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It being my favourite series of all time, I figured that it would only be right to have a review of the first book in the Harry Potter series as my debut post. I first read Harry Potter when I was eight, after a whole lot of convincing by my mum that the book was better than the movie, and like so many other readers, I was instantly converted from a movie to book fan. (To any other sceptics, read the book now! You won’t regret it.)
It’s hard to classify the exact genre that the Harry Potter series belongs in, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that the first book of Harry Potter is largely fantasy. There’s lots of world-building going on: we see the magical world unfold before us through the eyes of Harry, who has all his life been raised a Muggle (people who can’t do magic and don’t have magical blood). I could relate to Harry’s excitement as he wanders down Diagon Alley, into the the wizarding bank Gringotts, where goblins lead wizards to their vaults in what seems more thrilling than a roller-coaster ride; into the apothecary, where stocks of strange (to us Muggles) potion ingredients like bat spleens and eels’ eyes are aplenty; into magical bookshop Flourish and Blotts, where the shelves are “stacked to the ceiling” with magic books of all sorts and sizes. So much of this is grounded in everyday life for us Muggles, but more — exoticised.
Inevitably, this leads to a discussion of Hogwarts, the wizard version of a British boarding school. The ride to the school provides a “networking platform” for Harry: Ron, with whom he bonds almost instantly, Hermione, whom Harry and Ron label as bossy, and Draco and Co., whom they become sworn enemies with. Upon arriving at Hogwarts, they are sorted into their respective houses by a hat, which sounds infinitely more interesting and wise than being sorted by a randomised generator, as was the method for sorting students at my old distinctly un-magical school. Naturally, Harry, Ron and Hermione are sorted to the noble house of Gryffindor, while the Big Bads Draco Malfoy and Co. are sorted to Slytherin. Unlike what many people might think, Harry, Ron and Hermione aren’t the golden trio yet, but they become best friends after defeating a mountain troll together. I won’t give the specifics here to keep this spoiler-free (and also to entice you to read the book) but it’s one extraordinary fight to read about!
Creating this magical atmosphere isn’t all about the word painting of the wizarding world. It’s also due to the fact that Harry, who has never before owned anything of his own when he lived with his uncle and aunt, suddenly has everything. Respect, fame, independence, money, new-found talent in Quidditch, friendship. This is why, for this book, of all the food I could have recreated—Cauldron Cakes, Pumpkin Pasties, or even the start-of-year feast at Hogwarts—I chose Harry’s Birthday Cake (recipe to come later). To me, that’s the moment where the magic starts.