Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
January 14, 2016 6:08 PM - by J. K. Rowling - Subscribe

The first book in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling in which Harry learns on his 11th birthday that he is a wizard and soon after sets off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who are mean to him and make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. (Dudley, however, has two bedrooms, one to sleep in and one for all his toys and games.) Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed forever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The reason: Harry Potter is a wizard!

The first book in the Harry Potter series makes the perfect introduction to the world of Hogwarts." - Bloomsbury Publishing

This is part of the Harry Potter Club reread/rewatch of the HP books/movies. Book discussions will be posted on the 15th of each month (shooting for after midnight GMT) and contain spoilers.
posted by toomanycurls (24 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
My biggest question after re-reading this for the nth time is what Snape’s motivations are during Harry’s first year.

He knows that Quirrell is trying to kill Harry (or at least that someone is) at the first Quidditch match, and even saves Harry’s life. But apparently he doesn’t bother telling the other professors about this: When he asks to referee the next match, they think he’s just trying to give the Slytherin an unfair advantage. No other adults seem to know that someone in the school tried to murder a student. (Hagrid certainly doesn’t.) Snape also knows that Quirrell is after the Philosopher’s Stone, but again doesn’t seem to alert anyone else. (For example, when McGonnagall is left in charge of the school, she completely dismisses Harry/Ron/Hermione telling her that someone is going to steal the stone.)

A lot of Snape’s questionable actions throughout the series can be excused by his need to keep the trust of both sides in order to be an effective double agent. But in this book he doesn’t appear to serve either side very well:
  • On one hand, Snape doesn’t help Voldemort kill Harry or take the stone, and even thwarts him. If I were the Dark Lord, I’d be pissed!
  • But on the other hand, he also doesn't expose Quirrell or share any knowledge with the Hogwarts faculty and staff, which could have saved students from mortal peril and even averted the Second Wizarding War.
The best theory I can come up with: Snape suspects that Quirrell is controlled by Voldemort but has no way to confirm it. Voldemort doesn’t reveal himself to Snape because he’s unsure of Snape’s loyalties and isn’t powerful enough to fight back if Snape attacks him. Snape reveals his suspicions only to Dumbledore. Together they decide to keep Quirrell on a long leash, hoping he’ll eventually lead them to Voldemort. They agree that Snape must remain a plausible servant of the Dark Lord, so he will act against Quirrell only when his duty as a Hogwarts professor absolutely demands it, and he can later plead to Voldemort that this was only because he didn’t know the Dark Lord had returned. This seems pretty negligent even by Dumbledore standards, though.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:55 PM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Dumbledore does ask Snape to keep an eye on Quirrel (in the flashbacks in book 7). But yeah. I don't know quite whats going on here. This quidditch match marks a long tradition of everyone except Dumbledore and Snape remembering they are wizards. Hooch is just incredibly incompetent (telling Neville to get down. Apparently this has never happened before?) which is maybe why they get one broomstick lesson and never have another one.

You can see why Rowling went into writing detective novels after this. Each book is structured around a central mystery that the heroes have to discover. In that this book clearly has roots in Enid Blyton, and a lot of the behaviour of teachers and the school can be contextualised in that the story really doesn't live in the modern world, it lives in the twenties-forties. The wicked aunt and uncles behaviour is obviously abusive, as is the awful potions teacher. It's hard to justify any of this with a modern outlook, but if you imagine this as a period piece it makes more sense. In fact, in terms of technology the closest we get are Dudley's computer games: almost everything else could easily exist in the fifties.

This book is a little rough round the edges, and whenever I do a re-read of the books I usually don't get into them until the first two books are done. It's still got that magic though, and the world building is really great. Also, unlike the film where Ron got delegated to nothing but comic relief, each of the main characters has something to do (seriously, in the films Hermione steals every single heroic action that Ron does from him).

Important question though: who would actually like every flavour jelly beans? That just sounds like the worst.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:16 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


A lot of it makes more sense if you treat Harry as an unreliable narrator.

Look at the aunt and uncle who are terrified of the unknown and how it will cause murderers to come to their house and kill their son (my wife and I have a whole fanfic treatment on why the Dursely's are entirely justified) and so hide away their nephew and deny the wizarding world.
From the child's perspective who doesn't know about wizards and murderers coming to your house to kill you and your children they just seem petty and mean.
From a child's point of view the strict potions teacher (who let's be fair is a terrible teacher and takes out his stupid childhood grudges on the child of his tormenters) is the worst villain in the world, and every incident is blown out of all proportion and exaggerated.
As Harry gets older his world view becomes more complex and so you can trust what you see through his eyes better.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:10 AM on January 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Dumbledore is always cagey about sharing things with the other teachers, even through the end of his life. I've always assumed he and Snape were working together here to sort of try to draw out Voldemort (although thinking about it, this seems like an insanely risky plan to set up at Hogwarts, where there are, you know, dozens of children). The central plot - setting up a frankly pretty easy obstacle course inside the castle to protect a really important object and then telling everyone, "don't go to this one specific place but I won't tell you why" - is pretty weak overall. If Dumbledore was serious about hiding the Stone surely he could have come up with a better hiding place and then not drawn attention to it? So yeah, this is definitely a world building book written for eleven-year-olds, and that's fine because it's great for those purposes, but it doesn't hold a candle to the later books.

One thing that struck me on this re-read is that they only get detention because they're helping Hagrid get out of a jam, and he never apologizes or tries to defend them or anything, just leads them out into the Forest in the middle of the night and acts like they deserve detention. He does cry and apologize at the end of the book but frankly, I think Harry and Hermione would have been a little more pissed at him than they were for being such an idiot. The more times I read these books the harder it is not to see Hagrid as a bit mentally challenged.

I also realized, upon reading the initial description of Peeves, that in my head he looks nothing like a dapper little man but is actually the same character as Slimer from the Ghostbusters cartoon.
posted by something something at 5:09 AM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hagrid is a genuine menace. He's such a bad teacher that no-one takes his subject to NEWT level. He almost gets the trio killed on more than one occasion (the spiders and grawp). There's really no way to square the circle of Dumbledore being an incredibly wise, warm man, and his awful, awful decisions about his teachers.

1)Snape is a bad teacher, and it's clear that everyone would do a lot better at potions if it wasn't for him.
2)Binns is a ghost, and is a bad history teacher
3)Hooch almost gets a pupil killed on her first and only broomstick lesson
4)We've covered Hagrid
5)Trelawney is a fraud, and Dumbledore knows it, and keeps her subject just so that he has her available to him
6)Many of the DA teachers were awful. In fact, Dumbledore appears to be aware in book 2 that Lockhart has been mind wiping people (he makes a comment to that effect at the end). And he employs Quirrel despite knowing theres something off about him. Obviously he can't really be blamed for Umbridge.

I swear, if it wasn't for flitwick and Mcgonnagal no-one in that school would know any magic.

Incidentally, if you like goofy harry potter fanfiction, do check out the seventh horcrux, which is hilarious
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:51 AM on January 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Really, though, he probably has a hard time finding staff. Who would want that job? They live in the middle of nowhere for 11 months out of the year with no family or friends anywhere nearby and have to deal with a bunch of underage magicians every second of the day.
posted by something something at 7:01 AM on January 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I like the idea of Harry being an unreliable narrator. I mean, in this book he is 11 years old. Who really has an accurate assessment of their teachers at age 11? I think that Snape was a good, although harsh, teacher, but at 11 you're not going to understand that. You would see Snape as a "bad" teacher because he is mean. Binns is probably also a very smart man, though not the greatest teacher, but again, an 11 year old is not going to have the skills to take notes through what sounds to be a university-level complex lecture with lots of names and dates.

Also there seems to be a huge sense of tradition and "well that's the way it was in my day" in the Wizarding world. I remember in the movies in Diagon Alley some of the shops proudly announced that they had been in business since the 900s. What, and no one has invented a more technologically advanced wand since then? There seems to be an aversion to anything "new" in the Wizarding world; it's like wizards feel like they have magic abilities and yet no curiosity as to how that works or how to manipulate it any better than what their ancestors did. Young wizards go to Hogwarts and live isolated out somewhere in Scotland and have weird-ass teachers because that's how it ALWAYS has been, and many adult wizards seem to like it that way.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:13 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


And, re Hagrid, Dumbledore's weakness has always been his fellow man. Not a lot of wizards would have employed a Squib (Filch) and we know that many don't associate with Mudbloods, yet Dumbledore accepts any child with magical ability. In the wider Wizarding world, we can assume that Filch would have a hard time getting a job, and we have seen the prejudices Mudbloods face. I can totally buy the idea of Hagrid being mentally challenged, and what sort of life would he have had in the Wizarding world with a disability and being prohibited from using magic? Dumbledore was kind to take him in and give him a job - treat him like a human being, in other words. He feels that any fallout from that decision, like Harry, Ron, and Hermione getting in trouble and getting detention, is worth it.

Then again, he decides that a lot of things are worth going through without having those people be a part of the plan-making process. He micromanaged the hell out of Snape's and Harry's lives, and even though they eventually agreed to his plans, they weren't THEIR plans, you know? So.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:22 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Young wizards go to Hogwarts and live isolated out somewhere in Scotland and have weird-ass teachers because that's how it ALWAYS has been, and many adult wizards seem to like it that way.

Welcome to Britain.
posted by dng at 7:42 AM on January 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


Should this have a "rewatch" or equivalent tag? Doesn't seem like a thread for people who have only just now read this.
posted by ODiV at 7:59 AM on January 15, 2016


Yes. I’m guessing there’s no appropriate tag for book discussions yet? I assumed based on the final paragraph of the post (and the earlier FanFare Talk thread) that whole-series spoilers were fair game, but I’m happy for my comment to be deleted or for a big SERIES SPOILERS warning to be added to it, as appropriate.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:11 AM on January 15, 2016


I thought this was supposed to be a whole series thread; probably "and contain spoilers" should say "for the entire series".

I have more specific problems here. The twins can go to Hogsmeade; why are they not bringing back Butterbeer for Harry and Ron? Apparently half the wizards can use Occlumency (including maybe Voldequirrell?), but no one ever does. Why can't first years have brooms, and why would anyone want them -- no one seems to use them except if they are on a team. Why is there such a crazy separation between houses?

Also, Snape might be a good teacher, but his extreme favoritism/animus really kills it.
posted by jeather at 11:07 AM on January 15, 2016


It's funny when you go back and read these first two, and while they're excellent, you can tell no one knows exactly what they have on their hands, not even Rowling.

"Hi, I'm Jo Rowling. I wrote a book. Wanna publish it?"
"Sure! Hey, that sold really well. Got another one? Something at the same wizard school?"
"Sure do!"
"OK, wow. So, we're an international phenomenon now."
"I know, right!"
"We gotta do something ... bigger. Maybe start tying everything together?"
"Challenge accepted."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:17 PM on January 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Re tags: The book post template doesn't have spoiler options similar to TV posts but I did add tags to the post. The majority opinion in the talk thread for this was to include spoilers. I'll make it clear in the fp text with future posts.

Each time I've read through Harry's time with the Dursleys I get upset about the abuse and neglect. Even if he's an unreliable narrator there's at least some truth to his reality. I can see fear and anger towards Lily and the wizarding world causing the Dursleys to not treat Harry as well as their own son but that's about it. They were given a baby too young to have formed memories of his parents and they couldn't grow to love him in any recognizable fashion. I'm even angrier that Dumbledore just let them carry on as they did. No proper bedroom, ignoring his birthday, no Christmas presents, trying to pass him off to others when they go do anything fun, not always feeding him, locking him up, etc. I buy that the Hogwarts letter would be scary and could trigger action that a child wouldn't understand but they have years of horrible behavior before that showed up.

I'm really not a fan of Dumbledore though. In this book he leaves Harry with his eventually abusive family, hires a teacher he thinks has some connection with Voldemort, sets up a magical obstacle course for Harry - which is the start of his hero grooming, only tells one member of staff about Quirrell, exposes hundreds of children to Voldequirell, and is tricked into leaving the school by a forged letter!

What I enjoy each time I read this is the friendship that develops between the trio. Outside of the magic and world building, the friendships in this are some of my favorite to read.
posted by toomanycurls at 12:52 AM on January 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, Dumbledore is a monster. He has good goals in mind, but he treats all his people like chess pieces. He didn't have to hide the fact that Harry would need to sacrifice himself; Harry would have been willing to do it anyhow, did not need some improbable series of events to ensure Snape would tell him.

And even if we give "Harry had to be left at the Durlseys while he was a child because otherwise someone would have killed him" to Dumbledore -- it's at least arguably true -- he kept sticking him there every summer for no good reason (I know the real reason was just book consistency, each book starts with him at the Dursleys and ends at the Hogwarts Express).
posted by jeather at 7:36 AM on January 16, 2016


Important question though: who would actually like every flavour jelly beans? That just sounds like the worst.

The jelly beans strike me as something that kids wouldn't actually like, per se, but that they'd use as the subject of dares, to goad one another into eating them. Adults in the wizarding world probably have fondly horrified memories of them from their youth.
posted by zenzicube at 8:14 AM on January 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


My assumption also with the jelly beans is that the flavours aren't evenly distributed, mostly food (even weird ones) and not that many earwax.
posted by jeather at 8:23 AM on January 16, 2016


Oh, Dumbledore is a monster. He has good goals in mind, but he treats all his people like chess pieces. He didn't have to hide the fact that Harry would need to sacrifice himself; Harry would have been willing to do it anyhow, did not need some improbable series of events to ensure Snape would tell him.

To be fair, while I think his choices in this book are more motivated by Rowling constructing the story that way, in book 7 in particular we actually engage with the idea that some of his behaviours were quite destructive, and probably led to the death of his sister. It never goes quite over the edge and says that Dumbledore is pretty awful, but book 7 demistifies the idea of Dumbledore as all wise and good. In fact one of my favourite things about Harry Potter is it unrelentingly won't let adult figures off the hook. James, Sirius, Lupin, all these fathers/father figures are shown to be flawed in some way. In fact the only parental figure who gets to remain pretty saint like is Lily.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:08 PM on January 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I always wondered what Hagrid would do if he were forced to make a choice between the kids and the animals.
posted by brujita at 9:54 PM on January 16, 2016


Oh, Dumbledore is a monster. He has good goals in mind, but he treats all his people like chess pieces.

But this is all complicated by Trelawney's prophecy. I mean, no argument that Dumbledore is flawed and capable of making mistakes (Rowling/Dumbledore admits this more than once), and that the prophecy was clearly added fairly late in the series as a way to explain Dumbledore's actions. But I think Rowling & Dumbledore make the point multiple times that since Dumbledore was starting from the position that the prophecy was, to some degree, inevitable, he put effort into both making sure that Harry and Ron and Hermione had the tools and skills and knowledge to defeat Voldemort, and trying to minimize collateral damage as the prophecy worked itself out. His hands were tied to a large extent; he wasn't manipulating people entirely of his own volition (which would be monstrous), he was trying to ensure that a largely pre-ordained set of events would resolve in favor of the forces of good, and training Harry and his friends. If he had done the good and open and honest and forthright thing with no manipulation every time, Voldemort would have won.

IOW, I think calling him a "monster" is too easy a dismissal. He behaves more monstrously than he wants to, because circumstances and his own weaknesses and mistakes lead him there, but "making hard choices and living with the consequences" is a theme throughout the series, and that's largely what Dumbledore is doing. He's the le Carré spymaster of the series, and like le Carré's spymasters, he's damaged by the choices he makes in service to the greater good. But he can't not make these choices, because there's a prophecy at work.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:48 AM on January 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


But this is all complicated by Trelawney's prophecy. I mean, no argument that Dumbledore is flawed and capable of making mistakes (Rowling/Dumbledore admits this more than once), and that the prophecy was clearly added fairly late in the series as a way to explain Dumbledore's actions. But I think Rowling & Dumbledore make the point multiple times that since Dumbledore was starting from the position that the prophecy was, to some degree, inevitable, he put effort into both making sure that Harry and Ron and Hermione had the tools and skills and knowledge to defeat Voldemort, and trying to minimize collateral damage as the prophecy worked itself out. His hands were tied to a large extent; he wasn't manipulating people entirely of his own volition (which would be monstrous), he was trying to ensure that a largely pre-ordained set of events would resolve in favor of the forces of good, and training Harry and his friends. If he had done the good and open and honest and forthright thing with no manipulation every time, Voldemort would have won.

Yeah but I don't agree with that, and I don't think the text agrees with that. Obviously Dumbledore had to keep some things very hidden

1)The reason Snape could be trusted had to be hidden at Severus' request.
2)Horcruxes and Dumbledore's knowledge of them had to be kept secret.

but other than that? I mean, if in book 6 Dumbledore had said "Oh by the way Harry, the sword of Gryffindor is imbued with the vemon of the basilisk and can kill horcruxes, oh also I'm going to die soon so to protect the elder wand from falling into Voldemort's hands I am going to get Snape to kill me at some point. He'll have the sword though, so you can totally trust him. You could communicate via the portrait of the Slytherin headmaster," I feel like things would have gone a whole lot better. The only reason Dumbledore kept the deathly hallows secret was because he didn't trust Harry!

I think this isn't a flaw in the book by the way (well, maybe a little), I think it is explicitly a flaw in Dumbledore's character who has been fighting a war so long he's lost track of what information can be trusted to people. He's also someone who very nearly succumbed to evil so acts in fear of doing so again.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:56 AM on January 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


When I read the books as a child and teenager, I thought Snape was one of those mean but good teachers. Like, maybe he's awful to students, but his actual teaching of the subject was probably good. From the perspective of a child or teenager, it reads as relatively normal and status quo to be subject to the whims and cruelties of adults. It's unfair, sure, but so many things are when you're a child. One teacher being gratuitously cruel to you is just like bad weather: there's no point in complaining about it because it's just a thing that happens, no matter how unpleasant and unfair. For Harry especially, whose entire pre-Hogwarts childhood was an object lesson in inexplicable and banal cruelty for which there was apparently no recourse, it's not at all surprising that he reacted the way he did to Snape's treatment of him and all the mortal peril. Of course he's going to be stubbornly independent! What in his life experience has ever shown him that adults can be trusted or relied upon? Nothing.

As an adult, Snape as a teacher disgusts me. I see 11 year olds now, and I think oh my god, they're babies. The thought of a teacher, who is in a position of profound responsibility over children, just straight up insulting and belittling children like that...Ugh. It's not even just Snape's cover, because Snape has this reputation for cruelty before Harry ever gets to Hogwarts, and no one seems especially shocked at the way he treats students like Hermione or Neville. Plus, I mean, cool motive, still child abuse.

In general, these first two books read a lot differently from an adult perspective, in my experience. I can see that the genre is boarding school story and fantasy, and I can see where I was merrily carried along by the narrative as a child, but from an adult perspective there's a pernicious darkness that's impossible to ignore. The wry humor sets it off excellently, especially in the absolutely biting descriptions of the Dursleys.
posted by yasaman at 10:52 AM on January 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Some things to note about this book.

1)House points will rarely matter so much again. They'll care a little in book 2, but after that losing points simply won't matter. This makes sense, because the leads are losing their worries about authority (also the point giving is so patently absurd the house championship is meaningless).
2)Harry will never fairly lose a game of quidditch. He loses one match, and only due to dementor intervention. This is fine, and we will quickly see how eager Rowling is to not have to describe the game.
3)I'm not sure that Harry successfully casts a spell in the whole book. Ron and Hermione do, but all of Harry's triumphs are got by physical achievement. Part of the fair game that Rowling tends to do is that useful spells (i.e. not random hexes) are always introduced before being used, but this does give you the feeling that Harry hardly knows any magic. Later on we get more of an impression of off stage learning, although sometimes Rowling will decide that they only things a class has learned has been explicitly mentioned on stage: see book 5, where, when confronted by Umbridge about their lack of learning, they literally list only the spells we've seen.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:26 AM on January 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Important question though: who would actually like every flavour jelly beans? That just sounds like the worst.

I agree, and yet they now exist, manufactured by the folks at Jelly Belly. For that matter, I have much the same feeling about normal Jelly Belly assortments, which are rather like playing Russian roulette with your taste buds. But most people are more adventurous eaters than I am...
posted by Shmuel510 at 3:01 PM on March 3, 2016


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