This review was originally published on Pol Culture.
I am more than a little late in coming to what is the most successful popular-culture phenomenon of our time, but a revived interest in popular fiction--what I prefer to call commuter reading--has compelled me to jump in. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone outside the United States--is the first novel in J. K. Rowling's seven-book, all-ages adventure series. It's a breezily entertaining read. That said, the story is a compendium of clichés. The characters are all recognizable types, and the suspense plotting holds little in the way of surprises. Harry Potter, the boy wizard who was kept ignorant of his heritage, is just the latest iteration of a heroic tradition that includes King Arthur and Luke Skywalker. Rowling is hardly the most graceful prose stylist, either. But her conception of the Harry Potter world is witty. Hogwarts, the principal setting, is an academy for tween and teenage witches and wizards, and Rowling does an entertaining job of reimagining the familiar boarding-school milieu in terms of her fantasy material. And what her prose lacks in elegance, it largely makes up for in pace. The book keeps the reader turning the pages. The conflict with Voldemort, the series' villain, is an edifying one for younger readers. It pits the morality of right and wrong against the amorality of power for its own sake. Children obviously find the material a delight, and few adults will feel they are slumming. It's an all-ages entertainment that lives up to the promise.