Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

A review of the children’s fantasy novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

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At the end of July, a new addition to the Harry Potter franchise is due to be released. I find myself asking, why? The initial idea was a good one: a boy who, after the death of his parents, is raised by his abusive extended family that have no interest in him. Eventually, he finds out that he is a wizard and has an owl as a familiar-a novel break from the norm. So far so good. The execution of this idea was just that: an execution of literary standards. The story follows the adventures of Harry Potter as he finds out he is actually old enough to take up his place at a school for wizards, Hogwarts, much to the disgust of his uncle. Along the way he is joined by Ron and Hermione. Ron is hopeless but his family is just the opposite of Harry’s and not only totally support him, but Harry too. Hermione, on the other hand, excels at everything. Harry learns about his heritage and his parents. The bad guy, Voldemort, is also introduced. While there, along with all the things you would expect a young wizard to learn (spells, potions, flying on a broomstick), Harry learns how to play Quidditch: a game invented using various elements from classic ball games. The Philosopher’s Stone covers the first year at Hogwarts.

Unfortunately, a good idea is not all that is needed to be a good writer; talent also springs to mind. The book is badly written and almost impossible to read aloud because of the use of badly composed sentences and the overuse of the short sentence (some pages have ten or more).

One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley …

If you look at the sentence above, you can see multiple uses of the comma. A comma is used to either mark an embedded clause or to signal a pause. It can also be used to mark the joining of two sentences when using a conjunction (connective: and, but, so, etc.). An embedded clause, or a subordinate clause as it is now known, is used to add extra information and should not make sense on its own. The rest of the sentence, the main clause, does. It is almost impossible to find the main clause in that incredibly long sentence. If you read it out loud, there are natural pauses where a full stop should be used. A full stop also gives the reader permission to stop to absorb the information in the sentence before, if only for a second. With so much information at once, the impact of this is lost. The use of the ellipsis at the end of the sentence is pointless. There is no cliff hanger or need for an elongated pause. The information after these is hardly earth-shattering.

There is much in the press at the moment about children’s literary failings, yet here you have a book, full of grammatical errors, that is on the recommended reading list for 10 and 11 year olds. I know this is used to encourage children to read, but please don’t force them to and accept that not every child will “love it.” Part of the problem is that no one dare admit they don’t like Harry Potter (I think people would be less shocked if I said I’d murdered my mother!). My reasons are this: it is badly written with poor character development. The story has little that is new or unique in it. In my opinion, it is just the same old thing rehashed and set in a pseudo-fantasy world of wizards and monsters. The underdog has to fight the supposedly undefeatable bad guy, while dealing with being bullied by underdeveloped characters, growing up, and accompanied by what is supposed to be a comedic sidekick.

I do think that J.K. Rowling has been successful because she happened to produce Harry Potter at just the right time (A thing that happens frequently: Twilight, Star Wars, Fifty Shades of Grey, Minecraft etc.). Maybe the world was just ready for Harry. However, know when to leave it behind you.

The book has been made into a film and I must admit it’s better, maybe because the script writer could actually write!

I know a number of people who profess to love Harry Potter but will not admit they have not read the books, just seen the films! I am not in any way suggesting that you as a reader should not read or even enjoy this book, but please do so because you want to, not because you feel you have to.

Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.

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