A whole world has heard of 11-year-old Harry Potter, but he doesn't even know who he is, much less why he doesn't fit in. Now, author J.K. Rowling lets our world discover the gifts of Harry Potter as he discovers them for himself.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is a throwback to a time when preteen literature was filled with fantasy and entertainment. Blending elements from Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" and J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and his Ring cycle, Rowling has crafted a story of discovery and adventure set in this world and an otherworld inhabited by witches, wizards, ogres, trolls, unicorns and other magical beasts -- though it seems at times that the scarier world is our own.
A violent act leaves Harry Potter orphaned as a young toddler. Caring individuals from the otherworld take him to live with his Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and their son, Dudley, in the world of "muggles" -- regular human beings who either can't see or refuse to see the magic in the world around them. But Harry is different from them and his adoptive family knows it, fears it and represses his differences as best they can.
Harry grows up sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs and, like Oliver Twist, never getting to eat his fill. Shortly before his 11th birthday, Harry receives a note informing him he's been accepted to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and his past, his world and his future begin to open up to him.
When the magic begins is when Rowling really allows her creative sparks to fly. At Hogwarts, the otherworld of wizardry and witchcraft is as new to us as it is to Harry and we read of his experiences with the same level of awe and amazement as he feels. Rowling's attention to detail in this world keeps readers glued to find out more about Harry and his destiny in wizardry.
In the book there are as many delights as there are flavors of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans -- a take on our Jelly Bellies, but with a tad more variety and reality. Rowling introduces us to invisibility cloaks, talking paintings, letter-delivery owls and to Quidditch, a multi-balled, athletic competition that's almost a cross between rugby and polo, but played on broomsticks.
"Harry learned that there were seven hundred ways of committing a Quidditch foul and that all of them had happened during a World Cup match in 1473; that Seekers were usually the smallest and fastest players, and that most serious Quidditch accidents seemed to happen to them; that although people rarely died playing Quidditch, referees had been known to vanish and turn up months later in the Sahara Desert," Rowling writes.
Rowling's flight through fantasy land is full of surprises " oh, and evil, too. And Harry appears destined to stop it.
A drawback to the book comes in the final chapter when all the loose strings are tied together to help Harry (and the reader) make sense of it all. The classic villain feels compelled to confess to all the wrongs that didn't seem to make sense earlier. But that doesn't make the book not worth a look.
Though not quite as biting as Dahl or as laboriously detailed as Tolkien, Rowling wrote "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Press, $16.95) with a flair for imagination while understanding the joy of discovery.
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