Spangler’s From Sentence to Screen: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) is a fantasy film directed by Chris Columbus and is rated PG. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson who are a trio of actors that have become widely recognizable since being in the Harry Potter film series. The story is about a boy whose parents are killed by an evil wizard, who also wants to kill Harry (Daniel Radcliffe). For the first decade of his life he grows up living with his neglectful and mental abusive aunt and uncle. Eventually he is accepted to a prestigious school where he learns to use the magic he was born with. Harry must learn to use his powers in order to protect himself and find the secrets hidden in his school. Along the way Harry meets his best friends Ron Wealsley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson).  Most people know the story of Harry Potter, so I won’t take too much time talking about the actual events of the movie in this post. Instead I will look at some changes made, which would only be recognizable to those who were readers of the original book by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The first of these changes started even before the movie was made, as when Rowling’s book came to the United States the publisher thought it would be best to change the name from Philosopher to Sorcerer. They thought children would not read the book because the word philosopher, for many Americans, brings up the idea of old men. Whereas sorcerer makes children think of magic and adventure which are two things much more interesting for younger audiences. 

Then when the film was made,  keeping the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the U.S. and  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the U.K. seemed to make the most sense. This diction choice is reflected in both versions of the movie in the scene when they finally find out about the stone, as each uses the different name for the stone in conversation and in the book the trio are referencing. For people that are familiar with alchemy and alchemical transformations the search to make a philosopher’s stone, which could make someone immortal and turn any metal into gold, was a real thing back during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In the first movie this stone was the object that triggered most of the events in the movie, as it is the thing the antagonist, Voldemort, wants to get in order to become fully alive again.

 Besides the name being changed, there is also a change from book to movie when it came to Harry and his friends finding out about the stone. In both the book and the movie Hagrid tells the trio about a man named Nicholas Flamel, the person responsible for making the philosopher’s stone, who is friends with Dumbledore. When he tells them this, it gives the trio a clue regarding what object is being hidden in the castle. From there the two medium’s diverge. In the book, Harry finds out who Nicholas Flamel is by reading about him on a Dumbledore chocolate frog card. Whereas in the movie, fans learn about Flamel from Hermione who finds him in a book she had checked out from the library. These decisions are interesting because the idea of a philosopher’s stone is something that adds history to the Harry Potter universe in a great way; something that is lost when changing the name to sorcerer’s stone.

Another change that I thought was interesting between the movie and book was how the relationship between the main trio started. In the books, much like the movie, Harry and Ron became friends very quickly. When they first met, and after Ron got over the shock of meeting Harry Potter, he didn’t treat Harry any differently because of the boy’s tragic past. For Harry, he didn’t care that Ron’s family was considered poor, because growing up with his aunt and uncle who were well off made Harry understand that just because someone has money it doesn’t mean they are a good person. It is when you look at the relationship between the boys and Hermione that the mediums start to differ. In the movie, for the most part, the three of them are friends right away though they don’t become really close until after the troll attack on Halloween. In the books, however, Harry and Ron can’t stand Hermione at first, believing she is a know-it-all who likes to make them look stupid compared to her. When actually Hermione is just so eager to learn at Hogwarts, her natural intelligence is intensified because she wants to prove herself at Hogwarts because she is muggle-born (having parents that aren’t witches or wizards). In the books Hermione talked badly about Ron for the first part of the school year and Harry agrees with him. In both the movie and book it is partially because of Ron’s bad mouthing Hermione that she ends up trapped in the girls bathroom when the troll attacks. Also in both mediums Hermione ends up taking the fall for the three of them getting caught in the bathroom with the troll; this shows to the boys that they judged her two harshly and she is actually a really good friend to have. Something they learn more and more over the school year as she helps them study for classes, gets them out of sticky situations, and at times even does their homework. The choice to speed up the progress of their friendship in the film makes sense because of the movie’s time limit, but in the books it shows character growth for the trio quite early which for a reader makes them more invested in the characters.

When looking at the Harry Potter series, it is often commented on how the first movie is the most faithfully adapted movie of them all. Even looking at that though like all adaptations things have to be changed for the sake of the new medium. The two mentioned, the name of the stone and the trio’s relationship, are two of the most blatant changes that have some effect on the story itself. Other changes had more to do with the aesthetic of the story and making it feel magical. An example of this was the choice not to use the poltergeist Peeves in the movie at all, who was often a source of humor in the book and added to the setting of Hogwarts. Granted the character doesn’t play a big role in the actual plot of the story, but he was one of my favorite minor characters in the book so I am a bit biased on this point. One other instance of this came from the casting of Harry’s parents, James and Lily Potter, and professor Severus Snape as the characters were much too old in my opinion to be playing those characters. I did love Alan Rickman as Severus Snape because he played the character perfectly, but he was 55 years old when the first movie came out. The character of Severus Snape was only 31 during the first book and Harry’s parents died when they were 21, Harry only being a year old at the time. The actor who played Lily was in her mid-thirties at the time and that isn’t so bad, but James Potter’s actor was in his forties at the time and looks far too old to be playing that character. As a book reader, this was a change that was very obvious and for some not a welcome change to the story’s history, as James and Lily’s death were supposed to be even more tragic because they died young.

Even given all these changes, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is still a highly enjoyable film to book readers and non-book readers alike. The story captivates audiences from all ages and lets them go on an adventure with a good plot and highly likable characters. No matter how many times I watch the film, it never ceases to entertain and excite me as I get to relive the magic over and over again. For my next blog post I will be looking at the film Brokeback Mountain (2005) directed by Ang Lee and based off of the short story of the same name by Annie Proulx.

— Jo Spangler, Film blogger.

Jo’s bio:

Jo Spangler

Jo Spangler is a junior at Lewis University, majoring in English Literature and Language with a minor in Creative Writing. She is a writing tutor in the Lewis Writing Center and a Youth Enrichment Aide for the YMCA. In her free time, Jo enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and watching movies. She has been to 10 countries outside the United States, including England, Italy, Turkey, and Austria. One of Jo’s favorite book series is The All Souls Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, because of how she mixes the supernatural with history and the focus on character development. In the future, she hopes to go into the publishing industry to help find new and exciting books for people to read.

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