Saturday, August 4, 2007

Philosopher's Stone Echoes, a question posed by John Granger

I've been reading some things at HogPro, Sword of Gryffindor, and a few other blogs, but really haven't been jumping into the discussions.

I've now finished reading ,Deathly Hallows all the way through the second time, and liked it even better when I was wide-awake and had time to think it through. For some reason, as much as I enjoyed a discussion the other night with my daughter, I just don't feel the need to do a lot of on-line analyzing--perhaps it's just that I'm that satisfied with the book and ultimately, with the whole series.

Anyway, John has had a growing list of things to discuss, so I did post my thoughts on the one about "Philosopher's Stone Echoes". Interestingly enough, as I started to re-read, I made notes in the margins and something that I kept jotting down was all the ties between DH and all the other books, and especially things that recalled the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Philosopher’s Stone Echoes
Posted August 1, 2007 (with a few edits and corrections)

I've been re-reading Deathly Hallows and am nearing the end--they are searching for the lost diadem (which I'm quite pleased to say was something that I actually got right, though not with the back story or the way they find it, of course).

On my second read-through, I've been jotting notes in the margins. Often they are about echoes of previous books--odd that I had referred to it with the same phrase that John used. I see them more as an echo than a direct retelling of something. Take a look at Sirius's motorbike, for instance. Hagrid arrives at Privet Drive in PS/SS, riding/flying it, bringing Harry from the wizarding world to the Muggle one. And in DH Hagrid takes Harry from the Muggle world back to the wizarding world on the same bike. Yes, it is somewhat of a disaster, to put it mildly, but that's because there are other things going on. The reason Hagrid brought baby Harry to Privet Drive was also because of a disaster, so it does certainly come full circle on that note.

So while it's an echo--a reminder--we also see how much more complicated and dangerous Harry's life is now that Voldemort has truly returned. But with that motorbike, we are also reminded of Sirius, and that's without any particular exposition; Sirius, though gone, is still in Harry's heart.

The rescue group itself is an echo of Harry's Advance Guard in Order of the Phoenix. This one, unlike the first rescue, is seemingly better planned, even though things go horribly awry. But that's all tied to Dumbledore's advice to Snape that he leak the date--but not the information that there would be multiple Harrys. It's one of those uncomfortable reminders that Dumbledore did have a grand plan and that he did put his plan ahead of everyone, including Snape and Harry, the two who had been most loyal to him.

But anyway, back to Philosopher's Stone. Someone (at HogPro) already mentioned the Stone in both the first and last books and that Harry doesn't want to find either the Philosohper's Stone or the Resurrection Stone so that he can use them but instead wants to prevent them from falling into Voldemort's hands, or someone else's who is as evil. The Stones are similar in their purpose. The Philosopher's Stone will enable the user to have eternal life, while the Resurrection Stone will enable the owner to bring someone back, though not in entirely human form. They will return in ghostly form, much as Nearly Headless Nick, who (in OP) told Harry that he had not been brave enough to "go on", that most people would not prefer an existence that is neither here nor there. So both Stones have a sort of commentary about what happens when a person tries to cheat Death, and Harry would not have done either.

Then there are the seven trials in PS. There may be an echo of each one, though I don't think it's all in book 7. And I don't think that some are particularly more than a nod to the trials. The one that stood out to me was the chess reference. When they arrived at Xeno Lovegood's house, it looked like a giant rook (which Hermione thinks of the bird *snort*). And Ron, the chess player, tells her that's a castle. But likely, it is the shape that makes Ron think of a rook. (It also made me think of a book JKR said she liked--"I Capture the Castle".) And when Ron sees it as a rook, we are taken back to all the times he played wizard chess in book 1, and throughout the books, and especially to the chess game when he sacrificed himself to save Harry. It doesn't so much foreshadow Ron sacrificing himself at that moment, but that he has been willing to do so in the past, and will be again.

Then there are the rather humorous references to the seven trials: when they are trapped by Devil's Snare, Hermione is the only one who is free or who knows what it is in PS. She knows that it doesn't like the light or heat, but can't think what to do, and Ron says, "ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT!" (PS/SS, US version, p. 278) In Deathly Hallows, the trio are trying to get into the tunnel under the Whomping Willow, and Ron wishes they had Crookshanks, recalling that the half-kneazle prodded the knot at the base of the tree to make it stop thrashing about. Hermione is the one who this time says, "Are you a wizard, or what?" (DH, p. 651)

It's then that Ron uses the same spell he used to save Hermione from the troll in PS, the very one that gave him so much trouble when he and Hermione were partners in Charms: Wingardium Leviosa.

Throughout Deathly Hallows, Hermione also uses the spell that produces the very same blue flame that she used to distract Snape, when they wrongly thought he was jinxing Harry's broom, and it's the same one that made the Devil's Snare release Ron and Harry.

The potions in PS, which were Snape's protection in the seven trials, are an echo of the green potion in the Cave in HBP, with the explanation coming in Deathly Hallows. The reason I see it as an echo is that in both one and six/seven it was necessary to work out the puzzle of how to get round a potion that is intended to poison the drinker--Hermione works out the puzzle in book one and enables Harry to go on while she can go safely back to get help, while in book seven we learn what the potion made Dumbledore see (not at all what I thought), but also how Regulus solved the puzzle and outsmarted Voldemort. Both puzzle solutions lead to the same thing--a way for Harry to have the opportunity to defeat Voldemort as well as a resolution to some of the hatred between the races--the understanding between the trio and Kreacher (something I never in a million years expected to happen--and one of the nicest surprises in DH).

Another big echo was the return to Gringotts in book seven. We may have been back inside the bank in the books in between, but I don't remember them as anything significant (and without looking, I'd say we weren't there--only references to Harry's money being taken out, once by Bill). But in book one we spent a lot of time there, learning about goblins, about the bank itself, about the rumor that there was a dragon (and there was some fire coming from one of the side tunnels), about what happens to people who try to rob Gringotts. All of that, while being rather exciting and interesting, was as Janet Batchler would say, the set-up for Harry's return to Gringotts in search of the cup, and possibly other Horcruxes.

The goblins, it turns out, are every bit as cruel to other creatures as they complain the wizards are to them. Imagine forcing a creature like a dragon, something huge that lives alone in the wild, to live its life underground and chained, fearing the sound of clankers because its been tortured, never allowed to smell fresh air or see the hills and lakes. They've also devised some pretty awful methods for trapping would-be thieves--the duplicating, burning treasure. (A warning of what happens when one is too focused on acquiring earthly treasures?) Of course, as Ron points out to Griphook, the bank has been broken into--when Quirrell tried to steal the Philosopher's Stone and failed. But Quirrell did come out of that unscathed--at least unscathed by any of the goblin protections. So, the goblins show themselves, just as Voldemort does, to be arrogant in a way that leads to their defeat--defeat, because Harry is able to "steal" the cup from the Lestranges high-security vault, and he, Ron and Hermione escape.

In book one, Gringotts almost seems to hold a place of reverence when Hagrid talks about it. Yet in book seven, we watch the destruction of the only wizarding bank. The protections, the ones set by the goblins, were effective when the goblins were true to their purpose of protecting the treasure of its depositors, but once the bank itself was corrupted by wizards, Death Eaters, not even the goblin protection was enough to stop Harry from doing what was right. So in that way, we came full circle on the bank, with the realization that an institution is only as good as its true purpose and its security is only as good as those who are in charge.

Harry first hears of and sees Hogwarts in book one, of course, when he learns he's a wizard. But in that first book and in HBP as well, we spend over a third of the time NOT at Hogwarts. In fact, in HBP, there is little time spent in the normal everyday activities that we saw in the middle books, except in Slughorn's Potions class which are nearly a complete opposite to Snape's first classes. We, and Harry, spend a lot of time learning things from Snape in HPB, though Harry has no idea that his beloved Prince is the one person he is the most determined to hate.

That's one of the things I really liked in the Epilogue and especially in the chapter, "The Prince's Tale"--finding out that Snape, disagreeable and nasty as he was, was true to his promise to Dumbledore in ways that Harry had never imagined. The character of Snape in the first book was so flat to me--the mean teacher who went out of his way to assert his authority over all the students, not just Harry (but especially Harry), turns out to be a hero, with so much depth to his character. And I couldn't have been more pleased with the way Rowling wrote Snape's story--she didn't turn him into some cuddly warm-hearted character but left him as the flawed, but finally understood and appreciated hero that he always yearned to be.

Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallowsfocused on things in the past and in the future, things that have nothing to do with regular classes and Quidditch (I'm one of the few who didn't miss Quidditch, btw). But the point was that Harry needed to prepare for what he would eventually face, and sitting in the Great Hall for a cozy meal, or having Quidditch practice and games, or sitting around the Gryffindor common room studying and chatting, were the things of his childhood, things to be left behind.

The simplest way to make the point was to deprive Harry of all of those things by not having him return to Hogwarts. By sending the trio on the run, with all the camping and moving and near misses at being caught, Rowling gave us a real picture of the kind of war they are fighting. It's not a neat and tidy one, but one that means the freedom fighters have to go underground, into hiding, very often working in small groups rather than as a large organized (and well cared for) army. I thought of the people all over Europe who hid Jewish families during World War II or helped them to freedom, much to their peril, when the trio was rescued and hid at the Tonks's house before going to Auntie Muriel's or later at Shell Cottage; there were echoes of the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman, smuggling the slaves to safe houses, with Aberforth smuggling them in and out of Hogwarts and providing the refugees in residence with food and information.

Quite honestly, who would have wanted to spend more time at Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows, given what it's become. When we see Neville and Seamus and all the others, and hear how the place that Harry (and all of us) loved has been desecrated, I was glad we didn't have to see the daily details of that horror. Just imagining them was bad enough.

And of course, we have Neville, who in book one was brave enough to stand up against his friends, showing in book seven that he is brave enough to stand up FOR his friends against all enemies, in ways we never dreamed possible for Neville. Fantastic complete circle, that one. It was especially poignant that it was Neville, standing in front of Voldemort, taunted and humiliated, who was able to pull Gryffindor's Sword out of the Sorting Hat and then, with a courage he hadn't fully realized in the first book, had the courage to do what had to be done, to behead Nagini.

In the Philosopher's Stone, we see Harry being left at the Dursleys, a place where he will wait until he is old enough to take his place in the Wizarding world; in Deathly Hallows, we see Harry forced once again into the Muggle world, apart from the world where he belongs, once again waiting until the right time for him to return, but this time it is with a terror hanging over the heads of all of them, where in the first book it was with a feeling that the terror had gone. The difference between the two books is that we don't know what we are missing of the wizarding world in book one and in book seven, we do. But both are frustrating times for Harry, both show his helplessness, with it being even more frustrating in book seven when he knows what is at stake, what the consequences will be if he fails.

I thought Rowling did an excellent job of tying up all the lose ends. No, she didn't answer every question, but it turns out that was because we, as avid readers, had way too much time and too many questions to answer. There has to be something of mystery left in a book or it reads like an encyclopedia--boring. There has to be something where the reader fills in the missing information. She wrote the story that she wanted to write, and it does seem to come full circle--or more like a spiral, I suppose. Each book comes back around to Harry returning to his Muggle existence, but with more knowledge and understanding of what his life is to be.

With the last book, we see Harry and Ron and Hermione putting all those puzzle pieces from their previous six years together, we see that they have all overcome their short-comings from the first books, and that they have remained the true friends they were meant to be, true to their original goals of doing the right thing, making the right choices, and of making the world a better place to be.