It’s been twenty-five years since the publication of the first book in the Harry Potter series. Originally aimed at children, it tells the story of a young wizard called Harry Potter and his school friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley during their first year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although initially its author J.K. Rowling struggled to find a publisher for the book, it went on to become one of the best-sellers of all time. So what is it that makes this first Harry Potter book so magical?
Harry Potter is born into a family of wizards but when he’s a baby, his parents are killed by the evil wizard Voldemort. So Harry goes to live with his aunt, uncle and cousin, the Dursley family, in an ordinary English suburb. The Dursleys, who are Muggles (non-wizards), are ashamed that Harry is a wizard and so they keep it a secret.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”
“Mr e Mrs Dursley, di Privet Drive numero 4, erano orgogliosi di poter affermare che erano perfettamente normali, e grazie tante. Erano le ultime persone al mondo da cui aspettarsi che avessero a che fare con cose strane o misteriose, perché sciocchezze del genere proprio non le approvavano.”
Harry only finds out that he’s a wizard on his eleventh birthday when he receives news that he’s been invited to study at Hogwarts School.
Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry is a boarding school for magical students aged eleven to eighteen. The school building, which looks like a large castle, is hidden in the Scottish Highlands and surrounded by a dense and dangerous forest. Students are transported there on a train that leaves from platform 9¾ at Kings Cross Station, London. Once at Hogwarts, magic is all around, especially in the Great Hall, where the students eat.
“Harry had never imagined such a strange and splendid place. It was lit by thousands of candles which were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting [...]. Dotted here and there among the students, the ghosts shone misty silver.”
“Harry non aveva mai immaginato in vita sua che potesse esistere un posto tanto splendido e sorprendente. Era illuminato da migliaia e migliaia di candele sospese a mezz’aria sopra quattro lunghi tavoli, intorno ai quali erano seduti gli altri studenti. […] Qua e là, tra gli studenti, i fantasmi punteggiavano la sala come velate luci argentee.”
Hogwarts students study a range of subjects to prepare them for life as witches and wizards. These include: history of magic, potions, and broom flight. For sport, there’s quidditch, a fast, dangerous team game played on flying broomsticks. Although Harry doesn’t excel in the classroom, he’s an excellent quidditch player and loves his new life at Hogwarts.
“Perhaps it was because he was so busy now, what with Quidditch practice three evenings a week on top of all his homework, but Harry could hardly believe it when he realised that he’d already been at Hogwarts two months. The castle felt more like home than Privet Drive had ever done.”
“Forse per tutte le cose che aveva da fare, con gli allenamenti di Quidditch tre sere a settimana oltre alla gran quantità di compiti, Harry stentava a credere che fossero passati quasi due mesi da quando era arrivato a Hogwarts. Al castello, si sentiva come a casa sua, molto più di quanto non gli fosse mai accaduto a Privet Drive.”
good and evil
In another class called ‘defence against the dark arts’, students are trained how to use magic against evil forces. In later books, Harry and his friends will need these skills in their fight against the evil Voldemort. This incident where Harry meets Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest gives a taste of what is to come:
“The hooded figure raised its head and looked right at Harry — unicorn blood was dribbling down its front. It got to its feet and came towards him — he couldn’t move for fear. Then a pain pierced his head like he’d never felt before.”
“L’incappucciato alzò il capo e puntò lo sguardo su Harry, con il sangue dell’unicorno che gli colava sul petto. Poi si alzò in piedi e gli si avvicinò a rapidi passi. Harry non riusciva a muoversi per il terrore. In quella, gli trapassò la testa una fitta di dolore come non ne aveva mai provate […].”
worth the read
Rowling wrote another six Harry Potter books, which have sold more than five hundred million copies in total and been translated into over eighty languages. Once you’ve learnt the basic wizarding vocabulary around spells, owls, and broomsticks, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a great place to start reading fiction in English.
Traduzione di Marina Astrologo, Adriano Salani Editore s.r.l., Milano, 1997