Date Published: June 26, 1997
Published By: Bloomsbury
Number of Pages: 223
I was in the third grade when I first met The Boy Who Lived. Our teacher, Mrs. Morgan, started reading it out loud to us one day and by the time she finished reading the first chapter I was hooked. I was so enamoured by the book that I begged my mom to take me to the bookstore so I could buy my own copy. (Or rather, so she could buy it for me. Thanks, mom!)
Now in possession of the book, I raced through the story alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione, battling mountain trolls, playing Quidditch, and rescuing the Philosopher’s Stone. By the time, I got to the last page, that was it for me – I was completely head-over-heels in love.
I know that with a lot of readers of my generation, Harry Potter was what got them into reading. It was different in my case, however, because I was already a huge bookworm before I read Harry Potter. I loved books before I even knew how to read them. (Strange, but true.) So I was always a book lover but when Harry Potter came along…it was like meeting my soulmate. Or soulbook, as it were. (Is that a thing? It should be.)
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Philosopher’s Stone. Since then, we’ve seen Harry Potter movies, theme parks, a play, official Harry Potter websites, fansites, countless merchandise, and crazy amounts of fanfiction and fanart. Which leaves the question: does the book that started a global phenomenon still hold up?
Short answer: Yes. Always.
I get so much more out of Philosopher’s Stone as an adult then I did when I was a kid. When I was younger, it was just a fun adventure story with dragons, magic spells, and the most incredible school for wizards and witches that I wanted to go to soooo badly! (I remember turning 11 and actually hoping I would get my Hogwarts letter.)
Now as an adult, I can appreciate the depth of J.K. Rowling’s knowledge of her own world, the allegories, the symbolism and all that good pretentious English-major kind of stuff. All the things an adult reader is ‘supposed’ to appreciate – but I still have so much fun reading it. Rowling’s writing is witty, straightforward, and smart. She never condescends to her audience – something that I believe is one of the reasons the Harry Potter books have stood the test of time. While Philosopher’s Stone can be read and enjoyed by children, she introduces enough dark elements to make the book compelling for adults as well. I mean, the book starts with an infant boy becoming an orphan because his parents were murdered. That’s pretty depressing stuff.
But Rowling is wise not to fill the first book with doom and gloom. The reader is dazzled as we see the fantastic magical world through Harry’s eyes for the first time. The scene in Diagon Alley where Harry first experiences the wizarding world is pure delight. Rowling is a master of worldbuilding – she gives us just enough detail to get a clear idea of the world but she does not inundate the reader with description that goes on for pages at a time. Classic examples include the scene in Diagon Alley, Harry and Ron eating magical treats on the Hogwarts Express, and the brief descriptions of the classes at Hogwarts. She makes it real, she makes it tangible while keeping an underlying logic and consistency throughout.
But no matter how great the worldbuilding is, the heart of Philosopher’s Stone is the characters. Characters who we fall in love with because we relate to them. I can’t think of any other literary characters who are more real to me than Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Great as individual characters but even better together as ‘The Golden Trio.’ They complement each other so perfectly – Hermione is the Mind, Ron is the Heart, and Harry is the Soul. Together, they are truly a magical combination.
When I first read Philosopher’s Stone, I had no idea of the phenomenon it would become. No matter how old I am, I always enjoy returning to it again and again to relive the magic once more.