Note: To mark the occasion of the opening of Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we submit to you this series of retrospective looks at J.K. Rowling’s more-than-masterpiece fantasy series.
I first discovered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in late 1998, perhaps early 1999—a few months after …Chamber of Secrets had been published and …Prisoner of Azkaban had been listed for pre-order on Amazon.com. At that point, I didn’t know there was any sort of Pottermania; I was just intrigued by the descriptions of the first two novels and thought, “What the heck? Let’s give ’em a try, and I’ll pre-order the third one if the first two are good.”
So, I did.
Some eight years later, the series wrapped up with …the Deathly Hallows, and, like a good fanboy, I closed the book after reading the last page, satisfied, but sad that this particular literary journey had come to an end. In my early 40s, I hadn’t grown up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but I had certainly grown to care about them and their story.
Recently, after purchasing the e-book versions of the novels, I got the bug to re-read the Potter series from the beginning, wondering what knowing the outcome would do for my enjoyment of the story. Turns out, that foreknowledge enhances the reading because, as I read of, for example, the pain in Harry’s lightning bolt-shaped scar, I knew what that meant to the larger scope of the story. (It’s Harry’s version of Spidey-sense, but that’s neither here nor there.) There’s also the joy of rediscovery: for example, I’d forgotten that Hagrid had borrowed the flying motorcycle from Sirius Black. Black is one of my favorite figures in the entire saga, and getting back that little tidbit of information was quite enjoyable.
All of that said as a matter of introduction, does Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hold up? Yes, it does. Rowling provides us with plenty of details of Harry’s lamentable living situation with the Dursleys to make his discovery of the many shops of Diagon Alley and the hallowed halls of Hogwarts a true wonder, not unlike the children’s journey from the empty, lonely manor house in rural England to the crisp, wintry—and magical—world of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Who hasn’t dreamed of an enchanted world just beyond their own humdrum life?
The build-up is very nearly perfect. Harry gets a taste of the wizarding world with Hagrid—and learns the truth about his parents and his hero-status, but he doesn’t actually leave the Dursleys ’til nearly a third of the way into the novel. Then, along with Harry, we discover the majesty and mystery of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Here, as she introduces more characters and establishes the novel’s essential conflict (Who’s trying to get the Sorcerer’s Stone—and why?), Rowling truly soars. The core team—Harry, Ron, and Hermione—coalesces, and Harry steps up and becomes the hero he is celebrated as in the wizarding world. And, hey, Quidditch! And bawling mandrake roots! And Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans! (“Alas, earwax.”) And Platform 9-3/4! It’s a wonderful world—free of smartphones and laptops and other distractions; after all, there are bigger fish to fry.
Re-reading the novel after fifteen years and having seen the film version a couple of times in the intervening time allowed me to see the seeds of Ron and Hermione’s future relationship more clearly and to appreciate Voldemort’s relatively meager efforts at resurrection here—because, of course, he returns rather spectacularly later on.
…the Sorcerer’s Stone is truly the opening salvo in a grand battle that will be waged over the course of six more novels.
Backlog Rating: 8/10. There are likely other things you haven’t read, and, chances are, you’ve read these. Still, get back to them when you’re ready to revisit some old friends.