What makes a book or series worth re-reading? A good story, believable and likable characters, a unique world so strange and splendid it can’t be imagined – unless described by a brilliant storyteller. Harry Potter is one such series.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a special magic. The shortest of the seven, it introduces Harry and his readers to a whole new world: a world of magic. Witches, wizards, a sport played on flying broomsticks, owl post, powerful potions, and more incredible yet believable things exist in this parallel world. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry first learns of his family and his wizard identity.
Readers can share his awe as he learns that his new school has its own train that leaves from platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station. Somewhere between platforms nine and ten, he encounters the Weasley family, asks them for help finding the train, befriends Ron, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mythology? Legend? Wizardry? Ghostology?
I enjoy rereading The Sorcerer’s Stone because of JK Rowling’s genius. The settings are magically unique, but she describes them in a matter of fact tone so that we readers know this is only the beginning of the mysteries to come. When she describes the staircases at Hogwarts’ School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, all 142 of them: “…wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday…” it’s simply in a paragraph about Harry attempting to learn his way to his classes.
And the classes! No Intro to British Lit here. Harry takes History of Magic (taught by a ghost), Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and the cursed (literally, but we don’t know that until a later book) Defense Against the Dark Arts.
The “strange and splendid place” in the first line is the Great Hall as Harry sees it on his arrival at Hogwarts. In his limited upbringing by his neglectful Muggle (non-magical) relatives, he had never even dared imagine a world so wonderful.
Thankfully for all readers, JK Rowling did imagine such a strange and splendid place – a world nearby, yet far different from our everyday Muggle existance. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone stands on its own as a wonderful story and sets up the reading world for an adventure that begins – and ends, several books later – on Platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station.
My students won’t have wands, owls, or school robes. They’ll write their assignments with pen on paper or type them on computers, not ink and quill on parchment. One of my challenges, though, is to create a safe place for them to experiment, read, and write. Maybe one of them will create a strange and splendid story for another generation – some magical day in the future.