Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Sorting Hat

So after a week of packing, toting, and sweating, I'm all moved in to my new place, mostly unpacked and ready to dive back into Harry Potter. Interestingly, Harry has just arrived at his new home as well, so we have a little something in common at the moment.

This chapter is a great example of Rowling's ability to make something seem innocuous or funny when in fact she's setting up the future of the story. I've found four examples, though each pays off to varying degrees. As always, feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say, especially if you share your thoughts in the comments!

Ghosts: Though the ghosts initially seem as though they're just a fun way to highlight the difference between Harry's new world and his old world, in subsequent books they become integral to the plot. Harry and Sir Nicholas will begin to build a rapport in Chamber of Secrets that pays off in Order of the Phoenix. Even more than that, it's a ghost that helps Harry to an important clue in his search for Horcruxes in Deathly Hallows. To go from such a seemingly silly introduction, complete with Nick pulling off his head (as much as is possible) to the story the Grey Lady tells Harry shows the care of planning Rowling devoted to the series.

The Sorting Hat: Initially the Sorting Hat seemed to have the unenviable job of exposition. When I first read this chapter, I know I thought the Sorting Hat was a mildly clever device for telling us what we needed to know about each house and getting everyone into their houses with a minimum of fuss. Of course, in the next book, the Sorting Hat comes to Harry's rescue and helps to save his and Ginny's lives. Is Rowling done with the hat after that? No! She continues to use him in his role as exposition and conscious. Where I think Rowling is particularly clever however, is how she withholds the Sorting Ceremony from the reader for the next two books, sure it saves her from having to write a new song every year, but it keeps us interested when Harry does finally make it to another ceremony in Goblet of Fire, we're just as surprised as Harry to discover that the hat has a new song every year and thus far more likely to pay attention in Order of the Phoenix when the hat gives its warning. Had we had time to get used to the Sorting Hat's songs, we may not have been as attentive to his new style.

Of course we've seen and heard about Harry's scar before this point, but it's never hurt him before. We all have scars, do they ever hurt? No, not really, which is what makes Harry's scar having any physical effect on him at all so interesting. As we delve deeper into the series, there'll be a lot more discussion about his scar, so I won't go too in depth here, but I think it's safe to say that Harry's scar hurting and the meaning behind the pain or lack of it, is a major plot point throughout the series.

Dreams: Here we also get Harry's first semi-prophetic dream. They'll get far more accurate and realistic as we move through the series and Harry will begin to remember them, but here we get a little taster of what's to come.

Those are my four, arguments could be made that some are more important than others, but they'll all make multiple appearances over the next 7 years.

One last thing, I'm hoping someone (or multiple someones) will help me come up with fun and/or plausible explanations for why the Sorting Hat took so long with Seamus, "Sometimes, Harry noticed, the hat shouted out the house at one, but at others it took a little while to decide. 'Finnigan, Seamus,' the sand-haired boy next to Harry in the line, sat on the stool for almost a whole minute before the hat declared him a Gryffindor." Seamus might be the Gryffindor boy in Harry's year we know the least about, I thought it might be fun to try and figure out what took the hat so long. Did he, like Harry and Hermione, have other character traits that would have made him equally well-suited for other houses, or was his level of bravery in question? I have a few theories, but I'd love to hear what my readers think!

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Brief Hiatus

Hey all, it's moving week so I probably won't be posting at all, I'll be back on Monday the 29th though and I may just post a few chapters that day, depending on how early the cable guy gets there to hook up my internet! I hope you'll join me then.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters

Chapters on the Hogwarts Express are some of my favorites in the series (with the notable exception of Half Blood Prince, because I think Harry's pretty much a complete moron in that one) and this one is probably top 3 all-time Hogwarts Express chapters. There are a lot of reasons to love this chapter, not the least of which is the introduction of the Weasleys, so expect some serious Weasley love to come as we dive in.

First, a quick, nit picky dialogue thing. How stupid would Mrs. Weasley have to be not to know the platform? "Now, what's the platform number?" There's no indication throughout the series that it's ever been anything different. It's still platform 9 3/4 in the epilogue. Why wouldn't Mrs. Weasley, a graduate of Hogwarts herself who has been dropping children off at the station every year for at least the previous 9 (i.e. since 1982 at the latest) know what the bloody platform was?! I'm open to your suggestions.

This chapter presents a microcosm of the evolution of my undying love for Fred and George. While my twin-love continued to grow throughout the series, it definitely started here. When Fred fools his mother into thinking he's George and then immediately tells her he's not, you're not sure if he's a bit of a jerk, or if he's to be the comic relief. When George calls Fred over to help Harry get his trunk in, you become certain they're not jerks and will therefore probably be comic relief. When they feign surprise that Percy is a prefect, you know they're going to be the comic relief. When they try to stop Ginny from crying by promising her letters and a toilet seat, you know they're comic relief with a heart and for me, that was enough to make me fall in love.

One of the reasons I love the Weasleys so much is they remind me of my own family. There weren't as many of us, and we were all girls, but we loved each other and generally liked spending time together. Sure we had fights, I'm sure my sisters would tell you that I had my Percy moments (as did at least one of them) but we were always family. I'll probably get into more of that as we spend time in the Burrow in future books, but I saw that family mentality in this chapter and identified with it immediately.

Lets talk sweets. Personally, I have never tried a Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean, I'm not a big jelly bean fan in the first place, throw in flavors like dirt and I'm going to have to say no thanks, but I have eaten and enjoyed several chocolate frogs. What I'm very excited for though, is my trip later this year to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, where I've heard they will have many of the other sweets listed in this chapter. I can't wait to try pumpkin pasties and chocolate cauldrons!

***Sudden random thought***
Ollivander's uses three different cores, phoenix feathers, unicorn hair and dragon heartstring. Does anyone else find it odd that two of those can be obtained fairly humanely and one has to be procured through the death of the donor? Are there vegan witches and wizards? What if a wand with a core of dragon heartstring chooses them? Would they go with a wand that won't work as well for them, or would they put aside their principles for the sake of their spell-casting? As a vegetarian myself, I would find myself in quite a moral dilemma! (Comments encouraged)

Its an eventful train ride to say the least; the boys almost get in a fight and are saved by the man who got Harry's parents killed and Ron meets his future wife, but for me the beauty of this chapter is in its seeming simplicity. We meet the cast of characters and learn a little bit more about the world we're about to immerse ourselves in. Our appetites have been whetted, and we're ready to see who answers Hagrid's knock.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Diagon Alley

This chapter is where Rowling starts really building her world. To this point, we've been in reasonably familiar locations, but we're about to fully immerse ourselves in the magical world, so that's what I'll be focusing on in this post, the differences and similarities between the wizarding world and ours. Who's excited? I know I am!

While it's been alluded to in previous chapters, we find out a little bit more about Owl Post. It turns out owls don't just deliver mail, but newspapers as well. We find out that they know when they need to be paid and how to go about making sure they don't get stiffed and at the end of the chapter we find out that owls can find the person they're supposed to deliver to with nothing more than a name. Basically, owls are pretty dang smart it turns out!

Hagrid tells Harry he flew to the island and Harry is certainly interested in the idea of flying. Now, exactly how Hagrid flew there is a mystery as we later find the wizards generally need a broom or some other enchanted item or magical creature to fly (unless you're Voldemort or Snape) and Hagrid in particular has to stick to Sirius' motorcycle. Now, if Hagrid used Sirius' motorcycle, how does he get it back? After he leaves Harry at the train, does he take the boat back over to the island and then take the motorcycle back? That would help explain how the Dursleys get back I suppose, but it seems like an awful lot of trouble.

It also turns out that wizards have their own form of government, the Ministry of Magic, who's main job, according to Hagrid, is to "keep it from Muggles that there's still witches an' wizards up an' down the country". This is really a simplified version of what the Ministry does and it's unclear as to whether Hagrid is trying to make it easy for the barely 11-year-old Harry to understand, or if that's what Hagrid thinks the Ministry does. We'll be getting more into the Ministry when we get to the later books.

The first place Harry and Hagrid go upon reaching Diagon Alley is Gringotts Wizard Bank, and its rife with important moments. We're told multiple times, in prose and in verse, that Gringotts would be impossible to rob, so that when later in the book we find that someone tried to do so that same day, we're duly impressed at the thief's daring. Brilliantly, Rowling lets us think she's played out the Gringotts angle, only to bring its impregnable qualities back to the forefront in Deathly Hallows. We also meet Griphook, and while it should be a rather glaring clue that he's the only Goblin that gets a name, I'll admit to being surprised when he turned up again later in the series. Gringotts also lets us learn that Hagrid wants a dragon, which becomes important soon, and we learn a bit about wizarding currency (and Rowling's apathy toward good math, 17 sickles to a galleon and 29 knuts to a sickle?! that's one messed up base scale! Not to mention, it really bugs me that earlier in the chapter a woman is complaining about the price of Dragon Livers at 17 sickles an ounce, THAT'S A GALLEON! No one prices something at 100 cents, it's a dollar!) Okay, so that's off my chest, moving on.

Next up Harry meets a boy we'll later learn is Draco Malfoy and discovers that there are unpleasant wizards just like Muggles. He also hears fun new words like "Quiddich", "Slytherin" and "Hufflepuff". Though he does ask Hagrid about them, we'll have to wait a bit longer to get much more than Quiddich is a sport and the other two are houses at Hogwarts.

Last thing Harry does is get his wand. He meets Mr. Ollivander, who it turns out is a pivotal character at the end of the series and learns that the "wand chooses the wizard" which may just be important as well. While all this set up is all very well and good, what I love about this chapter is finding out about people's wands. We hear that Lily's wand was made of willow and good for charms work (I don't have anything interesting about that) and that James' wand was mahogany and good for transfiguration (we know James was pretty good at Transfiguration, considering he and his buddies figured out how to become an animagus quite young, a truly tricky bit of Transfiguration). Hagrid's wand was oak, which we know are strong and tall, but it's Voldemort's that the most interesting, his wand was made of yew, a tree often found in graveyards, pretty ironic for a "man" who's greatest fear is death. The core of Voldemort's wand comes from Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes, which is interesting to consider as well. Then of course we find out that the wand Harry ends up with is Voldemort's wand's brother, I'm not going to talk about that right now though, because I'm pretty sure that comes up later.

Yep, pretty good chapter it turns out. On the surface its full of interesting tidbits and straight up fun (I really wish my banks vaults were a cart ride away), but when you look deeper, you find oodles of interesting clues about what's to come. What are some of your favorite places in Diagon Alley? Did I miss any big clues?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Keeper of the Keys

I'm moving! - Across the street! - To an apartment run by the same property management company I currently rent from! Why am I telling you this? Because my awesome property manager is going to give me the keys early and I'll have about two weeks to move my stuff, mostly after work and on weekends. Now, if the weather stays awesome, I might manage to retain enough energy to blog after moving all I can stand everyday, but if I don't, I don't want you to think I've forgotten you. We'll see how it goes. Anyway, speaking of life changing events, Harry's about to experience a doozy. Time to see who's at the door!

The door crashes to the floor and silhouetted in the doorway is a huge man. He comes in, makes himself comfortable, introduces himself as Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts, and proceeds to fill Harry in on the fact that there's magic, that he's a wizard, that his parents were killed by magic, and that he's headed to Hogwarts to study magic. Hagrid also gives Harry a birthday cake (his first (that he can remember)) and gives Dudley a pigs tail. The Dursleys all hide in the bedroom and Hagrid and Harry catch a few more z's before going shopping.

While in some respects, this could be considered a boring chapter, it's pretty much just a bunch of exposition after all, its so chock-full of hints, clues and foreshadowing, the observant reader will find themselves fascinated. I count no fewer than five important points in this short chapter.

1. Harry meets Hagrid. (duh) Hagrid not only tells Harry who and what he is, but he is the first adult Harry has ever known to treat him well. He stands up for Harry, answers his questions and shows Harry more respect than Harry's ever encountered before. Not surprisingly, the meeting creates an almost instantaneous bond between the two that will carry them straight through to the Forbidden Forest and the walk to Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows.

2. "Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but yeh've got yer mother's eyes." Hagrid's the first to say it, but we hear it from plenty of other people throughout the series. Observant readers quickly realized it had to mean something, and sure enough, this one, seemingly innocuous sentence, sets the stage for one of the most beautiful scenes in the series when Snape asks Harry to "Look at me".

3. Hagrid mentions the letter Dumbledore left. While it might not be as important as some of the other hints dropped in this chapter, we later discover that the letter Dumbledore left was not for Harry, but for Petunia, and that it was not the first time they had corresponded. That same letter may just be what later saves Harry's life at the beginning of Order of the Phoenix.

4. Speaking of Petunia, we start to see there's a little more to her than meets the eye. It's reasonably obvious the Vernon is against magic simply because he's an ass, but Petunia's vitriolic speech in which she calls her own sister a freak, could only come from a place of real emotion. We don't know yet what that emotion is, but we know there has to be more. I plan to talk a lot more about this in the future.

5. Hagrid tells Harry about Voldemort. Obviously this is a key bit of plot, for this book and the series as a whole. Before this moment, Harry thinks his parents dies in a a car crash and now he (and we) learn the truth...or as much of the truth as Hagrid knows. It's interesting to see how much Hagrid has guessed ("Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die.") and how much Hagrid got wrong ("You-Know-Who killed 'em. An' then - an' this is the real myst'ry of the thing - he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe he just liked killin' by then.) Regardless, the story Hagrid tells Harry is all Harry has to go on for the next four years in his battles with Voldemort.

One final thing this chapter brings up for me and that's the Trace. It seems obvious the Trace is being used to track Harry (how else would they know where he is?) but that brings up further questions as to how the Trace works. Is it attached to all wizards, or does it simply find magic? The way Voldemort modifies it in Deathly Hallows would imply the latter, but that would mean that Harry would have had to have (inadvertently) done magic in each of the places the Dursleys tried to hide, none of which is mentioned. Or is there some other, even creepier, big brother way of tracking wizards? If so, its either only for underage wizards, or Voldemort certainly would have used it in Deathly Hallows. Unless, perhaps there's some sort of self-destruct mode...

What do you think of my "important moments"? Would you add some? Do you disagree with me on any? What about the Trace? Does anyone else spend as much time trying to figure out how this stuff works as I do? I look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Letters from No One

Important decision to make today, does blogging "every day" mean on the weekends as well? I've decided that Saturdays, yes, Sundays, only if I feel like it. Decision made, moving on.

This is the chapter where we get to see Harry's sense of humor. Personally, I'm a big fan. In this chapter we get gems like:

"They stuff people's heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall," [Dudley] told Harry. "Want to come upstairs and practice?"
"No, thanks," said Harry. "The poor toilet's never had anything as horrible as your head down it - it might be sick."


"What's this?" he asked Aunt Petunia. Her lips tightened as they always did if he dared to ask a question.
"Your new school uniform," she said.
Harry looked in the bowl again.
"Oh," he said, "I didn't realize it had to be so wet."

What can I say, it makes me laugh.

In the next scene a mysterious letter arrives for Harry but before he can read it, Vernon grabs it out of his hands. Now, as I don't live in England, I'm not sure of the legality of reading someone else's mail there, but were this the U.S., it's a bit of a problem. Of course, since the next thing Vernon does is throw both Harry and Dudley bodily from the room, there's obviously some more serious issues happening at old number four. I have to wonder if one of the reasons Harry never got to watch much TV was the Dursley's worry that he might discover that he was being rather horribly abused and report them. I'd love to see them play that off with their friends and neighbors.

I generally find this chapter to be pretty boring (except, of course, for the excerpts above). The first read through it might have been interesting to read about all the ways "they" tried to get the letters to Harry, but by now, I just want to get to the good stuff, namely Hagrid and Diagon Alley. Thankfully, it's midnight and someone is knocking on the shack's door...

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Vanishing Glass

I almost missed another day, getting far too caught up in Wil Wheaton's Memories of the Future - Volume 1 to remember little Harry. (On a related note, I was inspired to create a new tag for my LibraryThing catalog: "geek porn" for which I have some very particular and yet nebulous criteria, so far only Wheaton's book and Russell T. Davies' The Writer's Tale qualify.) I've also got a couple Sam Smith Oatmeal Stouts in me now, which might make this post more interesting...or it might just make me sleepy after a long week.

So it's ten-years-later and Harry is living in the cupboard under the stairs, where he apparently rooms with a bunch of spiders. (I can't help but find it odd that uptight Petunia would allow any spiders in her house, even to torture Harry.) Oh, and it's Dudley's birthday. This is actually one of the (very few) scenes I prefer in the movie. "But last year - last year I had 37!", so much better than "That's two less than last year." particularly as the latter requires Dudley to do some rather quick math we he proves is all but impossible a paragraph later.

Harry's baby-sitter breaks her leg (does she really though? Is this addressed in Order of the Phoenix?) and Harry gets to go to the zoo with the family. Vernon tells Harry there better not be any funny business, which is a bit ridiculous, even for the Dursleys, but it turns out to be a pretty good way to tell us all the weird stuff that seems to happen around Harry, so we'll forgive it, and Harry proceeds to have a pretty good day (I have no idea what a Knickerbocker Glory is, (and I'm too lazy to look it up) but I'm pretty sure I want one). It's a good day until they go to the reptile house anyway, where Harry has a quick conversation with a snake before the glass on it's cage disappears and the snake escapes, thanking Harry on the way. Surely that snake thing won't come up again, right?

Harry is, of course, punished for the Great Snake Escape, even though there's no proof he had anything to do with it other than a traumatized boy mentioning that Harry was talking to the snake (no 10-year-old boy has ever done that before) but this gives Harry the opportunity to be retrospective and tell us about what he remembers of his parents' death (a lot of green light, sounds like a car crash to me alright) and that a bunch of weirdos do things like bow and wave and shake his hand (can't say I really blame Petunia for trying to avoid that, it's a bit creepy).

Changed the format a bit, thoughts?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Boy Who Lived

See, I told you there was no way I'd actually be able to blog everyday, although, to be honest yesterday's absence had more to do with the sudden panic that I wouldn't have anything of interest to say about the first chapter than any pressing business I had to get done. Unless of course you consider watching the "extras" disc of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince pressing.

Anyway, here's the plan as it currently exists in my head. I often find when I'm reading this series that I have thoughts I want to talk to fellow Potterheads about and then I forget them by the time I have the opportunity, so I'm going to have this post open as I read and if and when these thoughts come to me (no pressure brain) I'll share them with you. This of course means, that anything that comes after this sentence is nothing more than free-flowing, unedited ideas, make of it what you will.

The Dursleys think they're normal and if your definition of normal is boring, nosy, and mean, I guess they are. Mr. Dursley heads to work and notices a lot of strange people around, which he does not appreciate. At one point he hears a group of these strange people talking about the Potters and a child name Harry, could they be talking about his in-laws? Surely not. Later that night he hears about more strange goings on on the news.

While the Dursleys sleep that night, a strange man appears on the street. He uses a lighter to put out all the lights on the street and then heads toward number 4. A cat that's been hanging out on the wall by the Dursleys all day, turns into Professor McGonagall, who greets the man as Professor Dumbledore. They have a conversation that doesn't make a whole lot of sense at this point and are soon joined by a huge man on a flying motorcycle caring a baby. There's some more talk that doesn't quite make sense yet, and they leave the baby, with a lightning shaped scar on his forehead, on the Dursley's doorstep along with a note.

I'm a big fan of Mary Grandpre's illustrations, and I always like to take a second to look at the drawing on the cover page, in this case, of Hogwarts. Scholastic's website has all the illustrations in color, which is pretty cool to see.

I always find it jarring when I read that Aunt Petunia is blond. In most cases, I've been able to avoid having the actor from the movie become the character that lives in my head, but Fiona Shaw is so brilliant, that she's completely taken over the character for me.

Rowling's narrative style has noticeably changed since the first book. The last time I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I noticed on my last reread that this is the only book where we're given a perspective that is not Harry's when Harry is in the scene (it's during Quiddich, we'll get there) and just now I've noticed that Rowling directly references the fact that she is narrating a story: "When Mr. and Mrs. Dursley woke up on the dull, gray Tuesday our story starts..." I don't know why I find that interesting, but I do.

One of the things I miss most in the movies is cloaks and robes. Most of the adults manage to dress reasonably normally. The "robes" the girls wore to the Yuleball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (I'm going to start shortening the titles now, consider the "Harry Potter and the" part implied.) were dresses, pretty dresses, but definitely not robes.

We get the first hint at Rowling's knack for names with Jim McGuffin, who does exactly what a MacGuffin is supposed to do by forcing the plot to move along (in this case, making it so that Mr. Dursley has to mention the weirdness he's noticed).

Everyone knows that Rowling had a plan from the start and that there's a lot of set up in the earlier novels that pay off later. Even the first chapter is chock full of them: the mystery of just why the Dursleys hate the Potters so much, the Put-Outer, Voldemort's name, Dumbledore's letter to Petunia, Sirius' bike, and of course, the scar. All will come into play in the future in HUGE ways.

And now comes the hard part: ignoring the pull to keep reading, because once I get started with this series, it's hard to stop myself, even for sleep. I'm determined to do it slowly this time though, one chapter at a time.

Think I've said something stupid? Did I bring up something you've never thought of before (not really expecting that to have happened, but a girl can dream)? Please share your thoughts, I'd love for this to turn into a conversation and not stay a monologue.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rereading the Series....Again

I made it all the way to July 2001 without reading any Harry Potter books, then I went on vacation with my family and finished all the books I brought with me before the plane even landed. My sister had a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone with her and offered to lend it to me. I couldn't imagine going a week with nothing to read, so I accepted, and I was hooked. I finished all four books currently available within two weeks and joined the millions of others waiting for the next book to come out. I reread the series at least once a year, and I inevitably come up with new insights with each read. Does "insights" sound too pretentious? Maybe ideas or thoughts would be better. Anyway, I do participate in an online community that talks about the books, but I often forget what I was thinking by the time I login and get to the right thread, so I've been thinking about blogging my next reread for awhile.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to do this, and I don't expect to have thousands or even hundreds of people interested in what I have to say. I intend to have this blog open as I read and post as I go. If I do get readers, I hope they'll feel free to comment. Agree, disagree, add your own thoughts. I might occasionally even ask a question for discussion. I'll blog one chapter at a time and will attempt to blog at least one chapter a day, but as I do have a job and a life, there might be days I don't get to it. I can be sarcastic, thoughtful, moody, or jubilant on any given days and my posts are likely to reflect that. All posts are my own thoughts and are meant to be taken as pure opinion. Finally, please consider this my official spoiler notice: I've read all 7 books multiple times and I'm highly likely to refer to future events, so if you're just getting around to reading the books now, or you're only watching the movies (which will likely also be referenced, often disparagingly) consider yourself warned.

I think that takes care of the housekeeping. Not sure yet if I'll be reading tonight or not...Lost is on later after all!