Remembering Harry: First Encounter

Here’s an August 31, 1998 child_lit post of mine:

I am curious about J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I saw it prominently displayed in bookstores during my recent trip to England and dismissed it as some sort of series a la the Hardy Boys. Returning to New York I read a review of it in the NYTimes, bought a copy, and just finished reading it. While I enjoyed it I’m not sure I would agree that Harry should “assume the same near-legendary status as Roald Dahl’s Charlie, of chocolate factory fame.” (Quote on US edition’s back cover from the Guardian’s review.)

The very British public school setting was fun for me having just spent a week at Christ Church College in Oxford enjoying the traditional rituals there. Rowling’s book is full of the particulars of British boarding schools (houses, prefects, common rooms, etc.) taken to a magical level.
The reviewer in the NYTimes (I believe it was Jane Yolen) questioned if this would appeal to an American audience. Still, it is a fun read and reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones’ “Witch Week.”*

There was no response about the book to my post (although Nina did comment about America’s perceived skittishness for non-American books). In fact, the book received very little attention on that list for several months.

In my classroom the book was passed from one fantasy reader to the next (a small group of boys who graduated high school a few weeks ago!). Eager to read the next one (that book I had so stupidly ignored while in England), a parent picked it up for us while in London. At that time it still seemed a small delicacy, something the larger adult world was not particularly interested in.

*I finally figured out that the item I saw was by Barbara Ensor (not Jane Yolen — even though, for a while, I kept insisting it was her and she kept insisting it wasn’t:) in New York Magazine (not a review in the New York Times). And also, keep in mind this was August 1998 — if you asked me now about who is more legendary, Charlie or Harry, my response might be quite different. And also the book I saw on display in England was the second book, not the first one.

6 Comments

Filed under Harry Potter

6 responses to “Remembering Harry: First Encounter

  1. Great post – that Charlie / Harry comparison is interesting retrospectively, and not a comparison I had ever thought about before.

    I agree that Harry has assumed proportions well beyond Charlie now but I wonder if that would still be true _if_ the only Harry book had been Philosopher’s Stone (or if you take great Glass Elevator into account – only PS and Chamber of Secrets). Mind you that comment was written after only the first HP book in any case.

    The other reason that I think they are hard to compare is that Harry’s world is much more of a complete and parallel world than Charlie’s world is, allowing many more tangential things than

    Not that I am taking sides – I love both – and other similar series: Jenny Nimmos’ Children of the Red King series, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, and Joan Aiken’s Dido Twite books. Actually looking at that list – most of them are more comparable to HP than to Charlie. I’ll have to think about what I would compare to Charlie.

    Really thought provoking – thank you :)

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  2. oops – sorry – didn’t finish a thought in there (children fighting around me! *sigh*)

    To finish this sentence:
    The other reason that I think they are hard to compare is that Harry’s world is much more of a complete and parallel world than Charlie’s world is, allowing many more tangential things to be spun off it.

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  3. Today I don’t think most people are as likely to compare Rowling to Dahl as they are to many of the others you mention. Back then though Dahl was the most recent name that had the same kind of adoring child readership that Rowling took over.
    I find it interesting to go back and try to see what was said on child_lit about the books and haven’t been able to find that much. Most likely the posts are there, just not with Rowling or Harry Potter in the headings.

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  4. I hope you don’t mind me commenting here. I feel like such an outed lurker.

    My father-in-law brought back the first Harry Potter from Scotland before it became the big smashing American success. My little girl had just turned four.

    She insisted that we had to read it to her straight, all day, for two days.
    She didn’t care about the adverbs that drove her father-in-law crazy. She didn’t care about giant purple dinosaurs on television. She only cared about Harry.

    The next month she decided to read it again herself. It was pretty amazing watching this tiny little girl reading her first big girl book.
    She’s always been a reader, a great reader, but I think her joy over that Harry Potter book that came all the way from Scotland is what has probably made her a reader for life. I’ll always be grateful to JK Rowling and Harry for that.

    It’s really fun to think back on this, and to read your observations. Thank you so much for this post.
    -Carrie

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  5. Kathy Q

    Your comment that the students who were fantasy readers in your classroom were now recent high school graduates rang such a bell with me. I had the same thought last night, because my daughter is one of those students. We had to buy a second copy of the first book, because the first was read so often in the bathtub that it got a bit mildewed.

    Harry Potter really is a marker for this group, who are probably the last to remember the world before Harry, and what it felt like to discover him.

    Adverbs and unhissable hisses aside, HP has offered satisfying reads to so many, and that can only be good.

    Kathy

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  6. Elisabeth

    I have really enjoyed the posts on this topic. As a K-8 school librarian and a mom of a senior in high school I can really relate to all the Harry history. Our first copies got all wet too. Bathtubs and Harry must have been a trend in the”can’t put it down” days.

    Well, here we are with the 7th book about to appear and many of us have had children grow up with Harry and relate to him on so many levels.

    In my school library we still have the early British editions right next to the American ones. The vocabulary never bothered any of our readers. The strength of the stories and characters just carried them along.

    I do hope that early speed readers of the “Hallows” won’t be spoilers for those of us who might want to read the book in a more savor the moment style.

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