Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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In some ways, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a traditional English boarding school located in the fairy-green countryside well beyond London. The meddlesome caretaker, Mr. Filch, and his cat, Mrs. Norris, carefully monitor the building, and the grounds are well kept by the beloved Keeper of Keys and Grounds (and Hogwarts drop-out) Rubeus Hagrid. During the long-standing tradition of the Sorting Ceremony, first-year Hogwarts students are separated into four houses (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin), each with their own proud history, alumni, and secret traditions. The faculty are respected scholars and authority figures removed from the emotional and interpersonal experiences of their students. The curriculum is carefully structured and deliberately traditional, and residents take classes by year and with students from other houses. Points are given and taken away for academic achievement, behavior and deportation, and athletic competition-all in an effort to win the much-coveted house cup at the end-of-year feast.

And yet, Hogwarts is a world all its own, a non-Muggle world. Students arrive by a train taken from platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross station. During the journey they snack on candies-Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (including “spinach and liver and tripe”), Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and Pumpkin Pasties-which they have bought with Sickles and Knuts (“[s]eventeen silver Sickles to a Galleon and twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle”). They amuse themselves by trading cards of famous witches and wizards (Professor Dumbledore among them) from packages of Chocolate Frogs. The campus is located inside a moat and the building is a castle. The house dormitories are in the four round towers located at the corners of the building and accessed by secret passwords that open portrait holes. The Sorting Ceremony stars a Sorting Cap that reads the new students’ minds before assigning them to the appropriate house. Not only do the portraits have a frustrating tendency to visit other paintings in the castle, thereby foiling the adventures of many an erring student, Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris are not the only “caretakers” to avoid. Peeves the poltergeist will insist on reporting students out of bed after hours, and the other ghosts (Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron among them) have loyalties to certain houses. The faculty members also have their allegiances-as well as curious (possibly threatening) involvements with the adult, magic world. Course work is difficult and requires much study, whether dry and boring like History of Magic with Professor Binns, “complex and dangerous” like Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall, or disappointingly uninformative like Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Quirrell. The sport of choice is Quidditch, a challenging game “that’s sort of like basketball on broomsticks with six hoops.”

The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is set in a comfortingly traditional and delightfully off-beat way-much like the apprentice magic world of the Hogwarts students as compared to the adult magic world for which they are preparing, or like the whole of the magic world as compared to the Muggle world. Accepted Hogwarts students walk through a wall in order to reach platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross station. Tapping a brick behind the Leaky Cauldron pub three times with your magic wand will open it to Diagon Alley, the shopping center of the magic world, home to Eeylops Owl Emporium, Ollivanders wand shop, and Gringotts, the wizard’s bank run by goblins. Diagon Alley is also the only place in London where a prospective student can get everything he or she needs, from the uniform (such as “[o]ne pair of protective gloves (dragon hide or similar)”) to course books (like “Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger”) and other equipment (“1 cauldron (pewter, standard size 2)”). The Ministry of Magic works to ensure that Muggles remain ignorant of the actuality of the magic world because “‘everyone’d be wantin’ magic solutions to their problems … we’re best left alone’.” And the commonplace systems of the Muggle world amaze and confound witches and wizards. For example,

[p]assersby stared a lot … as they walked through the little town to the station. Harry couldn’t blame them … he kept pointing at perfectly ordinary things like parking meters and saying loudly, “See that Harry? Things these Muggles dream up, eh?”.

The layering of experiences and perspectives in Rowling’s text work to keep the reader both grounded and aware. As such, the reader enjoys a setting that has been wonderfully and completely imagined, described, and realized by Rowling in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

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