Friday, April 30, 2010

Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback

I don't like Norbert.

Before the rotten tomato throwing starts, let me explain.

To me, Norbert is nothing more than the biggest, most obvious McGuffin Rowling uses in the whole series. And it takes an entire chapter.

Think about it. What is the point of Norbert?
a. To get Harry into the forest.
b. To give Hagrid a reason to spill the beans about Fluffy to someone.
This is fine, I'm well-aware that McGuffins exist and I'm generally perfectly okay with them, but Norbert just grates on me and there's a couple reasons for that.

First of all, I really don't like dragons that much.


Please stop throwing food and let me finish!

I can see why some people find dragons appealing, and when they're done right I can really enjoy them (I love the dragons in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, for instance), but Norbert is down-right boring. She bites a hand, starts a small fire and ruins a teddy bear, big deal.

The second reason is that I truly don't understand why Hagrid let two first-years do his dirty work for him. Why couldn't Hagrid borrow the cloak to cover Norbert and carry him up to the tower himself?! He's an adult and a member of the Hogwarts staff, surely he's allowed to "wander the castle at night". Plus, Norbert is heavy! Hagrid is half-giant! No, probably better to let the 11-year-old boy and the 12-year-old girl carry the heavy, dangerous creature by themselves. I mean really, that's just stupid and a little bit mean! Besides, are you seriously telling me that Hagrid couldn't go to Dumbledore, tell him he made a mistake and apologize and that Dumbledore wouldn't help him? That's what they did in the movie and it made WAY more sense.

Finally, I think I'm just annoyed that Rowling just let's Norbert go, when she brings back so many other ostensible McGuffin's in later books as integral parts of the plot. She's mentioned again, specifically when Charlie tells Hagrid that she's a girl and having established the gender change I find it very surprising that she is not then one of the nesting dragons used for the Triwizard Tournament. I think that would make me like this whole thing a lot better.

So, that's my thoughts on Norbert. Rebuttals? (Do I dare hope) agreements?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nicholas Flamel

Guess what?! I came home from work with residual energy and managed to read and process an entire chapter! All the craziness at work is going to last about another week, so posts will probably continue to be sporadic until then, but I'll do my best, as we're getting so close to the end of Philosopher's Stone. This chapter isn't really a favorite of mine, though I did steal the title of my blog from it, so this post is likely to be brief.

Two major events happen in this chapter and the first is the discovery of who Nicholas Flamel is. Now, I know that coincidence is an important literary device, but this one really does drive me a little crazy, that Harry just happens to have the right chocolate frog on hand, and Hermione just happens to have the right book upstairs makes me give a little eye roll, but more than that, shouldn't Flamel have his own chocolate frog card? I mean, really you'd think being the only one to be able to make a Philosopher's Stone would warrant a little recognition. I suppose it's possible that he refused to sign a waiver for his likeness, but then it seems weird that they would mention him at all. At any rate, we finally know who Nicholas Flamel is and we can move along with the plot.

Oh wait, no plot, it's Quiddich time again. Now, I really like Quiddich, but this game, like the one before, is written in that weird space-time hopping way that Jo thankfully gave up for the next book, and therefore drives me nuts (though Neville taking on Crabbe and Goyle by himself gives me a serious happy). In addition to that, there's a lot of talk in this chapter about the House Championship and I get totally confused, because I don't understand why winning in Quiddich has anything to do with the House Championship. Does winning give you house points? That seems a bit unfair as there's also the Quiddich Cup, or is she using them interchangeably? Surely not, as she mentioned in "The Midnight Duel" that Gryffindor haven't won the Quiddich Cup "since Charlie left" and in this chapter everyone keeps talking about how they haven't won the House Championship in 7 years and if she were using them interchangeably at that point that would make Charlie 23 or 24, making Bill at least 24 which would mean he was 14 years older then Ginny who at some point in another book says that she's wanted to go to Hogwarts ever since Bill first went, but she wouldn't even have been born yet. This could be a big part of why I don't like this chapter, it's too confusing. Luckily Rowling mostly fixes this in later books too and seems to keep the Quiddich Cup and the House Championship more separate.

There is a final bit of plot after the game and it's Harry listening in as Snape threatens Quirrel. It's a pretty classic misdirect and I think I remember it working on me the first time I read it. Many of my least favorite scenes are ones where Harry is eavesdropping, I don't know if it's because it feels too passive for Harry or too lazy on Rowling's part or some combination of the two, but whenever there's a scene like this I pretty much skim it and move on.

How do you feel about this chapter? Anyone else get caught up in math and forget to enjoy the story?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Mirror of Erised

I've been absent for a week, and I apologize. I've come home from work exhausted all week, and I wanted to be able to give my full attention to this highly important chapter. Two events of obvious importance to the story occur in this chapter, and I will most certainly get to them, but one of the purposes of this blog is to give outlet to the random thoughts I have when reading and see if anyone else shares them, this time I wonder, do wizards have the internet?

Now, as this is happening in 1991, it's unlikely that they'd have anything comparable at this point, one would think if they did they'd use that to figure out who Nicholas Flamel is (apparently they don't even have a decent card catalog at Hogwarts), but by 1998, when the series ends, the internet was pretty well established in the Muggle world, and I wonder if the wizarding world had come up with anything comparable, not that it would have been all that helpful to the trio on the run either, it just seems like an ability they should have.

Okay, now the randomness is done, let's discuss events of importance shall we? As I said, there are two major plot points in this chapter, one more important to this story and one of vital importance to the series as a whole. I'll start with the former, the Mirror of Erised.

I find the mirror fascinating largely because I don't understand the reason for its existence. What is the overall point of the mirror? I suppose it might be handy for career or family planning, but then again, the heart's desire in those areas can be extremely fickle. It just seems like the risks outweigh any benefit that might come from the mirror (you know, unless some weird convergence of genius old wizard and strangely perceptive 11-year-old happened, but really, what's the chances of that?) Nope, I just don't get the point of it. Anyone feel differently? Share! Share!

The other major event in this chapter is Harry's receipt of the invisibility cloak. At this point, it seems like a handy way to skirt around rules and get Harry (and the others) out-of-bounds with little trouble, but of course it's much, much more than that. While I'm not going to discuss it's role as a Deathly Hallow now, I certainly couldn't let it's introduction go by without mention!

Big chapter, I do hope I've done it justice. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I don't really have much to say about this chapter plot-wise. We all know how this game comes into play at the end of the story (pretty clever JK!) and how the kids completely misinterpret the whole Snape/broom incident. I may choose to discuss one or both of these at a later date, when the clues payoff.

What I do want to talk about briefly is the point of view jumping that occurs in this chapter. I've mentioned it before in other places in this book, but this is where it's most evident and where I noticed it for the first time. We're with Harry for all the stuff at the beginning of the chapter but as everyone heads down to the Quiddich field we end up with Hermione, Ron, Neville, Seamus and Dean ("the West Ham fan"). After a few sentences, we jump over to Harry and the rest of the team in the locker room. We stick with Harry, until Hagrid suddenly turns up in the stands and explains that he's been watching from his hut, but decided to come see it in person after a bit. Next thing you know, we're circling the field with Harry again where we spot the snitch and go pelting out of it before we get fouled, but wait! now we're with the spectators again and not happy about what Flint just did! We fly back up to Harry where we notice his brooms acting a bit funny, perhaps we should check and see if anyone in the stands has noticed...yep, Hagrid thinks Harry's broom acting funny. We'll stick with the spectators a bit while they save Harry's life and then hurry back up to Harry just in time to experience swallowing the snitch with him. I'm exhausted!

I know this was her first book and thank goodness she found a more Harry-centric style and stuck with it in future books, but really, did her editors not notice the jumpiness? Come on, this is before she was J. K. ROWLING (imagine her name intoned by James Earl Jones) and beyond such petty trifles as actual editing. No, this is her first book, where certainly the editor had far more sway than in later years. Do your job!

So, now I've gotten that off my chest and I promise not to mention it (in depth) again. Does this stuff bother anyone else? Have you noticed this before or have I just ruined this chapter for you? (Sorry!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Ask a group of Harry Potter fans to list their top ten favorite moments in the series, and nine times out of ten, this chapter will make the list. I know this, because last year I asked a group of Harry Potter fans to list their top ten favorite moments in the series, and this one came up about 9 times out of ten.

This chapter is a popular one for obvious reasons, namely the cementing of the Harry/Ron/Hermione friendship. But what is it about this friendship that makes us enjoy it so much? It's certainly archetypal, the "hero" and his "sidekicks" who help him through his journey. Campbell spelled it all out for us decades ago, and yet there's something about the relationship between these three characters that speaks to us.

In some ways this chapter reaches down to the very core of what we all want friendship to be. Despite the fact that they're not speaking to Hermione and "can't stand her" as Ron so delicately puts it, when they realize she doesn't know about the troll wandering the castle, they risk punishment to go find her and tell her. Mind you, it's only punishment at this point, they believe the troll to be in the dungeon. When they inadvertently lock the troll in with Hermione, is when their true character really shines through. Neither of them really seem to think about it before rushing to her aid, despite the real risk to their own lives, they are ready to leap to the assistance of someone the profess to not even like. If you're not firmly entranced by Harry before this, chances are you are now. What kind of person would do this? Sure we'd like to think we all would, yet when it comes right down to it, most people would be far more likely to indulge in self-preservation at this point; perhaps, pull out a cell phone and call for help before running away, but very few would have done as Harry and Ron.

Then there's the other side of the coin, Hermione lying to keep the boys out of trouble. She's well aware that she's not the type to get in trouble and that McGonagall is far more likely to let her go with a slap on the wrist than the boys, who've already been on the cusp of serious trouble twice before. (Why she lies I'm a bit unclear about, it seems the truth here, or a version thereof, would be just as reasonable here: Hermione was in the bathroom when the announcement was made and the boys came to find her and tell her. I suppose this could be countered with "Why didn't they tell Percy or someone." but the same could be said for the lie, really.) Regardless of whether the lie actually needs to be told or not, the fact is that Hermione tells it with the express purpose of keeping the boys out of trouble.

This is the first of many instances where the three of them band together to get out of trouble both mild and severe, but it's the one that makes all the other times possible. Without this one moment in time, Voldemort might never be defeated. That makes this one of the all-time greatest Potter chapters.

(Other things happen in this chapter too, Harry gets a broom, Malfoy gets a shock, and Harry learns to play Quiddich, doesn't really seem worth discussing. One thing I would like to point out though, because I find it jarring every time I read it, on page 176, we suddenly jump into Ron's head: "Ron pulled out his own wand - not knowing what he was going to do he heard himself cry the first spell that came into his head: 'Wingardium Leviosa!'" It's something that happens several times in this book and never happens again, obviously Rowling is still trying to figure out her style and I, for one, am glad she abandoned this.)

Would you put this event in your top ten? Why or why not?

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Midnight Duel

This chapter is almost all plot (we're over halfway through the book and we're finally getting real plot!) We get a few follow-through tidbits here, the enmity between Harry and Malfoy is cemented and Harry's flying ability is established, however, this chapter is pretty much all about the Philosopher's Stone (I've decided to use the actual names for things and not the dumbed-down names the publishers gave them for us poor, stupid Americans). As this chapter is mostly about advancing the plot for this book, there's very little of note for later in the series.

Since there's really not much foreshadowing or symbolism in this chapter, let's talk about McGonagall and her reaction to Harry's flying. I'm of two minds about it. McGonagall's love of Quiddich is an unexpected character trait that gives her a bit more depth, however, I find her willingness to overlook the rules when it's to her advantage to be disturbing. To be sure, she's not the only teacher to do this, Snape shows blatant favoritism as will Umbridge later, but as a Gryffindor I expect McGonagall to be above such pettiness. Is this fair? Probably not, but I can't help myself.

That's really all I have to say about this chapter. I imagine the next chapter won't be so skint for material. If you have any insights on this chapter you think I've missed, please share. I do so want this to be a discussion rather than a monologue!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Potions Master

Honestly, I find this chapter to be fairly boring. Sure it's fun to hear about the wonders of Hogwarts, the classes and teachers, but it's not done in the most interesting of ways, and we have plenty of time to learn these things as the series moves along. Even the Snape stuff in this chapter is a bit tedious, since at this point Snape's character (and all the teachers) seem a bit one-dimensional. Sure there might be a slight bit of curiosity as to why a teacher would dislike Harry so immediately, but mostly at this point, Snape just seems like a dick.

The visit to Hagrid's is a bit more interesting, if only for the fact that we get a little clue that this is going to be a mystery, Harry's got some ideas about what's going on with the bank heist (and really what 11-year-old wouldn't?) and he's going to take it upon himself to see if he can sort it all out. Perfectly reasonable. (Yeah, I'm feeling a bit sarcastic today.)

One last thing, and if you have the answer, please tell me because I might just be having a brain fart. The last sentence in this chapter: "And did Hagrid know something about Snape that he didn't want to tell Harry?" Did he? I was under the impression that Dumbledore was the only one who knew about Snape's motivations and back story. I mean, okay, Hagrid may have known that James and Snape didn't get along, but is that really something to act all weird and avoidy about? If that's it, wouldn't it make more sense just to say; "Yeh, well, he and yer dad didn't really get along and the guy carries a grudge." I mean wouldn't that be better than to allow an ELEVEN YEAR OLD to think that a TEACHER hates him for NO REASON? Not that the James thing is a very good reason either, but Snape's emotional intelligence level isn't exactly stratospheric and at least it would give Harry something to hang onto through the next 7 years. Perhaps, if Harry had been told this from the beginning, he could have just reminded himself of it every time Snape was unfair, "He's really punishing my dad." and perhaps at least Harry could have been spared some of the enmity of the relationship.