In September 1998, 20 years ago, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the United States. I was around Harry’s age at the time and like many kids, I was instantly hooked when I started reading J.K. Rowling’s debut book. Unlike other Harry Potter novels, though, I don’t think I ever revisited this one that started it all.
If I picked up Sorcerer’s Stone a second time, I don’t remember it. I’ve reread my favorite Rowling book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, countless times, and I think I reread some of the others as the series drew to a close. That made this milestone anniversary, the first novel's 20th anniversary, seem like the right time to pick it up again. While I expected to still enjoy the book despite the years that have passed, what I didn’t expect was to still be amazed by so much of it!
Here are the eight most surprising things I discovered as I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
The Dursleys dominate Chapter 1
The very first characters we meet in the entire Harry Potter series are the Dursleys.
I forgot how much they take the lead the entire first chapter and how it’s through their eyes that we get our first glimpses of the wizarding world. We learn how “normal” they are and how much they hate the Potters, but suddenly weird things start to happen. Vernon Dursley starts to see lots of owls, people in cloaks, and he even spots a cat who we learn later is Professor McGonagall. He overhears some rather odd things and we’re left a bit in the dark about what it all means. It’s only about halfway through this introduction that Dumbledore appears and we start to learn about this other world and what’s really going on.
Hints of the future
Not having read the book since finishing the later ones, I never realized exactly how much foreshadowing Rowling included in her first novel. You can find an impressive number of things that would come up later in the series hinted at in Sorcerer’s Stone.
For example, while I remembered Hagrid arriving with baby Harry in the flying motorcycle I didn’t remember that Hagrid mentioned right then that it was “young Sirius Black” who lent it to him. I thought that was only revealed later. Then further in the book, Harry starts to wonder if Professor Snape knows he and his friends found out about the Sorcerer’s Stone and exactly how he could have found out. Harry starts to have “the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds.” Little did he know that in the later books he’d find out that Snape, in fact, could use Legilimency to read minds and was also skilled in Occlumency to protect himself against it!
The other hint I was shocked to not remember was in the end, when Harry is talking to Dumbledore after defeating Professor Quirrell and Voldemort. Harry asks why Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby and Dumbledore replies that he cannot tell him, but he will know one day when he’s older and ready. We witness this in later books. It’s remarkable how many hints Rowling left here.
The weird things Harry did before Hogwarts
The incident of Harry and the snake at the zoo remains prominent in my mind because of the movie, and so I didn’t recall all the other things Harry did before going to Hogwarts as a result of being a young wizard. Some of them I can’t believe I forgot!
Harry grew his hair long when he hated a haircut. He made a horrible old sweater of Dudley’s shrink so he wouldn’t be forced to wear it. My favorite example of his magic, though, was that Harry escaped Dudley and his gang of friends by suddenly ending up on the school roof. Talk about some impressive early displays of magical talent!
Events at Diagon Alley
A lot goes on in Diagon Alley that completely slipped my mind since the first time I read this book, such as this being the first-place Harry and Draco Malfoy met.
As they both try on robes at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, you can instantly get a sense of who Malfoy is and why Harry starts to dislike him. Then there’s the experience Harry has at Ollivanders. Ollivander tells him about his parents' and Voldemort's wands. Finding a wand is a magical experience for the Boy Who Lived, but the tone changes. Just like in the movie version, Ollivander tells Harry that his new wand has a tail feather from the same phoenix that gave only one other feather, which is in Voldemort’s wand. He then says he expects great things from Harry, like he did Voldemort. Voldemort did terrible but great things, after all, he says.
At the end of the experience, Harry decides he’s not sure he likes Ollivander too much.
Hogwarts school song
How could I have forgotten this school song? This was sung right before the first feast of the year ended and everyone went off to their House common rooms. It has classic lines like “Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts” and everyone sings it to their own favorite tune as Dumbledore conducts. The Weasleys finish last and at the end, Dumbledore states that music is “a magic beyond all we do here.”
It’s a fantastic, unique way to set the scene for what Hogwarts and Dumbledore will be like. I wish we could have seen it on film, but we at least have a cutscene of it from Goblet of Fire.
Snape referees Quidditch
Yet another hint that Snape wasn’t what he seemed at first in Sorcerer’s Stone is that the potions professor suddenly decides to referee a Quidditch match.
While Harry, Ron, and Hermione all think he did it to try and get a chance to hurt Harry, that’s far from the truth. We learn from Quirrell later on that Snape did this in order to try and protect Harry from the other professor’s attempts to kill him! It’s funny to picture Snape as the Quidditch referee and even funnier to imagine what his conversation with Madame Hooch must have been like to try and convince her to let him into that position.
Neville is more prominent
I found myself surprised by how much more Neville is present in the book than I remembered. He’s the first to see Fluffy the three-headed dog when he joins Harry, Ron, and Hermione as the trio head to what they think is a meeting with Malfoy. He’s also there with the trio and Malfoy for detention in the Forbidden Forest, all because he snuck out in an attempt to warn his friends that Malfoy was going to try and catch them with Norbert. He even joins Ron at a Quidditch match in standing up to Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, and takes on Crabbe and Goyle on his own! It was fun to see him as more a part of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s group and what was happening at Hogwarts during this first year.
The magic is still there
I didn’t anticipate just how much I would still love this book. Like my 11-year-old self, I could not put Sorcerer’s Stone down once I started it again. Despite knowing what was to come for these characters, I was as captivated as ever and eager to see what would happen next. It’s still a fantastic entry to the wizarding world and will surely go on bringing joy to many for another 20 years and beyond.