. However when Quirrell touches him he feels searing pain so Harry is able to defeat him before passing out….

Harry wakes three days later in the hospital wing with Professor Dumbledore. In the final chapter he learns from Dumbledore that Voldemort couldn’t touch Harry due to a protection given to him by his mother’s love but will not elaborate. He also learns that the stone has been destroyed and Nicholas Flamel and his wife have enough elixir of life to sort out their affairs but they will pass away. Finally, at the end of year feast Dumbledore awards Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville Longbottom enough points to win the House Cup.

Thoughts

I am a massive fan of the Harry Potter novels and have read them several times whilst growing up. I was a bit young for the first novel’s release so my first encounter was with the movies though I did end up reading the books before the final three films came out and re-read them several times.

J.K. Rowling created one of the best fantasy series of recent memory with the Harry Potter series, yet the plot is very clever and twisty with many elements of crime thrillers e.g. for most of the book Rowling has you believe Snape is the villain of the story, not Professor Quirrell who is introduced as stuttering and nervous to shake Harry’s hand. The plot always keeps you guessing and it doesn’t completely unravel until the final chapter which is fantastic.

The book also establishes a huge amount of world building for the rest of the series: Hogwarts and the entire wizarding world is a complete secret to Muggles (who the book describe as non-magical people). We learn that wizards have their own commerce and trade at Diagon Alley, it has it’s own laws and a Ministry of Magic, it also has it’s own sport in Quidditch. The world is also inhabited by magical and mythological creatures including dragons, unicorns, centaurs, three-headed dogs and trolls. There are also hints in this book of things that play greater fruition in the later books of the series.

The three main characters are very likable: obviously Harry Potter is the hero of the book, though Ron provides some of the comic relief whereas Hermione is the intelligent one and probably the most talented of the three of them. (Rowling based Hermione on herself and being quite bookish growing up too she is probably my favourite of the three as well and most children would see themselves in one of the three characters.

The teachers are also realistically realized, with the strict Professor McGonagall, the encouraging Professor Flitwick, the boring Professor Binns and of course the nasty Professor Snape. The book also has many things school children would be familiar with with their own magical versions, such as collector cards and photographs, though in the magical world the people can move.

Verdict

Overall it is a fantastic book to the series and definitely is the entry point for anyone wanting to discover this wonderful series.

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