Jun 14 2011 11:45am

Bouncy Prose and Distant Threats: An Appreciation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (or Sorceror’s) Stone

The first Harry Potter bookBefore the movies.

Before the merchandise.

Before the theme park, looming over—seriously—the local Muggle high school right across the street.

It was just a book, starting with a sentence about people who wanted desperately, frantically, to be normal.

What a perfect start for a series about people who aren’t normal at all—and a book about wanting desperately, frantically, to belong.

My copy of the book is the first American trade paperback edition, first printing, picked up about two weeks before the third book appeared in the U.S., after careful “translation” into American English. (The most alarming of these was the assumption that American children would be unable to handle the concept of philosophers and would therefore need to be presented with sorcerers, but the American edition changes other small details as well, with Mrs. Weasley knitting, for example, sweaters and not jumpers. I rather wish the changes hadn’t been made; this series is intensely British, and was not improved by Americanization. But I digress.) A friend working at Barnes and Noble had told me that they were amusing, and noted that small children were already begging for the next book in the series. She thought it would turn out to be fairly popular.

That turned out to be a bit of an understatement.

By the time the fourth book arrived, the launch parties, the obsession, and the backlash had already begun, with the very popularity of the book itself inviting criticism.

But I didn’t know about any of that, or think about it when I sat down to read this first one. Instead, I found myself collapsing in laughter more than once.

That’s an odd thing to say about a book that has a brutal double murder in its opening chapter, immediately followed by a description of one of those hellish childhoods that British writers often do so well. Harry Potter, in the grand tradition of abused Roald Dahl protagonists, lives in a cupboard under the stairs, constantly terrorized by his cousin Dudley and abused by his aunt and uncle. Both, as it turns out, have reason: Uncle Vernon because he is hoping to turn Harry into someone “normal,” and Aunt Petunia for reasons that are revealed in a later book. But even this abuse is treated with humor, again in the grand Roald Dahl tradition, and although small children might be worried, adults are more likely to be grinning.

The humor and wordplay really swing into gear when Harry finally learns the truth—he’s not, as his uncle hoped would eventually happen, normal in the slightest, but rather a wizard. Of course, he’s going to have to learn how to do magic first. At Hogwarts.

Rowling’s trick of having Harry need the same introduction to magic and the wizarding world as readers do pays off remarkably well, since Harry can ask all the important questions about Quidditch, wizard money, cauldrons, wands and so on. It helps that Harry, decidedly more of a jock than a brain, is not the best at figuring these things out on his own, needing someone—even, sometimes, his fellow Muggle-raised friend Hermione—to explain things to him, and thus, to readers. This allows Rowling’s infodumps—and I’d forgotten just how many this book has, not to mention all the sly details that become important later—to be inserted as just part of a dialogue, or conversation, adding to the friendly feel.

Rereading it now, several things struck me. First, I’m still laughing. Second, the sheer efficiency of Rowling’s prose here. Even things apparently thrown in as casual asides become desperately important later: the casual mention of Charley Weasley’s post-Hogwarts job as a dragon tamer. The phoenix feather inside Harry’s wand. Hagrid riding Sirius Black’s motorcycle. Harry’s cheerful conversation with a bored snake at the zoo. And, er, yes, the casual mention of a certain historian of magic and the way Harry swallows the Snitch in his second game—just to mention only a few of the references popping up later. Absolutely none of this seems important at the time, particularly on a first read, and yet, now that I’ve finished the entire series, I’m struck by how important it all was, and how few words are wasted here.

Third, I’m struck again by how well Rowling slyly integrated her mystery into the main book—so well, I must confess that I completely missed that the book even had a mystery until the last couple of chapters. I was reading for the jokes. After that, of course, I paid closer attention—but I’m glad I didn’t know when I first read this book; the surprise of finding a mystery was half the fun.

And more: the equally sly classical and medieval references. The immediate friendship that springs up between Harry and Ron, and the less immediate, but equally strong, friendship formed between the two of them and Hermione. (While I’m at it, kudos for showing that yes, boys and girls can be friends, even when the girl is extremely bossy, mildly annoying, and obsessed about tests.)

And, perhaps above all, just how fun this book is, even with the murders, the looming danger of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and those ominous pronouncements by certain centaurs. After all, this is also a book where the chief monster is named Fluffy, a book where, in stark contrast to the rushing around of later books, the adventuring kids can stop for a nice chess game and a logic puzzle in their quest to defeat the bad guy.

I’m also surprised to find just how shadowy and insubstantial Voldemort is here, in more than one sense: we know he’s the bad guy, but that’s about it, and the various trappings of and references to Nazism and terrorism that enrich the later books are quite absent. Here, he’s only a possible threat. The real threats, as Dumbledore notes, are the internal ones: bravery versus cowardice, dreaming versus living.

That’s part of, I suppose, what makes this a remarkably reassuring book—true, Rowling has very real ghosts in her books, with the ability to throw things and make people feel decided chills, but they remain ghosts, unable to do true harm. And in some ways, their very presence lessens the fear of death, at least here: Harry can’t quite get his parents back, but he can see pictures of them waving at him. Rowling doesn’t offer the lie that death can be altered. But she does remind us that death doesn’t mean the end of memories.

And of course, by the end of the book, Harry Potter has found a place where he belongs, something that is almost (and eventually will be) a family. Finding this place wasn’t easy—nothing worthwhile ever is, I suppose—but it’s nice to have the reaassurance that even in a world of evils and terrors and isolation, lonely children can find a place to belong and have friends. Even if this takes a little bit of magic. Especially since this reassurance would later be a little less secure in later books.

Philosopher’s Stone draws on a wealth of British children’s literature—the idea, from Narnia and the Nesbit books, that magic can be found just around the corner, hidden behind the most ordinary of objects—a train station, a pub. From Roald Dahl (and others), the atrocious children and family life. And, yes, from that most banal of children’s authors, Enid Blyton, who provided some of the inspiration for school stories and children’s adventures. (It’s okay, Ms. Rowling; I read Enid Blyton too.) Rowling also litters her text with various classical and medieval references, some obscure, some obvious, and she was not the first to write tales of a wizardly school. But for all of the borrowing, the book has a remarkably fresh, almost bouncy feel.

Later books in the series would be more intricate, more involved, contain more moments of sheer terror and sharper social satire. But this book still remains one of my favorites in the series, partly for its warmth, partly for its mystery, partly for some of its marvelous lines. (“There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve foot mountain troll is one of them.”) But mostly because this was the book that introduced me to Diagon Alley, to Platform 9 3/4, to Hogwarts, to Quidditch. And because of the sheer magic that gleams from its pages, the magic that makes me want to curl up again and again at Hogwarts, with a nice glass of pumpkin juice and cauldron cakes. Not Chocolate Frogs, though. With this sort of book, I don’t want anything jumping in my stomach.

Mari Ness previously tried to guess the ending of the Harry Potter series, with decidedly mixed results. She now lives fairly close to a certain very large replica of Hogwarts, and can highly recommend butterbeer as a result.

1. t0kengirl
Having been re-reading this for my 5 year old niece (a chapter every time I babysit) it's nice to see her reaction as it makes me appreciate how good this is! Very efficient and very funny.
2. wmlbrown
It's my favorite book in the series, too. It has the biggest payoff, which is not the defeat of the forces of Evil in the later books, but the discovery by the downtrodden, miserable child that he is actually someone special and powerful. Its the classic peasant-finds-he/she-is-a-Prince/Princess story.

Funny to think back when the first book was just catching on. A book-store owner friend recommended it. I was a little embarrassed to be reading what was obviously a children's book (this was before US adults caught on - though they had in the UK where there was an "adult cover" edition for this very reason), but I got hooked right away and read it at every opportunity. I remember sitting at the local YMCA, reading while I waited for someone. A family walked by with several young children. I heard the littlest one snicker after she passed by, "teeheehee! He reading Harry Pott-ah!"
Jericho Ambrose
3. JerichoAmbrose
This really was one of my favorite Harry Potter books. I was just young enough to enjoy it as a kid when it first came out, and rereading it when I was older provided lots of interesting tidbits that I wasn't old enough to appreciate. Especially the foreshadowing. In this first book, Rowling has a very, light hand with that. It is nearly poetic to me.

However I do have a gripe with her later books. Not because I didn't like the series, I loved it. But her writing gets just a little less refined as the series goes on. The first book is clean and crisp, however her last book, The Deathly Hallows, sort of ballooned into this mammoth that had she not been so pressured by publishers and fans, could have had a much faster clip with less bloat.

I bought the entire series, and it has lots of reread value, but I definitely think her fame marred her writing towards the end of the series. It was good... yet, it could have been as great as the first, I feel.

F Shelley
4. FSS
Aside from the change of "Philosopher" to "Sorceror", I don't mind the change from British English to American English. It's not just a joke; it's true that our versions of English are sometimes very different. I saw the web site that listed the changes between the US and UK versions. the majority of the changes I think can be put down to have a different editor for each version. Relatively few changes are due to vocabulary or cultural differences (jumpers vs sweaters, Father Christmas vs Santa Claus, Happy vs Merry Christmas). And I can't think of any change that altered the story.

Despite the changes, the US version "feels" British, so as a father to someone in the target demographic, I say a few changes to make the story more readable to US children are OK. If you are a die-hard on the other side of the question, I have to ask, do you only let your children read, say, Grimm's fairy tales in German?
A.J. Bobo
5. Daedylus
Mari, I think I agree with every single point you make here. This book is just good old-fashioned fun. The story can be dark, but there's enough funny stuff happening that you don't notice how dark it is unless you look for it. And, yeah, the last time I read it I was amazed at how much of it was setting up later parts of the story. It's absolutely brilliant.
6. dwndrgn
Yes, what you just said! I agree wholeheartedly.
Marcus W
7. toryx
Personally, I hate that they had to make an Americanized edition of the book. I especially hate that they had to change "Philosopher's Stone" (based on an actual mythological object) to "Sorcerer's Stone." (which is based on...nothing!) Far be it for American children to get a little bit of influence from the British!

When this first book originally came out I used to see it in Barnes & Noble all the time and I kept being drawn to it even though I refused to buy it because it looked so silly. It was only after the fourth book was released and I found out that my entire family had already read the first three books that I finally got it. (And I insisted on buying those first three books from a proper English bookshop in London so that I'd get the original language.)

When I finally got around to reading it I fully understood why so many people of different ages love it. Really, the book has something for everyone.
8. Dr. Thanatos
I had the distinct pleasure of reading these books to my kids as my first read, and I agree wholeheartedly with what Mari has said.

My observation is that each book is at the level that Harry is. In this book he is 11; every time we turn around there's slapstick humor, yummy food, a bad guy out of a camp-fire story, etc. As Harry ages, the perspective of the books change with less emphasis on the fun; the ghosts get more complex, the bad guy gets more nuanced; the moral choices get more complicated...

This first book has the innocent and sunny approach you would expect from an 11 year old's world-view, when life is about candy and breakfast and spooky passages and not murder, destruction, and foolishly choosing Ginny over Luna
9. Jeff Dougan
I hope Mari continues to write appreciations for these, in addition to finishing The Dark Is Rising sequence. In the meantime, I'll note that I started reading these roughly contemporaneously with the release of Prisoner of Azkaban, which remains my favorite of the books to this day as one of the few examples I can think of that uses time travel as an integral plot element without breaking causality.
Sean Arthur
10. wsean
Oh, it pains me to hear you describe Blyton as banal. I mean, yes, but it pains me nonetheless. So many pleasant childhood hours spent reading her books.

Funny story about the first HP.

My mom had bought the book for a long family car trip, after reading the first chapter in a bookstore and getting hooked. She planned, she said, to read it aloud to my younger brother, 11 at the time. The rest of us were welcome to listen too.

At my lofty age of 16, I scoffed and stuck my nose firmly in some other book, probably the latest banal Lackey. My younger sister popped on her headphones, and my older sister was driving, staring fixedly at the road.

A little way into the Dahl-ish first chapter, my older sister's ears started to perk up. The volume on my sister's walkman went way down. My book lay forgotten in my lap.

Our mom's cunning plan had succeeded.

We read through the whole book together, each of us reading one chapter aloud, then passing it on to the next in line. We all shared in the humor, the magic, the adventure.

We went on to read the entire series together. At first it was easy, as the books came out in summer so we'd be home from college. But eventually, the four of us spread further out. My older sister in Boston, my younger sister in Ireland, my brother in LA. But somehow, magically, it always worked out that we'd all be home at the right time.

Until the last book. When the book came out, my brother was in Spain, my older sister in China, my younger sister still in Ireland. We would all converge on home about a month after the book came out, but it would be really tough to wait that long. So we did the sensible thing and read by ourselves. Ha! Just kidding. We held off for a painful few weeks, somehow miraculously avoiding spoilers, and we all read the final book together.

It was a family thing.
Rich Bennett
11. Neuralnet
great review!

A friend gave me the first book right around when the third had come out in the US... saying I HAD to read it. I remember thinknig to myself isnt this just a childrens book? of course I loved it. The whole series is great and this is probably my second or third favorite in the series. But this book is the one that will go down as classic literature IMHO. Like you say above... it is so well written, funny and yet dark at the same time. great book! and now my children are just getting old enough to start reading it, so I get to relive everything all over again. It helps that I live very close to the theme park so we have been there a dozen times or so. my kids are pretty young but they all have wands and love to have wand battles.. LOL
Mari Ness
12. MariCats
@tokengirl - I think it reads out loud very well, too, although I'm probably very biased here - I've only heard Jim Dale read it out loud, and he's just brilliant.

@wmlbrown - And yet at the later book launches, at least in South Florida, most of the people standing in line were distinctly grownups.

@JerichoAmbrose -- When I reread this book it was clear just how much of the later series Rowling had planned out, very, very carefully - she drops hints everywhere. But I agree that it's with a lighter touch than some of the foreshadowing/prophecies in the later books.

@FSS - Well, it's not as if the books are written in Anglo-Saxon. I guess my counter question is, why not expose American kids to British vocabulary, and the idea that different people can use different words for the same thing? That happened to me when I was a kid (we moved to Italy, and the only books available were British ones) and with the admitted ongoing problem of never knowing how to spell "color," I was fine. As you note, the vocabulary differences aren't that big, so I'm not sure why they need to be changed.

@DaedylusSL - When I first read the seventh book, I was really surprised to realize just how much of it had been set up in the first.

@toryx - I also think using American English is kinda condescending to American kids. As I said, I had to switch to British English (oddly, only with British books; Penguin in the 1970s only altered punctuation, not vocabulary, when they printed American books) and did fine.

@Dr. Thanatos - Not to mention emo-Harry, when he hits that age! Noooooobbboooooooodddy UNDERSTANDS ME! Pure teenager.

@Jeff Dougan - I'm just doing the first book; Tor.com summoned up some marvelous people to blog about the next six. The Dark Is Rising reread will continue Thursday and thankfully let me return to the once a week a schedule.

@wsean - Sometimes truth is painful! And let's be fair, after writing 600 odd books you really can't expect great prose/creativity from an author.

Great story about the first HP.

@neuralnet - If it weren't for that awful parking lot, I'd probably be following your example. Love the butterbeer. And the pumpkin juice. Even if I get my fudge at Dr. Seuss instead of Honeydukes. Betrayal of Harry Potter, I know.
Michael Poteet
13. MikePoteet
I will confess, Harry Potter (on page or on screen) is not my favorite universe -- for whatever reason, it failed to grab me... beyond this book. I did read this book early on, before the "hype" had gotten too huge (although it was building), and thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly for Rowling's presentation of the "Diagon Alley" concept. The idea that this other, magical world lay right alongside ours, if we only had eyes to see... That idea still enchants me.

I also adore the conclusion of the chapter in which the three kids defeat the troll in the bathroom, and think it is one of the most perfect sentences in children's literature (and wish I could remember it verbatim!).
Elisabeth Kushner
14. ElsKushner
This brought it all back!

I first heard of the book within my first few weeks as a school librarian, in late 1998. A parent came in with a copy and asked if she could donate it, as her daughter had read and liked the book and she thought other kids might, too. I was new to the school and wary of unsolicited gifts, but I browsed through it and thought I might as well take it, since it looked pretty engaging and probably wouldn't languish on the shelf.

Also something of an understatement, as it turned out.

(The book was still in the collection-- very well-used, and joined by a few more copies--when I left the school nine years later, still with the donation sticker in it. And the parent who suggested it ended up being a friend.)
Skip Ives
15. Skip
The “Americanization” of the title is a great meme, but isn’t actually the truth you think. The UK publisher, Bloomsbury, paid J.K. Rowling a £1,500 advance for the book. In the US the book caused a bidding war, which ended with Scholastic paying a $105,000 advance.

That is a huge risk on a first-time author, and Scholastic thought that the word “Philosopher” in the title might turn children off. Arthur Levine, the person that pulled the trigger on the advance said “If you think about marketing a book, it is possible that someone hears “Philosopher’s Stone” and thinks it’s a book about philosophy.”

As for changing words like “jumper”, that only makes sense if your target audience is a middle school audience. While this is a good read for a reader of any age, it was targeted for the 10-15 year old reader. I didn’t find that the changes took me out of the story at all. Just my 2¢.
Mari Ness
16. MariCats
@MikePoteet - The sentences are:

"But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them."

@ElsKushner - Another great story. Thanks.

@Skip - Two things:

1) Yes, I was aware that Scholastic took a huge risk on Rowling, much more than her British publishers did initially, and of course wanted to do the best marketing for the book that they could. But regardless of the reason, the point is, the title was changed for American audiences, under the assumption that American kids would think, "Yuck, philosophy," instead of, "huh, philosopher's stone, what's that?" The British publishers made no such assumption, and did not dumb down the title for their readers. The result: American kid readers don't get to read about philosopher's stones, a concept that Rowling did not make up, or as one ten year old unaware of the change in title told me, assume that Rowling got her information wrong here.

2) More to the point, I'm not just talking about changes to the title. Other major Americanizations occur in the text: changing "lot" to "crowd," "roundabout" to "carousel", "holiday" to "vacation," "jumper" to "sweater", "post" to "mail," "crisps" to "chips," and so on.

Did the changes take me out of the story? Not really, but they're unnecessary, and I find it annoying that American publishers thought that American kids would be unable to figure out the meaning of these words in the text or look them up themselves. It goes back to underestimating American kids.
Birgit F
17. birgit
If you are a die-hard on the other side of the question, I have to ask, do you only let your children read, say, Grimm's fairy tales in German?

I'm German and read all the Harry Potter books in English. The American name of the book never made sense to me. There aren't even sorcerers in the books, only wizards. The Philosopher's Stone is an existing myth, it can't just be renamed. Adjusting the spelling and maybe differences in vocabulary would make more sense for an American edition.
In the German translations, some names are also translated (Rita Skeeter becomes Rita Kimmkorn, Scabbers becomes Krätze etc.). That can be a problem when I'm talking to people who have read the books in German (who is Scabbers?).
JOhn Johnson
18. smileyman
They changed roundabout to carousel? They're not anything like the same thing at all. That's an odd choice to change it to.

Regarding the books, I think I started reading them about the time the third book came out as well. I can remember the furor over Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when it won the Hugo in 2000 and how the online community devlolved into a civil war over it (especially in rec.arts.sf.written). I haven't seen any of the movies other than the first one, because I found the first movie to be unbearably dull and completely lacking the spirit of the books while adhering to the text.

The box office receipts suggest that I'm a minority in that view, so I have to ask--do the movies get better or do they stay unbearably dull in comparison to the books?
Mari Ness
19. MariCats
@birgit - The same thing happens in the Spanish translation. It's a little odd.

@smileyman - Danny Bowes, who knows considerably more about film than I do, is going to be commenting on the entire film series as part of this Harry Potter celebration.

In my less expert opinion, I didn't think the first film was unbearably dull, but I did think it was pretty clunky, with a tendency to show off sets instead of the plot. I wasn't enthralled with the second film, either.

The third film, however, was considerably better and, in my opinion, is the highlight of the film series so far. I think if you've read the books, movies four, five and six are ok, but I've found that people who haven't read the books sometimes have problems following what's going on; I brought a non-book reader to the third film, and he loved it, but he didn't like films four, five and six. I'm going to withhold judgement on film seven until I see the second half.
20. Susan Sipal
What a wonderful post, Mari! I share your enthusiasm for this first book as well as those that came after. JKR's sense of humor was fabulous, and I adored how she managed to keep it going, even into the darker books.

I especially loved her use of myth and her levels of subtext. During those last couple of years before Deathly Hallows was released, it was amazing to watch all these kids (as well as adults) scour old legends and ancient stories for references JKR may have woven into the story to give hints regarding her continuing mysteries. Every die-hard fan wanted to have a theory about who would die or what was to happen proved true.
21. Finny
Back in 2000, I was working in Borders over the summer between high school and university. One of my coworkers knew I liked sci-fi and fantasy, and suggested Harry Potter. I bought the first two books, read them, then tossed them in the trash can (something I do not do with books), because while I loved the story and the world, I found the writing itself to be very poor.

However, I find the Potter books work better, for me, when read aloud rather than on paper, so I quite like the audiobooks. The only problem there is that I am enamoured of the Stephen Fry-narrated ones, rather than Jim Dale's, and the Fry ones are not available in North America (I'm in Canada). So I'm still trying to get them--Jim Dale does a fine job, but I simply prefer Stephen Fry's.
22. bayushi
See, I had a very good friend introduce me to these books. She practically threw them at me, insisting I would love them. She was right and I'm still grateful for it.

However, I grew up reading books where the British English was used, not American English, and I think that changing it is silly. That story made much, much more sense with a Philosopher's Stone, and alchemy is an ancient and noble art, if you don't mind the accidental poisoning of people.

(BTW, Mari, thank you for throwing the books at me. I swear, the best things I got out of my marriage were my kid and several friendships that I might not otherwise have had.)
Azara microphylla
23. Azara
They changed roundabout to carousel? They're not anything like the same thing at all. That's an odd choice to change it to.

I certainly use 'roundabout' for what Americans call a carousel, but that may be a regional thing - I think 'merry-go-round' is more normal in British English. My concise Oxford dictionary gives carousel as the US usage for roundabout, merry-go-round, so I think it was a reasonable change (if you have to change things at all).
JOhn Johnson
24. smileyman
@23. Roundabout to me is a means of routing traffic instead of using a four way stop. Instead you have the cars go around a circle, with the outside car having to turn right (or left in England), and the inside car continuing around to the road it's supposed to be on.
Bruce Meyer
25. dominsions
That was an excellent review of the first Harry Potter book. I've read them all and enjoyed all of them immensely. I actually started out reading The Prisoner of Azkaban first (because that's what was available at the library), and only read the Sorcerer's Stone some time later after reading The Chamber of Secrets and The Goblet of fire. From my standpoint, the middle books were the best. The fun seemed to have been lost in the last book, The Deathly Hallows. All in all, though, a great series.

Marcus W
26. toryx
Yeah, I think of "roundabouts" as being a means of routing traffic as well. The first time I ever encountered one was in England but in the past ten years they've been increasingly common in the U.S. as well.

Carousel and Merry-Go-Rounds are interchangeable for me.

As far as the movies go: I almost posted this in the movie thread but I decided it probably wasn't the best place for it. But I have a major issue with the fact that they made the movies at all.

I mean, here you have this series of books that have gotten more kids reading than ever before. It's even gotten adults who normally don't read much more than newpapers and the occasional sports magazine to read. Even if I hated the books (which I don't) I would love J.K. Rowlings for that alone.

But then they turned around and made movies out of them. I don't know if this is true for anyone else but a lot of the people that I knew who were reading the books stopped reading them. Instead they started waiting for the movie. This is true even of people who love to read. I know a handful of people who still haven't read the last book and are waiting for the movie to come out this summer to see what finally happens.

In my mind, that's blasphemy of the highest order and it's forever soured my appreciation for the films. If they'd waited until after the books were all published I would have been much more forgiving.
Azara microphylla
27. Azara
#24, #26, Sure, those are roundabouts as well. I always assumed they got their name from the fairground kind of roundabout which was there first.

I think that's exactly the kind of thing which can justify changing from British to American English: it's not the totally unfamiliar words that are the problem, it's the ones that mean something different that you mightn't notice at first. So if American children are going to visualise characters with flaming torches rather than flashlamps, or wearing pinafore dresses rather than sweaters, I think it makes sense to change the words to the American usage.
Michael Poteet
28. MikePoteet
@MariCats -- Thanks for the quote. Utterly brilliant sentence. And re: "Azkaban" being the strongest film (so far and, I would add based on DH Part I, probably ever) -- I totally agree. Cuaron was given just enough creative room to take the story and interweave it with his own vision, in a way the other directors weren't (apparently). Which is a shame, because I think it was a "risk" that really paid off in a compelling, darker but beautiful movie.
rob mcCathy
29. roblewmac
I was in my late 20s when I read the first Harry Potter. I was put off by Harry being "the kid so put upon ya have to love him" and largely put off by the whole univese.
30. H Songer
I do agree that changing the title was an error that could have been avoided. Having read or listened to the British versions of the first five books I would state that many of the changes from the British terms to American idiom were well founded. For instance, a "jumper" in the US is commonly considered to be a girl's dress, not a sweater, and something I wouldn't want to try to imagine Ron and Harry wearing about in their dormitory on Christmas. When I first read that Hermione was nagging the boys about "revision" I didn't have any idea what that was until I inferred much later in the book that it meant "studying". The same with when they received their "timetables" (which I relate more to trains than school) the first day of school instead of "class schedules". You have to consider your prospective audience, and if some terms are confusing or not familiar to them then that will impact sales. How well do you think the book would have sold if most of the boys reading it put it away after they thought that Ron and Harry were secretly cross-dressers?
31. justins
I went out of my way to pick up the brittish editions, despite being an american reader.

I think the translation (apart from Philosopher's stone, where actual meaning is lost) is a question of intent. American english is easier, but the orignal version has a bit more sense of place to it, and is a nice starting point for people who may eventually want to read more books written by Brittish writers, and developing the skills to do so.

I have not heard anyone discuss trying to translate Sherlock Holms for the american reader (instead, you have the occasional annotated edition).
James Whitehead
32. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Nice reread/review. I picked up the HP books when the fourth came out in hardcover. My mum, yes mum, had started reading the books to my nephews when they visited during school vacation (summer hols). They were the right age & even allowed their grandmother to read them a chapter or two of the final book. ;-)

I always felt that the "Americanization" of the books' language to be terribly insulting to the typical American child reader. That they did not have the intellectual capacity to determine that when Harry gets all those snacks from the cart of the Hogwarts Express that 'sweets' are 'candy.'

The editors weren't terribly diligent in their changes to the book anyway, or at least in the edition I have. Mum stops being mom half way through the book. Also if the reader was confused by the language, what's wrong with asking someone else what he/she thinks said word means? My children often ask my wife or I when they are confused about a reference or word in a book (or a movie). Just another way to bring people together; which is a good thing. ;-)

As for the movies, I agree that they started getting better with the release of Azkaban. The first two movies were more like classroom reviews, "Now class, for this scene please turn to page 227 in your books..." Azkaban became more about capturing the spirit to the book rather than simply a literal adaptation.

My family & I discussed this at the time & compared it to what Jackson was doing with his LOTR movies. There was no way he could get everything in. So he decided to capture the main themes/elements of Tolkien's works & convey the spirit of them. Once the Potter movie franchise took this tack, I felt they improved immensely.

33. BeVibe
I was lucky enough to catch an interview of Jo Rowling on NPR's Fresh Air by the amazing Terry Gross. The book had already won lots of British book awards, and it sounded wonderful! My niece was the same age as Harry, and I thought she might enjoy the books, so it seemed like the perfect Christmas present. I haunted the local independent book store, asking and asking for the book, and had one reserved for me when it came.

I started reading the book (just to screen it), and went back the next day (after staying up way too late reading) & purchased a copy for my niece. She got a first edition copy, just like me, for 4 years, until things went crazy & you couldn't get near a bookstore the first week.

Yes, I'm a big, and early Potter fan - I liked the book before it was published in this country. My niece is a big Potter fan, too. :)
34. T Dog
Ummm... Why would Mrs. Weasley knit somebody standing on a ledge? And is it even possible to knit a human?

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