This post started out as a long analysis of chapter one of Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone as it is here that the world-wide publishing phenomenon began. That is not to say that the WHOLE reason for why Harry Potter achieved the heights that it did can be found here, but rather the seed. From this seed, as JKR enhanced her craft and deepened her tone, Harry's story sprouted roots and shot forth, encompassing an ever-widening audience, until it blossomed into the phenomenon that it still is today, even four years after the release of the last and final book.
However, in writing this post to cover the whole first chapter, I quickly discovered that there was way too much to say to burden one blog-sized post with. So, I have broken the analysis down into six upcoming parts:
- her quirky, fun, full-bodied cast of characters
- her fully developed, magical, I-so-want-to-live-there world building, and
- her trail-of-clues mysteries that engaged the reader and spanned all seven books
For example, while the characters that are introduced in chapter one -- the Dursleys, McGonagall, Dumbledore and Hagrid -- are all creative and larger-than-life or comically exaggerated characters, we don't even meet our hero Harry. Well, not until the end and he is asleep. But we hear about him.
As for the world building -- we don't enter the wizarding world full-blown in this first chapter either. We are given tantalizing snippets of it through Mr. Dursley's eyes and how it intersects the Muggle world. So, in reading anew this very first chapter, I think it was a different element than the three mentioned above that ignited the spark.
Overall, knowing that the initial audience for this book was children -- the adult audience only grew later -- I think what drew them in from the very beginning was the tone JKR used for this first chapter. You will notice that it is not a tone which she continues throughout the series. But the tone she employs here is very conversational, engaging, and fun that includes tantalizing lures of childhood fantasies such as the maligned and misunderstood orphan and a journey to a magical place where they become the star.
Let's look at the tone first.
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.then later:
When Mr and Mrs Dursley woke up on the dull, grey Tuesday our story starts, there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the country.From the beginning, JKR talks directly to her young reader in a conversational tone: "thank you very much," and "our story starts" are two examples of this.
Then, in omniscient POV, she tells us straight up what's to come, nothing "to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the country."
Telling is bad, right?
Still, here it gives the reader a heads-up that is then followed with concrete, fun examples: a cat reading a map and keeping post by the Dursley's house, owls swooping about everywhere in broad daylight, people in cloaks on the city streets, huddled together talking excitedly, and shooting stars in numbers that should not have been. And throughout all of this, the Dursleys are depicted as small-minded people that the narrator obviously disdains.
Then for the child fantasies, juxtapose McGonagall's protestations to Dumbledore:
"You couldn't find two people who are less like us. And they've got this son -- I saw him kicking his mother all the way up the street, screaming for sweets."against her prophetic statement (really she could give Trelawney a few lessons) a couple of paragraphs later:
"These people will never understand him! He'll be famous -- a legend -- I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in future -- there will be books written about Harry -- every child in our world will know his name!"Even before McGonagall's prediction became reality, I think this early intro of Harry played very well to JKR's target audience. Children love to think of themselves as different than those around them and smarter than their elders. With her conversational tone, JKR brought her young readers into an intimate circle as separate from and looking down on this family of Muggles and those in their real world and thus set her readers up to be a part of the "in crowd" with the wonderful, wizarding characters to come. What child reader is not going to readily identify with Harry rather than the Dursleys?
From the editor's daughter that pestered her father to buy the unpublished manuscript, to the word of mouth generated from playground to playground, children were drawn into Harry Potter and wanted more of it. All the elements we will be discussing through this series of posts focusing on "The Boy Who Lived" chapter came together to engage the reader from the start. But overall, I think the initial engagement was the pull into an exciting and magical world where characters were larger than life and ultimately where that child was (with a wink and a nod) to be included as one of the magical.