boy_who_lived

Read With Me: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – The Boy Who Lived

Read With Me: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived

I can’t pretend that I haven’t read this whole series multiple times. To try to come at the books as a new person, unaware of what lies ahead would be foolish and completely disingenuous. I think that in a way, it would also lose some depth. I assume that you have read Harry Potter before and that you’re looking for a new way to read it, or new things to see in the text. These are my observations, so if you disagree feel free to let me know what I’ve missed. I wrote a brief description of the series Here.

The first chapter of this book, is seventeen pages. At times, the sentences are clunky and the descriptions are stiff, but as one progresses through the chapter, it is amazing what is actually said.

It has been said that J.K. Rowling rewrote this first chapter countless times (I’ve seen some report around fifteen times) and I can understand why. The first chapter, like all first chapters exists to set up everything that will come after it. One must establish characters, introduce a standard or normative setting, foreshadow plot, and hook the reader. The first seventeen pages of this novel give the reader so much information, it’s almost hard to take it all in.

Establishing the World

J.K. Rowling sets up the normal world. Mr. And Mrs Dursley live at a normal address, normal occupations, a typical lifestyle. We see that Mrs. Dursley is a stay at home mom raising a son and watching her neighbours. Mr. Dursley comes off as a bit domineering. Their son is a brat. They are average people who live boring lives.

Immediately, we are also told that this normal world runs parallel to something completely different. There are owls flying around during the daylight, a cat reads a map, people in cloaks roam the streets. We learn the word ‘Muggle’ for the first time.

We can begin to see the parallelism of the world. Unlike in stories where a character leaves one world and enters another, Rowling tells the reader that her worlds run parallel. What happens in the muggle world also happens to some degree in this other world. People and events move seamlessly between both of these worlds. We can see this idea play out later in Prisoner of Azkaban when Sirius Black makes the news and in more detail in The Half Blood Prince with the “other minister”.

Rowling sets the beginning of a structure that will span all seven books. References to what happens in this first chapter come back again and again as the series plays out.

The Characters

J.K. Rowling introduces some of the most important players to this story within these seventeen pages. We meet the Dursley’s and while we have heavy amounts of description, we are already interested in them. By the end of the first page, we are already aware that they have a secret. What is it? We’ll have to turn the page to find out.

We are also introduced to Professor McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore. The fact that Dumbledore calls her Professor gives us a reason to believe that a school. What is interesting is that the Dursley’s are often described in a very concrete way: Mrs. Dursley likes to watch her neighbors, Mr. Dursley works a drill company, and Dudley kicks his mother. In contrast, we learn about magical people rather indirectly. It is as if Rowling adds a second layer of mystery on top of her characters by having them referred to by others.

We do not meet Professor McGonagall upfront. Instead we meet her has a cat. It is easy to think that she must have cat like features, and in a way, we learn that she does. She’s an intellectual, astute, serious, and what Dumbledore calls stiff. We can see that she’s dedicated to her duties by watching her sit on a wall all day. She cares deeply, her concern over whether Hagrid is trustworthy is also clear. We see her as questioning, cautious, caring, and by the book. We start to see her as a bit strict and more practical than emotional as she chastises Hagrid‘s wailing tears.

The Potter‘s are also refered to indirectly. We learn about them from the eyes of Vernon Dursley who receives his information from his wife. They are very different from the Dursley’s. Vernon refers to them as “their lot” as if to say, not one of us. As a result, it’s unsurprising that by the time Harry arrives at 4 Privet Drive, we can already feel sorry for him. We already care because we can see the type of people Petunia and Vernon are.

You-Know- Who makes his entrance in this chapter too. We learn his name and what type of things he did. We feel safer knowing of his defeat and confused by the fact it took only a little boy who did it. We learn about Dumbledore from what McGonagall says about You-Know-Who. Dumbledore says that Voldemort has powers he will never use. McGonagall replies, “Only because you’re too – well – noble to use them.” We see the beginning of a foil here. Dumbledore vs Voldemort. Whose philosophy will hold out? Surely there is something deeper under the surface.

We hear Sirius Black’s name even though he doesn’t appear for a while. At this point we cannot know his significance. Who is this throw away character and why do we care that he leant his motorcycle to Hagrid? What does it matter? I am sure that many of us forgot about Sirius until Prisoner of Azkaban appeared in our hands. Even then, I bet some us forgot.

We also see the beginning of Hagrid’s love for Harry. This is where the relationship starts. Dumbledore tasks Hagrid with the boy’s life. A special love grows as Hagrid transports Harry over Bristol. Hagrid is willing to protect the boy with his life. We see a similar flight play out in the Deathly Hallows.

We can’t forget to mention Dedalus Diggle, the Put-Outer, the reliance on owls, and the ability to become an animagus all make an apperance here.

A Dash of Plot Technique

One of the things that J.K. Rowling does well is redirecting attention away from what is happening. We get bits and pieces of redirection in this chapter. She introduces magical phenomena in muggle terms instead of what they are: magic. We see news broadcasts about owls and shooting stars. Because we relate to the normalcy J.K. Rowling describes, we can only believe her. We took act like Vernon Dursley who questions whether he saw that cat reading a sign. Cats don’t read signs. But in this world they do.

It isn’t until the reveal when Dumbledore arrives that we begin to realise it isn’t what we thought. J.K Rowling tells us one thing, but what happens underneath is the true story. From now on, we will pay closer attention to what is not said. We will have to look for subtle clues and try to figure out answers ourselves. This is only the beginning of the detective fantasy novel. We got a reveal here, but that was only a test. Our detective skills will be tested.

Conclusion

This chapter does a lot in such a short time. It invites us to a whole new world and lets us know we need to start thinking. There are clues scattered throughout the work and we can piece them together. This chapter introduces us to our characters. It encourages us to root for our hero, Harry even if we don’t know why yet. It gives us a mystery to solve and we’re going to go out and solve it.

Picture Prompt 1

Picture Prompt No. 1: Abandoned

Topic: Abandoned
Length: 431 Words:
POV: Bird
Word(s) not to mention:the bird.

abandonedsource: /flickr/baldeaglebuff


In the beginning there were people. They were there by the hundreds: fishermen, tourists, housewives, and teachers. By the end, there was only the silence they left behind. It seems that without support, everything crumbles. At first the foundation cracks. Then the walls decay. They could have built levies; they could have, but they didn’t. They said there was nothing that they could do. It was inevitable and in the end, there was no way to prevent it.

They said the water came without warning, but that was not true. It came with a warning they didn’t wish to see. Instead they filled their heads with senseless things. They talked about the quality of fish and the prices they sought. They talked about the long hours and their unfair wages.

It didn’t matter to us. As they survived, so did we. We lived on Big Macs and Whoppers stolen from the green bins they left outside. We snuck french fries from the hands of toddlers. Sometimes we circled abandoned picnic blankets in summer. We liked fried clams and chicken nuggets, stale bread and cotton candy and so like them, we ignored it. What did we have to worry about in a world that was inevitable.

The water rose. Not a little at a time, but a flood that filled the streets with brackish water. They shut down the schools to keep their children safe. They held press conferences and meetings, argued and cried, but then the water receded. For awhile all was quiet. But it happened again. And then again and still they remained shocked.

The streets stopped draining and what was once a week long crisis became an indefinite massacre. We watched the world from above. We flew across the rooftops and watched those green bins sink with our precious cargo left inside. When the water rose, it took their family homes. It took their children; it took their pride. Then the winds picked up and still the water rose. One flooded street became two. Two streets became three until one house remained standing.

If only someone had seen it coming. If only someone knew.

We flocked together, gathered our survivors, and our wounded. We took one last look across the bay. The black water below scraped against the rocks as our roost creaked. Soon this too would be underwater. The waves left only mud in its wake. For the final time, we circled the air. Everyone watched, some even cared, but still no one came. Instead the humans left. They piled into their automobiles and disappeared for dryer shores.

Read With Me: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

This is our first read with me, so I hope you enjoy the experience. Starting next week, I will be going chapter by chapter through Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to take a deeper look at the characters, plot, and themes. We will look at some historical references, mythology, and anything else that seems interesting.

I will be making my way through the book as both a reader and a writer, taking note of anything from word choice, character development, to questioning character motives and readability.

As our first Read With Me, I hope Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone will be accessible to everyone. Its a big task to provide a fresh look at a book so well loved and read.

We will begin with chapter one: The Boy Who Lived on Thursday!

Writing Tools

A couple of years ago, back in 2015 I wrote about a few of my favourite writing tools. While I was looking at the list that I provided, I realised that some of the links no longer worked and that I had changed what I was using as my primary writing tools. I realised it was time for an update. Here is a link to the previous post.

I’ve listed some of my favourite writing tools in no particular order. Some of them are for Mac only, while others are cross platform.

Bear

For Mac/iOS

I have recently taking to writing all of my blog posts in Bear before transferring them into WordPress. Bear offers a minimalist and clean word processor experience.Bear can be used as the most basic of word processors, or you can take advantage of some of it’s great features.

Bear allows you to add tags, create internal links to other documents you’re working on, insert attachments, create check lists, and include pictures. Another really cool think about the iOS version of Bear is that it allows you to insert handwritten notes into your word document.

Bear is also a free app, which makes it great. If you want to sync your notes between devices, export pdfs and other file types, or use themes, you will have to pay a monthly subscription. It’s only $1.49 a month (at the time of this posting), so it may be well worth it if you like the product.

Scrivener

For Mac iOS Windows

Scrivener seems to have taken some heat about being slow on updates, but it is still a brilliant program. Scrivener works best for projects. If you’re writing a short story, a novel, a screenplay, or even an academic paper, Scrivener will help keep you organised. You can create folders to manage different aspects of your project.

The best part about Scrivener is that you can compile your manuscript into a number of different forms. You can format your document into an ebook, a regular manuscript, or any other number of options. Scrivener also has an iPad app, so if you’re hooked into the Mac ecosystem, you can write on your iPad and use Dropbox to sync your work.

It’s an easy way to keep everything together and not have a thousand different word documents with different parts of your novel spread around.

Writeometer

For Android

There is this really cool app called Writeometer which allows you define a project that you’re working on and what the word count is for that project. This is really helpful for NaNoWriMo. Once you set the right number of words you need, it will calculate how many you need to write a day to reach your goal. In addition, Writeometer acts as a pomodoro timer. You can set the timer for 25 minutes. For each 25 minute session that you do, you claim a reward called a guava. You can use your guava points to earn treats, which you can customise based on whatever reward system works for you.

Writeometer also provides an in app dictionary, thesaurus, and “word salad” prompt database to help you gain some inspiration. In addition, Writeometer also includes widgets and reminders to provide you with easy access to your projects.

Writeometer is completely free to use and it’s a great way to keep track of your progress.

Write or Die

Web, Windows, Mac
Write or Die is still one of my favorite programs. Its perfect for word sprints and other word count related goals. With a ton of different settings, Write or Die forces you to turn off your inner editor and begin writing.

When you slow down or stop writing, the program can begin to delete the words you’ve already typed, play obnoxious sounds, display images and more. The best part about Write or Die is that you can take it anywhere by using the Web version.

Why Do We Write? Why Should we Write?

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” – Flannery O’Connor

The scene opens. A young woman sits on the edge of her seat, her body hunched forward over a spiral bound notebook. Next to her rests a half empty mug. The smell of stale coffee reaches her and she crinkles her nose. In her left hand she taps a black pen against the table idly. She takes in a deep breath and looks up. The moment is brief as if a long respite will cost her dearly. She looks back down. The page is blank. It has been blank for as long as the minute hand on her watch dips past the two and heads for the ten. The tapping grows louder. Even to her it becomes a nuisance. She snorts and leans back against the chair. Her eyes close. Why, she asks. Why do we write.

In 2018 we live in a world that pushes STEM. Every child is encouraged to think about maths and science. Look to the future, become a computer programmer, an engineer, a scientist, a mathematician. With the newest budget proposal coming from the Whitehouse we see cuts from the arts and various organisations which support them, such as public radio. We hear students express their longing to be creative, while our society pushes them toward more practical and career worthy goals. No English major gets a job outside of teaching. Museums are losing funding. You’ll never be a Picasso, a Pollack, Monet.

So why.

Why do we write and perhaps, most importantly, why should we write?

To Understand Ourselves

As we write, we learn to engage with ourselves. It is one think to speak off the top of your head, to rattle off facts and information, feelings, opinions, arguments or gossip. It is another thing to put those ideas down on paper. To write is to engage with the self, to think, to understand what it is one wishes to say before he says it. Writing requires a good dose of introspection. It forces the author to consider their ideas, to pay attention to what is being said. Does it make sense? Does it sound right? Am I getting my point across? We can only answer these questions by looking inward, by understanding what we mean to express and then doing it.

To Express Ourselves and our World

As we grow into our thoughts, as we begin to understand who we are, it becomes easier to express. Expression does not have to equal creativity, at least not in the sense of painting portraits, writing novels, or crafting poetry, We can enter the stream of creativity by seeking to use only the words which best fit our meaning. We can craft our meaning as a choreographer crafts a dance. In addition, we can seek new ways of crafting our message and sharing with others in ways that inspire.

To Invite Others In

Writing is a form of communication and like any other form of communication, there is an audience. Writing allows us to reach beyond ourselves, to identify with others and allow others to identify us with. In writing, we are vulnerable. We give our most precious opinions, we give our time, we give our spirit. Through writing, we pave roads for others to follow. Through writing, we open doors that others may not have known were there. It is through writing that we create empathy. For three hundred pages we follow the journey of another, feel their wants, their fears, their joys. For those pages, our journeys become entwined and we understand what it means to be human, what it means to be alive.

To Question Everything

It is no secret that the world is changing and not necessarily for the better. The United States is watching as its government teeters on the verge of a constitutional crisis every day. Evidence of antagonistic governments interfering with elections has been corroborated. In addition, people are losing their rights, their families, and their safety. We have questions about gender, about race, about socioeconomic status, and everything in between. It is through writing that we state our dissent. It is in writing that we call into question the actions of those in power. It is in writing that we explore ramifications of dystopian nations. It is through writing that we can call upon our leaders to change their course.

Why do we write?

Because we have to do it.

Writing or Striving: Where is the Progress?

writing

Today, I will make a bold statement about writing. Striving toward your goal is not enough to reach it. When we strive for things, we inherently struggle. We feel conflicted, pressured, perhaps frustrated. We work hard at striving. We fight to keep our head above water, but often times we find that we are striving against ourselves. Our consciousness wants us to do one thing, so we turn around and procrastinate instead. Striving isn’t productive. It doesn’t mean reaching the goal. The longer we strive, the harder we struggle.

The Problem

I sat down with the novel I had started writing and then stopped. At this point I felt I needed to plan, and then research, and then…. you get the point, I came across an old black binder that sat under a heap of junk on my desk. It has no designs, no pretty words, no plastic pouch on the front. It is just a solid black binder. I’d recognize this binder anywhere, not because the edges are bending but because I know what is inside of it. Between these two cardboard flaps is the novel that I wrote in college. All sixty thousand words of it.

As I leafed through the pages, I asked myself a potent question. What is different now? Why was I capable enough to write all of that then, when now, a few years older and a bit more skillful, I struggle? I thought it might be my new time constraints. With a full-time job, I no longer have the free time to spend staring at my computer between midnight and three in the morning. I thought perhaps, if I had more time, I’d sit down and write, but that wasn’t the case. Even on the weekends, with a full 18 hours to do absolutely nothing but write, I found myself doing anything else. I cleaned, did laundry, bought things on Amazon, made a puppet, sketched, washed the bathroom. I did anything else I could think to do.

I thought that perhaps I was sleeping too late in the morning and that the only way to solve my problem was to get up early. If I got up earlier, I could not only work on my draft, but plot something new, plan a blog post, write a book review, and everything else the ideal me wanted to do. But of course, this didn’t work either. I woke up early for about three days in a row, each morning feeling worse and worse until I decided it was only healthy to sleep through all three alarms and wake up when my body wanted to do so.

If it wasn’t time that I was lacking, if it wasn’t a lack of want or desire, then what was it? What differed between then and now? How could I be so different?

There’s Hope

The answer that came to me was choice. Not just wanting to write, but choosing to take action over striving for something. When I was in college, I chose to write. It didn’t matter how much time I had or how much motivation I had. Every day I would ask myself if I wanted to write and every day I chose to say, ‘yes’. Yes I want to write. Yes I want to spend a chunk of my time doing this instead of something else. Yes. I have decided to make this important. Yes.

There was no struggle in it at all. There was no need to say, well yes, I want to write, but I have other things to do and I really don’t know if this is good enough, and I really don’t know if I’m a writer, and I really don’t think this is any good at all. There was no need to feel like I was chasing my tail. I wasn’t starting and stopping; I wasn’t trying to reach anything; I had two options. Either I wrote that day, or I did not. There was no abstract concept of “wanting to write” or “struggling to write when my day was busy and long”, or “I can’t write because someone wants me to go out today.” There was no getting caught up in what I call the “getting there” game in which I felt like I needed to get somewhere else before I could begin.

So Now What?

We all want to feel like we are advancing toward something, that what we are doing will make our mark. Yet many of us fear the result. We fear success, we fear failure, we fear completion because once it’s finished, what will we have left. We live and love in the struggle, in the strife and frustration that advancing with a slow pain brings us; we revel in it; we complain about it; We feel adrenalin from it, but I’m here to say that striving gets you nowhere. It only holds you back. It is not enough to strive for a completed novel. One must choose to take action. One must must ask whether it is better to write or not write and live by the decision.

Writing Exercise 4d from The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

As time goes on, I like to come back to writing prompts and exercises that I’ve done before. It’s interesting to see where your emphasis lies and how you’ve grown.

This is an exercise that I initially did back in college. After reading The Art of Fiction, we are all asked to do this exercise. Mine was wildly off the mark and by that, I mean I am not sure I actually did the prompt. I think I took the words and ran away with it to create something that was nowhere near what the prompt was supposed to be about. So, six years later, I have returned to this to give it another try.

art-of-fiction

The actual prompt is a the end. I would encourage everyone to try it out. To do it right (or at least as right I as think I have at this point) is actually pretty difficult. It makes you very aware of what you’re writing, what you want to say and how you want to say it. Even at this point, my response to this exercise is not what I want it to be. Perhaps, one day I’ll come back to it and try again.

You can get the book here from Amazon or at least take a look at it. I will provide my thoughts on the book in a later post and link it back here when it is done.

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1) The wood does not cackle. It does not pop. It screams long and hard as it grows weak and shrivels. Scarred lines run their course down doors, across the broad panels, and short limbs. Each creak becomes louder, a gunshot against the night air. Each billow of smoke signals its isolation. Red. All that is left of the windows is red where the glass should be. Red walls, black soot, leaving their mark like a footprint in the jungle dirt. A gust of wind sends another flame forward, a flash of brightness against tumbling, splintering wood. The footprint is gone, marred with orange scars and dying embers. The frame falls inward. Everything falls in on itself. The large rafters shatter the smaller ones that ignite and send sparks up into that black sky. Falling. Falling. Ashes scattering out among the the still dying for posterities sake. The door crumbles on itself. The paint burns an ugly yellow and smokes. All lines of defense are gone.

2) It is the heat before the sound, before the flame. A tremendous warmth, a blanket wrapped tight around the body. Then the light, bright, emboldened by the gusts of wind that entwine with every opening it finds. The noise of burning, crackling laughter, popping, spitting. The walls ignite, lavish golden orange sunsets chasing down the horizon. The sound comes again, more able, more powerful in its message. Another crackle of excited pillars and posts. An explosion only begets more light. The smoke rises from the flames, twisting against the wood, dancing along the edges, rising up to meet the stars. It vanishes with the darkness. It leaves to trace behind. The bursts of orange and gold send quakes through the wood as it falls, carrying the torch of light, sharing its heat. The embers flare once more and ashes scatter like snow across the fields of grass. The flames cross the window frame licking the edges, etching delicate, knowing patterns as it blazes onward. The door opens. The wind carries a meteor of flame; the invitation is accepted. All things burn in the light.

*The Prompt*

Describe a building as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, war, death, or the old man doing the seeing; then describe the same building, in the same weather and at the same time of day, as seen by a happy lover. Do not mention love or the loved one.