WELCOME to a new occasional series here at Rampant Reads called Books We Force on Our Friends. Here you will learn about books that we heart so much that we force our friends to read them. Self-explanatory, no? It warms the cockles of my heart when I recommend a book to someone who agrees to read it so that I will quit nagging them about it and then they LOVE it. Heartwarming and vindicating all rolled into one.
To kick off this NPR-esque occasional series (do other people do occasional series? I don’t know.), we have selected J.K. Rowling’s 7-book opus: Harry Potter. These books are near and dear to all of our hearts, so it seemed a fitting way to get this party started. I discovered Harry – yes, we are on a first-name basis – after I saw the first movie. I know, CLUTCH YOUR PEARLS. I am a firm believer in reading the book before seeing the movie, but in this case, I was only dimly aware of these books. I only saw the movie because it’s what my friends were seeing, and I was along for the ride. Honestly, I was bored about halfway through, and I would have dismissed Harry Potter forevermore had our very own Robin Sparkles not set me straight. Thank goodness she intervened when she did. I blew through the first four books in a couple of weeks and preordered book 5 as soon as the bookstore would let me. A devoted fan was born.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books 1998) aka Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Bloomsbury 1997) is the first book in the series. I don’t know why Scholastic changed the title for the American audience, but some googling could solve that for you if the question is too burning for you to let it lie. Yours truly owns both editions. A typical Hero’s Journey begins here, so if you don’t think you’ll like HP, let me ask you: Do you like Star Wars? Hero’s Journey. Lord of the Rings? Hero’s Journey. I could go on, but this post is about Harry Potter, and it will be long enough as it is. (Sidebar – Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces is awesomesauce.)
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a little summary. Obviously there are spoilers. Forewarned, forearmed, etc.
Orphaned Harry lives with his aunt and uncle, who make him live in a spider-infested closet on small rations, and his cousin Dudley, who bullies him mercilessly. Things look up for Harry when he discovers that he is a WIZARD who is independently wealthy and will be going to boarding school to learn magic. He makes his first friend in eleven years, Ron Weasley, on the train to Hogwarts. He also meets Hermione Granger, who will become one of his closest friends, even though she starts off as a goody-goody, brown-nosing know-it-all. Most importantly for me, though, is that we meet my FAVORITE characters here, Ron’s twin brothers Fred and George. I cherish them and their madcap hijinks. Anyhoo, while they’re tackling and taming their newfound magical abilities, Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn that the sorcerer’s stone, which can be used to create the elixir of life, has been hidden in the school for safekeeping. The powers-that-be are worried that Lord Voldemort, the most evil wizard of the modern age (or the Emperor Palpatine of this little scenario for you Star Wars aficionados), will try to steal it to restore himself to full power, which he mysteriously lost when he tried to murder Harry as a baby. The spunky trio of kids suspects Potions master Snape of trying to steal it, and since they can’t prove it to anyone, they take matters into their own hands. Like you do when you’re a fledgling wizard with a limited skill set fighting evil. It all culminates in a showdown, and obviously Harry survives the ordeal, or there wouldn’t be six more books.
This particular book is fun because it introduces you to the world that Rowling has created. You learn about it alongside Harry by visiting Gringotts bank, which is staffed by goblins; getting lessons in flying on a broomstick and then the rundown of the rules of Quidditch, the only sport in the wizarding world; watching an illegal baby dragon hatch from an egg and smuggling it out of the school; and sneaking around the castle at night under the cover of an invisibility cloak. It’s a whole new world, as Aladdin and Jasmine so memorably sang, and it’s been hiding under Harry’s nose his entire life. As you re-read the series, you notice that there is quite a bit of foreshadowing and you find tidbits that only mean something once you’ve read the whole series. I respect that kind of careful planning. It’s not my forte, and I like to see someone execute it well.
What I love most about this series, aside from its general awesomeness and the compelling storyline, is the way that J.K. Rowling uses humor. She is funny. The Weasley twins provide some much-needed comic relief for this series, which can edge into being really dark, as anything that is a fight between good and evil tends to do, but all of the characters exhibit wittiness or wry humor from time to time. Optimism and humor in the face of despair should not be underestimated as a literary technique. Add well-rounded characters, an interesting universe, and MAGIC, and you have quite the work of literature.
If I haven’t convinced you to embark on this literary journey, keep reading! We’ll be reviewing a book each day as we count down to the final movie.