Part 1 of the Harry Potter Readstravaganza series (there was a Part 0)
Disclaimer: I don’t like J. K. Rowling, nor do I endorse her. I’m analyzing, critiquing, and mocking a book series which remains relevant because it’s been a pop cultural tour de force as long as I’ve been alive.
Never again will I wonder what Matilda would be like as the first book of a seven-part series. It is here before me: Harry Potter and the Sorcerolosopher’s Stone.
This is a good, upstanding, morally upright adventure. It gives me the impression that J. K. Rowling respects kids’ intelligence and urges them to trust their instincts, even when their hunches aren’t totally right.
There’s a part, though, where the narration says something like “maybe Harry was imagining things, but Slytherin didn’t seem very nice.” In this case Harry’s instincts are totally right, because all of Slytherin is so evil and awful. Prove me wrong.
You don’t need me to summarize this book. I’m going to anyway. Harry Potter is a wimpy kid with knobby knees who lives in the normal “muggle” world. His own family hates him. His non-adoptive family, however, loves him. Too bad they’re all dead and gone. You have to specify “dead and gone” because of all the billions of ghosts in this story.
Regardless, the world of wizards (one might even be tempted to call it a Wizarding World) knows Harry Potter as “the boy who lived,” because the evil guy Voldemort killed his folks and then tried to kill him, but couldn’t. So in one world Harry may be tormented, but in the other, he’s already a celebrity.
Therefore, in this first year of his enrollment at the wacky Hogwarts school for wizards, he realizes this double life as both instant-celeb and despised-child-in-the-corner. I’m assuming it’s not such a double life because he loves the Wizarding World™ so much more than the Muggling World™ that he’ll probably stay, insofar as he can — but as of Philosorcer’s Stone, it certainly feels like a double life to me.
Along the way he also grapples with an ancient conspiracy, bests some bad guys, etc., but I left that out because this isn’t a good summary.
Complimenting the Nice Book
This shit is funny. From Ron’s back-talk, to the likening of Hagrid’s feet to “baby dolphins,” to the Dursleys’ descent into deeper and deeper stupidity in “The Letters From Nowhere,” I was very very amused with this book. I don’t laugh out loud very often when I read, but, make no mistake, I was…well, no, I didn’t do all that, but I did routinely make closed-mouth laughing noises.
Humor is just one of the many things that help this book go down easy. You gotta root for the people, too. I’m sure the first few chapters, filled as they are with the Dursleys tormenting Harry, would have turned a lot of people away if Harry never fought back. That kid’s a sparkplug. He knows he can never get the better of his spoiled older brother Dudley for long, but he still gives him some lip once in a while. He’s so clearly a wimp, but he’ll still wrestle Dudley just for a chance to grab his letter to Hogwarts. He and his friends are relatable. They can be little pissants sometimes, but they’re only, like, ten, so they’ll learn. (Or get worse?)
It’s a pretty fast read, too. There are intense, pivotal battles that only last two pages. The Quidditch match was, to my surprise, mainly play-by-play announcements. If this were a movie (say, a blockbuster movie released in 2001) the script would probably have to say stuff like, “The brooms go flying! They’re going so fast! Make quick cuts to emphasize how fast they’re going and how thrilling it is! Quick cut to the announcer. Now the brooms again–!” But with a book, you can imagine it or not, and the excitement you “hear” in an announcer’s voice gives you fertile ground. Was that an interesting thought? I hope so. I like comparing books to movies.
One way you can tell this couldn’t have been written by any old author is the sheer volume of GHOSTS.
You think “kid’s book about wizard school” and certain things will come to mind. They probably wear pointy hats…they wear cloaks and ride brooms…there might be fantastical creatures…etc. You might give things disgusting names. (“Oh, witches have warts. I can use that.”) You MIGHT even — get this — include GHOSTS.
But how many ghosts are you going to include? One or two, right? Or maybe there’s a little haunted house on campus? No, Hogwarts is just lousy with ghosts, and I am sure they just live horrible afterlives. What kind of ghost willfully agrees to superintend a school until the inevitable heat death of the universe?
PEEVES. I want his story. You gotta feel for a guy who does nothing all day but tell on prepubescent children for losing their way in an enchanted, deliberately-making-every-student-lose-their-way schoolhouse. If this guy isn’t depressed and empty inside, I don’t think I’ll find him convincing. (Also, because I’m really easy to please, I like filling in “Peeves swooped out cursing” with things like “FUCK YOU!” while everyone below is spluttering with rage.)
…oh yeah, and moving pictures/living portraits are a really inventive idea too. I just don’t focus on them because they don’t make as many bad jokes.
Some Opinions on Characters (and the Multi-Harry Theory)
Poor Neville. He keeps getting bullied, because he’s bad at apparently everything, but all he wants is to love life. He even loves his horrible toad that probably left because it doesn’t even want him. I remember reading a fan theory online once that asked, “What if Neville was actually the boy who lived, and Harry was just a decoy?” People figuratively shook their heads, saying the idea was too good to be true.
Everyone knows Harry, Ron, and Hermione are the three true companions of this outfit. Nobody likes the frickin’ fourth musketeer. I bet that after Goblet of Fire, Neville’s going to get lost in the shuffle of new character developments and…I dunno…teenagery angst, probably.
Still, as I read the scene aboard the train where Harry meets Ron, Malfoy, Neville, and Hermione for the first time, I concocted this “theory,” which is really a paradigm, a frame, a dynamic, or a some-other-fancy-word for viewing these characters in relation to one another.
Harry: in a state of change. He used to be poor and sad. Now he’s rich and glad!
Ron: the New Harry. Or, rather, he’s the lingering Old Harry. He keeps moaning about family and his crummy hand-me-downs.
Hermione: Alternate Harry #1. What if Harry was raised knowing about magic? He’d think he was hot shit.
Malfoy: Alternate Harry #2. What if Harry was raised by pompous magical racists? He’d think he was even hotter shit.
Neville: Alternate Harry #3. What if Harry was just awful at magic and nobody liked him, but he still appreciated every little thing he had? (This is where I kind of gave up with my theory.)
I also appreciate how nobody likes Hermione at first, and how befriending her is interwoven with all their deadly first-year adventures. It helps the sense of progression, helps convince the reader that all this wondering about the Stoclostopher’s Stone did mean something after all.
The Sorting Hat (and my Holey Hogwarts House Theory)
I know this is pre-emptive, and I know there are many people on Earth who know the mechanics of the Sorting Hat better than me, who have actually read more than 11.5% of the series. But hey, listen up, everyone. I got this theory about how the Sorting Hat works.
You see, there are four Hogwarts houses: brave noble lion Gryffindor, stalwart humble tenacious Hufflepuff, intelligent wit witty wit witty Ravenclaw, and Slytherin, which wants nothing more than power at any cost. You with me so far? You in agreement? Okay, good. Well, to see which houses they go to, new students put on the Sorting Hat.
In this first book, we see some kids sorted after the hat has barely scraped their heads, and others taking a longer while. Harry puts it on and the hat analyzes his abilities and nature. It prods him to go with Slytherin, but ultimately it accepts Harry’s choice to go with Gryffindor.
I’m assuming that the sorting process is similar for all kids — what I mean is, the hat doesn’t sort you, you sort you. The kids who have firm resolutions and accomodating natures get into the house they want. But kids who are resolute despite having strengths that don’t completely fit (like Harry, who seems to be on the fence with Gryffindor and Slytherin in this moment) still go to the house they want. If you strongly believe you’re a Gryffindor, you’re a Gryffindor. If you have no doubt about being pure bloomin’ evil, you will slither into Slytherin.
I am just literary enough to have read Emmanuel Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell and thus be able to devise the following pseudo-theological Hogwarts House theory:
Slytherin: love of oneself (pure bloomin’ evil; correlates with deepest hell; members of this house are demons)
Ravenclaw: love of the world (shallow hell; spirits)
Hufflepuff: love of one’s neighbor (shallow heaven; angels of spiritual love/wisdom)
Gryffindor: love of God (deepest heaven; angels of heavenly love/wisdom)
Don’t believe me? Prove me wrong. ‘Cept you can’t, because it’s just a theory and not something to be proven or disproven, only refuted. (It could still be a bad theory, though.)
Now let me bring these two theories together. If Slytherin is Evil House, and kids sort themselves, that means kids, ten-year-old kids, are signing themselves up for a lifetime of dedication to evil. This implies that Hogwarts believes your true nature is immutable from fifth grade on, which is terrifying. It also implies that they’re shrugging and going, “Well, there’s no saving these kids. They’re just flat awful. Might as well put them to some use.”
What I Expect from Chamber of Secrets
I get the impression that Prisoner of Azkaban is where cool and dark things happen, Goblet of Fire is the equivalent of a shounen manga tournament arc, and Order of the Phoenix is where things start to get angsty and never stop. So I assume that Chamber of Secrets is episodic like Stoponnifer’s Stone, and that it’ll go hand-in-hand with it.
Thanks to glimpses of the film from the corner of my eye, I know that I’ll encounter the saddest ghost type of all: a KID GHOST. That’s SO SAD. Who wants to spend their entire afterlife MOANING IN A BATHROOM? NOT!! ME!!!
Favorite scene: The end-of-year tally of the House points. I was worrying and cheering right along with them.
Favorite character/s: Who else but Scabbers
Book ranking: I didn’t read any others yet so I guess it’s the best one
Is there anything I should add to the list of favorites up there? You can let me know in the comments!
Tune in for Pt. 2, coming in…a week, probably! Oh, wait a minute, it’s here.