Yer a Wizard, 'Arry!

Article by marycatherine

This school year, our kids specialist Mary-Catherine will reread the entirety of the Harry Potter series and blog about it for our website! Here's her second part of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. 

 

While reading HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE this week, I was struck by how revolutionary it was, not only for kids publishing, but for my generation as a whole! I find myself asking--at what point were those first readers hooked? What was it that turned this from a cherished-by-a-dedicated-few series to a worldwide phenomenon? It was before the rise of social media, so clever tweeting and tumbling weren’t a factor. In fact, the series feels distinctly old fashioned, because it just barely caught the era before computers and phones were ubiquitous. Sure, there was media attention and movies started rolling out, but the series was already well on its way to major success before that. Perhaps the best conclusion is that the books are just really really good, and spoke to something kids were looking for in their reading experiences and lives!

My colleagues (and fellow Potterheads), Liz and Augusta, both had similar answers when I asked them why they thought it was such a global success. Both talked about how exciting it was to find a character who was around their age and having grand adventures. Augusta mentioned how Harry was a normal kid who was actually very special, and that made her feel like she could be magic and save the world, too! Liz was drawn to the “realness” of the series, and the way that Rowling’s world-building convinces you that Hogwarts is out there, and magic is real. We also discussed the books as entry points for cautious and reluctant readers. This series is often credited with setting off the childrens publishing boom that exists now, because it brought a complex, modern story to kids in the tradition of the great adventure series of the past.

*****

In the section I read this week, Harry finds out--via several hundred, magically-delivered letters--that he is a wizard! A famous wizard! Whose survival SAVED THE WORLD! One of my favorite bits of this scene--in which Hagrid, the lovably hairy and very large Hogwarts gamekeeper, tracks Harry down to invite him to Hogwarts--is when Hagrid realizes that the Dursleys haven’t told Harry anything about the wizarding world or his history.

"CAR CRASH!" roared Hagrid, jumping up so angrily that the Dursleys scuttled back to their corner. "How could a car crash kill Lily an’ James Potter? It’s an outrage! A scandal! Harry Potter not knowin’ his own story when every kid in our world knows his name!"

I love it. One of the major themes of this first book--and really, the whole series--is identity: searching for it, finding it, creating it. Harry’s journey really begins here, with a blank slate and an army of unanswered questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? Especially for a child experiencing abuse, as Harry was with the Dursleys, this moment is all the more precious. It’s a moment that all kids, no matter how happy in their life, long for, which is why we find it so often in children’s lit. In Harry’s case, not only is he special, he’s the most extraordinary boy in the entire wizarding world! Who wouldn’t want to escape into that?

Next week: Diagon Alley, and the Brazos staff gets sorted!

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