Disclaimers: I review works of art like literature as independent of their creators. Just because I support the Harry Potter books does not mean I support J.K. Rowling’s actions, statements, and/or views. This review contains my opinions. You don’t have to agree with me.
This post contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (a.k.a. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone).
I first read Harry Potter when I was 9 years old. I reread the first book when I was 11, 19, and 21. This review includes my thoughts from my younger reads (9 and 11) and from my older reads (19 and 21). I’ll start by talking about the things I noticed during all the reads. Then I’ll talk about things I noticed in the later reads. I’ll wrap up by pointing out plot holes and other unanswered questions. This series is rather famous for having interesting plot holes. I point them out jokingly. Younger me didn’t notice them, and since this series is geared toward a younger audience, I think that’s all that matters. Adult me needs to just enjoy the story and stop asking so many questions. I also realize some of the plot holes are addressed on Pottermore, in the author’s tweets, etc., but these are things that need to be included in the books, not supplemental material.
One of the things I remember most about Harry Potter—and love the most—is the characters. I particularly like how the side characters are developed, so the story doesn’t focus solely on the main characters. There are so many characters for readers to follow and get to know, and the large cast is one of my favorite parts of the story. The friendships among these characters are really great, too. In this book, the primary friendship is between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I like that the characters demonstrate agency. The trio is constantly making decisions to deal with various problems they’re faced with. I find proactive characters really engaging.
Here are some detailed examples of what I love about the characters: Some of the characters, particularly Dumbledore, say things that make great quotes. I love that the dialogue is full of quote-worthy material. Some of the characters are funny and add great humor to the book. I’m mostly thinking of Peeves, Draco Malfoy, and the Weasley twins. I believe Peeves is self-explanatory. If you’ve read the books, you know why Peeves is funny. I find Draco’s taunts amusing. The twins are great. They’re two of my favorite characters. I particularly like how they throw snowballs at the back of Quirrell’s turban. Little do they know they’re throwing snowballs at Voldemort’s face.
The other part of Harry Potter that I remember and love a lot is the setting and worldbuilding. Who can forget Hogwarts and the houses? What kid (or adult) doesn’t want to be a witch/wizard and go to a magical boarding school? I think what really engages readers in Harry Potter is the worldbuilding and the fun characters. I also like how everything is described. Readers get a good sense of what most characters and settings look like.
The plot is also well done. The story skips over the boring stuff, which maintains reader interest, particularly for the intended middle grade audience. The plot feels fast paced, which also encourages continued engagement. The foreshadowing and set-up for future chapters and books is really well done.
Adult me saw three main areas for improvement. As much as I love the characters, there are two things I would’ve liked to see more of. One is that we don’t get any character thoughts or emotions. This makes the narrative feel really distanced, and I like reading more intimate stories. I would like to get inside Harry’s head and get an idea of what he’s thinking and feeling throughout the story. I also would like to see more character arcs. None of the characters really change in this story with Neville being the exception. It would’ve been nice to see more growth in the characters. I didn’t notice either of these things as a young reader, which is fine. As an older reader, I found myself wanting more from the story.
There is one inconsistency that could use clearing up. This has to do with the trace and using magic away from Hogwarts.
One of the other issues I have with this book is the writing quality. This is rather nit-picky on my part, but as a writer, certain things bother me to the point it affects my ability to enjoy a story. The grammatical errors; overuse of things like italics, adverbs, ellipses, dashes, all caps, etc.; and dialogue tags that use colorful verbs really bother me. Younger me didn’t notice these things. Younger me didn’t even know what grammar was. So the writing style is fine for the story’s intended audience. Older me just has a really hard time ignoring those things.
Now for all the plot holes and unanswered questions. Again, these are things younger me didn’t notice and probably wouldn’t care about even if they were pointed out.
The first two are things that aren’t explained well enough or at all. Why are the Dursleys Harry’s only family? It wouldn’t be that hard to add a sentence or two explaining what happened to Harry’s grandparents, particularly on his dad’s side to justify him living with his aunt. Also, a lot of people, myself included, ask why the wizarding world has to stay hidden from the Muggle world. It’s sort of explained, but most (adult) readers aren’t satisfied with the answer.
There are times when I question what the characters do. For example, who leaves a baby unattended on a doorstep at night in late fall? Dumbledore should’ve at least knocked when he left Harry there instead of waiting for Petunia to find him in the morning. I also question why Dumbledore hired Quirrell. Dumbledore’s no idiot. Surely he knew Quirrell was a bad choice. And why did Quirrell wait so long to go after the stone? Did it really take him a year to prepare to get it? And when he did go after the stone, why couldn’t he get it? The mirror would give the stone to anyone who didn’t want to use it. Quirrell didn’t want to use it. He wanted to give it to Voldemort. Because of that, he should’ve been able to get the stone without Harry’s help.
I’m also confused as to how all these protections, which are designed to stop well-learned dark wizards, were easily beaten by three first years. I’ve heard theories that Dumbledore orchestrated the whole thing to give Harry an opportunity to face Voldemort. If that’s true, that makes me really dislike Dumbledore. Who does that to an eleven-year-old kid? Especially after he’s been abused by the Dursleys for the past ten years.
These last few just don’t make sense to me. How is the right-hand side of the third-floor corridor off limits? If it’s the right side, then that technically means both sides of the corridor because right is dependent on which way you’re facing. I also want to know why there is a lock on the outside of the girls’ bathroom. That seems weird, and it’s just asking for students to lock each other in the bathroom. Also, why are there dungeons in a school? I know it’s a castle, but my understanding is that it’s always been a school.
Bonus question: When do Filch and the professors sleep? They always seem to be out and about at night catching students who are out of bed, particularly Filch.
Those are my nit-picky adult reader comments. As a kid, I had no issues with this story, and I think it’s a great book to share with children. As an adult, I find this book less enjoyable because I can’t seem to turn off my brain when I’m reading, so I notice the writing quality and question everything. The story is supposed to be fun, and it doesn’t necessarily have to make complete sense to be enjoyable. Given how successfully this book has captivated readers of all ages since its release, I’d say it’s doing something right.
Did you first read Harry Potter as a kid or an adult? If you read it as a kid, have you reread it as an adult? Has your impression of the story changed over the years? Have you noticed any of the plot holes? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments down below.