Read With Me: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone -The Journey From Platform 9 and 3/4.

The Journey From Platform 9 and 3/4.

An introduction to character. Even for plot driven stories, character is important. A novel with no character is basically a collection of landscapes and ideas. Nothing can happen without an agent. Yet characters do more than inform the reader of what actions are taken. Characters weave a delicate narrative, often explaining mindset, culture, past events, and future predictions.

This chapter starts heavy in exposition. The reader is told about Harry’s trip to Kings Cross, what the train looks like, what type of candy is available for purchase, etc. But how long can one listen to Ron explain things to Harry? Probably not much longer than the couple of pages where it happens.

Where it gets interesting is in the characters and the motives of the characters. What drives them, what forces are at play. How do they inform the the reader of where they are and whonthey are dealing with.

That is not to reject the need for exposition. By informing the reader of these things, J.K. Rowling continues to put efforts into building her world. She lays down fundamental elements of the story that come up later as the chocolate frog cards and Hogwarts Houses. The exposition sets the framework while the character development builds in some muscle.

The Weasley’s

The Weasley’s are the first wizarding family Harry meets. It is interesting to consider what would have happened if Harry heard about the Weasley’s before he met them? Would he still think they were as great as he does if he spent his first day with Draco?

This chapter is our first introduction to Ron. (I would like to know where he goes between the time Fred and George say goodbye to their mum to when he shows up in Harry’s compartment. Does he go off on his own to look for a place away from his brothers only to have nowhere to go but the compartment they’re in? Why doesn’t he seem to be there when Fred, George, and Harry all watch Ginny wave goodbye?)

It is almost as if Ron purposefully makes himself scarce. He is too afraid to be unremarkable that he hides himself. It is clear that Ron is haunted by being the youngest boy. Five others have come before him, each one with their own skills and niche. His nagging question is where do I fit in. How do I differentiate myself from the others.

One way that Ron sets himself apart, at least initially is in his mentoring role to Harry. Ron knows everything about the wizarding world. He knows how the Chocolate Frog Cards work, what Bertie Botts jelly beans to avoid, what quidditch is. For once, Ron is an authority. He has done something before someone else. He gets to be the authority for the first time and arguably this makes him feel comfortable. This makes allows that initial connection, which grows and develops into a friendship.

The reader sees a lot of Fred and George throughout this chapter. It is interesting that we spend almost as much time with Fred and George as we do Ron. It’s subtle but amusing that the twins are off to see a giant tarantula when they know full well that Ron hates spiders.

Fred and George reinforce that universal awe which surrounds Harry. “Aren’t you?” They ask. Aren’t you Harry Potter. It’s through this interaction that perhaps Harry can truly get a feeling for what is to come. It isn’t just theory that everyone knows him All of his peers know him. His name is everywhere. This is furthered when Hermione arrives to tell him of the books he’s mentioned in. It is through these interactions that the reader is reminded that Harry is a legend. The question then must be whether Harry can live up to that legend.

What the twins add to the story is not just plot device, but added depth. They give credence to Ron’s fears of being boring. They bring a sense of humour to a world that we’ve learned can be just as grim as the muggle world. The Twins also further demonstrate what it means to be good people, what it means to be courteous and friendly to others.

What is most defining about the Weasley’s comes from their willingness to help, to inform others, to be fun, polite, and respectful.

Draco Malfoy

Here we finally put a name to that boy in Madam Malkin’ s. It is beyond clear that Draco, and by extension, his family are very very far from the Weasley family.

Where Mrs. Weasley, Fred, and George all relay a friendly, helpful, and positive demeanour, Draco is cold, harsh, and snobbish.

It is clear to see the differences. One might not have noticed so much had the chapter jot started out with Ron, Fred, and George. Draco is certainly right, Some wizarding families are better than others, but which ones? What values determine good standing? Money and power or brave hearts and strong bonds?

Draco’ s involvement here is a clear play to the culture of the world. One must ask themselves what they believe. Is Draco right in the way that he presents his point. Harry takes a clear stance, but what does the reader say? In addition, this tension that Draco brings to the story makes it clear what type of society this is. We can see the tensions building, the conflict rising. While it is a minor obstacle, Harry must overcome it. He must see Draco’ s statement for what it is and define himself on how he would like to manage himself in this world. Draco forces Harry to make a choice, even if it is a subconscious one. It is this choice that helps define his character fully.

Hermione Granger

Our introduction to Hermione Granger is a whirlwind. She is there and then she’s not, and then she’s back. Hermione is outspoken, swotty, and intimidating. She is driven by her morality, just as the other characters are, but perhaps more brazen in her actions. Her do good attitude may match that of Draco’ s, if not on the other end of the spectrum. As she helps Neville find his lost toad, she is already gearing up to be a defender of those who cannot help themselves. She is already the leader of SPEW even if she doesn’t know it yet.

Hermione’s character screams insecurity, though perhaps the reader doesn’t know it. Her rapid fire talk and book knowledge acts almost like a protective barrier between her and a world she doesn’t know. Is it a wonder that she befriends the bumbling Neville first? Does she need to take care of things and be in control in order to feel good about herself?

It is easy to forget that Hermione, Harry, And Ron are not immediate friends. She pays little attention to them beyond their knowledge of where Neville’s toad is. She is on a mission and nothing will stop her.

As all of those characters develop and interact with each other, it will be interesting to follow how they develop, Which turns do they take and why. It is hard to give a brief overview of each character, especially based on the limited information provided in this chapter.

But that is what makes this chapter important. The foundation of the story is set: A boy finds out he is a wizard and goes off to a magic school. It is the character foundation that comes next. Who are these people. Why does the reader care? How do the characters inform the reader of the culture, history, and future society.

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

Diagon Alley

Diagon Alley is the first physical threshold that Harry crosses on his journey. Up until this point, Harry remains pretty well enmeshed in the normal world. As discussed in the previous posts, strange things happen to Harry, but in this chapter the reader moves beyond the conceptual. In this chapter, the reader does not hear about magic, but gets to be involved in it.
The reason that so many young people fell in love with Harry Potter at first is because of this chapter. Stepping through the Leaky Cauldron into Diagon Alley is like joining an elite club. They, the wizards and witches, know about muggles, but muggles can’t (won’t) see the witches and wizards. The reader gets the keen sense that these witches and wizard are special.
The structure of his chapter is deliberate. As Harry reads his school letter, so does the reader. Both see a checklist of items and a goal to reach by the end of the chapter. It is immersive. As Harry becomes indoctrinated, so does the reader. Both the protagonist and the reader needs a set of robes, a pewter cauldron, scales, books, and most important, a wand.
It is important that the wand comes last. Everyone knows what it is like to get school books, a school uniform, some pens and paper, but the wand is special. It is that last piece which says, you (Harry and the reader) belong here. You are one of us.
What it is fascinating is J.K. Rowling’s ability to provide passive information to the reader that is important to the story. For instance, why is it that we as readers are okay with a half giant coming to take Harry away on some journey? A young reader might be scared of this person. Hagrid is very different, his size is intimidating, his ability to knock down doors is impressive.
I would argue that it is because we have seen Hagrid before this. We as readers recognise that that this is the same person who brought baby Harry to the Dursley’s and then cried. By seeing this character in the first chapter, the reader remembers and connects to him. Without that first glimpse, the reader cannot be sure he’s safe.
Harry’s encounter with the boy in Madam Malkin’s Robe shop works in a similar way. To an untrained eye, this encounter is banal. A snobby boy makes elitist comments to Harry and then leaves. Who cares, right?  Well, The author does and by extent, so should the reader.
This interaction is the reader’s first glimpse that the magical world might not be all that safe. Here the reader sees a young boy talking about “the other sort” by which he means muggles.  He calls Hagrid a savage and we get a sense that being different in this world might be as bad as it was in Harry’s world.  In these few sentences, the reader begins to see a hierarchy forming. There are those who were born to witches and wizards and those who were not. There are those who think they are better than others, and those who feel comfortable with people who are different.
While the reader does not know it yet, we learn who this boy is later on down the line. Just as the reader’s first introduction to Hagrid colours our opinions of him, so too does Harry’s first impression of this boy. We learn in a later chapter exactly who the boy is. It is this contact that determines the way the relationship develops.
Finally, it is interesting that Hagrid gets Harry an owl as a pet. Of course, on the surface of the gesture, no one wants a toad and Harry doesn’t seem like a cat person. From a literary standpoint, Hedwig is a story telling device. She provides Harry with a means of communicating with others throughout the books. But the owl is an interesting animal with so much myth and symbolism that it’s a shame not to look deeper.
While associated with wisdom, owls have other meanings as well. Biblical references often link owls to desolate places and isolation. The Ancient Greeks associated owls with prophecy. In some Native American cultures, owls symbolise oncoming death. They are known for their keen eyesight and their ability to see beyond what is to the truth.
As a result, Hagrid may have provided Harry with the most representative pet possible. Hedwig comes to symbolise Harry’s loneliness, the prophecy that changed his life, the deaths which haunt him, and the need to see through the Dark Lord’s deceptions.

 

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Read With Me-Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – The Keeper of the Keys

The door to the magical world has broken down. Literally. It is here that readers recognize that they have officially crossed the threshold into a new world. The information presented before was exposition. It set up and created an established world where we as readers felt comfortable. It defined the structures and the norms of the world. This is perhaps the first threshold that we pass through. It is a conceptual one, rather than a physical one.

As we listen to Hagrid, we gain more insight into what the wizarding world is. He confirms that there is a wizarding school, that these magical folk do actually exist, and we learn what truly happens to Harry’s parents. For me, J.K. Rowling is still allowing her readers to gain access into this world that she will drop us in later. She is paving the way, first by presenting the reader with ideas, which are later reinforced by the actual presence of Hogwarts castle.

While I don’t plan to study the movies at any length, I find it incredibly ridiculous that Hagrid can possibly mistake Dudley for Harry. It is here that we are first given those magic words: you look like your father, but you have your mother’s eyes. How in the world could Hagrid make such a mistake in the movie? But I digress.

What I find interesting here in the stylistic nature of J.K. Rowling’s writing is that there are so many perspectives that occur in Harry Potter. As a first time reader, we know nothing about the world. We are reliant on the characters and the narrative to guide us through. We immediately believe that it is credible. As anyone who is familiar with Harry Potter, we know that this is not the case. We can’t trust any one account over the next.

In a basic way, J.K. Rowling introduces that to us here. This is the first time that there really seem to be competing viewpoints. On first glance, everything comes from Hagrid. He has the story to tell. But what we get is a little more complicated than that. Hagrid is indeed the main focus of this chapter. It is called the Keeper of the Keys for a reason. He presents to the reader his viewpoint of what happened. James and Lily Potter were a pair of the greatest witches/wizards he’s ever known. Voldemort came to their house and killed them, presumably afraid of the power that they held against him. We are told that not only is Harry magical, but he’s special. It’s because of him the Dark Lord vanquished. All of this holds some semblance of truth, partially because Hagrid believes it, but also because by proximity to the wizarding world, he was a witness.

Petunia’s version of the story is quite different. According to Petunia, Lily was a freak. Their parents lavished attention and praise on unwarranted, abnormal traits and talents. Petunia describes Lily as running off to a freak school, marrying someone just as abnormal and freaky. “And then she went and got herself blown up.”

We know and can infer that Harry must have his own opinions of his parents. Surely he must have a vision of them which is different than what Hagrid and Petunia constructed. Harry remembers a flash of green light. He remembers his mother’s scream. He has manufactured some version of a car crash.

On a basic level, we recognize that this is how people respond and act. We all have our own view of what has happened and the stories we tell ourselves. J.K. Rowling uses to distract the reader, to lure the reader into a false sense of reality. We automatically want to believe that Hagrid is correct because as far as we have seen, he is the authority on this new magical world. What the tells us on the other hand, is potentially misleading. It also encourages Harry’s perspective of his parents, specifically his father. What Harry comes to believe about his father from Hagrid and from others who mention him in later books is skewed by these perspectives and viewpoints.

We must never take characters at their word. We must constantly look at what each character’s motives are and parse together the truth

Read With Me- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone- The Letters From No One

The Letters From No One

The Letters From No One is a chapter that continues to integrate the reader into the way the book will continue to play out. It works hard to create a comfortable setting for the reader. Up through this chapter, the author’s main goal is to ensure the the reader feels good. Do they understand? Can they relate? How much information do I provide to them?

All of these questions must be considered at the beginning of the book. J.K. Rowling over chapters one through three takes this into consideration. In chapter three the reader is drawn in to the daily life of a ten year old boy. There is summer vacation, getting ready for school, seeing the school uniform for the first time. All of these things are normal. In keeping with what the reader understands about Dudley and the Dursley’s, this chapter continues to show how spoilt and “freakishly normal” these people are.

When Vernon tells Harry to go fetch the mail, it doesn’t seem odd. It is normal, universal. Lulled into the security of daily life, the reader is a bit confused, if not shocked at Mr. Dursley’s response to Harry’s letter. What could it be? Why is this so important? What does it mean?

Without the banality of the mail, it is impossible to reach this state. If a wizard appears in front of the Dursley’s and says Harry, you’re a wizard, there is no tension. Keeping with a pretty “muggle” means of communication allows the reader not only to be curious about what is so special about a piece of mail, but it also allows the reader to connect. It gives us another level of understanding into this world. No one has to work hard to understand what a letter is (though maybe with the onslaught of email, that might change).

By using letters, J.K. Rowling seems to impress the importance of what is written in these letters. Letters are intimate forms of communication. Letters have lived through ancient civilizations to modern philosophers, writers, and lovers. There is a weight to letters not always apparent in today’s digital age. While it is important to remember that this book was published in the late 90s, the history and gravitas of the letter can’t be denied. There is romance, in letter writing, a magical nostalgia that add to this notion of other-worldly.

It is interesting to see what J.K. Rowling chooses to be advanced, say Mrs. Weasley’s magical clock, vs what is kept normal. How does magical technology and muggle technology work together? On basic level, it is a strong representation of that parallel universe that always influences and reinforces itself.

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Read With Me: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – The Vanishing Glass

The Vanishing Glass

The Vanishing Glass is the embodiment of everything we’ve seen so far in the first two chapters of Harry Potter. It is a wall, a barrier between this world and the magical world. A world that one can look through, but never sees.

When we meet Harry ten years in the future, he’s living in a cupboard. He is ostracized from the world. We see a clear divide between him and Dudley. Dudley is normal and because of that, he’s rewarded. He’s well fed, given gifts, taken on trips. His parents give him everything. In contrast, Harry is the other. He’s locked away, left at neighbor’s houses, forbidden to display any act that might make it clear to the world that he is different. Dudley and his friends beat him and that is okay. The Dursley’s never punish their son and his friends for treating Harry like a punching bag. In this world, the world before the vanishing glass, difference is wrong.

When Harry talks about flying motorcycles, Vernon shoots him down. It doesn’t matter that it’s a dream. When Harry’s hair grows back after Petunia seems to shave his head, he’s punished. The unexplained is unwelcome and Harry feels as if he’s alone.

When we get to the reptile room, we begin to see a shift. Harry stands in front of the snake’s aquarium and it is his difference that builds a connection. He can talk to snakes. For the first moment, the reader sees the possibility beyond the barrier. It reinforces what we learnt in the first chapter. There are others out there who are different. There is a world that runs parallel to this one where oddity is at least normal if not embraced. But for Harry, we obtain a sense of hope about his future. It is his difference that builds connections with this snake. It is what makes him special that allows him to free something else that lives in captivity. It is their isolation that brings them together.

It is after the glass vanishes, in those final sentences of the chapter, we are told how connected Harry is to the rest of the world. Random strangers approach him on the street. Weird strangers in cloaks. They tell us, you are welcome here. You are needed here. What makes you different, an oddity to the muggles, is the very reason why we adore you, why we need you. You are welcome.

From this chapter onward, we begin to see that magic creeps into everyday life. Difference is not something to hide from. The barrier that exists between the normal and the abnormal is a sheet of glass. It can and it will vanish.