Re-Reading Harry Potter

Because I totally needed another summer project, I got the idea to do a complete re-read of the Harry Potter series, from The Boy Who Lived all the way up to Nineteen Years Later – and to blog about it. After all, this summer is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, and this fall is when that once-distant epilogue finally takes place. That seems like as good an excuse as any to re-read the series.

Like most Harry Potter fans, I can remember pretty clearly the first time I read that very first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone. I was in fifth grade, and a lot of my classmates liked it, but I doubted it would live up to the hype. Still, I had to at least try it. I cracked open the spine and started to reading.

Before I knew it, I’d finished that first chapter … and another … and another … and eventually, the whole book. It did indeed live up to the hype, and from then on, I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve read each of the Harry Potter books more times than I could possibly count. But I don’t think I’ve ever re-read them all in order, and I know I haven’t blogged my way through them the way I’m planning to now. This seems like as good a time to do it as ever.

Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapters 1-3

 “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

There’s something very special about this line, at least if you’re a Harry Potter fan. It’s nothing special in and of itself. Most of us in the real world know plenty of people like the Dursleys. But it’s a familiar opening to a beloved story, and reading it is like seeing that Warner Brother’s logo with the Harry Potter soundtrack playing in the background. You know something extraordinary is about to start.

Sorcerer’s Stone starts the trend of introducing the reader to the Muggle world first, which is repeated in almost every single book. I’ve written a lot more about that here. In this book, it’s by introducing the Dursleys, with their fear of magic and stubborn refusal to notice the owls and people in cloaks that flood the streets that day. Then, many pages later, Dumbledore enters, and we start to see a little more of this world the Dursleys are so afraid of. Because we’re set up to dislike them, it’s easy to like the strange group of people who show up unwelcome at their doorstep, and even easier to sympathize with the unfortunate child left in their care.

Speaking of that unfortunate child, the first few chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone are much darker in hindsight. Now that Fantastic Beasts is out and we know exactly what can happen when muggles try to “stamp out that dangerous nonsense” from a magical child, the way the Dursleys treat Harry is even more horrifying.

I can’t imagine that J.K. Rowling knew what an Obscurial was when she wrote these opening chapters, but there is a ton of foreshadowing in them. There’s Harry speaking Parseltongue, although he doesn’t realize it yet. We hear the word “Muggle” for the first time and learn that they’re not supposed to know about magic. We also see a first glimpse at the Order of the Phoenix, although we don’t know that’s what they’re called yet. While the ordinary witches and wizards are out celebrating Voldemort’s downfall, the few who truly fought against him are busy mourning the Potters’ deaths and making arrangements for their son.

And, of course, there’s a lot happening outside of the narrow little glimpse of the magical world that we see. Somewhere, Peter Pettigrew is preparing his escape and Sirius Black is still unaware of how much he’s about to lose. Snape is making a promise to protect Lily’s son. Barty Crouch Sr. is cracking down on Voldemort’s followers, unaware that his own son is one of them. The Lestranges are still searching for their Dark Lord, while other Death Eaters lie and bribe their way out of trouble. Minister of Magic Millicent Bagnold is defending her people’s “inalienable right to party” as they ignore the statute of secrecy and celebrate in the streets. As readers, we don’t get to see all that right away, but it’s part of the story, nonetheless.

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