Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Monday, 1 July 2002

"Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale", J.K. Rowling (Adriano Salani Editore, 1998)

"Rowling uses classic narrative devices with flair and originality " (The Scotsman). I thought I'd use this book to see how plot-momentum is maintained in best-sellers.

Chapter structure

  1. Prelude. Wizards moving around and being noticed in the real world. (ending: Harry labelled as special)
  2. Zoo. Harry realises he has strange power. Harry's school-life described (ending: why Harry doesn't have schoolfriends)
  3. Letters arrive. Family flees (ending: cliff-hanger)
  4. Harry taken away by Hagrid. It's revealed that Vernon and Petunia knew about Harry's potential (ending: Hagrid's coat)
  5. Shopping. A connection with Voldemort. A meeting with Quirell - why? (ending: Hagrid's departure by train)
  6. Train trip. centre of attraction. An introduction to everyday wizard life. Scenes to bring out the character of the children (ending: cliff-hanger)
  7. Choosing houses. Introduction to school-life and ghosts (ending: a dream he doesn't remember)
  8. Introduction to teachers and lessons. News about Gringott (ending: Questions)
  9. Flying lesson. Harry sticking up for Neville. Discovery of Harry's flying ability. Discovery of the 3-headed dog (ending: discovery of where the Gringott package is)
  10. Halloween. Hermione feels unwanted. The Ogre (ending: Hermione/Harry friends)
  11. Quidditch - action and adventure. (ending: Hagrid regrets mentioning Flamel)
  12. The Mirror - Christmas. The cloak of invisibility. The visit to the out-of-bounds library shelves. The mirror. Parents. (ending: Harry in bed reflecting on his questions to Silente)
  13. More Quidditch. Information about Flammel (ending: Ron fears it'll all be over soon)
  14. Hagrid's Dragon - an interlude (ending: left invisibility cloak in tower)
  15. Unicorn in forest (ending: invisibility cloak returned)
  16. Start of the quest. Neville puts up some resistance. (ending: cliffhanger)
  17. End of the Quest. Quirell! (ending: looks ahead to summer holidays)

Chapters are 12-25 pages long. Some are single scenes. Others collect together various episodes. Their ending can be broadly categorised as follows

  • General foreshadowing (ch 1, 7, 13, 17)
  • Fade-out (ch 2, 4, 5)
  • Cliffhangers whose resolution is on the next page (ch 3, 6, 16)
  • Questions that the readers should be asking themselves (ch 8)
  • Summaries of the new knowledge obtained (ch 10, 12, 14, 15)
  • New information (ch 9, 11)

Some events (loss/recovery of the invisibility cloak) seem to be as much to provide chapter-endings as to advance the plot. The middle chapter acts as a hinge, encouraging the reader to look ahead. The summaries often happen at the end of action chapters. The introduction of new information concentrates in the final chapters.


The main plot's conventional. The villian (Quirell) makes an early appearance (Ch5 - no turban?) but appears innocent until Ch17 when he tells all in the traditional manner. Meanwhile, everything that the innocent Snape does is viewed in a poor light.

Several subplots add short-lived suspense - the discovery of who "You-Know-Who" is; the discovery of who "her [Petunia's] lot" are; the search for information about Flammel.

Paired events

There are some compare/contrast passages that help bind the piece - (Dudley's Birthday/ Harry's Birthday); (Dudley/Draco); (Dudley's jumper/ Weasleys' jumper); ("Don't ask questions" - Ch.2/"he'd never had so many questions in his life" - Ch.5, "Can I ask you something?" - Ch.12, "there are some other things I'd like to know" - Ch.17).

Character development

Harry's discovery of his true nature doesn't seem to over-burden him. Only Hermione changes much in the course of the novel.

Thematic development

"Honesty vs Pragmatism" is used to increase plot and character tension. Also the fateful twinning of Harry and Voldemort punctuates the text (choosing a wand, choosing a house)

Other devices

  • Dreams (as in chapter 7) are rather useful as ways of reviewing/prefiguring without having to be truthful.
  • Some events seem to anticipate events later in the book, but curiosity isn't satisfied. I'm told that later books explain the early mention of "Sirius Black", the otherwise odd Zoo scene, etc.

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