Harry Potter and the Philosopher Prisoner of the Chamber of StonePosted: July 7, 2007
Ok. This is going to be an extended ramble about the first three Harry Potter novels. This means several things.
- If you are here for pithy comics commentary about comics this is not the post for you! You can go here if that’s your thing.
- The entry is a ramble. Thus not a review or a critique or anything so sophisticated. Consider what you find below to be a stream of consciousness about the first three Potter novels.
- I make no claims as to a fresh or new insights are to be found below.
With that out of the way, lets get to it!
The Philospher’s Stone (PS)
What’s most interesting about this book is the fact that it is a textbook example of economy of story-telling. Every word, every page, every scene in this book pushes the plot & mystery forward. It’s stunning to compare this first outing with the later Potter books where Rowling sometimes gets bogged down in the details. This is, of course, PS’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
The book is a breeze (for an adult reader) to read, my last time through only took me a day and a half of very causal reading. But, fundamentally, I feel that leaves the book a little slight. It does an excellent job setting the basic stage (What is a wizard? How does magic work? Who is Harry Potter?) for the later books but lacks the depth, complexity, and plot twists that set the later books apart.
This, of course, may be because some of the charm of this book is lost when you first read it at 20 years of age. If I had first read PS when I was 10 or 11, perhaps my feeling about the book would be stronger.
The Chamber of Secrets (COS)
The second Potter novel is, of course, a bit more complex and interesting over the first. COS is, like it’s later sister novel the Half-Blood Prince (HBP), is an extended info-dump about Tom Riddle’s back story. I feel that the exposition fest is handled better in COS that HBP. It works much more organically within the overall plot instead of the literal trip down memory lane that Harry and Dumbledore take in HBP.
This book, I feel, fits much more in the standard fantasy tropes than any of the latter books. Harry slays the dragon (or giant snake), defeats the evil wizard, saves the girl, yada yada.
Honestly, despite the fact that much of this book is very important to the over all mythology of the Potter series, it the book I am least familiar with. I think I’ll give it one more read before Deathly Hallows hits in two weeks (!!!).
Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA)
PoA is easily the finest book of the first three. Here Rowling manages to balance all of the elements that make the Potter great: the wonder and whismy of childhood, the magical eduation at Hogwarts, the danger and darkness the transition to adulthood.
The book also introduces several of my favorite characters: Sirius and Lupin. Rowling as manages to work the universe building backstory most organically into the plot of this book, perhaps because the plot is so centrally tied to James Potter’s backstory.
Thinking about PoA reminds me of how little we’ve been give as to Lilly Evans-Potter’s backstory. James and his friends got an entire book devoted to their youthful misadventures (and that’s exactly how Rowling portrays them as funny but fundamentally misadventures. Hanging out with a transformed werewolf was a dangerous thing to do, the fact that Harry keeps his father’s best qualities [loyalty, sense of fun] but lacks some of his fathers less redeemable qualities is an interesting part of his character. In this book Rowling draws subtle contrasts between James and his son that makes this book more complicated than a surface reading may imply) but Lilly gets very little backstory. I think this might be fixed in Deathly Hallows but the lack of development of Lilly is a shame. James is an interesting character and omnipresent force in Harry’s life and the fact that Lilly’s character is most blank is a bit odd.
This novel is where everything clicks Rowling has found her footing as an author with PoA. Its all up hill from here.
Next: A ramble about my love of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, despite it having the most absurd plot ever!