I will start by confessing that I tried to read this book many years ago but it didn’t grab me so I abandoned it. Now this is probably because the fantasy genre (of which Harry Potter is a part) is one that has never interested me so, personally, it was pretty hard going despite the fact that it is targeted to younger readers.
However I recently decided to be brave and revisit it.
I am not going to talk about the plot here – you probably already know or are familiar with it and if not you can pop over to Wikipedia which will help fill in all the gaps.
I’m not gonna do all the work!
So without further ado (and before I bore you) here I go with a selection of thoughts, feelings and impressions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
I have never read any interviews in which J.K Rowling has talked about who or what influenced her when writing the Potter books but from almost page one I got the strongest Roald Dahl vibe. Believe me when I say this is not a bad thing in any way. I adore Roald Dahl and consider him to be one of the finest writers ever. Of all the people to be influenced by he’s an absolute corker! His immense skill coupled with a wicked imagination made for a potent combination.
Reading the Philosopher’s Stone felt like stepping into the pages of one of his books although I have to say that Rowling is not as dark and comically mean as Dahl could be. I wish she was as I have the feeling she would be very good at it!
It’s hard to describe exactly the feeling of familiarity and connection between the two authors but it was definitely there.
And I felt there were a lot of similarities between the characters of Dahl and Rowling. For instance the Dursley’s would be right at home having come from Dahl’s pen. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are narrow minded, boring, bigoted and just plain awful while their son Dudley is a classic Dahl child antagonist. Selfish, entitled, spoilt, stupid – a total rotter.
C’mon – anyone who has read Dahl must have felt and heard the echos.
Even Harry, the young hero, is typical of Dahl.
Alone in the world, put upon, downtrodden and bullied by uncaring adults, misunderstood by those who should care but all the while being smart, caring and special. My mind kept wandering back to Dahl’s works, Matilda in particular. I felt like there was a lot of commonalities between the two. Much like Matilda Harry even had complicated relationships with his teachers . Some assisted and supported him while others persecuted and maligned him … Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull anyone?
Look I’m sure a whole thesis could be written on this (not by me of course) and in fact it probably already has. It would be quite interesting to read other ideas and to learn what people think. I’m not saying The Philosopher’s Stone is a carbon copy of Matilda or any other of Dahl’s works but for me, personally, there was a very strong association.
Lack of Diversity
I was a bit unsure about whether to include much on the topic of diversity but in the end I thought yes, I would as it was an aspect of the book that stuck out for me quite glaringly and deserved a discussion.
Something that became quite obvious the further I made it into the story was the lack of characters of colour as described by Rowling’s pen.
Very few if any of Hogwarts students are directly described or give the impression of being anything other than european in ethnicity. The same can be said for the teachers, professors and those who staff the school. Even the inhabitants of the muggle world do not seem deviate from this pattern.
I found this to be disappointing and a little uncomfortable.
Yes I know this is not a real world story, not a gritty tale of the life of a young boy growing up in modern day multicultural Britain but surely there must have been room for more than just predominantly white people in Rowling’s world?
What a great example it would have been for children the world over if Hogwarts was a melting cauldron …. sorry pot .. of different ethnicities and cultures. To see themselves represented in the pages would have surely been thrilling. A big opportunity missed I reckon.
This is of course only the first book of seven in the series so circumstances may change but there would need to be a serious shift to make Harry Potter’s world a more representative and balanced place.
Note: I know that in the movie adaption of this story (which is pretty faithful to the source material) there are one or two faces of colour to be seen among the students at Hogwarts but none have major roles or speaking parts.
This may be a consequence of the fantasy genre but I don’t think I have ever read a book filled with so many new words to savour and delight over. The book was absolutely packed with them. I’ve no idea how Rowling thought them all up or what their genesis was but they made for page after page of discovery.
I am sure that there are now many new entries in the Oxford Dictionary thanks to J.K Rowling’s vast imagination.
So after my all ramblings I come to some final questions and thoughts.
Did I enjoy reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Yes.
Did I love it madly and passionately like many others do? No.
Will I continue reading the rest of the series? Hard to say really. I may do at some later stage but currently I have no burning desire to pick up The Chamber of Secrets.
And that is no bad reflection on Rowling. Anything but in fact. She is a very talented writer and world creator … a wizard with words (I know I know I’m sorry). I simply don’t have a personal connection or preference for fantasy literature. It’s not something I relate to well as a reader.
I can almost hear Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza saying ‘It’s not you, it’s me!’.
And no I don’t see a conflict in saying that and loving Roald Dahl. I class Dahl as fantastical not fantasy (and there is a whole other discussion there that I won’t get into!).
I’ll end by saying this …
For inspiring new generations of youngsters to pick books and develop a passion for reading Rowling must be given a great deal of credit. It’s a wonderful legacy to leave and for that we must be very grateful to Mr Potter and his creator.
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)