(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. There exists a magical world of carrier owls and robed witches and wizards, much unlike the Muggle, or nonmagical, world. A dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, has murdered Harry Potter’s parents, so the boy is left with the Dursleys, his Muggle aunt, uncle, and cousin. He is eleven years old when he learns that he is a wizard, but some of his peculiar abilities, such as communicating with snakes, had given him clues earlier that he is unusual.

Harry is invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His uncle tries to prevent his enrollment, but Harry is fetched by gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid, who takes him to London’s Diagon Alley for money and supplies (including his wand), and put on the train to Hogwarts. During the journey, Harry meets Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, soon to become his best friends. Ron recognizes Harry by a lightning-shaped scar on Harry’s forehead, the result of Voldemort’s attack.

At Hogwarts, children are sorted into four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Harry and his friends are sorted into Gryffindor, famed for its courage, while another new student, Draco Malfoy, is assigned to Slytherin. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore introduces the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Quirrell.

Professors Minerva McGonagall (head of Gryffindor) allows Harry to play Quidditch, a game like aerial soccer on broomsticks, although first-year students are generally prohibited from playing the game. Severus Snape, the head of Slytherin, appears to despise Harry; in turn, Harry and Ron hate Snape. The friendship of Harry, Ron, and Hermione is cemented at Halloween, as they defeat a troll.

Harry and his friends discover a gigantic three-headed dog guarding a forbidden corridor. After they learn that the dog guards the Sorcerer’s Stone, which grants immortality to its owner, the three friends target Snape, who they surmise plans to steal it. They calm the dog with music and solve a series of challenges, before Harry confronts and defeats Quirrell, who hosts the weakened Voldemort in his body and who had been seeking the stone to resurrect his master. The stone is destroyed.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Dobby, a house elf, tries to prevent Harry’s return to Hogwarts because he fears danger. However, Harry does return, thanks to a flying car rigged by Ron’s father, Arthur, and driven by Ron. Ginny Weasley joins Ron and her brothers at Hogwarts. Narcissistic Gilderoy Lockhart, who writes fictionalized tales of his own adventures, is the teacher of Defense Against the Dark Arts.

A rash of petrifications, including that of Hermione, raises suspicion that Harry has cursed the victims and that either he or Hagrid has opened the Chamber of Secrets. Harry learns the chamber was last opened fifty years before, a violation for which gamekeeper Hagrid had been expelled from the school. Many believe Harry to be the heir of Hogwarts cofounder Salazar Slytherin. Hagrid is arrested and then sends Ron and Harry into the forest to find a giant spider named Aragog, who reveals that Hagrid is innocent.

Harry also finds the diary of a former Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle, from fifty years before, and communicates with young Riddle by writing in the diary. A series of clues leads the boys to believe the Chamber holds a basilisk, a serpent that can kill with only its look.

Ginny Weasley disappears one day, and Harry and Ron descend through bathroom pipes into the Chamber to find her. Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, brings Harry the sword of Godric Gryffindor and blinds the basilisk. Harry defeats the serpent and uses its fang to destroy the diary. He then saves Ginny and learns that the diary had bewitched her. He also confronts Riddle, who reveals himself as Voldemort. Meanwhile, Dobby, the house-elf, is freed, and the herbology teacher’s mandrakes cure the petrified victims.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Sirius Black is an alleged murderer who has escaped from the wizarding prison, Azkaban. On the train to Hogwarts, the children meet the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Remus Lupin. They also encounter dementors, Azkaban guards who inhale souls.

Lupin teaches the children to summon a patronus, a protective creature. Harry’s patronus is a stag, his father’s Animagus shape. Draco Malfoy taunts a hippogriff and is nipped; he pretends to be severely injured to get Hagrid fired. The creature, Buckbeak, is sentenced to death.

Chasing his rat, Ron is assaulted by a large black dog and dragged through a secret tunnel toward the village of Hogsmeade. Harry and Hermione follow, only to learn that the dog is Sirius Black’s Animagus. Harry accuses Black of killing his parents and contemplates killing him, but Lupin arrives and disarms Harry. To the friends’ great surprise, Lupin embraces Black. Ron learns that the rat is the Animagus of Peter Pettigrew, and that Black, Lupin, Pettigrew, and James Potter had formed a clique of marauders during their Hogwarts years. The rat appears, and Lupin prevents Black from attacking it, arguing that Harry deserves an explanation.

The explanation reveals startling facts: James Potter once saved Severus Snape’s life, and the debt has fueled Snape’s grudge. Remus Lupin is a werewolf, as Hermione has surmised. Pettigrew had betrayed James and Lily’s Potter’s location to Voldemort the night they died. Black, enraged, had attempted to kill Pettigrew, who escaped, but Black was sentenced to Azkaban for Pettigrew’s murder. When Black lets Harry choose whether Pettigrew lives or dies, Harry reasons that his father would not have wanted his friends to kill anyone and that Azkaban will be sufficient for Pettigrew. Harry also learns that Sirius Black is his godfather.

Dementors appear as the group returns to the castle. Lupin transforms and, in the chaos, Pettigrew escapes. Across the lake, Harry sees the hippogriff executed. He thinks he sees his father, then watches a stag drive the dementors away. Dumbledore allows Harry, Ron, and Hermione to use a rare device to turn back time and save both Buckbeak and Sirius, who rides to freedom on the hippogriff’s back. Once he understands the time shift, Harry realizes that he saw himself, not his father, across the lake.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry begins a trip to the international Quidditch tournament, where he and his friends see in the sky a symbol signifying the presence of Death Eaters, Voldemort’s followers. Students from two other wizarding schools, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, arrive at Hogwarts for the Tri-Wizard Tournament, whose challenges will include stealing eggs from dragons, rescuing loved ones from the lake, and negotiating a perilous maze. Customarily, the name of one participant from each school is drawn from the Goblet of Fire, but this time the goblet adds a fourth name: Harry. Harry steals his dragon’s egg, saves Ron from the lake by eating a plant that gives him gills, and saves the sister of the Beauxbatons champion, Fleur Delacour.

In the maze, Harry and Cedric Diggory, the other Hogwarts contestant, grab the prize together, but the prize is a portkey, an object that transports them to a graveyard where Voldemort waits. Voldemort kills Cedric and attacks Harry, hoping to use the boy’s blood to reinvigorate himself. The wands duel, and spirits of Voldemort’s victims pour out of his wand. Harry sees his parents, and the sight gives him the courage to defeat Voldemort. He also learns that Voldemort set up...

(The entire section is 3127 words.)