Lion of the Blogosphere

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

with 44 comments

I finished reading this book by J.K. Rowling. I’m not sure what to think.

In case you’re not familiar with this book (and if you’re not, what rock have you been living under?), it was first published in England in 1997 and then in the U.S. in 1998, and soon became a runaway bestseller, and in fact is the third best-selling book of all time after The Lord of the Rings and The Little Prince. The book is allegedly aimed at 8-12 year-old readers, and the protagonist, Harry Potter, is 11.

I remember The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum being a much better book, but if I reread that as an adult, maybe I would also find it full of faults. (It’s strange that it has been 79 years since the last time they made a movie version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. During a much shorter time period, there have been two movies made based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. With modern special effects, they could make a talking lion that looks like a talking lion rather than some guy wearing a lion costume. And the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is in the public domain, so the movie studio wouldn’t even have to pay anyone for the rights.)

The story is, to put it bluntly, stupid. Harry Potter has these impossibly mean step-parents who make him live in a “cupboard” under the stairs. Which in this case means a small closet, but when I think of a “cupboard,” I think of kitchen cabinets. This is an example of the many Britishisms that are used throughout the book, which increase my surprise that this book became such a big hit in the United States, given that there are so many language usages that wouldn’t make sense to an American child, or for that matter to most American adults.

Also, the book is largely a satire of British boarding schools, with a made-up fantasy sport of Quidditch substituting for rugby. This seems like a strange foundation for a book that would become such a huge bestseller in the United States.

I think of it as a modern children’s book, but being 21 years old, it’s no longer really that modern, and as such it has elements of political incorrectness in it, such as the main girl character, Hermione Granger, being described as a “bossy know-it-all.” (“Hermione” is a name I would not have known how to pronounce if I had not seen the movie.)

The basic story concept and plot is silly and aimed at children rather than adults. A bunch of children manage to save the world from the evil Voldemort, while all of the adults running the Hogwarts boarding school are totally clueless and inept. Admittedly, this is a typical conceit of children’s literature. The real lives of children are actually very boring and inconsequential.

However, J.K. Rowling doesn’t shy away from big words or complicated sentences. At Thanksgiving dinner, I will attempt to determine if either of my nephews, aged 10 and 12, have read this book. I suspect that they haven’t, because they don’t seem like readers to me.

There is zero in the way of romance in this book. Of course, the characters are only 11 years old, and how many 11-year-olds hook up with the opposite sex? L. Frank Baum also kept romance out of his children’s books. It just isn’t a concept that children relate to. Especially not boys.

If this book were written today, The main character would probably be a girl instead of a boy. In 1997, the ideal main character for a children’s book was a boy, because conventional wisdom was that girls would read books with boy protagonists, but not the other way around. Joanne Rowling was asked to use the pen name of J.K. Rowling to hide her sex in in order not to scare away boy readers.

Today, the conventional wisdom is that so few boys read books that the commercial value in trying to appeal to them is limited, and it’s no big deal to write a book that alienates boy readers. However, there is a popular series of books about a boy named Percy Jackson that, I believe, is targeted to middle-school-aged boys.

The Harry Potter series is, perhaps, the last great young adult literature written in the third person. Nowadays, the vast majority of books aimed at this age group are written in the first person.

Do I want to read the next book in the series? Strangely, kind of yes, I do.

* * *

A minor, specific complaint: I couldn’t remember if Filch was a cat and Mrs. Norris was its owner, or vice versa. J.K. Rowling should have repeated that information more than once. How are kids supposed to remember all those names?

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

November 21, 2018 at EST am

Posted in Books

44 Responses

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  1. I certainly hope The Wizard of Oz never gets remade. No remake would ever compare to the 1939 original.

    Peter

    ironrailsironweights

    November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • If it were remade today, they’d have to make it “diverse.” Dorothy would be ethnically ambiguous, the scarecrow, Tin Man, and lion would be some combination of black, Asian, Hispanic, gay, trans (hmm… how’s “If I Only Had a Penis” for a song?) etc. The wizard and/or Glinda the good witch would be black, and the wicked witch of the West, as the bad guy, would be the only white heterosexual man.

      Hermes

      November 21, 2018 at EST pm

      • I agree except that Dorothy would still probably be white. That’s what sells.

        fortaleza84

        November 21, 2018 at EST pm

      • Hermes, I take it you haven’t heard of “The Wiz.”

        njguy73

        November 21, 2018 at EST pm

      • “The Wiz” isn’t multicultural and “diverse,” it’s entirely black.

        Hermes

        November 22, 2018 at EST pm

      • Hermes, that just makes it 100% diverse.

        Also, Lion left out The Wiz when he said we haven’t seen a new WWoO movie in 80 years. Zardoz fortunately doesn’t count.

        owentt

        November 23, 2018 at EST pm

      • The Wiz is a parody!

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        November 23, 2018 at EST pm

  2. The Harry Potter series is, perhaps, the last great young adult literature written in the third person. Nowadays, the vast majority of books aimed at this age group are written in the first person.

    Is this true? Why aren’t children books written in 3rd person? Increasing “generational narcissism” or something (is that a thing)?

    GondwanaMan

    November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • Oh yeah!!! How did Lion forget about the Wiz? With Diana Ross and Michael Jackson…Lion needs to familiarize himself with the great Afro-American Cultural Touchstones…

      GondwanaMan

      November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • None, though, are remakes, and that’s the important thing.

      Peter

      ironrailsironweights

      November 21, 2018 at EST pm

    • There’s a movie out now that takes the The Nutcracker and turns it into some sort of Boschian hellscape, as best I can tell from the preview. It’s not just about PC and perversions, they also insist on taking anything innocent and making it dark and ugly.

      bobbybobbob

      November 21, 2018 at EST pm

  3. It’s interesting that they left all those other Britishisms in for the American market, but changed the title, which was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK, because they thought American kids would think the word “philosopher” was boring and non-magical.

    I read the first two books, and saw the third movie without reading the book, but lost interest in Harry Potter after that. I kind of want to go back and read all the books because I recall them being entertaining stories, but they’ve almost been ruined for me by association, because they’re so beloved by the triggered snowflake SJW Millennial crowd who had to relieve their distress over Trump’s election by going to kitten petting centers or whatever. Even though IIRC the stories don’t have an SJW moral to them, and as you point out are already somewhat politically incorrect by today’s standards.

    Also, I’m not into sports so this doesn’t resonate much with me, but various commentators have pointed out how obvious it is that quidditch was designed by a woman who doesn’t understand sports, because of how stupid the rules are.

    A bunch of children manage to save the world from the evil Voldemort, while all of the adults running the Hogwarts boarding school are totally clueless and inept.

    Maybe Rowling was a fan of Star Trek: TNG?

    Hermes

    November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • As the series goes on, Voldemort’s background gets fleshed out more and more as being obsessed with the superiority of pure-blood wizards, so there’s the obvious racist boogeyman metaphor that’s very in line with the times.

      Jokah Macpherson

      November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • “various commentators have pointed out how obvious it is that quidditch was designed by a woman who doesn’t understand sports, because of how stupid the rules are”

      There’s lots of stupid stuff in the book, but kids don’t notice because they lack the BS detector of adults.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 21, 2018 at EST am

      • “various commentators have pointed out how obvious it is that quidditch was designed by a woman who doesn’t understand sports, because of how stupid the rules are”

        Quidditch is basically what Gen-X called Smear the Queer, except the golden snitch buzzing about the field of play is inanimate rather than the designated human “Queer” and the gameplay is 3D rather than stuck in 2D on the ground. So, yes, it’s similar to rugby.

        hard9bf

        November 22, 2018 at EST pm

    • “It’s interesting that they left all those other Britishisms in for the American market, but changed the title, which was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK, because they thought American kids would think the word “philosopher” was boring and non-magical.”

      Now if it was an American book series sold to kids in Britain they’d have to be careful about language. Example of unacceptable dialogue:

      “How’s it going, you old wanker?”
      “Terrific! Wow, your kid’s a cute little bugger!”
      “She takes after her mom … minus the big fanny!”
      “Great seeing you, but I’ve got to run along, have to put sod on the lawn.”

      Peter

      ironrailsironweights

      November 21, 2018 at EST pm

    • It always bothered me that the whole goal-scoring aspect of Quidditch was pointless because the outcome of the game was always determined by who catches the “golden snitch” – which awards the equivalent of 15 goals. They might as well have just had a snitch-catching competition and left out all the rest.

      Perturabo

      November 21, 2018 at EST pm

      • Yes, that was the main thrust of the criticism, that there’s zero point for any of the other goal-scoring rules to exist, because the golden snitch is the only thing that matters.

        Hermes

        November 22, 2018 at EST pm

  4. It’s a decent YA series; the first two are probably the weakest and the author hits her stride more towards the middle of the series, but I never did see why it became the huge cultural phenomenon it did, other than snowball/winner-take-all effects.

    I tried reading Eliezer Yudkowsky’s fanfiction and got bored midway through, but some of the early parts were pretty funny, such as Hermione obviously being a Ravenclaw and Harry exploring the possibility of arbitrage with wizard currency.

    Jokah Macpherson

    November 21, 2018 at EST am

  5. My favorite YA fantasy series as a tween was Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain. Very well-developed characters and deep themes. Any other fans out there?

    Jokah Macpherson

    November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • Lloyd Alexander was my favorite author as a child, maybe matched by the great roald dahl. The Twits is one of the greatest literary works of all time. By contrast rowling’s writing is, to me, unreadably poor. There are rumors one or more of her later books were ghost written.

      I tried reading sorcerer’s stone when all the hype came out and was shocked by how bad the prose was. But my kids devoured every single book so go figure. I thought the movies were stupid and unwatchable too.

      toomanymice

      November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • Sure, I read the High King when I was in middle school. I also read the Black Cauldron and maybe one of the others. But I didn’t even know those books were part of the “Chronicles of Prydain” until you mentioned it.

      Lowe

      November 21, 2018 at EST am

  6. “It’s strange that it has been 79 years since the last time they made a movie version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

    http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/661046/9315448/1289189365477/025195002844zwizzncau31fa4.jpg?token=rLm9kqp2l3yl26I%2FEqLhZsCCO8g%3D

    I feel old now.

    MoreSigmasThanYou

    November 21, 2018 at EST am

    • That’s a parody of the 1939 movie, and not a movie earnestly based on the book.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      November 21, 2018 at EST am

      • snorlax

        November 21, 2018 at EST pm

      • Okay. I’m not smart enough to know the difference.

        MoreSigmasThanYou

        November 21, 2018 at EST pm

  7. My 12 year old niece fell in love with the series, reading a lot but finding it difficult usually get too excited. It wasn’t the fantasy element that she liked in Potter, and is disappointed that books similar to lists only take the genre into account. Apparently Rowling did something very well with Harry Potter. I would be thankful for recommendations on what books to give her for christmas.

    tail of pancreas

    November 21, 2018 at EST pm

  8. I’ve listened to an audio version of the final book in the series, which I thought was dreadfully written. My daughter agreed that the quality of the writing is generally poor, and JK Rowling is not usually regarded by critics as a great writer. Having said that, I love the films, which have great scripts and some great acting by British character actors. Even the children do a good job. I’m a bit surprised that Lion seemingly hasn’t seen the films – have many of his readers not seen them? I would have guessed that everyone had seen at least one.

    lioncub

    November 21, 2018 at EST pm

  9. Harry Potter fandom is like 99% SJWs. It’s one of the most polarized franchises out there.

    The books are okay but I always shit on Harry Potter just for that reason alone.

    Jason Liu

    November 21, 2018 at EST pm

    • Are they? That’s weird, because the books are such a celebration of English culture, and all of the immigrants in them, such as Cho Chang, are completely assimilated. I’m aware that Rowling herself wants to destroy the West, despite becoming rich from a book celebrating English culture.

      Perturabo

      November 22, 2018 at EST pm

  10. I could see it suceeding if it was published today. Most publishers in the 90s didnt want it either. It got rejected over and over. Your typical reader doesn’t care about diversity and representation. Its a loud but small % that does. So I could see it catching on again.

    The netflix diverse casting doesn’t seem to be particularly popular with audiences, just critics. They’ve received a lot of backlash over diversity casting The Witcher, a book series featuring a bunch of white characters.

    Andy Weir self-published The Martian, featuring a white male protagonist, and it became a huge hit. His follow up book has a diversity approved arab female protagonist. I think it was a success because of The Martian coattails, but wasnt a hit like The Martian was.

    Critics want these progressive politics influenced stories in every genre, and companies seem to think they have to play along, but honestly I dont think the vast majority of customers care. So media that violates these progressive rules can easily become a hit if it gets published.

    Alex

    November 21, 2018 at EST pm

  11. I read “The Wizard of Oz” a couple years ago. It’s a free kindle book. It’s not very good, I thought. The old movie is much better, and a favorite of mine. I would dread a remake, as they would no doubt make Dorothy sassy and strong enough to make her companions pointless.

    There are a couple spots in the Potter movies where Harry is given extra points in games for sportsmanship, once to the point of granting victory over Slitherin house. I remember thinking that only a woman would write that. I do think the movies are very good. Harry and Hermoine not getting together in the end seemed like an oddly awkward plot choice though.

    Steverino@Steverino.com

    November 21, 2018 at EST pm

    • One big change from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz book of 1900 to the 1939 movie is that Dorothy’s character is much older in the latter. If I recall correctly Baum never stated the character’s age in the story but it’s clear that she’s no more than 10 or 11. In the movie, Dorothy is obviously a teenager, one amusing aside is that Judy Garland’s (ample) chest had to be tightly wrapped with elastic bandages during filming because otherwise she’d appear way too mature for even the teenaged character.

      Peter

      ironrailsironweights

      November 22, 2018 at EST pm

      • The real question is, what was the status of her pubic hair?

        Hermes

        November 22, 2018 at EST pm

  12. My kids certainly fell in love with the books, despite the 1st one being 2 decades old. JKR got something very right with them.

    Reading them as an adult, books 1-3 are pretty decent YA lit (yes, you have to swallow the standard trope that the kids can beat Big Bad while the adults are clueless). After that, they rapidly become bloated as JKR became famous enough to no longer require editors. The world-building flaws also become much more visible as she transitions to more adult settings in the last couple books.

    SkepticalCynical

    November 21, 2018 at EST pm

  13. I asked my teenage sons what their favourite book was and the answer is Up Periscope, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, and Pilgrim’s Progress. As for me, I read about every book
    H Rider Haggard wrote. None of us have read Harry Potter or seen the movies.

    G706

    November 21, 2018 at EST pm

  14. I read all but the last book 15 years ago because this super hawt HB10 coworker was obsessed with the series and it was the only subject she talked about, and I wanted commonality with her, so I borrowed the first six volumes from her. Alas, poor Yorick, I never bagged the babe.

    From the get-go it seemed like typical children’s lit where a worthless, unloved child is revealed to secretly possess great powers. It’s easy to forget how powerless and insignificant we felt as children. So the child reader identifies with Harry Potter and believes, rather masturbatorily, they too probably possess untapped greatness within. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the reader is likely a mediocrity. But I guess it’s cruel to tell a child that.

    The workplace HB10 was a natural beauty, rarely wore makeup (and didn’t need it), and I asked why she identified with a loser like Harry Potter. She said of course she didn’t — she was awed by the richness and depth of Rowling’s imaginary universe. Okay!

    hard9bf

    November 22, 2018 at EST pm

    • The second to last book came out in 2005, 13 years ago, so you couldn’t have read all but the last book 15 years ago. Also, I very much doubt that chick was a true 10.

      Hermes

      November 23, 2018 at EST pm

  15. I read the series to my son a few years ago. One thing I noticed, from my adult male perspective, was that JK Rowling clearly does not understand how adolescent boys think AT ALL. Shocking that an author would make that mistake, but it is typical of women to think they understand men when they truly don’t.

    Also, the books could have been so much better written. Time and time again, I’d say to myself, no no no, that plot line wasn’t well done, that character isn’t well done, it should have been like this instead. Oh well. JKR is laughing all the way to the bank.

    Tarl

    November 22, 2018 at EST pm

  16. “In case you’re not familiar with this book (and if you’re not, what rock have you been living under?” an ironic statement since the core series finished off like 5 years ago, but that’s fine😂 The series does mature as if to match the fact that the readers of the series would age as well. You should find the same kind of so called “theme of child likeness” until the third book in the series.

    Aavi Uchiha

    November 23, 2018 at EST am

    • 5 years ago? The last book was published in 2007, and the movie based on it came out in 2011.

      Hermes

      November 23, 2018 at EST pm

  17. I think the main character in the book is Hermione Granger, not Harry. Probably two thirds of the readers are female and they wouldn’t be reading the book in such large numbers unless they had a character to identify with. The series is really about Hermione finding her place in a social hierarchy and her social position in relationship to that social hierarchy. In a series written by a male for boys, it would more likely involve rebelling against one’s social position or going adventuring outside of society. It would be like Captain Ahab trying to catch a whale instead of a Jane Austen character trying to catch a husband, a Huck Finn getting away from his prim and proper aunt, a Jack London character running off to Alaska or a Heinlein character running off to outer space instead of staying home.

    Mark G.

    November 24, 2018 at EST pm


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