Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
review by Branko Collin
“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” This must be one of the clunkiest opening sentences I have ever read, and yet it is the opening sentence of one of the most popular books of recent times, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. You feel sorry for all the publishers who said no to the manuscript based on reading the first page and thus to the barely imaginable wealth they passed up on.
Apart from the opening sentences, though, the book is well worth reading. Rowling does what other mega-storytellers such as Spielberg and HergÃ© do (respectively did) so well: she tells big stories about big subjects, adventures that capture your attention from beginning to end, where true heroes battle it out against enormous odds. Harry Potter the character nicely matches the hero pattern, thank you very much. He comes perilously close to dying several times in the book already. No wishy-washy treatment of the subject here.
A minor niggle I have is that Rowling sometimes dangerously flirts with my suspended disbelief, and it is a testament to the author’s storytelling qualities that I shrugged off my qualms and dived right back into the book.
An example of this: Hermiony Granger is depicted as a rather horrible little girl for most of the book, but then when Harry and his friend Ron save her from a troll, the experience forges a bond between them that makes them instant friends. Rowling is not interested in the process; she shrugs it off in one sentence, and if your eyes happened to skip it you’ll be wondering the rest of the book what the hell just went on: “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.”
Don’t say this eye-skipping doesn’t happen; I only noticed the one-sentence sex scene in Thea Beckman’s children’s book Hasse Simonsdochter during my third reading. In that case however, that did not make much of a difference; here it’s more instrumental.
The movie of the book doesn’t have this problem; it is well clear there from the start that Hermione wants to be friends with Ron and Harry. I must further compliment the makers of the film because it follows the book so closely, yet manages to be a good film in its own right.