Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone
So, I’m at the hospital trying to get done with an internship that refuses to get done. Which is the major reason why I decided to go ridiculously easy on myself and start small. What better way to escape the screams of a woman in labour than to wave a wand and run away to Hogwarts?
A disclaimer before I start though; rather, consider it an apology in advance. As much as I tell myself that I am over Harry Potter and I don’t consider them the greatest books in the universe (I swear, I don’t!), it only takes a glance at a chapter before I’m hooked all over again. They were, after all, one of the foremost novels to influence my childhood. I started reading Harry Potter when I just a little younger than Harry in the first book and I did go through the phase of looking out of the window every morning for an owl with my Hogwarts acceptance letter. So, if you are expecting some highly critical and high-brow analysis of the novel, I will warn you in advance that you will be disappointed. I also want to apologise in advance for any forthcoming bias that I might inadvertently shower my review with.
Oh! Hang on! SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD!
Ok, now continue….
Reading the first Harry Potter book after years and after reading the entire series (multiple times too), opens up an interesting avenue for comparison. It gives me a wonderful opportunity to recognise J.K. Rowling’s evolution of writing through the books.
The first book, in hindsight, does read like a children’s book. The short sentences, the comical representation of the Dursleys in the first few chapters and just the general tone of the book makes for a much easier reading than her later books. Gradually, though, the writing matures up till the very end where Dumbledore talks to Harry in the hospital wing. That one conversation contains so many pearls of wisdom that every other line could be put in quotation marks and on a wall. It could have ended up sounding preachy, except for the way she interjected Dumbledore’s quirky personality in between dialogues (his twinkly eyes, I tell you!).
“We could all have been killed- or worse, expelled. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”
Ron stared after her, his mouth open.
“No, we don’t mind,” he said. “You’d think we dragged her along, wouldn’t you?”
Another thing I noticed (in hindsight, again) is how Rowling built up her characters in the first book and then, stayed true to those characters till the end. Allowing for the natural changes of adolescence and hormonal imbalances, Harry was always the inquisitive and impulsive hero; Ron remained the short-fused, but loyal goof of a sidekick and Hermione stuck to being the snappy brains behind the operation.
I was also struck by the character of Draco Malfoy. One of the most important aspects of writing a today’s generation’s novel, is the establishment of the Enemy.
The instant enemy is not a new concept by any means; if you have a hero, you have to have the enemy- who rankles the hero at all times, provokes him to fights and foils his plans any which way. Draco and Harry- in that sense- were made for each other. One cannot exist without the other, you can say.
However, in many books, I would find myself questioning the existence of the enemy- because the character doesn’t add anything to the story than a snooty-nosed nosiness which could be well done without. There is a glaring lack of motivation behind the enemy’s actions that leaves me irritated and closure-less.
In Draco’s case, however, I’m yet to feel so.
Partly, it is because I remember that Harry and Draco were 11 at the time and 11 year olds do not need much motivation to wreak havoc. Partly, it was that the knowledge of Draco’s back story made him an eminently 3-dimensional character. Mainly though, from the point of view of a first book, it was because Draco didn’t turn up only when the author was bored and needed something to go wrong. No, he was there all the time- sniggering when Snape picks on Harry, name-calling Ron at a Quidditch match or picking on Neville like the bully he is. Rowling doesn’t whip him out and use him as an emergency aid. She incorporates him into the story in such a way as to tell us that Draco Malfoy is a fully-fleshed character and we should care about him because he is somebody in Harry’s life.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
[So, when Draco eavesdrops on Harry, Ron and Hermione when they are talking about Hagrid’s dragon and then, tries to get them caught during their delivery mission, I’m not questioning his motives and wondering where on earth he popped up from. Rather, I accept his sneaky nature and hate him a little more than I did before.]
But, all of this aside, what is my favourite thing about Rowling’s books? Her writing, of course. She has an amazing style that just flows through the story to make for a brilliant narrative.
One of the best-written chapters, according to me, was The Mirror of Erised because if you can make the reader experience what the protagonist is experiencing, first hand, you have done a better than great job.
[So when she wrote,
Harry couldn’t eat. He had seen his parents and would be seeing them again tonight. He had almost forgotten about Flamel. It didn’t seem very important any more. Who cared what the three-headed dog was guarding? What did it matter if Snape stole it, really?
I agreed with him.]
Also, whenever I read a book, the dialogue is usually flowing through my brain, arranging itself into a little movie playing out scene by scene. So, if Bane the Centaur, say, growled in the book, then I expect to hear the growl in my head. The word and play have to be in perfect sync as if it were a natural progression of voice. I think the reason why the importance of the in lieu words for “said” hit me when it did was that it reminded me of all those times when a writer throws in a word to mix up the verbs instead of said, but, the effect jars the narrative rather than help it along. For example, in a scenario, where a twin brother and sister are playfully bantering, if the brother ends up growling a reply to his sister’s tease, then I’m sorry, but you have just hit “playfully” on its head and killed it. But, Rowling’s use of her words, more often than not, touches the right chord.
On the whole, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a book that I would recommend to just about anyone- a child or an adult trying to get in touch with his inner child. You see, the ideas of magic and a school of magic, of unicorns with powers, of a philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold and grants immortality, of a 11 year old boy saving the world and of love that (literally) protects you from death, require a childlike suspension of disbelief. So, any rainy afternoon when you are feeling nostalgic about those games you played with your school buddies, I recommend you pick up this book and settle yourself for a cozy read.
“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
“Snape made them all nervous, breathing down their necks while they tried to remember how to make a Forgetfulness Potion.”
Her play on words just makes me chuckle so much!