“TO THE BOY WHO LIVED” || TWENTY YEARS OF HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE

“… He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!’”

I think I am one of the few people out there who saw the movie first before reading the book. Yeah – I know! Shocking and yet when I was growing up you couldn’t find Harry Potter if your life depended on it. Even Rowling’s Hogwarts Library took at least four years after Hallows was released to find its way to my bookshelves. Difficult to imagine isn’t it! Nowadays you can not only find various editions of Harry Potter but find different merchandise to complete your transformation into a true blue potterhead. Or go visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and live the Hogwarts experience.

But those days it was only after the movie was released that you could find the books becoming more readily available. Still, it wasn’t until Order of the Phoenix was released that it became truly commonplace phenomenon to see Harry Potter on every shelf. If someone asked me however that you can fast forward to 2007 and read all the books together I would say no. I would not give up that experience for anything in the world. I was extremely lucky to have grown up with Harry Potter – to wait until the book was released, to read into the early hours of the morning under torchlight so your parents don’t discover that you have been reading all night, to wait until the movies released so you can re-obsess with the boy wizard all over again.

Well – enough about me. Now to Harry Potter.

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If I had a time-turner I would take myself back to that time again, the time when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time. I know – cliché – but you know exactly what I am talking about. The story of the Philosopher’s Stone embodies different archetypes of the hero and his quest. Joseph Campbell in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces compiled various archetypes of mythology, the mythical hero and his quests. He called this idea of hero’s journey a monomyth where the hero is called to adventure, participates in various quests in order to ultimately battle his own demons and discover himself. The monomyth proceeds in the formula of separation – initiation – return.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder

In the first chapter of “The Boy Who Lived”, Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Hagrid bring Harry to his aunt and uncle. Its been hours since Lily and James Potter have been killed by Voldemort and who in turn has been defeated by Harry for reasons unknown. This marks the separation – Harry has thrust out the world of his birthright, the wizarding world and brought into the ordinary world – the world of Muggles [non-magic people]. He spends the first eleven years of his life under the roof of his aunt and uncle unaware of his true identity. Of course, Campbell has not taken into account his reader – we experience the separation much the same as Harry and we enter the magical world along with Harry. It is not the hero who crosses over from the ordinary to the supernatural – the reader joins him for this adventure

The Hogwarts Letter.

The letter to Harry signifies not only the call from the wizarding world it also defines the tradition of bildungsroman or the growth of the hero from childhood to adulthood. For us this tradition is illustrated over seven books – The Philosopher’s Stone marks the beginning of the education of Harry Potter. The letter also symbolizes the boarding school culture of English and European sensibilities. While Harry Potter is an expression of the fantasy world come alive, Rowling has also imbibed it with English culture and society. She also gives you a glimpse of British customs, idioms, their eccentrics as well as their iconic sense of humour.

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Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won

Can there be space enough and time to discuss the wizarding world of Harry Potter! Rowling’s world building is one of the reasons that have endeared millions of people worldwide to the books. You can not read about Hogwarts and not want to complete your education there. The fundamental characteristic of any book in fantasy literature is its world. For me, the effectiveness of any fantasy world whether it’s the kind of world you want to run to or the world which you want to run as fast from. The biggest disappointment is the world that you can see through. Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and the wizarding world stands apart from the other fantasy worlds created. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth has spawned a dozen or so worlds created in its own image – Robert Jordan’s world, Martin’s Westeros, Paulini’s Alagaesia are some of the most famous names of Middle Earth inspired fantasy worlds. The world of Hogwarts commands its own space – its where you learn about magic and magical creatures. Its where you can buy broomsticks and bank with their wizarding gold, have Butterbeer in Hogsmeade and learn to play Quidditch. I remember coming across this one article which attempted to understand the magic of Harry Potter – it talked about how suddenly broomsticks and potion making in fashion like a new brand taking the world by storm. That’s basically what I think about Rowling’s construction of the wizarding world – the way she has dressed it in an attractive package and presented to the world

So Harry enters the wizarding world with the perpetual look of amazement in his face. Daniel Radcliffe in the movie wears this look to perfection in the first half of the movie. And we readers have worn the same look ever since Hagrid tapped the bricks and led us into Diagon Alley.

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The belly of the whale – the hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died

“Harry thought that none of the lessons he’d had so far had given him as much to think about as tea with Hagrid.”

The philosopher’s stone symbolizes the traditional idea of the quest. What is brilliant about Rowling’s narration is the way she wove her plot in the books. In her interviews, Rowling stated that after she conceived the idea of Harry Potter, she spent five years plotting and then eventually writing the book. In the Journey from Platform nine and three-quarters, Ron Weasley tells Harry about the break-in at Gringotts. Before that Harry was witness to Hagrid removing a top-secret package from the Gringotts vault of 713. Soon after coming to Hogwarts, he, Ron and Hermione became embroiled in a midnight adventure involving poltergeists and three-headed dogs in order to discover the hiding place of the package, “it looked as though Harry had found out where the grubby little package from vault seven hundred and thirteen was”.

The quest for the package or as he discovers later in Nicholas Flamel – the philosopher’s stone – leads Harry into the ‘belly of the whale’. When Harry discovers that Lord Voldemort is behind the attempts to steal the Philosopher’s Stone, he resolves to get the Stone before Voldemort. This brings us to the different forms of quest prevalent in this book. The book is the beginning of the quest of Harry Potter to ingratiate himself into the wizarding world and discover his identity as a wizard as well as his education on magic and magical powers. It is also the beginning of the events which will bring Harry and Voldemort in collision with each other leading to their final duel.

It is also the place where Harry will brave the different obstacles in order to win the ultimate prize – the Philosopher’s Stone. The greatest of all the obstacles was of course Harry confronting his most desperate desire in the reflection of the Mirror of Erised and walking away from it. As Dunbledore said, “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”. He has help and guidance along this path. The hero on the quest meets guides and protection who lend him help and knowledge that will help him reach the end of his quest. Hermione finds him the information on the stone, Ron defeats McGonagall’s giant chess set so that Harry can move forward and face Lord Voldemort.

 

The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man

 

Harry returns from the battle with Voldemort victorious able to thwart his plan to return back to his old powers. In doing so, Harry earns his place in the ranks of heroes. Unlike the traditional narratives where the hero returns back to the everyday life a changed man but still one whose ultimate goal is to inhabit it eventually. Harry’s return to the muggle world is an unwilling return – an enforced waiting period before he can return back to Hogwarts. This return sets the tone for the rest of the books until in Deathly Hallows he says goodbye to the muggle world and permanently crosses over to the wizarding world.

The Philosopher’s Stone introduced us to the world of Harry and Hogwarts and brought to the generation a world of magic which is deeply mired in to the emotions of friendship, bravery and loyalty. It is not just the magic but also the human emotions that enthral us twenty years after publication and I am sure would continue on long, long after.

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What Harry Potter achieved was getting an entire generation to discover a love for reading and nurturing this love for the generation who are already in love. It began the age of celebrity authors and novels vying for the attention of demanding readers. The latest trend in bookstagram and booktubing have only added to the cult status of Harry Potter.

What I thought of the Twentieth Anniversary edition:

I brought the house color of Gryffindor. Apar from the gorgeous black cover featuring the emblem of Godric Gryffindor[the founder of the house] what drew me in was the side pages which are painted red and gold. Inside the first few pages are dedicated to the history of the house and trivia on famous Gryffindors. It was a special thrill to see Harry’s name there and made me smile as I started on the book itself. The end pages of the book have all kinds of different fun activities which – even though you are an adult – you are excited to participate in. Overall, it is a worthy successor of the illustrated edition designed by Jim Kay and the perfect celebration of twenty years of Harry Potter!

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