Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1997)

by J. K. Rowling

Is the Harry Potter series literary fiction? Critics and readers have lined up on both sides of that question. Do the seven novels appeal to grown-ups? That is indisputable, as legions of adults were as eager to read each newly published book as were preteens who are the supposed audience.

The youngsters attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry confront the adult reality of good and evil in struggles where their lives are at risk. The first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, sets up the central conflict of the whole series. The evil wizard Lord Voldemort, killer of James and Lily Potter, wants to regain the power he lost when he couldn't also murder their 1-year-old son, Harry. Living with his mean "Muggle" (nonwizard) relatives for the next decade, Harry finds out at age 11 that he is a wizard and will attend Hogwarts. There he meets the characters who will figure prominently throughout the series, including his best friends Ron and Hermione and the wise old headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as in the books that follow, danger builds as the school year progresses, and finally Harry meets the enemy. Good triumphs, but evil isn't totally defeated.

Readers old enough to have studied history draw parallels between author J. K. Rowling's creations and historical events such as slavery and historical people such as Hitler. The ugly consequences of prejudice — against wizards who aren't pureblood, against creatures who aren't fully human — are looked at straight on. The Harry Potter books aren't happily-ever-after fairy tales. The reality of evil, refusing to give up when the fight is worth winning, facing down foes and surviving (or maybe not): the implications of these themes may be grasped more readily by adult readers than by children.


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