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.

December 25, 2009 – The Series’ Most Shocking Moment, The Story of Harry’s Past, and What Was I Dead Wrong About?

On December 25, 2009 – when I had been blogging here for nearly 10 days – I wrote my first posts on the Chamber of Secrets forum… and quickly got sucked in.

Here are the three content posts that I wrote on my first full day on the CoS forum:

Most Shocking Moment in the Whole Series?

Most shocking moment(s) for me:

Finding out that Harry had to let Voldemort kill him in order to destroy the part of Voldemort’s soul that was in him. This was probably the single most shocking moment for me…. as I think it was for Snape.
(Or, I should say, it was the most shocking moment for Snape in the Harry plot. Lily’s death was the most shocking moment for Snape in the Snape plot).

Finding out that Snape was the Death Eater responsible for delivering part of the prophesy to Voldemort. That stunned me.

Snape’s death and exsanguination at the fangs of Nagini. If there’s any single scene that shows just the complete self-absorption, coldness and depravity of Voldemort, this is it. He didn’t kill Snape because he found out he was a spy. He killed Snape thinking him a trusted servant who (he believed) just happened to have something that he wanted – the allegiance of the Elder Wand. Does Voldemort have any soul left?

Fred Weasley’s death. I don’t know why, but I never suspected Rowling would lay the hand of death on one of the Weasley twins.

Harry naming his younger son Albus Severus. I thought it was perfect, and it brought tears to my eyes, but I had to read it a couple of times to believe it was real.

I was not, alas, shocked at the death of Albus Dumbledore. I thought Dumbledore had to die in order for the hero to complete his Quest. And I was not especially shocked that Snape killed him… mainly because I knew before I read the books that Snape had done something in the course of the story that led to a huge debate over whether he was good or evil. When I did finally read the books, I personally believed that Snape was Dumbledore’s man and that the killing was most likely planned… but I had no idea as to the details of the plan.

Was the Story of Harry’s Past Told to the Children?

We don’t actually know if the children know the story of Harry’s role during the Second Wizarding War. What the epilogue indicates is that they apparently don’t know their father is so famous.

I like to think that Harry told them the story, but that he told them that battling people trying to murder you is not all that glorious when it’s actually happening – which is the same message he gave the members of Dumbledore’s Army.

I’m betting that regardless of what he said or didn’t say, he shielded his children significantly from his fame. I think that’s indicated by Albus Severus’ reaction to the other kids gawking from the train. The Potter kids are going to learn soon enough how famous their father is once they get to Hogwarts. To me, that seems an appropriate time to let them know – at age 11, the same age Harry was when he found out that he was “The Boy Who Lived.”

What Were You Dead Wrong About?

I thought Lucius Malfoy would die a horrible, horrible death.

I thought the Deathly Hallows would be a place.

I believed the mission was to protect Harry, when it was really to get him to sacrifice himself (or rather, the part of Voldemort’s soul in him).

I was right about Snape and Dumbledore working together to ensure Dumbledore’s death, but I was wrong about the immediate cause of that collaboration.

I suspected that Severus loved Lily, but I never imagined that he knew her before Hogwarts, or that he was the first magic person she ever knew, or that Petunia knew him and remembered him talking about dementors.

I was wrong that no Weasley twin could die.

I assumed Dumbledore was just a kindly, benign, immensely powerful elderly wizard, when he was in fact a master strategist and military genius, willing to ask his men to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to win the war.

Troll… from the Dungeon!

Oooops! I guess I really meant THIS kind of troll…

Yes, it has happened. Death-Eater-wannabe roleplay has invaded Pottermore. And it started in the Dungeon.

At first, it was a minor and occasional annoyance. But when Slytherin effectively banished all the “mudblood” talk from the Common Room, it migrated to the Great Hall. And it wasn’t even clever. I mean, “Die, Mudblood scum hahahaha”?

It was a troll. From the Dungeon. No self-respecting Slytherin would show up in the Great Hall with ZERO House points and launch into such literacy-challenged tirades. Even Malfoy would first have earned some emeralds!

Consequently, a large number of non-trollish Slytherins led the charge to vanquish the troll and clean up the Great Hall… showing, I suppose, that Slytherin solidarity sometimes takes second place to the Greater (Slytherin) Good. After all, we need the good will of the other Houses in order to win the House Cup! (And, of course, most of us just don’t hold with the anti-Muggleborn nonsense!). Which brings me to my main point…

As a result of this incident, a Ravenclaw friend told me of some Death Eater roleplay coming out of the myHogwarts Beta. But those DE wannabes have actually put a little bit of thought into their position. For them, the Wizarding Community remains in essentially the same position as that of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Here is a bit of their argument:

Could one not argue that Witches and Wizards, as a race, were treated the same as the jews, and were, and still are well within their rights to battle muggles and supporters of muggles until the days when witches and wizards are free to walk across this planet as themselves?

To which I reply:

It’s true that the DE hatred of of Muggles and Muggleborns originated in the centuries-long genocidal campaign of Muggles to wipe out all Wizards. But that is still no justification for the MEANS the DEs used to redress the wrong. If we use the analogy of Jews in Hitler’s Germany, Voldemort merely reversed the roles… and attempted to turn the Muggles and Muggleborns into the Jews.

Salazar Slytherin’s suspicions of Muggleborns resulted from fear. He thought they were potential spies who would place loyalty to their Muggle families ahead of loyalty to the Wizarding community. Given that the Muggles were at that time engaged in genocide, his fear was not entirely unfounded.

The problem (quite apart from Salazar’s Basilisk!) is that even after centuries of proof that Muggleborns were loyal to the Wizarding community, some Purebloods maintained their fear and suspicion of Muggleborns.

Regarding the Muggles themselves, it seems to me that the Wizarding community was faced with two options: non-confrontation and invisibility OR deciding to organize an effort to wipe the Muggles out. IMO, the Statute of Secrecy was as much about the virtue of the Wizarding community (i.e., deciding not to counter one genocide with another genocide) as it was about self-protection. In other words, it was as much about protecing the Muggles as it was about protecting the Wizards. IMO it is one of the most extraordinary feats of moral heroism imaginable.

However, after centuries of persecution it is hardly surprising that not all Wizards were on board for it. Hence, Dumbledore’s flirtation with Wizarding dominance. Hence, the appeal of Voldemort to many Pureblood families. One of the key attractions of the Wizarding dominance ideology was that Wizards would no longer have to hide. Also, my assumption is that the Purebloods are the ones whose ancestors suffered most under the Muggles… and were the least inclined to forgive.

So the DE wannabe argument itself is not entirely out of left field. However, there is never any justification for genocide, even in its incipient rather than fully realized form. And there is never any justification for the use of dark magic. So Voldemort’s entire project was fundamentally flawed at its base.

CCS

Thoughts?

Still Waiting for Pottermore? – Here’s More DH2

I’ve got about 40 minutes until my potion finishes brewing, so… okay, where were we before I got sucked into Pottermore? As I recall, we were discussing DH2. And I still had a few things left to say.

For me, the movie “worked” all the way up until the final battle with Voldemort. Thankfully, it had worked in a big way to that point from the moody opening, with Snape on the balcony and Harry at Shell Cottage, through the tense conversation with Aberforth, through the the look of heartbreak on Snape’s face when he realizes he must duel McGonnagall (not to mention his quick-thinking in taking out the Carrows and leaving Hogwarts to McGonnagall), all the way through the Battle of Hogwarts, the Pensieve memories, and King’s Cross.

I cried when Hermione blasted Fenrir off the dead body of Lavender Brown, her former rival for Ron’s affections. I cried when Aberforth announced his return to the fight by casting a powerful Patronus. I wept, like everyone else, over the fallen heroes in the Great Hall… and then over Snape’s memories in the Pensieve and Harry’s walk into the Forest.

The first three times I saw the film, though, I did not cry over Snape’s death. I just sat there with my mouth hanging wide open, hyperventilating. Curiously, a few friends who do not like Snape did find themselves crying… and then hated themselves afterward. LOL.

On the fourth viewing, I finally did cry. I think maybe it was because the theater was nearly empty. Snape is the character who resonates most with me, and so his death is the one that is most personal to me. I think I probably just needed some time alone in order to really let loose. And when I finally did, I cried so hard that my eyes were burning with the salt of my tears!

But enough of Snape for now, what I really want to talk about is the big VoldyBattle.

I suppose that any moviegoer would prefer a running-around-the-castle-Wizard Battle over a Harry talk-a-thon. BUT the problem with the sequence for me is that it creates the misperception that Harry could actually match Voldemort in power and skill. I mean… Srsly?

In the book, Harry wins because he understands the situation (the Elder Wand belongs to him) and because he sacrificed his life in the Forest to kill the scarcrux… not because he’s more powerful or more skilled than his antagonist. As a consequence of Harry’s sacrifice, Voldemort really can be killed. All it takes is for Harry to cast a disarming charm at the same moment that Voldemort casts a killing curse. The Elder Wand will do the rest.

Now, none of this is to downplay the significance of what Harry has done. In going into the Forest, he becomes a truly great man, a sacrificial figure, a young man willing to lay down his life in order that the Wizarding World might live. That, imo, is of far more significance than wizarding power or skill.

But the film plays up power and skill – matters in which Harry cannot begin to match Voldemort – and downplays the sacrificial significance of Harry’s walk into the Forest. Though I understand some of these choices from a cinematic standpoint, this is one matter in which I think the film does the book a disservice.

The point is not that Harry wins because he has power. The point is that he wins because he has love.

Well, my potion has finished brewing, and I was supposed to get House points, but the system logged me out, and I didn’t get the points.

(Funny how I never fail to lose points when I melt a cauldron but never seem to gain points when I successfully complete a potion. Argggggg. There’s Beta for you!)

Anyway, I’ve finally said everything I have to say about DH2. So next stop for those waiting is to start in on the Random Re-read. First chapter up is the first chapter in PoA: “Owl Post.” Should be fun!

Waiting for Pottermore DH2: The Taunting

A fifth batch of emails has been sent out, and there’s still not one for me.

So with that in mind, Expecto Patronum! continues the “Waiting for Pottermore” series…

Note: While we continue the never-ending wait for the Pottermore email, we carry on bravely with our discussion of the DH2 movie…

“Severus Snape wasn’t yours,” said Harry. “Snape was Dumbledore’s. Dumbledore’s from the moment you started hunting down my mother.”

I, and a lot of people, waited for that line in the movie…
and it never came.

After thinking about it, though, I have a theory about why the filmmakers cut it.

It was redundant.

In the book, Harry needs to say it out loud (or think it internally) so that the reading audience gets the point of what he sees in the Pensieve. Yet even with several pages of Harry circling around Voldemort, proclaiming that Dumbledore planned his death with Snape, there remains a tiny contingent of readers who still insist that Snape was truly working for Voldemort and that Harry was merely taunting Voldemort with Snape’s loyalties. He didn’t really mean it. *shrug*

In the movie, though, it’s kind of impossible to miss, or explain away, Snape’s true loyalties. Film is a visual medium, and here is what the viewers (and Harry) get to see…

"You have your mother's eyes"


"... and you're special"


"He doesn't need protecting..."


"So... the boy must die?"


Sure, Severus cradling Lily’s body at Godric’s Hollow is extra-canonical. And sure, Severus never actually says “You have your mother’s eyes.” But movie-only viewers don’t have the advantage of reading the text… over and over and over again… and thinking about its implications. They need to have things spelled out visually. And this approach to the backstory does have JKR’s highest blessing:

“They do it perfectly in the film, that was a place I was very glad they were faithful to the book. Snape’s journey is important, it’s such a lynchpin of the books, the plot can’t function without Snape.” ~ J. K. Rowling

After witnessing the series of images from Snape’s demise through the Pensieve memories, the viewing audience has no question that Severus loved Lily from the time he was a child or that he had been working for Dumbledore – and against Voldemort – ever since the Dark Lord started hunting her down. Viewers don’t need Harry to tell them that. And so, in the movie, he doesn’t.

I’m disappointed, of course, to find one of my favorite moments missing. But I’m appeased by the recognition that it was not necessary to show it. How about you?

Let us know in the comments.

Waiting for Pottermore: The Movie!

Well, a third set of Pottermore emails went out today, and I didn’t receive one. So I took the cue from my Waiting for Pottermore Top 10 List and went to Tyson’s Corner tonight to see the very last IMAX 3D showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. To tell the truth, it’s better in 2D. But hey, I didn’t have to wait as long to see the 3D version, and it was a rather intimate showing of the film.

Anyway, while I’m off busily writing about DH2, I thought you might find a way to entertain yourselves with this little movie. Enjoy!

ETA: OMG! GMTA!!! I just discovered that The Last Muggle posted this same video yesterday! But I solemnly swear I didn’t steal it from her. I found it in a social group on CoS.

Pottermore: I’m In! Here’s How…

Well, I didn’t expect to try to get in to Pottermore as a Beta tester. I expected that getting early access would be really difficult, but when I read the Pottermore announcement shortly after midnight July 31 (UK time), I could not help but get caught up in all the excitement.

There wasn’t, as rumored, going to be some crazy round-the-Web scavenger hunt, and there were going to be 7 Days to get in to the Beta test group!

Naturally, I decided to give it a shot. And I decided to give it a shot on Day 1. I mean, how cool would it be to get in on Harry’s birthday – the day Harry got his own letter to Hogwarts?

Preparations

Since I was already hanging out on a fan site, I got a little bit of insider information. I learned that the first clue would be posted sometime after midnight Pacific time (8am in the UK), and that we would need to go to Diagon Alley.

The contest information had already indicated that the first day’s clue would focus on PS/SS. So Diagon Alley was clearly a reference to Chapter 5 in the first book. So of course, I skimmed the chapter and made notes before taking a nap and setting the alarm for 3am (US Eastern). It appeared that we would need to do some sort of calculation, so I particularly noted numbers in the Diagon Alley chapter.

Before taking my nap, I also made sure that I had the address I needed (http://quill.pottermore.com/) already typed in to the address bar on an open tab and that I had a calculator handy for the calculation. I didn’t want to be rushing around in excitement making mistakes if I figured out the clue.

The Clue

The clue didn’t arrive within 20 minutes of 3am, so I went back to sleep and woke up after a Pottermore dream at 4:30am. When I refreshed the Pottermore website, I saw this…

That was one number I had not written down!

But I did know where to find the Eeylops Owl Emporium because I had made a specific note of it. It was one of the first things Harry saw when he entered Diagon Alley! Five. Five breeds of owl. 5 * 49 = 245.

I couldn’t believe it had been so easy! I was pumping adrenalin as I opened up the tab with the address for the quill, typed 245 after the slash, hit Enter, and found myself trying to catch the Magic Quill!!!
(Note for anyone who wants to get into Pottermore: you have to do something with the Magic Quill. What you have to do has been different in each of the three challenges so far. But it is not hard to locate the Magic Quill).

Registration

Everything after that is a bit of a daze. After I clicked on the Magic Quill, I found myself on the registration page, then I saw my name on a list of magical people, and then I found myself having to choose a username. All the while, I was racing against the clock because I needed to get the registration completed before registration closed down for the day! Otherwise, catching the Magic Quill would not have mattered!

Anyway, I received a set of  5 possible usernames. They consisted of random Harry Potter words, coupled with a series of numbers. My choices, compared to a lot of people’s, actually seemed very good. I was ready to select one of the names at the top of the list when I found something in the middle:

AsphodelPhoenix

Seriously?!?!? I could have Asphodel and Phoenix in my username?

Asphodel is one of the ingredients in the very first question Severus Snape ever asks Harry:

“Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

(Answer: the Draught of Living Death)

And the Phoenix has been one of my favorite magical beasts since well before a wand with a Phoenix tail feather at the core chose Harry… or before Dumbledore befriended Fawkes or started an Order of the Phoenix!

All of my Top 4 characters are implied in that name. AsphodelPhoenix ties together Snape and Dumbledore, Harry and Riddle, and even (because there’s a plant involved) Neville! Just subtract Riddle from the list, and you know who my absolute favorite Harry Potter characters are!

Well, the choice was obvious, wasn’t it?!? And when I finished the registration process, I received a lovely piece of parchment confirming my name.

I wish I could say that the rest of the process went just as seamlessly, but I was one of the unfortunates who got caught in Yahoo Mail Limbo. It took me nearly 10 hours to get my activation email!

But hey, at least I didn’t have to wait as long as poor Evanna Lynch! (Luna in the Harry Potter movies). It seems that she had to wait about 18 hours!

So now, after recounting my own journey into Pottermore, I have something to pass on that I hope is useful to somebody.

The Numbers and the Books

It’s pretty obvious that the solution to the clue will always be a number, and that the number will be multiplied by something.

On Day 1, we had to multiply the solution by 49. Note that Pottermore is framing the challenge in terms of 7 Books, 7 Days, 7 Chances. 7 Days = 7 Chances, so we don’t really need to consider the final number. However, let’s look at the numbers so far…

Day 1: 7 books, 7 days (7 * 7 = 49)

Day 2: 7 books, 6 days (7 * 6 = 42)

Yes, it’s my understanding that on Day 2, the solution to the clue needed to be multiplied by 42. I predicted this, based on Day 1 using 7 squared. And if the pattern holds true, here are the rest of the numbers:

Day 3: 7 books, 5 days (7 * 5 = 35) – ETA (8/2/01): confirmed. The number was 35.

Day 4: 7 books, 4 days (7 * 4 = 28)

Day 5: 7 books, 3 days (7 * 3 = 21)

Day 6: 7 books, 2 days (7 * 2 = 14)

Day 7: 7 books, 1 day (7 * 1 = 7)

Note also, that on Day 3, the clue will focus on the third book, etc. So here are the remaining books you need to consider for the remaining days of the Beta test challenge:

Day 3: Prisoner of Azkaban

Day 4: Goblet of Fire

Day 5: Order of the Phoenix

Day 6: Half-Blood Prince

Day 7: Deathly Hallows

Pottermore Implications for the Expecto Patronum Blog

Once Beta testing is over and the entire public is allowed in to Pottermore, I will be re-focusing this blog on the Pottermore experience of re-reading the Harry Potter series.

Between now and then, I will re-read (and write about) some random chapters in the series. If anybody has any suggestions for favorite chapters to read, please let me know in the comments!

And with that, I’ll just say “Good luck on gaining early entry!”