Revisiting Harry Potter: Origins

I know I know. I should have posted a post last Friday too. I didn’t do it because it was my first week back and there were a lot of things going on including buying a TV table and setting up my TV and DVD player and the Roku Box Captain Hammer gave me for Christmas. And buying a new purse (this one here). And organizing a work book club meeting for Five Quarters of an Orange (about which more later). And anyway I am lawless and I cannot be contained by rules. So.

(I am writing this in a coffee shop — I know, I’m such a cliche — and as I type, there is a fire truck stopped outside asking for directions to where he’s going. And it made me think of how when I was a kid, if there was an emergency vehicle of any kind in the neighborhood, we didn’t even have to ask. We just directed it to the house next door. Mumsy probably feels less nostalgic for these days but I thought it was kind of cool and funny.)

Anyway! To the point! Harry Potter and the let’s just agree to call it Philosopher’s Stone because contrary to popular belief, Americans are not morons.

Here are some things I have been thinking about:

1. Not to be a jerk, but you know when Dumbledore is all like, “They’ve had precious little to celebrate for the last eleven years?” Is this accurate? The last eleven years have been like the seventh Harry Potter book? Seriously, what was Dumbledore doing that whole time? Eleven years have gone by and Dumbledore still isn’t up off the mat? Shouldn’t he have gone to Voldemort’s house and challenged him to a magical duel? Like, he doesn’t even have the excuse with Voldemort that he SPOILERS had with Grindelwald of being secretly in love with him. Go fight that evil wizard, Dumbledore of ten years ago! Don’t let him just kill people willy-nilly!

1a. SPOILERS. Not to be a jerk again, because sorry, Dumbledore!, but doesn’t he know that Sirius Black was the Potters’ Secret-Keeper? When Hagrid talks about bringing Sirius his bike back, shouldn’t Dumbledore be like, “No, don’t bring the bike to Sirius, he’s terrible”? Whatever.

2. The wizard monetary system is bullshit. These kids don’t even go to regular school until they’re eleven, and the wizarding world expects them to able to count in multiples of seventeen sickles to a galleon? Is this some sick joke dreamed up by the goblins to screw with the wizards for oppressing them all these years? That…is sort of brilliant, actually. Way to go goblins. Guerrilla douchery.

3. Oh Neville. Show of hands everyone who clasped their hands to their heart and went “Neville!” I feel like that is as pervasive in our generation as singing along to “Part of Your World” if someone plays or sings two bars of it. (NB Start singing “Part of Your World” around a group of twenty-something girls. The results are shockingly consistent.)

4. SHUT UP SNAPE. Snape is the living worst. I cannot wait for…certain events that will occur later. JUST SHUT UP SNAPE. If you ever feel the desire to speak again JUST SHUT UP.

Y’all, I have to say, as origin stories go, this one is top-notch. There’s so much set-up of the awesome aspects of wizarding world, and then there is also this subsidiary mystery thing. I think it’s a good balance to strike. What’s good is that JK Rowling is also quietly setting up what’s going to happen in the later, horrifically dark books. But the main thing of the book is creating a world, and this world could not have been created better. With the sports? And the owls? And the floating candles? And the characters and how you now know they are going to grow into amazing heroes? It’s so great because you discovered it as the books went along, but JK Rowling knew all along. Well played, JK Rowling. Very, very well played. Ten trillion sparkly stars for you.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

I decided to read these books all over again. The length of my workdays, and the fact that today I was working at one place or another from six-forty in the morning until nine at night, has put the kibosh on any adventurous reading I might feel like doing. I returned all my library books to the library with the intention of reading my books that I already own (but not yet Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, for which I’m still delaying gratification); and I came up with the bright idea of reading the entire Harry Potter series over from the beginning. My little sister and I have been having a big moan about how much we miss the prospect of new Harry Potter books now that the phenomenon is all, all over.

Also, I decline to call it Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. What is a sorcerer’s stone? The thing is called the philosopher’s stone! It has basis in alchemic legend! Why assume Americans are too stupid for this? Hmph.

In case you’ve been living under a rock: little Harry is a wee lad of eleven, and lives with his awful aunt and uncle and cousin, where nobody likes him and his glasses are broken and he gets in enormous trouble every time something strange happens around him (which isn’t un-often). And then, and then, and then – and then it proves that he’s a wizard, a really famous one because he somehow defeated the darkest dark wizard of all time when he was just a tiny baby, and he goes off to the wizard school Hogwarts, where he has all kinds of exciting adventures and meets loads of new people and flies brilliantly all around on his broomstick. And confronts the aforementioned dark wizard, all over again.

All the problems I remember with JK Rowling’s writing – crazy long sentences which bugs me as someone who likes to read aloud, and also a plethora of unnecessary verbs where “said” should be, and of course the ubiquitous adverbs – are still there. (I realize that last sentence was on the long side, but this is the same blog where I just used the word “unreviewy”, so the standards aren’t quite the same.) I’ve heard people say that JK Rowling is unoriginal, and Harry’s a cliche, and wizard school is a cliche. However, kids who have been mistreated and then find out they’re special are one of those plots that continues to be enjoyable for ages and ages – just like kids who go off to their relative’s strange old house for the summer and discover it is all full of magic. So I am not bothered by this, and since JK Rowling has created an unbelievably thorough and interesting world for her wizards, I can’t support charges of unoriginality.

I have to say, these are charming, charming books. She’s populated her world with good, bright, vivid characters, and she’s made up or borrowed from myth a ton of interesting places and things for Harry (and me!) to be introduced to. I like these books because every one of them introduces new places, new people, new stuff. And as well, I kind of enjoy this one because it’s lighter in tone than the later ones. I want to give Harry a hug and tell him to run away because I KNOW WHAT IS COMING. (JK Rowling was always saying that in interviews – that if she could talk to Harry, she’d tell him she was sorry; if she could spend a day as Harry, she’d run and hide, because she knows what’s in store for him, and I can totally see her point now.) As someone who held out reading them for a while out of a suspicion that they weren’t as good as everyone was saying, let me just say: They’re as good as everyone is saying.

Rereading this, I’m having flashbacks to eighth grade, which is when I first read this book. My friend Rachel lent it to me, and I read it on the bus so I wouldn’t have to talk to the irritating girl who sat with me. Her name was Terri, and she had a high-pitched voice and an annoying little sister who also rode our bus, and she couldn’t understand why it would bother me to have somebody poking their fingers at my face. I finished it, urged my sisters to read it, and ran straight out to the Books-a-Million to buy Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And then, oh my God, I think I maybe got the third book at the school book fair! I miss the school book fairs!

I’m also finding that I react to every character differently now, because I know the entire arc of their story. (If you haven’t had the joyous experience of reading the Harry Potter books, don’t read this paragraph. I mean it. Even I, queen of reading the end, did not want to know the endings of these books.) So when people show up who are going to die later, I feel urgently that everybody else should enjoy their presence while they can. When people show up who are going to be heroic later, I can only think of their future heroic deeds. I’m having surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, when you think about how tired I am) emotional reactions to everything. When Neville comes into the compartment looking for his toad, I could only think about how he slays Nagini later, oh, how Harry’s going off and he tells Neville, just if he gets the chance, “Kill the snake?” “Kill the snake.” Darling Neville! I wish I could tell him how brave he will be! And when Dumbledore’s giving his speech at the school banquet, I was filled with visceral rage about the nasty things Rita Skeeter was going to say about him later. Oh how I hate her, with her vile insinuations about his very touching paternal relationship with Harry. VILE VILE VILE WOMAN.