The first of the “Harry Potter” books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone introduces readers to Harry Potter on the cusp of his eleventh birthday. Born to a well-respected and much-loved witch and wizard, Harry Potter was orphaned as a baby and left to be taken care of by his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon Dursley, along with their son Dudley.
Harry bears the scars of his parents’ fate and his orphaned status both literally and figuratively. The evil wizard Voldemort (“He Who Shall Not Be Named”) killed Harry’s parents but could not vanquish their son. As a result of the battle, Harry wears a curious, lightning-shaped scar on his forehead-a scar that burns when Harry is in danger or when he wakes up from a repeating nightmare of infant memory. Nevertheless, being the son of a successful magic couple and defeating an evil wizard as a one-year-old babe is not without benefits. Harry Potter is renowned in the magic world, a child hero. But he is a child hero unaware. In their wisdom, Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall leave Harry on the Durlsey’s doorstep. The Dursleys are staunch and proud Muggles, non-magic people who live in a flat, gray, and oppressively over-systematized and inconvenient world-the world of present-day Great Britain.
Harry is perceived as a burden and potential embarrassment to the Dursleys. He is told that his parents were killed in a car accident, never shown any photographs of them, and kept ignorant of the magic world and his own possible place in it. Harry Potter cannot explain how he was able to jump on top of the school building when being chased by bullies, nor how he dissolved the glass front of a snake’s habitat and conversed with the boa constrictor during Dudley Dursley’s birthday outing to the zoo. Indeed, these are the very things that leave him friendless, isolated, and very unheroic in his own (and everyone else’s) eyes.
The first ten years of Harry’s life bear a resemblance to Wart’s, the young King Arthur’s, childhood as depicted in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Where White’s long-bearded Merlin gives the Wart in fosterage, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling’s Professor Dumbledore farms Harry out to distant relatives. Where White’s young Arthur is treated as a second-class son compared to the up-and-coming Sir Kay, Rowling’s child hero is abused and maligned by his aunt and uncle and their spoiled, ridiculous son Dudley. Where White’s protagonist is unwittingly trained for kingship by Merlin before he stumbles across the sword in the stone and his heroic self, Rowling’s title character is eventually relieved of his unhappy Muggle upbringing by Professor Dumbledore’s letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Noble parentage and inherent heroism are revealed and Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone takes off into a description of the non-Muggle world, the wonderful landscape and lifestyle of Hogwarts school, and the first-year student adventures of Harry and his new friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Together, they embark on a quest for the Sorcerer’s Stone, a magical stone that, as they discover, is hidden deep within Hogwarts.