Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Reflection

When I was nine years old, Harry Potter was a growing phenomenon. Kids were going crazy for these books. I can still remember sitting with my friends at lunch time and laughing about how stupid it all was. I mean, c’mon. Who wants to read a book about a boy wizard? It seemed ridiculous.
Now it is almost 15 years later and I have just finished reading the first book for the seventh time. To some that may seem like a real accomplishment. To others it may seem like a small number compared to the number of times they have read it. And to the select few buzz kills, they think it is a waste of time. You know who you are.
Yes, I have read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone seven times (I now refuse to call it “Sorcerer’s” for reasons I will explain further along in this post). I began rereading the Harry Potter books in my sophomore year of high school, 2006. I reread them because I found I hardly remembered the books and was only accustomed to the movies. I reread the first three and didn’t return to them until the summer of 2009, two years after I read the seventh book, and the summer the sixth film released. Ever since that second reread, I have become acquainted to a specific feeling that only resonates when I read Harry Potter. If you are a reader than I am sure you know what I mean. It is a weird and specific feeling you get when you read a book that sometimes haunts you until you read the book again. For me, the urge to reread Harry Potter and relive that marvelous feeling comes about every summer. I kid you not. Sometimes the feeling is so strong that I crave the books like an ex-smoker craves a cigarette. I can’t really explain the feelings even to myself. Perhaps it is returning to my childhood that keeps me coming back, remembering the touch of the pages in my small hands and the smell of pumpkin space candles burning in autumn while the smell of burning leaves drifted through the open window. Sometimes I am brought back to the summer when the final book came out. My friends brought their copy to church camp in secret and when I finally ended up reading it, I was at my grandfather’s 100+ year old house in upstate New York.
Books have a way of staying with us. My mom asked me why I like to reread books when I already know what is going to happen. I explained to her that rereading is just as magical. I am able to spot clues that foreshadow to the book’s ending or even foreshadow future book events. I can look at character development and see how Rowling set up the trio to become the adults at the end of book seven. Rereading allows me to reread brilliant one liners from Dumbledore (and this book contains a lot of those) and relive the trio’s friendship in bloom. It is like reuniting with a friend who has moved away and now returned for a few weeks.
I contemplated writing another review for this book (which seemed appropriate since my views have changed on certain things) but felt it would be counterproductive. I’ve read the book seven times after all…it is no secret I love it. So instead of reviewing the book, I am going to talk about the memories I associate with reading the first book for the first time. This will be an ongoing series. The number seven is a prominent number in the Harry Potter series so it seems fitting to reminisce on this reread. This time around I won’t be rereading the books all at once. There are so many books that I haven’t read yet that I want to give a chance so I will reread at my own pace. Let the magic begin!
I want to first discuss the title. It really bothers me that Scholastic felt the need to change Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone. Not only are these two things very different, but the American name no longer carries as much intellect and weight. To some this may seem like a minuscule detail but in terms of Nicholas Flammel and what his title was, he was a philosopher and there was said to be a Philosopher’s Stone. The title change can be compared to Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, more commonly known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The later title was dubbed for the English translation of the book but carries no weight for what the story is really about which is Notre Dame, not specifically the Hunchback, Quasimodo.
Two of my favorite chapters exist in this book as well as one of my least favorite chapters. My least favorite chapter is Chapter 14, Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback. This chapter contains a humorous line from Hermione (“Hagrid, you live in a wooden house” she exclaims after Hagrid says his dragon Norbert is going to live with him) but apart from that
not much else holds this chapter up. The un-believability of it all and out of character carelessness of Harry and Hermione bothers me to no end. My favorite chapters are Chapter 1, The Boy Who Lived and Ch.12, The Mirror of Erised. In regards to Chapter 1, I can’t say enough just how brilliant the first line is (pictured on right). Seriously, that has to be one of the greatest first lines in literature. The chapter is so fascinating because Harry is absent from most of it and asleep for the rest, defying the typical children’s book narrative style which really moved me as a young reader. Listening to the wizards interact about Voldemort’s defeat and the death of James and Lily and Harry’s miraculous survival is so engaging. Plus, seeing Harry’s beginnings always makes me smile with glee. Chapter 12 is a favorite of mine because of the mirror itself and what Harry sees. First of all, ring composition! Hello! Second of all, Harry’s longing for a family is so gut wrenchingly touching that you can’t help but sympathize with him. This boy has never known love and has now come to Hogwarts where he encounters love and his parents through the everyday things he does and now through this mysterious mirror. Seeing them makes them that much more real and it is terrible that all of this was taken from Harry.
Now let us travel back to the year 2000 when I first began reading about young Harry’s adventures. I will not go into why I changed my mind about the books. That will be for another time. My mom ordered me the first book through the Scholastic book order (remember those?), a paperback cover. When the book arrived, I remember gawking at how thick the book seemed and how small the font was. I felt very grown up reading this book. I carried it with me everywhere throughout the house. One night as my brother, who was 7, took a bath he called me into the bathroom for company. I laid down on the bathroom rug and continued reading Chapter 4, The Keeper of the Keys. My brother was splashing bath water and I kept telling him to stop. It was an accident waiting to happen. His splashes grew bigger and bigger until finally, SMACK! Water cascaded through the air and drenched my book. I can remember crying and my mom sitting me on her lap for comfort. That was only the beginning of my book’s ruin. Once I finished reading, which felt like a huge accomplishment, I lent the book to my brother who was desperate to read it. I didn’t see the book for a few months and when school ends and my brother emptied his backpack, the pages were covered with melted butterscotch candies. This was yet again another blow. I was very wary to lend my brother anything from this moment forward. I’m not sure what became of that copy. I think we donated it.
This ends my Philosopher’s Stone reflection blog. Join me next time when I remember the Chamber of Secrets!

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