The Boy Who Lived

I have to confess that I really love Chapter 1. I think last time I wrote about it, I may have said it reminded me in tone a bit of Tolkien’s opening to The Hobbit.

Actually, yes, I did.

In looking back, it appears that I wrote four consecutive blog posts about just this one chapter. In addition to the Hobbit comparison, I discussed the overwhelming presence of owls, drew up a  Chapter map (complete with explanation), and wrote another whole long post about Albus Dumbledore and sundry other issues. I really went “into the weeds” with this chapter seven years ago!

But in fairness, this brief introductory chapter accomplishes a lot. It sets up the conflict between the Dursleys and Harry and the recent and future conflicts between Harry and Voldemort, shows the secret world of the Wizards and its fear of being found out, introduces part of our main cast of Wizards, and hints at the recent war with Voldemort.

It’s a writing tour de force, and in it J.K. Rowling announces her presence on the literary stage.

The Power Dynamic

In terms of our broader themes, this chapter sets up various versions of power. We don’t know yet how it’s all going to play out, but we can clearly identify four power centers in the chapter:

Vernon Dursley – Vernon is a non-magical person who abuses power and people and gets “enraged” at anything that deviates from his conception of social norms (such as older people wearing weird attire). Yelling “at five different people” at work in the morning puts him in “a very good mood.” Yet after hearing rumors about the Potters from the “weirdos,” he shrinks into worry and insecurity. With just these small character details, Rowling establishes Vernon as an abuser who will soon be placed in the position of having to foster his “weirdo” nephew (Hint: This will not go well),  but she also establishes him as something of a paper tiger. Just put some pressure on him and watch him crumple.

Voldemort (a.k.a. “You-Know-Who”) – We don’t really meet Voldemort here, just hear about him. But from the conversation between Professor McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore, we find he is a magical person whom Wizards have feared for the past eleven years – feared so much that only Dumbledore will say his name. In fact, Voldemort murdered Harry’s parents the night before… and even tried to kill the boy. On a first read, this is where it gets confusing, because apparently trying to kill the boy made him disappear. Before the night he disappeared, Voldemort clearly possessed astounding powers, but used them to evil purpose. As the story progresses and he finds a way to return, his ill intent will thwart him over and over again. It’s almost like Rowling is saying that “power is not enough.” (Hint: It’s not!).

Albus Dumbledore – Dumbledore is, in many ways, the antithesis of Vernon Dursley and even moreso of Voldemort. He’s an older man, dressed weirdly, yet Professor McGonagall (who can transform herself from a cat into a human being!) defers to him. He speaks gently, consolingly, and with a certain amount of wisdom. He’s also a bit naive. He thinks that if he just explains the situation to the Dursleys in a letter, they will accept Harry and eventually tell him who he is. In addition, Dumbledore has a bit of humility, as we can see from this snippet of dialogue:

“But you’re different” [said Professor McGonagall]. Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know-Who – oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.”

“You flatter me,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Voldemort had  powers I will never have.”

“Only because you’re too – well – noble to use them.”

McGonagall here effectively establishes Dumbledore as a man whose powers rival Voldemort’s but who restrains himself from using the more ignoble types of power. We will (much) later learn exactly why Dumbledore restrains himself, but for now, it’s simply worth noting that in the first chapter Rowling subtly establishes the possibility that life could have gone much differently for Albus Dumbledore had he just seized all the power he was capable of wielding. Instead, he has chosen a different path and consequently introduces us and the Dursleys to Harry.

Harry Potter – He’s just a baby, but he inexplicably broke Voldemort’s power just the night before. The implication here is that Harry has amazing powers of his own (we will later discover the extent to which this is true), and McGonagall argues that Dumbledore should not give him up to the Dursleys because…

“He’ll be famous – a legend – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in the future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name!”

Dumbledore wisely replies that anonymity with the Dursleys will be better for Harry until “he’s ready to take” the fame thrust on him by the Wizarding World.

Dumbledore is right on the face of it. He’s just missing one major detail: the Dursleys are not the people he hopes they will be. And then he leaves Harry on the doorstep to face his unwilling aunt and uncle.

Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley. . . . He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: “To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!”

It is a powerful conclusion to a magnificent opening chapter.

Power, Choice, and Love – Preamble to The Harry Potter Re-Read

The Harry Potter Re-Read starts today! I promised that we would be back, and we are. I just needed to get through the holiday season and the start-of-semester season first.

Regarding the re-read… I considered going through the series backwards, but I took a look at the “Dark Lord Ascending” chapter this morning and decided it might be too dark a place to start. So we’ll start at the beginning.

Main themes this time around: Power, Choice, Love.

Since I’m assuming that you’ve read the series, I won’t be including spoiler warnings, except for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which, as the official “eighth story in the Harry Potter series” will be treated here as canon).

I don’t want to get dragged this time into side-issues like “Is Snape good or bad?” so here are my assumptions, which I believe are backed by canon:

  • Snape was a Death Eater in his youth.
  • By the time we meet him, Snape’s loyalty is to Lily’s memory, to Albus Dumbledore, and later to the Order of the Phoenix.
  • Snape consistently behaves like a jerk to Harry.

SPOILER TIME!!!

  • One of the alt-Timelines in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (CC) has Snape protecting Ron and Hermione and dying an unabashedly heroic and selfless death – an outcome that was canonically possible for Snape, apparently, by the time of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, when the timelines diverged.
  • Harry says to his son Albus Severus at the end of CC that the men he was named after were “great men, with huge flaws, and you know what – those flaws almost made them greater.”

SPOILER’S END!!!

So, these are my assumptions about Snape: He was a deeply flawed man who possessed elements of greatness. You can hate him if you like because of his past and his treatment of Harry, but I am not going to debate his loyalties or his ultimate greatness. I intend to assume them.

Well, that’s enough preamble. I’ll be back a bit later with something to say about “The Boy Who Lived.” :)

Fantastic Beasts and the Glaring Red Herring (spoilers!!!)

When the news first hit that JKR was writing a screenplay based on Newt Scamander’s travels in search of magical creatures, I was like, “Okay. Not exactly the project I would have picked, but I’ll check it out.”

I did scrunch up my face just a bit, though, when Rowling later started pushing Fantastic Beasts as the dawning of the “Age of Hufflepuff.” Not that I have anything against Hufflepuff. My sister is one. So is Newt Scamander. But as a Slytherin with a vested interest in the Slytherin/Gryffindor dichotomy, I did kind of think: “Boring!”

Meanwhile, Rowling did do one of the projects I would have picked – the adventures of Albus Severus Potter. I know a lot of people were put off by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It got labeled “glorified fanfiction,” and even “non-canonical” (though I’m not sure how you can support the “non-canonical” notion when no less an authority than Pottermore called it the official 8th Harry Potter story, and the play’s own website terms it “the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.” That seems pretty definitively canonical to me).

Potter fans were concerned with the play’s alt-timeline depictions of our favorite HP characters. (My response: These were ALT-timelines! Not a problem that the characters are different!). And fans were of course concerned about the play drawing on some classic fanfic tropes. But most of those tropes were in the Alt-Timelines, which is actually kind of clever when you think about it… kind of like in that Sherlock episode that brings in the fanfic as a plot device.

I suspect, though, that there is an unstated issue behind a lot of the concerns – i.e., that the play demonstrated conclusively that Slytherin isn’t all dark wizards and power hungry freaks. Instead, the play gave us an Albus Potter sorted into Slytherin, making besties with (a completely freakin’ awesome) Scorpius Malfoy, and even allowing a malevolent Slytherin prat like Draco to grow up into a fairly decent adult. That’s bound to cause some consternation.

So I’ve got a theory about these projects, and it goes like this: They were part of an elaborate Fake-Out. A Distraction. A Misdirection. A Real-World Red Herring. JKR was playing us, just like she played us with Snape.

No, I’m not saying that JKR was not committed to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child independent of Fantastic Beasts. I’m sure she was. And I’m not saying that Newt Scamander and friends are nothing but misdirection. I strongly suspect that our main cast from Fantastic Beasts will play a crucial role in the wars to come.

At the same time, though, the timing of the play and the film’s focus on Newt both work really well as a blind for what JKR was really up to the whole time  –  developing a story that fans have craved since the release of Deathly Hallows… the oldest core-character tragedy in the HP universe, hidden in the background of the first 6 HP books and brought into the light only in the 7th.

J.K. Rowling was bringing us Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald. And she hid that project in plain sight all the way through the first hour of Fantastic Beasts.

Why?

Well, can you imagine audience expectations going in to Fantastic Beasts if we’d known for the past two or so years that the movie was really setting us up for 1945 and the greatest Wizard Battle of all time? We would have had entire websites devoted to the shooting of the first film, possibly with drones videotaping any elements that fans could get near. We would have seen every bit of the same madness we see each year between seasons of Game of Thrones.

Instead, by hiding Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald behind the Fantastic Beasts front and distracting us with The Cursed Child, JKR could lower the temperature, allow the film to develop in peace, and then surprise and delight fans with this fantastic gift.

And Fantastic Beasts is a fantastic gift.

Here are a few of my first impressions. (I’ll go into more depth when I’ve had a chance to see the film a second time):

I had my eye on the Colin Farrell character from the first time I saw the trailers. He just had that “bad guy” vibe.

From the moment I saw the Grindelwald headlines at the beginning of the film, I kept a very close eye on the Colin Farrell character. I assumed from the start that the headlines were meant to put the audience on alert that Grindelwald could actually play a role in the film. (I hadn’t paid much attention to the Grindelwald/Dumbledore rumors, so I did not actually walk in to the theater with that expectation).

I found the opening hour of the film entertaining enough, and I certainly enjoyed being back in the Wizarding World, but I was finding the plot a bit thin. The sheer creepiness of the New Salem Philanthropic Society added an interesting flavor to the story, but it took the unveiling of the actual threat to get me fully engaged…

The Obscurial. As soon as Newt Scamander started talking about the Obscurus and the Obscurial, the alarms went off. I know the insight I had in that moment was not unique because – from what I can tell – nearly every fan who has seriously read and discussed the books had pretty much the same insight. It went something like this: “Graves is Grindelwald. Graves is looking for an Obscurial so he can use the Obscurus to gain power. An Obscurial is a magic-suppressing child preyed upon by an Obscurus. Grindelwald has seen such a child before. OMG!!! This is all about Arianna!”

And that brings us back to that intriguing moment from the trailer, when Graves (Grindelwald) wondered why (his former friend) Albus Dumbledore was “so fond of” Newt Scamander.

I think I might know. If, by chance, Newt’s interest in helping Obscurial children dated all the way back to Hogwarts, that would certainly endear him to Dumbledore – whether Arianna was technically an Obscurial or not (and I think this movie hints that she was). Whatever the case, though, we can infer that Dumbledore revealed nothing of his own family tragedy, given that Newt believes that the oldest Obscurial lived to age 10. Arianna was 14 (and Credence older still).

I’ll wrap this up with one thought: The aftermath of the first Grindelwald/Dumbledore duel in Godric’s Hollow – the duel that resulted in Arianna’s death –  provides a stark contrast between the two former friends.

Gellert Grindelwald saw the kind of power Arianna wielded and only wanted to harness it for his own benefit.

Albus Dumbledore never forgave himself for Arianna’s death, relinquished his desire for political power, and trained up wizards to fight against the darkness manifest in wizards like his friend.

This is the story behind Fantastic Beasts. And we are going to get to see it unfold!

 

Fantastic Beasts… and We’re Back!

Yes, I’ve let the site slide for quite awhile, but now is the time to bring it back. There’s a lot to talk about!

Item #1: Fantastic Beasts. It’s much, much more than just a story about magical beasts lost in the streets of New York. It strikes at the core Potter mythology in unexpected ways.

Item #2: A complete re-read of the Harry Potter series, with a focus on the role of power – who seizes it and who gains it without seeking. I think that the Fantastic Beasts series will also be moving in this direction.

I’ll give the movie a day or two to sink in, and then I’ll start writing about it.

Glad to be back!

Living Together in Harmony?

Are you ready for some Harmony?

If my HP-related feeds this morning are any indication, JK Rowling’s latest bombshell is the spark that could re-ignite the fandom. What was the bombshell, you ask? Just that little tidbit that she now regrets the Ron/Hermione relationship.

According to those who participated in the HP fandom pre-Deathly Hallows, the “Shipping Wars” made the infamous “Snape Wars” pale by comparison. According to Morgoth (founder of the Chamber of Secrets forum), reading through Shipping War threads was like reading lengthy dissertations in which even the footnotes had footnotes.

So what’s with the “Harmony” at the top of my message? It’s the name of the Harry/Hermione ship. Followers of this ship are known as “Harmonians.” JKR just give this ship new life. No, she didn’t come out and say that Hermione should have ended up with Harry, but that IS how the Harmonians will read it.

Last night at supper, I was in the process of saying to my husband, “And this is just sooooo irresponsible. JKR knows about the Shipping Wars. She knows what happened the last time Harry/Hermione was on the table.”

And then, in mid-sentence, I stopped and turned around and said… “But wait. All the forums are closing. There’s really NO PLACE anymore for engaging in a Shipping War. What if…. What if this is all just a ploy to bring back the forums? What if she did this just to give fans something to buzz about?”

One little comment re-opens the Shipping debate… and also sparks questions about “What constitutes canon?” Will those Hermione/Ron shippers who have been so certain that any random utterance out of JK Rowling’s mouth is canonical gold still believe that point now that she has demolished their ship with a single random utterance?

Anyway, get ready for the fireworks. It looks now like the Chamber of Secrets may not be closing…

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 10.44.19 AM


The Chamber of Secrets Has… Huh?

I had planned to write a post tonight with the headline: “The Chamber of Secrets Has Closed.”

The Closure has been months in the making. Forum owner Morgoth (Matt) announced it at the end of March. Then came the postponements, and finally came the announcement of a Closure Date: Jan. 31.

The Forum came alive again in the past few days, with members “coming home” and putting in their last words on the various debate threads, or saying their goodbyes and thanking the Staff.

Then, this afternoon, came this:

Greetings

MuggleNet have contacted me about a possible new arrangement. At this stage I’m not revealing anything about the fate of the site. Whatever happens, the site will need to close for maintenance anyway over the next few days.

MuggleNet want to be more involved with CoS and its running. Up until now I’ve paid for the site out of my own pocket and allowed volunteers to help maintain the site. MuggleNet is part of a wider corporate entity owned by Emerson Spartz through his company Spartz Media.

I haven’t had this option before now because MuggleNet & CoS have operated very independtely over the years and our two respective teams rarely talked, mainly because we had no real need to. However, that said, MuggleNet want to be more involved now and have opened up a dialogue with me about the site.

It may mean, as I said above, that the site will close for a bit whilst we change some of the behind-the-scenes features. A lot of the staff will possibly leave the site and they’re free to do so. I expect as part of any formal change in ownership, should that be the final call, I’ll leave the site myself and new staff will take over management.

Please discuss in the usual thread, here

Morgoth

With that announcement, what was seeming like a tranquil passing turned in to a big debate over whether a Mugglenet takeover would be a good thing or a bad thing. Everyone seems pretty sure, though, that it will at least be a “different” thing.

So this brings me to the point…

I have let this blog slide because I have had other interests arise, and I really thought that I was finished with the blog. But the last few days on CoS have made me realize that I would like to revive it if for no other reason than to give my CoS friends a place to come where they can tell me just how wrong I am!

I’m not sure how much Pottermore focus the blog will maintain – though I do think we could continue with some casual scavenger hunts. I do know that I would like to discuss Pottermore content written by JKR. But for the most part, I think the blog will return to its origins with book content – and move back to a re-read of the series.

In the meantime, here is something from what is almost certainly my last post in the Lily thread at CoS… at least under the original ownership:

To clarify: The point I was making – and I think the point [my friend] was making – was that Lily’s choices were not so limited. It did not have to be either James or Severus. It could have been somebody entirely different – someone who did not engage in disturbing behavior.

Now, I like Lily. I admire her strength in standing up to Severus, and I have maintained that point consistently throughout the years of debate on CoS. But here is what I find problematic in her ultimate choice of James:

James not only attacked Lily’s friend, but he held her friend hostage in an attempt to blackmail a kiss out of Lily. As a woman, I find this to be degrading and extremely disturbing “flirting” behavior, and as a woman, I find it hard to imagine Lily getting past that before her graduation from Hogwarts.

Now I realize that this is my subjective reaction, but it is based on how I actually have reacted when I have had similar things done to me – hence my comment that I would not have given either one of them the time of day after SWM.

So… how wrong am I? Care to discuss?