|Release number 1st in series|
Originally published 26 June 1997
Genre Fantasy literature
Original language English
|Illustrator Thomas Taylor (UK Edition)Jonny Duddle (2014 UK Edition)Mary GrandPré (US Edition)Kazu Kibuishi (2013 US Edition)|
Publisher Bloomsbury (UK) (Canada 2010–present)Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic (US)Raincoast (Canada 1998–2010)
Publication date 26 June 1997 (UK)1 September 1998 (US)
Pages 223 (UK Edition)332 (2014 UK Edition)309 (US Edition)336 (2013 US Edition)256 (Illustrated Edition)
Characters Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Lord Voldemort
Awards Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel
Similar J K Rowling books, Harry Potter (Literary Series) books, Children's literature
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first novel in the Harry Potter series and J. K. Rowling's debut novel, first published in 1997 by Bloomsbury. It was published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by Scholastic Corporation in 1998. The plot follows Harry Potter, a young wizard who discovers his magical heritage as he makes close friends and a few enemies in his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With the help of his friends, Harry faces an attempted comeback by the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry's parents, but failed to kill Harry when he was just a year old.
- Main characters
- Publication and reception in the United Kingdom
- Style and themes
- Film version
- Video games
- Uses in education and business
The novel won most of the British book awards that were judged by children and other awards in the US. The book reached the top of the New York Times list of best-selling fiction in August 1999 and stayed near the top of that list for much of 1999 and 2000. It has been translated into at least sixty-seven other languages and has been made into a feature-length film of the same name, as have all six of its sequels.
Most reviews were very favourable, commenting on Rowling's imagination, humour, simple, direct style and clever plot construction, although a few complained that the final chapters seemed rushed. The writing has been compared to that of Jane Austen, one of Rowling's favourite authors, or Roald Dahl, whose works dominated children's stories before the appearance of Harry Potter, and of the Ancient Greek story-teller Homer. While some commentators thought the book looked backwards to Victorian and Edwardian boarding school stories, others thought it placed the genre firmly in the modern world by featuring contemporary ethical and social issues.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, along with the rest of the Harry Potter series, has been attacked by several religious groups and banned in some countries because of accusations that the novels promote witchcraft, but other religious commentators have written that the book exemplifies important viewpoints, including the power of self-sacrifice and the ways in which people's decisions shape their personalities. The series has been used as a source of object lessons in educational techniques, sociological analysis and marketing.
The most evil and powerful dark wizard in history, Lord Voldemort, murdered married couple James and Lily Potter but mysteriously disappeared after failing to kill their infant son, Harry. While the wizarding world celebrates Voldemort's apparent downfall, Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and half-giant Rubeus Hagrid place the one-year-old orphan in the care of his surly and cold Muggle uncle and aunt, Vernon and Petunia Dursley and their spoilt and bullying son, Dudley.
For ten years, living at number Four Privet Drive, Harry is treated by the Dursleys more like a servant than a member of the family and is forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs. Shortly before his eleventh birthday, a series of letters addressed to Harry arrive, but Uncle Vernon Dursley destroys them before Harry can read them, leading to an influx of more and more letters. To evade the pursuit of these letters, Vernon first takes the family to a hotel, but when the letters arrive there too, he hires a boat out to a hut on a small island.
It is Harry's eleventh birthday and at midnight, Hagrid bursts through the door to deliver the letter and to tell Harry what the Dursleys have kept from him: Harry is a wizard and has been accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hagrid takes Harry to a hidden London street called Diagon Alley, where he is surprised to discover how famous he is among the witches and wizards, who refer to him as "the boy who lived." He also finds that his parents' inheritance is waiting for him at Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Guided by Hagrid, he buys the equipment he will need for his first year at Hogwarts and as a birthday gift Harry receives a pet owl from Hagrid (which he names "Hedwig").
A month later, Harry leaves the Dursleys' home to catch the Hogwarts Express from King's Cross railway station. There he meets the Weasley family, who show him how to pass through the magic wall to Platform 9¾, where the train that will take them to Hogwarts is waiting. While on the train, Harry meets two fellow first years, Ron Weasley, who immediately becomes his friend, and Hermione Granger, with whom the ice is a bit slower to break. Harry also makes an enemy of yet another first-year, Draco Malfoy. Draco offers to advise Harry, but Harry dislikes Draco for his arrogance and prejudice and rejects his offer of "friendship".
At Hogwarts, the first-years are assigned by the magical Sorting Hat to houses that best suit their personalities. While Harry is being sorted, the Hat suggests that he be placed into Slytherin which is known to house potential dark witches and wizards, but when Harry objects, the Hat sends him to Gryffindor. Ron and Hermione are also sorted into Gryffindor. Draco is sorted into Slytherin, like his whole family before him.
Harry starts classes at Hogwarts School, with lessons including Transfiguration with Head of Gryffindor, Minerva McGonagall, Herbology with Head of Hufflepuff, Pomona Sprout, Charms with Head of Ravenclaw Filius Flitwick, and Defence Against the Dark Arts with Quirinus Quirrell. Harry's least favourite class is Potions, taught by Severus Snape, the vindictive Head of Slytherin who seems to loathe Harry. Harry, Ron, and Hermione become far more interested by extracurricular matters within and outside of the school, particularly after they discover that a huge three-headed dog is standing guard over a trap door in a forbidden corridor. They also become suspicious of Snape's behaviour and become convinced that he is looking for ways to get past the trapdoor.
Harry discovers an innate talent for flying on broomsticks and is appointed as Seeker on his House’s Quidditch team, a wizards' sport played in the air. His first game goes well until his broomstick wobbles in mid-air and almost throws him off. Ron and Hermione suspect foul play from Snape, whom they saw behaving oddly. For Christmas, Harry receives an invisibility cloak from an anonymous source and begins exploring the school at night and investigating the hidden object further. He discovers the Mirror of Erised, in which the viewer sees his deepest desires becoming true.
Thanks to an indiscretion from Hagrid, Harry and his friends work out that the object kept at the school is a Philosopher's Stone, made by an old friend of Dumbledore named Nicolas Flamel. Harry is also informed by a centaur he meets in the forest that a plot to steal the Philosopher’s Stone is being orchestrated by none other than Voldemort himself, who would use it to be restored to his body and come back to power. When Dumbledore is lured from Hogwarts under false pretences, Harry and his friends fear that the theft is imminent and descend through the trapdoor themselves.
They encounter a series of obstacles, each of which requires unique skills possessed by one of the three, and one of which requires Ron to sacrifice himself in a life-sized game of wizard's chess. In the final room, Harry, now alone, finds Quirrell, who admits that he had tried to kill Harry at his Quidditch match against Slytherin. He also admits that he let a troll into Hogwarts. Snape had been trying to protect Harry all along rather than to kill him, and his suspicious behaviour came from his own suspicions about Quirrell.
Quirrell is one of Voldemort's followers, and is now partly possessed by him: Voldemort's face has sprouted on the back of his own head, hidden by his turban. Voldemort needs Harry's help to get past the final obstacle: the Mirror of Erised, but when Quirrell tries to grab the Stone from Harry his contact proves lethal for Quirrell. Harry passes out and awakes in the school hospital, where Dumbledore explains to him that he survived because his mother sacrificed her life to protect him, and this left a powerful protective charm on him. Voldemort left Quirrell to die and is likely to return by some other means. The Stone has now been destroyed. The school year ends at the final feast, during which Gryffindor wins the House Cup. Harry returns to the Dursleys' for the summer holiday but does not tell them that under-age wizards are forbidden to use magic outside of Hogwarts.
Other members of staff include the dumpy Herbology teacher and Head of Hufflepuff House Professor Sprout, Professor Flitwick, the tiny and excitable Charms teacher, and Head of Ravenclaw House, the soporific History of Magic teacher, Professor Binns, a ghost who does not seem to have noticed his own death; and Madam Hooch, the Quidditch coach, who is strict, but a considerate and methodical teacher. The poltergeist Peeves wanders around the castle causing trouble wherever he can.
In the book, Rowling introduces an eclectic cast of characters. The first character to be introduced is Vernon Dursley, Harry's uncle. Most of the actions centre on the eponymous hero Harry Potter, an orphan who escapes his miserable childhood with the Dursley family. Rowling imagined him as a "scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn't know he was a wizard", and says she transferred part of her pain about losing her mother to him. During the book, Harry makes two close friends, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. Ron is described by Rowling as the ultimate best friend, "always there when you need him". Rowling has described Hermione as a "very logical, upright and good" character with "a lot of insecurity and a great fear of failure beneath her swottiness".
Rowling also imagined a supporting cast of adults. The headmaster of Hogwarts is the powerful, but kind wizard Albus Dumbledore, who becomes Harry's confidant; Rowling described him as "epitome of goodness". His right hand is severe Minerva McGonagall, who according to the author "under that gruff exterior" is "a bit of an old softy", the friendly half-giant Rubeus Hagrid, who saved Harry from the Dursley family and the sinister Severus Snape. Professor Quirrell is also featured in the novel.
The main antagonists are Draco Malfoy, an elitist, bullying classmate and Lord Voldemort, the most powerful evil wizard who becomes disembodied when he tries to kill baby Harry. According to a 1999 interview with Rowling, the character of Voldemort was created as a literary foil for Harry, and his backstory was intentionally not fleshed-out at first:
The basic idea... Harry, I saw Harry very very very clearly. Very vividly. And I knew he didn't know he was a wizard. [...] And so then I kind of worked backwards from that position to find out how that could be, that he wouldn't know what he was. [...] When he was one year old, the most evil wizard for hundreds and hundreds of years attempted to kill him. He killed Harry's parents, and then he tried to kill Harry—he tried to curse him. [...] And—so—but for some mysterious reason, the curse didn't work on Harry. So he's left with this lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead and the curse rebounded upon the evil wizard, who has been in hiding ever since.
The book, which was Rowling's debut novel, was written between approximately June 1990 and some time in 1995. In 1990 Jo Rowling, as she preferred to be known, wanted to move with her boyfriend to a flat in Manchester and in her words, "One weekend after flat hunting, I took the train back to London on my own and the idea for Harry Potter fell into my head... A scrawny, little, black-haired, bespectacled boy became more and more of a wizard to me... I began to write Philosopher's Stone that very evening. Although, the first couple of pages look nothing like the finished product." Then Rowling's mother died and, to cope with her pain, Rowling transferred her own anguish to the orphan Harry. Rowling spent six years working on Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and after it was accepted by Bloomsbury, she obtained a grant of £8,000 from the Scottish Arts Council, which enabled her to plan the sequels. She sent the book to an agent and a publisher, and then the second agent she approached spent a year trying to sell the book to publishers, most of whom thought it was too long at about 90,000 words. Barry Cunningham, who was building a portfolio of distinctive fantasies by new authors for Bloomsbury Children's Books, recommended accepting the book, and the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury's chief executive said it was "so much better than anything else".
Publication and reception in the United Kingdom
Bloomsbury accepted the book, paying Rowling a £2,500 advance, and Cunningham sent proof copies to carefully chosen authors, critics and booksellers in order to obtain comments that could be quoted when the book was launched. He was less concerned about the book's length than about its author's name, since the title sounded like a boys' book to him, and he believed boys preferred books by male authors. Rowling therefore adopted the nom de plume J.K. Rowling just before publication. In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher's Stone with an initial print-run of 500 copies in hardback, three hundred of which were distributed to libraries. Her original name, "Joanne Rowling", can be found in small print on the copyright page of this first British edition. (The 1998 first American edition would remove reference to "Joanne" completely.) The short initial print run was standard for first novels, and Cunningham hoped booksellers would read the book and recommend it to customers. Examples from this initial print run have become quite valuable, selling for as much as US$33,460 in a 2007 Heritage Auction.
Lindsey Fraser, who had supplied one of the blurb comments, wrote what is thought to be the first published review, in The Scotsman on 28 June 1997. She described Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as "a hugely entertaining thriller" and Rowling as "a first-rate writer for children". Another early review, in The Herald, said, "I have yet to find a child who can put it down." Newspapers outside Scotland started to notice the book, with glowing reviews in The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday, and in September 1997 Books for Keeps, a magazine that specialised in children's books, gave the novel four stars out of five. The Mail on Sunday rated it as "the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl"; a view echoed by the Sunday Times ("comparisons to Dahl are, this time, justified"), while The Guardian called it "a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit" and The Scotsman said it had "all the makings of a classic".
In 1997 the UK edition won a National Book Award and a gold medal in the 9 to 11 year-olds category of the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. The Smarties award, which is voted for by children, made the book well-known within six months of publication, while most children's books have to wait for years. The following year, Philosopher's Stone won almost all the other major British awards that were decided by children. It was also shortlisted for children's books awards adjudicated by adults, but did not win. Sandra Beckett comments that books which were popular with children were regarded as undemanding and as not of the highest literary standards – for example the literary establishment disdained the works of Roald Dahl, an overwhelming favourite of children before the appearance of Rowling's books. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 22 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone won two publishing industry awards given for sales rather than literary merit, the British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year and the Booksellers' Association / Bookseller Author of the Year. By March 1999 UK editions had sold just over 300,000 copies, and the story was still the UK's best-selling title in December 2001. A Braille edition was published in May 1998 by the Scottish Braille Press.
Platform 9¾, from which the Hogwarts Express left London, was commemorated in the real-life King's Cross railway station with a sign and a trolley apparently passing through the wall.
Scholastic Corporation bought the U.S. rights at the Bologna Book Fair in April 1997 for US$105,000, an unusually high sum for a children's book. They thought that a child would not want to read a book with the word "philosopher" in the title and, after some discussion, the American edition was published in September 1998 under the title Rowling suggested, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Rowling claimed that she regretted this change and would have fought it if she had been in a stronger position at the time. Philip Nel has pointed out that the change lost the connection with alchemy, and the meaning of some other terms changed in translation, for example from "crumpet" to "muffin". While Rowling accepted the change from both the British English "mum" and Seamus Finnigan's Irish variant "mam" to "mom" in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she vetoed this change in the later books, which was then reversed in later editions of Philosopher's Stone. However, Nel considered that Scholastic's translations were considerably more sensitive than most of those imposed on British English books of the time, and that some other changes could be regarded as useful copyedits. Since the British editions of early titles in the series were published a few months earlier than the American versions, some American readers became familiar with the British English versions after buying them via the Internet.
At first the most prestigious reviewers ignored the book, leaving it to book trade and library publications such as Kirkus Reviews and Booklist, which examined it only by the entertainment-oriented criteria of children's fiction. However, more penetrating specialist reviews (such as one by Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, which pointed out the complexity, depth and consistency of the world Rowling had built) attracted the attention of reviewers in major newspapers. Although The Boston Globe and Michael Winerip in The New York Times complained that the final chapters were the weakest part of the book, they and most other American reviewers gave glowing praise. A year later the US edition was selected as an American Library Association Notable Book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998, and a New York Public Library 1998 Best Book of the Year, and won Parenting Magazine's Book of the Year Award for 1998, the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults.
In August 1999, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone topped the New York Times list of best-selling fiction, and stayed near the top of the list for much of 1999 and 2000, until the New York Times split its list into children's and adult sections under pressure from other publishers who were eager to see their books given higher placings. Publishers Weekly's report in December 2001 on cumulative sales of children's fiction placed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 19th among hardbacks (over 5 million copies) and 7th among paperbacks (over 6.6 million copies).
In May 2008, Scholastic announced the creation of a 10th Anniversary Edition of the book that was released on 1 October 2008 to mark the tenth anniversary of the original American release. For the fifteenth anniversary of the books, Scholastic re-released Sorcerer's Stone, along with the other six novels in the series, with new cover art by Kazu Kibuishi in 2013.
By mid-2008, official translations of the book had been published in 67 languages. Bloomsbury have published translations in Latin and in Ancient Greek, and the latter was described as "one of the most important pieces of Ancient Greek prose written in many centuries".
Style and themes
Philip Nel highlighted the influence of Jane Austen, whom Rowling has greatly admired since the age of twelve. Both novelists encourage re-reading, because details that look insignificant foreshadow important events or characters much later in the story-line – for example Sirius Black is briefly mentioned near the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and then becomes a major character in the third to fifth books. Like Austen's heroines, Harry often has to re-examine his ideas near the ends of books. Some social behaviour in the Harry Potter books is remininiscent of Austen, for example the excited communal reading of letters. Both authors satirise social behaviour and give characters names that express their personalities. However in Nel's opinion Rowling's humour is more based on caricature and the names she invents are more like those found in Charles Dickens's stories, and Amanda Cockrell noted that many of these express their owners' traits through allusions that run from ancient Roman mythology to eighteenth-century German literature. Rowling, like the Narnia series' author C.S. Lewis, thinks there is no rigid distinction between stories for children and for adults. Nel also noted that, like many good writers for children, Rowling combines literary genres—fantasy, young adult fiction, boarding school stories, Bildungsroman and many others.
Some reviewers compared Philosopher's Stone to the stories of Roald Dahl, who died in 1990. Many writers since the 1970s had been hailed as his successor, but none had attained anything near his popularity with children and, in a poll conducted shortly after the launch of Philosopher's Stone, seven of the ten most popular children's books were by Dahl, including the one in top place. The only other really popular children's author of the late 1990s was an American, R. L. Stine. Some of the story elements in Philosopher's Stone resembled parts of Dahl's stories; for example, the hero of James and the Giant Peach lost his parents and had to live with a pair of unpleasant aunts—one fat and one thin rather like Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, who treated Harry as a servant. However Harry Potter was a distinctive creation, able to take on the responsibilities of an adult while remaining a child inside.
Librarian Nancy Knapp and marketing professor Stephen Brown noted the liveliness and detail of descriptions, especially of shop scenes such as Diagon Alley. Tad Brennan commented that Rowling's writing resembles that of Homer: "rapid, plain, and direct in expression." Stephen King admired "the sort of playful details of which only British fantasists seem capable" and concluded that they worked because Rowling enjoys a quick giggle and then moves briskly forward.
Nicholas Tucker described the early Harry Potter books as looking back to Victorian and Edwardian children's stories: Hogwarts was an old-style boarding school in which the teachers addressed pupils formally by their surnames and were most concerned with the reputations of the houses with which they were associated; characters' personalities were plainly shown by their appearances, starting with the Dursleys; evil or malicious characters were to be crushed rather than reformed, including Filch's cat Mrs Norris; and the hero, a mistreated orphan who found his true place in life, was charismatic and good at sports, but considerate and protective towards the weak. Several other commentators have stated that the books present a highly stratified society including many social stereotypes. However Karin Westerman drew parallels with 1990s Britain: a class system that was breaking down but defended by those whose power and status it upheld; the multi-ethnic composition of Hogwarts' students; the racial tensions between the various intelligent species; and school bullying.
Susan Hall wrote that there is no rule of law in the books, as the actions of Ministry of Magic officials are unconstrained by laws, accountability or any kind of legal challenge. This provides an opportunity for Voldemort to offer his own horrific version of order. As a side-effect Harry and Hermione, who were brought up in the highly regulated Muggle world, find solutions by thinking in ways unfamiliar to wizards. For example, Hermione notes that one obstacle to finding the Philosopher's Stone is a test of logic rather than magical power, and that most wizards have no chance of solving it.
Nel suggested that the unflattering characterisation of the extremely conventional, status-conscious, materialistic Dursleys was Rowling's reaction to the family policies of the British government in the early 1990s, which treated the married heterosexual couple as the "preferred norm", while the author was a single mother. Harry's relationships with adult and juvenile wizards are based on affection and loyalty. This is reflected in his happiness whenever he is a temporary member of the Weasley family throughout the series, and in his treatment of first Rubeus Hagrid and later Remus Lupin and Sirius Black as father-figures.
The second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was originally published in the UK on 2 July 1998 and in the US on 2 June 1999. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was then published a year later in the UK on 8 July 1999 and in the US on 8 September 1999. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published on 8 July 2000 at the same time by Bloomsbury and Scholastic. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest book in the series at 766 pages in the UK version and 870 pages in the US version. It was published worldwide in English on 21 June 2003. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published on 16 July 2005 and sold 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of its worldwide release. The seventh and final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published on 21 July 2007. The book sold 11 million copies within 24 hours of its release: 2.7 million copies in the UK and 8.3 million in the US.
In 1999, Rowling sold the film rights of the first four Harry Potter books to Warner Bros. for a reported £1 million ($1,982,900). Rowling demanded that the principal cast be kept strictly British but allowed for the casting of Irish actors such as the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore and of foreign actors as characters of the same nationalities in later books. After extensive casting, filming began in September 2000 at Leavesden Film Studios and in London, with production ending in July 2001. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released in London on 14 November 2001. Reviewers' comments were positive, as reflected by an 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and by a score of 64% at Metacritic, representing "generally favourable reviews".
Five unique video games by different developers were released between 2001 and 2003 by Electronic Arts, loosely based on the film and book:
Uses in education and business
Writers on education and business subjects have used the book as an object lesson. Writing about clinical teaching in medical schools, Jennifer Conn contrasted Snape's technical expertise with his intimidating behaviour towards students; on the other hand Quidditch coach Madam Hooch illustrated useful techniques in the teaching of physical skills, including breaking down complex actions into sequences of simple ones and helping students to avoid common errors. Joyce Fields wrote that the books illustrate four of the five main topics in a typical first-year sociology class: "sociological concepts including culture, society, and socialisation; stratification and social inequality; social institutions; and social theory".
Stephen Brown noted that the early Harry Potter books, especially Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, were a runaway success despite inadequate and poorly organised marketing. Brown advised marketing executives to be less preoccupied with rigorous statistical analyses and the "analysis, planning, implementation, and control" model of management. Instead he recommended that they should treat the stories as "a marketing masterclass", full of enticing products and brand names. For example, a real-world analogue of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans was introduced under licence in 2000 by toymaker Hasbro.