I’m trying to get back into drawing!
I’m trying to get back into drawing!
Arguably, ‘Halloween’ is one of the most important chapters in Philosopher’s Stone. It is the chapter in which the trio is formed, the trinity, a triad. While the Ron/Harry duo is fun, we don’t see much growth out of the characters Harry and Ron roll through classes, and not a whole lot happens.
J.K. Rowling’s initial character development is weak. Harry and Ron are more cardboard cut outs than real people. Perhaps, the simplicity of the characters can be attributed to the “children’s book” cubby hole, but it seems almost in part, something that all of us novice and newer writers struggle with.
And then “Halloween” happens. It is an interesting scene. Up until this point, Harry and Ron are comfortable. They complement each other. Its a bit of simple living. We see that both Harry and Ron dislike Hermione. Its not hard tok see why. Hermione separates herself from others by putting herself above them. Shes smarter, better at memorising facts. She rolls her eyes at them, considers them useless.
And yet Harry feels the need to go looking for her when the Troll is announce. He must save her like any other good hero does. He pulls his sidekick friend along and they go battle the troll. Harry does stop the troll, Hermione is saved. What a great day for the quintessential boy hero. Obviously Hermione will now be in his debt forever. Their friendship will bloom because she will forever owe him her life.
Can the basic foundation of this gang be as simple as indebtedness? Is their relationship built from a construct in which a female is once again bound to her male counterparts because she owes them? Is it the other way around? Do Harry and Ron really owe Hermione? Must they pay Hermione for the tears they’ve caused her, for the names they’ve called her?
It is in this dynamic that we begin to see the trio jot merely as the sum of its whole, but the arms of its parts. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the Maiden, Mother, and Crone, the Ra, Khepri, and Atum, not to mention the thousands of other trios both spiritual and literary which have come before these three. Each part gives the whole its shape. Each arm provides balance and depth to the whole so that neither truly rises above the other, but offers a helping and balancing hand.
And so does it feel strange that Hermione suddenly, with little forewarning from her character, takes the blame for the bad behaviour of two boys? Absolutely because she takes her agency back. It is no longer about two boys playing knight, risking their lives tok save the damsel in distress. The damsel has saved them. Hermione will continue to save them, over and over again she will demonstrate that she provides balance, that her branch in the trinity is equally as important as Ron or Harry’s.
So do Harry and Ron actually owe Hermione? Are they bound to her? Must they put up with a swotty know it all because she has saved them? Does Hermione forever get to lord over these two? The intuitive answer is no, but why? Is it because males do jot have to demonstrate their own agency for readers to know it’s there? Do we automatically recognise them as autonomous beings merely because they are boys?
In this chapter, JK Rowling does something interesting. It is a chapter of misdirection while at the same time providing foreshadowing clues to the future. Perhaps that is what makes this chapter work as misdirection. We as readers see what we want to see and when parts of it are proven correct in the future, we feel reassured. We are safe in the knowledge that our beliefs were correct, even if they’re not.
What do I mean by this?
Our previous chapters have set the stage for this one. Clues are given, hints are provided. When Harry stairs up at Professor Snape during the feast, his scar Burns. Ron tells us that Snape flavors Slytherin house and from our perceptions of Draco so far it can only mean trouble for Harry. So by the time Harr has Potions class, both Harry and the audience are primed to be wary. So when we see a chapter titiled The Potions Master, we automatically pay attention to the potions master. We are hyper aware of Snape’s disregard for Harry, how he takes points away from Gryffindor, how he makes Draco and his friends snicker. But is that the most important part of the chapter?
Arguably no. Upon our first read, we can’t know it yet, but it appears that Quirrel should be the main focus, shouldn’t he? [Spoiler Alert] We know who he is, who is with him.
Yet our focus is on Snape and so who cares why Quirrel wears that turbin and where it came from. Who cares what it smells like, what he smells like. I mean I would think Quirrel would want to keep his secret well… moisturised because no one wants to meet Voldemort with diaper rash, right?
Its an interesting and tricky thing isnt it? Quirrel is often referenced against Snape. They are seen together at the table, Harry goes to Defense Against the Dark Arts directly before potions class, we will hear Quirrel shout troll before we see Snape limping. As Harry’s distrust and grows for Snape, so does ours. We see what Harry sees and that makes us believe what he believes.
There is a lot of foreshadowing here, such as the beozar, the draught of living death, and wolfsbane, but to me these instances may have been rabdomly picked out by the author and expanded upon as time progressed. , Some even speculate about Harry’s mum Lily and Snape, however. Its this part that I find interesting. One blog post I found from 2010 highlights these point a pretty well and you can find it here at https://expatronum.wordpress.com/2010/04/26/asphodel-wormwood-bezoars-and-aconite/ The theory suggests that Snape’s question of “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?” is really a reference to him him and Lily since asphodel is a kind of lily and a symbol of death where wormwood often symbolises sorrow.
If it is the case that Snape is considering his relationship with Lily, does this change his interaction with Harry? The article suggests that perhaps Snape is disappointed in Harry’s lack of inherent knowlege and passion for potions, but I want to take it further than that.
We all can see that Harry looks so much like James and we know that Snape hated James. Unfortunately, this reminds Snape of everything he never was and everything he never had. It reminds him how unlike James was, how cruel he was to Lily and who it was who helped pick her back up. It reminds him that he could never do enough to save Lily.
And so, when he looks at Harry, he doesnt want to just know Harry like potions. He’s not just saying I loved your mother and I screwed up. Here, it almost seems like Snape is begging Harry. Please, please tell me youre not just a copy of James. Please tell me youre not just your mother’s eyes. Please, love potions, love them like your mother did, be her. I need you to be her.
But Harry isnt and so he keeps asking questions, begging, pleading (in that cold, detached, and desperate way Snape can). Its almost as if he is saying, “see me, please meet me half way, understand I need to see you as more than just James Potter”.
And Harry just can’t be. Harry isn’t his mother and every reminder of that fact doesn’t bring pure hatred, but the pain of grief, despair, and loss.
How does one define his or her identity? Does one just don a hat? Its almost a facetious question isnt it? Yet at age 11, this is what Harry does. He puts on a hat and it thinks for him. It tells him who he will be.
This chapter seems to be of utmost importance to the overarching theme of Harry Potter. The existential question shouts, Who am I? How do I come to define myself.
Hats as symbolism are often manifestations of authority, nobility, and reverence. Hats are what protect heads and keep thoughts in. That it is a hat which decides the fate of children seems all too fitting.
It is not hard to think back to Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot. Hats become important to the characters. All four of the main players have them. There is a scene in which Estragon and Vladimir exchange their hats for Lucky’s hat. In a mad swapping fit, the two rotate out the three hats, finally retuening to the comfort of their own.
And so the sorting hat. A raggedy old talking hat which tries to tell you who you are and who you will become. It is almost like society, that nagging voice that says, “do something to make money, be a dignified human being, never show weakness,” turns around and instead shouts Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, and Hufflepuff.
Harry’s hat stall, that is, the hat’s inability to decide where to put him, is interesting. Aren’t all people like Harry, torn between the practical and fantasy, between being self fulfilled and controlled by the whispers of society? It is a great source of hope that Harry is able to choose. Perhaps it is that self determination which gives him that Gryffindor courage.
J.K Rowling mentions that Hermione Granger was almost a true hat stall (read more about it on pottermore) but the book never gives that impression. Hermione Granger’s fate seems sealed almost as soon as she the hat on her head. But it seems to ask the most basic question.
How can one be placed into a group based on basic character traits? How does the complexity of a himan being fit into categories and what happens when they are forced into them?
At this point in the series, it is hard to fully understand where it goes, but as a reader it is one to watch. How do people evolve? Can they even be defined? Is Peter Pettigrew defined by his Gryffindor status and is Draco Malfoy determined by his Slytherin allegiance. Harry seems to believe that the latter is at least.