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.


Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Man with Two Faces

Stop VoldemortThe concluding chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone bring Harry through the trap door and face-to-face with Voldemort for the second time in his life. After the last exam in History of Magic, Hermione mentions that she need not have learned about “the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct or the uprising of Elfric the Eager.” Given Professor Binns’s fascination with the dealings of goblins, I have a hunch that Elfric the Eager was a goblin involved in some rebellion or other. The Werewolf Code of Conduct is presumably an agreement or set of rules dictating werewolf behavior. Fenrir Greyback probably disregards the whole thing, but my hunch is good werewolves like Remus Lupin follow the code.

Another thing I noticed in chapter 16 was when Harry decided he would have to go through the trap door that night and plans to use his invisibility cloak, Ron says, “But will it cover all three of us?” As Harry tries to convince them not to come, Hermione insists that he will need their help. She turns out to be right, as it is unlikely he would get past McGonagall’s chess set or Snape’s logic puzzle without them. However, it caught my eye because we see Ron and Hermione’s insistence in following Harry into danger when he tries to go it alone repeated later, especially in Deathly Hallows when they go on the run with Harry.

Neville bravely tries to stop the trio from going out again, and we later learn that this act of courage will earn him the only points he will earn his first year. We also get to see Hermione’s power as a witch as she casts a rather horrible full Body-Bind curse on Neville. She is kind of scary.

For the second time in this book, Mrs. Norris is skulking around while Harry is under the cloak. She looks right at him both times, and both times he seems unsure whether or not she knows he is there. I would contend she knows something is there; after all, she can smell. The night vision of cats is notoriously good. Peeves can also sense the trio’s presence, but Harry fends him off with a clever ruse.

I love the part when Hermione is trying to remember how to combat Devil’s Snare, and the change made to that scene in the movie is kind of pointless. Hermione remembers Devil’s Snare hates fire, but she doesn’t have any wood! Ron, aghast, screams, “HAVE YOU GONE MAD? ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?”

Later on, Ron shows true Gryffindor bravery when he allows himself to be taken in the giant chess game. I always liked that part. He is so frequently overshadowed by his brothers and Harry. He puts up with it very well for the most part, but he gets tired of it, and it is always good when he has moments like these. Knowing that he and Harry go on to be Aurors together, it’s fairly safe to say he spends his career in Harry’s shadow, too, but he has revealed a sense of humor about it by the time we see them sending their own children off on the Hogwarts Express.

In the last chapter, Quirrell describes Snape as “swooping around like an overgrown bat.” This throwaway line introduced a lot of speculation among Harry Potter fans that Snape was a vampire. His appearance, his preternatural ability to discern when Harry was up to something… there is more, and I’ll return to it when I discuss Prisoner of Azkaban. But Rowling has said no, Snape is not a vampire. He’s just really unpleasant. He’s actually my favorite character, for reasons that will become clearer as I discuss the rest of the series.

Sure enough, Quirrell confirms that Snape was already on to him by Halloween, and that Snape had gone to the third floor to head Quirrell off. I am definitely going to have to look for what Snape says about Quirrell in the memory Harry sees in the Pensieve.

We also learn that Snape and James Potter had a deep and burning hatred for each other, much, as Dumbledore points out, like Harry and Malfoy.

Quirrell says that Voldemort taught him that “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” You know what this statement reminds me of? It reminds me of the corruption of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Palpatine says to Anakin: “Remember back to your early teachings. ‘All who gain power are afraid to lose it.’ Even the Jedi.” He then tells Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise (Palpatine’s own former master, whom he killed, as is the way of the Sith), including the fact that Plagueis had discovered how to conquer death. Anakin remarks in surprise, “He could do that? He could actually save people from death?” to which Palpatine replies, “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” When Anakin asks what happened to Plagueis, Palpatine says, “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.” Harry, unlike Anakin, realizes that there are things worse than death, and one thing we discover by the end of the series is that there are ways to be more powerful in death, just as some of Jedi discover in Star Wars.

My point in bringing this up is that Palpatine’s seduction of Vader is similar to Quirrellmort’s attempted seduction of Harry. Where Palpatine was successful in swaying Vader to the Dark Side, Voldemort fails. Harry doesn’t see the world in the same way as Voldemort, and he is not as afraid, even as an eleven-year-old boy, to face death. He fights in this scene and nearly loses his life, but he plunges forward anyway because not to do so would allow Voldemort to win, at least in his mind. Vader is too scared to lose Padmé and is too desperate to learn how to be master over death. In so doing, he only ensures that Padmé will die. It is rather like the scene when Macbeth wonders whether or not he need really kill Duncan to be king. “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir.” If Vader had done nothing, the result might have been different, but his actions may have brought about the events he was desperate to prevent. Likewise, Voldemort, who is like Plagueis in that he was only afraid of losing power, eventually lost his power, too. Harry knows there are more important things in life, and that there is indeed a difference between good and evil.

Harry is an interesting mirror for Voldemort in which to examine himself. They had similar childhoods, but Harry’s choices led him down a very different path. Even Voldemort notices the similarities, which may be why he saw Harry as a threat and marked him as his equal.

Interestingly, when Rowling is asked about how the novels became darker as the series wore on, she often brings up Voldemort’s face on the back of Quirrell’s head as horrific example of darkness in the first book. And indeed, she does begin the story with the deaths of James and Lily Potter. But there is a much darker tone as the series continues. One thing I sense as I re-read is that the tone is just about right for Harry’s age in each present book. Because the story is filtered through his point of view, that makes sense.

After Dumbledore arrives to save Harry in the end, Harry wakes up in the hospital wing, surrounded by sweets. Dumbledore remarks that “What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows.” Anyone who has ever worked in a school, or perhaps anywhere, knows this is one of the truer statements about human nature in the series.

However, in their conversation, Harry does learn some important things:

  1. Voldemort is not truly alive, so he cannot truly be killed. Dumbledore probably has his suspicions about how Voldemort accomplished this, but he is not yet certain. And yes, this means Voldemort can come back, but Dumbledore holds out hope that they can delay his return indefinitely.
  2. Voldemort singled Harry out for a reason, but Dumbledore does not think he is ready to hear it yet. Maybe one day.
  3. Love is some of the most powerful magic of all.
  4. Dumbledore sent him the cloak (though he probably should have figured that out based on Dumbledore’s earlier remark about it).
  5. Harry’s father saved Snape’s life, although it should be mentioned that it is not nearly as noble as Dumbledore makes it out to be here. He was just doing the right thing and not really sticking his neck out for Snape. In fact, his motivation might even have been to prevent Sirius from being responsible for Snape’s death rather than rescuing Snape himself. I don’t think Snape does anything this year out of any sort of debt to James. But we learn all about that later.

Later the trio speculates that Dumbledore must have known Harry was going to try to go after the Stone, so he taught Harry just enough to do it. I’m with Hermione on this one. “That’s terrible,” she says. They are a bunch of first year students! I find Dumbledore to be terribly frustrating sometimes.

As I pointed out in my previous post, it’s really Ron’s 50 points that makes the largest difference in Gryffindor’s winning the House Cup, which no one really notices, by the way. Taking into account the 50 points lost together with the 50 points Dumbledore gives her, Hermione breaks even. Neville lost 50 and earned 10, so he is -40. Harry lost 50 and gained 60, so he really only earned 10 points for defeating Quirrellmort. Ron didn’t go out that night with Norbert to the Astronomy Tower, so he didn’t lose any points. He gained 50 full points.

Another interesting thing I hadn’t noticed before: when the exam results arrive, everyone does well, and Hermione is top of the class, but “Even Neville scraped through, his good Herbology mark making up for his abysmal Potions one.” I have read this novel I don’t know how many times, and I didn’t pick up on that before. Obviously, Neville later shows a very strong aptitude for Herbology and becomes Herbology professor when Harry and Ron’s children go to Hogwarts. Nice!

I think the main purpose of this first book is to establish the wizarding world and introduce the conflict between Harry and Voldemort. We don’t find out as much about nuances, such as the anti-Muggle and Muggle-born prejudice, until the second book. It strikes me that it is Chamber of Secrets that sets the tone and establishes the themes that will concern the rest of the series. But at the end of Philosopher’s Stone, the threat of Voldemort seems very distant indeed, and we don’t even find out about his followers until later.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: “Mars is Bright Tonight”


Chapters 11-15 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone cover Harry’s first ever Quidditch game through his detention in the Forbidden Forest when he discovers it’s actually Voldemort who is after the Philosopher’s Stone (roughly November through May or June, I think). The first statement that caught my eye in chapter 11 was that “Hermione had become a bit more relaxed about breaking rules since Harry and Ron had saved her from the mountain troll and she was much nicer for it.” I think this new attitude of Hermione’s speaks to the need for balance. Had she landed in Ravenclaw after all, she might never have developed this side of her personality. Sometimes, you need to break rules because greater things than obeying rules are at stake, as the trio discovers many times throughout the series. Sometimes, the rules are wrong and should be broken. Hermione learns both of these lessons from Harry and Ron.

Rowling also continues to build up her case against Snape when Harry glimpses Snape’s wounded leg when trying to get Quidditch Through the Ages back from him. Naturally, Snape was checking on Fluffy to make sure Quirrell wasn’t going through the trap door, but Harry is much more inclined to think Snape is up to something than that Quirrell is because Snape is so unpleasant.

During the Quidditch game, naturally Hermione sees Snape muttering a curse (actually a counter-curse to keep Harry on his broom) and thinks Snape is jinxing the broom. Rowling is clever enough to point out that Hermione knocks Quirrell over in her attempt to set fire to Snape’s robes, thus breaking the true culprit’s concentration. Can we pause for a moment and wonder why Dumbledore hasn’t fired Quirrell at this point? I mean, Snape has surely told Dumbledore that Quirrell let in the troll at Halloween (I know Snape has guessed this much) and that he is after the Philosopher’s Stone. Why does Dumbledore keep so many rotten and frankly dangerous teachers around Hogwarts? I have a vague memory that Snape and Dumbledore discuss this issue in the Snape’s memory near the end of Deathly Hallows.

Yet another plot device that seems unimportant becomes crucial in Deathly Hallows: Harry catches the Snitch in his mouth. Who knew those things had flesh memories? I mean, it makes sense because there are bound to be instances when who caught the Snitch first is in dispute.

Early in chapter 12, the trio has agreed not to ask Madam Pince about Nicolas Flamel even though they are sure she could tell them who he was. Not sharing information with those who could help becomes a running theme in the series. Thankfully, Harry grows out of it by Half-Blood Prince. I doubt Madam Pince would have put two-and-two together enough to share information about who was trying to learn about Nicolas Flamel. Perhaps she would, but the trio strikes me as a bit paranoid here. She’s not the most helpful librarian, however, so it stands to reason they don’t feel like asking her questions for that reason.

We get to see our first Christmas at Hogwarts as Harry and the Weasleys stay behind during the holidays. I love Christmas at Hogwarts. One thing Rowling writes so well is descriptions of food. I think her descriptions of Hogwarts feasts and various other treats such as wizarding candy and Butterbeer are perhaps the most evocative descriptions in the whole series. I never fail to crave French onion soup, for example, whenever I read that passage near the beginning of Half-Blood Prince when Molly Weasley is making Harry French onion soup. She even manages to make foods I dislike, such as peas, sound appetizing.

Harry actually has a pile of presents on Christmas morning, including his father’s old invisibility cloak, which we learn is THE invisibility cloak in the “The Tale of the Three Brothers” by Beedle the Bard. This story, it turns out, has its origins in the true story of the Peverell brothers: Antioch, Cadmus, and Ignotus. And I pause here to share this cool image that circulated on Pinterest:


That image captures an interesting parallel to “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” While it is actually Dumbledore who suffers the most in the series because of the Resurrection Stone (he did himself an injury that would ultimately be fatal, had he not died before it killed him, remember, in trying to use the Resurrection Stone, now a horcrux), and it is arguably the one item of the Deathly Hallows he himself would most have liked to have possessed (he does possess it later, I know), this graphic makes some sense to me. I can’t remember anymore where I read it, but I did read once that Harry is definitely descended from Ignotus Peverell, which makes sense because he inherits Ignotus’s cloak. It is to Dumbledore’s credit that he ultimately decides not to keep this artifact. Had he done so, he would have possessed all three Deathly Hallows at the same time once he found the Resurrection Stone. But he recognized it as Harry’s rightful property and knew Harry would need it more. Most invisibility cloaks, we later learn, lose their power after a time. They are made from Demiguise pelts. Harry’s is a true artifact, an heirloom that has been passed down in his family since the Middle Ages.

Antioch may be an ancestor of Tom Riddle’s. He, of course, wanted the Elder Wand, just as Antioch did before him. I don’t know if this is true or not, but Marvolo Gaunt did have the Resurrection Stone set in a ring and declared its markings were the Peverell Coat of Arms. He claimed Peverell ancestry. So wouldn’t it be interesting if Dumbledore or even Snape descended from Cadmus Peverell? I think the two men had such a strong friendship because they had a strong connection through loss. The echo of “The Tale of the Three Brothers” in the lives of their descendants is an interesting idea to ponder.

I will save some of this discussion for later when I get to that point in re-reading Deathly Hallows, but I find it interesting that even here, we find the seeds for the series’s conclusion planted.

In chapter 12, Harry finds the Mirror of Erised. This chapter is all the more poignant when you realize Rowling had lost her mother as she began writing this book. The longing and aching for lost loved ones is sharp and perhaps could only have been written by someone who had experienced that feeling: “He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.” The Mirror of Erised is an interesting device. We never do learn who brought it to Hogwarts, or what became of it after Philosopher’s Stone. Of the Mirror of Erised, Pottermore says,

The Mirror of Erised is a very old device. Nobody knows who created it, or how it came to be at Hogwarts School. A succession of teachers have brought back interesting artefacts from their travels, so it might have arrived at the castle in this casual manner, either because the teacher knew how it worked and was intrigued by it, or because they did not understand it and wished to ask their colleagues’ opinions.

The Mirror of Erised is one of those magical artefacts that seems to have been created in a spirit of fun (whether innocent or malevolent is a matter of opinion), because while it is much more revealing than a normal mirror, it is interesting rather than useful. Only after Professor Dumbledore makes key modifications to the mirror (which has been languishing in the Room of Requirement for a century or so before he brings it out and puts it to work) does it become a superb hiding place, and the final test for the impure of heart.

The mirror’s inscription (‘erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi’) must be read backwards to show its true purpose.

It is to Ron’s credit that he mistrusts the device early on and urges Harry not to go back to it again. Sure enough, Harry visits the mirror again and is caught by Dumbledore, who tells Harry he doesn’t need a cloak to become invisible. Two things Harry doesn’t figure out here: 1) Dumbledore mentioned the cloak. He knows Harry has it. 2) There is some other way to make yourself invisible. We find out later that Dumbledore is really good at casting Disillusionment Charms and that Dumbledore had James’s cloak and was the person who gave it to Harry on Christmas.

Towards the end of the chapter, Harry asks Dumbledore what he sees when he looks in the Mirror of Erised. Dumbledore claims he sees himself holding a pair of thick socks. Harry speculates that Dumbledore might not be telling the truth. I think Dumbledore probably sees something similar to what Harry sees: his family, whole and smiling out at him.

In chapter 13, Harry makes the observation that Snape appears to be following him around and that “he sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds.” Of course, we do find out he was following Harry around to protect him and that he can read minds. Sort of. He is gifted at Legilimency and Occlumency. Earlier in the book, when the trio catches the troll, we see Snape give Harry a “swift, piercing look” but Harry “looked at the floor.” I think this is perhaps the first instance in the series when Snape attempts to use Legilimency to find out what Harry is up to, but Harry prevents him from being successful by looking down so that Snape cannot look into his eyes. Clever, as later, Rowling establishes eye contact as important in this branch of magic. Later in this chapter, Harry overhears Snape threatening Quirrell and deduces that Snape is trying to find out how to get past Quirrell’s magic behind the trap door. The conversation is cleverly worded and plotted with a few gaps so that later, we can interpret it as Snape threatening Quirrell away from the trap door and from the Philosopher’s Stone.

In chapter 14, Hagrid acquires a Norwegian Ridgeback from a mysterious stranger in the pub. Oh, Hagrid. He sure causes a lot of trouble with his critters. In this case, covering for Hagrid costs Harry and Hermione (and Neville, as an innocent bystander) 150 house points. How unfair is it for McGonagall to take away 150 points for being out of bed at night when she only took away five from Hermione for trying to tackle a troll on her own and only awarded ten to Harry and Ron for defeating it? I think this spot of unfairness is why it seems fair for Dumbledore to pile on the points at the House Feast. It is not overly generous so much as it is righting a wrong, if you remember how many points McGonagall takes from her students in this chapter. Neville winds up losing the house 40 points, in the end; Hermione breaks even, as Dumbledore awards her the same amount of points as she lost; Harry earns ten points over what he lost. Ron is the only one who might be said to be unfairly awarded points, as he himself didn’t lose any that night (he was in the hospital wing, recovering from Norbert’s bite). It is really Ron, then, who clinches the House Cup for Gryffindor, all other things being equal, because it is his 50 points that makes the most difference in the scores.

In chapter 15, McGonagall scolds her students for being out of bed, adding that “nothing gives [them] the right to walk around school at night especially these days, it’s very dangerous” (emphasis mine). So my question is, why? We don’t have a basilisk wandering the halls, as we do in Chamber of Secrets. No escaped criminal from Azkaban has found a way in the castle. So what gives? What is going on in this book that McGonagall knows about? Do we ever find out? Does she know that there is a traitor in their midst?

Harry, Hermione, Neville, and Malfoy have to serve their detentions… in the Forbidden Forest, chasing something that has slain a unicorn. I ask you what kind of sense this makes? I think Malfoy is actually right to question this punishment, and I wonder what Lucius Malfoy actually would have done had Draco told his father about it. I suspect he would not, as Hagrid claims, have shrugged it off and said that’s how it is at Hogwarts. I realize it’s a plot device for Harry to learn about the centaurs’ predictions and find out that Voldemort is seeking the Philospher’s Stone, but still… it’s a ridiculous detention, especially for a bunch of 11 and 12-year-old students. However, Harry and Hermione do not question their punishment. They feel “they deserved what they’d got.” That said, Harry’s interaction with the centaurs is particularly interesting. Their insistence that “Mars is bright tonight” can be read as their prediction that war is imminent, which, indeed, it is. Ronan adds that “Always the innocent are the first victims… So it has been for ages past, so it is now.” He refers to the onset of war, when atrocities are often committed against the innocent, who are not responsible for the events but are caught in the crossfire. We also learn that the centaurs do not think it is their responsibility to share too much information with humans. Bane accuses Firenze of divulging too much information, saying “we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens.” They are the ultimate bystanders, knowing what is to come, but steadfastly refusing to intervene, even if their information might help. As Hagrid says, “Ruddy stargazers.” Firenze, at least, will not stand for it. He tells Bane, “Do you not understand why it was killed? Or have the planets not let you in on that secret? I set myself against what is lurking in this Forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.”

We learn that drinking unicorn blood will “keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself and you will have but a half life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.” Of course, Voldemort manages to get his body back later, but one wonders what might have been different if he had not chosen to drink unicorn blood. Did that mistake have repercussions he didn’t realize? Is it one of the choices he made that contributed to his ultimate downfall? Obviously, the Elder Wand played a bigger part, but you have to wonder.

Firenze bids Harry farewell, saying he hopes that this is one of the times when the planets have been read wrongly. So what did the centaurs see in the stars? Just that Harry was in peril or that he would die? Did they not see his choice to return from King’s Cross? Well, as Hermione says, “It sounds like fortune-telling to me, and Professor McGonagall says that’s a very imprecise branch of magic.”


Re-Reading Harry Potter: Harry at Hogwarts

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - Hogwarts CastleChapters 6-10 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone cover the time span from Harry’s journey to Hogwarts from Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station to the trio’s defeat of the mountain troll in the girls’ bathroom.

After Harry is ignored for a month before school starts, he works up the nerve to ask Uncle Vernon for a ride to King’s Cross to meet the Hogwarts Express. Uncle Vernon wonders why students travel to the school by train: “Magic carpets all got punctures, have they?” Of course, we learn in Goblet of Fire that magic carpets are illegal. Obviously, Muggles must have seen witches and wizards riding them, as they had seen witches and wizards riding brooms, which is how magic carpets entered legend in folk tales and fairy stories. I suppose brooms were too popular to ban, and perhaps even more easily concealed. One wonders, though. In any case, we discover later that moving students by train is part of the drama of arriving at school. I suspect the train is more of a device for exposition and drama than a necessity for travel, but Pottermore has this to say about the Hogwarts Express:

Portkeys were therefore arranged at collecting points all over Britain. The logistics caused problems from the start. Up to a third of students would fail to arrive every year, having missed their time slot, or been unable to find the unobtrusive enchanted object that would transport them to their school. There was also the unfortunate fact that many children were (and are) ‘Portkey-sick’, and the hospital wing was frequently full to bursting for the first few days of every year, while susceptible students overcame their hysterics and nausea.

While admitting that Portkeys were not an ideal solution to the problem of school transportation, the Ministry of Magic failed to find an acceptable alternative. A return to the unregulated travel of the past was impossible, and yet a more secure route into the school (for instance, permitting a fireplace that might be officially entered by Floo powder) was strongly resisted by successive Headmasters, who did not wish the security of the castle to be breached.

A daring and controversial solution to the thorny problem was finally suggested by Minister for Magic Ottaline Gambol, who was much intrigued by Muggle inventions and saw the potential in trains. Where exactly the Hogwarts Express came from has never been conclusively proven, although it is a fact that there are secret records at the Ministry of Magic detailing a mass operation involving one hundred and sixty-seven Memory Charms and the largest ever mass Concealment Charm performed in Britain. The morning after these alleged crimes, a gleaming scarlet steam engine and carriages astounded the villagers of Hogsmeade (who had also not realised they had a railway station), while several bemused Muggle railway workers down in Crewe spent the rest of the year grappling with the uncomfortable feeling that they had mislaid something important.

The Hogwarts Express underwent several magical modifications before the Ministry approved it for school use. Many pure-blood families were outraged at the idea of their children using Muggle transport, which they claimed was unsafe, insanitary and demeaning; however, as the Ministry decreed that students either rode the train or did not attend school, the objections were swiftly silenced.

The first real wizards that Harry meets, aside from his trip to Diagon Alley, are the Weasleys. I loved Molly Weasley instantly. She is just the sort of helpful soul who would help Harry. Imagine if he had encountered Narcissa Malfoy instead. She would probably have mocked him or assumed he was Muggle-born and definitely would not have helped him. Incidentally, don’t we find out later that Muggle-born students are given instructions for how to get to Diagon Alley for supplies and how to get on the Hogwarts Express? Given that Dumbledore knows by the time the term starts that Harry knew nothing about being a wizard (surely Hagrid shared those details), Dumbledore would have thought to send along instructions. Nope. Once again, it offers Harry an opportunity to make a connection.

I also instantly loved the Weasley twins. They joke around, but they offer to help Harry with his trunk without being asked, just because they are nice.

Harry figures out early on that “The Weasleys were clearly one of those old wizarding families the pale boy in Diagon Alley had talked about.” They definitely are, and indeed, they are even distantly related to the Malfoys and just about every other old wizarding family around. But they also don’t think that makes them superior to others, which is where they differ, in all the best ways, from many of the old pureblood families.

Ron says that he has a lot to live up to as the youngest Weasley boy. He also complains about getting things second hand, including Charlie’s old wand. So why does he have Charlie’s old wand? Why did Charlie need to get a new one? I thought the wand chose the wizard. Clearly, wizards can perform magic with other wands, but Ollivander makes it clear that you do your best work with your very own tool. Also, Charlie’s old wand is made of ash and unicorn hair. Of ash wands, Pottermore says

The ash wand cleaves to its one true master and ought not to be passed on or gifted from the original owner, because it will lose power and skill. This tendency is extreme if the core is of unicorn. Old superstitions regarding wands rarely bear close examination, but I find that the old rhyme regarding rowan, chestnut, ash and hazel wands (rowan gossips, chestnut drones, ash is stubborn, hazel moans) contains a small nugget of truth. Those witches and wizards best suited to ash wands are not, in my experience, lightly swayed from their beliefs or purposes. However, the brash or over-confident witch or wizard, who often insists on trying wands of this prestigious wood, will be disappointed by its effects. The ideal owner may be stubborn, and will certainly be courageous, but never crass or arrogant.

The emphasis is mine. So it seems to me that Ron is set up not to do well until he gets his own wand, even before it breaks in Chamber of Secrets.

We also meet Peter Pettigrew for the first time. I have to admit, I never imagined that rat was really a person. I was surprised by Azkaban.

I have always loved the introduction to wizarding candy on the train. I am convinced that Rowling got the idea for Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans from Jelly Belly jelly beans, which have a huge variety of flavors (though no gross ones). If this is true, she must have been thrilled when Jelly Belly started making Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. I also love the Chocolate Frog cards, and one of my biggest disappointments in Pottermore is that though you collect Chocolate Frog cards, they have no pictures. At least you can go look at them and re-read them once you’ve put them in your trunk. When Pottermore was first rolled out, you couldn’t re-read them.

Hermione comes along, looking for Neville’s toad. Through her, Harry learns about Hogwarts’ other two houses, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. Hearing Harry Potter is on the train, Draco shows up with his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle. In Scabbers’s finest hour, he bites Goyle when the evil trio tries to steal Harry and Ron’s candy.

Once they arrive at Hogsmeade, the first years are taken by boat to the castle. This must be for dramatic effect, as we learn no other students travel to Hogwarts that way.

In chapter 7, we find out how students are sorted into houses. A weird side note: Hermione has read Hogwarts: A History (which I really, really, really hope becomes a real book one day), but she does not appear to know about the Sorting Hat, as she is “whispering very fast about all the spells she’d learnt and wondering which one she’d need.” How on earth is something like the Sorting Hat kept secret even in old wizarding families like the Weasleys? After all, Fred tricks Ron into thinking Ron would have to wrestle a troll (we will come to that later). At any rate, I am not buying that the Sorting Hat is never mentioned in Hogwarts: A History. Perhaps Hermione had not yet finished the book, but she knew about the ceiling being bewitched to look like the sky. So why doesn’t she know about the Sorting Hat?

One of the best parts of Pottermore is that you, too, are sorted into a house when you play. Interestingly, the numbers of students in each house have remained about evenly divided since the site’s inception. I think Rowling must be an adept observer of human nature to have figured out four groups into which society so evenly divides. I was sorted into Ravenclaw. I have always identified with that house, and I was truly nervous I wouldn’t get in when I took the test on Pottermore. What if I (gasp) was a Hufflepuff? (Just kidding, Hufflepuffs. You make the world go round.) Almost everyone I know was sorted into the exact house I thought they belonged in when they took Pottermore’s Sorting Hat test.

Another fascinating fact we learn about sorting on Pottermore is that some individuals are tough to sort, and when the Sorting Hat appears to be taking a really long time to sort a student, it is because the Sorting Hat cannot decide between two houses. Seamus Finnigan wore the hat for almost a whole minute before he was sorted into Gryffindor. We do NOT learn in the book how long it took the Hat to decide where to put Hermione, but on Pottermore, we learn it was nearly four minutes. One guess which other house was the contender. Actually, we do learn the answer to that question in Order of the Phoenix. Another student in Harry’s year also took a long time to sort: Neville. Neville really hoped to be in Hufflepuff because he didn’t feel up to Gryffindor. The Hat disagreed. The Hat was right.

Interestingly, at least for me, is that we learn there is a term for a person whom the Hat takes longer than five minutes to sort: a Hatstall. Minerva McGonagall and Filius Flitwick were both Hatstalls and like to joke about how easily it could have turned out that they would have swapped houses.

I just love it that the Hat won that silent argument with Neville. I may have actually cried a little the first time I read that. Because this is why:


I love it that the Hat knew that was in Neville all along, even if Neville didn’t.

Later, as everyone is feasting, the new Gryffindors meet Nearly Headless Nick. I love Nearly Headless Nick. I also love it that Seamus asks Nick how the Bloody Baron got covered in blood, and Nick says he never asked, but even THAT tiny detail is sorted out in Deathly Hallows. Almost every single little detail is wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end of the series.

We met Quirrell before, but we see him again at the feast talking to Snape. Did you know that Quirrell was a Ravenclaw? Also of note is that Harry dreams that night that Quirrell’s turban was talking to him. Because it is Voldemort’s face, and Harry is a horcrux, is why. That Rowling is a clever witch.

We get to know Snape in chapter 8, and clearly, he has a real axe to grind. He hates Harry on sight because he looks like James, Snape’s loathed enemy. Before we get involved with Snape, I want to mention it is sad that History of Magic, which has the potential to be the most interesting class at Hogwarts, turns out to be boring. I wish Harry had a more engaging teacher in that class. Think of what we readers might have learned if he had.

So, Snape. Best quote:

“As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even stopper death—if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.”

We also learn that if you add powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood, you can make the Draught of the Living Death, which Harry successfully makes for Slughorn in Half-Blood Prince, earning the Felix Felicis. By following Snape’s instructions. See, if we had paid really good attention to this chapter, we could easily have pegged Snape as the original owner of Harry’s copy of Advanced Potion-Making. Actually, I did figure that detail out because it was Potions, after all. Snape might be fascinated by the Dark Arts, but he is clearly most gifted at Potions. Snape also asks Harry where you might find a bezoar. Of course, Harry also uses a bezoar to save Ron in Half-Blood Prince, again because Snape left those instructions on the antidote recipe Harry is reading. As far as I can remember, monkshood/wolfsbane/aconite don’t become terribly important later, except that it is an ingredient in the Wolfsbane Potion that subdues werewolves during their transformation phase.

In chapter 9, Malfoy sets Harry up to be caught out of bed at midnight by challenging Harry to a duel. Curiously, he sizes up both his cronies and picks Crabbe as his second. Why not Goyle? Isn’t he bigger? Crabbe, of course, would later set Fiendfyre on the trio in the Room of Requirement and winds up killing himself with it. He is said to become gifted at Dark Arts spells. Figures he would be a good duellist, though how he rubs his two brain cells together to figure that out, who knows.

We learn in this chapter that Harry has a natural gift for flying. He commands the broom to leap into his hand and flies expertly the first time he mounts his broom. And he only does it to defend poor Neville because Malfoy tossed Neville’s Remembrall. McGonagall sees Harry catch it, and she is elated. Did you know she had been a talented Quidditch player? Yeah! She was captain of her house Quidditch team at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, a sports injury cut her Quidditch career short (via Pottermore):

A nasty fall in her final year (a foul during the Gryffindor versus Slytherin game which would decide the Cup winner) left her with concussion, several broken ribs and a lifelong desire to see Slytherin crushed on the Quidditch pitch. Though she gave up Quidditch on leaving Hogwarts, the innately competitive Professor McGonagall later took a keen interest in the fortunes of her house team, and retained a keen eye for Quidditch talent.

Pottermore does not tell us what position she played. My guess is Chaser, though I have nothing on which to base that guess, and indeed, if she had been Seeker, taking her out with a game-losing foul might make more sense. She just seems like a Chaser to me.

And of course, we learn that James Potter was a Quidditch player, too. The movie displays his team trophy and lists his position as Seeker, but Rowling has said he was a Chaser.

Of course, when Harry and Ron sneak out for the midnight duel, Hermione follows them, “hissing at them like an angry goose.” Don’t you love her? And poor Neville winds up coming along because he’s been stuck outside the Common Room. Then the four of them wind up finding Fluffy. I always thought it was dumb that the movie script changed the detail regarding Fluffy’s origin from Greek to Irish. It makes much more sense for a Greek chappie to have a three-headed dog. Anyone could tell you that, right?

In chapter 10, the trio is cemented as lifelong friends after they defeat the troll, but before that happens, Harry goes for his first Quidditch training session and learns the rules of the game. I was struck again upon reading that scene that Rowling expertly handles exposition. She figures out a natural way to explain the rules of Quidditch that doesn’t detract from the progress of the story. Oliver Wood remarks at the end of their lesson that he wouldn’t be surprised if Harry becomes a better player than Charlie Weasley, whom Wood insists “could have played for England if he hadn’t gone off chasing dragons.” I have to agree with Wood about Harry’s abilities, given how he turns out. I think definitely could have played for England, and he might even have been able to assist his team to the Quidditch World Cup. But he doesn’t choose that path. Wood, of course, winds up playing for Puddlemere United. The only other Hogwarts student among Harry’s friends that we see go into professional Quidditch is Ginny, who plays for the Holyhead Harpies.

In Charms, the first years learn how to make things fly, and Seamus sets fire to the feather he is sharing with Harry when he prods it with his wand. Unfortunately, the movies decided to exaggerate this event for comic effect, and Seamus’s pyrotechnics become a running joke.

Later on, Harry and Ron take on the troll that has cornered Hermione in the bathroom, and it’s just the best scene.

Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid: he took a great running jump and managed to fasten his arms around the troll’s neck from behind. The troll couldn’t feel Harry hanging there, but even a troll will notice if you stick a long bit of wood up its nose, and Harry’s wand had still been in his hand when he’d jumped—it had gone straight up one of the troll’s nostrils.

Surprisingly, Professor McGonagall only takes five points from Gryffindor because of Hermione. I mean, later in the book, she takes 50 points each from Harry, Hermione, and Neville for being out in the halls at night time. Tackling trolls alone seems to be much more dangerous than roaming the halls at night. Very odd system they have for taking points. And she is not very generous with awarding points. Harry and Ron get only ten points for tackling the troll, but later, Dumbledore gives them a whole bunch of points for various accomplishments behind the trap door.

But Rowling sums it up perfectly at the end of chapter 10:

But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.

Exactly. And can you believe an editor tried to convince Rowling to cut the troll out?

Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Beginning

Harry Potter?

I have long wanted to do two things with a re-read of the entire Harry Potter series. No, strike that. Three things. I have wanted to do three things with a re-read of the Harry Potter series.

  1. Read the British versions. There are differences.
  2. Analyze/discuss/think about the events in light of what we know now that the series is done with addenda revealed via Pottermore (though they are only in the middle of Azkaban and not likely to move at the speed I’ll read).
  3. Blog about the series re-read as I do it.

Jenny actually reminded me I need to do the third item. I have been adjusting to living in MA and a new job and all that entails, and now that things seem to be settling, and I finally feel like I have more time to read and blog, I am catching up on blog posts I missed from my favorite bloggers, Jenny among them, naturally.

Apparently, folks are doing a big re-read of HP, and Jenny is participating. I did not know this was happening, but I am not about to commit myself to any sort of a challenge or anything, so it’s probably best. Anyway, I decided to re-read the Harry Potter series again, as I said previously, because I’m in a rut, and returning to my beloved Wizarding World is always a great palate cleanser.

So, without further ado, my take on the first five chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

First, I have a bone to pick with the American publishers about the title. The philosopher’s stone is a well-known alchemical substance. Even us backwater Americans have heard of it. Truly. Which is why I hate the American title of this book and consider it to be talking down to its American audience. Americans are perfectly capable of looking up the term “philosopher’s stone” if they are not familiar with it. And the notion of a “sorcerer’s stone” only introduces unnecessary confusion. But no one asked me.

I am reading digital editions published by Pottermore, so I will not be making any attempt to locate page numbers, but I will provide quotes. The first thing I made notes about was a reference to a man wearing a violet cloak who bumps into Vernon Dursley when he is leaving Grunnings in the afternoon the story begins. My guess is that this man is Dedalus Diggle, but I’m not sure anyone has ever confirmed this.

I always laugh at the line where Dursley “hurried to his car and set off home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination.” That, in one, is what is wrong with the Dursleys. Right?

Later in the first chapter, when Dumbledore arrives on Privet Drive, he uses the Deluminator to put out the lights on the street. This device, described as Dumbledore’s invention, has some very interesting properties, and I wonder that we didn’t see it more often. It is used in Order of the Phoenix when Moody et. al. arrive at 12 Grimmauld Place. We see it willed to Ron after Dumbledore’s death and learn that in addition to putting out lights, it is used to help Ron find his way back to Harry and Hermione. Very cool toy, that thing is.

Another interesting note from this first chapter. McGonagall, in protesting Harry’s placement with his terrible Muggle relatives, tries this tactic with Dumbledore, hoping it will help the old man see reason: “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 future—there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!”

Just a pause to think about how awesome it is that McGonagall’s pronouncement really happened. How cool is that?

When Hagrid arrives with baby Harry in tow, we find out he borrowed Sirius Black’s motorcycle. We don’t find out more about Sirius until Azkaban, and the casual reader isn’t likely to note the reference and remember it by that time.

Moving on to chapter two, we see Harry referred to as “Dudley’s favourite punch-bag.” How clever Rowling is. She remembered to make Dudley actually pursue boxing seriously later on. And get pretty good at it. I know she did extensive planning. I will be interested to learn how Dudley turned out whenever that information is shared on Pottermore.

We (sort of) meet Mrs. Figg in this chapter, too. Harry is delighted to learn he will not be staying with her on Dudley’s birthday and will actually be going to the zoo. Let us pause a moment and think about how truly awful the Dursleys are. I mean, seriously, they never let him go to Dudley’s birthday parties (never mind they never give him one of his own). He has to stay with Mrs. Figg every year. He watches Dudley’s presents pile up on the table. And then, when their plans with Mrs. Figg fall through, they try to think of everything they can do to avoid taking Harry to the zoo. I mean, really, would it be so terrible if the boy could have fun once in a while? Let’s call it out by its right name—they are abusive. They are by far some of the most evil characters, in my estimation, in the series. Still, it was nice to learn later that at least the Order of the Phoenix had an eye on Harry.

In chapter three, there is this excellent description of Harry and Dudley fighting over a spot where they can listen in to the conversation between Vernon and Petunia about the letter Harry has received from Hogwarts: “Harry and Dudley had a furious but silent fight over who would listen at the keyhole.” The reason I love that description is that it captures exactly what it is like to quiet fight with a sibling. Exactly. I can always picture this little scene perfectly.

In chapter four, we meet Hagrid. The first thing he says to Harry is “Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but yeh’ve got yer mum’s eyes.” Harry would hear this many times over the years, and of course, the fact that he has his mother’s eyes becomes crucial near the end of Deathly Hallows. The fact that he looks so like his father is also crucial to his relationship with Snape through much of the series. One wonders how Snape would have treated Harry had he looked like Lily, no?

When Petunia finally admits that what Hagrid is telling Harry about being a wizard and all that is true, she lets loose with pent up jealousy.

“Knew!” shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. “Knew! Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that—that school—and came home every holiday with her pockets full of frog-spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was—a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!”

Petunia goes on, but you get the idea. This little speech is interesting in light of some things we learn later. Firstly, that underage witches like Lily are not supposed to do magic outside of school, so when was she turning teacups into rats? Was that an accident? Or did she do it on purpose and get in trouble for it like Harry? If so, it sort of puts a dent her squeaky clean image. Not a bad thing, necessarily. We also learn later that Petunia herself wanted to go to that school. But she wasn’t a witch, so she wasn’t allowed. You know, I had a hunch at some point that Petunia knew Snape, but I couldn’t figure out how. I must admit it never occurred to me that she knew Snape as a child because he was friends with her sister. Oh, jealousy!

Some time later in the conversation, Hagrid tells Harry that his parents had been “Head Boy an’ Girl at Hogwarts in their day!” I have some confusion on this point because we learn later that it was Remus Lupin who was chosen as Gryffindor prefect in the Marauders’ fifth year. It stands to reason Lily was chosen as his female counterpart. So how did James become Head Boy? Did Remus have to leave school because of his lycanthropy? That doesn’t make sense to me, given what we know. How is it possible for a boy who was not a prefect to be Head Boy? We haven’t seen other instances of Head Boys or Girls chosen from outside the pool of 7th year prefects. Percy Weasley was one. He had been prefect since 5th year. Tom Riddle was one. Again, also a prefect. So what is up with Hagrid’s comment? Is this a mistake on Rowling’s part? I am inclined to think it is a mistake, but I await some elucidation on this point in Pottermore at some stage.

Very soon after we learn that Lily and James were apparently Head Boy and Girl, we learn about some of the people Voldemort killed during his rise to power—the McKinnons, the Bones [technically should be Boneses], and the Prewetts. We encounter the Bones family later through Susan, Harry’s classmate, and her Aunt Amelia Bones, who is on the Wizengamot at Harry’s trial in Order of the Phoenix. We learn that the Boneses in reference are Susan’s uncle Edgar Bones and his wife and children. As Edgar was Amelia Bones’s brother, we can assume he was also brother to Susan Bones’s father. The Prewetts were Gideon and Fabian Prewett, Molly Weasley’s brothers. Sobering reminder of how just about every family was affected by Voldemort.

Probably one of my favorite passages is Harry’s first step into the Wizarding World, when he first sees Diagon Alley in the next chapter.

Harry wished he had about eight more eyes. He turned his head in every direction as they walked up the street, trying to look at everything at once; the shops, the things outside them, the people doing their shopping.

I just love that description. It perfectly captures the feeling of that moment, and it’s one of the moments when I as a reader felt I was right there with Harry and seeing everything he could see. It’s amazing.

We also go to Gringott’s and meet Griphook. I always found it interesting that Rowling chose to bring him back in such an important role in Deathly Hallows. Harry cranes his neck looking for dragons as the cart wheels around the underground vaults, hurtling towards his own vault. Little did he realize he would see, much less ride, a real Gringott’s dragon!

While Hagrid goes for a pick-me-up at the Leaky Cauldron, Harry goes off to buy his robes and meets Draco Malfoy. Malfoy tells Harry that Narcissa Malfoy is up the street looking at wands. Why would she be doing that when the wand chooses the wizard? Could be Draco didn’t exactly know what Narcissa was doing. Or maybe she was checking them out. But it makes more sense for her to wait and look at them with Draco present, right? Another weird little line that trips me up every time.

We learn that Slytherin House is notorious for producing evil wizards, including You-Know-Who. This information prompts Harry to ask in wonder about Voldemort’s time at Hogwarts. Hagrid only volunteers that Voldemort went there “years an’ years ago,” but doesn’t offer up the fun fact that they were classmates. I guess that is understandable, given that Voldemort framed Hagrid for Moaning Myrtle’s death (or at least framed Aragog).

A nice throwaway line informs us that toads went out of fashion years ago, so when Neville shows up with a toad, we know a lot about poor Neville immediately. J.K. Rowling is great with exposition. It is not easy to do. The guy who wrote another book I’m currently reading is very clumsy with exposition, so it is nice to appreciate what it looks like when it is done well.

And then we go to Ollivander’s. And we learn that Ollivander’s family has been making wands for millenia. That is pretty amazing. If you are on Pottermore, you learn a whole lot of other really interesting things about Ollivander.

  • His full name is Garrick Ollivander.
  • He was in Ravenclaw (which makes sense, given his vast academic knowledge of wandlore).
  • He was a half-blood, like Snape, only with a wizard father and Muggle mother.
  • He had a family, including a wife, son, and daughter, but they are deceased.
  • His own wand is hornbeam and dragon heartstring, twelve and three-quarter inches, slightly bendy.

It is worth joining Pottermore for what you learn about wands alone, in my opinion. For the record, my own wand is sycamore and phoenix feather, ten and three-quarter inches, hard. About phoenix feather cores, Pottermore has this to say:

This is the rarest core type. Phoenix feathers are capable of the greatest range of magic, though they may take longer than either unicorn or dragon cores to reveal this. They show the most initiative, sometimes acting of their own accord, a quality that many witches and wizards dislike.

Phoenix feather wands are always the pickiest when it comes to potential owners, for the creature from which they are taken is one of the most independent and detached in the world. These wands are the hardest to tame and to personalise, and their allegiance is usually hard won.

And sycamore:

The sycamore makes a questing wand, eager for new experience and losing brilliance if engaged in mundane activities. It is a quirk of these handsome wands that they may combust if allowed to become ‘bored,’ and many witches and wizards, settling down into middle age, are disconcerted to find their trusty wand bursting into flame in their hand as they ask it, one more time, to fetch their slippers. As may be deduced, the sycamore’s ideal owner is curious, vital and adventurous, and when paired with such an owner, it demonstrates a capacity to learn and adapt that earns it a rightful place among the world’s most highly-prized wand woods.

I always took the description of the wand’s pliability to say something about the flexibility of its owner. As my wand is hard, you can draw your own conclusions. Stubborn is one word that has been used. Seriously, though, you really do learn a lot about the personality of various Harry Potter characters from the information about wand cores and wand woods on Pottermore. And every person I know who has obtained a Pottermore wand has a wand core and wood that fit their personality. It is more accurate than a Myers-Briggs test. Also, it is interesting to note here, before I go on about wands too long, that once Ron’s own wand chooses him (and even before, really, as his brother’s wand has the same core), the trio have wand cores of each of the three types Ollivander uses: Harry has phoenix feather, Hermione has dragon heartstring, and Ron has a unicorn tail hair. Very cool fact. Wands really merit their own post. I will stop now.

Oh, wait. I should tell you about Harry’s wand before I stop. You already know about the phoenix feather core because my wand has the same core (see above). About holly wood, Ollivander has this to say:

Holly is one of the rarer kinds of wand woods; traditionally considered protective, it works most happily for those who may need help overcoming a tendency to anger and impetuosity. At the same time, holly wands often choose owners who are engaged in some dangerous and often spiritual quest. Holly is one of those woods that varies most dramatically in performance depending on the wand core, and it is a notoriously difficult wood to team with phoenix feather, as the wood’s volatility conflicts strangely with the phoenix’s detachment. In the unusual event of such a pairing finding its ideal match, however, nothing and nobody should stand in their way.

Do you see what I am saying about wands? They are so illuminating and much more important than we realized. After all, Ollivander remembers every wand he has ever sold. And while he says the wand chooses the wizard, it is his craft in putting together the cores with the woods and trying various selections on his clients that makes that happen. After all, he has the ingenious idea that perhaps Harry might be destined for the wand with one of Fawkes’s phoenix feathers as its core just as Voldemort was destined for the only other feather Fawkes gave. Again, this detail is very important later on.

Oy, this is getting long. I should have broken it up. Are you still with me? I apologize.

Actually, I should end it there. Yes. That might be best. We are pushing 3,000 words.

But if you read the whole thing, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneA friend of mine gave me the wonderful gift of all of the Harry Potter books in e-book format. I just reread the first on my Kindle, and I must say that visiting Harry Potter’s wizarding world feels as comfortable as curling up under a warm blanket, snug against the cold. I realized on this reading that I have much of the book memorized at this point, but this was the first time I read the British version, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. My friend managed to get the British versions of the books for me, and after reading just this one, I much prefer the British versions. I have always thought the American title for this book was foolish dumbing-down for Americans, as though Americans couldn’t be expected to be familiar with the Philosopher’s Stone. I remember being confused when I first read it, thinking that the Sorcerer’s Stone sounded a lot like the Philosopher’s Stone, and wondering why Rowling didn’t use that term, only to find out she did, but that her American editors changed it. Grrr.

Aside from the fact that the British version is better, it’s a joy to return to this world that Rowling crafts  so fully and so beautifully again and look around. Her books are always just as good as I remembered them. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are always as wonderful and winsome as they were the first time. I think Rowling has something of Dickens’s gift for crafting characters. The first time I read the books, I was struck by Rowling’s wordplay, too, and I still enjoy it when I reread.

There are not many books that I reread frequently, but the Harry Potter books certainly are, and I find something new to enjoy and marvel at each time. This time, for instance, I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone after having experienced that book on Pottermore. I had the extra information about wandlore, Quirrell’s house at Hogwarts, and McGonagall’s history in mind as I read. I won’t share that information, as it is spoilery, and if you didn’t manage to get into the Beta version of Pottermore, you might wish to explore it on your own and discover the information as you navigate the site. Besides, if you want the spoilers, you can find them elsewhere online. Reading the book made me want to hop on Pottermore and reread some of those sections on the site. I remember how unexpectedly moved I felt when I got my wand, and how happy I was to be sorted in Ravenclaw (I always knew I was a Ravenclaw).

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book on my Kindle, too. I often highlight and annotate more in my Kindle books, as I don’t necessarily share them with other family members (and we certainly share Harry Potter books), and I also don’t feel like I’m defacing books. I have a peculiar aversion to writing in books. It does not bother me to write in textbooks or professional reading; in fact, I mark those books up quite a lot. I don’t like annotating fiction, though. What I should say is I don’t like annotating print fiction. I annotate e-books quite a lot. Reading this book on my Kindle gave me license to highlight all my favorite parts and take notes on connections I made. I enjoyed reading the book in this way. Perhaps if I didn’t have a hangup about writing in my print books, reading e-books wouldn’t feel that different to me, but I am finding that I actually prefer e-books lately because I feel I can write in them.

Of course, I finish this book as the book world is buzzing about J. K. Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, set for release in September. The readers will, of course, just be outraged that it’s not Harry Potter, but I think Rowling is right to go for something completely different. It will be expensive: nearly $35 for hardback and $20 for the e-book (Amazon has it for pre-order in hardback at $21.00). I’ve never paid so much for an e-book, and I can’t see myself rushing out to buy the book at those prices.

The Guardian also recently ran a lovely piece on rereading: “The Pleasures of Rereading” by Tom Lamont.

Rating: ★★★★★