I was never banned from reading Harry Potter as a kid. I remember all the hullaballoo when the last book in the series was coming out and everyone was reading it. The commercials for all the movies were on TV when I was growing up. My mom said if I really wanted to read it, I could. But I didn't. See, I loved fantasy to death, still do, probably always will, but I never was interested in Harry Potter. The commercials on TV for the movies didn't intrigue me, they freaked me out. They looked really dark and they disturbed me. The commercials for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince especially creeped me out. And my mom said she'd read the first book, and while she didn't see the problem with the magic a lot of Christians brought up, she felt that Harry Potter was not a good person, that he used his magic for revenge and the whole book was filled with ends-justifies-the-means philosophy.
I got older, read a lot more fantasy, and saw the Harry Potter books at pretty much every Goodwill I ever went to. I started watching Studio C and they brought up Harry Potter in several of their sketches. And soon I acquired a new reason I didn't want to bother with Harry Potter: it sounded boring. And completely unoriginal. My sister working at the library saw snippets of the books while gluing them and wasn't intrigued at all.
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. I'd been tossing around the idea of reading it for a while. After all, it is a cultural phenomenon, and I'd like to understand all the references I can't escape from. And I would like to be able to take a stand in the magic debate over Harry Potter. So I finally bit the bullet and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Let's get the magic out of the way: all of the hullaballoo about the magic of Harry Potter is just that. There's nothing about it that makes me uncomfortable. The wizards and witches aren't drawing power from the devil to power their magic. They are born with the ability to do magic. Simple as that. They go to Hogwarts to learn how to do it better, like having a natural talent with the piano and taking lessons to use that and improve. And there is a part of magic that is dark magic that the good characters are not supposed to do, and they only keep stuff about it at Hogwarts so they can know how to defend against it. I think the terminology is mainly what scares most Christians (witches, wizards, and the very word "magic"). The spells that are supposedly "real spells used by real witches" are just Latin or Greek words, sometimes altered a bit or paired to sound better. The only actual "spell" is Avada Kedavra, which is the original form of, you guessed it, abracadabra. Apparently the original purpose was to cure illness and J.K. Rowling twisted the meaning a little to suit her book purposes. It might be lazy writing, but it's certainly not actual witchcraft. If the magic was the sole mark against the book, I would have no qualms handing this book to a small child.
But of course it's not just the magic. That wasn't the reason my mom didn't like it, after all. And it's not the reason I didn't like it, either.
Here we go. (Spoiler warning, by the way. Don't read any further if you don't want the book spoiled for you.)
The first chapter is completely pointless. It doesn't need to be there. All the information in it is shared again later in the book. It doesn't even really have the main character in it. It serves no point and could have been cut completely.
Also, the way Dumbledore handled the whole thing with Harry's custody was completely horrible. If he was just going to leave Harry to be raised by Muggles anyway, why did he send Hagrid to get Harry before the officials could arrive at the scene only to dump Harry on the Dursley's doorstep and go away? If Dumbledore was going to knock on the door and explain to the Dursleys everything that happened, maybe consider actually telling them about the death of their family in person, delivering Harry like that might have made sense. But no, he just wrote a letter and left a baby on a literal doorstep, expecting everything to be all right. If he had just left Harry to the Muggle foster care system, Harry might have ended up with relatives or a foster family that actually wanted him. At the very least, the Dursleys would have had to choose to take Harry in, which might have made them a little less resentful towards him.
Once we finally get to truly meet the main character, we are clobbered over the head with how abused Harry is and how we need to feel sorry for him. Well, I don't. No, the Dursleys aren't all that nice to Harry, but they aren't really that abusive, either. So he sleeps in a closet. Big deal. He's fed and clothed, and the worst abuse he gets is from bullies at school, which happens to too many kids to make him an object of pity. Percy Jackson was abused much more by his stepfather than Harry ever is by his family. Compared to him, Harry's doing pretty great.
And you know what? I'm just going to say it. Harry Potter doesn't have much of a personality.
Yeah, yeah, I know, he's the main character, but he's a cardboard cutout with a scar and an undeserved talent and a tendency to jerkiness and bad behavior. Never once in the whole book does he do anything remotely heroic. And actually, he's kind of a brat.
Sure, Dudley's a spoiled brat, but Harry's no better. The first time we see poor wittle orphan Harry actually do something, he's screaming at his uncle to give him his letter. He didn't even try asking nicely, no, simply resorted to screaming at the top of his lungs. He's sarcastic and rude, and he's frankly horrible. Once he learns about the existence of magic, he immediately is drawn to a book all about curses and is upset when Hagrid drags him away from it because he wants to learn how to curse his family. He develops an immediate hatred of Draco Malfoy even though he hadn't done much yet except be a snob. Harry hopes throughout the year that Draco will get expelled or fail his exams.
Harry constantly sneaks around and breaks the rules, sometimes just so he can show Draco Malfoy up. Even when he's not sneaking out to duel with Draco Malfoy, he's meddling in things that are none of his business. He doesn't need to know anything about the attempted thefts at the Gringotts bank. He's a kid, and if the adults aren't telling him things, that's because it's none of his business. There's only one point in the book where he actually considers following the rules, and that's portrayed as a bad thing. (Thank goodness Harry snapped out of it! Imagine if he actually considered properly respecting authority!) That's one of the worst things about it. There's nothing wrong with kids making mistakes and learning from them, breaking the rules and being punished. But Harry never actually is punished. When a teacher tells the kids to stay on the ground and not fly around to prevent injury to themselves and others, Harry gets in a fight with Draco Malfoy, is caught flying pretty high up in the air, and, when pulled aside by the teacher, doesn't get scolded at all. No, the teacher breaks the rules herself to reward him by putting him on the quidditch team, even though first-years aren't allowed on the quidditch team. When Harry breaks many, many rules by breaking through all the defenses for the sorcerer's stone (mostly by using his friends, because apparently Harry is incapable of doing any actual magic besides flying), he's not punished. Not even a "you delayed Voldemort so good for you, but you also broke many rules, so you're also going to be punished, because rules are there for a good reason and we don't want you getting the idea you can break them whenever you want." No, Harry gets rewarded. Rewarded! For breaking the rules and hurting his friend. Sure, Dumbledore, Harry's a real hero.
That leads to another bad thing: Harry is a teacher's pet, and one of the biggest Mary Sues I've ever seen. He's such a teacher's pet that he concludes the one teacher that doesn't like him must be allied with Voldemort and trying to kill him, when really that teacher was trying to save his ungrateful life. Everybody but Snape loves Harry. Harry is rich and famous. Harry's very talented with magic. Harry's parents were great wizards. Harry defeated Voldemort as a baby and almost killed him. Harry saved the Sorcerer's Stone. (Actually, Harry endangered the Sorcerer's Stone. The Mirror of Erised was the only way to get it, and Quirrel couldn't get it when he looked into it. Even with all the other defenses gone, it was still well-protected until Harry blundered in.) Harry got into the best magic school out there without even applying. Harry's in the best house in said school. Harry was given an invisible cloak and the best broomstick out there by his teachers. Harry won the quidditch game. Sure, Harry flubbed it up by being caught breaking the rules, but he won the house championship anyway by breaking the rules again. And Harry defeated Voldemort (again!) by doing absolutely nothing (again!) because his mother loved him very much and that means evil people can't touch him. Or something. (Which doesn't make much sense, but most things in this book don't make sense.) Most of the teachers love him. Dumbledore gave him an invisible cloak. Yes, his father used to own it, but did it never occur to Dumbledore that maybe he should wait until Harry is older and more mature to give him such a powerful gift with such potential for abuse? And the whole quidditch thing is ridiculous. Quidditch is supposed to be hard and take hard work to get good at. But special little Harry, who's never even heard of quidditch until a few weeks ago, can fly and play and be the best Seeker Hogwarts has ever seen just because apparently his dad was good at quidditch.
Skill with quidditch or soccer or any other sport can't be passed down through genetics like a good nose or a nice singing voice. And just because Harry has some talent doesn't mean he should be able to master a sport like that. It should take him years of training and strategy and practice and actually working out to get a skill level like that in a sport, or in anything, really. I have some talent with the piano, but it took eleven years of lessons to get to the skill level I'm at today. And if I have kids, they aren't going to be able to just sit down at the piano and play Maple Leaf Rag just because I can play it after many years of practice. It doesn't work like that in the real world and it shouldn't work like that with Harry, either.
But don't worry, haters of Mary Sue-ness and magic in general. Aside from the flying and one accident with a snake, Harry performs no magic whatsoever in the book at all. He's shown attempting a grand total of one spell, and that's an epic failure. Ron's the one that defeated the troll, and Hermione's the one that unlocks the doors and stops poor Neville from doing the right thing, and Ron wins the chess game, and Hermione solves the puzzle. All Harry does is play the flute badly and meddle in things that are none of his business. Oh, and live. The Boy Who Lived is very good at living. I can't believe he's considered the hero in all this. He doesn't even defeat Voldemort at the end. Dumbledore does that. Harry just manages to live long enough to be rescued.
Let's talk about Voldemort, shall we? Does anyone actually know what he's trying to do? I get that he kills lots of people, and that's not good, but why? What does Voldemort actually want? What is his purpose? Does he want to take over the wizarding world or all of the world or does he just like killing people? Most dark lords have a purpose and a plan, but I really can't figure out what in the world Voldemort was ever trying to do.
There are other things in the book that are just too convenient. How considerate of Voldemort to wait until Harry had figured out his plan to make his move! He could have made his move any time after he figured out how to calm Fluffy, or any time after he drank the unicorn blood. He could have lured Dumbledore away from Hogwarts with a note any time, but he considerately waited until Harry knew about it so he could warn Dumbledore and follow Voldemort. How kind of him!
On that note, how in the heck did Quirrel get through Snape's defenses? Harry and Hermione said there was only enough potion in the bottle for one person to drink, and Harry drank it. There was no sign that Quirrel had ever been there.
Rowling seems to have confused the old writing adage of "Show, don't tell," into "Tell, don't show." Or perhaps she was just being lazy. Very little is actually shown in the story. Hermione figuring out Snape's defense isn't shown. The chess game isn't shown. The quidditch games aren't shown. Harry's "torturous" classes with Snape aren't shown. Hermione actually becoming close friends with Ron and Harry isn't shown (she just says, "There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other," ignoring the fact that not being hostile to each other anymore and becoming close friends are two different animals). The school's hatred for Harry isn't shown. It's no wonder people say the movie is better than the book. Movies have to show things!
Then there's the fact that Harry's instinctual magic can only be used via negative emotions, and the fact that Hogwarts is socialist. Don't believe me? They practice collective punishments and rewards for each house. Students don't have demerits, they get points taken away from their houses. If students do something good, points go to the collective house pool. If houses win quidditch games, they add points to the pool. If students are caught sneaking out at night, they lose points from the pool. Gryffindor's legitimate quidditch win is taken away because Harry was caught sneaking around at night. No wonder the students start to hate him. Afterwards, Slytherin wins more quidditch matches, so they win the "house championship", a contest designed to reward houses for being over-all better than all the other houses. Nothing wrong with sports championships, guys. And in the end, in the most contrived happy ending I've seen, Dumbledore steals the championship from Slytherin by giving loads of points to Harry "for courage", Hermione "for logic", Ron "for being good at chess", and a little to poor Neville for actually doing the right thing. So of course Gryffindor wins the cup, not evil Slytherin. Which is another thing. Why is there a bully house at Hogwarts? Hagrid straight up tells Harry, "Oh yeah, all the nastiest magicians come from there and everyone in Slytherin's a jerk." Why even have that house if all it does is encourage bad behavior (even more than the rest of the school)? The demeaning attitude towards Slytherin surely doesn't help matters any. And the demeaning attitude towards muggles is not okay, either. The wizarding world isn't real! Why is J.K. Rowling racist towards anyone that's not a part of it? And Hogwarts isn't the only magic school. Why do they ban people from using their natural talents over the summer or if they're expelled? That seems oppressive and wrong.
And last but not least, the most stupid thing of all is the fact that the wizarding world is kept secret. Why, Harry asks, doesn't anyone know about magic? Well, Hagrid says, if muggles knew about magic, they'd want to use it to solve all the world's problems. What exactly is the point of having magic if you're not willing to help people with it? What do wizards do when they graduate from Hogwarts? Just help the wizarding world? Go around cursing people that were mean to them? It sounds like a lazy excuse to have the wizarding world a secret, not a good reason. More lazy writing, if you ask me.
I'll end this with something from the end of the book. The Dursleys come to pick up Harry at the end of the school year. Uncle Vernon doesn't gush over Harry's return and is impatient to leave. Hermione's response? She is "shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant."
I'm shocked that anyone could be so unsubtle about how sorry we're supposed to feel for Harry and how awful the Dursleys are(n't).
Some say that it doesn't get good until the third book, so I might try continuing the series. But I certainly wouldn't recommend this book to anyone, much less give it to a small child. There are a few somewhat entertaining aspects, but they are overwhelmed by the bad writing and bad morals. I can somewhat understand why kids like it, because they don't know any better, but all the people that read this as teens or adults? Why? There's not really that great friendship, and it's not good vs. evil. There aren't good people in this book (besides maybe Neville). Most of it is boring anyway. I just don't understand how this series got so popular. Must have been the marketing.
(Sorry for the very long post, I had a lot to say, and didn't really think it should be split in two.)
(Sorry for the very long post, I had a lot to say, and didn't really think it should be split in two.)