What Do You Find Funniest in CoS Chapter 1?

Chapter 1 of CoS is full of slapstick (“the magic word”), farcicle similes (“like a winded rhinoceros”), a parody of business-meeting itineraries (“We should all be in position at eight o’clock”), and even multiple “magic” attacks on poor Dudley Dursley (“Jiggery pokery!”, “Hocus pocus”, “squiggly wiggly”).

This, I think, is one of the funniest opening chapters in the HP series. So I’m wondering what you think are some of its funniest moments.

Please let us know in the Comments thread.

Like a Winded Rhinoceros… and a bit of scar tissue

Dursley-centric chapters are often great fun, and the first chapter of CoS (filled as it is with absurdity and slapstic) is no exception.

When Harry uses a common cliche (“You’ve forgotten the magic word”),

Dudley gasped and fell off his chair with a crash that shook the whole kitchen; Mrs. Dursley gave a small scream and clapped her hands to her mouth; Mr. Dursley jumped to his feet, veins throbbing in his temples.

For all this reaction, Harry may as well have arrived in black gloves wearing a mask and wielding a butcher’s knife!

But the absurdity doesn’t stop there!

“I meant ‘please’!” said Harry quickly. “I didn’t mean – ”

“WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU, thundered his uncle, spraying spit over the table, “ABOUT SAYING THE ‘M’ WORD IN OUR HOUSE?”

The “M” word? Siriusly?

Do the Dursleys have no sense of proportion? (well, the answer to that question should be obvious, shouldn’t it?).

“HOW DARE YOU THREATEN DUDLEY!” roared Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his fist.”

OUCH! In the HP world, magic is not inherently threatening, but after the “pig’s tail” incident from Harry’s last birthday, any suggestion of magic may certainly seem like a threat.

Finally, Uncle Vernon screams:

“I WARNED YOU! I WILL NOT TOLERATE MENTION OF YOUR ABNORMALITY UNDER THIS ROOF!”

And this is the real issue, isn’t it? The Dursleys, as we saw in our previous re-read post, pride themselves on their normality – so much so that shortly after Petunia accepted Vernon’s proposal of marriage, she realized that she needed to confront the issue of her sister’s “abnormality”:

She confessed the truth during a tear-stained date, in Vernon’s dark car as they sat overlooking the chip shop where Vernon had just bought them a post-cinema snack. Vernon, as Petunia had expected, was deeply shocked; however, he told Petunia solemnly that he would never hold it against her that she had a freak for a sister, and Petunia threw herself upon him in such violent gratitude that he dropped his battered sausage.

Absurd as the Dursley reaction to the “M” word is, it is quintessentially Dursley-esque!

When Vernon sits down, he is “breathing like a winded rhinocerous” – one of several amusing similes found in this chapter. What’s a simile, you might ask? In a simile, the author compares one thing to another by using “as” or “like.”

JKR seems to prefer “like”:

Not only does Vernon breathe “like a winded rhinocerous,” but the Dursleys treat Harry “like a bomb that might go off at any moment” and “like a dog that had rolled in something smelly.”

And it’s all because, for Harry, “magic” is more than just a word. It is part of who he is.

In the first chapter of CoS, JKR repeats for the audience the requisite background information – reminding us of Harry’s experience during the previous year at Hogwarts and the fact that Uncle Vernon has padlocked his school books and supplies in the cupboard under the stairs. In fact, Vernon has even padlocked Hedwig’s cage – leading to the chapter’s initial confrontation (in which Uncle Vernon asks if he looks stupid – all while “a bit of fried egg dangl[es] from his bushy mustache!).

But probably the most significant point that JKR emphasizes is Harry’s scar. Harry, she reminds us,

…wore rounded glasses, and on his forehead was a thin, lightning-shaped scar.

It was this scar that made Harry so particularly unusual, even for a wizard.

At one year of age, as we all know, Harry survived an attack by Voldemort. He had

…escaped with his lightning scar, and somehow – nobody understood why – Voldemort’s powers had been destroyed the instant he had failed to kill Harry.

And then, when Harry goes to Hogwarts, he learns that

he and his scar were famous

… because he is the only person who ever survived a killing curse – and he survived the Avada Kedavra from its most proficient practitioner.

When I first read the the early chapters of PS/SS, Harry’s scar seemed somewhat cosmetic – a distinguishing mark that really looked cool – though it was clearly foreshadowing something of significance.

What I like here in the first chapter of CoS is that JKR reminds us of Harry’s scar several times, just to remind us that it distinguishes him from other Wizards. And later – as the books continue – she builds on what Harry experiences via the scar (first, pain in proximity to Voldermort, then later an ability to see into Voldemort’s mind). She puts all the clues she needs in even these early books so that when the big reveal about the scar comes in “The Prince’s Tale,” we should not be surprised.

But of course, I was – given that (unlike the pre-DH fandom), I had only about three days between discovering in HBP that Voldemort sought to split his soul and reading the endgame in Deathly Hallows. I had to do a double-take, a triple-take, a quadruple-take when I came across that passage in TPT.

No matter what I experienced though. Nobody can say that JKR did not give the reader fair warning! She told us – again and again and again – the significance of the scar, just as she does here.

So… what are some things that have jumped out at you in reading through the first part of the first chapter of CoS?

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. :)

Harry Potter Re-Read: Let’s Open the Chamber of Secrets!

So… now that the first few chapters of CoS are available on Pottermore, it’s time for us to re-start the HP re-read by opening the Chamber of Secrets. When the next batch of chapters are published, I will take a bit of time off from the re-read to discuss the new Pottermore material but will quickly return to the re-read.

I plan to publish my first re-read post on Monday. I hope to see you then!

ETA: You can find the first re-read post here.

Pottermore Debrief: Day 3

We have now completed Day 3 of the Pottermore Magic Quill challenge.

Here are the approximate times that the clues have been posted so far:

Day 1: 9am BST (4am US Eastern, 1am US Pacific)

Day 2: 10am BST (5am US Eastern, 2am US Pacific)

Day 3: 11am BST (6am US Eastern, 3am US Pacific)

As you can see, the clues so far have been posted roughly one hour later than the clue was posted on the previous day. It is not known if this pattern will hold. In fact, we should probably assume that it will not. Pottermore does not want to become too predictable concerning the times of the Quill challenge.

Confirmed: Tomorrow’s challenge will take place between 2.00pm and 6.00pm BST, so it will not fit the previously established pattern.

Here are paraphrases of the clues that have been posted:

Day 1: Find the number of owl breeds listed on the sign of the Eeylops Owl Emporium and multiply by 49. (Book 1: PS/SS)

Day 2: Find the chapter in which McGonnagall calls off the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff Quidditch match and multiply by 42. (Book 2: CoS)

Day 3: Find the score Gryffindor was leading by in the Gryffindor-Slytherin match before Harry catches the Golden Snitch and multiply by 35. (Book 3: PoA)

As I have already noted previously, each day will focus on a different book. Clue 4 will come from Goblet of Fire (GoF). It will be some sort of number. And it will almost certainly be multiplied by 28 (7 books * 4 days/chances remaining).

In addition, the Pottermore website says that the clues become easier starting on Day 4. I think that the only clue thus far that has been remotely challenging is Clue 1. So if it’s going to be getting easier, expect it to get very easy. They are probably making the clues easier because the books get so much longer and more complex starting with GoF.

Here are the challenges involving the Magic Quill:

Once you have solved the clue, multiplied it by the required number, and entered the solution into the address bar of your web browser (after the slash in the following address: http://quill.pottermore.com/ ), you will be redirected to another site to do something with the Magic Quill. The site you will be redirected to has some sort of a relationship with the Harry Potter series. I mention this so that you will not freak out when you suddenly find yourself redirected to some third party website.

Here is what you’ve had to do with the Quill so far:

Day 1: Catch the Magic Quill. (redirected to the Sony website – the creative team behind Pottermore)

Day 2: Find a picture of the Magic Quill. (redirected to the Warner Brothers website – the studio behind the movies)

Day 3: Levitate the Magic Quill. (redirected to The Guardian, UK – on an article concerning Pottermore)

Once you have accomplished this part of the challenge, you will be redirected to registration.

Here is some speculation concerning the Day 4 clue:

Here are some numbers that I would have on hand before the release of the next clue:

Day 4: Goblet of Fire:

  • How many students enter the TriWizard Tournament?
  • How many schools participate in the TriWizard Tournment?
  • How many challenges are there supposed to be in the TriWizard Tournament?
  • What age is a student supposed to be in order to participate in the TriWizard Tournament?
  • How many Death Eaters arrive at the graveyard?
  • How many Death Eaters are missing from the graveyard?
  • How many murdered people emerge from Voldemort’s wand when his wand is locked with Harry’s?

Remember, this is all speculation. But basically, I think the numbers you will most likely need to focus on are associated with either: The Quidditch World Cup, The TriWizard Tournament, or Voldemort’s return at the graveyard. And since this clue is supposed to be easier, I’m guessing that it will involve the TriWizard Tournament. And of course, I could be completely wrong about any of this!

Once you have the number required for the clue, you will need to multiply that number by another number. If the pattern holds, that number will be 28.

Here is some information on technical issues:

I’m not Tech Support, and I don’t represent Pottermore, so anything I say here I’m just saying as someone who has been through the process and has an opinion about it. :)

But… there has been a known issue with Yahoo Mail. Here is what Pottermore Insider said earlier about the Yahoo problem:

Q: I registered for early access yesterday with a Yahoo email address and have yet to receive my verification email. What’s happened to my email and will I still be able to verify in time?

A: There is a delay with verification emails going out via Yahoo! Mail and related providers (such as BT Yahoo!), which means that, while emails are being sent out, they are being delivered at a greatly reduced rate.

We are currently talking to Yahoo in order to resolve this problem and will update this blog post with new information as we get it.

More recently, this issue has apparently been resolved. Here’s the latest update:

Q. Is there any update on the Yahoo! Mail issue?
A. This has now been resolved and everyone who registered with a Yahoo! Mail account on Sunday or Monday should now have received their validation email.

If you still don’t want to chance it with Yahoo, you can always set up a non-Yahoo account for your Pottermore verification email. Gmail seems to have been the most reliable service so far.

In addition to the Yahoo issues, some people are finding it impossible to complete the registration process. This may or may not be a technical issue. It’s possible that Pottermore registration has closed down for the day before you finished registering. If that happened, you are not registered and will have to wait until the next Clue is posted on the next day. Sorry. :(

If Pottermore registration is still open, though, you might want to try again – perhaps in another browser. The Pottermore website and the Pottermore Insider will indicate when registration has closed.

Here is what you should know about selling and buying Pottermore accounts

Don’t do it! It’s not worth it!

Pottermore is free, and everybody will be able to register once the Magic Quill contest is over. Even people who complete the Magic Quill contest are not guaranteed immediate entry, just early entry.

None of us knows right now exactly when we will receive our Welcome email. For some of us, it could be on the day after the Magic Quill contest ends. For others of us, it could be 3-7 weeks later. And for some of us, it could be as late as the day before Pottermore opens to the general public.

Pottermore will be open to the general pubic at the beginning of October. That is only two months away. It is not worth spending as much as $800 on eBay for something that you will be able to gain for free in just a couple of months – particularly when none of these Beta test accounts guarantees immediate access.

Here is what Pottermore Insider has to say about buying and selling early access Pottermore accounts:

Q. I have seen Pottermore early access accounts being sold online on places like eBay. Is it okay to buy or sell Pottermore accounts?

A. No. Please do not buy, sell, or transfer Pottermore early access accounts. Obtaining Beta registration for Pottermore with the intent of selling on those registration details for monetary gain not only deprives genuine fans the chance to gain early access, it is also expressly prohibited in The Magical Quill promotion Terms & Conditions.

We have the right to terminate any Pottermore accounts that are sold online.

Access to Pottermore is, and always will be, completely free so please don’t be tempted by people selling Pottermore accounts online. You will only be wasting your money – and there are still more clues and chances to come!

Basically, if you try to sell an account, they are probably going to go after you. If you buy an account, you are being very foolish. And anyway, it’s really not that hard to pass the Magic Quill challenges successfully! So have fun with this. Experience it yourself, and don’t try to buy the experience!

I will be posting an update later today if Pottermore Insider posts a time window for Day 4. Good luck to those who want to give Day 4 a try!

Torn Pillowcase

Back in the 1960s, Irish novelist Brian Moore published a Cold War thriller called Torn Curtain – later turned into a Major Motion Picture by Alfred Hitchcock. I don’t know what that really has to do with Dobby’s torn pillowcase except to say that both refer to torn fabrics, and both deal with undercover spy work.

Yes, little Dobby the House Elf is something of an undercover spy.

Nobody asked him to go undercover (and he’s going to have to punish himself something fierce for it), but he has spied on his own master and is working at cross-purposes to his master’s will. To use Cold War lingo, Dobby has defected to Harry – at least in his affections. And his unsought (and unappreciated) efforts come at great danger to himself.

After Dobby learns of the threat to Harry Potter (the hope, apparently, not only of the Wizarding World but even of the House Elves) he cannot keep silent. He must warn the Boy Who Lived. His warning, though, is unwelcome. After all, he’s telling Harry that he must not return to Hogwarts… and Dobby resorts to extreme measures to prevent Harry’s return – even to the point of stealing letters from Ron and Hermione and wrecking the Dursleys’ dinner party by splatting the pudding on the floor.

I don’t know how anybody else reacted, but my first encounter with Dobby came in the CoS movie… and I found him really annoying. It was shocking and uncomfortable to watch him punish himself – and make so much racket that Harry was bound to get into trouble. And then, of course, there were the really unscrupulous matters of the letters and the pudding.

But Dobby’s punishments and his tears on being treated as an equal also gave me some measure of sympathy for him. And in the end, when we find out who Dobby’s master is and the dimensions of the plot endangering Hogwarts, Harry’s final act of compassion towards Dobby becomes quite gratifying.

So… what do we learn from Dobby’s warning?

  • For months, Dobby has known that there is a plot to make “most terrible things” happen at Hogwarts, and that these terrible events will endanger Harry. (Judging by Dobby’s remarks, Harry is not the specific target, but he could still become a victim.)
  • Dobby believes that Harry is too important for the future of the Wizarding World to be allowed to endanger himself
  • The plot, Dobby claims, does not derive from Voldemort – but the Elf’s inability to speak against his master and his simultaneous inability to tell the dimensions of the plot lead us to infer that the plot derives from Dobby’s (currently unknown) master
  • Dobby speaks of “powers Dumbledore doesn’t… powers no decent wizard….” Horcruxes!!! Yes, the first unnamed reference to Horcruxes comes from Dobby.
  • Dobby believes the danger is grave enough that he levitates the Dursleys’ pudding to the ceiling and drops it on the floor in order to bring down the wrath of the Dursleys on Harry

The end result is that Harry is imprisoned in his room as Hedwig has been imprisoned in her cage! He’s being starved, and things are looking pretty bleak, when the Weasleys arrive with a deus ex machina. And yes, it literally is a machine!

Here’s how the kitteh’s LiveTweeted Cos, Chapter 2.

Opening the Chamber of Secrets

No, I didn’t lie to you. I said that I would commence Chamber of Secrets on Friday… and I did. The only reason you didn’t know about it is that Annie’s Guest Post on Draco came through on the same day, and I wanted her to have some time in the spotlight.

But now, it’s back to the re-read… with perhaps some additional intermittent Guests.

So yes, I did start re-reading CoS on Friday. And my kittehs even started LiveTweeting it yesterday afternoon! (Who says you can’t herd cats?).

I mentioned that I’d like to do a Quick Read of CoS before getting down to in-depth commentary – talking about favorite things and stuff that jumps out at me. So here goes.

From Chapter 1:

Dudley, who was so large his bottom drooped over either side of the kitchen chair, grinned and turned to Harry.

“Pass the frying pan.”

“You’ve forgotten the magic word,” said Harry irritably.

The effect of this simple sentence on the rest of the family was incredible: Dudley gasped and fell off his chair with a crash that shook the whole kitchen; Mrs. Dursley gave a small scream and clapped her hands to her mouth; Mr. Dursley jumped to his feet, veins throbbing in his temples.

“I meant ‘please’!” said Harry quickly. “I didn’t mean – ”

“WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU,” thundered his uncle, spraying spit over the table, “ABOUT SAYING THE ‘M’ WORD IN OUR HOUSE?”

Okay, yeah. I know. It’s slapstick, and it’s over the top. But it’s also hysterical. The description of the Dursley response is precisely like what happens in horror movies when the monster or the slasher or the black-gloved giallo killer comes crashing in to your home.

In addition to the slapstick, this chapter reminds us of some still unanswered questions – like how did Harry survive a curse from the “greatest Dark sorcerer of all time?” Why did Harry have to be raised by his dead mother’s sister and her husband, when there were probably lots of nice Wizarding families who would have treated Harry like a boy, and not a slave? Why are the Dursleys so completely freaked out by magic?

It reminds us also of some never-answered questions – like How do the Dursleys get away with abusing this child, according to Muggle law? And why does the Wizarding World allow the abuse?

And of course, the chapter even poses some new questions:

  • Why has Harry received no cards or letters, when Ron and Hermione specifically said they would write to him over the summer? Have his friends forgotten him?
  • What is staring out at Harry from the hedge with “two enormous green eyes”?
  • What is sitting on Harry’s bed?

At this point, it’s possible for first-time readers to believe that maybe Uncle Vernon could be responsible for Harry not receiving his letters. After all, he’s locked Hedwig in her cage so that Harry can’t send letters. And in the previous year, when letters arrived from Hogwarts, Vernon Dursley did everything in his power to prevent Harry from receiving them. Or, it’s possible to believe that Ron and Hermione are just school friends who have their own lives during the summer. Readers will soon find out which of these is the case.

The thing staring at Harry is a wonderful touch because it also foreshadows the “Grim” staring at Harry in PoA right before the Knight Bus shows up to whisk him away. Of course, the reader doesn’t know about PoA yet… has barely even heard Sirius Black’s name! But JKR does a nice job of paralleling these two instances.

And as for what’s sitting on Harry’s bed… well, that is certainly the big question, isn’t it? Friend or foe? As the kittehs noted: it could be anyone… from one of the friends he hasn’t heard from, to someone he’s never met before, to Lord Voldemort himself!

Since the reader has not been told yet that Voldemort cannot touch Harry while he’s under his aunt’s roof, even this supremely frightening possibility is on the table for first-time readers. And given the scary nature of the green eyes staring from the hedge, and given Harry’s recent frightening encounter at Hogwarts, I might have been more inclined toward the sinister reading… if the movies had not already shown me who was about to arrive in Harry’s life.