Friday, January 18, 2013

Why "Harry Potter and the Sorcercer's Stone" works

I may be among the last 12 people on Earth to read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," so some might question the need for me to write a review. OK, so let's not call this a review here are just some thoughts I had after finishing the book.

I was surprised that "Sorcerer's Stone" started so slowly. For the first 40 or 50 pages, it really plodded along. If I had not been told by, oh, about a million people that the book was worth sticking with, I might have given up. I guess we're lucky that some early readers did stay with the book and spread the word of its charms, or the whole Harry Potter franchise may have died an early death without Voldemort even getting involved.

Indeed, after the slow start, the book does get better and author J.K. Rowling really shows her, ahem, magic. There are a lot of reasons this book works: An inventive story; likeable main characters; an intriguing mystery. Another reason are the imaginative little elements Rowling sprinkles through the book. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Great names. Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, the Weasley brothers, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid. These names roll snappily off the tongue and seem to hint, even if you knew nothing else about them, at their personalities. The same applies to the names of the four houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravensclaw, and Slytherin. Is there any doubt that the slimiest students will be found in Slytherin?

2. Clever use of animals. Rowling could have had the students simply send and receive letters, but instead they get owls. They fear a giant three-headed dog named ... Fluffy. And they help care for a baby dragon that doesn't breath fire, but is fearsome in its eating habits. Nice touches.

3. Quidditch. Rowling takes the witches-on-a-broom image and turns it into exciting game. And you can't just use any old broom you gotta have a Nimbus Two Thousand!

4. Animating the inanimate. Rowling could have simply divided the student wizards into different houses with barely a mention of the process, but instead she brings a hat to life the Sorting Hat to do the job. Elsewhere in the book, characters in paintings move and talk, chess pieces come to life, and keys fly around.

I never got that can't-put-it-down feeling with this book, but there were so many imaginative touches that it was a pleasant read.


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