J.K. Rowling's first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was written in a cafe as the author's daughter napped. Rowling, a lone mother, had been teaching to support herself and her child and battling depression; she set herself the task of completing this book she had started some years before, and rose to the challenge. She sold the end result to Bloomsbury, which published it in 1997, (the American publisher, Scholastic, issued it under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone the same year), and the book was a huge bestseller, capturing the imagination of tweens around the world. Rowling has gone from poverty to riches on the strength of the world she imagined and committed to paper.

This is the first of what will eventually be seven books about Harry Potter, each covering a year in his school life. Harry, when we first meet him, is ten. He is small for his age with round glasses and messy hair, and he has a distinctive lightning shaped scar on his forehead. He lives with his uncle Vernon, aunt Petunia, and cousin Dudley Dursley, and an unpleasant lot they are too. Uncle Vernon - he of the red face, brisling moustache, and short temper - seems to enjoy nothing more than finding fault with Harry; both Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia dote on the nasty Dudley, a fat spoiled boy who counts among life's joys beating on poor Harry.

Petunia is Harry's mother's sister; according to the Dursleys, Harry's parents died in a car accident when he was just a baby - which explains the lightning-bolt scar - and they took him in out of the kindness of their hearts. Or so they say, anyway. In reality, Harry is forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs and dress in Dudley's far-too-large castoffs; the Dursleys ignore him when they can and harrass him when they can't.

Then one day something very unexpected happens: a letter arrives, addressed in green ink to

Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging
Surrey

Harry has never received a letter before, and is understandably excited, but Uncle Vernon will not give it to him; he opens it himself, reads it, and his face pales. Aunt Petunia reads it too, makes a choking noise, and they look at each other, clearly panicked. But then Uncle Vernon decides to ignore the letter; he burns it, and tells Harry - and Dudley, who's been trying to get to the letter as well - to shut up and go away.

The next day three letters arrive, the following day twelve, and Uncle Vernon, in a fit of apoplexy, nails the mail slot shut. When 24 letters arrive the following day (hidden inside a crate of eggs) Uncle Vernon calls the post office to complain loudly; on the next day - Sunday, no post, remarks the fat man with satisfaction - letters begin to flood down the chimney, and Uncle Vernon packs the family off, first to a nasty hotel where letters continue to arrive for Harry, then to a crude shack on a small, storm-tossed island. Uncle Vernon imagines they are at last out of reach of the persistent letters, but at midnight, just as Harry's eleventh birthday begins, a giant of a man arrives and knocks down the door. Introducing himself as Rubeus Hagrid, he quickly divines that the Dursleys have kept Harry in the dark about a number of important things, such as that he, Harry, is a wizard; that the letters are inviting him to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and that his parents were wizards too who were killed by a wizard skilled in the Dark Arts - a wizard who had tried to kill the baby Harry, but only succeeded in leaving the distinctive scar. Even more thrilling, Hagrid completely cows Uncle Vernon and takes Harry off to prepare for his first year at Hogwarts.

Much of the story follows the tradition of a typical English boarding school, but where typical English school children buy flannels and galoshes, Harry's list of supplies includes robes, a wand, and an animal (owl, cat, or toad) (first years are not allowed broomsticks). Harry does his shopping in Diagon Alley, a magical place in the middle of London where all his unusual supplies are easily purchased with money inherited from his parents and stored in a goblin bank. Harry is privy to a secret other world that he could never even have dreamed of, and in that world he is famous because he was able to defeat the dark wizard (everyone refers to him fearfully as "You-Know-Who", for he can't be killed and so is presumably lurking about somewhere, hoping to regain his powers).

With happy heart, Harry bids farewell to the Dursleys, figures out how to reach platform 9-3/4 at King's Cross station - you have to take a run at a seemingly solid brick wall, taking care that Muggles (non-magic people) don't see - and boards Hogwarts Express, a gleaming red steam train that takes the students north to Hogwarts. There the first years are taken by Hagrid in boats across an enchanted lake where a giant squid lives and into the school. Professor McGonagall calls each new student's name in turn, and they place on their heads a patched old hat, which sorts them into one of four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. Harry has already met a sneering young first-year, Draco Malfoy, who has gone to Slytherin, and he worries that he might be placed there too, but he ends up in Gryffindor, along with his new friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The students feast from plates that refill themselves with typical English fare like mashed potatoes and treacle tart, and then proceed to their house dormitories, where they bed down, exhausted.

Classes for these students are rather different from what they are used to. History of Magic is taught Professor Binns, a ghost who reads droningly from mouldy old notes that don't seem to have changed in centuries. Charms is taught by Professor Flitwick, who is so small he has to sit on a pile of books. Professor Sprout instructs the students in Herbology, or how to deal with strange plants and fungi. McGonagall teaches Transfiguration, or how to transform things into something else; she becomes a large cat at will. Professor Snape, who seems to hate Harry, tells them about Potions, and stuttering Professor Quirrell, a new teacher, instructs them in Defence Against Dark Arts. Professor Dumbledore is the headmaster.

By the end of the story one of the teachers, possessed by the dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, will try to kill Harry, who, as you might have guessed, triumphs in the end. It's a classic storyline, but along the way are many interesting details that capture young imaginations: Quidditch, a game played by teams of seven on broomsticks; ghosts; candies that can taste like anything, including vomit; spells and magic and intrique and excitement.

Rowlings' books after this one feature letters at the end from young readers - aged 8-3/4, 10, 11-1/2 - gushing about how they loved this novel and begging breathlessly for hints about the next one and when it will come out. Her accessible writing style and inventive story have made this a much-loved children's classic that adults can enjoy too, and a successful movie brought Harry and Hogwarts to life most convincingly. Very enjoyable all around.

The Harry Potter books, introduced only a few years ago, created by author J.K. Rowling have gone over huge all over the world, entrancing children and adults alike. In fact, the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, is now a film that will be coming out in theaters on November 16, 2001.

Starring as Harry Potter is British actor Daniel Radcliffe, who starred as the young David Copperfield in the 1999 BBC production of the Charles Dickens classic. A co-star from this production as Betsey Trotwood, veteran actress Maggie Smith, plays Professor McGonagall in the film. You can expect Smith's naturally excellent performance to get her another Oscar.

Harry's friend Ron Weasley will be played by Rupert Grint, in his first role as a professional actor. Emma Watson, also previously unheard of, will play Hermione Granger, while their friend Neville Longbottom will be played by Matthew Lewis. Ron's brothers Fred and George Weasley will be played by brothers Oliver and James Phelps, and playing brother Percy will be Chris Rankin. Playing Harry's Quidditch team captain Oliver Wood is Sean Biggerstaff, while Draco Malfoy's hench-guys Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe will be played by Joshua Herdman and James Waylett, respectively. Out of all the students at Hogwarts, actor Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy seems to have the most previous professional acting experience, and can be seen in Anna and the King. In smaller roles as students will be Will Theakston as Marcus Flint, Emily Dale as Katie Bell, Scott Fearn as Terence Higgs, Katharine Nicholson as Pansy Parkinson, Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley, Alfie Enoch as Dean Thomas, and Devon Murray as Seamus Finnegan.

As head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Albus Dumbledore will be brilliantly played by Richard Harris, who has acted several great roles, including Paddy O'Neill in Patriot Games and Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator. Alan Rickman will once again play a terrific bad guy as Harry's nemesis Professor Severus Snape, following his roles of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Hans Gruber in Die Hard. The key role of Professor Quirrel will be carried by actor Ian Hart. Also on the Hogwarts staff are Madame Hooch (Zoe Wanamaker), Argus Filch the caretaker (David Bradley, Blow Dry), and Professor Flitwick (Verne Troyer).

Playing Harry's friend and Hogwarts gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid is Robbie Coltrane, of the James Bond films The World is Not Enough and GoldenEye. Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw are sure to bring much frustration and angst to Harry's life as Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, his only living relatives along with their son Dudley Dursley played by Harry Melling. The Weasley matriarch Molly will be played by Julie Walters. Harry's dead parents, James and Lily Potter are played by Adrian Rawlins and Geraldine Somerville, while his owl Hedwig will be played by Ook the Snowy Owl.

John Cleese of Monty Python fame plays Nearly Headless Nick in what is sure to be a smashing performance. Peeves the Poltergeist will be played by Rik Mayall, while Leslie Phillips of Tomb Raider will be the voice of the Sorting Hat. In a smaller role, actor John Hurt, star of Love and Death on Long Island, will play Mr. Ollivander, the man who gives Harry his first wand.

Directing is Chris Columbus, whose other accomplishments include Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. The screenplay was written by Steven Kloves, who also wrote the screenplay for the Michael Douglas/Tobey Maguire film Wonder Boys. The score for this film was written by veteran composer John Williams, whose award-winning themes include those from Star Wars, Superman, Saving Private Ryan, and Jaws.

In addition to the movie, watch for J. K. Rowling's next Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. After the thrilling ending of book number 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this one's sure to be flying off the shelves to be devoured by hungry readers everywhere...

Full list of characters

The following list is all the characters to appear in the first Harry Potter book.

I have built the list from scratch, so it follows my own idiosyncracies. I have chosen to include every witch or wizard named in the book, as well as other apparently-sentient creatures, such as the centaurs. I have chosen not to include creatures which appear to be neither intelligent, nor animagi. For example, I have included Mrs Norris, because she knows things, whereas I have not included Neville's toad, Trevor, or Hagrid's boarhound, Fang. In the case of Scabbers, I have identified him, but linked to Peter Pettigrew.

Other things to note, I have also included the authors of books, where they have been identified. Also, where a character is associated with a Hogwarts House, I have identified that House

The characters are listed in the order they appear in the book.

WARNING, Spoilers to come in this W/U about the Movie!

Chris Columbus pulled off one of the most difficult feats imaginable: taking one of the world's single most popular books by J.K. Rowling and making it into an absolutely breathtaking movie. The soundtrack by John T. Williams (who also composed the soundtracks to The Goonies, every Star Wars and Indiana Jones film, plus about fifty others) creates an eerie listening experience while still bringing the listener's ears through adventure, suspense, and mystery. The set design, art, and costuming were all absolutely astounding, and contained more eye candy than even Willow. My only complaints about the costuming is that the goblin hands seemed a bit stiff during the scenes where they walk, but otherwise everything was exactly the way I pictured it after reading the books (a commonly shared opinion by nearly everyone who saw the Sneak Preview on November 15th, 2001.

Minute detail and attention were paid to nearly every single aspect of the film. I will most likely go back and see it several more times just to catch what all the pictures are doing in the background. The Quidditch match was without a doubt one of the top three in Coolest Flying Sequences Ever, ranking up there with Luke Skywalker taking out the first Death Star and the Pod Racing scene. Probably the single most impressive aspect of the entire film is that it was not just a book slapped together with special effects. While the special effects were extremely well done, nothing was done with them that hasn't been done before. The special effects were so subtle you can barely catch them, in other places they flow seamlessly from one scene to the next. But overall, what holds your eye is a beautiful set, complimented by excellent actors and actresses (I will spare you the list since that has already been written up), and... well, let's be honest, waiting for the Quidditch match.

My only criticisms of the movie are thus: The Professors in the movie seemed a bit watered down from their likenesses in the books. Minerva McGonagall, played by Maggie Smith, was a seemed less like the strict and stern --but just-- schoolmarm and more like a mischievious grandmother who has to keep up a good public appearance. Severus Snape played by acting god Alan Rickman seemed less like the sinister and plotting bully that hated Harry Potter and actually seemed more like the role McGonagall plays in the books: authoritative, challenging, but not overly picking on Harry. Additionally, Draco Malfroy seemed quite watered down as the villainous Slytherin brat, and seemed more like Richie Rich without enough sleep or his morning tea. Also, the Quidditch match was too short. In truth it's length was just fine. If there had been 2 hours worth of Quidditch, it would still be too short. My final complaint is that I must wait at least another year before seeing the next installment.

There are a few noticeable differences between Book One and Movie One, however. This is, of course, to prevent the audience from having to sit through 7 hours worth of footage (which frankly I Wouldn't have minded in the least). Some scenes had to be cut, or glossed over. But the most noticeable plot differences are below...

  • Draco and Harry don't meet in the shop in Diagon Alley, nor on the train, they meet at the gate to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
  • Harry's being appointed to the Gryffindor Quidditch Team was not kept secret.
  • Norbert, the dragon that Rubeus Hagrid raises, had the entire story around it changed, which unfortunately affected the rest of the plot quite a bit, since the story behind how they each lose a total of 150 points from the Gryffindor House changes, gets watered down, and there isn't the isolation and resentment felt by their housemates, which in turn... well, you get the idea.
  • Argus Filch and Hagrid appear to be friends.
  • Harry isn't given the flute by Hagrid, which requires them to insert an auto-playing harp for Fluffy.
  • The devilweed vines scene is considerably different, and as a result, part of Albus Dumbledore's speech when he awards points to Harry doesn't make as much sense. In the book, Harry must remind Hermione Granger that she is a witch because she is panicking, and that she can create fire without use of matches or lighters. "Keeping a cool clear head in the face of crisis..."
  • The scene with the riddle of potions is completely removed, Hermione has already left after the chess match.
  • The climactic is completely changed, and it makes considerably less sense as to why Harry was hospitalized, since the only impression we get at the end is that Lord Voldemort's ghost passes through Harry.
  • Peeve's the Poultergeist was completely left out, and the Bloody Baron didn't seem very intimidating in the least.


That said, it should be noted that these differences are not complaints so much as things that were noticeable between the book and the movie. Both are similar enough, however, to satisfy the reader, and both are good enough on their own to appease one who has only read the book or only seen the movie. All in all, I believe this installment of the Harry Potter Saga will go down as one of the decade's Greats.
Man, but this is a good year for geek movies. The Lord of the Rings next month, Star Wars: Episode II sometime later this year, and just last weekend, Harry Potter.

I am not including any spoilers for the movie for the simple reason that it is exactly true to the book - if you've read it, you'll know what to expect.

So, what's it like? Well, to put it simply: not too hot. Yes, visually it's breathtaking. And yes, the casting is a work of pure genius (except for Mrs. Weasely - can't see that one at all). And, again, yes, every bleeding edge cinematic technology on the face of the planet - makeup, animatronics, CGIs, image grafting - was amply and brilliantly employed to create a world so convincing that one feels bound to walk straight into it on leaving the cinema. And they were very, very true to the book.

And yet... We've all read the book. It's a new book, so we've all read it quite recently. And I'm sorry, but knowing exactly what is going to happen at every turn in a movie you are watching for the first time is a very dissapointing experience! A little bit of creative wrangling of the script (not just cutting out of details to fit it into the screening time, which is what they did) would have gone a long way to make it more suprising and a lot more gripping.

In a way, even the oh-so-clever casting works against the film - the fact that the actors chosen are all so well known (to us on the distaff side of the pond, anyway), and that the cast list was circulated so widely before the movie was released meant that there was even more of the predictable about the movie. We all knew what Alan Rickman was going to be like as Snape, and it doesn't take a leap of the imagination to see Maggie Smith as McGonagall. In a way, the marvellous acting abilities of all these actors were completely wasted on roles which basically didn't require them to act.

Special mention however is due to Fiona Shaw, who brought the almost caricature-like character of aunt Petunia to life in a brilliant and, for me, unexpected way, and to Zoe Wanamaker, who injected large amounts of personality into Madame Hooch, who is not really described in the books in any depth.

As for the kids, who are the only big unknown of the cast list: Rupert Grint as Ron is fantastic, Emma Watson as Hermyone is prissy and far too pretty, and Daniel Radcliffe is heartbreakingly cute but wooden. To be fair, some of the scenes had to be dubbed (by Joe Sowerbutts) because Daniel's voice broke some way through filming, so that might be why. Fred and George, who don't have a big part in the first book, are nevertheless unconvincing, and Neville is somehow too normal and together. The big discovery for me was Sean Biggerstaff, playing Oliver Wood, who was not nearly as earnest and obsessed as the book character, and one hell of a lot sexier. I look forward to that young man's future career!

If you've read the books the movie isn't going to innovate anything. The visuals, though beautiful, are predictable, as are the plot and dialogue. The Quidditch match is wicked, though - it made the whole thing worth it for me. And yeah, it was fun dressing up as a witch, complete with broomstick and top hat, and going to see it in a crowd of fifteen avid Harry fans. A good night out, but not a great movie.

Also the name of the first Harry Potter computer game released by Electronic Arts in the UK.

The game is surprisingly playable and has been put together well, rather than rushed out to coincide with the release of the movie. Noteably, although the game uses the faces of the movie characters as skins, it does not butcher the storyline from the book as the movie was forced to do. For example, early in the game Hagrid will ask you (Harry) to collect him some fireseeds in order to hatch his dragon egg (in the film, Norbert was given to Hagrid by the Dark Lord, rather than his egg!) and will reward Harry with a flute (which is later used to put Fluffy to sleep) - another detail which required the film to insert a ridiculous enchanted harp.

The highlight of the game as far as I've personally played it so far is to be able to play Quidditch as Gryffindor seeker myself. I've dreamed of playing Quidditch since reading the books and this is the closest you could come with recourse to magic.

Definitely a good buy for avid Harry Potter fans.

I keep having to dredge this info up, so I thought I might as well node it here.

In the 2-disc Special Edition of HP&tSS, you get one DVD with the movie and one disc with extras. There's a lot of fun stuff to explore, but the one thing I wanted was to just go right to the deleted scenes. Yes, Virginia, there are deleted scenes on the second DVD. It is, however, a pain in the butt to get to them. Here's how to get to them:

When the DVD loads in your player, go to the Diagon Alley link. When the game loads (you have to select the right bricks to enter, and it's not the same ones that Hagrid taps), do the following with your remote:


Left, Up, Up, ENTER, Up, ENTER, Up, ENTER, Right, Down, Down, ENTER, Down, ENTER

  1. Once in Diagon Alley, go to the Gringott's sign, then go down and select the key. Then go up and actually go to the goblin bank.
  2. After the voiceover is over, go to the coins on the poster and click ENTER. This gets your money to buy things.
  3. Go to Ollivanders and pick wands until you get the one that doesn't blow things up.
  4. Back out to the main menu and go to the classes.
  5. From the Transfiguration link (don't click it!), go Left, then Up. Hit ENTER on the H on the torch.
  6. You get to see Fluffy. Select the flute.
  7. The key you want is in the middle, and it is small. Highlight and click ENTER.
  8. Select the yellow potion (that was missing in the movie, so it was funny they put it in here.)
  9. Click on the Stone in the mirror.

You'll have three deleted scenes, and go to the right arrow to see the other four. I thought they should all have been in the movie, they were all short. The one where Harry wants to go back to look into the mirror and the one with the extended meeting with Snape and Harry should have definately stayed, as they did add in some important info.

Enjoy!

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