I was already grown up when I read the first book. There were murmurs about it buzzing everywhere in the book world. So I thought I'd give it a go. I found a charming and original story that was strangely ordinary about a boy who found out that he was a wizard on his eleventh birthday. There was an appropriate wit about bottoms and pigs' tails, bullying, domineering relatives and friendship.
Despite that, there was a personal appeal. Harry went to a typical Victorian boarding school, with gowned masters, team sports, dormitories and more bullies, only made different by the sprinkle of magic, of moving staircases and broomsticks. None allowed after lights out, mind. All reminiscent of the books I read as a child, like Malory Towers and Tom Brown's Schooldays.
The other thing that drew me in was the mythology, all drawn from Celtic, Greek and Roman folklore, such as Cerberus, the three-headed dog, and the ancient Phoenix. Bits of history and characters like Nicholas Flamel, who was featured as making the philosopher's stone, was a real scribe from the 14th century. He discovered the secret to immortality, he claimed. Dragons, centaurs, elves - love them all. Folklore and mythology are all strands of human history and Rowling uses them sparingly and weaves them into her own creation. The secret wizzard street, Diagon Alley, is Dickensian with it's quirky shops and names as are many of the characters who hold names depicting their characteristics. Harry himself is reminiscent of a Dickens' orphan living under the stairs. The boarding school, Hogwarts, is described like a Medieval castle, with chambers and secret passageways and the ornateness of a cathedral.
It is obvious that Harry Potter was born from an educated, classic intellect. It comes as no surprise to find that Rowling was a teacher and someone who admires the books of Jane Austen. Her writing is concise, the pace always where it needs to be. The three central characters - Harry and his two friends - are traditionally typical victims of bullies. There is Harry, a skinny bespectacled orphan, Hermione, a frizzy-haired bookish girl with buck teeth, and Ron, a red-headed boy from a large poor family who wears hand-me-downs.
This is a great wizard adventure, of that there is no doubt, with themes of friendship, loyalty, social class and bullying. It is complex yet simple, ancient yet modern. I didn't know what was to come when I finished this book, but it was a magical world even if there was no magic in the story at all. Neither did I realise that Britain had found another great writer in J.K. Rowling.
✒️ Debut novel
Published by Bloomsbury on 26 June 1997. Several imprints have been published since then, including a gift edition featuring Jonny Duddle foiled cover art in a presentation slipcase, published by Pottermore Publishing on 8 December 2015.