In the second chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s clear that the Dursleys are just evil, evil people and the knowledge of Petunia’s motivation doesn’t help much. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to re-read Harry Potter.
Seriously, I tried to combine multiple chapters into one review and I simply had too much to say. Deal with it.
As the point of view switches to Harry for the first time, I already notice how much more simple Rowling’s writing is. So I am going to partially excuse myself for my ridiculous response to these first three chapters of the Sorcerer’s Stone. I was definitely being flippant and silly for the sake of it, but chapter two is pretty over-the-top in its own way as well.
Knowing Petunia’s backstory, I don’t seem to be able to empathize with her even in the slightest; if anything, her actions in this chapter make me hate her more than before. I am indifferent to Vernon because he never seems to evolve beyond being an evil foil to Harry, and Dudley doesn’t bother me nearly as much.
The room held no sign at all that another boy lived in the house, too.
That might actually be the most damning detail of the entire chapter: the Dursley family actively pretends that Harry simply doesn’t exist. And sure, they definitely abuse him in other ways that are certainly more painful to Harry, but there’s something disturbing about this specific action. It just rubs me the wrong way.
He rolled onto his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorcycle in it. He had a funny feeling he’d had the same dream before.
Nah, that’s not a dream, Harry. That’s just the memory of the night your parents were murdered by Voldemort. I recall reading interviews with Rowling about this book and she said her mother’s death was all over the pages of Sorcerer’s Stone. She’s not lying. Hell, it’s all over the entire series, but I don’t know if I really appreciated how much this book centers around those deaths the first time I read it.
Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept.
Oh, my adorable attachment to the spiders. How could I have ever known they would later lead Harry and Ron to near annihiliation? Man, my cluelessness was kind of adorable, no?
The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead that was shaped like a bolt of lightening. He had had it as long as he could remember, and the first question he could ever remember asking his Aunt Petunia was how he had gotten it.
“In the car crash when your parents died,” she had said. “And don’t ask questions.”
It’s only apparent now just how much the Dursleys truly deprived Harry: of the truth about his parents, about the truth of himself, of the existence of magic, of the real reason he was in their house, and of the joy that comes with childhood. Maybe that last one hits me harder. I think most of us can pinpoint when we felt our childhood ended, or our innocence was taken, and sometimes I think about that moment for me and realize I didn’t even make it to twelve before I hit it.
But that’s a story for another time and another place. I can’t seem to forgive Aunt Petunia for what she and her husband did to Harry all those years he stayed with them. I now understand where it came from; rejection can do terrible things to people, as can feeling excluded. But to reverse that on a young child who has no idea about what made you the way you are? Ugh, it’s just deplorable.
(Completely unrelated: Do they ever explain why Harry’s hair is so strange and constantly grows disheveled? OMG YOU CAN ANSWER THAT THIS IS BEAUTIFUL)
Every year, Harry was left behind with Mrs. Figg, a mad old lady who lived two streets away. Harry hated it there. The whole house smelled of cabbage and Mrs. Figg made him look at photographs of all the cats she ever owned.
First of all, bless Mrs. Figg and her cats, but more importantly OMG DUMBLEDORE’S SPY. Set up on page 22. Amazing.
Once, Aunt Petunia, tired of Harry coming back from the barbers looking as though he hadn’t been at all, had taken a pair of kitchen scissors and cut his hair so short he was almost bald except for his bangs, which she left “to hide that horrible scar.” Dudley had laughed himself silly at Harry, who spent a sleepless night imagining school the next day, where he was already laughed at for his baggy clothes and taped glasses. Next morning, however, he had gotten up to find his hair exactly as it had been before Aunt Petunia sheared if off. He had been given a week in his cupboard for this, even though he had tried to explain that he couldn’t explain how it had grown back so quickly.
Well, at the very least, we have some context for this: Harry’s hair was a reminder to Aunt Petunia that she was not magical and the boy was, that he mostly likely had a life full of it ahead of him. She shames him for this by cutting his hair and leaving the bangs, though he doesn’t know why she does it in that specific manner. It’s also why she gives him a week in the cupboard: his hair growing back was yet another way for her to remember her sister and remember what she missed out on.
THAT BEING SAID jesus god in heaven you are fucking terrible. You locked him in a cupboard for a week? You contributed to him being bullied? DIE IN EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THE FIRES, PETUNIA.
Also, why is it the saddest thing ever when Harry is pretty happy just to get a lemon ice pop? Oh, right, because the Dursleys gave him virtually nothing. I suppose all of this is written with an eleven-year-old in mind, and the exaggerated acts fit well with children’s fiction. I think it’s actually commendable that, on the second read, none of this seems to contradict what comes later. If anything, Rowling just expands on why this happened. Still, this is child abuse and neglect and oh hey there eleven-year-old fans what’s up
Let’s get some foreshadowing on, ok?
Obviously, as I clamed jokingly back in May (THAT SEEMS A LIFETIME AGO), Rowling is not a dirty racist at all, but in my quest to make a joke, I didn’t realize what a huge moment the snake scene was for Harry. I’m curious to exactly how far in advance she planned this whole story, because this is quite early in the story to be planning out so much foreshadowing. (In this case, Parseltongue OMG OMG OMG).
So let’s make this the subject of the conversation in the comments, if you don’t mind, because I’d like to know what evidence and information Rowling gave us about this story. I mean…she had to know about Chamber of Secrets at this point, at least in terms of general plotting.
One more thing to close out this review though, which is my favorite passage from this chapter:
When he had been younger, Harry had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away, but it had never happened; the Dursleys were his only family. Yet sometimes he thought (or maybe hoped) that strangers in the street seemed to know him. Very strange strangers they were, too. A tiny man in a violet top hat had bowed to him once while out shopping with Aunt Petunia and Dudley. After asking Harry furiously if he knew the man, Aunt Petunia rushed them out of the shop without buying anything. A wild-looking woman dressed all in green had waved merrily at him once on a bus. A bald man in a very long purple coat had actually shaken his hand in the street the other day and then walked away without a word. The weirdest thing about all they people was the way they seemed to vanish the second Harry tried to get a closer look.
At school, Harry had no one. Everybody knew that Dudley’s gang hated that odd Harry Potter in his baggy old clothes and broken glasses, and nobody liked to disagree with Dudley’s gang.
Who is already drenched in tears at this point. Fuck, this is just so sad. Harry had the chance to not be lonely, but he had no idea. Fuck the Dursleys.