10 years on from Harry’s arrival, Privet Drive has “hardly changed at all,” and neither has the Dursleys’ living room. Besides cousin Dudley’s growing-up pictures, the place stays stuck in time, held in stasis – with no evidence, either, of Harry’s presence.
An 11th Birthday
Chapter 2, “The Vanishing Glass,” opens on Prince Dudley’s 11th birthday. In the British Wizarding World, 11 is one of the most special birthdays. It’s wand age – the age when a child can begin training at Hogwarts.
For the spoiled Muggle bully, though, 11 is just another birthday, a day when he can boss around his parents, receive an obscene stream of expensive gifts (a racing bike? a video camera? 16 video games? – for an 11-year-old?!?!!), and engage in his favorite sport: Punching-Bag Cousin.
A Grim Fairy Tale?
And how about the cousin? Harry lives in a cupboard under the stairs, amid spiders, wearing Dudley’s baggy hand-me-downs, even being awakened ahead of the rest of the house to slave away in the kitchen.
Is it just me, or does Harry’s plight sound like something out of the Brothers Grimm? …..
[Cinderella’s step sisters] took her pretty clothes away from her, put an old grey bedgown on her, and gave her wooden shoes. “Just look at the proud princess, how decked out she is!” they cried, and laughed, and led her into the kitchen. There she had to do hard work from morning till night, get up before daybreak, carry water, light fires, cook and wash. Besides this, the sisters did her every imaginable injury – they mocked her and emptied her peas and lentils into the ashes, so that she was forced to sit and pick them out again. In the evening when she had worked till she was weary she had no bed to go to, but had to sleep by the hearth in the cinders. And on that account she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella.
– From Cinderella, The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Pantheon Books, p. 121 –
Unlike Cinderella, Harry’s abuse comes at the hands of relatives by blood. He’s not literally a step-child. But like Cinderella, he is deprived of decent clothes, mocked, compelled to do the dirty work, forced to live in a place not fit for humans, and talked about as if he’s not there. And this is a child who, in the Wizarding World, is considered something of a Prince – a child famous for surviving Voldemort’s Killing Curse!
In the Introduction to the Muggle edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Rowling writes:
In Muggle fairy tales, magic tends to lie at the root of the hero’s or heroine’s troubles…. In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, on the other hand, we meet heroes and heroines who can perform magic themselves, and yet find it just as hard to solve their problems as we do.
Cinderella is an exception among Muggle fairy tales. She is saved by magic… or perhaps by grace. The magic comes from praying everyday under the hazel tree planted on her mother’s grave.
Harry, too, will eventually be saved from the Dursleys by magic – only to be thrown into a mounting War among Wizards. He was left on the Dursleys’ doorstep with a letter and a “Good luck, Harry.” But at this point, it looks like his luck ran out the night his parents (according to the Dursleys’ lie) died in a car crash.
Parallels and Foreshadowings (Smaller Font for the Spoiler-Sensitive!)
- Living in a cupboard under the stairs and all makes Harry sound a bit like a house elf for Muggles, doesn’t it?
- Fearlessness around spiders will later come in handy when he confronts Aragog and his acromantula brood in the Forbidden Forest.
- Memories of his own baggy hand-me-downs will help him find compassion for Severus Snape when he dips into the Pensieve in “The Prince’s Tale.”
- And speaking of stairs, Jess (“The Last Muggle”) wrote a fairly amusing post on Harry being trapped under the stairs towards the end of HBP.
Reactions and Comments?
Let’s get this party started!
- Are there other Fairy Tales that come to mind when you see how Harry is mistreated by his Muggle relatives?
- How do you feel when you read about this mistreatment?
- Given the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy and the protective magic, could anything have been done by the Wizarding World to stop the abuse?
- What is the Arabella Figg’s role, living a couple of blocks away?
- Is there anything else you feel like commenting on?
Next time, from Chapter 2:
‘I Won’t Blow Up the House!‘ … in which we discuss Harry’s wandless magic, his Parseltongue capabilities, and his dreams.