There are probably going to be three main responses to this post title: gasps of horror, excited squeals, or eye-rolling with a slight groan.
Let’s dive into it, shall we?
(image credit for featured image: WallpaperAccess.)
First of all, I must warn you that there will be spoilers in this series of posts. I’m going to give you an honest review of what I thought of the Harry Potter series as a book-lover, as a writer myself, and as someone who went into it wondering if it was all it was cracked up to be — on both ends of the spectrum. I will also be making some comments about the movie adaptations, and how well they tied in.
Second of all, I acknowledge that a lot of people, Christians in particular, think Harry Potter is the epitome of unholy stories. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?! Dark! Horrible! How on earth could I be writing a review on this? Why did I even read it? Am I dabbling in evil?
I can wholeheartedly relate to this. I grew up in a Christian household, and I was never allowed to read Harry Potter.
Or know anything about Harry Potter.
Or play any games Harry Potter-related.
In my house, Harry Potter was considered very dark. Filled with nasty things. A bunch of nonsense. However, I got told I could make my own choice when I was 18 whether or not I wanted to read it then, as I would be an adult and mature enough to be wise about it.
For all those of you who are like me in this, let me be clear: this review is not about proving whether or not Harry Potter is suitable. That’s for you and your parents to decide.
This review is about sharing with you Storykeepers what I thought was good about these books — and what I thought wasn’t so great. It’s about nerding about one of the most popular book series of all time — and appreciating that it does have value. Because for anyone who read and enjoyed it, these books are cool. And I want to acknowledge that — acknowledge all those who grew up reading these, or read them as adults or teens and enjoyed them.
This is for you fans out there.
Where It All Began …
After growing up thinking Harry Potter was one of the darkest book series out there, I eventually got more involved with writing communities. In doing so, I realised that a large majority of people think the Harry Potter series is the best thing ever written. That J. K. Rowling is a genius writer, to the point where she can break all the rules and we don’t care, because her writing is so good. As someone who’d never read this series, I was sceptical. Surely it wasn’t really that good?
Surely people were overrating it …
Fast forward to a week or so after my 18th birthday, and I was looking at my older sister’s collection of Harry Potter books, pulling the first one off the shelf out of sheer curiosity. I was interested — very interested. I’d heard negative things about Harry Potter, and now in recent years I kept hearing positive things from writing experts. I wanted to see if either extreme were true (to be honest, I didn’t think they were) and I was also curious because of a bunch of comments I’d heard at random times about it. Mostly things like this:
‘Don’t you just love Dumbledore? Ah, Dumbledore!’
‘Oh my goodness. Snape’s reversal—’
‘Shhh! Don’t spoil it.’
‘I am definitely Hermione. All the way.’
‘If you can write like J. K. Rowling, you can break all the rules you want.’
So I started reading the first book, filled with healthy scepticism about the quality of the writing and believing I was going to find it so dark I would put it down and never return to it …
Review #1: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
I can barely remember now what reading the first book was like. I know I started it trying to be a very critical reader, reading like a writer and kinda almost trying to find fault …
So, um, yeah. After approximately two chapters, I forgot I was reading and got so caught up in the story that I actually forgot to be critical.
The characters were amazing.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron all felt so real, more real than any characters I’d ever read in any other books. They behaved like the age they were, fought like children do, and became friends the way children do.
And I loved Snape, right off the bat.
I don’t know what it is about characters like Snape — like, in hindsight, he is actually so horrible to Harry — but I just loved him. He quickly became my favourite character. This may just be a personal thing, as it seems I often love the whole ‘character who appears cold and indifferent when they’re actually on the protagonist’s side’ thing. *Cough* looks at other characters I enjoy, including one of my own *cough*. Anyway, I really enjoyed the twists and turns with Snape in the first book. I’m like ‘Oh no, he’s actually a bad guy — no wait! It turns out he was trying to protect Harry the whole time!’
Also McGonagall. She’s great😂.
And Hagrid …
That’s all I can say without gushing for five pages.
The set-ups and pay-offs were also pure excellence. For those of you who aren’t writers, this is when the writer puts in a hint at something, and we as readers sit up, and are like ‘Aha! This important.’ Set-ups often raise a question, while Pay-offs answer that question. J. K. Rowling is brilliant at this. Every single one of her Pay-offs answered a question, but also raised a new one, creating another Set-up — every piece rolled into the next, keeping you hooked the whole time.
Harry Potter does this better than any series I’ve ever read.
— General Content.
The first book was very whimsical and light-hearted — not that there weren’t darker moments. I’ll admit, Voldemort sucking unicorn blood and possessing a man with his face sticking out the back of the guy’s head made me feel a bit uncomfortable — but I’d gone into this knowing it was about wizards, and that the evil wizards used dark magic. So I could deal with it, and know it wasn’t real. But this is why if you’re a Christian, you probably shouldn’t read these until you’re 18. Or at all, depending how sensitive you are. After reading all the books, I do agree with my parents on that, and I’m grateful they made me wait.
Now, when it comes to things I didn’t like, I actually don’t remember much to criticise in the first book, aside from the whole Voldemort thing above. I will say that Draco Malfoy was a bit flat in the books — I feel they made his character a lot more sympathetic in the movies. (For those of you who just exploded, don’t worry. I did read all the books before I watched the movies).
Oh yeah. I remember feeling annoyed because the classic Harry Potter theme from the movies (which I had heard before I read the books) is called ‘Hedwig’s Theme,’ and then it turned out she’s just Harry’s owl and isn’t really like super important. Speaking of the movie, let’s talk about the adaptation of the first one.
— The Movie.
So, when I watched Philosopher’s Stone, I felt like I was watching the book play out on screen. So many of the things were almost exactly how I’d imagined them — especially Hagrid.❤️ Some others weren’t — but the majority was so close I’ll cut it slack.
Dumbledore wasn’t the best … I feel like Dumbledore is more vibrant in the books in general. Although, I did enjoy the scene with the mirror. He was good in that scene.
Alan Rickman made the perfect Snape, too … I guarantee I will going on about this a lot more in future entries of this review series. And I loved all the little kids playing Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They were just so small and cute in the first movie.❤️
On a funny note, my older sister and I were watching this online, and just before the ‘You’re a wizard, Harry’ line, the whole thing stopped working. 😱When we managed to get it working again, we unfortunately set the movie to play just after that line. I was horrified at missing the infamously quoted line, but we didn’t dare try to go back in case the whole thing crashed again😓 So I insisted we couldn’t go on without hearing that line — the Line — so we found it on YouTube and watched the one line and then went back to watching it normally.
You can’t not hear the Line!
It was extremely long, though. Like, they cut barely anything from the first movie. It was one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve ever seen — which is great in the sense of the content, but … yeah. It felt very long. (Actually looking at it, basically all of the movies are this long … but the first two definitely felt longer.)
The Dursleys got some great scenes in this movie — something that was lacking from quite a few of the later films.
However, the animation on this film wasn’t the best — still, I appreciate that they used the technology they had at the time. But it definitely feels like a slightly older film when you watch it. However, I’m having a hard time faulting any of the content on this movie. I did feel sad that they cut Hermione’s challenge room after the chess game. I really enjoyed in the book how each of the children had a room that only they could solve.
I also felt a little sad they cut quite a lot of the stuff with Hagrid’s pet Norwegian Ridgeback, Norbert. In the book they had a lot more stakes and more scenes with Norbert. It also wasn’t resolved as easily. (This seems to be a theme with the stuff they cut, particularly in the later movies.)
I would also recommend people be at least somewhat mature before watching these movies — in the first one, the scenes with Voldemort and Fluffy would quite likely scare children.
On the whole, I don’t have a lot of negative things to say about Philosopher’s Stone, book or movie. The most would be that the book felt too short, the movie too long. All the rest comes down to personal preference and me being nit-picky … which I wasn’t when I read the book. (I was slightly more nit-picky about the movie.)
I do have to two things to say about Philosopher’s Stone, the book: it’s writing is as good people make it out to be (and more) and it isn’t as dark as others make it out to be. (Though I can’t say the same for later entries in the series, and I firmly believe you should still have wisdom and maturity if you are a Christian before you read these books.)
When it comes down to it, Philosopher’s Stone is written to be a kids’ book — and a really good kids book at that, one adults can enjoy just as much younger people. It’s fun, it’s relatively short, and its writing is excellent. Its characters are also amazing, and it altogether feels very light-hearted. The same can be said for the movie (not the relatively short part😂), and I’ll admit it — for a sceptic who started reading trying to find fault with it, I loved this story. It was actually really good.
I’m not saying I would write something like it, about wizards and all that, but I really enjoyed this as a reader of fantasy, and just stories in general. It is an excellent story, regardless where you sit on its content.
I look forward to sharing with you more when it comes to my experience with the rest of this series!
Your turn, Storykeepers! Have you ever read Harry Potter or watched the movies? What did you think of Philosopher’s Stone? Let me know in the comments!