Monday, January 14, 2019

#YearofHarryPotter: Philosopher's Stone, Chapters 5-8

For week two of the Year of Harry Potter, I read chapters 5 through 8 in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: "Diagon Alley," "The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters," "The Sorting Hat," and "The Potions Master." (Spoilers ahead. Beware.)

I was struck once again by the emotions of the adults of the wizarding world as young Harry returns to them after years of being exiled to the Dursleys' house. Knowing all the backstory that is revealed throughout the series makes the moment in the Leaky Cauldron when everyone falls silent in recognition of Harry's arrival especially poignant. I also felt a twinge of sadness when Harry questions why Snape hates him, and Hagrid seems to know the reason but doesn't say. It pleases me greatly to see how much this book is already rewarding a second reading only 100 pages in.

These chapters also introduce many of my favorite characters of the series, especially the Weasleys, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. There are tons of characters in general in these chapters, too, but Rowling does a really nice job of making the number of new names feel manageable. It probably helps that I've heard the names of the other first-years many times in the later books, and in the movies, but even so, she handles the sudden character population explosion really well.

I also found myself feeling a bit surprised that Draco is such a blatantly villainous character. I think fans of the series have spoken of him so often as a misunderstood or ambiguous character that I began to think of him that way myself, but in the first descriptions of his behavior, it's clear we're not meant to like him, and that he is not going to be a force for good within the story. And J.K. Rowling herself has written that she "often had cause to remark on how unnerved I have been by the number of girls who fell for this particular fictional character" and that "Draco was not concealing a heart of gold under all that sneering and prejudice and that no, he and Harry were not destined to end up best friends." This is another reason to re-read this series: to separate canon from fan theory.

Finally, I laughed out loud at how completely lame the Hogwarts school song is. I do like Dumbledore's whimsical suggestion that every student pick his own tune and sing the words along with it, but the words themselves are just ridiculous. It begins with "Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts," and just devolves from there. I'll have to double-check when I get to Order of the Phoenix, but if memory serves, "Weasley is Our King" has better lyrics.

I'll be back next week with my thoughts on the next four chapters, which will focus on dueling, Halloween, Quidditch, and the Mirror of Erised.

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