Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Burrow

After an incredibly long and tiring day, it was absolutely lovely to come home and dive into a Weasley-centric chapter. Who doesn't love a good Weasley chapter?

This one starts with Ron, Fred and George showing up in the flying Ford Anglia to spring Harry from the Dursleys. I love when Fred and George are at the Dursleys, it's always excellent. This is obviously the most tame time, they just pull iron bars out of the window, pick the door lock, sneak downstairs, pick the cupboard lock, drag Harry's things upstairs and out the window and then yank Harry from Vernon's grasp as they fly away. Tame.

Seriously, I love the idea that Fred and George have taken the time to learn "Muggle ways" of mischief. I imagine their dad had a little something to do with that, not on purpose of course, but surely Arthur's obsession with Muggles filtered through to Fred and George, who then interpreted it the only way they could. Trouble.

Things get even better when they actually reach the Burrow. As I read, I'm just as fascinated as Harry with this wizard house. I day-dream about being able to flick my wand and do the dishes or create a 1-minute feast. It is interesting to note that the clock is different here. Obviously Rowling knew she wanted an interesting clock, she just hadn't quite figured out how to do it yet.

The garden de-gnoming is a fun slice of wizard life. I love that Molly describes it as "boring", I think it sounds pretty fun!

Finally we get to meet Mr. Weasley. What can I say about old Arthur? As Rowling has pointed out, he's the only decent father in the entire series. I fell in love with him the second he asked his sons how the flight went instead of punishing them.

What about you? What are your feelings about the Weasleys? Love them? Hate them? (If you hate them, I'd be interested to hear why....and I expect your last name is Malfoy.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dobby's Warning

There is a weird, somewhat annoying creature hanging out in Harry's room. He introduces himself as Dobby the House-Elf and he's there to convince Harry not to return to Hogwarts. Harry refuses, Dobby reveals that he's been stopping Harry's letter and then goes downstairs and drops the pudding on the floor. Shortly thereafter, and owl arrives with a letter for Harry (ruining Vernon's shot at selling the Masons his drills) which informs him that if he performs magic again he'll be expelled. Upon finding out that Harry isn't allowed to do magic outside of school, Vernon determines to lock Harry in his room and keep him from going back to Hogwarts. Harry's just resigned himself to his fate, when Ron appears at his window...

Love 'em or hate 'em, they're a huge part of the Harry Potter world for the rest of the series. Personally, I don't mind them. I've always had a soft spot for the "cutesy" characters my fellow geeks generally love to hate. I don't even mind Jar-Jar that much, though that could just be because the rest of the movie was so awful I didn't see the point in singling him out for derision.

At any rate, I like Dobby. I don't love him (I love Kreacher), but he doesn't make me want to beat him over the head like Winky does. That being said, I can definitely understand why some people dislike him so much.

First of all, there's the fact that he kinda came out of nowhere. So many other creatures were mentioned, at least in passing, in Philosopher's Stone, that it's a little jarring to discover a new sentient creature. A passing mention in Philosopher's Stone, might have helped (no idea where, obviously Malfoy would be the easiest way to get a mention in, but that might have then given away the game as to who Dobby's master was).

Then there's his Bob Dole-itis. "Dobby came to warn Harry Potter." "Dobby must..." "Dobby is..." blah blah blah. Then he occasionally throws in a first person reference, just to see if you're paying attention, "Sometimes they reminds me to do extra punishments." It's enough to drive anyone mad. I feel like this may have been toned down in later books though. That or I just got used to it.

Finally, at this point, he seems like a big old McGuffin. Useful for now, and then we'll ignore him. Obviously, this doesn't end up being the case at all, Dobby and the other house-elves are integral to the story, but Rowling certainly took her time paying it off!

I can't let this chapter go without mentioning the Dursley's. I can't help but wonder what Vernon's plan is. Harry's only 12, so are they going to let him out for public school? Home school him? (Yeah right) Really, Vernon, isn't your best option letting him go to school so you can get rid of him for 10 months? Especially now that you know he's not allowed to do magic when he's "home"? It seems pretty win-win to me. (Obviously that's the problem, Dursley doesn't mind losing as long as Harry does too, still, not the best laid plan.)

Let's hear from some of the Dobby-haters out there. What is it about him that bugs you? How about the Dobby fans? Why do you like him so much? I look forward to your answers!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Worst Birthday

After a restful weekend I'm ready and raring to start in on book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I'm hoping to move through this one at a pretty fast clip and I'll tell you why. I long ago removed the dust jackets from my copies and have the book displayed on a shelf full of other Potter stuff (a snitch, glasses, movies, etc.) and I've discovered that when you remove Chamber of Secrets, the red of Sorcerer's Stone and the purple of Prisoner of Azkaban clash horribly. I'm telling you. Go try it with your copies and see how long you'd want to have to see that on you shelf everyday! I would put up pictures if I had a decent camera, it's that bad.

So, now that I've whined about decor for half a page, let's talk about the chapter. There's not much to this one really. It's basically your standard "let me do a quick recap of the first book for you" all sequels are cursed with. I know that it's there for the people who missed the first one and came in in the middle, but for me, who's far too compulsive to ever start a series in the middle, it gets old fast. I wish publisher's would consider putting out editions for people like me, that skip over all that stuff. Rowling is better than most at making it interesting (maybe not here, but she gets better at it). I can remember the days when I was into The Baby-Sitter's Club and Sweet Valley Twins when I would just skip the chapter that gave me all the back story stuff and I never missed a thing. Perhaps now that ebooks are becoming more popular, it will be possible to have editions of books that cut all that junk out. Then again, if you were to cut out all that stuff from this chapter, it would go a little something like this:

Harry and Dursleys were eating breakfast. Dudley demanded that Harry pass him some bacon and Harry said, "You didn't say the magic word."
After Uncle Vernon finished freaking out about Harry saying magic (again) he reminded everyone of his big business meeting. He headed out, admonishing Harry to stay out of Aunt Petunia's way.
He was trying to do just that, quietly singing Happy Birthday to himself and feeling sorry for himself that no one had sent him any gifts. Perhaps Ron and Hermione didn't want to be his friend. Sure, they'd risked their lives just a month before to help him, but they could have easily had a change of heart.
Something's watching him from the hedge.
Dudley comes out to make fun of Harry's lack of friends on his birthday and Harry takes the bait, pretending to cast magic on the hedge. As punishment Petunia makes Harry do the gardening. When finally the day is over, Harry eats and heads upstairs, where someone is sitting on his bed!

That's it. Short chapter. How do you feel about the "previously in" recaps, required of sequels?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Man with Two Faces

This chapter is so chock-full of goodness, I almost don't know where to start! Almost.

One of the things that makes this chapter so wonderful, is that this is when we really get to see Rowling's genius for storytelling. By the time I read Philosopher's Stone for the first time, I'd read enough mysteries to know that the "bad guy" probably wouldn't be Snape, but I certainly wasn't expecting Quirrel! However, as Harry looks back at all the clues he had through the year, you quickly realize that sure enough, Rowling had been telling you who it was all along. Of course, by the second reading it's blatantly obvious and you don't know how you could have missed it! This ability of Rowling's to turn a sentence into a major plot development will continue throughout the series, but here's where we see it for the first time.

As interesting as the mystery is, for me it's everything that comes after the confrontation with Voldemort that I truly love. This is due, in large part, to Rowling's other forte, world building. You see, while I love the story of Good vs. Evil, it's the characters and places that keep me coming back, making the denouements some of my favorite parts of the series. All the worry and angst is over, and we just get to hang out with our friends in a magic castle. Who wouldn't want that?

This is also the point where I fall head over heels in love with Dumbledore. The way he talks to Harry, treating him like an adult (or so it seems at this point, of course knowing what we know from Order of the Phoenix, he could have done just a bit more) and promising not to lie is very endearing. Although, I will say, this time through I noticed the line "I do believe [Snape] worked so hard to protect you this year because he felt that would make him and your father even." and can't help but think that, at the very least, that wasn't the whole truth. Dumbledore knows how Snape felt about Lily and must realize that's a much stronger reason for Snape to want to keep Harry alive. I also wonder if Dumbledore is already grooming Harry for his future in light of the prophecy when he tells him "...death is but the next great adventure."

Dumbledore then solidifies his place in my heart by making sure that it's Neville's points that put Gryffindor over the edge for the House Championship. I'm getting all verklempt again just thinking about it.

There are so many other little moments to love in this chapter, the callback to the toilet seat joke, Dumbledore eating the jelly bean, the photo album Hagrid makes for Harry to name a few, that it would be impossible for me to mention them all here, so I'm going to ask you to do it. Is there something you love about this chapter you think I forgot? A way of looking at this chapter I might not have thought about? Share your ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Through the Trapdoor

I see this chapter as a microcosm of the series as a whole. We start off the chapter with the mundane topic of exams, something pretty much everyone can relate to, much like each book starts off with Harry in the muggle world. Even the magic that is done is the exams seems a bit ordinary.

Juxtapose that banality with what happens when they go through the trapdoor (does anyone else see an Alice reference here?). Their lives are immediately put into danger when the Devil's Snare attacks and things get progressively more dangerous as they make their way through the chambers to find Snape. Similarly, the danger grows throughout the series, until you reach the bloodbath of Deathly Hallows.

We also get an advance look at the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione as we see for the first time just how strong the bond between them is. Not only do Ron and Hermione accompany Harry into danger, they do it without thought. It's striking that here Ron doesn't even consult with Hermione before saying that they're going with Harry, much as Hermione doesn't consult with Ron at the end of Half Blood Prince before saying they're joining him in the Horcrux hung. Furthermore, we see just how far they are willing to take things when Ron sacrifices himself in the chess match. Both are aware from an early point how dangerous being friends with Harry can be, and neither one cares. The power of love is the overarching theme of the series, and Ron and Hermione exemplify it here.

Now, that I've gotten all the academic stuff out of the way, a few quick, fun points. I've found that it is physically impossible for me to read the Snape line "people will think you're up to something" without pausing between "you're" and "up", I couldn't even type it just now without pausing! I'd also be remiss if I didn't at least mention the first of the bookend "ARE YOU A WITCH OR AREN'T YOU?", consider it mentioned. Finally, I'm curious to know what everyone's favorite enchantment is? I'm partial to Snape's myself, which I imagine stems from my dad teaching me logic puzzles from a young age, I just find it frustrating that it doesn't give us a picture of the bottles so we could try to figure it out for ourselves before reading Hermione's answer!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Forbidden Forrest

Confession time again. I read this chapter a week ago, but I couldn't think of anything to write about it. Don't get me wrong, this is an important chapter, I just don't know what to say about it.

We now know Voldemort's around and that the Philosopher's Stone is really for him.

We meet the centaurs and learn how annoying they are.


Yep, boring I know, but I had to post something so I could move on. Tomorrow we'll head through the trap door and on Thursday we'll meet the man with two faces!

If you think I've missed some integral plot point in this chapter please let me know!