Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry in cape and sneekers flys his broomstick
Readers have nearly worn out this paperback copy.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first of J. R. Rowling’s series of books about a pint-sized magician that has become a box-office phenomenon.

Harry, an unwanted “baby on the doorstep” of his aunt and uncle since the death of his parents, has lived in a closet under the Dursley’s stairs for 10 years.  Harry’s parents were a famous wizard and witch. The Dursleys are normal.

At 10, Harry receives a scholarship to Hogwarts, a school for magicians. A giant sees that he’s equipped with the necessary supplies.

At Hogwarts, Harry studies broomstick operation and magic spells instead of Latin and composition, plays quidditch instead of British football, and his big adventure involves centaurs.

The novel follows the formula for books about outsiders at British public schools. (British public schools are private institutions, traditionally for upper class males.) There is competition between “houses,’ “common rooms,” and “first years” who are bullied by “old boys.”

Like Sidney Sheldon’s and Michael Crichton’s fiction, Rowling’s Harry Potter reads like a movie treatment. It requires context that Americans don’t know, but which a visual treatment can provide.

Like The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter will be remembered as a movie, not a book.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
by J. R. Rowling
Scholastic Press. ©1997. 309 p.
1997 bestseller #1 (Tie); my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Sonia puts human face on first year of WWI

A memoir of 1898-1915 written by a “member of the governing classes” who spent those years at a British public school and at Oxford doesn’t sound particularly interesting.

And it wouldn’t be, except for what George Oakleigh records happened between August 1914 and August 1915.

Title Sonia: Between Two Worlds superimposed on map of pre-World War I Europe


Sonia: Between Two Worlds by Stephen McKenna

George H. Doran, 1917. 475 pages. 1918 bestseller #10. My grade: B.


The Prague-born son of an Irish lord who, after his pro-Greek father was murdered by Turks, worked his way back to England, David O’Rane pays all his money to buy one term’s tuition at Merton.

David quickly wins admirers and friends including George, the reliable guy everyone trusts; Jim Loring; Tom Dainton, and Tom’s younger sister, Sonia.

Sonia enters into a secret engagement with David until she decides he isn’t rich enough for her.

Sonia later becomes engaged to Jim Loring, whom she also dumps.

Sonia is motoring on the continent in August, 2014, when war is declared.

David borrows an American identity, gets Sonia out of danger, and escorts her home.

Then he enlists.

Stephen McKenna makes the David-Sonia story end well, but little else does.

McKenna’s descriptions of Melton, Oxford, and party politics are only for the initiated.

His descriptions of the feeling of the possibility and then the certainty of wa­r are for everyone.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Good-bye, Mr. Chips Still Clears the Sinuses

Good-Bye, Mr. Chips is an an eccentric schoolmaster’s sentimental look back over his lifetime in a British boarding school for boys.

schoolboys sitting on benchMr. Chipping came to Brookfield to teach classics. He wasn’t much of a scholar or teacher, but he did his job. So he stayed.

In 1896, at age 48, he fell in love with a beautiful young woman half his age. She mellowed and sharpened Chips, making him a revered figure on campus. When she dies in childbirth, he hangs on, buoyed by the boys he loves.

He retired at 65 and moved across the road from the school, renting rooms from another former school employee.

When World War I depleted the pool of teachers, Chips was called back to act as headmaster until the war ended.

Then he went back into retirement, but he kept close ties to Brookfield to the day of his death.

In Good-Bye, Mr. Chips, James Hilton pays tribute to teachers who care more about their pupils than about their subject. There’s no plot to speak of, no real characterization. The novel is just an excuse to indulge in a few minutes of tearful nostalgia.

Make a cup of tea, butter a muffin, and enjoy this harmless indulgence.

Good-Bye, Mr. Chips
By James Hilton
Little, Brown, 1934
126 pages
1934 bestseller # 4
My Grade: B

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni