Monday, September 20, 2010

Harry Potter Read-Thru 1-4

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J.K. Rowling

The Keeper of the Keys

Finally, the mystery of Harry is revealed.

Hagrid appears on the scene, literally busting down the door and waltzing on in. We receive our first full description of Hagrid, of his wild, giant appearance. Which, for the record, Robbie Coltrane is excellent as the choice to portray him.

But that is neither here nor there. This is about the books, after all.

Rowling has a delightful sense of the absurd in this scene. Very Serious Things are occurring--Harry's learning he's a wizard, that his parents and he are famous in the Wizarding world, and an evil wizard tried to kill him as a baby, not to mention why the Dursley's treat him as horribly as they do--and yet, there's also this underlying humor. The way the sofa sinks lower and lower every time Hagrid sits back down after scaring the Dursley's, how Hagrid keeps pulling out more and more random items from his over-sized pockets (sausages? a tea kettle? an owl?), and this giant of a man threatening the Dursleys with a battered, pink umbrella, are just a few examples of the humor in the scene.

It puts me in mind of the style of Monty Python.

Of course, I personally cannot help but feel a little sorry for Hagrid in this scene. While it's plain that Hagrid expected some resistance on the parts of Vernon and Petunia, he was ill-prepared for the complete lack of knowledge Harry had of the Wizarding world and his place in it.

Ten years have passed since Harry defeated Voldemort, and we're introduced to the general views on his defeat by Hagrid:
  1. Some believe he died. (Hagrid doubts this as he doesn't know if Voldemort "had enough human left in him to die.")
  2. He's still out there, hale and whole, bidin' his time and waiting to come back. (Hagrid also doubts this, because "People who was on his side came back ter ours. Some of 'em came outta kinda trances [first reference to Imperius!]. Don' reckon they could've done if he was comin' back.)
  3. That he's still out there, but he's lost all of his powers and is too weak to carry on. (Hagrid maintains this is the most commonly held view.)
This is important to remember in later books, when Harry announces that Voldemort has returned. Just remember it.

We also get an insight into just why the Dursley's have treated Harry the way they have. It's rooted not only in their desire to be "normal" and hide from the horrors of the Wizarding world, but also in Petunia's deep-rooted jealousy for Lily and her abilities. It is also one of the very few times we ever hear of Harry's grandparents. Possibly the only time.

Of note is also Vernon's acknowledgment of Harry's propensity for magic. Mr. Dursley makes a point to tell Harry: "I accept there's something strange about you, probably nothing a good beating wouldn't have cured..." The reason why I want to take a moment to point this out, is that on more than one occasion I've come across someone in the fandom who insists that if the Dursley's were abusing Harry, then they had to be beating him. This is not true--in many ways, verbal abuse is more long-lasting than physical, particularly when it happens at such a young age. As much as I thoroughly dislike the Dursleys, there's never any evidence that they ever physically abused Harry, and this statement and Harry's lack of derisive response to it tells me that while they loathed what Harry represented, they did not beat him.

*gets down off of her soap box*

Ahem, at the end of this chapter, we also receive our first clue as to certain things that will pop up in the next book--Hagrid's expulsion when he was a 3rd year. I point this out, because it shows that Rowling is capable of laying down foundations for future books/plot development... provided she actually knows that it will come up. But that's a rant that will appear in full form once we get to later books.

Overall, this is a good chapter--the pacing is good, we get a fair amount of exposition taken care of, and there's ample humor throughout the chapter. And, of course, Rowling continues to excel at making the reader visualize what she describes. Whatever her failings as a plotter or novelist, she is still an excellent story teller.

Next, we'll pick up with Harry's adventures in Diagon Alley, and the wonders of the Wizarding World.

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