"Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays is an impressive anthology of literary criticism draw from a variety of learned authors who all of whom regard J.K. Rowling's popular Harry Potter fantasy series as far more than mere popular culture pablum. Examining the Harry Potter works with regard to theories of child development, literary influences and historical contexts, and morality and social values, Reading Harry Potter is a multifaceted exploration of the Potter books as literature with lasting potential influence on both developing and mature minds today."-Library Bookwatch
"This book is a valuable addition to any library....Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above."-Choice
?This book is a valuable addition to any library....Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above.?-Choice
?eading Harry Potter adds to the growing analysis of the series by offering essays about the first four novels from child development and moral and social values perspectives in addition to literary and historical treatments....[a]dd provocative ideas to a growing discussion of the series that is underway even as Jo Rowling writes at her desk in Scotland creating the final two installments of Harry's story.?-Children's Literature Association Quarterly
?Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays is an impressive anthology of literary criticism draw from a variety of learned authors who all of whom regard J.K. Rowling's popular Harry Potter fantasy series as far more than mere popular culture pablum. Examining the Harry Potter works with regard to theories of child development, literary influences and historical contexts, and morality and social values, Reading Harry Potter is a multifaceted exploration of the Potter books as literature with lasting potential influence on both developing and mature minds today.?-Library Bookwatch
"eading Harry Potter adds to the growing analysis of the series by offering essays about the first four novels from child development and moral and social values perspectives in addition to literary and historical treatments....[a]dd provocative ideas to a growing discussion of the series that is underway even as Jo Rowling writes at her desk in Scotland creating the final two installments of Harry's story."-Children's Literature Association Quarterly
"Here is more proof that almost everybody is wild about Harry--academics as well as the hundreds and thousands of children, parents, teachers, and librarians around the world who have been charmed by this young wizard-in-training. This sampling of scholarly essays will inform a thoughtful adult reader's appreciation of the Harry Potter books as literature and as a publishing phenomenon."-Virginia A. Walter Associate Professor and Chair, UCLA Department of Information Studies
As the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone approaches I can’t help but be overcome by a wave of nostalgia. 20 years just seems like an incredibly long time ago. I still remember opening and reading this book for the first time, although I admit it was a few years after its release. I also recently received a new boxed set of Harry Potter books as a gift, so naturally I’ve been dying to get my hands on them and break them in.
As a vehement bibliophile, however, I am also always plagued by the unfortunate realization of how many incredible books I still have yet to read. Even though I have yet to read a series that was able to make me fall in love with it in the way the Harry Potter books have, since I have already read all of the books multiple times I find it hard to convince myself to read the series again. Lately though, I’ve been finding myself thinking back to parts of the books and realizing that I was forgetting some details. So with the launch of Pottermore’s Wizarding World Book Club (#wwbookclub) on June 23rd and the 20th anniversary of Philosopher’s Stone on June 26th as a catalyst, I decided that it was finally time to revisit my old friends once again.
Feel free to re-read the book along with us and let us know all about your favorite moments, characters, and quotes!
HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE
I was excited by this book before I even opened it. Being in the new box set, I had yet to view the covers of any of the individual books and since I had read my old set so many times it was nice to be able to enjoy some new cover art. I love all of the different covers for these books and if I had an unlimited amount of funds and shelf space I would probably own a set in every style.
The next thing that struck me after opening to the first page of the first chapter (besides that joy that comes solely from the feeling and scent of a brand new, never been opened book) was that overwhelming sensation of coming home. The first sentence of this book brings with it such a feeling of comfort and contentment for me. I grew up reading these stories and they were always an escape and a sanctuary for me during difficult times. I can’t help but smile remembering how much joy this book has brought me throughout my life.
CHAPTER 1: The Boy Who Lived
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FAVORITE QUOTE: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
FAVORITE MOMENT: Hagrid arriving on the motorcycle holding a sleeping baby Harry wrapped in a bundle of blankets.
FUNNIEST MOMENT: Vernon Dudley being hugged by a man in a violet cloak after being called a Muggle.
FORESHADOWING WE MISSED THE FIRST TIME: It’s easy to miss that the first mention of Sirius Black, as the owner of the motorbike Hagrid borrowed, occurs way back in this first chapter of the very first book. It’s likely we’d forgotten all about this seemingly insignificant name drop by the time the third book was released.
CHAPTER ANALYSIS: To be completely honest, sometimes I forget the book doesn’t start off with Dumbledore dropping off baby Harry, which is terrible because when I actually read this chapter again I remember how much I enjoy it. Unfortunately the element of mystery is gone, since I now know exactly what went on in the Wizarding World to create such a fiasco that Vernon Dursley is now experiencing the aftermath of it in his mundane Muggle life. However, I can still feel his annoyance and his desperate attempts to pretend this couldn’t possibly have anything to do with him even after he confirms that his nephew’s name was indeed Harry Potter (“Nasty, common name, if you ask me”).
This disrupted day in the life of Vernon Dursley was such a clever way for J.K. Rowling to gradually introduce us to the magical world. Not only do we get to see what a typical Dursley day would usually consist of and develop a general idea of just how much of a normal, boring family they are, but we also get our first glimpse of magic. Cats reading maps, people in cloaks, changes in owl behavior, shooting stars, and mention of “muggles” and “You-know-who” (Can you even imagine back to that time when in fact we did not know who) are not individually enough for any muggle to know what’s going on, but enough to spark the attention of us readers.
It’s interesting that this incredible story is introduced to us from the eyes of a muggle whose life is being subtly infiltrated by magic, without him even realizing, as the result of some big unknown event. Then the story shifts directly to the view of the wizards involved and the magic is not so discreet. An eccentrically dressed man with a long white beard shows up in the middle of the night with a device that sucks in streetlights, a cat morphs into a woman, and an extremely large man shows up on flying motorcycle.
The one issue I have with this chapter is still the disbelief that Dumbledore thought it best to leave a baby on a doorstep with only a letter to explain everything, even after the warning by McGonagall. I can’t even imagine what that next morning would have been like for the Dursleys, waking up to a crying baby and finding Harry just lying out there in a blanket. Whatever Dumbledore’s thoughts it was obviously a convincing enough letter that they didn’t immediately try to abandon Harry at an orphanage.
This first chapter is more than enough to entice any reader. All those small glimpses into the possibilities of this strange world delivered in a rather comical manner were the perfect way to get us hooked instantly. This was the beginning of one of the best literary adventures we would ever experience and are about to embark on again.
CHAPTER 2: The Vanishing Glass
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FAVORITE QUOTE: “Brazil, here I come…. Thanksss Amigo.”
FAVORITE MOMENT: Harry recouting all the mysterious things that have happened to him growing up that he had no control over.
FUNNIEST MOMENT: Harry releasing a Boa Constrictor accidentally from the zoo.
FORESHADOWING WE MISSED THE FIRST TIME: Harry’s ability to talk to snakes doesn’t stand out as anything special the first time around, most of us probably just assumed this was another common part of magic. Of course later we learn it is actually a fairly rare gift that turns out to be very important to the series.
CHAPTER ANALYSIS: I think the sole purpose of this chapter is simply to introduce readers to the atrocity that was Harry’s childhood. It is a good summary of what life was like growing up with the Dursleys, who feared any mention of anything peculiar and punished Harry for the abnormal things he did even though he couldn’t explain why they were happening to him. They offered him only the bare essentials to live while Dudley was spoiled and doted upon. The worst part is the only reason for their cruel behavior was that Harry’s parents were wizards.
This always hit me as one of J.K. Rowling’s paramount messages. It was the perfect analogy for anyone growing up in an environment where they were the slightest bit different from the average populate. The oppression Harry faced and overcame was empowering even for me as a child with the knowledge that I didn’t have it nearly as difficult as some. This message will always be relevant because it promotes acceptance and discourages ignorance which is a timeless lesson and something that should be taught to everyone at a young age and should be reminded of throughout life.
The knowledge that Harry comes out on top in the long run (this whole time he’s thought he was odd and different, turns out he’s actually just got awesome wizarding skills!) was encouraging for myself and for all kids to be who they want to be and to hold out until one day when they find others who are just like them. This message becomes more powerful and meaningful each time I read the book as I learn more about the world and the persecution faced by those of different races, cultures, and sexual orientations.
CHAPTER 3: The Letters from No One
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FAVORITE QUOTE: “No post on Sundays… no damn letters today –”
FAVORITE MOMENT: Harry counting down to his birthday by the light emitting from Dudley’s watch face.
FUNNIEST MOMENT: Vernon Dursley subjecting himself and family to spending a night in a dilapidated hut on a rock in the middle of the sea during a thunderstorm just to evade the mysterious letter writer.
CHAPTER ANALYSIS: As important and applicable as the overlying tones and themes are of these stories, I also enjoy rereading them because of those few less significant parts that enhance the story, but that I tend to forget the details of especially if it’s absent from the films.
One of these parts in particular that I don’t feel was necessary for the movie but brings charm to the book is some of the details of The Letters from No One, where the letters are shoved through door cracks and windows, stuffed inside eggs and even dropped off at the front desk of the hotel. The movie also loses some of the description of how crazed Vernon Dursley becomes, driving back and forth around town to try and evade the unknown letter-writing culprit all while refusing to acknowledge that these attempts are likely futile because the letters have a magical source.
I still refuse to believe that Harry, a boy with magical abilities and the youngest seeker in a century to make a house team, somehow did not manage to pocket a single Hogwarts letter as they streamed out of the fireplace. I will note that the movie really overplays this making it even more unrealistic, because in the book there are only said to be 30-40 letters, rather than the hundreds that are shown in the movie. This is still one of the parts of the book where I just want to grab Harry out of the story and say, ‘Hey there Harry, maybe just put a few in your pockets and then grab another as a decoy!’ How could he not think of that?! But he was only 10 and he was probably overwhelmed by the excitement (I mean he’d never received a single piece of mail before, let alone been basically stalked by someone so determined to write to him) so I guess I’ll forgive him.
CHAPTER 4: The Keeper of the Keys
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FAVORITE QUOTE: “Harry—Yer a wizard.”
FAVORITE MOMENTS: When Harry finally reads his Hogwarts letter and when Hagrid fiercely defends Dumbledore and then gives Dudley a pigs tail. (I love them both and couldn’t choose between them.)
FUNNIEST MOMENT: When Hagrid yells at Uncle Vernon and all he can reply is something that sounds like “Mimblewimble.”
CHAPTER ANALYSIS: The first book has always been one of my favorites of the series, but I love them all so much that I find it unfair to show too much nepotism and actually establish a formal ranking. The reason I think it sits so high on the list (if there was one) is because you can just feel the disbelief and the excitement that Harry experiences enjoying magic for the first time.
It was always a wish of mine, and I’m sure of most children, that someone would come along and tell me there was more to my life than what I had been lead to believe thus far. For Harry this becomes a reality when Hagrid finally gets to deliver his Hogwarts letter to him, along with the iconic line, “Harry — Yer a wizard.” As much as I believed my life was tragic and oppressive as a child (being dramatic as most children are) my childhood was nothing compared to Harry’s. If anyone deserved an escape, it was him.
This chapter is also when Harry learns a little about what happened to his parents and why he is famous but he still doesn’t really understand the full story. So not only does he learn he’s a wizard, but also that his parents were murdered by one of the most nefarious wizards of all time named Voldemort. This must have been so much information for Harry’s poor brain to take in all at once, considering he previously thought his parents died in a car accident.
It really seems against anyone’s better judgement to just believe any gigantic bearded man that breaks into your house claiming you’re a wizard, but I suppose Harry didn’t have much to lose. Plus, let’s be honest, now that I’ve read Harry Potter I would probably be desperate enough to go with anyone who told me I was a wizard. Although, now that I’m realizing this, I feel like it might be an important message to impart on children who have read these books that they should not listen to people who claim they are wizards just in case they are not in fact wizards and are actually kidnappers who have discovered this clever lure.
CHAPTER 5: Diagon Alley
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FAVORITE QUOTES: “Welcome,” said Hagrid, “to Diagon Alley.”
”It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother—why its brother gave you that scar.”
FAVORITE MOMENT: When Harry finds the right wand and produces the colorful sparks, representing his first controlled use of magic.
FUNNIEST MOMENT: When Harry is talking to Malfoy for the first time and tying to pretend that he isn’t clueless about everything Malfoy is saying.
FORESHADOWING WE MISSED THE FIRST TIME: Harry’s first encounter with Professor Quirrell seems no more important than any of the other strangers he meets in the Leaky Cauldron, so there was no reason for us to think that his character would be crucial to the story.
CHAPTER ANALYSIS: Just opening the pages of this book completely transplants me into the Wizarding World. Every time I read about Harry’s first trip to Diagon Alley I can feel his bewilderment as he takes in the whole scene practically seep off the pages. Jo has a talent for making it feel as if you are actually there walking beside Hagrid past shop fronts stocked with unknown items surrounded by wizards decked out in colorful robes exchanging large shiny foreign currency. I try to compare it to how I felt on my first trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando, except times 1,000, because for Harry it was real.
Along with the shear overwhelming experience of just walking by the shops, Harry also gets to see Gringotts for the first time and learns about the vaults and goblins (which we know plays an important role not just in this novel but later on as well.) The bank is also where Harry gets his first important clue as to what awaits him at school this year, though he doesn’t realize it at the time, when Hagrid empties vault 713.
Another one of my favorite parts of this chapter is when Harry gets to purchase his wand, the most important tool for him as a wizard. I can only imagine the exhilaration Harry must feel to finally be able to wield this object that will open a whole new world for him. This moment also seems to me to be the one that solidifies magic for Harry, especially when we learn that the wand chooses the wizard. Surely a wand would never choose a muggle for it would know that they wouldn’t be able to access its power. Here we learn another little bit of Harry’s past, that is still shrouded in mystery at this point, as he finds out that his new wand shares a twin core with You-Know-Who’s.
Of course in this chapter we also first meet Malfoy. The whole conversation makes Harry feel very lost and uncomfortable. Thankfully Harry, who has never placed value on wealth, immediately recognizes Malfoy for the arrogant, disrespectful snob that he is. Along with meeting Malfoy and Quirrell, we also see Harry meet a number of other people that all know his name. Once again you can feel Harry’s confusion and frustration having all these people know his story when he has been so left in the dark, only just discovering he is a wizard the previous night.
CHAPTER 6: The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-quarters
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FAVORITE QUOTE: “I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks.”
FAVORITE MOMENT: Seeing Hogwarts for the first time.
FUNNIEST MOMENT: Everything involving Fred and George, most notably when they tell Mrs. Weasley she’s mixed them up, then when tell her they’re going to blow up a toilet at her suggestion, and when they make fun of Percy bragging about being Prefect.
FORESHADOWING WE MISSED THE FIRST TIME: How could we forget that we had already heard of Nicolas Flamel in the novel way back on the train, before we knew anything about Fluffy and the trapdoor! J.K. Rowling is so sly with her clues, putting valuable information to the story on something as simple as a wizard trading card.
CHAPTER ANALYSIS: This is another one of my favorite chapters simply because Harry experiences so many new things and you get to experience them with him. Rowling’s writing never fails to envelope you with the emotions of the characters, so much that you feel them become your own. You feel the embarrassment and panic as Harry tries to get on to platform 9 ¾ in a station full of Muggles who just stare at him as if he is insane. Then there’s the relief when he overhears the Weasleys and is reassured that the whole encounter with Hagrid was not just a hoax or a prank put on by the Dursleys to torment him. All this culminates in excitement as he first sees the scarlet Hogwarts Express idling in the station surrounded by wizarding families and other kids like him and is able to accept that this is just the beginning of a whole year of new and incredible things.
The train ride is also a fun chapter because we meet Ron and Hermione. The stark contrast between the two of them is even more so entertaining knowing that they will become Harry’s best friends. First there’s amiable Ron who has been humbled by growing up in a rather poor household with six siblings and is fooled by his brothers into attempting a nonsense spell to turn his rat yellow. Then we meet Hermione who is very forward and bossy, barging into their compartment, teasing Ron about his spell, announcing that she has already performed a few basic spells by herself at home, and then leaving in a flurry as well, but not before she instructs them to get their robes on. It’s hard to picture how they could possibly end up as friends after this encounter, but we know there’s more to Hermione that Harry and Ron have yet to see.
We’re also granted some insight into Ron’s upbringing during the ride to Hogwarts. Through this Harry learns what his life could have been like if he’d grown up in a wizarding household. Comparing Ron’s upbringing to his own dismal childhood must have been awfully depressing for Harry, but he doesn’t let it show. Another one of my favorite parts of this chapter is our introduction to wizard sweets, which all sound so whimsical and delicious.
There’s some important character development for both Harry and Malfoy in this chapter when they encounter each other for a second time. Harry doesn’t waste much time making up his mind about befriending Malfoy and doesn’t hide it either by blatantly declining to return his handshake. It’s clear that Malfoy hoped he could get someone as famous as Harry Potter on his side but he quickly realizes this won’t be the case. Malfoy is clearly not used to anyone standing up to him and in return he decides that if Harry isn’t going to be on his side then he must be against him.
The chapter culminates with the moment we’ve all been waiting for. While the initial sight of Diagon Alley must have been incredible, there can’t possibly be anything as awe-inspiring as that first glimpse of Hogwarts towering over the lake at night as the first years approach on tiny boats. Even seeing historic castles in faraway lands in person can’t compare to the emotions Harry must have felt knowing he was seeing his temporary new home for the first time, a place full of magic where he would be taught magical subjects alongside other wizard children far away from his abusive relatives.
Thanks for re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with us! Check back soon for Part 2 as we continue with the next chapters of the book.