Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- See Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for the movie adaptation or Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for the game adaptation.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first volume in a planned series of seven books for children written by British author J. K. Rowling, and featuring Harry Potter, a young wizard. The book was first published on 26 June 1997 by Bloomsbury in London, and has also been made into a film of the same name.
Both the motion picture and book were released in the United States under the name Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as the publishers were concerned that most Americans were not familiar enough with the term "philosopher's stone" to gain the correct impression from the title. (The renaming of books for international distribution is a common practice, even for highly known and internationally recognised authors.)
Whatever the reasons for the change, it had no effect on the sales figures, and the Harry Potter series rapidly became one of the most-in-demand among young readers, who seemed to be undaunted by the ever-increasing length and complexity of the volumes.
Synopsis of the book
The book opens with the seemingly normal Dursley family. Vernon Dursley goes to work, but finds several peculiararities in town, such as strangely dressed people in town and a cat reading a map. After the Dursleys turn in, an elderly man named Albus Dumbledore appears at their home and the cat transforms into Minerva McGonagall.
Dumbledore and McGonagall talk about Lord Voldemort's recent downfall at the hands of fifteen-month-old Harry Potter and discuss several topics over the reader's head. Eventually, Rubeus Hagrid arrives with a motorcycle he rented from Sirius Black. Dumbledore, McGonagall and Hagrid leave baby Harry on the Dursleys' doorstep and depart.
Though Harry is taken in by the Dursleys, they mistreat him and favor their own son Dudley. Harry, though he displays bitter feelings, accepts his place in the family. However, on the eve of his eleventh birthday, Harry receives a mysterious letter. Uncle Vernon wouldn't let Harry read the letter, but another one arrives the next day and another one after that.
In an effort to escape the unending letters, Uncle Vernon goes to several humourous extremes, eventually moving his family to a small hut on a rock in the ocean. In the night, Hagrid arrives and informs Harry he is a wizard and that the Dursleys had been systematically lying to him about his parents' deaths. Lily and James Potter were not killed in a car crash, but murdered by Lord Voldemort, who tried to kill Harry as well.
As Hagrid explains, Harry survived, for reasons as yet incompletely understood, and a lightning bolt-shaped scar remains on his forehead. Hagrid finally gives Harry his letter, which invites him to come and study at Hogwarts, a school of magic. Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley, where he meets Professor Quirrell and Draco Malfoy, to buy his school supplies.
Hogwarts can only be reached by travelling on the Hogwarts Express, a magical train which leaves from Platform 9 3/4 at London's Kings Cross Station. Harry encounters the Weasley family, who help him to get on the platform. Harry becomes quick friends with Ron Weasley, the youngest son of the family and also meets Hermione Granger, a highly-intelligent but deeply-annoying muggle-born girl, and Neville Longbottom, a clumsy boy who keeps losing his pet toad.
Harry encounters the snide Draco Malfoy again and they become quick rivals. During the first-year initiation, the first years are "sorted" into the separate houses and Harry, with most of the "good" characters, make Gryffindor, which is traditionally the house of heros. Malfoy, by contrast, is sorted into Slytherin, which has spawned many Dark wizards.
The novel continues in episodic fashion, as Harry and Ron becomes friends with Hermione and Harry makes the Quidditch team. The main plot revolves around the philosopher's stone, which has been hidden at the school and guarded carefully by several obstacles put in place by the teachers at Hogwarts. Harry and friends uncover a plot to steal the stone, and their nasty Potions teacher, Severus Snape, becomes their prime suspect.
Pooling their individual strengths, the three manage to get past the various defences which guard the stone, until Harry has to go forward alone to face, not Snape, as expected, but the hitherto ineffectual Professor Quirrell, who has been acting as host for the bodiless Lord Voldemort. Voldemort attempts to use Harry to find the stone but fails. Voldemort is vanquished, and Quirrell killed, because of a remnant of Harry's mother's sacrifice.
Harry nearly dies in the process, but he is rescued by Albus Dumbledore. Harry, Ron, and Hermione's efforts to save the stone bring Gryffindor a hundred and sixty points, but it is Neville's ten points, for trying to stop Harry, Ron, and Hermione from sneaking out at night, that wins Gryffindor the House Cup. Harry returns to the Dursleys for the summer, but decides to not tell them about the ban on using magic during the summer, so as to keep them from abusing him.
The book has been translated into approximately 60 languages: see here for more details.
Many fundamentalist Christian groups have called for bans and boycotts of the book, and indeed the entire series, because they deal with witchcraft, and the books are a common target of book burnings. They cite many (unverified) reports of youth turning to Satanism. The Vatican has commented that the books are not evil and teach the difference between good and evil.
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