Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: A Grown-Ass Man’s Book Review (Part 1)

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Years ago, when I was but a young lad of 15 or so, I turned my nose up at the Harry Potter series. Sure, I went and watched the movies. They were entertaining, pulse-pounding, and full of captivating special effects and British accents. And also Alan Rickman. But the books? Bah. I was reading Lord of the Rings, tales of King Arthur, The Sword of Shannara, all the respectable magical literature. Didn’t have time for anything as childish as Harry Potter. It was beneath me.

Now here I am, 15 years older, debatably wiser, and diving into literature aimed at tweenagers with a relish that is nothing short of embarrassing. And here I will share my findings and reactions in a (somewhat) serious manner as a grown-ass man reading these children’s books…for the first time. Not to be confused with the gentleman from buzzfeed who recently did the same experiment with the movies. I’m half as funny, and make none of the money.

Firstly, the name. I’m a bit ashamed of America that we were dubbed incapable of realizing the mystical connotations of the Philosopher’s Stone to the point that scholastic made the decisions to change the title (and any mention of Philosopher) in the book and subsequently the movie. Apparently, the old, doting image that a Philosopher conjured up in the US psyche wasn’t exciting enough, therefore the sexier, sassier “Sorcerer” was a better choice. Lame, America. Very lame.

But after I got over the title, the book is actually quite good. I won’t belabor the plot, you probably know it already. Rowling has an affinity for capturing a feeling of youthful awe with the combination of silly names and lack of introspection in the characters. In a way, it echoes Gaiman, who got his start with children books. They leave a little bit of the serious out, but instead of being annoying it actually enhances some of the wide-eyed wonderment, and holds it through the entirety of the prose. It gives a bare-boned feeling to the book but also moves the story along very quickly.

It may have been fun to imagine the characters as Rowling describes them, but my mind was polluted by the movies. Every line Snape has in the book is dragged out, Rickman-style, as I read. When Hermione gets prissy, it’s Emma Watson’s voice in my brain. This does however manage to stave off some of the irritation the stilted Hagrid dialogue creates, as I just imagine Robbie Coltrane talking. The decision to translate that accent was one of the few stylistic mistakes she makes. And man is it a mistake. Like nails on a chalkboard. Except with words.

At the end of the book, you feel good. Like you took a 200-page vacation back to your childhood. Its a little nerdy, and yes a bit childish at times, but that’s part of the appeal. It doesn’t stretch your brain, it lets it relax. Great start to a great series, if a bit fast and underdeveloped in places. I say bring on the next one. And the one after that.

And yes, that’s a grown-ass man saying bring on the Harry Potter.

Signing off.

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Banned Books Challenge 2015

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