Monday, April 27, 2009

April Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

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My book selection for the month of April turned out to be one of my favorites. I wanted something easy and fun to read, so I chose Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by the great J.K. Rowling.

I have read this book several times and I love it to death. If you have somehow never read this story about about a boy who learns he's a wizard, go and pick it up right now! It's perfect for adults and children alike. The writing is wonderful and the style doesn't allow you to put it down.

I can't review this book in an unbiased way (clearly), so I thought that for this month's "review" I would do something just for fun. Without further adieu, I present to you:

The Top 5 Things I Don't Understand About Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone


5. What happened to the Dursley family after Hagrid came and took Harry away from the hut on the rock in the sea?

So, we all know that Hagrid comes personally to deliver Harry his Hogwarts letter because his uncle Vernon is actively trying to prevent Harry from receiving it. At this point in the story, Vernon had gone a bit mad and holed the family up in a small hut out on a rock in the middle of the sea in an attempt to keep the post office from delivering any more of the letters. They arrive there by a borrowed row boat, on a journey that "seemed like hours," so we can assume that the family is pretty far out in the ocean. It is also mentioned that the only rations Vernon provided the family with were four bags of chips and four bananas, which they ate that first night. Around midnight, Hagrid comes bursting into the hut (arriving by magic) and takes Harry away to Diagon Alley the next day. The two of them leave the hut in the boat that Harry and the Dursley family used yesterday.

So how do the Dursleys get back? Rowling never says that Hagrid sent the boat back to them. Are we supposed to assume this? If not, how long was it before someone came to rescue them? They had no food or water in that hut. Furthermore, when Harry is returned to the Durselys later that day, they are all home safe and sound. Nothing is ever said about how they managed to get back to shore. They were also able to be back at home when Harry returned there, despite it having taken them more than one day of Vernon's crazed driving to reach the hut in the first place.

4. Why would Dumbledore hide Fluffy behind a door that could be opened with a simple unlocking spell performed by a first year?

Dumbledore, deciding that Hogwarts is the safest place in the world to hide something, places the all-important Sorcerer's Stone behind a series of magical obstacles hidden within the castle. These obstacles start with Fluffy, a gigantic and dangerous three headed dog who is ready to tear anyone coming after the stone into pieces. Fluffy is kept on the third floor corridor on the right hand side. Dumbledore tells students that this area is out of bounds to anyone who does not "wish to die a very painful death." Miraculously, no students seem to test this new school rule (because that's super-realistic for children), but Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville accidentally stumble into the room when looking for an escape route from Filch. The door is locked, but Hermione manages to open it with a simple "Alohamora."

Now I ask, is it wise to keep an extremely vicious and dangerous animal locked up in a school full of children behind nothing but an ordinary muggle lock? You know, this is a school of magic. There are doors within Hogwarts that can not be opened with Alohamora. Why in the world isn't this one of those? What if Fred and George Weasley, troublemakers as they are, decided to go and investigate this mysteriously locked area? They could be killed. Anyone could be killed. It doesn't make sense for it to be that easy to get into that room.

3. Why doesn't Dumbledore catch on to Quirrel's evilness?

We are immediately given the impression in this book that Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of all time. He seems to be everywhere and know everything. He claims that he doesn't need a cloak to become invisible and always seems to be one step ahead of everyone. Why then, doesn't he pick up on the fact that Voldemort is living in Hogwarts? Why doesn't he figure out what's hiding up in Quirrel's turban? Professor Snape is clearly shown to know that Quirrel is a bad guy and he reports directly to Dumbledore (as we find out in later books). So why doesn't Dumbledore take down Quirrel himself?

The evidence that Dumbledore knew about Quirrel is pretty damning based on his close relationship with Snape and his Superman-like magical powers. Is it possible then that Dumbledore wanted to let all of this go on so that Harry could face Voldemort himself? If that's the case, that's pretty scary. Harry is 11 and Quirrel and Voldemort combined could easily kill him with a quick Avada Kedavra. Dumbledore left the castle on the night that Harry and Quirrel both went after the stone. If he was monitoring the situation to give Harry a chance to "prove himself," why would he ever leave the premises?

I think it would just have been easier for Dumbledore to barge into Quirrel's room one night, rip the turban off of his head and let him have it.

2. Why were the magical obstacles guarding the stone so easy?

There are a series of magical obstacles guarding the stone, each set up by one of the Hogwart's staff members. Harry, Ron and Hermione are able to blaze through them all extremely quickly. If the Hogwarts teaching staff can't manage to stymie a few first years, then Dumbledore may need to look into their qualifications.

Furthermore, the only obstacle that was truly unbeatable was Dumbledore's mirror trick. The other obstables were wholly unnecessary and more like a fun challenge. Why not just enchant the Mirror of Erised and stuff it in a closet somewhere? No one would ever find it, and if they did, they wouldn't be able to access the stone inside of it. Done.

This all points stongly to the notion that Dumbledore wanted Harry to be able to reach the stone and face Voldemort. This idea is very irresponsible and unsettling to me. Harry is eleven people! Eleven!

1. Why wasn't Quirrel able to get the stone out of the mirror?

The final hiding place of the stone is the Mirror of Erised. It will only reveal itself to someone who wants to find it, but not use it. This is how Harry is able to get the stone out of the mirror and protect it. He wants to prevent Voldemort from getting his hands on it and not use it himself, thus, the stone pops right into his pocket.

Well, why can't Quirrel get it then? He wants to find it for Lord Voldemort, not use it on himself. He wants to serve his master, not synthesize a pile of gold. According to the logic of how the spell works, the stone should have come out for him too.

People might say to this that Voldemort was sharing Quirrel's body, so maybe the mirror interpreted that as a part of him wanting to use the stone. That is a possible explanation. It just wasn't presented clearly enough for me to say definitively that that is why the stone wouldn't come out for him.

Well, that's my fun list. I in no way mean to disrespect Harry Potter with this. I love the series in spite of the little things that make me scratch my head. The chief enjoyment in this series lies with reading it for fun and suspending your disbelief for a little while.

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