Mark Lawrence's Reviews > Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
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's review
Nov 06, 2010

liked it

Publishers have my sympathy. If I try to put myself in the place of an editor picking this manuscript from the pile I can say with some certainty that I would not have recognized it as the ticket to a multi-billion dollar prize. I would have thought to myself that it was a good fun read, revisiting the magic-school trope and doing a fine job for children in the 8 to 12 range. If I hadn't had anything better land on my desk I might have published it, but then again, like quite a number of publishers, I might have passed in favour of a book I liked better.

I read this maybe 15 years back so I could share in what was exciting my three kids at the time. And I've read it twice to my daughter, Celyn. We read the first 5 some years back, and now she's 12 we're going to read the whole lot. She's very disabled and can't read for herself (she can't hold the book or see the page for starters...)

Having just finished I've checked the shelves to discover we have two copies of book 1 and two copies of book 3, but none of book 2. So JKR will be getting some more of my money shortly!

To the review... I liked the book. I have no idea why it has sold a gazzilion copies more than any other children's book or why so many adults are so taken with it. JKR writes solid enough prose, though her addiction to adverbs in dialogue tags irks me no end, he said testily. She writes a fun and inventive story, though the internal inconsistencies would have distressed me even as a child. Why do the finest wizards in the land leave a great treasure guarded only by a series of puzzles rather than actual defences? If in the final scenes the puzzle poem hadn't been left to give the solution to the potion test ... or the key hadn't been left in the same room as the door that wouldn't yield to magic ... would that not have been a better way to defend the treasure? Yes ... it was more fun this way, but ... dammit ... kids aren't stupid...

But yes, funny and inventive magic, school dynamics of making friends and enemies, the hijinx, the evil baddie, the chosen one... it's all good. Celyn certainly enjoyed it. She's on team Hermionie.

The only other thing that really bothered me was the repeated insinuation, present even in the term itself, that 'muggles' are somehow lesser. That the random gift of magical ability somehow makes you better.

I remember that later on (and hinted at in this book) the idea of mud-bloods (wizards born of muggles) is offered up as a proxy for racism and we're invited to condemn Draco Malfoy for his views (rightly so). But all the time I read this I'm feeling the hypocrisy embodied in the whole idea of muggles, which, albeit voiced without open malice, is really the same damn thing.

I will report back on book 2 when we're done.

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Reading Progress

November 6, 2010 – Shelved
July 27, 2016 – Started Reading
August 11, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Segal ". . . the road to hell is paved with adverbs . . ." - Stephen King

Thomas Griffin *Mark begins weather-proofing his house against the imminent hurricane of angry Pottermore devotees*

Jeffrey Very interesting review. I look forward to reading your review for the 2nd book. I was taken with this book when I read it first as a child but upon rereading it a couple of years ago, I felt a lot of what you're saying here. I like how you pointed out the thing about the connotation and implications of the term 'muggle', because even as a kid, I thought something was off about it.

message 4: by Ivenn (new) - added it

Ivenn Hmm... I read it first when I was 11 years old but I've never noticed those things you mention. That's true that children are not stupid but in that age "fun" is more important than logic and consistence I think. :) Anyway, you are right in this review, I did a reread a few days ago and now - as a 24 years old - I can see all those flaws and plot holes... but it's still a special book for me.

David Gau I am actually going to read this soon as well.

Simon Interesting call out regarding the term "muggles" and its use. It's kind of patronising and might be regarded as an equivalent of a passive form of racism. But I'm not sure that this was actually intended.

Paulo I think the way characters' dialogs are written, add a special something to the Harry Potter series. In fantasy I usually find most authors do a poor job on that department with some notable exceptions such as Hobb, Sullivan or Rothfuss. Otherwise the series is not an excellent piece of literature but it makes up with an entertaining story and relatable Characters.

Poornapragna Rao I'll preface the comment saying I am a huge fan of Harry Potter. But I can see this point of view too.

I read Harry Potter first when I was 11. It was fantastic. No other book would have worked so well to introduce me or my numerous friends to fantasy or even reading books. It was a time when the book-readers were becoming cool. Before that if you read fantasy you were the uncool 'geek' or 'nerd'.
While it may have come out at the right time, it was not completely without merit. Like you say, it was 'a fun and inventive story'. It broke my tiny boundary of imagination. And I think that was enough for the generation to latch onto. For my generation, it was perfect. I rate it five stars for the feeling it gave me when I first read the book.

If I really had to read it with a critical eye today, I probably wouldn't give it 5. My rating is for the awe it inspired when I first read it.

Rebin I totally agree with you. I have read these books and it would be a lie to say that I haven't enjoyed them. They are nicely written, easy to read and quick to finish. However when I see people saying that Harry Potter is the best book ever to be written, I truly dont understand how they could say that. As far as Im concerned is that JKR is no linguist master like Tolkien for example. It is wrong to say that she is an expert writer. Also I dont understand how Harry Potter series have sold so many copies.... lets be honest guys people are overhyping about these books lol

message 10: by Dj (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dj Same here. Entertaining books, but highly overrated in my personal opinion.

Clifton Hill Reading book 1 to my daughter for the first time and it is a delight to see her reveling in the world; her first foray into fantasy (hopefully one of many.)

For me, I think what drew the crowds to Pottermania is the characters and the whimsy. She also does a great job of building sympathy for Harry and making him likable. Yes, there are inconsistencies and logic-errors, but you can find those in every multi-million dollar blockbuster and in most of even the finest books out there.

David Yup, basically the same thoughts I've had reading through the series for the first time over the past year. I enjoyed them well enough. They're certainly better than the movies, but there's nothing too exceptional about them. Especially the first two books, which are arguably the worst. Goblet of Fire is legitimately a pretty great fantasy mystery novel, but it takes two very middling books and one okay book to even get there.

I think really it boils down to the fact that these books are one of if not the most accessible ways to get into fantasy literature for a mainstream audience that isn't already familiar with it. Same reason 50 Shades of Grey became so popular, it boiled down an already existing genre into a palatable entry point for a more mainstream audience that normally wouldn't be reading it.

Rowling jams in so many fantasy tropes and cliches, so many references to real world mythology, and the books aren't trying to be cutting edge or challenging in any way. It's really extremely difficult for me to think of an easier entry point for people to get into fantasy. I think Narnia certainly held that title, once upon a time, but in a post-christian, secular world constantly wrestling with the problems of systemic racism, classism, and inequality it just has no chance against Rowling's creation.

message 13: by Crazy4Books (new) - added it

Crazy4Books Refreshing Review

Nikki I read the series for the first time at the age of 29 and really enjoyed them. Now I am re-reading at 37 and loving them so much more. I think that book 1 might be the weakest and the series gets better. I just finished Half Blood Prince and think it is my favorite.

Patricia Burroughs Few Americans had read boarding school books, much less magical ones, much less set in a castle. In fact, to this day I sometimes have to figure out if a magical term that pops into my head when writing is bog standard or JKR's world-building. So I suspect that a lot of what was normal for readers in the British Isles was as big a revelation to readers around the world as the first Star Wars movie was. Fabulous, exciting, a new world. It was for me!

Robin It's such a relief to hear someone else scratching their head over the success of this book. I, too, tried to read this to my son with special needs. The voice, world-building, and artwork are charming. I guess we're weird. We needed to know what Harry Potter wanted.

message 17: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Bonner I never got the impression that muggles were treated as inferior, the books are just not about them. The only ones shown on any regular basis (the Dursleys) were obviously supposed to be horrible muggles, not representative. Wizards (other than Harry and Hermione) often are confused by them, but in a comic way, such as the way the Weasley dad is obsessed with muggle trinkets he does not understand. While muggles are shown to have the "weakness" of not being aware of or capable of magic, witches and wizards are repeatedly shown to be helpless without their magic.
Not finding the book as amazing as many adults find it to be is understandable, it is completely subjective. But I don't understand the complaint of muggle bashing. Not only is it odd to complain about a preference for a fictional culture over a real culture in a book, but I do not even see the perceived preference. At the same time, don't we often read (especially fantasy and sci fi) in order to escape what we don't like about real life? What 9 year old wouldn't trade 4th grade for Hogwarts?
As one idea for why the series is so popular I would suggest that while the "magical school" trope has been a mainstay of fantasy for decades, the Harry Potter series is the first time the vast majority of readers have encountered it. It is also more accessible to all ages than any other examples I have ever read. Reading Harry Potter, for me, is like reading Alice in Wonderland. It is a kids book, but it reminds me of the wonder of childhood so much that it does not feel like it.

message 18: by Patricia (last edited Oct 08, 2017 06:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patricia Burroughs John wrote: "I never got the impression that muggles were treated as inferior, the books are just not about them. The only ones shown on any regular basis (the Dursleys) were obviously supposed to be horrible m..."

I agree. I also felt early on that the subject of Mudbloods and the way they were viewed by a minority of wizards was pretty much a parable of racism. As an American, the mudblood struck me as an analogy for racism, but by the time we found out that the stronghold of that thought was in Durmstrang, and through later books, it seemed more inspired by the Nazis.

But the point of all these things was, "This is bad thinking. This is evil thinking." With the issues we face today, I think we're fortunate that so many Millenials were so strongly influenced by Jo Rowling's magical books.

Amanda Setasha Hall I finally got around to reading this book myself, and I agree with a lot of these statements you've pointed out.
Harry Potter is a world I'm in love with, but this book...

message 20: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Pepper 'though her addiction to adverbs in dialogue tags irks me no end, he said testily'
I think the reason why I find this line so amusing is because a creative writing thing I was doing for a while drummed this into our heads so much.
Stephen King if I recall talks about it a lot in 'on writing' as well.

James on my to-read list but having read a lot of awesome fantasy and the like i hope it isn't too awfully written...

Rachel K One of the magical aspects of this series is that the books mature as the characters do. Not only does the writing improve and have more depth, but if you happened to be the same age as Harry Potter when the first book was released as I was, it was quite magical in itself to grow up alongside of Harry and his friends. That being said, I think that the fourth book is when things really started to become serious. Darker in nature, and less childish.

Saurav Borah What's wrong with you, Marky?

Kelsie I was 7 the first time I read Harry Potter back in 2000 I was the ideal demographic but I understand the lower star ratings for the earlier books the fourth will always be my favourite as the story progressed and the world became more developed its just got better imo

Stephen Richter It hit me, when listening to V.E Schwab at an signing, that her entry into the fantasy genre was the Harry Potter series, how many new authors will also have this experience.

Zechariah Hurd Yeah, that whole puzzle defense thing bothers me tremendously. I just can't let strange segments of plot like that slide away without it pestering me to no end.

message 27: by Will (new) - rated it 2 stars

Will Daggett 100% agree. Someone was just telling me recently that HP was the greatest fantasy story ever written (I don't think he ever read them, just assumed it was such because of the money it made). But for me, the only thing that I was really impressed by was that the plot, characters, and writing style matured with its audience. Besides doing a good job targeting an audience, it's really just a typical fantasy story with a lot of typical fantasy tropes.

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