The year was 1998. Bill Clinton was president and was about to go through the toughest year of his presidency thanks to a bunch of petty Republicans, who didn’t like his policies and the fact that he was able to do things that none of their presidents, including their hero, Ronald Reagan, could do (i.e. balance the budget and create a surplus). Not that I was aware of any of this at the time. All I cared about was watching 7th Heaven, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. Oh, and passing math. I was very concerned with passing math. And eventually history. But that was a different part of 1998.
At this point in time, I hated reading. Hated it. All the books they made us read in school were boring as hell and would continue to be straight through high school and I hadn’t yet discovered romance novels (being 11, I’m sure my dad would have had a coronary if he found me with one of those books), so it came as a total surprise when I picked up my brother’s copy of HP1. Back then, Jimmy was the reader, devouring Matt Christopher and Wishbone books. All I did was watch television and listen to music. Anyway, my mom bought HP1 for my brother, thinking that it would be the perfect thing, but he couldn’t get through the first two chapters, declaring it “boring,” which to be honest, they are. But, I just loved it. (Really, why my mom thought Jimmy would like a supernaturally themed book, is beyond me as he has never been into that type of thing. I, on the other hand, have always loved paranormal shit.)
I recently decided I would re-read the entire series, something that I have never done, despite the fact that I would re-read the most recent books before a new one was released. So, let’s start from the very beginning (as it is a very good place to start, after all). If you’ve lived in some sort of cave for nearly 20 years, here’s the plot (boiled down to its most simplest form): Harry Potter, an 11 year old boy living in England, learns he’s a wizard, attends the coolest school known to man, becomes best friends with Ron and Hermione, and fights against the evil wizard, Lord Voldemort. (Only a Brit would create a villain named Lord Voldemort.)
Re-reading HP1 as an “adult” is an interesting thing. Part of the charm of the Harry Potter series as a child, is imagining yourself as part of Harry’s crew, running around with him, Ron, and Hermione, having adventures and saving the day, but once you’re an adult, it is harder to do this. At times, I found myself wondering what the professors were doing. Were any of them hooking up? Did they have families outside of Hogwarts? What was it like to worry about hundreds of students in a world where anything was possible?
I also found myself wondering how any of them could have thought their “obstacle course” (really that’s what it was) would keep out the most powerful dark wizard of all time, let alone a group of 11 year olds. The hardest one being the logic problem that reminded me of LSAT problems and had my eye twitching, thinking of the possibility of actually taking the LSAT at some point in the future. Those logic problems are total nightmares. Anyway.
Having read the other books in the series, I wonder just how much J.K. had planned out before writing this one because knowing what happens later on in the series, I can spot things in this first book that wouldn’t have been important when I read it back in 1998. Things like Snape having gone to school with Lily and James or Neville being raised by his grandmother. I doubt I would have even thought about why these things were significant at the time or why they were even included in the book at all.
One thing that bugged me about this book was the idea of Snape trying to stop Quirrell from getting the Sorcerer’s Stone. How is it that Voldemort, living as a parasite on the back of Quirrell’s head not know that his most loyal servant was actually working against him the entire time? Did he not remember this when he finally became whole again in book 4? How was Snape able to return to the Death Eaters in book 5 after doing what he did in book 1? Voldie is not the forgiving type, so he would never take someone like Snape back had he remembered any of what happened in this book.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be a problem had I not read the other books or seen the movies, but at this point, I’ve done that all. It is hard for me not to give the book side eye over that part.
Overall, it is still a good book. Rowling’s prose in this book is not as good as it is in the later books, but that’s natural. No one who writes would ever believe that another author’s writing could stay the same from the first book to the last and even as good a writer as Rowling is, this is still true. There were passages that I had to read more than once because Rowling head hopped. One moment we’re in Harry’s mind and the next, for a few seconds, we’re in Ron’s. The first time I noticed this was in the scene with the first Quidditch match when Harry’s broom is cursed. It took me a minute to realize what was going on here. It was rather jarring.
I will say that this series is still my favorite, and I am a series fiend, glomming JD Robb, Kay Hooper, and Jill Shalvis books like no one’s business. If you haven’t read this series and you’re under 40, what are you waiting for? What hole have you spent your life living in to have not even been tempted to check out these books? Do it. You won’t regret it.