Friends Book Discussion Series
Please join us for a discussion of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling on Wednesday, May 4, at 6:30 p.m. in the small meeting room on the second floor. The talk is the last in the series on the theme of family relations in Western literature, sponsored by the West End Library Friends. The presenter is Ori Z. Soltes, resident scholar in theology and fine arts at Georgetown University.
Synopsis and discussion questions:
This is the first book in the Harry Potter series. Harry is the only surviving member of a powerful magical family, but he doesn’t know that until he receives notification of his acceptance into the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts is a magical and mysterious, friendly and dangerous, good and evil facsimile of a traditional British boarding school—fertile ground in which Harry wrestles with the question of what constitutes home and family while in the process of discovering who he truly is.
1. This is our third book in a row where the issue of bloodline and “race” play a role. In the broadest terms, how does that role compare with the ways in which it underlies the issues of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven?
2. How does the issue of “family” differ from and how is it similar to the same issue in Pigs in Heaven? What does “family” mean in the context of blood relations as opposed to love relations?
3. How many different modes of “family” do we encounter in The Sorcerer’s Stone beyond the obvious and immediate distinction between Harry’s unhappy home with his aunt, uncle and cousin and his happy, adoptive home at Hogwarts?
4. How does the “sorting hat” serve as a symbol of an ideal world with regard to family relations?
5. How do various key characters in the novel, not only Harry, move between expressing and/or developing qualities that derive from their nature as opposed to how they were nurtured?
6. What are some of the key moments in which, alone or assisted by others, Harry comes to know who he is and where (in the familial, not geographical sense) he comes from?
7. How is the “sorcerer’s stone” (also known as the “philosopher’s stone”) an apt metaphor for the process of Harry’s increasing self-awareness and for the relationship between that process and the issue of family relations?
8. How is Harry an example, in small and large ways, of selflessness and indeed self-sacrifice? How might Rowling be seen to have drawn on the messianic idea in shaping her tale? Why would some Christian groups object to it? Why would others approve it?
9. How does this novel (and its successors) offer an interweave between the issue of family relations and the issue of the heroic adventure (particularly as that adventure is parsed by Joseph Campbell in his Hero of a Thousand Faces)?
10. This novel was almost certainly never intended to stand alone. What are some of the devices used by Rowling to foreshadow the succession of books that will follow—or put otherwise: what are some of the notions tossed off here that, later on, an astute reader will look back toward and think “ah ha”?