Privets and Whingings and Dursleys… oh my!

I actually did start something of a CoS re-read a couple of years ago. In fact, I wrote preliminary posts on the first couple of chapters of the book, but I never got in to the in-depth over-analysis that typically characterizes this blog. ;)

If you’d like to take a look at those original re-read posts, here you go:

Like the first CoS scene on Pottermore, my old post on chapter 1 put some emphasis on “the magic word.” So let’s take a look at Pottermore’s view of that scene.

Number 4, Privet Drive

At Zoom 1 (original zoom level), we see the exterior to Number 4, Privet Drive. According to JKR, she chose the name of the Dursley street after

that most suburban plant, the privet bush, which makes neat hedges around many English gardens.

She chose the name of their town because it

sounds appropriately parochial and sniffy, ‘whinging’ being a colloquial term for ‘complaining or whining’ in British English.

She chose the number 4 because she has

never been fond of the number four, which has always struck [her] as a rather hard and unforgiving number.

These little bits of information show the degree to which JKR thought about what she was doing. I may not share her take on the number 4 (I rather like the number myself) – and I’m not quite clear on why she created 4 Houses if she has such a dislike of the number – but I do think it’s obvious that even in the details of the Dursley address, JKR was attempting to create a composite of the Dursley family. And that’s just a little bit of wonderful!

When we look at the scene on Pottermore (Zoom 1), we see the pastel hues of the Dursley home, hints of the flowery wallpaper on the home’s interior, and the trim surburban plants set against the house. And through the window, there’s a picture on the wall that appears to portray somebody in a Smelting’s uniform. Young Vernon? Dudley? It’s certainly not Harry!

Oddly, though, on the Dursley’s front porch, there appear to be some wear-and-tear flaws in the plaster near the lamp. Is that nothing more than an artist’s rendering? Or is it part of JKR’s own conception? Is the exterior of their house not quite the exemplar of suburban perfection that Petunia would have it be?

At Zoom 2, we go through the door… to find a Smelting’s straw hat on the staircase (this must be Dudley’s!) and the door to the cupboard under the stairs padlocked. The padlock will be explained when we get to the argument in the kitchen.

And at Zoom 3, we reach the kitchen… just in time to see Dudley about to fall out of his chair when Harry tells him he forgot to say “the magic word.”

Just as we have three levels of zoom, the first part of the chapter is broken up into three parts (which do not actually correspond to Pottermore’s three levels of zoom):

  • An argument at breakfast
  • A summation of Harry’s background (and the fact that it’s his 12th birthday)
  • A rehearsal of everyone’s roles for that night’s dinner party

We’ll take a look at these in the next re-read post. But for now, I’d like to go back to some Pottermore material that sets the stage. I’m speaking, of course, of that lovely exclusive JKR content on the Dursleys.

Vernon and Petunia Dursley

We know from the first chapter of PS/SS that Vernon values normalcy and that Petunia thinks her sister is a freak. The Pottermore info fills in the gaps.

One of the most sought-after pieces of information, actually, is the name of the town that the Evans girls – and, by extension, Severus Snape – grew up in. Based on Snape’s speech patterns, fans have speculated that he grew up in the north of England, perhaps even in a large industrial city like Birmingham. Actually, though, he and Lily and Petunia grew up in the fictional town of Cokeworth. This is the town that Petunia left in order to make her way in London.

And actually, we’ve been in Cokeworth before! In fact, I described the Cokeworth incident in an ancient Expecto Patronum! post concerning the Flight of the Dursleys:

On this 7th day of letters from no one, the Dursleys find that none of their previous attempts to outrun the letters have succeeded. 100 or so letters await Harry at the hotel desk.

The next morning, at breakfast, they discover Hogwarts letters addressed to:

Mr. H. Potter
Room 17
Railview Hotel
Cokeworth

The text tells us that Cokeworth is a big city, and we know that it’s within a day’s drive of Little Whinging, Surrey – even if the driver is continuously changing course. I don’t know enough about driving in the UK to know how far a driver can get under these conditions. I’ll leave it to my UK friends to tell me whether or not it is plausible that Cokeworth is in the north.

But whatever the case, the “gloomy-looking hotel” where the Hogwarts letters hunt them down is on the outskirts of the same town in which Petunia, Lily, and Severus all grew up. Curiously, Petunia says nothing.

The Pottermore info also contains tidbits of information that have been alluded to before in the text:

  • That Petunia wanted to retreat as far into normalcy as possible in order not to be “tainted” by her sister
  • That she did not attend her sister’s wedding
  • That she did not congratulate her sister on either her wedding or the birth of her son. (In a particularly callous move, she threw the birth announcement in the bin – though she did register the name of her sister’s child, even if Vernon did not)
  • That she thought that she could “squash the magic out of Harry”

The truly new information focuses on Vernon and Petunia’s courtship and interactions with James and Lily. And this courtship info is often written in the same mocking tone that we find in the Dursley passages in the books. (Remember that wonderful Dursley intro in PS/SS: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much”?).

In the Dursley courtship, the “deliciously normal” junior executive “seemed a model of manliness to young Petunia.” {{{GAG! RETCH!!!}}}

He had a perfectly correct car, and wanted to do completely ordinary things, and by the time he had taken her on a series of dull dates, during which he talked mainly about himself and his predictable ideas on the world, Petunia was dreaming of the moment when he would place a ring on her finger.

When, in due course, Vernon Dursley proposed marriage, very correctly, on one knee in his mother’s sitting room, Petunia accepted at once.

It’s almost like something out of a romance made in hell! For those of you who have read A Game of Thrones, here’s an analogy: Rather than dream of true knights to rescue her from her peril, Sansa Stark instead dreams of a big beefy dullard to give her a “completely ordinary” and utterly predictable life. Petunia’s “true knight,” in other words, rescues her from anything faintly resembling romance.

And with that, I’d say we’ve had enough for our first post back on the re-read. Next time, we’ll focus more on the book itself and less on the Pottermore experience of it. :)

7 responses to “Privets and Whingings and Dursleys… oh my!

  1. Pingback: And another milestone… Expecto Patronum! reaches 200,000 page views | Expecto Patronum!

  2. I am not British, but Googled out of curiosity to see whether there might be similar names to “Cokeworth” of real towns that could provide a clue to the location Rowling had in mind. That did not work out, but a literary precedent came up. “Coketown” is the name of a (fictional) Northern industrial city that is the setting of Dickens’ “Hard Times”.

  3. Pingback: Like a Winded Rhinoceros… and a bit of scar tissue | Expecto Patronum!

  4. The drive is definitely plausible as it’s about 5 and a half hours from Surrey right to the top of England. In fact it’s only about 14 hours drive from the very top of Scotland, to the very bottom of England!

    • Excellent information! Thank you!!!

      I have a US sense of distance, so it’s hard for me to scale it to England. Plus, I took the trains when I visited the UK and consequently have no sense of the driving time at all. It’s great to get input from someone who knows. :)

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