I am 28 years old and I have never before read any of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I have watched all of the movies though and have finally set aside the time to read the novels. This is the first installation of my Harry Potter book reviews from the point of view of an adult reading them for the first time. This post covers books one and two of the series. Enjoy!
1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
4 = Recommended Reading
The book is much like the movie. I know it’s sacrilege to not say that the other way around, but many of the main characters and plot points from the book are unchanged in the movie.
Rowling does a good job of setting up the characters, the world, and the big plot points in this first book of the series. The beginning of the book thrusts the reader into Harry’s life at the Dursleys, but gives some of the backstory of how he got there. The introductory elements are well-balanced and easy to follow.
From the beginning, Rowling crafts interesting, believable characters. The Dursleys are introduced well and are given some variety in personality where other authors may have made them all pretty much the same character. The hero, Harry, is easy to relate to, especially since the reader learns about the wizard world primarily from his point of view.
The Magical World
Rowling’s vision for a magical world that works both in conjunction with ours and also exists apart from ours is excellent. Even from this first book, the world is developed and deeply real—similar to Tolkien’s highly developed Middle Earth (excepting Tolkien’s devotion to languages).
What Didn’t Work
I understand that as an editor I may be more sensitive to this issue, but it is pretty obvious that this book was the first book in a series from a novice author. The result is that the book is in need of some editing to deal with awkward wording, repetition, and unclear areas. And saying this is a children’s book does not make up for the lackluster editing at all (see C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series). While it is obvious that this is Rowling’s first novel, the strong points of the book I mentioned earlier are what makes Rowling a good writer and her series so successful.
Book/Movie Differences of Note
Neville and Ron
The character of Neville in the book is still clumsy but he is not an idiot, as the movie sometimes makes him seem. For example, in the book Neville is the one who explains the Rememberall. In a similar vein, Ron also provides more explanations of the magical world in the book than in the movie, which makes sense as he has grown up with magic all around him whereas Harry and Hermione have not.
On the Path to the Sorcerer’s Stone
The book has Hermione solve a logic puzzle after Ron’s epic game of Wizard’s Chess. I enjoyed this scene because it showed that logic and critical thinking are important whether you can use magic or not. It also made Hermione more useful on the way to the Sorcerer’s Stone, aside from her knowing about the plants, which was more in line with the knowledge she’d displayed earlier in the book.
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
3 = Worth a Try
In this second book of the series, Rowling is developing as a writer and delving deeper into the wizard world. While the plot to this book starts out remarkably similar to the first, it is the darkened tone that makes it more alluring.
The tone of the first book maybe reached sinister, but this book gets full out dark by the end. There are petrified people (and a cat) and creepy messages written on the walls. Tom Riddle is frightening because he seems to lack all sympathy or care for anyone or anything. I think this book is appropriately dark for the ages of the characters and for the progression of the series; and I love it.
What Didn’t Work
Unnecessary Introductory Material
While the previous book was the first of the series and needed quite a bit of introductory information about the wizard world, this book needed less and included too much. There were some places where Rowling did a great job of introducing people or events from the previous book (like the Forbidden Forest), but most of the time she took too much space to tell the reader things they already knew (or should know, if they were reading the series in its proper order).
Strikingly Similar Plot
This book has almost the same plot as the previous one with the bumbling detective group (almost ala Mr. Magoo at times) of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, although Hermione is sadly absent for the exciting detective work. While this plot worked nicely in the first book, by now it feels a bit stale (We can’t tell anyone! Let’s meddle in secret; no one will get hurt!). The reader does almost learn more about the Dark Arts, but Lockhart’s ridiculousness prevents them from really learning anything of substance. While the revealing of Tom Riddle and the dark ending of the book certainly made it more exciting, I would have liked to see the characters grow up a little or at least show that they learned something from the previous year’s adventures
Book/Movie Differences of Note
- Ministry of Magic
In the movie, much of the back and forth between Mr. Wesley and Mr. Malfoy are removed. This omits much of the information Harry (and the reader) learns about the different facets of the Ministry of Magic. While this information may not seem particularly necessary for the plot, I find the Ministry politics fascinating and important for the larger story arc.
Well there you are. Stay tuned for more reviews as I continue to read the entire Harry Potter series for the first time as an adult.