I’m currently rereading this series because I was curious as to whether I’d still like it, and I have Thoughts on the first book. Oh boy do I have thoughts. Anyway, I decided to write a review about it! So, here you have it, a list of my problems and a few things that I liked! I’ll probably review the other books as I go, because I need an emotional outlet somewhere.
(This is a completely random rant, but I wish people would get JKR’s books secondhand. They’re cheaper that way, anyway! Her ‘activism’ is currently focused on making trans people’s lives harder, and I just feel kind of weird when people give money to Ms. Known Transphobe. I definitely don’t think it’s bad to still like the books, though, I’ve seen people talk like that and it’s so stupid.)
**This review has spoilers for the Harry Potter series**
- Okay, I won’t lie, the beginning is pretty iconic. “Mr and Mrs Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” That’s great.
- This chapter seems pretty set on making wizards out to be the cool nonconformists that your suburban parents HATE!!1! Mr. and Mrs. Dursley don’t like these people, because they’re different, and they don’t dress normally, and they’re not normal!!! And then wizards end up being the most privileged assholes ever, including characters that we know and love. This would be fine if the series admitted this as it started edging into young adult territory! But the series is never willing to actually face what’s there.
- McGonagall literally goes (paraphrasing here) ‘are we really going to leave Harry Potter with that sort? I’m not sure you could find a family more different than us. Are you sure a non-magical family can actually raise Harry?’ And I’m supposed to be just fine with that, I guess. Yeah the Dursley’s are awful. No, they aren’t awful because they’re muggles, wtf.
- Anyway if McGonagall met me in real life she would microagress me
- The beginning of the book was very slow, and a lot needed to be cut. I don’t need to know all the details about Dudley’s boarding school, for example.
- I especially don’t need all the spiteful jokes about a fat eleven-year-old. What is up with this book making fun of a literal child? Was this author not aware that fat children were going to read her book?? I’m honestly furious.
- I’ll freely admit it, though, I still do find Vernon Dursley kind of funny. The sheer breakdowns he has at the mere mention of anything REMOTELY magical was a nice touch, I’ll admit. And of course that just ends up making everything look even more suspicious.
- Although! I do think the Dursley’s abuse should have been on an emotional level. I think Harry should have more trauma with the absolute neglect that he goes through? He does have trauma that shows up later in the series, definitely, but it just seems like there should be…more.
- This is beside the point, but Vernon slaps Dudley around at times and I didn’t notice that when I was a little kid.
- I HATE the scene where Hagrid gives Dudley a pig’s tail so much. So, so much. And he says he was trying to turn Dudley into a pig?? DUDLEY IS ELEVEN AND HAGRID WAS MAD AT DUDLEY’S FATHER. I HATE THIS I HATE THIS I HATE THIS.
- The worldbuilding is legitimately fun in places! I will admit this! It’s a very ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ type of worldbuilding, and there are so many details?
- Having said that, there’s also a TON of weird stuff. “The goblins are an oppressed class who do all our banking, heehee. I sure hope this isn’t reminiscent of anything. And also the goblins are ruthless and EVIL. You know, kind of like Shylock? This isn’t reminding anyone of anything, right? Oh, and also the goblins’ skin color is ‘swarthy.’ I sure hope making the goblins brown won’t offend anyone. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll be fine!”
- Also, since people keep misusing death of the author, it doesn’t matter if JKR intended this or not, because it’s still a valid interpretation, imo. From my understanding, death of the author is basically this: The author’s interpretation does not matter. Only the readers’ interpretations matter, as long as the reader can back up their opinion with evidence from the text. Some people seem to think it means that it doesn’t matter if the author is a bad person, which…that’s not what it means. Sorry for the derailment, just a personal pet peeve of mine! [Disclaimer: I am not an English major]
- Basically, ‘is it okay to like problematic works’ is a COMPLETELY different conversation than ‘death of the author.’
- The wand stuff is actually cool, if not built on enough. If you’re going to imply that wands have a special bond with their wizards, then go all the way and give me the semi-sentient weapons! I feel like the wands should have had a bit more personality, so to speak.
- This might be more of a personal thing, but I prefer soft magic systems to have so many vibes, and Harry Potter magic does not deliver enough for me lmao. Where are the vibes here?
- The characters aren’t too deep, but I’ll excuse that because it’s a kid’s book and I didn’t notice this when I was a kid
- I honestly like Draco? He comes across as a legitimately annoying little kid instead of the Worst Person Ever (which of course would have made me like him, because I’m contrary that way). I have trouble with some middle grade that tries to make their villains into the Worst Person Ever and then the villain is just……literally eleven. I know I’m not the target audience, but. There’s something about Draco that feels pretty convincing, though. Yeah, that’s a real little kid. (It’s the treating little things as Very Very Important. Harry does this too, and it’s actually a really good touch. Thinking that you’re going to get kicked out for breaking a rule and panicking when you lose a single point from your house is such a little kid thing to do.)
- The treatment of Neville, Percy, and (to an extent) Hermione honestly pained me, though. Like. Do these characters come across as really really neurodivergent to anyone else?? Why does the story keep making fun of them for this?
- I won’t lie, it was a bit of a punch in the gut when Neville got laughed at for forgetting to put the hat back after he got sorted and I guess I was supposed to find it funny? I didn’t find it funny! It was something I might have done as a kid! The book would go ‘it’s bad to bully Neville 😇’ and then turn around and make him the butt of yet another bad slapstick joke. If you’re going to put in an anti-bullying message, then maybe give the ADHD-coded character an actual personality instead of making him a collection of clumsy mistakes? Maybe don’t make him a person that even the good guys think is mildly annoying?
- And Hermione is literally just infodumping about her hyperfixations I think. She’s not annoying.
- I’m a little hesitant on this one, but I genuinely think Percy is autistic. He sees the world through rules because he has trouble understanding people, and when people break those rules, he doesn’t know how they’re going to react and it makes him upset. Idk I could be wrong, but I just think he kind of reminds me of people I’ve met before? It makes me upset when the book keeps making fun of him or villainizing him! He’d actually be a really interesting character if the book cared about any of the characters outside of the main cast! (I’m willing to change my opinion on this as I keep reading the series, but this is just what I noticed as of the first book, anyway?)
- Anyway, that just made me mad. I don’t think Rowling likely meant it to come across this way, but I definitely read it that way now, especially in Neville’s case!
- What is UP with the cat hate in a book about witches? Mrs. Norris is literally just a little kitty. Why do people keep expressing a desire to kick her or sic a dog on her? I don’t care that she’s suspected of reporting to Filch! She’s just an animal! Mean cats don’t deserve to be abused, and these comments were honestly disturbing.
- I also hated how the story would bend to serve the plot? Like why on earth did Harry and Ron sneak off to go save Hermione from the cave troll when they could have just told Percy or something? If they were older, I’d fully believe that they’d learned through experience that every authority figure in their book is useless, but they’re still eleven! They haven’t learned that yet!
- Okay, every adult in this book is useless, but this is just laughable: McGonagall ignores three little kids telling her about how the sorcerer’s stone is in danger? Like. It’s one thing to go, ‘oh, some kids are panicking over nothing again,’ but if literal children know about your secret macguffin, maybe you should be a little more concerned?
- Scratch that, the adults are worse than useless. McGonagall docks fifty points each from Neville, Harry, Hermione, and Malfoy? And then, as detention, sends them into the Forbidden Forest to track something that’s killing unicorns, something that even werewolves aren’t powerful enough to do? All for the crime of sneaking out at night?? From an adult perspective, she was so obviously on a power trip. And then Hagrid decides to split the kids up like we’re in a horror movie???? Are you kidding me???????
- Also Hagrid is literally buying illegal, dangerous exotic animals and then he and Charlie get literal children to cover for him. But we’re just going to gloss over that. Lol okay. I love when I buy a pet tiger off the black market and then no one calls me out on it and then I get to pin the blame on a bunch of children.
- And then in the forest, Hagrid sends the two kids he doesn’t know very well with his dog (and expresses doubt that the dog can actually protect them? Like he calls the dog a coward?). Okay, I see how it is. Kids you don’t have a personal connection can just go off basically alone into dangerous unicorn-killing forest.
- Snape is actually a really effective character in this book as the bitter and unpleasant teacher, but he would have been SO much more effective for the series as a whole if he were nice sometimes. I actually have a lot of thoughts about Snape but I’ll save them for another review because this is getting long lmao.
- This is somewhat off-topic (lol like I’m ever on-topic in this article), but I hate how Harry just automatically knows how to ride a broom with no training whatsoever. And then in his first match, the Slytherin team captain has to cheat to keep Harry from getting the snitch?? Lol, Harry is tiny and the other seeker is seventeen. I am pretty sure Flint would not need to cheat in a fair world. Flint I am so sorry that you were born into a world tilted in someone else’s favor, you can commiserate with every other character who isn’t friends with Harry I guess
- Other people have commented on this, but the fact that a full quarter of the students gets sorted into the evil house is just amazing. And no one thinks to question this ever. As an aside, ambition, determination, and cleverness are not like……bad qualities, actually. I also hate how hard work and loyalty are portrayed as ‘boring?’ Why is Hufflepuff the boring house? Hard work and loyalty are what builds nations. I also think it would have been more interesting if Harry had actually had Slytherin traits like the hat said…
- Is it just me or is the prose kind of boring? Because I was bored. And every time I stare at this sentence the worse it gets: “The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight.” Ma’am what does that mean?
- I will say that the mystery was pretty engaging, even though I already knew the end!
- Dumbledore being a manipulative bastard is pretty great. Can you imagine putting bait for a dark lord into a high school just because you want to get a good feel for how he and your child soldier are going to interact? Because I’m pretty sure that’s strongly implied in this book, lmao. I actually love both Dumbledore and Snape because I’m trash for bizarre, morally grey characters, even though I think they were both probably done dirty by the story (Snape DEFINITELY so).
Anyway, as you can probably tell, this book was not for me. I actually expected it to hold up better than it did. This was a real childhood favorite of mine, and it’s always a disappointment when childhood favorites turn out to be bad.
This review was way too long, so as a reward for having gotten to the end, have one of the few quotes I semi like from my bad Regulus fanfic I’ve been working on! (Is it fanfic if you’re deeply conflicted about the books that it’s based on? Is it a reward if it’s a bad fanfic quote?)
Bellatrix loved the feel of blood on her hands. It was a drug, a divinity. Something about that did not sit quite right with Regulus, but he didn’t understand why. He finally understood why people called her terrifying, though.
He was making a mistake. He had made so many mistakes leading up to this point, and now it was too late to even begin to undo them all. He couldn’t breathe. He could never breathe right around his family.
God I love Bellatrix. Everyone give one up for yet one more female villain done dirty by her author!