A Few Thoughts on Re-Reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Again)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneI like to have audio books going when I’m doing mindless housework or making soap (though I haven’t made soap in a while). I don’t know why, but I decided to listen to the Harry Potter books again, even though I just re-read them (the British versions) last year. I could, I guess, space out my re-reads a bit. But one reason I did it is there is nothing like Harry Potter to perk me up. I was feeling just about as bad as I have ever felt when I discovered the books for the first time. I was actually reading the first one, I think, close to when 9/11 happened, if not during that time. I know I read it before that first movie came out that November. It seemed like when I was feeling my worst, there were these books, and they really did help me escape for a little while and feel a lot less bad about everything. I will always be grateful to them for that.

In this re-listen, a few interesting things popped into my head. First, it still irks me that Scholastic re-titled the book for Americans. The Sorcerer’s Stone is not a thing. The Philosopher’s Stone is a known alchemical object. Any reader who doesn’t know what something is can look it up. And many of them will. I would have (and did) as a child. Second, this book might be the only one of the series that doesn’t treat on the anti-Muggle and Muggle-born prejudice storyline. In fact, both Hagrid and McGonagall say things that one might consider anti-Muggle. McGonagall says “they’re not completely stupid,” when telling Dumbledore the Muggles are noticing the celebration of Voldemort’s downfall. Hagrid tells Harry that he was unfortunate to grow up in a family of “the biggest Muggles” around. There could be a couple of reason for this oversight:

  • J. K. Rowling didn’t know she’d be able to publish a whole series. I have had this argument with people before because she claims she had the whole series planned out (of course, she also changed and tweaked as she went along). I don’t care if she did. She can’t have known she’d be able to write seven books (and all the other things that came later, either). She had to tie the book up in a bow, and establishing this dark story arc that couldn’t be resolved in one book might have been a risk.
  • There might not have been room for it. Her editors did cut some things. She has alluded to this fact. She has said in interviews they wanted to cut the troll scene, and she put her foot down on that one as necessary for establishing the trio’s friendship. Not to mention their bravery and ability to work together to fight in a tight spot.
  • She hadn’t thought of it. See first bullet point, but I’m just saying it’s possible.
  • She had a lot of world-building and character-establishing to do and couldn’t fit it in gracefully when so much about the Wizarding World needed to be established first.

If you look at books 2-7, you see a very clear story arc about prejudice. I would argue that the series transcends a fun children’s series and becomes something more with that arc, but the first book still has some of my favorite scenes in the series:

  • Harry’s release of the boa constrictor from Brazil.
  • Harry’s first look at the Wizarding World when he steps through the brick wall doorway in the back of the Leaky Cauldron and sees Diagon Alley for the first time.
  • Harry’s sorting and the start-of-term feast (does anyone write food like Rowling?).
  • Harry’s first class with Snape.
  • The Halloween Feast and the troll.
  • The Mirror of Erised.

It’s funny that even after reading this book probably more than two dozen times, I still find things to enjoy and notice things I forgot or perhaps hadn’t noticed before.

 

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J. K. Rowling (???), Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

I didn’t go to a midnight release party, but I did drive up to the local Barnes & Noble some time yesterday afternoon to pick up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The Barnes & Noble had a power outage. The line was really long, and at first I thought it was because so many people were there to get the new Harry Potter book. Well, they were, mostly, but the line was mainly long because two cashiers were filling out receipts by hand.

Anyway, if you know me and know this blog, you probably know I am a pretty big Harry Potter fan. I may not be the biggest fan you know, but I’m the biggest one I know. I have read all the books multiple times. I have seen all the movies multiple times. I will have a ticket for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them when it comes out. I am on Pottermore and have been sorted into Ravenclaw at Hogwarts and Thunderbird at Ilvermorny. My cat is named Bellatrix. Appropriately, she is a black cat. I have read many of the articles on Pottermore several times, so the new canon is pretty well lodged in my head. I even wrote a fanfic for NaNoWriMo last November that imagined what Albus Potter’s first year at Hogwarts might be like.

I didn’t like this book much. I don’t know how much J. K. Rowling had to do with it, really, but it didn’t sound like her at all. It reads like fan fiction, and not very good fan fiction. Not only that, but a couple of things revealed in the play directly contradict canon that has been released on Pottermore or in interviews. Rowling is notoriously bad at remembering she’s said things, so that could explain it, but it seems sloppy to me.

For those who want a brief synopsis of the plot, it picks up at Platform 9¾ and retreads the epilogue of the last book, picking up with Albus Potter befriending Scorpius Malfoy on the train, much to cousin Rose Granger-Weasley’s disapproval. The boys become fast friends and are sorted into the same house at Hogwarts. I won’t tell you which one, but it was the first of several wrong moves (in my opinion). The two boys are unpopular loners at school and don’t much like it. Albus Potter overhears his father argue with Amos Diggory about using a Time Turner found in the possession of Theodore Nott to travel back in time to save Cedric Diggory. Amos is cared for by Cedric’s cousin Delphi (no reader will be fooled, like Albus was, that she was not who she said she was). Albus and Delphi concoct a plan to steal the Time Turner from Hermione, who is keeping it in her office at the MInistry for Magic (I won’t tell you her job, but it was one of the few satisfying aspects of the book). As you might guess, everything goes wrong when Albus convinces Scorpius to abscond from the Hogwarts Express and go back in time to save Cedric.

OK, where to start. The characters do not sound at all like themselves. I have read these books so many times, and I have immersed myself in everything I could find. These are not the characters I know and love. Harry particularly strikes a wrong note, as does Draco Malfoy. Ron and Ginny were just about the only major characters who sounded more or less like themselves to me. Even Albus Potter, whom we meet only in the epilogue, strikes a major false note based on the character I read in that single chapter. The characterization alone leads me to believe Rowling had very little hand in this play, and I can’t imagine why she rubber-stamped the results. The plot is also convoluted. Even for a story set in the wizarding world, where crazy things are expected, this plot strains credulity. I have big problems with the character of Delphi’s existence. Once it’s revealed who she is, the first thing I wondered was when did that happen, and the second was how. You will see when you get there, if you read this book. But that is not the only part that is confounding. The actions of Albus and Scorpius in just about every instance when they go back are ridiculous, as are those of their parents. And the last time? They send a message asking for help in the most gobsmackingly unbelievable way.

I expected a play would be different. I was prepared not to like it as much because the depth of world-building and characterization would be taken on by actors and stagecraft I wouldn’t get to see. Even taking the fact that this is a play into account, I was surprised by how much I didn’t like it because I was fully prepared to give it a real chance. My mind was way more open than it would have been for just about any other book of this type.

I managed to avoid spoilers, so I won’t discuss them anymore here, but if you want to follow me in the comments to discuss them, we can move the conversation there. I think I’m just going to pretend this book doesn’t exist and enjoy the rest of the stories J. K. Rowling has (actually) written. As flawed as my own fanfic is—especially toward the end when I was running out of steam and trying to meet the word count—I actually prefer it to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Sunday Post #30: Post-Potter

Sunday PostI finished my re-read of the Harry Potter series late last night. I spent pretty much all day yesterday reading, which is something I haven’t done in a long time, and it felt great. I was reading on my Kindle, and I think I was about a fifth (or close to a fourth) of the way into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when I picked up the book yesterday, and I just read it until I finished it. Every time I finish re-reading the books, I go into a little bit of a post-Potter funk and don’t quite know what to do with myself, so I re-read The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I find so much in those books each time I read them. I can say with certainty that they are my desert-island books. With Pottermore making some changes, I will be interesting to see what they come up with. They have discovered that most of the site’s users are not children, as they anticipated, but adults visiting the site for the extra encyclopedic information and backstory. As a result, they’ve decided to remove the games and interactive parts of the site and focus on the information. From what I understand, not everyone is happy about this, but since I was more interested in the new writing than brewing potions, fighting duels, or playing games, I’m welcoming the changes. I am a little sad they are dispensing with the House system. Proud Ravenclaw, here. Oh, and with that, I think they will be eliminating shopping for your wand. The part of the site I return to most often are the articles about wandlore. My wand is sycamore, phoenix feather core, 10¾ inches, hard.

I did go ahead and pick up This House is Haunted by John Boyne for the R. I. P. Challenge. I’m still trying to decide which other books to read, but that one’s been on my Kindle for a long time now, so I decided I would start with that one. It might perhaps be a mark of how much I love this reading challenge that I’m prioritizing it over my book club and other books I want to read as well.

I didn’t add any books to my to-read pile this week, which was probably smart. It’s too big already. I have a lot of books I need to go ahead and just finish, most of them re-reads for school.

I’ve been lamenting the sad fact this week in particular that my children don’t enjoy reading as much as I do. I have been fairly successful in matching my own students with books, but as much as I try, it doesn’t seem to work as well with my own children. I am a firm believer that it’s not true that people don’t like to read. I think sometimes they haven’t found what they like to read yet, and schools do a great deal of damage in this regard by not allowing students to choose their books, especially in the crucial years of middle school and early high school. If you’re going to lose a reader, I’ve noticed, you generally lose them right about 7th grade. Especially boys. I’m working on it, but if you have tips, please share.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #29: R. I. P. Challenge X

R. I. P. XI can hardly believe it, but this year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual R. I. P. Challenge, hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings typically, but this year by Andi and Heather of the Estella Society. I look forward to this challenge more than any other every year, and it think it’s mainly because it’s the perfect marriage of time of year (fall) and subject matter—anything creepy, scary, or as Carl says, “Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. Supernatural.” I plan to go for broke and read four books. Might be ambitious considering I have a book club and school is starting, but I am going to go all in this time and see what happens.

I need to figure out what I am going to read, but my longlist includes the following books, some of which I already have and should read:

                  

It looks like a good list! Some of these books were on my list last year, and were probably there the year before. I really need to read the ones I’ve bought already, but I have to admit, I’m giving several of these books that I don’t own some rather longing looks.

Aside from starting the challenge, there isn’t much news. I have continued working my way through a re-read of both King Lear and A Thousand Acres in preparation for teaching them. I am also listening to the second book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Shadow of Night. I can’t count it for the R. I. P. Challenge because I started it before the official start date of September 1. I have some other books I pick up from time to time. I’ve also been re-reading the Harry Potter series and am nearly finished with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I really loathe Dolores Umbridge. She’s too realistic a villain. I’ve known crappy teachers like her, and yes, sometimes they go on to be crappy administrators. That book is a really interesting study of what happens when the government interferes with education. I understand the purpose of oversight, but when you have a bunch of people who know nothing about teaching running the show, you’re going to have a disaster. And frankly, this book is too accurate a portrayal of what that looks like in the real world, never mind Hogwarts.

So, are you joining me in the challenge?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #28: One Month of Reading

Sunday Post

It has been exactly four weeks since I have written a Sunday Post. I have had a pretty busy summer, but I didn’t realize I hadn’t updated in that long. I have made some excellent progress on reading goals, mainly because I’m teaching a new course this year, and I needed to read some of the books to prepare. I’m in the process of re-reading some others in order to have them fresher in my mind as I teach them.

Since I last wrote a Sunday Post, I have finished reading Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonThe Song of Solomon by Toni MorrisonThe Piano Lesson by August Wilson, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have also been re-reading the Harry Potter series on my Kindle, which I find an easy way to get through those fat monsters at a faster clip. I am about a third of the way through my re-read of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I also read The Complete Maus, but I didn’t review it because I think I have already reviewed it before.

I have completed the level of the Historical Fiction Challenge to which I had committed. I should go up another level. I’m nearly there for the next level, and there is still plenty of time. I’m just never sure how much time I’ll be able to commit to a challenge. I hate to say I’ve abandoned a challenge this early, but I have pretty much given up on the Literary Movement Challenge. I didn’t have time to get to the literary movement for May, and I just never moved forward from there. It’s okay. I had plenty of reading I needed to do for school. I’m doing okay with the other challenges, and I’m ahead on my total reading goal of reading 52 books, which is a good position in which to be, given I will most likely get pretty busy as school starts and will need some cushion time.

I have not added a lot of books to my TBR pile, which is a good thing, as it’s already too big.

 

Right now, I’m re-reading both King Lear and A Thousand Acres for my new course. I am really enjoying reading these books concurrently, and I am especially enjoying listening to the Naxos Audio production of King Lear featuring Paul Schofield as Lear, Toby Stephens as Edmund, and Kenneth Branagh as the Fool (and a host of other superb actors). I highly recommend it.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #17: Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday PostHappy Mother’s Day to all the moms! I didn’t get breakfast in bed, but I did make pancakes with my new griddle. I have to say that it was much easier. I have always hated making pancakes because you have to make them one or two at a time with a frying pan, but with a griddle, I was able to make them for the whole family in nothing flat.

I’m not sure if I have any other plans, aside from perhaps making some soap and also doing some reading. Speaking of soap, I’m giving away a bar of the Dead Sea Mud Spa Soap I just made. Head over to my soaping blog to check it out if you’re interested. What are your Mother’s Day plans?

It seems appropriate to start with a list of my favorite literary moms.

  1. Best mom in my book is Molly Weasley. She not only keeps all the unruly Weasleys in line but also adopts Harry, too. And when Bellatrix Lestrange tries to attack Ginny, she famously intervenes, yelling, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” before destroying perhaps the most deranged and evil of Voldemort’s Death Eaters. She’s nurturing and bad-ass.
  2. Hester Prynne devotes herself to Pearl and becomes a model mother even as her entire community is castigating her for having Pearl out of wedlock.
  3. Scarlett O’Hara is devoted to her mother Ellen in Gone With the Wind, but let’s get real—her mother is actually Mammy, and Mammy was the best mother for a headstrong, stubborn person like Scarlett.
  4. Mrs. Quimby from Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. I think it’s in Ramona and Her Mother when Ramona squeezes an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink, and her mother makes Ramona scoop it into a baggie. Ramona has to use that toothpaste until it’s gone, while the rest of the family gets to use a brand new tube. Serves her right!
  5. Marmee from Little Women whose reputation precedes her, as I still need to read this book. I know, right? How did that happen? I’m not sure. I promise to fix it soon. But the authorities say that Marmee is about as perfect as it’s possible to be.

Bookish Updates for the week: I finished listening to Conversion by Katherine Howe and started listening to The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (read by THE Colin Firth). I have also started reading an annotated Walden by Henry David Thoreau, but truthfully, I might have started that last week rather than this week. Memory’s fuzzy. I definitely started
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving this week, however.

I added the following books to my TBR pile:

And finally, U2 busking in the subway:

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #15: Wuthering, Wuthering Heights

Sunday PostWhat has been happening this week? It’s been crazy busy. I haven’t had a ton of time to read, so I sat down and read most of today (with the exception of doing a little bit of work and washing the dishes). I have been spending most of the day wandering the moors, reading The Annotated Wuthering Heights. What a great addition to my library. I am truly enjoying it. Each time I read Wuthering Heights, I notice something I didn’t pick up on last time, and this time, it’s how horrible Nelly Dean is. I mean, I have often thought of her as mostly a reliable narrator, and because of her, I have really disliked Catherine. Heathcliff is just plain hard to like, no matter what. As soon as you start feeling sympathy for him, he goes off and kills lapwings for no reason or hangs a dog. Perhaps because I’m reading an annotated version, I am noticing so many more things than I ever have before. All the birds, for one thing; I’m sure I noticed that before, but even though the annotations don’t discuss the birds in a great amount of detail, I think my antennae are up, so to speak, and I’m noticing the symbolism more than I usually do. And there are birds just everywhere in this book. Another thing I am seeing are the close connections to the Romantic poets. The annotations help there, and I am really pleased I chose to read this one for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Hope I can finish it in time! Even if I don’t, I definitely want to finish reading this lovely annotated version. I realize a lot of people hate this book, but I think if you peel it apart and and see what makes it work, it is genius. I am especially enjoying the nuances I am noticing in Nelly’s character this time around.

I finished reading Pleasantville by Attica Locke and wrote a review for the TLC Book Tour this week as well. A good read. I am also still working away on Katherine Howe’s Conversion on audio. The reader for that one is really good. I recommended it to a bunch of my students this week when I saw it was one of their choices for a summer read.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was top ten favorite authors of all time. You know, I am actually liking the idea of saving these for my Sunday Post instead of doing them on Tuesday. I just have less time to write during the work week. To qualify as a favorite author, I decided that I needed to love multiple books by the same author. So I didn’t count authors who have only written one novel. I also didn’t count authors if I had read only one of their works (even if I loved it). So here is my list:

  1. William Shakespeare
  2. Jane Austen
  3. J. K. Rowling
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Diana Gabaldon
  6. Ernest Hemingway
  7. Sharyn McCrumb
  8. Jasper Fforde
  9. Neil Gaiman
  10. Judy Blume

Who would be on your list?

Authors whose work I love, but whom I didn’t count because of my self-imposed rules are Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, and Emily Brontë.

Some links I enjoyed this week:

Here’s a bonus for you:

For the record, I have always believed it really was Catherine’s ghost who disturbed Lockwood early in the novel.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Reading Updates and Other News

I have been busy, busy. I am making soap to gear up for fall. When you’re a soapmaker, you have to make the soap about four-six weeks in advance of the selling season because it needs that long to cure. I am doing a big arts and crafts fair on September 21, and I want have a good amount of stock.

School has started, at least for me. My students don’t return until September 8. We have pre-planning, though, and I have taken on a new role as English department chair. The start of the year has already been great.

I have been re-reading the Harry Potter series with Maggie. I have read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows much less often than the other books in the series. Re-reading Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix this last time made me think two things:

  1. A lot folks don’t like this one because Harry is so angry. Well, he was dealing with Voldemort’s emotions influencing his own, and even if that were not the case, he has a right, after everything that’s happened to him, to a bit of righteous anger. And he struggles through so much of that book.
  2. Every teacher and administrator working in schools should read this book. It has interesting things to say about teaching, especially about what happens when the government, and especially government officials who know nothing about education, interfere in schools.

I’m really enjoying reading these books with Maggie. I think she’s liking them as well.

I don’t have a lot of extra time with all this craziness, but my wardrobe is really frightening. I mean, I never shop for myself because I hate, hate, hate shopping. I absolutely loathe it. I hate hunting for something I like, I hate continually taking off my clothes and trying on outfits only to find they fit weird or I don’t like them, and I hate being in the store around people I don’t know well and with whom I have to have conversations. I also hate having to decline offers of a store credit card, along with the attempts to convince me that I could be saving so much money if only I had one. As a result, my clothing situation was getting close to desperate. One of my friends posted a link to this personal shopping service called Stitch Fix, and I thought, “yeah right, like I can afford a personal shopping service.”

Nevertheless, I visited the site, and I discovered that it was fairly reasonable. The styling fee is just $20, and the fee is applied to anything you buy. The personal stylist picks five items and sends them to you. You can set how often you receive packages. You fill out a comprehensive styling profile. I was impressed that Stitch Fix asked me for links to a Pinterest board where I pin clothes I like and my LinkedIn profile. I wouldn’t have thought to do either one, but it looks like it was helpful because I received my first shipment, and I liked everything so much that I kept it.

I am posting pictures of myself without makeup and with messy hair, so don’t look at my face, but check out what I received.

Plum Dress and White CardiganFirst, this plum wrap dress. I would have walked right by it if I had seen it in the store because I would never, ever have thought it would look good on me. The waist, however, is a little higher, so it actually covers up areas I might not want to show. It has capped sleeves, so I can easily add a long-sleeve sweater, tights, and boots, and I have a good winter/fall outfit, too. No, I do not have on tights; those are my really white legs.

Jeans, Cardigan, Dotted Print ShirtNext up, skinny jeans. Another item I’d have walked right by if I had seen them in the store. Truly. And they fit me really well. They are actually comfortable. I really liked the print on this shirt. It has no sleeves, so I have to wear the little short-sleeved cardigan they sent, which, incidentally, I also probably wouldn’t have picked out for myself. I have to admit it’s perfect for pairing with all sorts of outfits, thought.

Green ShirtI really liked this green shirt. It fit me well, and it’s versatile enough for work or casual dress. And it’s not too tight around my hips.

I was really pleased and surprised at how much I liked everything once I tried it on, with the prices (I got everything for less than $200), and with the convenience. I really think this is going to solve some of my issues with my wardrobe. I am trying out clothes I might not have tried, and I don’t have to go anywhere. And it costs about the same as I’d spend if I hauled my tuchus to the store. So I’m pretty happy. If you want to try it out, I have a referral code, and it would be awesome if you would use it when you sign up.

Stitch Fix

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Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Pensieve

The PensieveOne of my favorite magical devices in the series makes its first appearance in this reading selection, chapters 26-30 of [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire[/amazon_link].

Chapter 26 sees Harry preparing in earnest for the second task after he’s worked out the egg clue. The trio are talking about what Moody said about Snape being on a second chance, and Harry remarks, “I just want to know what Snape did with his first chance, if he’s on his second one.” The arc of Snape’s development is interesting to watch. He is a complex character precisely because he’s not a nice guy, but he is ultimately on the side of good, and the reason he is good is that he has loved someone deeply. I think perhaps one of the strongest motifs of this series is that there is true goodness in love. Voldemort’s evil stems in part from the fact that he has never known love and therefore cannot understand it as a motivation for behavior. It is this blind spot that is his downfall over and over again, from trying to kill Harry to trusting Snape to believing he can be stronger and even defeat Harry if he steals Harry’s blood to his final defeat at the Battle of Hogwarts when he cannot fathom the characters’ strong bonds of love for one another that give them, as Harry puts it in the fifth movie, “something worth fighting for.” And part of loving others is giving them second chances and forgiving them, which is yet another thing—forgiveness—that Voldemort cannot comprehend. Dumbledore trusts Snape not just because of what he knows about Lily, but because he understands the power of his forgiveness over Snape. Snape will get no such treatment from Voldemort, no matter how useful he might be.

Dobby finds Harry in the library and gives him gillyweed, which enables him to grow gills and swim easily underwater. The route by which Harry gets the gillyweed is a little circuitous. I actually liked that the movie had Harry find out about it from Neville. That had been Moody/Crouch’s plan all along, but in the book, Harry never asks Neville for help and so Moody/Crouch lets slip that gillyweed would work where Dobby could overhear. A bit contrived. I imagine the movie used Neville instead because of the extra expense of CGI Dobby. That whole film cuts the storyline waaaay down, anyway, but I do like Harry getting gillyweed from Neville better. Sigh.

A moment’s pause to reflect on what a ridiculously dangerous task the champions are set. I mean anyone could have drowned, hostages or champions. I suppose the fact that so many trained wizards are on hand would probably have prevented such a tragedy, but still. I have to wonder again about why anyone sends their child to Hogwarts.

In chapter 27, I noticed a nice little bit of foreshadowing I don’t think I have picked up on before. When Hermione is speculating about how Rita Skeeter could have known that Viktor asked Hermione to visit him in Bulgaria over the summer, she is “holding her pestle suspended over a bowl of scarab beetles.” Of course, Rita turns out to be an animagus who turns into a beetle. If you re-read the book after knowing about Rita, you notice that Rowling carefully connects those dots and plants clues about Rita’s secret.

It does crack me up every time when Snape sidles over to their table and says, “Fascinating though your social life undoubtedly is, Miss Granger, I must ask you not to discuss it in my class. Ten points from Gryffindor.” But then he reads that horrible article out loud. That’s just nasty. I have known teachers who will do that sort of thing—read notes out loud. Of course, students today rarely pass notes in class. They text.

Much has been made of Sirius’s statement in this chapter that “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” On the one hand, Sirius seems to be advocating kindness towards creatures like house elves, but on the other, his statement makes it very clear he considers them lesser beings, and he himself is not kind to Kreacher. He has his reasons. Kreacher is pretty horrible to him. It’s interesting that Harry later determines that kindness is the key to reaching Kreacher and actually befriends the elf, but Sirius, despite this platitude, never figures that out.

We also learn that Sirius never had a trial before he was sent to Azkaban. Had he been given a trial, there is a chance he might have gone free, though the evidence against him did look overwhelming. Crouch’s tactics as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement are reprehensible. He allowed Aurors to use Unforgivable Curses and sent others besides Sirius to Azkaban without a trial. He did it for what he might have viewed as the greater good, but as we learn in the rest of the series, many atrocities are committed by people who think they are acting “for the greater good.” My hunch is that we’ll find out more about Crouch’s background on Pottermore when this book is released, and one thing I expect to find out is that he was in Slytherin House in school. And then, his son is caught alongside the Lestranges, torturing the Longbottoms. I am interested to learn more about Barty, Jr. He swears he is innocent, but all of his actions in this book point to his being a full-fledged Death Eater. I’d be interested to know how he wound up in the company of Death Eaters.

Sirius also wonders why Dumbledore would hire Snape to teach given Snape’s fascination with the Dark Arts. As we later learn, he invented quite a few hexes, including the very nasty Sectumsempra. Sirius says, “Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in seventh year and he was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters.” He has a keen mind, and that he would choose to dwell so much in such activity is interesting. I have to say as much as we learn about Snape and his history, I still would like to learn more. But Sirius cannot get past one fact: Dumbledore trusts Snape. And though Dumbledore “trusts where a lot of other people wouldn’t,” it doesn’t make sense to Sirius that Dumbledore would let Snape teach at Hogwarts if he had ever been a Death Eater, which just illustrates further Dumbledore’s capacity to forgive and ability to understand others, and, indeed, to understand regret and what it means to have a second chance—something, as we find out, Dumbledore himself was never given. As the trio leaves Sirius in the cave near Hogsmeade, they talk about Percy and Crouch. Ron has the measure of Percy: “But maybe he doesn’t care … it’d probably just make him admire Crouch even more. Yeah, Percy loves rules. He’d just say Crouch was refusing to break them for his own son,” to which Hermione replies, “Percy would never throw any of his family to the Dementors.” Ron says, “I don’t know … If he thought we were standing in the way of his career … Percy’s really ambitious, you know.” Foreshadowing. You know, I just don’t ever forgive Percy for being such an ass later. I just don’t. I guess every family has to have a jerk like Percy in it somewhere.

In chapter 28, Harry says something to Hermione about Rita Skeeter using “bugging,” and Hermione gets an idea. She dashes off to the library to check, and sure enough, Rita Skeeter is not a registered animagus. Later in the chapter, he and Krum go have a chat in the forest after learning about the final task, and Crouch shows up, raving mad. He is clearly fightly off the Imperius Curse with some difficulty.

In chapter 29, Harry speculates that Moody was using the Marauder’s Map to reach them in the forest so quickly, which is precisely what he was doing. The trio later runs into Fred and George in the Owlery, discussing blackmail, when Ron warns them they could get in trouble for that, George says, “Carry on like this and you’ll be made a Prefect.” Ron replies hotly, “No I won’t!” Interesting because, of course, he is made a Prefect, and he is not disappointed about it when it happens.

Harry later has a dream in Divination that appears to be real—he is seeing what Voldemort is doing at that moment. He goes straight to Dumbledore, who is with the minister and leaves Harry in his office, alone with the Pensieve, which he did not put away properly. Naturally, Harry peeks. The first scene Harry sees is Karkaroff’s trial, in which he names the names of other Death Eaters in order to walk free. Harry learns that Snape himself was, indeed, a Death Eater. The scene changes, and Harry is seeing a new trial. This time, Ludo Bagman is testifying on his own behalf, addressing charges that he passed information to Voldemort through Augustus Rookwood. The wizards and witches in the courtroom are so blinded by Bagman’s celebrity that they can’t focus on the trial, and Bagman walks. The scene changes again, and this time, four people are brought in—the Lestranges and Barty Crouch, Jr. Harry learns that Neville’s parents were tortured into insanity.

I have always found it interesting that Barty, Jr. pleads his innocence. I don’t know how guilty he actually is. Did he become true to Voldemort only after his father cast him away, or is his desperation in the court a ruse to appeal to his father’s paternal instincts in order to avoid prison? It’s hard to say. I think he was probably young and stupid. He was with the Lestranges when they were caught, but knowing them, I have a hunch they did the torturing while Crouch more or less watched and did nothing about it. However, his behavior later suggests that he has strong loyalty to Voldemort, even after all these years have passed. He seems to view Voldemort as a father figure—a substitute for the father who cast him aside and then imprisoned him for years. It’s a complicated situation, and I’d like to learn more about him, for sure.

At that point, Dumbledore returns to his office, and far from chiding Harry for nosing into the Pensieve, he is patient and understanding of Harry’s curiosity. He shows Harry how the Pensieve works and even answers his questions about what he saw in it. It would be a great device to have if you want to make connections and see how everything fits together.

Harry and Dumbledore discuss Harry’s scar hurting, and Dumbledore says that Voldemort and Harry “are connected by the curse that failed.” Whether he has completely figured out that Harry is a Horcrux or not at this stage is not clear, but I believe he has. I think he realizes that the diary is a Horcrux in Harry’s second year, and he deduces that Harry must be one as well before the events in this book.

Harry probes Dumbledore about why he trusts Snape, but Dumbledore says, “That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself.” The relationship between Snape and Dumbledore is one of the closest and most touching in the books. When we finally explore it from Snape’s memories in the final book, Snape and Dumbledore are both illuminated. I know my perspective of them both changed as I saw their relationship through that lens.

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Re-Reading Harry Potter: Hermione and House Elves

houseelvesLook at this very cool House Elf Abolitionist Badge you can buy on Etsy!

I love Etsy.

That said, Hermione’s heart is in the right place, but she has it wrong about house elves, which is just one of the thoughts I have about chapters 21-25 of [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire[/amazon_link].

Harry has successfully managed to beat the dragon in the first task, and he is trying to work out the egg clue for the second task, but it just sounds like wailing. Seamus Finnigan says it sounds like a banshee, which is what his boggart is. Neville says it sounds like someone being tortured and wonders if Harry will have to fight the Cruciatus Curse. He has been much preoccupied with this curse, for obvious reasons, and it begs the question: Did he remember, somewhere in the back of his mind, his parents’ torture? He would have been quite young, but it is possible that such an event left an impression on him.

I mentioned Hermione and house elves. As I said, she has good intentions, but house elves do not seem to want to be free, at least not for the most part. Winky is devastated when Crouch frees her, and she never really gets over it. She is so determined to view Dobby as the example instead of an exception to the rule. She can be quite stubborn when she thinks she’s right. On the other hand, Hermione is right. House elves are treated like slaves, and the fact that they seem to like it is ignorance. Even Dobby, the most “forward thinking” elf in terms of his conception of freedom, talks Dumbledore down from a larger paycheck and more benefits. So what do you do? How do you free a people who doesn’t want to be free? How do you educate them about their choices? The issue of house elves is not really resolved in the books, but I would be interested to learn more about them on Pottermore. I hope the issue of house elves is addressed when they release this book on Pottermore.

Harry faces his first major dating challenge and has to confront the dilemma of how to ask a girl out. He sets his sights on Cho Chang, with whom he has a few things in common: she’s a Seeker for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, so at least there is Quidditch to talk about. I have always liked the actress who played her in the movies. Her wonderful Scottish accent! At any rate, of course, she already has a date, and Ron and Harry grow more desperate until Ron is even willing to go with Hermione. I love her response. And I love how gorgeous she looks at the ball. They wind up, of course, with the Patil twins, and Dean Thomas even remarks that he can’t figure out how they managed to get dates with the prettiest girls in their year. Interesting that Neville thinks to ask Hermione out before her two best friends. He seems to be able to appreciate her as a girl and as a friend before they can. As Ron relates, “He told me after Potions! Said she’s always been really nice, helping him out with work and stuff.” Ron thinks Hermione has made up a date to avoid going with Neville.

I have to admit I’ve always found it kind of odd that Viktor Krum asked Hermione out. I mean, she is quite a bit younger than he is, and it’s hard to see what might attract him. I suspect he is a much more serious student than his pro-Quidditch-player background would suggest. I was glad Rowling brought Krum back later in the books. I liked him.

Fred winds up asking Angelina Johnson to the ball. Their relationship is never really elucidated in the books, but Rowling has hinted that they dated for some time because she refers to Angelina as Fred’s ex. That’s not the kind of terminology you use to describe someone with whom you went to one dance. Later on, George winds up marrying Angelina. She has intimated that it is not the healthiest thing to marry your brother’s ex under the circumstances, but also perhaps that George and Angelina came together in their grief over Fred, and they did name their son Fred (they also had a daughter Roxanne).

One last note about the whole date-procuring fiasco. Parvati Patil’s best friend is Lavender Brown, and when Harry asks Parvati to the ball, he initially asks if Lavender will go with Ron, but Lavender already has a date with Seamus. So funny that later on, Lavender will be Won-Won’s first girlfriend.

Later, Hermione has a great time at the ball until Ron ruins the end of her evening by being a jealous jackass. Viktor describes Durmstrang. It sounds sort of stark and cold. Karkaroff is prompted to quiet Viktor so as not to reveal Durmstrang’s secrets, after which Dumbledore and Karkaroff have a short discussion about their school’s secrets, and Dumbledore’s reaction always makes me laugh: “Oh, I would never dream of assuming I know all Hogwarts’ secrets, Igor.” He describes finding the Room of Requirement when he had to use the bathroom. It had been full of chamber pots. In pondering the room’s appearance, he speculates finally that it might only appear when “the seeker has an exceptionally full bladder,” which is the closest explanation to the truth.

Then the Weird Sisters take the stage, and this one aspect of the books that I felt was really well represented in the films. Of course, the filmmakers were able to convince Jarvis Cocker to be the Weird Sisters’ lead singer and write songs for the film.

A side note: Rowling included the passage when Viktor is trying to learn to say Hermione’s name in order to address frequent questions from readers about how to pronounce it. Pretty sneaky, sis.

Ron and Harry overhear Hagrid admitting he is half-giant, and he notices the Rita Skeeter beetle for the first time. She’s a great character, isn’t she? I hope we learn more about her background on Pottermore. My bet is that she was a Slytherin because she doesn’t seem to mind bending the rules—at all—when she’s after a story. She doesn’t strike me as particularly brave, so Gryffindor is out. She is not kind and loyal, so Hufflepuff is out, too. She might possibly be a Ravenclaw because she does have some brains, but I think her ambition and hungry story-seeking is much more dominant in her personality, so my vote is Slytherin. Do you ever try to figure out what House characters whose Houses are not revealed in the series are in?

Naturally, Skeeter prints the news about Hagrid’s mother. Hagrid retreats to his cabin, and he doesn’t come back to work until the trio visit him. They find Dumbledore already there, trying to convince Hagrid to come back to work. Dumbledore says, “Really, Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time.” Isn’t that the truth? I love Dumbledore. I have always wondered exactly what inappropriate charms Aberforth was practicing on that goat.

In the next chapter, “The Egg and the Eye,” we learn more about the limitations of the Maruader’s Map. It does show everyone, even if they are magically concealed under an invisibility cloak or Polyjuice Potion, but it does not distinguish among people with the same name. Bartemius Crouch, Sr. or Bartemius Crouch, Jr. would both just read Bartemius Crouch, which is why Harry naturally assumes Barty Sr. is poking around Snape’s office. Why on earth would he assume it was Barty Jr.? Who would? But Barty Jr. realizes that the map could reveal his big secret and asks Harry if he can borrow it.

I always found it interesting that when Moody/Crouch arrives when Snape and Filch have found Harry’s egg, and Filch is about to reveal that someone has broken into Snape’s office to Moody, Snape hisses at Filch to “Shut up!” Snape doesn’t trust Moody. Now you could go the obvious route and note that as a former Death Eater, Snape likely tangled with Moody in some capacity, but I have a hunch that he knows something is up with Moody, but is not sure what. Possibly he is more attuned to the effects of Polyjuice Potion than others might be, being the Potions Master. I think it likely he hasn’t figured out that Moody is really Barty Crouch, Jr., though, but that he thinks there is something not quite right with the guy. Snape has pretty good instincts, when he doesn’t let his prejudices blind him, and he does seem to pick up on things that others miss. He did, after all, figure out Lupin was a werewolf back in school.

Interesting that Moody/Crouch suggests Harry consider a career as an Auror. I think it’s the first time Harry ever thinks about it, and even though the suggestion comes from a madman, he winds up doing exactly that with his life later. I still contend that no matter how insane Moody/Crouch was, he was still one of the best DADA teachers Harry had. Even Dean Thomas later says they learned a lot from Barty Jr. despite his being a maniac.

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