In the sixteenth chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling is a genius. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to re-read Harry Potter.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: THROUGH THE TRAPDOOR
Oh, I love this. I LOVE THIS.
Even though chapter seventeen provides the actual mind-numbing conclusion to Sorcerer’s Stone, Rowling finds a way to tie up so much of the character growth present in this first book before she gets to the endgame. She deals with the logistics of exams first, yes, but so much of this chapter is about showing us how these three characters have changed from their first day at Hogwarts. In the case of Harry, he’ll come face-to-face with his past, but we’ll get to that. (Technically, isn’t it “face-to-face-to-face”? GET IT? GET IT?)
It sort of feels like these characters, aside from Hermione, haven’t even really been going to school, and Rowling acknowledges that by combining Harry’s stress. Exams stress everyone out, but he has another layer on top of that. His scar hurts, he know Voldemort is destined to come back, and nightmares about the death of his parents plague him. (He doesn’t quite know what the dreams mean yet, but he’ll learn soon.) I like the Rowling acknowledges that by having realize that Ron and Hermione simply wouldn’t be as bothered by Harry’s epiphany/info-dumpstravaganza. They don’t have the personal experience that he does, though, again, he doesn’t quite know of his true connection to it all.
“That was far easier than I thought it would be,” said Hermione as they joined the crowds flocking out onto the sunny grounds. “I needn’t have learned about the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct or the uprising of Elfric the Eager.”
I AM SO HERMIONE. Also, I want to know what these are! FINISH THE HARRY POTTER ENCYCLOPEDIA, PLEASE.
But these stressful and contemplative moments that open the chapter are but the brief respite from OH SHIT, OH FUCK that is to come. It really is a treat to read this again, and I was not bored in the slightest by any of this. It’s exciting to go through this because it’s pulled off so well. I know this is not the height of weirdness (again, watch FLCL or some David Lynch for a taste of what weird can truly be), but the magical world becomes completely absurd in chapter sixteen, and that sense of fantasy gives the book life. We (sadly) know that these are things that don’t happen in our world, and that’s part of the fun. A room full of flying keys? An elaborate set of tricks and puzzles that could end in death being completed by eleven year olds? Yeah, this is how you entertain me.
While I will still maintain the head canon that Viserys somehow sold Hagrid the dragon age, I want to praise how quickly this all moves. It’s a pattern that Rowling follows for all her books, and it’s one I’m perfectly fine accepting. Every book builds to this crescendo of chaos and when it reaches the point of NO RETURN, things just feel so real. The second that Hagrid reveals that he accidentally told the strange dragon egg salesman how to disarm Fluffy, chapter sixteen hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. The group finally takes Hermione’s advice and head’s for Dumbledore’s office. Orâ€¦well, they try to, anyway. They don’t know where it is! I laughed so hard at the idea that there would be a sign for his office because OH DEAR, THAT IS NOT HOW HOGWARTS WORKS. Thankfully, they run into Professor McGonagall, and then I suddenly want to read all the books from her perspective. Wouldn’t that be fascinating? I imagine she’d complain about Snape a lot, or wonder why Potter and his friends are always getting into shenanigans, or there’d be long passages where she brags about having Hermione in Gryffindor and the other teachers would express their admiration for the genius. Plus, I’d love to read her side of the scene where Harry outright confirms that he knows about the Sorcerer’s Stone. He shocks her into confusion, literally! But once she composes herself, she denies them the opportunity. That’ll change soon, won’t it? Oh, everyone has no idea how real shit will get in the future, or that there will come a day when Harry tells McGonagall some ridiculous thing and she’ll just believe him. (I think my favorite McGonagall/Harry scene is when he returns to Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows. ALL THE TEARS.)
And then Snape is all creeping’ around the school because why not and then he says he’ll personally make sure Harry is expelled next time and SHUT THE FUCK UP, SNAPE. God, we get it, you hate Harry before he’s ever done anything to you and he reminds you of the man Lily actually fell in love with. YOU ARE A GROWN ASS MAN. LET IT GO.
Let’s talk about Harry’s thunderous speech that gets Hermione and Ron to come along with him to get the Stone before Snape or Voldemort. Even though he knew very, very little about Voldemort’s past, he’s still pretty spot on. Hogwarts did become a school for the Dark Arts in a way when the Death Eaters took it over in Deathly Hallows. He’s able to put it all in perspective for them: House points won’t matter if he gets the Stone. There won’t even be a Hogwarts, let alone Houses. And must he remind you that Voldy killed his parents??? HE WAS THEIR FRIEND! Oh, wait, no. No, he wasn’t.
You know who was their friend? Neville. Oh, Neville, your badassery starts right here in Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s unfortunate you had to stand up to your friends because you were bound to lose against Hermione, but I instantly respect Neville for making such a difficult decision. He’s right; they are risking even more points from Gryffindor, and they’ve already caused enough damage as it is. I don’t blame him in the slightest for standing up to the trio.
From here on out, chapter sixteen is about creativity, fast-thinking, loyalty, and courage, and Rowling executes it with masterful brilliance. I love how she does this. I love the excitement it brings. I love that each character gets their own moment to shine, I love how suspenseful it is, and I love that Rowling still manages to stick some humor in here.
“I know what this is–it’s Devil’s Snare!”
“Oh, I’m so glad we know what it’s called, that’s a great help,” snarled Ron, leaning back, trying to stop the plant from curling around his neck.
RON HAS ALL THE BEST LINES IN THIS CHAPTER. And it’s true, sometimes Hermione is so lost in her own mind that she’s oblivious to what she’s saying or doing. I mean:
“So light a fire!” Harry choked.
“Yes–of course–but there’s no wood!” Hermione cried, wringing her hands.
“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” Ron bellowed. “ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”
PERFECTION. This is still one of the best parts of the whole book. God, it’s so obvious they were meant to be together that I’m surprised it took me so long to hop on board.
Each room that they come across is, by design, meant to represent what each character is best at. In the first room, Harry, the youngest Seeker in a century, is naturally predisposed to being talented at capturing a tiny, flying object that glints in the light. Ron gets to act out his knowledge of wizard chess in order to get them into the next room, and event that has the unspoken message of sacrificing yourself to help those you care about. The room with the potions is one that only Hermione could solve because it relies so heavily on logic. (Every so often, I wish Hermione was a Ravenclaw just so we could be even better friends, though I do totally understand why she’s a Gryffindor.)
Oh, and then there’s this:
“Harry–you’re a great wizard, you know.”
“I’m not as good as you,” said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him.
“Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things–friendship and bravery and–oh Harry–be careful!“
That’s why she’s a Gryffindor, and that’s why she and Harry are such good friends.
And that leads us to one of my favorite reveals of anything EVER. We won’t talk about that quite yet, but I don’t want to leave y’all hanging, so there will be a review to go up Monday morning. I’m posting my predictions for A Storm of SwordsÂ on Tuesday, then starting my “mystery” book on Wednesday!