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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Cover art by Mary GrandPre

Published by Scholastic Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Vernon and Pertunia Dursley were happily normal, thank you very much. In fact, they were quite proud of just how normal they were, and they did not like to talk about Petunia's sister Lily, who was most decidedly not. Thus they were not exactly happy to have her son Harry be dropped on their doorstep one decidedly peculiar morning, with instructions that henceforth they were to care for him. But they were determined to make the best of it, as they understood the word "best."

To the Dursleys, that meant making young Harry "normal," even if that meant beating the spirit out of him. Yet there was something in him that refused to be crushed, no matter how hard Vernon and Petunia exerted themselves, no matter how brutally they denied him even the tiniest luxuries and made him feel like an unwelcome poor relation. Odd things had a habit of happening around him, and refused to stop happening no matter how harshly or how frequently they punished him. By contrast they unabashedly doted upon their fat, spoiled bully of a son, Dudley, who in their eyes could do no wrong.

Shortly after his eleventh birthday, Harry Potter received a letter that was to take him out of the horrors of number four, Privet Drive and his obnoxious relatives. However, first Harry had to get it. Vernon Dursley was determined not to let his nephew get it, whatever that might take. The first letter he destroyed. When several more arrived the next day, Vernon nailed the mail slot closed, setting into motion an escalating cycle of ever more letters arriving through unlikely passages -- the windows, the chimney. Even trying to run from them and hide in a miserable hut on the seashore only led to a personal delivery by a giant of a man.

Hagrid has no patience with the Dursleys or their mistreatments of Harry, including keeping him entirely ignorant of his heritage. Harry Potter is a wizard, very famous in the wizarding world. The son of two very powerful magic-users, he is the only person to have survived the curse of a certain very powerful Dark Wizard, one so powerful that people avoid saying his name.

It is now time for Harry to come into his heritage and take his place at Hogwarts, the most famous school of witchcraft and wizardry. Hagrid takes him to London, to the hidden Diagon Alley where the wizarding world secretly co-exists with that of Muggles (ordinary, non-magical people), to purchase his school supplies. Then it's off to Platform Nine and Three-quarters at King's Cross station to catch the train that will carry him to Hogwarts.

But his problems aren't over when he arrives. He may be among his own, but wizards and witches are human too, subject to the same faults and failings as Muggles. If anything, having the power to use magic can make them even more harmful. And while the Dark Lord may have been deeply wounded in his disastrous attack on the infant Harry Potter, he is by no means destroyed. Now Harry must face a prejudiced teacher, a bullying classmate, and a shadowy menace from the past. And even doing the right thing can have bittersweet consequences.

The first volume of the renown Harry Potter series is filled with whimsical delight, and the frightening elements are generally either the sort that kids already have experience with, such as bullies, or things so fantastical as to be outside the realm of possibility. Lord Voldemort is pretty much your typical Nasty Evil Overlord who got his nose bloodied in a fight that wasn't supposed to be fair, and now wants to get his power back.

Review posted September 14, 2000

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