Read With Me: Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone – The Sorting Hat

The Sorting Hat

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.

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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.