Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aunt Marge's Big Mistake

At breakfast on Harry's birthday Harry and the Dursley's see a news story about an escaped prisoner by the name of Black. Harry then finds out that Vernon's sister, "Aunt" Marge is coming to stay for a week and that he'll have to pretend to be "normal" and attend St. Brutus' something or other. Harry uses this to blackmail Uncle Vernon into signing his Hogsmeade permission slip (if Harry behaves himself). Marge shows up and is more horrible than Vernon, Petunia and Dudley, which is amazing. Eventually, she ticks Harry off so much that he accidentally turns her into a human balloon. While the rest of the family is distracted, Harry grabs his stuff. After a final exchange with Uncle Vernon, Harry heads off into the night...

While in some ways, this could be a good opportunity to talk about the Trace again, there will be better ones in the future, so just know that this is another chapter that makes my head hurt the the wacky Trace rules.

A few years ago, I ran a church book club where we talked about the theological and biblical implications of Harry Potter. I'm someone who likes to get both sides of an issue, so I read both pro-Potter books and anti-Potter books. The guy who wrote one of the anti-Potter books seemed not to have read the books at all. He had all kinds of specious arguments that were easily refutable by anyway with the reading comprehension level of an 8-year-old. For some reason, it was his arguments regarding this book that really stuck in my mind, and this chapter was one of the biggest. You see, the author had a big problem with all the cursing in the books. You know, like when it says "Ron cursed" and when they call people "gits", which he had to look up. His biggest problem though was with the word "bitch" in this chapter, when Aunt Marge says, "You see it all the time with dogs. If there's something wrong with the bitch, there'll be something wrong with the pup." This argument drove me mad! Apparently, he could take the time to look up the word "git" but not the time to look up the word "bitch" and see that it was being used correctly. He completely lost me at that point. If anything, I would argue that seeing the correct usage of a word that has been co-opted to be insulting and degrading is a positive thing for children, giving parents a wonderful chance to teach their children about words and context.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Have you ever read a "review" or critique of a book or movie and wondered if the author had actually read or watched what they were talking about?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Owl Post

Hooray! Chamber of Secrets is finally over and we can move on to what I think is the best of the "non-death" books (by which of course I mean no one dies).

Harry's home for the holidays and apparently thinking about his life story while he does his homework, because, you know, who doesn't? He's able to ponder (and whine) a little more when he realizes it's his birthday, but before he can get too self-pitying, a bunch of owls arrive with gifts and letters. What a great opportunity to think about his past again! He gets a sneakoscope from Ron, who's in Egypt with his family, a broom-servicing kit from Hermione who's in France with her family, a biting book from Hagrid who's probably at Hogwarts, and an uncomfortable moment with his uncle from the Hogwarts administrators. All-in-all, a pretty great birthday.

I've already talked about how boring these recap chapters are, so I'm not going to do that again. Instead I'm going to talk about wizarding forms of communication. I've touched on related subjects in the past, like why isn't there a wizard internet and how floo powder is a pretty stupid way to travel, but we haven't really looked at the wizarding community's communication methods (or lack thereof).

Ron's phone call got me thinking about the fact that the wizarding methods for instantaneous communication are just not good. Here in the muggle world, we've got phones (cell, home, business), fax, email/IM, texting, etc. Basically, we're pretty much wired up (or are we now wirelessed up?). Sure these take money, and not everyone can afford such luxuries, but the vast majority of the Western world at least is reachable 24/7. (I'm not because I never remember to bring my cell phone with me anywhere, but that's not what we're talking about right now.)

Weirdly, the wizarding world doesn't really have anything comparable. Sure they have ways of instantaneous communication, but none of them are as accessible. Take the whole shoving your head in the fire using floo powder thing, if you're nowhere near a fireplace (and the fireplace has to be connected to the floo network) this method of communication is out. I can hear you thinking, "yeah, but if you don't have your phone on you, that method of communication is out" which is true, the difference being that there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a "mobile fireplace", basically making this like having a home phone. Then again, this is the early 1990's, perhaps they'd have something like that now. (Again, I should totally be a wizard inventor!)

The only other instantaneous method of communication I can think of is the patronus messenger. The way I understand the books, not everyone can do a patronus, and I would think endowing your patronus with the ability to speak would be even more difficult. Obviously, this method is not going to be for everyone.

It's no wonder Ron screwed up the phone call so badly! You'd think people who could do magic could come up with a quicker, easier, and more accessible way to get in touch with each other!

What do you think? Did I miss any methods from the books?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dobby's Reward

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are in McGongall's office and are overcome by emotion upon seeing Ginny. Dumbledore is there too, smiling away. Harry tells them the whole story, somehow managing to leave Ginny and the diary out of it until he got to his defeat of the Basilisk. Dumbledore saves the day, asking how Voldemort had enchanted Ginny. Harry explains the diary, the Weasley's freak out and Dumbledore sends them for hot chocolate and tells McGonagall to order up a feast. He then awards Harry and Ron 400 house points and asks Ron to take Lockhart up to the hospital wing. He and Harry have another of their seemingly innocuous end-of-the-book-chats-that-will-end-up-being-one-of-the-most-important-plot-points-of-the-whole-series until Lucius Malfoy shows up (with Dobby) all pissy about Dumbledore coming back. Dumbledore and Harry tell Malfoy they know he set Ginny up and Malfoy storms off in a huff (nothing like a good huff to maintain one's dignity). Harry tricks Malfoy into freeing Dobby, who puts a magical smackdown on Malfoy. All the petrified people/cats/ghosts are healed, Hagrid is released from Azkaban, finals are canceled and the feast lasts all night. A month later they find themselves on the Hogwarts Express. Harry gives Ron and Hermione his phone number and heads off with the Dursleys.

Obviously the most important part of this chapter is Dumbledore and Harry's talk. There discussion of the differences and similarities between Harry and Voldemort are pivotal to Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore's explanation that a part of Voldemort is in Harry, well in hindsight it all seems kind of obvious where its leading doesn't it?

So, we're done with my least favorite book of the series. Monday we'll start on Prisoner of Azkaban!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Heir of Slytherin

Upon entering the Chamber of Secrets, Harry finds Ginny unconscious and unwakeable. (Hmm...spell check doesn't like that...un-wake-up-able? Better, now it just doesn't like "un".) Then Tom Riddle shows up and tells him not to bother trying to wake her up. Harry's a bit weirded out by the glowing 66-year-old who looks like a teenager and says he's a memory, but not quite enough. (I'm thinking there's some sort of spell at the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets that make you monumentally stupid if you're not the Heir of Slytherin.) Harry and Tom have a nice little chat about how Tom's evil and un-name-able and stuff and then Tom bad mouths Dumbledore. Well, he's not getting away with that! "He's not as gone as you might think!" Harry says. (that'll show him!) Well, with that kind of support, what could Dumbledore do but send a bird and a hat to help. Tom, understandably, finds this pretty hilarious and calls on the Basilisk to finish Harry off, but it turns out Dumbledore might just know what he's doing after all. Fawkes blinds the Basilisk and the hats exports a sword onto Harry's head, allowing him to kill the Basilisk. Unfortunately, the stupidity spell is still in effect and Harry manages to stab himself with a poisonous fang in the the process. Riddle taunts him as he dies, but Fawkes cries on the wound and heals him (pretty sure he heals the stupidity spell here too). Harry uses the Basilisk fang to stab the diary and Riddle fades or dies or whatever you want to call it. Ginny wakes up, the two of them join Ron and Lockhart and Fawkes flies them back to the bathroom and leads them to McGonagall's office...

This is obviously an important chapter in the canon of Harry Potter. We find out that Tom Marvolo Riddle is Lord Voldemort (and that he writes word jumbles!). We find out Phoenixes sing. We find out Moaning Myrtle has a crush on Harry. We learn Lockhart's completely lost his memory. And we learn that books can die.

In all seriousness, obviously this is a pivotal chapter in the series. Though we don't yet know it, we've just seen the first horcrux destroyed and plot-wise, that's about as important as you get. This is of course Rowling's true brilliance as a story-teller. She gives us a reasonably exciting climax, brings a large number of questions from earlier in the book to an answer and generally delivers a satisfying conclusion to the story (with the denouement to come of course) all while quietly laying the ground work for the last two books and the entire climax of the series. How many of us truly thought the diary would ever come up again except in passing? I know I didn't. It's these hidden set-ups and clues that keep us reading these books over and over.

I feel like I just petered out there, but I can't get the rest of the thoughts in my head to form coherent phrases. Perhaps someone else will have something to say about this chapter!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Chamber of Secrets

Harry and Ron had no idea how they were going to get to talk to Moaning Myrtle until Lockhart gave them the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately, just before they reached her bathroom, McGonagall found them. Harry told her they wanted to see Hermione and tell her that the mandrakes would be ready that night. McGonagall got a bit emotional and told them to tell Madam Pomfrey she said it was okay. At Hermione's bedside, Harry noticed a piece of paper clutched in her hand. Upon extraction, the boys saw that it was a description of a Basilisk and everything fell into place. Between Hermione's clues and Aragog's hints, they realized that the monster was a Basilisk and the Chamber of Secrets must open into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom! They headed straight to the staff room to tell McGonagall, but before they could it was announced that Ginny had been taken by the monster into the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry and Ron eventually determine to tell Lockhart, who is suppose to be getting ready to mount a rescue, what they know, but when they reach his office they find him packing. It turns out none of his stories actually happened to him, he'd been stealing the stories from other witches and wizards and then erasing their memories. He's about to erase their memories as well, but they disarm him and take him to Moaning Myrtle. Upon request, she tells them the story of how and where she died. They find the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets and the three of them head in. Lockhart steals Ron's wand and attempts a memory charm, but it backfires, causing a cave-in and the loss of his own memory. With Ron and Lockhart trapped by the entrance, Harry moves ahead alone...

I have to start out by saying how much I LOVE that all the other teachers despise Lockhart as much as Harry and Ron do. It's a bit of a relief to know none of the staff witches fell for his "winning" smile.

As we know Hogwarts was founded "over one thousand years ago". At that time, indoor plumbing wasn't exactly available, so how exactly did Salazar Slytherin manage to build the entrance in the bathroom?

Imaginary Reader: The magical world is different from our world.

Me: Okay, true. Still it seems a bit weird that they're using candles still but have had plumbing for hundreds of years.

Imaginary Reader: Okay, so the room used to be something else.

Me: So, how did the etching of the snake get on the sink? Slytherin was the only one who knew where the entrance was, and was probably dead by the late 19th century, not having a Sorceror's Stone and all.

Imaginary Reader: ....magic?

Me: *sigh* I suppose that's what we're stuck with, but I don't like it.

As you can see, I've resorted to having conversations with myself, but if you leave me comments I can have conversations with you instead! Consider subscribing to my comment RSS feed! I've also added buttons so now you can share your favorite posts in a variety of web-by ways!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We're getting to the end now, if I blog on Saturday I'll finish this week! This being my least favorite book in the series, I'm really looking forward to finishing up! This chapter, at least, is pretty straight forward!

Harry and Ron spend some time pondering Dumbledore and Hagrid's last statements. While their lost as to Dumbldore's meaning, Hagrid's "follow the spiders" is quite clear, they just can't seem to find any. Finally, Harry spots a couple spiders heading toward the Forbidden Forest, and the boys decide to follow them that night. They get Fang and head into the forest, following the path of the spiders until they come across Mr. Weasley's car, which has "gone wild". As they discuss this interesting turn of events, they're seized by giant spiders and brought to Aragog, the patriarch of the giant spider clan. He tells them he is not the monster in the Chamber (obviously, as he's not in a chamber), that the girl who died was killed in a bathroom he never saw, and that while he knows what is in the Chamber, he will not say its name, it is his enemy. Then he politely invites the boys to stay for dinner...okay, as dinner and the car swoops in to rescue them. When they get back to the dormitory, Harry realizes that the girl who died might just be Moaning Myrtle.

I'm now going to once again prove my extreme nerdiness* via math.

Math? What are you talking about? Are you going to count spider legs or something?

No, of course not, we have no idea how many spiders there are. Silly fictional reader of my blog! We're going to count Hogwarts staff. There are 12 classes offered at Hogwarts and therefore 12 teachers. There are 6 other staff members for a total of 18 adults. However, at this point in time, both Hagrid and Dumbledore are gone, so 16 adults. Even if you exclude N.E.W.T. students and O.W.L. courses, there are not enough adults to ensure that every class is escorted everywhere. When Snape escorts the Gryffindor second years to Herbology, who is escorting the Slytherins to their next class? And then when Sprout escorts the Gryffindors to Defense Against the Dark Arts, who is escorting the Hufflepuffs to their next class? For a while I argued (with myself) that the teacher for their next class must come get them, but that doesn't work because there still simply aren't enough staff! Perhaps Prefects and the Head Boy and Head Girl assume escorting duties, but then how do they (the N.E.W.T. students in particular) get to their next class? It simply doesn't add up.

In the end of course, none of that is all that important. It's not a key plot point and it gets the point of the terror the school is in across. At the same time, I can't help the way my brain works, and it does the math every time. Do you have any of these reading idiosychrasies? Something you know doesn't really matter but that you can't help but find annoying when it happens? Share your thoughts in the comments!

*Spell check does not like the word "nerdiness".

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cornelius Fudge

Okay, first of all, because I'm a big geek and I'd like to think my readers are as well, you much watch this Star Wars themed Improv Everywhere stunt if you haven't already, I'll wait.

*Dum Dum Dum Dum da-dum, da da-dum*

Done? On with the plot then.

Harry, Ron and Hermione spend a bunch of time discussing what Harry saw in the diary and end up deciding they'll ask Hagrid about it if there's another attack. Meanwhile they pick new classes for their 3rd year and Quiddich practice again picks up for Harry. Four months go by with no new attack and people start to feel safe again. Then, on the morning of the Gryffindor v. Hufflepuff game, Harry hears the murderous voice again. Hermione rushes off without much of an explanation, and the boys head down to the pitch. Before the game can get started though, Professor McGonagall shows up, cancelling the match and telling the students to return to their Houses. She then takes Harry and Ron to the hospital wing, where they discover Hermione and another girl have been petrified. Not knowing what else to do, the boys use Harry's invisibility cloak that night to go see Hagrid, intending to ask him about the monster, but before they can, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge arrives to arrest Hagrid for no good reason and Lucious Malfoy tops off the best day ever by bringing by a suspension order for Dumbledore. Dumbledore leaves with a few enigmatic words surreptitiously directed toward where Harry and Ron stand hidden in the corner and Hagrid follows suit with a slightly more awkward, but equally enigmatic admonishment to follow the spiders...and feed Fang.

In this chapter we are introduced to another of Rowling's overall themes, politics and government. Let's face it, the politicians and many of the government officials we meet throughout the series are...well...jerks to put it mildly. In his very first introduction to us, Fudge is shown very clearly covering his own ass. He knows he doesn't have a leg to stand on when he comes to take Hagrid to Azkaban, but he "must be seen to be doing something". You can't get much more political than that can you? Rowling's opinion of politicians becomes more clear in future books, but we can already see that perhaps the Ministry of Magic isn't as amazing as it seemed when we first heard about it (remember how interested Harry was upon finding out there was such a thing on his boat trip with Hagrid?) I'm sure I'll have much more to say on this subject in future books. For now, tell me what you think about Fudge's introduction? Do you dislike him from the start, or are you willing to give him a chance at redemption?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Very Secret Diary

Harry and Ron visit Hermione everyday of the month she spends in the hospital. As the head back from one of these trips, they hear Filch making a commotion and discover the hallway where Mrs. Norris was attacked has flooded. They head into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, who is upset because someone threw a book at her, an apparently blank, 50-year-old diary, which Harry decides to keep. When Hermione is discharged, they tell her about the diary and she, like Harry, wonders if it might have something to do with the last time the Chamber of Secrets was opened. Try as she might though, she can't get the diary to reveal what may be written in it.

A couple weeks later, Lockhart surprises the school with a Valentine's treat that includes dwarfs dressed as cupid to pass out valentines. One such dwarf finds Harry that afternoon and in his haste to get away, Harry's bag is ripped, spilling it's contents onto the floor. An ink bottle breaks and soaks everything, but the diary appears to be unharmed. That night in his room, Harry opens the diary and begins to write. The diary writes back. The owner of the diary, T.M. Riddle says he caught the person who opened the Chamber last time and takes Harry on a journey into his memory of catching none other than Hagrid with a monster!

There's not really much to say about this chapter. There are a lot of consequences to the events that occur here, but I'll be talking about those as we get to them in the next couple chapters. Also my bathroom flooded this morning while I was away (a water main break) and when I came back I discovered water stains on my bedroom ceiling and they property managers finally showed up to do something about it, so I'm going to see if they need me and if not I'm going to leave while they look into it. Really feeling for Filch with the flooded bathroom situation right now.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Polyjuice Potion

Left alone to wait for Dumbledore, Harry looks around the office. He puts on the Sorting Hat, who again affirms his assertion that Harry could have done well in Slytherin, but Harry cuts him short before he can finish his thought. Harry then notices Fawkes, who unfortunately bursts into flames, thoroughly freaking Harry out just as Dumbledore enters. Dumbledore explains about phoenixes and informs Harry he doesn't believe Harry to be the culprit (because he already knows who it is, of course) and then asks Harry if there's anything he should know, to which Harry answers no.

The Christmas holidays arrive and the trio put their plan to trap Malfoy into action. After Christmas dinner, the boys trick Crabbe and Goyle into taking a sleeping draught and steal a bit of their hair. They then join Hermione in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom and they all take the potion. The boys transform to look just like Crabbe and Goyle, but Hermione refuses to come out of her stall, so the boys head out to find the Slytherin common room on their own. As luck would have it, Malfoy finds them and takes to the common room, where they discover, much to their chagrin, that Malfoy has no idea who's opening the Chamber of Secrets. At the end of the hour they return to the bathroom, disheartened at finding they're no closer to the culprit, though at least Malfoy let slip some information Ron will be able to pass on to his dad about Lucius. They're anxious to tell Hermione what they learned, but discover that Hermione has accidentally changed into a cat and they hurried her off to the hospital wing.

Here's what I don't get about the Polyjuice Plan, say Malfoy had confessed, what exactly were they going to do about it? Several times in this chapter it's implied that when Malfoy confesses, everything will be resolved and he'll be in trouble. So the plan is to get the confession, then go tell Dumbledore or McGonagall that they had fraudulently gotten a dangerous book out of the Restricted Section, stolen potion ingredients, rendered two boy unconscious, stole their hair and shoes and locked them in a closet, taken an illicit potion and then coerced a confession out of Malfoy? It would then, of course, turn into a case of he said, they said and let's face it, the rivalry between Harry and Malfoy has certainly not gone unnoticed by the teachers, so are they really going to take the trio's word for it? I suppose they could dose everyone with Veritaserum to ferret out the truth, but still I imagine the trio would have all gotten in quite a lot of trouble as well. I suppose one could make an argument that the punishment would be worth it if the attacks stopped, but I still question whether or not any of them had fully thought out the consequences of their plan (obviously not or Hermione wouldn't have turned into a cat).

As always, your comments are appreciated!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Dueling Club

Well, I've had a crazy few weeks and I'm so sorry that this blog fell by the wayside during them. The good news is that the rest of my summer is looking pretty tame, so I'm hoping to be back to a regular schedule now, though I reserve the right to skip the occasional blog when there's a bad thunderstorm! Now, down to business.

Harry wakes in the Hospital Wing with his bones fully regrown and heads out to find Hermione and Ron, who, as it happens, are in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Having heard about Colin, they've decided to move forward on the Polyjuice Potion and their plan is soon set in motion. Malfoy is staying at Hogwarts over Christmas, and they decide this will be the perfect time to interrogate him. First though, they need some ingredients from Snape's store cupboard. Harry creates a diversion by throwing one of the twins' fireworks into Goyle's potion and Hermione slips into Snape's office and retrieves what they need.

While the potion bubbles away in the bathroom for a couple weeks, notices are posted that there will be a Dueling Club at Hogwarts. Half the school turn out for the first lesson to find Lockhart and Snape will be teaching them. After a demonstration wherein Lockhart looks like a buffoon, the students are separated into pairs to practice disarming. Understandably, this turns into a jinxing free-for-all. Lockhart decides he should teach them how to block spells and choose Malfoy and Harry to demonstrate it this time. Malfoy sends a snake after Harry, who, thanks to Lockhart's "instructions" has no idea what to do to block the spell does the only thing he can think of and yells at the snake to stop, which much to his surprise, the snake does. Strangely, this seems to set off an epidemic of whispers from the watching students and strange looks from the teachers as Ron and Hermione pull Harry out of the class.

Harry soon learns that he was speaking Parsel-Tongue, a rare ability he shares with Salazar Slytherin. The next day Harry finds out that many of his classmates believe him to be the Heir of Slytherin, a misconception which is not helped by Harry's discovery of two more petrified bodies, Justin Finch-Fletchley and Nearly-Headless Nick. It's time for a visit to the headmaster...

For such a long chapter, there's not really much that actually happens, just set up for future chapters mostly. We are reminded about the Sorting Hat considering Slytherin for Harry, and the Polyjuice plan progresses, but to me the most striking thing happens during Dueling Club; Snape, however inadvertently, teaches Harry expelliarmus.

What does it mean that it is Snape, Harry's greatest nemesis (I'm open to debate on this point) is the one who first uses expelliarmus in the series? We know it soon becomes Harry's go-to spell. He'll use it against Lockhart in just a few chapters, and then in every subsequent book at the most crucial moments. It becomes his signature to the point that it almost gets him killed in Deathly Hallows. What is it about this spell at this moment, that Harry keys into? Would it have become such a huge part of Harry's spell-casting if he had learned it in a classroom? If it had been Lockhart who had cast it? I have no answers, but I would love to hear if anyone else has any ideas in the comments.