This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
ChristopherLamb’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
(Click HERE for movie review)
After watching the movies every year I stopped a couple years ago because I decided I wanted to finally read the books and wanted to go into it as fresh as I could. Ive always been so eager to dive further into the world and the rules. I was desperate for answers for things that didn’t make sense to me or aspects I considered thin in the movies. But like I always do I got overwhelmed by the daunting task of starting and making a long commitment.
All it took was my 34 year old sister (who hasn’t seen the movies and doesn’t know anything about Potter, and isnt even into fantasy at all) telling me she had just started reading and hearing her filled with excitement and wonder to light an Incendio-conjured fire under my lazy ass to get started. I read 3 chapters on Kindle that same night and finished this first book within 5 days. Being a slow reader I did not expect it to go by as fast as it did. That daunting task of 7 books seems like nothing now.
The first thing I noticed was that I was imagining the movie while reading and it was really bothering me, especially because there is SO MUCH that is different. I changed my game plan and decided to imagine the book as its own thing and purposely made it as different as possible. When reading I imagine it as totally animated and looked up fan art to recast the roles so to speak. For example I used the illustrated version of Ron who’s taller, and stumbled upon a lot of pictures drawing Hermoine as black and really liked it so I stuck with that
I highlighted a lot and have a lot to say so I’ll organize it into categories.
I loved all the new stuff I didn’t get in the movies. I was NOT expecting there to be this much new material
- Love the intro of Vernons perspective seeing all the witches and wizards out celebrating and him hearing the rumors and watching the news. Its such a weird feeling starting a story with a celebration of the bad guy being defeated. and from a muggles perspective. I understand why it was cut, but I do love it.
- Another Quidditch match with Snape refereeing and Ron and Neville fighting Draco! My favorite added scene probably
- All of the extended Norbert stuff was so good!
- The extended Forbidden Forest scene with more centaurs was cool and loved it’s ominous tone and foreshadowing
- The extended trapped door challenges especially Snapes potion challenge was really fun.
🏆 The Book Wins
As much as I love the movie and consider it one of my favorites, the book medium really allows it to execute all of its characterization, character arcs, themes and many storylines way more effectively than the movie. I never realized how shallow the movie is until you understand its depth in its original format. It IS unfair to compare because the movie medium is so vastly limited by time so its goal or what it sets out to do has to be different, but still I have to acknowledge the book handles these things way more effectively:
- Dumbledore giving The Invisibility Cloak to Harry and how he got it from James
- Nicholas flamel stuff. Finding out about Flamel through the Chocoloate Frog card was so much better.
- the theme with saying Voldemort’s name culminating in Albus’ “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
- The different chambers being tests made by each professor.
- Snape saving Harry and why (Yeah, Im coming back to this cuz wtf)
🧙🏻♂️The Wizarding World
While I believe the movies do such a perfect job or making you feel like everything at Hogwarts is real, the books have to time to give you a sense of what life is like being a student at Hogwarts. One the Sorting Hat scene is so much better. The fear going through everybody that they have to take a test and dont know magic yet. Sorting hat singing the song describing the personalities of each House. SO GOOD
You actually get a sense of all the knowledge that you need to become a great wizard or witch and I LOVE that. You know the books they need to get. I love how often studying is brought up, spending time in the library, studying for exams during the end. Even going as far as explaining how their quills were “bewitched with an Anti-Cheating spell” and giving an example of what Flitwick’s Charms exam was which was to “make a pineapple tap-dance across a desk.” lol what a cool fucking exam! Unlike most any type of art medium, the students actually feel like they are students that you can empathize with dealing with sports and school on top of your typical life problems like three-headed dogs, trolls, and nefarious wizards trying to murder you.
🏏Quidditch is way more prevalent thing, not even just because the book has two big matches that both extremely affect the plot, It’s also just constantly talked about just like sports are in the real world. Harry talks about Quidditch practice and how the team hates him after he loses the house points
I finally learned more about the game too. I love finally understanding that the Bludgers’ purpose is to knock people off their brooms and that the Beaters job is to simply to keep the Bludgers on the other teams side more. Thats so cool and such a weird aspect Jo came up with. Also its cool that the game ONLY ends after the Snitch is caught and a game “…can go on for ages —I think the record is three months.”
⏱Foreshadowing and things we see later
Another positive of the books is you get a lot of foreshadowing or just things that we will see eventually play a bigger role in future books.
- The mention of Hagrid borrowing Sirius' bike had me like...
- Talking about the dragon in Gringotts
- Hagrid's expulsion. Its obvious but its nice finally hearing why Hagrid doesnt have a wand but still can do magic and stuff.
- I saw Newt Scamander on the Marauder's Map in Azkaban, but had no idea Fantastic Beasts was a text book they needed to get. Also nice to see Bagshot's name early on.
- Talk about Malfoys family coming back to the good side once Voldy disappeared and saying they were “bewitched.”
- bezoar which is used in Half Blood Prince
- Dittany in Deathly Hallows
- The centaur’s scene kind of implying they know whats going to happen
- Albus saying Harry’s not ready to know why Voldemort wanted to kill him
They are all nothing heavy handed, paint the world better and reward you when you get to them in the future and they just show that Jo had a great idea where she wanted to go from the start.
This is where the book shines so much brighter.
- Loved the extended description and background to Harry's life. Of course Harrys glasses broke because Dudley! You definitely get more of a picture of what a hell it is to live with the Dursleys
- The book does such a better job of painting how famous Harry, especially at the Leaky Cauldron and with things like: “Whispers followed Harry from the moment he left his dormitory the next day. People lining up outside classrooms stood on tiptoe to get a look at him, or doubled back to pass him in the corridors again, staring.”
- The biggest thing is finally being able to get into Harry’s head during all of this stuff. It adds so much. You get so much more of a sense of how painful the scar is, how lonely he feels without having a family, his obsession with the Mirror of Erised, how much Hogwarts feels like his home, more of his insecurity and fears. His fear the Sorting Hat wouldn’t choose him at all.
- You get more of a sense of his dark side. “I hate them both,” said Harry, “Malfoy and Snape.” As well as thinking of ways to get Malfoy expelled.
- The moments like when he first flies: “…he realized he’d found something he could do without being taught —this was easy, this was wonderful.” and him flying around Hogwarts on his broom while waiting for Wood just warmed my heart. You get more of a sense of him belonging to this world and finally finding something thats his. and when he wins the first Quidditch match: “He’d really done something to be proud of now —no one could say he was just a famous name any more.” mean so much more.
- You feel his pain and lonliness more when he loses Gryffindor House points, especially after getting detention and everybody at Hogwarts and the Quidditch team hating him. Adds way more to him winning back the Cup at the end. “From being one of the most popular and admired people at the school, Harry was suddenly the most hated. Even Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs turned on him, because everyone had been longing to see Slytherin lose the House Cup. Everywhere Harry went, people pointed and didn’t trouble to lower their voices as they insulted him. Slytherins, on the other hand, clapped as he walked past them, whistling and cheering, “Thanks Potter, we owe you one!” Only Ron stood by him.
- I loved this version of meeting Ron. ”Bill was head boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch. Now Percy’s a prefect. Fred and George mess around a lot, but they still get really good marks and everyone thinks they’re really funny. Everyone expects me to do as well as the others, but if I do, it’s no big deal, because they did it first.” With that one quote, you get more of a sense of the inferiority Ron has being overshadowed by his older brothers. It adds more reason why he’s so annoyed by Hermoine flaunting her knowledge and making him feel inferior when she levitates the feather. It also adds more meaning to what he sees in the Mirror of Erised, as well as how much bigger of a deal his chess victory and sacrifice was in the end.
- I loved how Hermoine is more emphasized as just an annoying side character at first who even Harry is just as annoyed with as Ron. The troll scene is way more meaningful now knowing that that’s the moment they became friends.
- Even though her Muggle parents aren’t mentioned, I loved how it goes deeper into how much of a know it all she is to compensate for that. Her being so nervous about flying because “This was something you couldn’t learn by heart out of a book” and chess being the only thing she ever lost at which Harry felt was good for her were two awesome additions. I can’t wait to learn more about her.
- LOVED getting more Neville. In the movies its the big three, but in the book Neville really feels more like a major character especially being in the finding Fluffy and Forbidden Forest scenes and I love it. Seeing how clumsy he is, afraid he is in those situations, and how bullied he was, especially when he says “There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, Malfoy’s already done that,” adds so much to him standing up to Harry in the end and him getting the points to win the House Cup. Hope he remains this prominent in the books.
- I can already tell Im going to love Dumbledore so much more. He’s so much more of a quirky dude and I love it. “I would like to say a few words. And here they are: “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” I loved him sitting down next to Harry during the Mirror of Erised scene. and at the end in the hospital wing was a lot deeper.
- Loved how much more Draco played a factor. I loved Harry’s first meeting with him in the robe shop. Loved his meeting on the train. Loved even more how much of a bully he’s portrayed as. Loved how the reason Harry finds Fluffy is because Malfoy tricks him
- Loved how Rowling kept bringing up Quarrel’s Turban all over the place. Harry’s dream where he’s wearing the turban and it tells him to transfer to Slytherin. I love how theres rumors of Quarrel having garlic to ward off “ a vampire” and “fought a zombie” which kind of what Voldemort is at this point with him sucking Unicorn blood. Even stuff like the twins throwing snowballs at the “BACK of his turban.” Brilliant. They are such trivial things on the surface, but when you know its so cool all of the clues Jo gave you.
- Love how much more it feels like Snape is following Harry and hates him by constantly taking points from Gryffindor.
- Loved that the seed of the feud between Snape and James is planted in this first book. You get a sense because Snape calls James arrogant but love hearing that they “loathed each other.” And “they did rather detest each other.”
- And THIS is the face I made when finding out James SAVED SNAPE?!?!?!?!?!?WHAT?!?!? WHEN!?!?!? HOW!?!?!? How the fuck is that not mentioned in ANY the movies?!?! “Professor Snape couldn’t bear being in your father’s debt. . . . I do believe he worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even. Then he could go back to hating your father’s memory in peace. . . .” Thats fucking brilliant! Such a powerful explanation for why Snape did everything he did in this movie. HOW WAS IT LEFT OUT?!?!?!
🎞What I liked about the movie more
While I do think the book is more effective, I do think this movie still adapted the book very well. First off the characters/casting are perfect. I think Coltrane actually improved upon Hagrid. It did a great job of shifting a lot of the moments in the book into a different scene so it could cut down the run time and flow better (Hagrid not telling the Voldemort story until after Gringotts and not at the cabin/Hagrid surprising Harry with Hedwig)
Also I think the medium of movies really captured some things the book couldn’t, or at least enhanced those moments. For example:
- Zoo scene
- The incorporation of the owls when they keep getting the letters.
- Diagon alley
- The moving stairs
- Moving paintings on the wall
- Quidditch (especially Harry catching the Snitch)
- Fluffy and all of the challenges under the trap door
Basically seeing the magic and this world that feels so lived-in with incredible effects makes those moments come to life or feel viscerally more satisfying in ways that you can’t get from a book (at least for me). Not to mention Williams’ masterpiece score sucking you into this new world even more. For example in the restricted section you can read “The library was pitch-black and very eerie.” But with Williams score in that scene I felt the erieness and hearing that book scream terrified me as a kid.
Basically I think both the movie and book are brilliant for different reasons and symbiotically enhance the other. Both give life to the story in different ways and I love them both.
With already knowing the story I did not expect to be as hooked and unable to put the book down. I did not expect to enhance my love for this story as much as it did. I did not expect it to totally change my relationship or interpretation of the world or the characters as much as it did. So grateful for what Rowling started with this first book.
Wow this is such a long review that nobody’s going to read lol whatever. I’m a nerd and this was fun. 🤓I can’t believe it took me this long to start reading these. I can’t wait to get to Chamber of Secrets!!!! 🐍