Monday, October 23, 2006


*CHAPTER ONE: Owl Post (August 14)
We see a little bit different side of Harry than we normally see during the school year in this first chapter. Instead of waiting until the last minute to do his homework, as he seems to do often, he is beginning on his readings and essays with a month left before school begins. Why? Is it merely that he misses Hogwarts, or is it something else as well?

At the beginning, when Harry is studying secretly, it’s a sign that he is maturing in several ways; he is taking more responsibility for doing his school work, and he is quietly standing up to Uncle Vernon’s unreasonable rules for Harry. That’s just the beginning, as we see him try to control his behaviour in the presence of Aunt Marge, albeit not successfully.

Another of Harry’s rule breaking has to do with his receiving birthday presents without the Dursleys knowing about it. Ron sends him a Pocket Sneakoscope that he bought when his family traveled to Egypt to visit Bill, who works there as a curse breaker. Later the Sneakoscope whistles at seemingly odd times, and Ron dismisses it as being cheap and likely defective. There’s a bit of misdirected narrative there, as we dismiss any warning it might give as well.

Harry is introduced as a unusual boy. Is this preparing us for his being singled out or just a way of making him stand out as our protagonist?

It’s the same sort of thing that Rowling uses at the beginning of each of the first books—a way of setting us up to accept that Harry isn’t just some ordinary teen. There are things that make him unusual, and it’s also our signal that he is our hero of the story.

Introduced to the Pocket sneakoscope... Which is interestingly busy during the Weasley's family dinner…

Yes, the Sneakoscope is quite interesting—everyone dismisses it’s whistling as being something else. Perhaps if they’d paid better attention, they might have pinned the busy-ness down to Scabbers always being present. Of course, with the twins around, and given that they are frequently doing things they shouldn’t, that might have taken a while.

What connections can we make to the Weasley family being in Egypt? Anything?

I don’t think we know the extent of the importance of the Weasleys being in Egypt, but it’s a nice set-up if Rowling wants to bring in any Egyptian legends or artifacts. The one thing that it does is show that the wizarding world is interested in all the world, not just in England, as Bill is working there for Gringotts.

Is all the information on witch burning and tombs and curses just an interesting addition or is there more to it?

It seems at the moment to just add some interest to the story, but it might be too early to say whether there is more to it than that.

Hermione sends Harry a gift he would actually like, which is something he doesn't expect. Why, especially when the books that she has given are ones that Harry would enjoy? Is this merely characterization for Hermione as a bookish person, or is it something else?

From Hermione, Harry receives a book that he actually likes, about Quidditch broom care. Who would have expected Hermione to choose such a practical gift for Harry? I think it’s an indication that our bookish Hermione does think that books make very good gifts, but that she is also very aware that the book should be interesting to the person receiving it—and what better gift for Harry than something to do with Quidditch.

Capturing and controlling the Monster Book. Foreshadowing?

Once again, we see Hagrid’s fascination with the Monster Book of Monsters. Harry can’t open it, and finally straps it shut, wondering what on earth Hagrid could have been thinking. He’ll soon find out, but I wonder if this is the last we will see of this book. So far, it hasn’t made a reappearance.

*CHAPTER TWO: Aunt Marge’s Big Mistake
– How has Harry's relationship developed with the Dursleys?

By the time we see Harry in POA, he is starting to take a stand with the Dursleys, all the while trying to remain as respectful as is possible. He still complies, for the most part with their rules, but barely.

– There is a lot of reference to violence towards wrong doing (beating criminal boys at St. Brutis’s; hanging criminals). In both cases this suggestions refer to people who have actual done no crime (Harry and Sirius): is the author making a point of investigating details before convicting a person?

I’m sure that given Rowling’s background of having worked for a time for Amnesty International that she is definitely making her views known about corporal punishment and the treatment of the accused—it’s amazing that she is able to comment on such serious subjects with a sense of humor, while not watering down her view of it all.

- Uncle Vernon thinks that the fugitive Black is an untrustworthy layabout, and makes a connection to Harry's appearance... Is this normal concern for the news, or another indication that Vernon isn't a good judge of character?

Vernon’s main concern is conforming to what is considered “normal”, and Sirius definitely doesn’t look normal in his prison pictures. Since Harry doesn’t look like Dudley, then Harry must not be normal either, as far as Vernon is concerned. But no, Vernon is not at all a good judge of character—he doesn’t really pay enough attention to what other people say to ever get past their appearance.

– In CoS we learnt about wizards giving great importance to blood lines; here we have Aunt Marge lecturing on breeding and "bad eggs". Is this the flip side of the coin?

I hadn’t really thought of connecting the two, but there are parallels in the wizarding community and the muggle world—prejudice crosses that line with no trouble at all. And for the same reason; people are judged by their backgrounds rather than by the person they are or by their actions.

– In this chapter we watch Harry enduring to live a lie. Interestingly, this "lying" affects him more than the lies he tells to Snape. Why is that?

In living the lie with the Dursleys, Harry has to deny everything that makes him the person he is; he’s not allowed to talk about what he really does at school, what he thinks, who his parents were or how they really died. That would be very difficult, especially since it means he has to constantly endure personal jabs from Marge, with the Dursleys smirking over his misery.

- The Dursleys are watching the news with Dudley?? I thought that in later books they thought it was something no boy wanted to do? When Dudley's attention is fixed on the television, what is HE watching?

Dudley certainly wasn’t watching the news. He had his favorite shows to watch, and likely only watched with his parents because he was too young to be out with his friends. As we see later, though, whatever Dudley does is the proper thing that boys should be doing.

- While significantly different from the other woman who we see hide behind "cute" fashion, Aunt Marge and Aunt Petunia use childish words in reference to Dudley. Are these characters something to be feared like Umbridge, or is it something else? How do these women show what Jo DOES respect in women? (or not, obviously)

Petunia, Marge, and Umbridge are the kind of women who don’t understand or really respect children, especially teens. By talking baby talk to Dudley, his mother and aunt are mentally trying to pretend that he is still the same little 4 year old that they could control—they don’t have to have a real conversation with him--although, I have had some rather interesting conversations with four year olds. After all, if they talk to Dudley like the 13 year old that he is, he might have an opinion that is not the same as theirs, and they wouldn’t have any idea how to respond.

As for Umbridge, it’s clear from the first lesson, that she has no idea how to talk to the students. By treating them like they are five years old, she feels that she still has the kind of control that one would have with a classroom full of five year olds. Sadly, she wouldn’t have any more control over the five year olds than she does over the fifteen year olds—kids of any age can see right through people who are as phony as Umbridge. Her manner of speech is probably her way of trying to cover up just how insecure she really feels.

- Why did Harry make the glass explode now? He says himself that he hasn't done any uncontrolled magic in a while... why is this time different?

Harry lost his temper, and didn’t really have control; it seems that that was how he did magic before he went to Hogwarts—uncontrolled anger or fear seems to set things in motion without Harry having any knowledge that it is going to happen.

- Aunt Marge asks Harry's father's job, and Vernon says that he was unemployed. It is quite apparent he is lying... this topic has been sidestepped a few times now, hasn't it? Do we have any clues in previous books?

We know only that Lily and James were highly respected and very talented. We also see that they had enough money to easily provide for their son—just where that money came from, we still don’t know. I have the impression that James inherited money from his parents.

*CHAPTER THREE: The Knight Bus

Interesting… whose name does Harry draw from thin air? Neville Longbottom’s. Funny moment, foreshadowing, or something else?

I did think it was funny that Harry picked Neville’s name. But I think really it’s a very clever way to start connecting Neville with Harry, so when we learn about the Prophecy, it won’t be so much of a shock to hear that the two are closely linked.

Discussion Points
– Does Sirius appear to make Harry call the Knight Bus?

I think Sirius was just there, trying to get a glimpse of Harry before he headed north to Hogwarts. We find out later that he turned up to watch Harry play Quidditch. I think in this case, he just wanted to reassure himself that Harry was still safe--and what does he find--that Harry is anything but safe, out on the street at night, alone, with no idea of what to do or where to go. Of course, Sirius at that point is in no position to do anything to help Harry.

– Does the comparison of Sirius to a vampire hold any special information?

We don’t get a look at a real vampire until HBP, so I’m not sure why the comparison here. It’s more of a way to misdirect us, so we won’t immediately make the connection of Sirius with the big black dog that keeps showing up.

– Did Mrs. Figg alert Dumbledore and perhaps even know that Harry has been picked up by the bus?

She might have been the one to tell Dumbledore—possibly one of her cats spotted the whole thing and alerted her.

– How does Hedwig know when and where Harry is?

Ah, yes. Hedwig always knows just where Harry is, knows just where to take letters to people with just the name and no location specified. It’s one of those things that Rowling just expects us to accept as the way things work in the wizarding world. The only explanation that is given in the books is that is just something that owls in the wizarding world can do, and do very well.

– Harry and Sirius are paralleled through Stan's small talk. Is the author already setting up the closeness between the characters in the later books?

We get a lot of information out of that talk that Harry has with Stan. It doesn’t ever feel like we’re getting a set-up for the closeness between Harry and Sirius—more it’s the set-up that we are not to trust Sirius Black. It’s one of the nicest bits of mis-direction by Rowling.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Leaky Cauldron (August 21)
– Motherly Mrs Weasley
- Keeping Information from Harry
- Interesting that one witch or wizard notes that he or she wouldn’t allow the children out along while Sirius Black is on the loose, isn’t it? So why has Fudge allowed Harry to stay alone in Diagon Alley?
– 'Join forces with whom you want to avoid': Foreshadowing of something to come (i.e. Snape or the Ministry)?

- Harry sees the Grim on the front of one of the Divination books. What significance (other than just creepy lookin’?) does the Grim have in mythology? In other cultures?
- To what does the mirror answer when it says Harry is fighting a losing battle- his pondering aloud for his life, or the straightening of his hair?
- We see in this chapter, via Harry’s spying, that Mrs. Weasley has utter faith that Dumbledore will keep Harry safe. Why?

- Hagrid finds something less dangerous than others do.
- The possibility that Harry may not make it is highlighted when he looks at [i]Death Omens: What to Do When You Know the Worst Is Coming[/i]
- Magical creatures are smarter than regular animals.
- Percy is an outsider within the group of Weasley children.
- Seven- there are seven Weasleys at the dinner table in the Leaky Cauldron (plus Harry & Hermione)

* * * * *

Well, I did think that Scabbers was a bit weird, being ordinary and living to 12 years old. However, we used to have a rabbit and all the books say they live 2 or 3 years. Ms. Twitchel was at least 9 when she died and might have been older, as we found her in our yard eight years before that--so we guessed she was only about a year old when we got her. I guess that's the reason I just accepted that Scabbers could be living an unusually long life for a rat.

But the sneakoscope going off on the train made me think that it was because of Lupin. He was very suspicious even being in the students part of the train and then seeming to sleep through all the commotion just didn't seem right. Even if he were exhausted, which he might well have been, you'd think he'd wake up with all the times the door to the compartment opened--sounds you aren't used to hearing generally make a person wake up. However, I'm so glad it wasn't Lupin setting it off--I love him as a character and really was glad that POA wasn't the only book where he made an appearance.
* * * * *

Yes, I think there's much more to Florean than has met our eyes so far. Harry was allowed to stay at the Leaky Cauldron, alone, and could wander about Diagon Alley for two weeks, alone. However, even he suspected that it was only because there were a lot of wizards there to keep an eye on him. I'd guess that Florean is one of them, and having an ice cream shop, it would be easy to get Harry to spend extra time there. It's also possible that, while Florean has never been listed as being in the Order, that Dumbledore has a "number of useful spies", and Florean might just be one of them. Everyone seems to know about the Order, and there doesn't seem to be much effort to hide who it's members are, so it would be helpful if Dumbledore had people on the look out that others didn't know about.

And I agree--for an ice cream store owner, he is very knowledgeable. The other thing is, if that's all he does, then why would the Death Eaters bother with him when they are going after people who seem to have much more importance in the wizarding world.

I love all the details in the early books that just seemed like added fluff to make the story more interesting or funny. After I read HBP I went back to Chamber of Secrets, which had never been my favorite, because there seemed to be a lot of things that just didn't make sense. But now that they do, I like COS much better.


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