Chapter 14 – Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback
- While it is interesting to actually see a dragon (there are only so many ways to insert one into the story), the whole thing with Norbert really does feel like a meaningless subplot, until it’s given some relevance later as tying into the plot to steal the Stone and helping get Harry into the Forbidden Forest. Events with Norbert go by so quickly that it’s like the story realises this.
- This chapter does tell us quite a bit about Hagrid, though. It helps us understand what McGonagall said in the first chapter about him being careless. He gets handed his childhood dream on a plate, and he doesn’t think about the obvious impracticalities or give any long-term thoughts to the situation – he just lets his excitement take hold and throws himself into taking care of his vicious, hazardous, illegal dragon.
Chapter 15 – The Forbidden Forest
- Another clever bit of foreshadowing, as Quirrell is straightening his turban when he comes out of the classroom after Harry hears him being threatened!
- Hearing Harry say “We’ve done enough poking around” seems very alien considering the later books, where I don’t recall him bothering to even tell himself any such thing when there’s a mystery to solve – the guy just can’t help himself.
- The option of going to Dumbledore, which Hermione brings up here, does seem obvious, but it’s understandable why Harry rejects it. Firstly, we already know he harbours some natural distrust of authority after ten years with the Dursleys. Secondly, he doesn’t really know Dumbledore yet and hasn’t built up proper trust in him.
- It seems extremely questionable, even by Hogwarts standards, for four first years to spend their detention wandering through the Forbidden Forest. Guess Hagrid really wanted some help finding that unicorn.
- Extra information on Pottermore establishes that when people refer to werewolves living in the Forest, they mean a pack of intelligent wolves which resulted from two werewolves mating during the full moon. But given what we learn later about how werewolves live and are viewed by society, could there also be some feral person or two who lives there even when in human form?
- Everything in the Forest is appropriately chilling, especially as the hooded figure appears and drinks the dead unicorn’s blood – “blood was dribbling down its front.” I remember in one of my high school English classes, somebody actually chose this part when asked for an example of horror prose.
- There hasn’t been much thought of Voldemort for a while, but the end of this chapter establishes that our chief villain is in the vicinity and involved in the plot to steal the Stone. Things have certainly escalated a long way since Harry left the Dursleys.
Chapter 16 – Through the Trapdoor
- Harry now forgets about his earlier sentiment and embraces his true character: when he senses something’s not right, he can’t let it go – he’s motivated to get to the bottom of it and do whatever he can with his own hands. In this chapter, he does at least try going to a higher authority – McGonagall – but when that doesn’t work, he has to go down the risky independent route, a.k.a. the classic route of the hero. His declaration to Ron and Hermione of what’s at stake and why he’s going to do this may be a little cliche, but I still like it. It’s also worth noting how he offers to let Ron and Hermione go back before they get through the door to Fluffy.
- There’s more development for Neville: after helping Ron stand up to Malfoy, he’s now prepared to stand up to people he otherwise trusts, for what he believes is right.
- The variety of the challenges leading to the Stone is good, but the action prose is quite dry at times.
Chapter 17 – The Man with Two Faces
- How many of us can remember when we first read this book and cast our eyes on those three shocking words: “It was Quirrell.”
- There’s a lot of good in how Harry ends up pulling through at the climax. Even when faced with impossible odds, he doesn’t give up and still thinks about what he wants to do and how to do it. He ends up acquiring the Stone in an unexpected way, and directly through his own goodness. And when he realises what happens when Quirrell tries to touch him, he actually uses it offensively by grabbing Quirrell.
- It’s difficult to really work out Dumbledore’s reasoning in allowing Harry to try and prevent Voldemort taking the Stone. Harry outright suggests that’s what Dumbledore meant to do – but that’s still a big risk and pretty questionable. Perhaps Dumbledore is thinking long-term: he knows what will be coming and that Harry needs to be prepared for it, but he can’t just dump everything on him at once, and at this age. Harry needs to learn the necessary skills and thought processes himself, and perhaps that’s what Dumbledore is secretly and deliberately encouraging him to do.
- I still remember the feeling of triumph, when first reading this, when Gryffindor end up winning the House Cup – yet in a few more books, the House Championship really isn’t going to be important any more.
So how did I feel re-reading the first Harry Potter book? Well, I’m old enough to recognise some of the flaws: bits of prose can occasionally be dry or stilted, and there are a couple of awkward perspective shifts. This was JK Rowling’s first novel, after all. But honestly, the magic is still there. I still love Rowling’s writing voice; I love how creative she is with the wizarding world, making it fun but also with underlying darkness; and I especially love the characters. I’ve always appreciated Rowling’s particular skill for different character voices – you can look at samples of dialogue from the books and usually guess who’s talking – but now I can better appreciate how she introduces these characters to the reader and gets across who they are as people.
I can’t recall reading a series before Harry Potter that plans itself out so thoroughly that it deliberately hints at information which will be revealed in full in later installments. There’s some of that in Philosopher’s Stone, like when Dumbledore doesn’t tell Harry about why Voldemort wanted to kill him in the first place. And yet, there are other things that feel like closure, even though we know that there’s plenty more to come. Ron gets his greatest desire when he is celebrated for his own achievements at the end of year feast. Neville gradually grows in inner strength through the book, culminating in his actions actually winning Gryffindor the House Cup. The way Dumbledore phrases Snape’s motivation for protecting Harry, it sounds like there’s closure if you haven’t read the later books – “Then he could go back to hating your father’s memory in peace.” But we know with hindsight that what we’re presented with is nowhere near the whole story of Snape’s relationship with Harry and his parents. Obviously the book has to stand on its own to some degree, but maybe Rowling designed it that way as she couldn’t be certain of how every detail in the subsequent books would play out, or if and when they would be published.
I’m left feeling very glad that I’m doing this re-read. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone still feels very special to me – and this is just the first one!