Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Leaving Hogwarts and the Sorcerer's Stone

book 1997 movie 2001 first read in 2003? first seen in 2003? 

Sometimes, the most unlikely things turn out to take the most important places in your life, don't they? 
Today, Harry Potter is a synonym for childhood to me - but for a long part of same childhood, it was just 'That boring-looking boys' movie'. It took someone's unsuspecting goodwill to get the book anywhere near me and an intense feeling of boredom for me to wipe the dust off its cover one or two years later. The rest is history

When other people turn up James Brown's "I Feel Good", I'll be listening to "Hedwig's Theme". Instead of the Tower Bridge, the highlight of my sightseeing tour in London was Platform 9 3/4. My visit of the Harry Potter Studio Tour in the UK will make out a whole chapter in my self-biography. Basically, I think this is all some kind of mistake and my invitation letter for Hogwarts got lost in the mail. This is why an afresh revisitation of the series seemed like the perfect way to both celebrate and grieve for my leaving/ finishing high school. So the next 8 months, right until my graduation prom in July, I'm going to take a look back at the 7 books and 8 films that make out such a huge part of my girlhood. The title of the series, obviously borrowed from my favourite theme from the soundtrack(s), is not supposed to symbolize any sort of abandon or moving-on from the Harry Potter universe. On the contrary, it signifies the parallels between the world of Harry, Ron and Hermione and my own life. As I'm on my way to end a very important chapter of my life, I once more look to them for inspiration.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (sometimes called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) must be, to this date, both the book that I've read most often and the movie that I've seen most often. I'm convinced of this only by thinking of the many times I've re-read or re-watched the whole series when a new installment was added to either page or screen. Reading that first sentence in itself makes me feel all warm and cozy inside. That British spirit, that humour, that liveliness! The same goes for the opening shot of the owl on the Privet Drive sign. It brings back the memories of many a time gone by - sick day mornings, sleepy classes right before summer break in elementary school, my Harry Potter birthday bash around 2005 and of course those countless DVD evenings. 

Needless to say, I never thought of the significance of the phenomenon 'Harry Potter' back in the day. It might absorbed me at times, a re-read making me unavailable for friends and family for days at a time (or just one day if we're talking book one), a new release turning night into day and eyes into holes, and Hermione Granger destroying my parents' hope that I would ever become a normal, likable young girl. But as that may tell you, I rather became a part of that world more than making it a part of my own life. Now that time has passed and I know better than to cut my bangs Hermione-in-Part-One style, it has become easier for me analyze my feelings for - and the greatness of - the world of Harry Potter. 

My writing-a-blog-post face

What strikes most newcomers to the series, is how much the first two books and movies were actually targeted at children - the eventual scary bit not really lessening the overall child-esque feel of the story. I, too, found myself astonished by this fact this time around - and hence even more astonished by J.K.Rowling's ingenuity. She set up a story that would capture a whole generation and never ever let them go. We read the first two book at around the same age as the three main characters, becoming enthralled by the magical world they lived in and at the same time being able to relate to their way of thinking, their way of speaking, and most of their struggles and problems. As the trio grew older, so did we, and both the books and movies matured in the same way as we did. The story is there, it has always been there, and that's why it ties up so nicely in the end. Re-reading and re-watching part one, you see all the little hints at events that happen much later in the series - but it still makes sense that they don't play an important role, because the characters are simply too young to understand. 

It makes me wonder; would an adult (preferably a middle-aged person) who was new to the series, be able to catch all those small details? Is the magic of Harry Potter lessened for people who didn't grow up with it? My wanna-be-objective, subjective answer would be: no and yes. No, I don't think these people would necessarily 'get' much of the story, because there are many parts that are only explained later, so the hints don't make any sense without background knowledge. However, there is a certain kind of sentiment connected to all of the things we loved in our childhood, which elevates even something that is as wonderful as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to an even higher level.

In a way, everything about the Harry Potter movies really is extraordinary, part of which I only learned during my visit to the studios. The tradition of using many real props and practical effects that were introduced in the first films, was continued even when the budget was growing and technology evolving. To this day, much of look and technical side of The Sorcerer's Stone holds up, and that has a lot to do with a very intelligent direction and what must be some of the best film technicians of our time. The transformation of Robbie Coltrane in itself is an amazing achievement and I feel like I've only understood 9 3/4 % of how they did it.

The direction itself fits the story of the first book very well and I think Chris Columbus was a wonderful choice for directing the first two movies. Many blame, or at least credit, him for the childish feel of these films but I am of the opinion that producers knew what they were going for. Had Columbus said no - they would've found someone else. Surely, the style would've been different, but the overall atmosphere of the movie couldn't have been much different. What I think distinguishes Columbus from other directors associated with children's movies, is that he is able to take the viewpoint of a child entirely. He knows what children want, and that it's not necessarily what their parents want - just think of the ruthless avenging angel-face that is Kevin McCallister. The Sorcerer's Stone thus is easy enough to understand for children - but it never made you feel like Columbus was one of those stupid grown-ups that talk really slowly in order for you to understand what they're saying. And that's what makes it so enjoyable to watch even today; it makes you not only remember your childhood, but it makes you relive it and feel like you're 8 years old again. 

A milestone for British film history, the idea of the franchise and the fantasy genre, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone also marks the year when some of the most promising young actors of our generation were discovered. To see them delivering such strong performances next to top-notch actors like Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Richard Harris blows my mind away every single time. And to know how they are going to grow up so well and become some of the most lovely seeming people on earth makes it so much more fascinating. Rupert Grint was just the Ron Weasley I had in mind, perhaps even a better version of him than I was able to imagine when reading the book. Emma Watson was much prettier than my own image of Hermione, but that way, I came to strive towards both beauty and intellect instead of becoming a careless, unkempt grind. And Daniel Radcliffe is Harry, period. He just is.

There is so much more to say about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The many hours spent on trying to memorize all of Hermione's dialogue. The fact that Oliver Wood was one of my first fictional crushes ever. How I rewrote all spells in the book in different colours, according to their section of magic. My firm belief in the arrival of an owl on my 11th birhtday - and then the 12th... I think I came to my senses at age 13. The old DVD that I still own and take good care of, and that I - in lack of a memory - like to think of as my first DVD ever. The old book that I still own and that looks just as worn as it's supposed to look. Richard Harris as Dumbledore.

But how about we leave it with this: the last shot.

„I'm not going home. Not really.“


  1. It's great that you've decided to go back through the books and movies. I've considered something similar for the films since I haven't gone back and watch the more recent ones despite owning them on Blu-ray. I think it would be very interesting to see how the tone has evolved while the characters grew.

    1. Oh, I've seen all of the movies a lot recently too, but I never went back and re-read the book and compared them to the books at the same time. If you do it let me know, I'm curious to see what you think.

  2. I will be a potterhead forever, and i think i read the first three-four books by 2000. I was a lot older than you at the time and i still love it up until now (maybe that's because i have a mental age of 12). But i agree the first two films really feel into the children oriented films, the book i think have more depth dan that. But I think i love how the movie seemed like it's progressing accordingly to Harry's age. And yes, Rupert Grint is damn good! (I'm a Ron Weasley fan for eternity and beyond!)

    1. They kind of focused a lot more on Hermione than Ron later in the movies, which I think is a bit sad, despite how much I love them. Yep, I agree that the books are a bit less obviously child-oriented, at least in book 2 where the basilisk is a lot more creepy than in the movie. (It even says things like "I'll kill you... I'll tear you apart"!). So cool to know you're a potterhead too - I hope you'll have fun with this series of posts.

  3. It is interesting that you weren't bowled over by the Harry Potter craze when it first appeared. It took me a while before I even acknowledged it - my first film was Prisoner of Azkaban in the cinema and I came out hating it. But I changed my opinion when I saw the first two films on TV, and never looked back. I've since really enjoyed reading the later books and revisiting the movies. Now, Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite.

    1. Well, it just seemed more geared towards boys than girls and I was a very, very girly girl. I saw 1 and 2 on DVD but 3 was the first one I saw in cinemas too - it was my favorite already then and has always been.

      How fortunate that we're able to change our opinions though, right? I don't know what a world without Harry Potter would be like anymore.


Let the discussion begin!