In the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, we learn exactly how much this entire series hinged on these seventeen pages. It’s time for Mark to re-read Harry Potter.
I’ve actually been looking forward to reading the Harry Potter series for nearly a month. The truth is that I originally planned for this re-read to start a day or two after I finished Deathly Hallows; I had this master plan written out sometime during the summer, but that was still during the time I thought I’d be on Buzznet for a while and…well, things didn’t happen that way. When I reached the end of the series, I wanted to debut this site and its partner that day, but I was bound by a contract not too.
So this has been delayed and I’m sorry for that. In my head, it was sort of perfect for us to end up with a second re-read under our belts prior to the Deathly Hallows movie. But that’s not how things happen, so here we are.
I hope to have a few posts per week on the series. I had initially planned to break the first three books in two parts, but after reading the first chapter alone, I had so much to say that I thought it might be necessary to break this up just a bit more. More Harry Potter? Ok, no one is going to complain, ever.
My idea for this is not to do the precise type of reviews I did the first time around; it doesn’t really make sense to do AIM reviews or fake plays. I instead want to reflect on the foreshadowing, the hints, and some of the themes this series addresses now that I know the endgame, and I’ll often compare my original thoughts to what I know now. But most importantly: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS ANYMORE. We can finally talk about everything. So please, go wild in the comments and link me to all the shit I couldn’t read before.
Sound wonderful? I’ll make sure to Tweet on @MarkDoesStuff every time an HP post goes up. Some of the reviews will combine chapters as I see fit, some will be single chapters. It all depends. But let us enjoy the full Harry Potter experience!
CHAPTER 1: THE BOY WHO LIVED
And let’s start things off with an apology: I’m sorry I thought the title of this chapter was stupid. Now, in hindsight, it’s a powerful, inspiring statement of life and hope. In fact, while large parts of this chapter are indeed pretty whimsical and fancy, it’s overwhelming how much this part of the series is really the answer to pretty much everything. I mean, not only does it set up the story, but it shows how much Rowling planned this whole thing out
The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters. Mrs. Potter was Mrs. Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t met for several years; in fact, Mrs. Dursley pretended she didn’t have a sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as unDursleyish as it was possible to be. The Dursleys shuddered to thin what the neighbors would say if the Potters arrived in the street. The Dursleys knew that the Potters had a small son, too, but they had never even seen him. This boy was another good reason for keeping the Potters away; they didn’t want Dudley mixing with a child like that.
It’s strange to read this because I didn’t realize that I was reading a part of this story where the Potters were alive. Now, knowing why Petunia hates her sister so much, it makes this passage equally maddening and depressing; her sister died and she doesn’t care at all.
Vernon Dursley is just as awful as I remember; I still wonder if his hatred is caused because of Petunia or something he developed independent of her. He’s clearly a classist asshole through and through, but I don’t remember it ever being explained exactly where all this came from. To be honest, though, Petunia’s story is far more interesting to me, and I’m ok with just hating Vernon forever and ever.
It was on his way back past them, clutching a large doughnut in a bag, that he caught a few words of what they were saying.
“The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard—“
“—yes, their son, Harry—“
I guess I read this series in such a vacuum and so quickly that I forgot how immense this moment was for the Wizarding world, and how much Harry’s survival meant to the entire community of magical folk. It’s still really sad to think about, though; I do wish we could have more time with the Potters while they were alive.
On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passerby stare, “Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!”
And the old man hugged Mr. Dursley around the middle and walked off.
Yeah, this whole scene feels less silly than when I first read it. Did most of you think that I was going to tear this series apart back then? Because I can sort of see why I thought what I did at the time, but now I want to vehemently defend this. YOU DON’T GET IT, JUST WAIT SHIT WILL GET REAL.
I’ve become all of you. And it is wonderful.
I never went back and re-read this chapter, and now I know that wizards and witches must have been sending mail by the thousands that day, as news of Voldemort’s defeat spread. The downpour of shooting stars must have been the joyous celebration of one excited wizard too.
Mrs. Dursley came into the living room carrying two cups of tea. It was no good. He’d have to say something to her. He cleared his throat nervously. “Er—Petunia, dear—you haven’t heard from your sister lately, have you?”
As he had expected, Mrs. Dursley looked shocked and angry. After all, they normally pretended she didn’t have a sister.
Ugh, you bigots. You have no idea what just happened because you are blinded by your massive bigotry. I don’t really like this family anymore than I did before. They’re still shitty, shitty people.
I, however, still massively love Dumbledore.
Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive. He was tall, think, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing very long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice. This man’s name was Albus Dumbledore.
Oh, Dumbly. So tragically gay. Also, HOLY SHIT HIS NOSE HAD BEEN BROKEN. Already, the clues were in place and I never even noticed them.
Another note: Why is the Deluminator called a Put-Outer here? Why did the name change? Did Rowling ever explain this? Oh shit, you guys can actually answer that question if you know it. Oh god, THIS IS AMAZING.
She jerked her head back at the Dursleys’ dark living-room window. “I heard it. Flocks of owls…shooting stars….Well, they’re not completely stupid. They were bound to notice something. Shooting stars down in Kent—I’ll bet that was Dedalus Diggle. He never had much sense.”
Oh god, his name was planted this early in the series. I LOVE IT. I mean, he’s in the Leaky Cauldron and the Advance Guard BUT STILL. SO AWESOME.
“My dear Professor, surely a sensible person like yourself can call him by his name? All this ‘You-Know-Who’ nonsense—for eleven years I have been trying to persuade people to call him by his proper name: Voldemort.” Professor McGonagall flinched, but Dumbledore, who was unsticking two lemon drops, seemed not to notice. “It all gets so confusing if we keep saying ‘You-Know-Who.’ I have never seen any reason to be frightened of saying Voldemort’s name.”
“I know you haven’t,” said Professor McGonagall, sounding half exasperated, half admiring. “But you’re different. Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know—oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.”
THIS IS ALL SO WEIRD TO READ because…like…I know all the things now. She sowed the seeds for the amazing Dumbledore/Voldemort fight at the end of Order of the Phoenix and also hinted at the Grindelwald/Dumbledore battle as well. Pure genius forever until the end of time.
It seemed that Professor McGonagall had reached the point she was most anxious to discuss, the real reason she had been waiting on a cold, hard wall all day, for neither as a cat nor as a woman had she fixed Dumbledore with such a piercing stare as she did now. It was plain that whatever “everyone” was saying, she was not going to believe it until Dumbledore told her it was true. Dumledore, however, was choosing another lemon drop and did not answer.
“What they’re saying,” she pressed on, “is that last night Voldemort turned up in Godric’s Hollow. He went to find the Potters. The rumor is that Lily and James Potter are—are—that they’re—dead.”
Ugh, it’s still pretty awful to read. I mean, the tragedy of it all hangs over this entire series and motivates Harry from the moment he finds out what happened to his parents. (And now I also know it’s because Rowling’s mother died.) It’s still kind of strange to me that a series that depends so much on parental murder ended up being so immediately popular, but I think that’s a testament to the evocative tale that Rowling managed to unfold over seven books.
The gravity of this situation is much heavier on me during this re-read. Again, I didn’t really take this chapter seriously at all when I read this book. It’s a shame. It’s a damn fine introduction to this world and contains so much foreshadowing that I’m surprised I didn’t figure out most of this beforehand. I particularly like this line:
“Really, Dumbledore, you think you can explain all this in a letter? These people will never understand him! He’ll be famous—a legend—I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in the future—there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!”
Oh, how ironic. And meta. Rowling, you sly devil! It’s like she knew her own words would come true. Expanding on that, reading the Harry Potter series made me aware to how pervasive this series is when it comes to popular culture. I never understood that Voldemort reference in the episode of The Office when they go “camping” to do group bonding exercises. I never knew how many other people in my life were huge Harry Potter fans until I started this project. Now I know that nearly all of them and then I ask them WHERE WERE YOU YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS NOT READING THIS SERIES? Some friends you are.
I jest. But it’s mindblowing how nearly every child knows Harry Potter’s name. That’s amazing to me.
Hagrid arrives and I remember why I love him so much. Though this part is really terrible:
He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild—long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, he had hands the size of trash can lids, and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins.
Baby dolphins. There has to be fanart of the dolphin feet, right? I TASK YOU WITH FINDING THIS.
“Borrowed it, Professor Dumbledore, sir,” said the giant, climbing carefully off the motorcycle as he spoke. “Young Sirius Black lent it to me. I’ve got him, sir.”
Jesus it was right there the whole time. Oh god, poor Sirius.
Harry’s life begins here on this doorstep. His unique scar inspires Dumbledore to reveal something I totally forgot because WHY IS THIS NEVER REFERENCED AGAIN
“Scars can come in handy. I have one myself above my left knee that is a perfect map of the London Underground.”
WHAT. WHY. HOW DID YOU GET THAT. Also, that does indeed sound very handy, but still. What.
But Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid all leave Harry on that doorstep; he’s just an infant, unaware how much those three people will come to affect his entire life, and unaware of how the world already sees him:
He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: “To Harry Potter—the boy who lived!”
The boy who lived indeed.