I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone for the first time, and now I’m hooked. I know I’m really late to the game on this, but in my defense, when the books were first gaining popularity, my mom was one of those parents who thought a book about witches and wizards was a tad satanic for a tween to be reading. And in recent years, I was just too hip in my own mind to succumb to all the hype that surrounded the books and the films, and honestly, it was kind of a point of pride to be able to say I had never read the books. But now that I’ve shed my too-cool-for-school attitude, I’ve found that there’s a reason that these books have such a mass following, and it’s because the story is incredible.
Most people, whether they’ve read the books or not, at least know the premise: Harry Potter thinks he’s just an average kid until his eleventh birthday, when he discovers that he’s a wizard, that his parents were wizards who were killed by Voldemort, a wizard who went bad, and that he’s famous in the wizarding world since he was a baby because, though he tried, Voldemort couldn’t kill him. And then, on top of all of that, he discovers that he’s been invited to attend the world’s foremost wizarding school, Hogwarts. From there, Harry makes new friends (and a few enemies), learns some magic, becomes the star of the Quidditch team, tries to solve some mysterious happenings going on at the school, and has a most unfortunate encounter with a man in a turban.
Because Harry Potter is technically a children’s book, I think I thought that it would somehow be really trite and simplistic, but there’s actually a surprising amount of depth in this story. Wizarding aside, there are a lot of universally human insecurities and problems that these characters face, including (but not limited to) social alienation, power, classism and having to prove onself. These characters are so multi-faceted, and, like most people, are more complex than they appear to be on the surface. And even beyond that, there are some really profound statements about family, friendship, loss, and the difference between good and evil that felt, to me, like capital-T Truth. For example, near the end of the book, Dumbledore, Hogwarts’ headmaster and all-around badass wizard, gets serious with Harry and waxes eloquent on love:
“Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign… to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.”
I don’t know about you, but I’d say that’s a really good sentiment to instill in the minds of young readers and adults alike. It’s a truly enchanting tale, and, in spite of the element of magic that features so prominently, it is a very human story that I wish I had read sooner. Bring on books 2 through 7!