Monday, January 7, 2019

#YearofHarryPotter: Philosopher's Stone, Chapters 1-4

This year, I am reading through the entire Harry Potter series using a schedule I made to make the books last the entire year. I have only read the first three books one time each (back around 2000 or 2001 sometime) and I read the other books a couple of times each,  but always quickly, either to absorb the plot or to refresh my memory before the release of a new book or movie. So this time, I'm taking it slow, and trying to just appreciate how the series works as a whole.

As I read, I've decided to blog my reactions to each week's segment of the series. If you have not read the series in its entirety, I recommend not reading my commentary, as I will be including spoilers not just for the current book, but for threads of the larger story that might be foreshadowed by the current book, or details which make more sense as a second-time reader that might not have the same significance the first time through. So, beware spoilers beyond this point.

This past week's assignment was the first four chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: "The Boy Who Lived," "The Vanishing Glass," "The Letters from No One," and "The Keeper of the Keys." (I am reading the original UK editions, thus the use of the UK book title.) These chapters begin on the night Harry's parents are killed, and they take us through Harry's excursion to the zoo where he communicates with the boa constrictor, the flood of Hogwarts letters that take over his aunt and uncle's house on Privet Drive, and the arrival of Hagrid and his announcement that Harry is a wizard.

Being back in this universe is a lot of fun. It was great to meet Dumbledore and Hagrid for the first time all over again, and to see how Rowling's first descriptions of them really do match up with the personalities that reveal themselves as the series goes on. I was also surprised by how much of an assertive personality Harry himself has. I've been picturing little Daniel Radcliffe in my mind when I think of eleven-year-old Harry, but there is a spark in this character on the page that I don't really remember feeling from him during my first reading, and that I'm not sure is quite captured in the first movie.

The other thing I really appreciate - and one of the reasons I wanted to do this re-reading project - is the little details that appear in these early moments of the series that will come into play in a much larger way in later volumes. I did remember that Hagrid drove Harry to Privet Drive on Sirius Black's motorcycle, but I don't think I ever realized that Mrs. Figg, who we later come to know is a squib and a member of the Order of the Phoenix, was in this first book, ostensibly as the crazy cat lady down the street that sometimes looks after Harry when the Dursleys don't want to take him out with them. I guess we don't know for sure whether Rowling intended her to be a member of the Order from the beginning, but it sure adds a layer to the story to realize that someone was in place looking after him during the years of his separation from the wizarding community.

Finally, I really enjoyed the scene where Hagrid realizes the Dursleys have told Harry nothing at all about his magical background. It's the perfect way to get out all the details without boring the reader with a huge dump of exposition, and allows Rowling to give us a few different sides of Hagrid that present the depth of his character. We see him as the benevolent protector of Harry, the indignant devotee of Dumbledore, and the umbrella-wielding threat to the repugnant Dursleys. I can't wait to follow Hagrid and Harry to Diagon Alley this week!

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