Book Review – “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”

This is the first of the Harry Potter books. I’ll try to get the first four reviewed before the fifth comes out on June 21. (I’ve preordered my copy of book five online, and will get that review up as soon as I’ve read it.) Once this series is done, I’ll get back to work on the long, pedantic Silmarillion.

General Information

Title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Author: J. K Rowling
Original Publication Date: 1997
ISBN: 1-55192-612-1
Cover Price: $11.95 Can
Buy from
Amazon.ca

Premise

Harry Potter, something of a young male Cinderella, discovers that
he’s a famous wizard.

High Point

It’s a book that’s aimed at children, but it does not insult older
readers. Stories can be directed at the young without automatically
becoming immature. I believe that this respect for the audience is
one of the reasons that these books are so wildly popular.

Low Point

Forgetting the invisibility cloak (in a scene not in the movie, so
I’ll not give more details.) It just seemed out of character.

The Scores

The elements are not original. Wizards, witches, fate,
mysteries, and all of the ingredients herein are used elsewhere. The
typical underappreciated geek becoming powerful and famous is a common
theme in the superhero world. However, the execution is so unlike
anything else I’ve seen with these elements that it still feels fresh
and new. I give it 4 out of 6.


The imagery is good enough to get by. You don’t want to go
into too much detail in a book meant for children, since there’s
always the risk of boring them. We know the layout of the major
locations, and we get descriptions of the major characters. Some
areas, like the one behind the locked door on the third floor, are not
well described. It gets the job done well enough for the target
audience, so that gets a 4 out of 6.

The story is surprisingly well developed for a children’s
book. In most mysteries aimed at children, you know who the villain
is almost immediately, what the goal is, and then just worry about
stopping them. This one has an evil plot with implications and
collaborators that aren’t clear until the final few pages, although
the clues are all there for the reader to sort out. There were a
couple of moments, like the low point and the wizard’s duel, that
seemed tacked on because the story required it, not because it made
sense for the characters. I give it 5 out of 6.



The characterization of most of the major players is very
well done. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, and a couple of
other players are not terribly deep, but distinguishable by dialogue
and actions. It’s great for the target audience, but leaves the rest
of us wanting a little more. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response to this book is fantastic. This is a
lot of fun, plain and simple, regardless of how old you are. I give
it 6 out of 6.



The editing on this book could have used a bit of work. Some
of the scenes seem inefficient, although they all do something to keep
things moving or allude to upcoming books. It’s not horrible, but it
could have used a bit of tightening. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, this is a book aimed at children that the rest of us
can enjoy. Millions of kids actually want to read these books. Yes,
it’s aimed at kids, but it’s still very fun, and very entertaining. I
give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone receives
33 out of 42.

14 replies on “Book Review – “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone””

  1. IronHelix says:

    uhh
    maybe I’m missing something, but wasn’t it
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

    • pythor says:

      Re: uhh

      maybe I’m missing something, but wasn’t it
      Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

      Yes and No… The original UK version is “Philosopher’s Stone.” The US version is “Sorcerer’s Stone.” Presumedly someone thought that USians wouldn’t know what a philosopher’s stone is. Which is probably correct for most US kids, and maybe even for most adults. What actually surprised me was that someone thought that UK kids would know what it is. Must get a lot more mythology/folklore education in UK than we do in the US.

      • Timeshredder says:

        Re: uhh

        Must get a lot more mythology/folklore education in UK than we do in the US.

        And yet a stone’s throw away on the Canadian side of the border, it remained “Philosopher.”

      • GrimSean says:

        Re: uhh

        maybe I’m missing something, but wasn’t it
        Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

        Yes and No… The original UK version is “Philosopher’s Stone.” The US version is “Sorcerer’s Stone.” Presumedly someone thought that USians wouldn’t know what a philosopher’s stone is. Which is probably correct for most US kids, and maybe even for most adults. What actually surprised me was that someone thought that UK kids would know what it is. Must get a lot more mythology/folklore education in UK than we do in the US.

        Actually, I believe that the US publisher & J.K. Rowling felt that the word “Philosopher” wasn’t ‘magical’ enough (and wouldn’t be understood by the Americans), and changed it to ‘Sorcerer’. My source is here

      • Nevermore says:

        Re: uhh

        What actually surprised me was that someone thought
        that UK kids would know what it is. Must get a
        lot more mythology/folklore education in UK than we do
        in the US.

        I’m a UK kid. I know what the
        Philosopher’s Stone is, a) because I read The
        Alchemist, and b) I’m intelligent enough to google
        anything I don’t know, and I would have done, if I hadn’t
        have known………. …..yeah.
        And have you seen the news in the UK lately? Our
        education system is, well, crap. The last time I learnt
        anything about mythology and folklore is when my RE
        teacher started talking about his fuck-me-I’m-famous
        son.
        ^_^

  2. Dave says:

    a bit of tightening…?
    Here, the statement “could’ve used a bit of tightening” is at least debatable. I can’t wait to see what you have to say about “Goblet of Fire.” And I’m absolutely dreading “Order of the Phoenix,” which by most accounts will easily break a thousand pages.

    Not many books can be that long and still be good. And no, Stephen King doesn’t say “hi;” even the original, 400-pages-shorter version of The Stand was a bit long, and the “uncut” version is suitable only for use as a bludgeoning weapon.

    • fiziko says:

      Re: a bit of tightening…?

      Here, the statement “could’ve used a bit of tightening” is at least debatable. I can’t wait to see what you have to say about “Goblet of Fire.” And I’m absolutely dreading “Order of the Phoenix,” which by most accounts will easily break a thousand pages.

      Not many books can be that long and still be good. And no, Stephen King doesn’t say “hi;” even the original, 400-pages-shorter version of The Stand was a bit long, and the “uncut” version is suitable only for use as a bludgeoning weapon.

      If book 5 is anything like book 4, books 2 and 3 will be the only ones doing well by me in the “editing” category. I may have time to read The Craft of Revision before book five arrives, too, and if I do, I’ll have far more coherent criticisms for you. :)

  3. skybird says:

    I don’t care what anyone says…
    Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series is much better.

    So You Want to be a Wizard?

    Deep Wizardry

    High Wizardry

    A Wizard Abroad (perhaps the weakest in the series)

    A Wizard’s Dilemma

    A Wizard Alone

    As well as the Wizard Series books aimed at an older audience (The wizards are cats, not kids.)

    The Book of Night with Moon

    To Visit the Queen

  4. cmhbytehead says:

    #5
    I have read something that says it’s The Order of the Phoenix. In one month, I’ll know if it is or isn’t. I have to believe that it is. It is written entirely too well, and follows the mythos of Harry without any kind of surprises. Some very, very, interesting plot twists.

    It weighs in as a 1.8 meg text file, so it looks like about 900 pages.

    It will prove to be interesting if it really is the real thing. And if isn’t, I’ll still enjoy reading the real thing, and I’ll keep the “fake”, as it is a good read.

    • Jhon says:

      Re: #5

      I have read something that says it’s The Order of the Phoenix.

      If it’s THIS VERSION you haven’t read it. It’s fan fiction. Also, yo say it’s too well written. I couldn’t get past the first 5 or 6 paragraphs without thinking it was written by a 13 year old.

      • cmhbytehead says:

        Re: #5

        I have read something that says it’s The Order of the Phoenix.

        If it’s THIS VERSION you haven’t read it. It’s fan fiction. Also, yo say it’s too well written. I couldn’t get past the first 5 or 6 paragraphs without thinking it was written by a 13 year old.

        Well, it’s not that version. :) The starting paragraph

        Harry had planned to sleep late on his first day of summer vacation. He felt as if he needed to
        sleep for a year after what he’d been through during his fourth year of wizarding training. Harry
        Potter was possibly the most famous wizard in the world, apart from the dark wizard who had
        killed his parents. And now he was probably even more famous, having won the Triwizard
        Tournament just a couple of weeks ago. But he was only famous in the wizarding world; in the
        non-magical, Muggle world, he was just an annoyance to his aunt and uncle and cousin. He just
        wanted to sleep late and try to forget everything that had happened to him during the previous
        ten months.

        What I have read certainly wasn’t written by a 13 year old. I have two of them myself. ;) A thirteen year old wouldn’t write what I’ve read about sex in this book.

        • seldon says:

          Re: #5

          A thirteen year old wouldn’t write what I’ve read about sex in this book.

          That should have given it away. After all, these *are* children’s books. Anyway, a search returned me this. It’s fanfic as well.

  5. Jethro says:

    Sorcerer. Bah.
    Several things bothered me about this book.

    Granted, i read the American version, and a lot of my problems stem from the Americanizing of the book. Changing “Philosopher” to “Sorcerer” wasn’t the only Dumbing Down done for the benifit of Americans. Football changed to Soccer, jelly changed to Jell-O(tm), Father Christmas changed to Santa Claus. The thing about this is that it’s not very consistant throughout the rest of the books. But hey.

    The Philosopher’s stone is a ‘real myth’. Alchemists have really been trying to create the thing for centuries, without success. There are two people rumoured to have succeded, one of this is, in fact, the same Nicholas Flamel mentioned in the book.

    The fact that the author is using real history (well, real historical rumours) and actual people makes it a bit harder for me to accept the name change. I don’t believe the “not magical enough” for a second. I believe the “Americans are too dumb” thing.

    Ok, on to the rest of the stuff. The review states that the book foesn’t insult you. It did occasionally insult my intelligence, and that of my Inner Child. Diagon Ally? The mirror of Erised? Please. Slytherin? Come on.

    My biggest problem witht he book, though, is that you can’t guess the answer. You cannot possibly guess that the bad guy is, in fact, not exactly who the author wants you to think he is. That’s cheating. Plot twists where you can’t go back and go “Oooooohhhh, it’s so obvious now!” annoy the hell out of me. This is the same reason I don’t like Sherlock Holmes stories.

    Another thing is, it seems like every other paragraph someone is blushing in an overly dramatic way. Harry’s face turned redder than Aunt Whatever’s roses. Ron’s face turned the colour of raspberry jam. Hermione’s face flushed like a landing beacon. I mean, enough already.

    Luckily these trends seem to be improving in the followup books. The fourth one makes the other three worthwhile, and I hope the fifth one continues that way. All in all, and despite the problems, they are a very well written Lord of the Rings ripoff.

    • fiziko says:

      Re: Sorcerer. Bah.

      My biggest problem with the book, though, is that you can’t guess the answer. You cannot possibly guess that the bad guy is, in fact, not exactly who the author wants you to think he is. That’s cheating. Plot twists where you can’t go back and go “Oooooohhhh, it’s so obvious now!” annoy the hell out of me. This is the same reason I don’t like Sherlock Holmes stories.

      I believe the first book does give you enough information, although this is a very valid complaint about the next few books (and will show up in my reviews.) In the final stages, with the traps set by various people, you can figure out which trap was set by the villain. Once you’ve figured that out, it becomes obvious that his behaviour at Hallowe’en was inappropriate, and we’re forced to conclude that he’s the real bad guy.

      Larry Niven said (in the preface to Flatlander, if memory serves) that there are two rules to writing a mystery. The first rule is that you should give the audience enough information to figure out who the criminal is; most mysteries do this well. The second rule is that you should give the reader enough information to eliminate all other possibilities; many mysteries botch this up royally.

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