Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Rogue Bludger

Okay, well I didn't get a lot of comments about the summary, but those that did comment seemed to like it, so I think I'll stick with it, as they're kind of fun to write.

Harry, Ron and Hermione chose the perfect teacher to go to for access to the book they need, Lockhart doesn't even look at the note before signing it. Madam Pince retrieves Moste Potente Potions from the Restricted Section and the trio head straight to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. There Hermione determines that the Polyjuice Potion will take about a month to make and Ron is revolted to discover they need a "part of the person" they'll be changing into for the potion. They also find that they'll have to steal some ingredients from Snape.

That weekend is the first Quiddich match of the year, Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. Early in the game it becomes evident that a bludger has somehow been enchanted to attack Harry and only Harry. It breaks his arm, but he still manages to catch the Snitch and win the game. Lockhart attempts to heal the break, but only succeeds in removing all the bones from that arm. Madam Pomfrey is able to regrow the bones, but Harry will have to spend a pain-filled night in the hospital wing. He (amazingly) manages to fall asleep, only to be awakened by Dobby the House Elf, who confesses to having blocked Harry from getting on the train and enchanting the bludger. He also lets slip that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened in the past. Before Harry can get any more information from him, Dumbledore and McGonagall arrive with the petrified Colin Creevey. They check to see if he was able to get a picture of his attacker, but the camera film has melted. When McGonagall wonders aloud who is opening the Chamber, Dumbledore makes the enigmatic comment "The question is not who, the question is how.", effectively confusing the crap out of everyone.

I kind of hate this Quiddich game, I don't know what it is about it (maybe the lack of commentary?) but I find it a bit boring. I will point out to those who have been reading this blog from the beginning, that if this were Sorceror's Stone, we probably would have watched the bludger attack from Ron and Herminoe's point of view. What really bothers me in this chapter is the general incompetance of the teachers and staff:
a. Why didn't Madam Hooch notice the insane-o bludger and do something about it? Surely it can't be "legal" to have a bewitched ball in play?
b. Why is Lockhart the only teacher/staff member to go to Harry when he falls off his broom with a broken arm and passes out? (Lockhart's own incompetence is obvious and doesn't need pointing out).
c. Why doesn't Madam Hooch have some level of basic magical medical training so that she can mend bones, cuts, etc.? It's no secret that Quiddich is a dangerous game.
d. Since Madam Hooch is apparently absent such knowledge, or at the very least absent the motivation to use it when needed, why isn't Madam Pomfrey at the games? It's clearly stated that basically the entire school attends.

Yep, big time lapse on the part of pretty much every adult at the school here.

Of course, all this is designed to get us to the hospital wing, so that we can be hit with a whole bunch of revelations in the last few pages, the biggest of which is the discovery that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened before. I wonder if Harry will latch on to that in some way?

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged!

*Note* I know a website with color versions of Mary Gran-Pre's chapter drawings and I was going to embed the one for this chapter in the post and wouldn't you know, it was the only one that wasn't there! I'm going to go back and do it on past posts while I add tags and chapter summaries, so keep an eye out for them.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Writing on the Wall

I was thinking about this blog over the weekend and I wondered if it would be helpful if I wrote a little chapter synopsis for each post? I've been working off the assumption that people who have read these books as many times as I have only need to see the chapter title to know what happens, but then sometimes the chapter titles are a bit oblique (like this one) and you might not realize everything that happens. So, what do you all think? Would you like a quick chapter recap before I get into things? Here's a sample of what I'm thinking:

Lured by Malfoy's oh-so-subtle cry, Filch turns up, takes one look at Mrs. Norris and decides that Harry and his pals have killed the cat. Dumbledore shows up and takes Filch, Mrs. Norris, and the trio to Lockhart's office (at Lockhart's insistance). Snape and McGonagall follow. After a long (and tedious to anyone listening to Lockhart) examination, Dumbledore announces that Mrs. Norris is not dead but petrified and can be cured. Due to lack of evidence and despite the best efforts of Snape and Filch, Harry and pals will not be punished.

The whole school is talking about the Chamber of Secrets and when Hermione can't find a copy of Hogwarts, A History in the school library, she asks Binns about the Chamber. He reluctantly tells the class the "myth" and assures them there is no such thing. It soon becomes evident that many students think Harry is Slytherin's heir, but the trio believe Malfoy the most likely candidate (surprise!) and hatch a plan involving much deceit and trickery to find out if they're correct. All they need is a really dumb teacher...

That one may actually be a bit long, but you get the idea. If people think it's a good idea, I'll probably go back and add synopses to past posts as well. Let me know what you think in the comments.

As for my comments on this chapter, I don't have too much to say. I will say that I find it kind of weird that Binns doesn't believe in the Chamber of Secrets. Surely he was there the last time it was opened? Any other teacher and I would say they were covering, but Binns doesn't really seem the type to care about faculty decisions. Though, I suppose his general apathy for school life could be the reasoning for him not knowing about the Chamber.

Other than that, this chapter is pretty straight forward. I will say that I desperately want Rowling to write Hogwarts, A History, I know I'm not alone in that.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Deathday Party

Due to Oliver Wood's obsession, Harry finds himself returning from Quiddich practice on rainy October morning, muddy and dripping. He runs into Nearly-Headless Nick who has once again been denied entrance to the Headless Hunt due to his, you know, nearly-headlessness. While they're talking, Filch comes across them and drags Harry into his office to punish him for the mess he's made. Before Filch can punish him though, Nick convinces Peeves to drop a Vanishing Cabinet over Filch's office, saving Harry from Filch's rage. As a thank you, Harry agrees to attend Nick's 500th Deathday Party. So Halloween finds Harry, Ron and Hermione heading down to the dungeon for the ghost's party instead of to the feast with the rest of the students. After brief conversations with various ghosts, including Moaning Myrtle and Nearly-Headless Nick, the trio heads upstairs, hoping to be able to at least get dessert, but before they can get upstairs, Harry hears a disembodied voice threatening to kill. They follow it to the second floor and find Mrs. Norris hanging stiffly from a torch bracket under the words "THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR BEWARE". Before they can leave the area, the feast finishes and the rest of the school converges on the hall.

I have to admit that I knew what I was going to write about today before I even started reading this chapter, it's something that's bothered me for years. I'm definitely going to get to that, but I had another random thought while reading that I wanted to share first as well as quickly acknowledge that this is where the Vanishing Cabinet gets broken. (Consider it acknowledged!)

Why is Filch the one who's cleaning up the mud and guts? What is his job description? He's caretaker, I know, but in other things I've read caretaker is either making sure an empty house doesn't go to pot or making some minor repairs and overseeing servants. I mean, there are house-elves around who could clean up this stuff with a snap of their fingers, what's the point of Filch doing it? And if its one of those micro-managey I'll-do-it-myself kind of things, does he really have a right to get all pissy about how long it's going to take him to clean it? (That was the random thought, I'm really interested to hear what others have to say about this).

Okay, onto the thing that's been bugging me for years. In Order of the Phoenix, Sir Nicholas tells Harry that wizards become ghosts when they're afraid of what's out there. It's a choice that, by my understanding, is made consciously. It therefore really bugs me that at the Deathday Party the trio sees "a group of nuns" in addition to the Fat Friar. Without getting into personal beliefs about what might come after death, I wonder why so many people who had taken the veil/whatever monks take would fear what was to come. What is the point of taking vows of chastity, poverty and charity if you're too scared to find out if it was worth it? I mean, I'm sorry, but if you're going to become a ghost and refuse to "move on" regardless of where that might be, than you may as well have a little fun in life! (I'm also intrigued by the very idea of witches and wizards choosing such a vocation in the first place. Are their wizarding sects of Catholicism/Anglicism?) Again, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below!

Oh, one more random thought I almost forgot: Sir Nicholas is described (and portrayed in the film) as wearing a neck ruff, but he died in 1492 and ruffs didn't become standard/popular until the middle of the 16th century. Did Sir Nicholas somehow acquire the ruff after his death or was he just really fashion forward when he was alive?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mudbloods and Murmurs

Harry is woken early Saturday morning by Oliver Wood, excited to get started with Quiddich practice. Harry jots a quick note to Ron and meets the rest of the team in the locker room, where Oliver proceeds to drone on about strategy for what I assume is over an hour. When they finally head onto the pitch, the Slytherin team shows up, showing off their new brooms from Malfoy's dad. Ron and Hermione join them and after a pretty awesome zinger on her part, Malfoy calls Hermione a "mudblood", resulting in instant uproar. Ron attempts to curse Malfoy, but his broken wand causes the spell to backfire and it Ron who ends up spitting up slugs. The trio head to Hagrid's, where Harry and Hermione learn that "mudblood" is a horrible term for Muggle-borns. Eventually the slugs stop and they head back to the castle for lunch, where McGonagall finds them and tells Harry and Ron they'll do their detentions that night. Harry has to help Lockhart answer his fan mail, which might just be the worst detention Harry ever gets (possibly even worse than the one from Snape in Half-Blood Prince). Near midnight, Harry hears a voice threatening violence, but there doesn't seem to be anyone else around...

Finally a chapter with a little substance! Here we get a first look at one of the major themes of the series, discrimination. We already know from previous chapters (At Flourish and Blotts) that the Malfoys have a prejudice against Muggles, but it's in this chapter that the extent of that prejudice within the wizarding world begins to become clear. This discrimination is prevalent enough that a derogatory word for Muggle-borns is well-known throughout the community.

It's interesting to see the reactions of the other students when Malfoy uses the term "Mudblood", from the violent (Fred and George) to the verbal (Alicia) and the vengeful (Ron). One of the things I find most interesting about this, is how many people jumped to correct Malfoy/stand up for Hermione. What are the chances of that happening in the Muggle world? There's certainly discrimination here, and words that are used to wound. How many would come to the aid of a fellow student being called one of those words we all know?

These children's willingness to stand up for what's right will of course continue to play as we move through the series. It all starts right here. This is why these books should be read in schools and in homes. To teach our young people what it is to do the right thing. It's not always easy, but it's worth it in the end.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gilderoy Lockhart

I want to start off this post with a big thank you to Lisa at Her Book Self for giving me the Great Blog Neighbor Award. I highly recommend checking out Lisa's blog, a fun mix of book reviews, interesting quotes, and personal entries. Recognition by one's peers always feels good and I appreciate it immensely. I fully intend to pass it on, but I want to take a bit more time to think about to whom I will give it.

Now on to today's chapter: The day after their grand entrance, Ron receives a howler from his mother, admonishing him for his thoughtlessness. After breakfast, Ron, Harry and Hermione head to Herbology, where they run into Lockhart who proceeds to act like a giant ass and make assumptions about Harry. In class muggle-born Justin Finch-Fletchley joins their group in repotting Mandrakes. After lunch first-year Colin Creevey introduces himself to Harry, whom he has come to idolize in the short time he's had to learn about the wizarding world. Lockhart shows up again and more ass-ery ensues. Then comes Lockhart's class, which is pretty much what you'd expect: a quiz about him and then a disastrous practical lesson involving Cornish Pixies.

I have two things I want to talk about, howlers (awesome!) and Mandrakes (horrifying).

I think Howlers are one of Rowling's best ideas. First of all, they make sense, by which I mean I can understand how they could work, unlike so many of her magical apparatuses. I do wonder if you buy a special Howler envelope or if you cast the spell on any random envelope and the spell turns it red. If you do have to buy a Howler, who sells them? For some reason, based on the three people we know to use them in the series, I'm more inclined to think that the spell changes the envelope rather than the envelope being necessary to the spell. Also, it'd be a bit weird to keep something like that around and if you didn't keep it around you'd have to go out and buy one and by the time you finished doing that you probably would have lost some of your steam.

On the other hand, I'm conflicted about Mandrakes. On the one hand, they obviously work. On the other hand, I'm a vegetarian, so the idea of chopping up living, sentient creatures is abhorrent to me. Think about how they're described, first as babies and later as adolescents and teens who try to sneak into each others pots. It's pretty gross. Then again, maybe there's no other way to de-petrify someone. Would it be fair to leave a person in a petrified state when you had a way to heal them? What about a cat? Or a ghost? It's interesting to me that no one seems to have any sort of moral dilemma about this. I'd actually love to hear how Hermione feels about it as someone who is socially active and was saved by the Mandrakes. I tend to think that I might have to start my own activism group: WWETMR perhaps (Witches and Wizards for the Ethical Treatment of Mandrake Root).

Oh, and while I'm on the subject, why isn't that something you can buy at the apothecary's? I'd imagine not everyone can afford to cultivate their own, what if they need to counter a curse? But if it is sold at the apothecary's, isn't it negligent of Dumbledore to wait 8 months to cure anyone?

Lot's of question marks in this post, the question marks aren't rhetorical. Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Whomping Willow

Summer vacation comes to an end and Harry and Weasleys pack up and head to King's Cross Station. Running late they quickly head through the barrier to Platform 9 3/4 in pairs. Harry and Ron are the last to go, but the barrier won't let them through. After a couple minutes of panic, they decide to use the car to get to school. They reach the school, just as the car starts to lose steam (gas? magic?). The car crashes into a tree that proceeds to beat the ever-loving poo out of it and them, breaking Ron's wand in the process. The car escapes into the forest and the boys head to the castle where they're intercepted by Snape. Snape gleefully leads the boys down to his office, informing them that they were seen by several muggles. They are soon joined by McGonagall and Dumbledore, who assign them detention and tell them they're going to inform their families. After a dinner of sandwiches, they head upstairs, where all of Gryffindor is waiting to celebrate their grand entrance.

I LOVE the Hogwarts Express. That symbolic journey between the real world and the magical world are generally some of my favorite chapters. This could certainly be one of the reasons that I don't like this chapter much.

I'm also rather intolerant of stupidity and this chapter's just chock-full of that. There are any number of ways that Harry and Ron could have gotten to Hogwarts without taking the car and the fact that they didn't think of any of them irks me. Maybe it's normal for 12-year-old boys to act on the first idea they come up with, I don't know, I've never been one. Even so, the idiocy of the idea in the first place is unbelievable.

I can understand why Rowling did things this way, the car, the willow and the barricade closing are all important later on, and she does make an effort to have the decision make sense: Ron wonders if his parents will be able to get through, Harry notices that they're being stared at, etc. but I need something more for this chapter to be reasonable to me.

What are your feelings on the Flying Ford Anglia problem?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

At Flourish and Blotts

So here's the thing about rereading Harry Potter, I know what's going to happen. Okay, that's obvious, but knowing what's going to happen means that I have favorite bits and ummm...un-favorite bits. Now, usually when I reread the series I zoom through all 7 books in about 2 weeks, so if I'm at an un-favorite part, I know that I'll be getting to a favorite part soon. When you're only reading a chapter at a time, then you know that the un-favorite part (like, you know, all of Chamber of Secrets) is going to last a while. It's making it a bit difficult. This was my 3rd attempt at this chapter since my last post and I finally made it all the way through.

Everyone receives their Hogwarts letters and a trip to Diagon Alley is quickly planned. Harry is "taught" how to use floo powder, but he has some problems and ends up at what is obviously a Dark Wizard shop. This is made even more clear when Malfoy and his dad show up to sell some of their goods. Harry eventually makes it out to the street where Hagrid finds him and guides him back to Diagon Alley. They soon find Hermione and the Weasleys. Shopping is done, ending with a trip to Flourish and Blotts, where Lockhart is signing his book. He notices Harry and pulls him up for a photo, announcing that he will be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts that year. After escaping, he and Ginny end up in an altercation with Malfoy, which culminates in a fist fight between Lucius Malfoy and Arthur Weasley.

Basically I find this chapter pretty boring. I know there's lots of stuff that comes up later in the series - the Hand of Glory, the Vanishing Cabinet, Harry teaching Mr. Weasley about telephones - but it's done in a way that feels pretty tedious by the umpteenth read (conservative estimate on how many times I've actually read this book: 8). Anyway, because of all that, I'm going to write a rambling post about the Floo Network.

It's stupid. Okay, it's a cheap and easy way for families to travel, except, you don't seem to be able to have more than one person go at a time. Obviously when the kids are really young you must be able to travel together because you couldn't have an infant traveling alone, but at what age do kids start to travel by themselves. Awfully young it would seem. How safe is that? Harry proves just how easy it is to get lost. How many kids do you think get lost in the floo system every year. Okay, sure. All the fireplaces go to other wizards, who could likely help a lost child get where they need to be, but not all wizards are good people. Imagine a child younger or stupider than Harry ending up at Borgin and Burkes!

Of course, the Floo Network does have it's uses, the whole head in the fireplace method of communication is pretty freaking cool, but as a method of family travel, I think it falls far short. My family would be taking the Knight Bus instead.

Not as long and rambley as I had intended, but my dinner smells done and I'm hungry. Share your thoughts in the comments below.