When my friend Chris discovered I’d thrown in the towel on the Harry Potter books years ago, there was a whirlwind of disbelief. And, long story short, I went home for the summer with a copy of his book in my duffle bag and a promise to actually read the whole series, even if it was just to say that I had. So, here you go, Chris. I finished the first book! (Which you know happened a long time ago, but here’s the long overdue review.)
The thing is, I just didn’t enjoy the books that I did read. I tried when I was fourteen or fifteen, and the writing just didn’t do it for me. I love the movies to death, so it’s not the story or the characters that turned me away from the books; I’m just very particular about writing style. It’s always terrified me a little to go back to them—because Harry Potter is very dear to a lot of people, and, to be honest, I was slightly afraid that if I didn’t like it and wrote a less-than-glowing review, I might get bombarded. But I’m just going to hold my breath and hit the “post” button anyway and let the chips fall where they may. And while it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it, I’m still not totally sold—though I’m aware that it’s supposed to be a children’s story and (hopefully) Rowling’s writing matures in the later books.
The first book, for me, was okay. I wasn’t necessarily hooked, but it wasn’t bad either. I do think they’ll get better as I go, which I’m looking forward to, and I’m glad I finally went back to it, even if just to satisfy the completionist in me.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- Truly, honestly, I love the world of Hogwarts and the characters in it (although I wanted to slap Hermione upside the head a few times throughout the novel). I think it’s fantastic, thoughtful and organized. It’s obvious Rowling spent time on the structure, and the whole thing fits together so seamlessly that it makes it very easy to believe there is such a place hiding somewhere in the world. I love the believability of it all, how easy it is to slip into this wizarding world and learn as much as you can. I don’t find the idea of Hogwarts and what it represents impossible, which is awesome. What I lost in actual writing, I gained in everything else, and while it’s not perfect, it’s much easier to improve writing than it is to breathe life into something that had been flat and ordinary. I can see why so many people love Harry Potter, and I agree with them—it’s great story. It’s just a little rough around the edges at this point.
- Okay, I might have teared up when Dumbledore gave Neville ten points at the very end. I mean, I knew it was coming and all, but I’m very emotional, and most the time, I just want to pull Neville into a giant hug and never let go. I appreciate when books make me emotional, even if it’s for little reasons. That means it’s doing something right.
What I Didn’t Like:
- Sorry, guys, but I’m just not a fan of the writing yet. It’s not impossible to write a mature children’s book, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was a bit too childish for my taste—which means I felt like the writing was flat, the plot took too long to make things happen, and not enough thought or emotion was explored, but rather focused on physical events happening right after each other. (I’ll explain a bit more about that in my next bullet point.) I needed more emotion in the actual writing, a stronger connection to the characters, and a chance to really understand them. Some parts of the story felt too unnecessary (which is probably why I’ve preferred the movies all these years), and like it maybe needed one more good edit before publication. I’m hoping my thoughts about this will change as the series goes on, but that’s where I stand right now.
- I felt incredibly disconnected to Harry himself. I mean, I understand he’s an eleven-year-old, and they’re not exactly introspective, but it is possible to have an immature main character without losing emotion in the narration—even eleven-year-olds feel strongly about certain things, but it didn’t come across with Harry. He took the wizard world in stride, asking few questions and seeming confused about nothing. (When he did seem confused, we were just told he was confused, not really shown it.) Where I wanted moments of Harry’s thought process, his understanding and reflection on what was happening to him, I was thrown into a pattern of “event—event—event” over and over again. All action, no reflection. (At least, very little reflection.) Again, I’m hoping this is something that changes as the series goes on, but I want to feel a connection to the main character, and I didn’t get that quite yet with Harry Potter.
Overall: Yes, I am glad I went back and tried again, and I know my journey with Harry Potter isn’t over quite yet. I still have six more books to go, four of which I’ve never read before. I’m going to try my hardest not to compare to the movies, but it’s difficult when I know them so well. I’m keeping an open mind about what’s to come, and I certainly hope I enjoy what’s to come!