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:


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?

Pottermore: Questions from the Sorting Hat…

So… now that Pottermore is open to all, I can show off my Sorting Quiz without Spoiler Tags!

This is the Quiz that put me into Slytherin:

1) Given a choice between The Wise, the Bold, the Good, the Great, I chose The Wise.

2) Given a choice between several different scenes in an enchanted garden, I was most attracted to a luminous pool.

3) If a troll broke loose in the Headmaster’s Study, I would rescue the following items in this order:

  • 1st – the ancient book of runes thought to belong to Merlin (and yes, I would have given that same answer even if Merlin were a Hufflepuff!).
  • 2nd – the Headmaster’s nearly-perfected Dragon Pox cure.
  • 3rd – one-thousand years’ worth of Hogwarts student records.

4) Given a choice of different supernatural creatures, the one I was most likely to want to study was merpeople.

5) Given a choice of roads, I would have chosen the narrow, dark alley lit by lanterns.

6) Given a choice of dusk or dawn, I would choose dusk.

7) Given a choice of left or right, I would choose left.

Now, here is the Quiz that put my husband into Ravenclaw:

1) Same question, same answer

2) Same question, same answer

3) Same question, same exact order of items

4) Same question. My husband chose centaurs.

5) Given a choice of nightmares, my husband chose heights.

6) Given a choice of Forest or River, my husband chose river.

7) Given a choice of Heads or Tails, my husband chose tails.

Here are some explanations of our answers:

Question 1: “The Wise” is the answer I would have given 100% of the time. I suspect the same is true of my husband.

Question 2: I don’t know the rationale behind my husband’s choice in the Enchanted Garden, but I picked the luminous pool primarily based on aesthetics. I love the interplay of light and water.

Question 3: My husband and I both love Merlin and old books, so I suspect this is behind both our responses on what to save first with a troll on the loose. I personally figured that the Headmaster could concoct his Dragon Pox cure again based on what he remembered from the previous concoction, but something as priceless as Merlin’s book could never be replaced. However, even though the geek in me would have found it fascinating to go through the thousand years of student records and see what sorts of patterns and trends emerged – and how many detentions famous Wizards and Witches received – I would have felt guilty about placing the student records ahead of the Dragon Pox potion. So I thought it would be best to save the Dragon Pox potion before the student records… even though the student records would be more interesting to sort through. Dragon Pox “for the greater good.” LOL. Anyway, that’s the rationale behind my answer.

Question 4: Magical creatures was the toughest question for me, but it doesn’t seem to have caused my husband any hesitation. He chose centaurs because he considers himself a Sagittarius. Me, I tried to answer the question rigorously from within the Potterverse. :) Consequently, I quickly eliminated ghosts and centaurs. Ghosts aren’t scary in the Potterverse. They’re just kind of comical. And while I love the centaurs of myth, I don’t much like the centaurs of the Forbidden Forest. As for vampires and werewolves… I eliminated them because they have fairly strong House associations, and I already know so much about them. Merpeople, on the other hand, are fascinating within the Potterverse. They’re fierce – yet intelligent, mysterious, and musical. I could definitely see myself conducting a deeper study of merpeople.

Question 5: After answering question 4 differently, my husband and I were put on different tracks for the remaining questions. However, I suspect that he would also have chosen the dark, lamplit alley that I did if he had been given a choice of four roads. We both love classic, atmospheric horror movies. And that’s what prompted my response. I also would have loved the forest path I could have chosen, but the woods are three doors down from my house, so I can walk in the forest pretty much any time weather permits. (ETA: He says he may have chosen the forest path).

As for nightmares… I probably would have chosen the eye looking through the keyhole in the door. But I could easily have gone with heights… and probably would have debated the two possibilities in my head rather extensively.

Question 6: No question. I would choose dusk every time. I suspect my husband would too. And I would have chosen River, as he did. Forest is great, but you can often get Forest when you choose to follow a River. :)

Question 7: No question. I would choose left every time. I suspect my husband would too, given that he is left handed. As for Heads/Tails… I would have chosen Heads.

So… does anybody have any thoughts on which elements of these Quizzes gave my husband Ravenclaw and me Slytherin? We obviously have a lot of similarities.

I have a lot of thoughts on what put us into our respective Houses (and “random selection” is not among them!), but this post has gone on long enough, so it’s probably time just to conduct the analysis in the Comments thread. Have fun!

Oh, and feel free to post your own quiz questions and responses – and results.

Waiting for Pottermore: checking the spam

Well, here’s a little trip down memory lane… a blog draft that I never actually published.

It has, perhaps, some historical value in that it offers a sense of what the wait for Pottermore was like for the Beta testers who had not yet received their welcome emails. All we could think about was… WHEN AM I GONNA GET THAT STUPID EMAIL?!?!? It was really a lot like watching paint dry.

Here’s a little example of how I killed time while waiting (written August 20, 2011)…

Hey, you know the wait for your Pottermore Welcome email is starting to get to you when you start seeing poetry in the gibberish dumped in your spam filter.

After representation whatsoever of your blogposts I moldiness say i pioneer this particularised one to generally be top nick. I mortal a weblog also and necessary to repost a few shear of your articles on my own diary tract. Should it be alright if I use this as daylong I private reference your web diary or create a incoming linkage to your article I procured the snipping from? If not I make and could not do it without having your tolerance. I [deleted] collection starred this article to cheep and [social network mentioned] calculate motivated for publication. Anyway revalue it either way!

At first, I wondered if it was an honest attempt at communication in a second language. Then I checked the URL the spammer left. Porn site.

So yup, it’s spam alright. But the English is sooooooooo incomprehensible that there’s something  wonderfully surreal about it. I mean, “I moldiness say i pioneer this particularised one to generally be top nick”? Could Monty Python be much funnier than that?

Perhaps I really do belong in Ravenclaw!


Because as the House History tells us… the key quality for being sorted into Ravenclaw House is not merely intelligence but eccentricity. The House prides itself in its independence, intelligence, and eccentricity. After all, it’s the House of Uric the Oddball… and what could be odder than running through the spam filter with comedic intent?

Geez, that Hat had better not sort me into hyper-normal Hufflepuff.

Six days later, the Hat sorted me into Slytherin. And I’ve never looked back!

Pottermore Opens! Are You Magical?

It’s true. After six extra months of Beta testing, Pottermore opened this morning!!! And the response time on the site is great – even in dueling. So it seems the wait was well worth it.


Welcome to Pottermore, Newbies!
(I’ve been waiting to say that for a looooooong time!)

A few brief tips to get you started:

First, take a look at the info from the Pottermore Insider so that you know what to expect once you register. And now, on to exploring the site…

Pottermore consists of a series of “moments” from the various chapters in the first book (PS/SS) – including additional information about characters and contexts.

Within the moments, you can collect items for your trunk and a few items that you’ll need in order to move on. But unless you do need to collect something in order to move on (such as your shopping list for Diagon Alley), it’s best to wait to collect items until after you’ve been sorted. (You get sorted, naturally, in the Sorting Hat chapter).

The reason to wait is that you get personal points and can contribute to House points only after you’ve been sorted, and you can always go back into previous scenes and collect items.

Items that can be collected or clicked on will have a little purple outline around them (just move your cursor around the screen to find them). You also have three levels of zoom that you can achieve by using the forward and back arrows on your keyboard. Items will usually be found at only one level of zoom. So you want to explore each scene from all three levels of zoom.

Another thing you’ll want to do is look in your left “Read About” sidebar to see if any content is highlighted by a feather… and then read all of the content that is. This is the new, exclusive JKR content! I’ll be back later with a list of some of my favorite exclusive content.

Most of the non-exclusive content can be skipped after you have read it over for the first time – particularly the content for minor characters. Most of this content repeats over and over again and doesn’t tell you anything you don’t already know if you have read the books. (How many times do you really need to click on Vincent Crabbe or Gregory Goyle?).

Here’s the post for my first look. At the time, Pottermore was silent. Thanks to many, many Beta comments, Pottermore does now have sound. :)

Well, that’s probably enough to get you started. Have fun exploring Pottermore!

And now… Let us know your Wand and your House!

Use the Comments thread below to let us know your House, your Wand, and (if you wish) your username and registration date. This way, Beta testers can meet newbies and newbies can meet Beta testers.

I’ll have more tips later and some analysis of exclusive Pottermore content. But for now, let’s just get those Comments started. I’ll go first. :)

Pottermore: Is the Sorting Hat Rigged?

On Pottermore, a lot of people are getting surprised by the Sorting Hat. People who have identified throughout their entire Harry Potter lives with one House or another are getting put into “the wrong House”!!!

So what’s happening?

The Numbers Game

Some people think that the sorting is all really a numbers game. After all, they say, look at the House numbers!

Currently, with 392,561 students inside the Great Hall, the House breakdown looks like this:

Hufflepuff: 98,573 members (25.1%)

Ravenclaw: 98,453 members (25.1%)

Gryffindor: 98,192 members (25.0%)

Slytherin: 97,343 members (24.8%)

That’s a fairly even distribution – too even for some people to accept that it could possibly result from an honest sorting mechanism. Could it possibly be a numbers game – and the sorting itself be completely random?

Well, some math geeks predicted precisely this result – i.e., that as increasing numbers of people entered Pottermore, the Houses would distribute more and more evenly. In the beginning, from what I understand, the results were decidedly skewed towards Ravenclaw. As more people have joined, the distribution has become more even.

At any rate, it does not make sense to me – strictly from a business perspective – that JKR would involve herself in  Pottermore, brand it as “more Potter” from J.K. Rowling, claim pride in the accuracy of her sorting mechanism… and then just leave the sorting to random chance. She knows the Houses. She wrote the questions. She claims that the people in her life who have taken the Pottermore sorting quiz have ended up in exactly the Houses she predicted they would end up in.

No, as crazy as those numbers might look, the notion that JKR would intentionally mislead the fandom about the sorting on a site that has involved multiple years of planning (and a tremendous amount of J.K. Rowling branding) simply makes no sense at all.

But I’m a Ravenclaw! How Did I End Up in ______________ ?!?!?!?!?

Ravenclaw is the new Gryffindor. Everybody wants to live in Ravenclaw Tower these days… and hardly anyone wants to end up in Hufflepuff. We see this fandom trend even in the Expecto Patronum! poll:

Ravenclaw (197 votes):

Gryffindor (160 votes):

I don’t have a preference. I’ll let the Pottermore Sorting Hat decide (135 votes):

Slytherin (112 votes):

Hufflepuff (36 votes):

The reason for the strong Ravenclaw preference is that the fandom stereotype of Ravenclaw is that these are the smart, bookish, nerds. But are they really?

In the Ravenclaw House History, I learned that Luna Lovegood is not an outlier. She is the norm. Ravenclaws may possess “wit beyond measure,” but according to the History, Ravenclaw’s strongest claim to fame is the eccentricity of the House – filled with famous Ravenclaws wearing jellyfish hats, communicating only through smoke, or asserting the Wizarding World’s “inalienable right to party.”

Slytherin can be equally intelligent as Ravenclaw, but the House is focused less on eccentricity than on achieving greatness… i.e., on doing something extraordinary and learning as much about magic as possible. Unfortunately, such a goal can easily be abused (see Tom Riddle), but it doesn’t have to be abused (see Merlin, the greatest Slytherin of all time).

A lot of people think that the Sorting Hat is mis-sorting people because fandom stereotypes of the Houses are often not being confirmed in the sortings. Self-identified Slytherins are ending up in Ravenclaw. Self-identified Ravenclaws are ending up in Slytherin… and Hufflepuff… and, occasionally, Gryffindor!

But is the fandom right about the Houses… and JKR wrong? She wrote the questions, and she stands by the sorting. Is the fandom perhaps misinformed about the true nature of the Houses and needs to start re-evaluating the Houses based on the new information provided?

I know my answer. What is yours?

My friend arithmancer has provided a theory in the Comments indicating how it would be possible to base the sorting quiz results entirely on the respondent’s answers and simultaneously quarter the students. Check it out.

100,000 Page Views… Thank you

Expecto Patronum! crossed 100,000 page views tonight.

I was pretty certain it was going to happen today, but I was still a bit surprised when I looked at the stats and saw that the blog was now showing 100,010 page views. Not bad for a blog that started out as a post-DH brain dump!

For the longest time, the blog’s most popular page was Battle of Hogwarts Anniversary. That surprised me at first because I wrote the post in about 15 minutes. Most posts – or at least the analytical ones – take hours to write. Judging by the search terms in my stats, I think a lot of visitors were looking for the fanart featured in that post and stumbled across my blog.

Lately, though, the blog’s top page views have been the ones pertaining to Snape’s Logic Puzzle – or (in Google Search Term Lingo) the “Potions Puzzle Pottermore.”

The blog post again took about 15 minutes to write, but Solving Snape’s Logic Puzzle – the permanent page that the post points toward – took a good number of hours.

I wrote the page while doing the PS/SS re-read over a year ago, and I wrote it actually as a companion piece to the re-read post An Ounce of Logic, which was just getting too long. Solving the puzzle based entirely on the rhyme (and without being able to look at the bottle layout) was great fun because it was an opportunity to go all super-mega-ueber-geeky!

Because it is so geeky, Solving Snape’s Logic Puzzle got maybe an average of 3 page views per day in the year before Pottermore opened for Beta testing. But now – now that you actually have to solve the Logic Puzzle to advance in Pottermore – the hard work I spent solving the puzzle and writing about it last year has finally paid off. The average page views per day for that single page have jumped about 3000% since August 15… and who knows what the percentage will be come October, when Pottermore opens to the public. After all, the solution is already laid out, and people are looking for a quick way of solving the problem.

I can’t really think of a better way to celebrate the 100,000 milestone than by knowing that some of my personal favorite work on Expecto Patronum! has caught on and taken us over the mark.

So thank you, everybody who’s reading, for visiting and supporting this blog. :)