The first novel in the series is undoubtedly a children’s book. The chapters are short and simple, the characters easy to remember. The story is easy to follow and the ending is clear and final with a hint of what’s to come in the next year.
I enjoyed watching Harry escape the Dursleys and discover his new world at Hogwarts. His initial shopping trip with Hagrid to get his supplies is always a favorite scene for me, either to read or to watch in the movie. Back to school shopping is exciting, whether it’s in the real world or the wizarding world.
I’m familiar with the troublesome characterizations, especially the goblin bankers. But if I am a young child reading this book, I don’t have a deep analysis of anti-semitism waiting to jump out and criticize this aspect of the book. I’m just a kid in a fantasy world where there are giants and goblins and dragons. Problematic once you realize what it all stemmed from in the author’s mind? ABSOLUTELY. Does a kid realize that? Probably not.
Given that it is a children’s book, I was surprised at how the villain is introduced. Voldemort’s spirit is attached to another person’s body, and he speaks to Harry from the back of their head. Again, as an adult who has seen the movie many times I have a frame of reference. If I am a kid reading this for the first time, I feel like I would have trouble imagining the final confrontation scene without something to go by. I know there are illustrated versions of these books now, but an illustration near this scene would probably do kids a world of good in their understanding of what is happening.
Something the husband complains about a lot and I kind of have to give it to him is the idea of the houses. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. The house cup idea works and I like that the Sorting Hat lets kids have a say in where they go, but here it’s the issue of stereotypes that raises its ugly head again. If I’m a kid though, I see it as teams. As an adult I see it as “pushy and bold,” “fat with perseverance,” “smart and bitchy,” and “UGLY AND EVIL” and it’s hard to shake that. Every single Slytherin is written as bad and is shown that way in the movies. If ambition and single-mindedness is the Slytherin thing, there has to be a balance in there someplace. And if the house was all evil kids, why not do away with it and stop inviting those kids? Something about this idea seems unbalanced and unfair, and it rose to the fore here in the first book for me.
It’s a cute first book that a kid would be able to read and enjoy. As an adult there’s a lot going on here that is…questionable? but all in all it holds up. Sometimes in society and schools things are so ingrained that it’s easy to criticize from the outside but affecting change from the inside is impossible. I don’t mind criticizing the magical world set up here but I understand that the universe Rowling has set up has been around for hundreds of years and tradition that deep would be defended at all costs, whether right or wrong.
On to the (worst) next one: Chamber of Secrets.