Archives For Philosopher’s Stone

Technically it all began with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK in 1997. But that’s only technically. The true beginning was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, published July 8th, 2000. Potter Mania can all be traced to that one date. It was when Harry Potter began its term as the reigning king of the publishing world, breaking records and setting the rest of the world on fire.

I had started reading the Harry Potter books about a year earlier. The first book had been given out as a school reading assignment. I scoffed at the assignment. A story about a boy who fins out he’s a wizard and then has to go to a wizard school? Why would I ever want to read such a thing? I was already a snob at the ripe old age of eleven. In retrospect, I was a total moron. Thank Jeebus I had a teacher who forced us to read good books! Click to read more

Considering the enourmous popularity of the Harry Potter books, a series of blockbuster movies was pretty much inevitable. There were a lot of directors who were looked at to bring the the magical world to life on film, but in the end the job went to an unlikely candidate. Chris Columbus had done well with Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire and was probably a good choice in terms of dealing with child actors. His other directorial abilities were more questionable and, as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets would prove, it was a creative gamble that didn’t quite pay off. Columbus delivered two films that made boatloads of money and that ably translated the stories from the first two books to the screen, but he did so without any sort of creative flash. But is that such a bad thing?

A lot of people bag on Columbus for his handling of the Harry Potter films—he’s an easy target, I know—but in retrospect his extremely basic direction was exactly what the franchise needed in the beginning. Sure, it would be nice to get in a time machine and have David Yates just go ahead and direct all the films, but as things played out Columbus actually managed to put together two films that are very watchable and aren’t too dark or weird. Could you imagine if Alfonso Cauron had been able to direct the first film and set up the entire series through his own weird lens? The result might have been something the critical community would adore, but audiences might have been turned off and the series might have floundered over time.
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There is no denying that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a very faithful adaptation of the novel upon which it is based. It gets about as much of the book into the movie as it possibly can. This may have been good fan-service, but almost literally translating a great book directly to the screen does not a great movie make. The first entry into one of the most ambitious film franchises of all time gets off lucky. It turns out to be quite good, and serves as a great introduction to the world of Harry Potter on film. I just wish that it had been great rather than good.

Director Chris Columbus is not an adventurous filmmaker, but he gets the job done. There is nothing about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that feels like a risk aside from the general scope of the film as a whole. The set design for this film, for example, needs to live on for the rest of the series; both literally and as a way to inform future design. At this the film very much succeeds. The world built for this film feels vast and complete, much like it did in the novel, and it is a testament to Columbus as a director that he was able to capture it all in a way that feels grand and exciting. Click to read more

If there is one defining characteristic of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone it is an overwhelming feeling of awe and wonder. Sure, the rest of the series exhibits wondrous magic and locations, but never is that sensation so distilled as in the very first entry. One could off-handedly attribute this to the fact that Philosopher’s Stone is, in fact, the first entry in a series set in a fantasy universe and wonderment comes with the territory. I suppose this is somewhat true, though I do also think that J.K. Rowling’s ability to relay that universe to the reader is remarkably adept and puts Harry Potter one notch above most other children’s fantasy. Still, I do believe there is something more at work here. Something that goes beneath the merely superficial concept of “new=awe”. No, I think even in at this early stage, Rowling is ever mindful of the thematic underpinnings of her prose. The wonder on display in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is essential to the idea of a young boy moving into the next stage of his life; a stage in which anything is possible and the world is there to discover.

The Harry Potter series explores many themes and concepts, but one of the most fascinating is its exploration of the transition from childhood to adulthood. Each book in the series advances the characters through their lives year by year, encompassing all those subtle changes that happen over time and that ultimately shape them for the rest of their lives. Harry in particular is the most developed, not just because he is the main character, but also because the books are generally told in the third-person subjective. Nearly everything we see and experience is through Harry’s eyes. As readers we grow with Harry as he grows; as he moves through the wizarding world and his years at Hogwarts we gain an insight into his development as a character and as a constantly changing human being. Click to read more

So here is where it all began. J.K. Rowling first introduced the world to the fabled tale of “The Boy Who Lived” in this marvelous little tome, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Though this first book in the seven-part series is the shortest, and though it is in many ways the most conventional, it still represents a major leap in quality for children’s fantasy. It’s a leap so great that much like a good Pixar film it works even better for adults. With Philosopher’s Stone, Rowling lays claim to the crown previously held by Roald Dahl, and she wears it proudly.

Within its pages readers are greeted by an intricately constructed world that never fails to be wondrous and fun. Rowling carries that delightful Dahl sensibility by infusing her novel with a giddy sort of charm, accentuated by funny sounding names and ceaseless possibilities. The opening chapter sets up the mystery surrounding the magical world and the boy named Harry Potter expertly. It’s an opening that revels in the strange and the bizarre and the comedic, but like the rest of the book—and the rest of the series, too—there is an undercurrent of darkness and the unknown that is engaging on a truly gut level. Click to read more