Re-Reading Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets ch. 1-5

One of the best things about Harry Potter is how many hints about the big twist at the end are woven into the story so subtly that they seem unimportant. For example, in the first five chapters of Chamber of Secrets, it’s obvious that someone is plotting something. Dobby tells us as much. It’s much easier to miss the little hints already being planted about who, what, and how. Things like …

  • Lucius Malfoy telling Mr. Borgin, “I have important business elsewhere today”. The next time we see him, he’s busy sneering at the Weasleys, not what most people would describe as “important business”.
  • Borgin’s comment that “if the stories are true, you haven’t solf me half of what’s hidden in your manor”. The secret plot involves one very important object of his, much darker and more dangerous than what he sold to Borgin. Dumbledore later explains that Mr. Malfoy was likely worried about the diary being discovered and unaware of its true nature, simply believing it was enchanted to open the Chamber of Secrets again.
  • Mr. Malfoy is ashamed of his son, Draco, because “a girl of no wizard family” beat him in every exam. This question of who deserves to learn magic has barely been touched on at this point, but it’s about to be brought directly into focus.
  • Malfoy later takes “a very battered copy of A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration” from Ginny Weasley, presumably to mock the Weasleys’ inability to buy new books, and hands it back a few minutes later. In the movie, they actually show one book coming out of her cauldron and two going back in.
  • As they’re in the car on their way to London, Ginny realizes she forgot her diary and insists that the family go back for it.

Those hints mean very little to a first-time reader. They’re buried among other more mundane details, for one thing. Nothing ever comes of Fred and George having to go back for a box of fireworks and a broomstick, and while the scenes in Knockturn Alley contain many hints at things to come in Half-Blood Prince, they’re also full of details that don’t ever become important, such as the poisons Mr. Malfoy is selling and the “evil-looking masks” on the walls of Borgin and Burke’s. But on a careful re-read, they’re all there. The whole story of how Ginny got the diary and what it was meant to be used for is there, in a few passing remarks and seemingly-unimportant lines. The twist ending is shocking, but it does not come out of nowhere.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Sorcerer’s Stone ch. 17

The ending to the first Harry Potter book reflects themes that are found throughout the series: self-sacrifice, courage, friendship, and love. Harry would never have reached the Sorcerer’s Stone without help from his friends, and all three of them are risking both their lives and their places at Hogwarts, having been threatened with expulsion if they break any more rules. Their first priority is not themselves, but the people around them that will be in danger if Voldemort reaches the stone and returns to power. In the end, it’s Harry’s mother’s love that saves him, as it did once before and will several more times.

This is also the first of many last-second plot twists. We’ve been led to believe throughout the book that Snape was trying to kill Harry and steal the stone, but now it’s finally revealed that Quirrel was the guilty one, while Snape was in fact trying to protect both Harry and the stone. This is far from the last time Harry will jump to the wrong conclusions, miss the obvious clues right in front of him, and drag the reader with him in his misunderstanding of what’s going on. I actually really love this tendency of Harry’s. He’s an unreliable narrator, not because he’s intentionally misleading the reader, but because the narrator’s viewpoint is limited to only what he sees and thinks, which is more often than not an incomplete picture and a mistaken conclusion. This keeps the reader constantly trying to figure things out and sets us up to be surprised by the plot twists. Imagine how different things would be if the stories were told by a more well-informed character, such as Dumbledore, Snape, or even Hermione.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Sorcerer’s Stone ch. 16

Overall, the Sorcerer’s Stone movie takes very few liberties with the book. A few minor scenes are cut out or re-arranged, but all the biggest moments are there. At least, until they go down the trapdoor, that is. Then everything changes.

In the movie, the harp Quirrell left behind is enchanted and keeps on playing right up until the kids are about to jump through the trapdoor. In the book, on the other hand, the harp is not enchanted and Harry has to play a tune on a wooden flute that Hagrid gave him as a Christmas gift. Interestingly enough, it’s a gift from Hagrid that helps them get past the obstacle left there by Hagrid …

Devil’s Snare is also very different. Simply relaxing is not enough to save them; it’s not until Hermione lights a fire that they’re able to get away from the deadly plant. But more importantly, in the movie, this is Hermione’s big heroic moment, and she saves them singlehandedly through cool-headed thinking and her immense knowledge of magic. In the book, she has a moment like that, but it happens later, in the potions room. Here, she panics and forgets she’s a witch entirely until Ron frantically reminds her she doesn’t need wood to light a fire. Unlike her movie counterpart, she works better when she has plenty of time to think things through.

In the key room, the keys don’t attack Harry when he gets onto the broom. Instead, they’re just very fast and difficult to catch. Ron and Hermione ride brooms along with Harry, and the comparison to Quidditch is much more obvious: they work as a team, but it all comes down to Harry catching the key, which is a stand-in for the Golden Snitch. Harry’s skill at Quidditch is one of his defining features, perhaps second only to his courage and self-sacrifice, and turns out to be useful in several non-Quidditch related incidents throughout the series. Aside from the keys, he will also use his skill as a Seeker to get past a dragon and escape a room full of fiendfyre.

The chess game is more-or-less the same in both versions. I do think it’s very interesting that Harry, Ron, and Hermione take the places of a Bishop, a Knight, and a Castle, respectively. First of all, they’re three different pieces, each of which moves in different ways and plays a different part in winning a chess game. This speaks to the ways in which the three characters help and strengthen each other by each bringing something different to their friendship. But perhaps even more importantly, the three pieces are relatively equal in worth, with the Castle being worth just a bit more. Making Harry the King would have been a good strategic choice, since he would be the most protected piece on the chessboard, but it would have elevated him too far above his friends and had them taking risks and making sacrifices for him, rather than for their common goal.

One last clue that Quirrell is not what he seems comes in the form of his obstacle: a troll. Earlier, Harry and the others assumed he had performed complicated defensive magic, but no, he just left a magical beast there, one that we already know whoever is trying to steal to stone has used in the past. Meanwhile, Snape – who you would assume to have left an intentionally easy challenge, if he’s working for Voldemort – instead created the most difficult one so far. Most of the challenges are dangerous or even potentially deadly, but there’s nothing quite like being presented with seven bottles, knowing that three are poison and only one can help you move forward, or that you have only your wits and a couple of vague clues to help you figure out which ones are which. Whoever makes it this far trying to steal the stone, Snape wants them dead.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Sorcerer’s Stone ch. 13-15

In today’s edition of “things that totally should have been in the movies, Malfoy puts a curse on Neville that locks his legs together, and he has to hop all the way to Gryffindor tower. But rather than being used as an excuse to laugh at him, it’s a chance for Harry, Ron, and Hermione to encourage him to stand up for himself – which he later does, when Malfoy attempts to bully him again at the Quidditch match. This early on in the series, there are very few signs of the hero Neville will eventually grow to be, but this is one of them. I think it’s especially important that not only did he stand up to Malfoy, he did it after being build up and encouraged by the same peers who will eventually include him in Dumbledore’s Army and help him learn to defend himself from much more serious dangers.

In Defense Against the Dark Arts, Quirrell is teaching them how to treat werewolf bites. This seems like an early inconsistency to me, because werewolf bites can’t be treated. Even injuries like Bill Weasley’s, which don’t turn him into a werewolf, leave scars that no magic can get rid of. Werewolves in general are portrayed differently in the first two books as compared to the rest of the series. Malfoy is afraid of werewolves in the forest, Hagrid says they’re too slow to be the creature killing the unicorns, and in Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle says a young Hagrid tried to raise werewolf cubs under his bed. Quite different from the werewolves of later books, who are fully human except on the night of the full moon. On Pottermore, Rowling has given a very odd explanation, but I have to assume it’s just something she hadn’t thought through yet when writing the early books. In a series this long and complex, there had to be something that’s not consistent all the way through.

However, other details that don’t become important until many books later are surprisingly well-foreshadowed. For example, Rowling tells us that “[Harry] sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds”. Well, as Snape will later explain, “the mind is not a book to be opened at will and examined at leisure”, but Snape is in fact a skilled legilimens. To someone like Harry, who has no training in occlumency and no skill for it once he starts learning, it must really seem like Snape is reading his mind. Every thought or emotion is right out there to be seen by anyone capable of legilimency.

The whole dragon sequence is very different from the movie version. Instead of being caught by McGonagall and then Dumbledore sending the dragon away, Harry and Hermione smuggle the dragon out via Ron’s brother Charlie. It’s only on their way back to their dorm that they’re caught, and McGonagall seems to think they tricked Malfoy into thinking they had a dragon just to get him in trouble. This was probably changed to make it shorter for the movie, but the book version works better, and explains why they’re only in trouble with McGonagall. Keeping a dragon is a serious crime, and if the dragon was definitely there, it’s hard to imagine that Malfoy wouldn’t tell his father or that his father wouldn’t try to do something with that information. Send Hagrid to Azkaban. Get Dumbledore fired. Something.

In the forest, when Hagrid, Harry, and Hermione run into a centaur named Ronan, he is not surprised to hear about the injured unicorn and says that the innocent are “always the first victims”. Later, when Voldemort returns, his first victims are an absent-minded Ministry employee, an elderly muggle man, and Cedric Diggory. All of these people are innocent, both in the sense that they’re good people who don’t deserve to die, and in the sense that they’re ordinary people in the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than combatants in the war. In fact, Frank Bryce is literally innocent of a murder most people blame him for, which was actually committed by Voldemort. Voldemort’s first victims when he rose to power as a young man were also innocent: a Hogwarts classmate, his muggle father and grandparents, a woman who trusted him with her secrets, and the people he framed for their deaths.

But a far more important bit of foreshadowing comes when Bane finds out Firenze has saved Harry’s life. “We are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens,” he says. “Have we not seen what is to come in the movements of the planets?” If what they had seen was Harry’s death in the forest at Voldemort’s hands, they’re six years early.

A Father’s Love

I wrote a poem for Mother’s Day, so it seems only right that I should do one for Father’s Day as well. For this one, I decided to use the image of Harry’s stag patronus.

Silver light burning bright
Casting off the cloak of night
Chased by haunting soulless shades
Panic rises, courage fades
But a shield of love surrounds
Him and again his hope is found
The one who stood to keep him safe
And looked evil in the face
Whose dying screams are echoing
In thoughts these demons’ visions bring
Will stand and guard him once again
And keep him safe from deep within
His father’s love was never gone
But lives inside him, makes him strong
And charges forth in silver light
As his protector through the night

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Sorcerer’s Stone ch. 10-12

The Mountain Troll scene is one of the most important in the book, because without it, Harry and Ron would not have become friends with Hermione. It’s interesting how this kind of life-or-death situation often brings characters closer together in Harry Potter. You could say the same thing about the battle at the Ministry in Order of the Phoenix. At the beginning of that year, Harry was embarrassed to be sitting with Luna, Neville, and Ginny on the Hogwarts Express; by the next year, he’s proud to say that they’re his friends and turns down an invitation to sit with Romilda Vane and her crowd instead.

This section is also when Rowling really starts trying to make us suspicious of Snape. Harry overhears him telling Filch about the three-headed dog, and in the quidditch game, it certainly appears as if he’s putting a curse on Harry’s broom. Of course, later, we’ll learn that he was trying to get to the stone before Quirrell, much like Harry and his friends do, and that he was actually performing a countercurse to try to save Harry while Quirrell was the one trying to curse him. We also get another big clue about Professor Quirrell, though: when Hermione sets Snape’s robe on fire, he’s knocked over. The first-time reader has no reason to even notice this, but it’s there, nevertheless.

The third chapter I read today was The Mirror of Erised, and I’d almost forgotten how different it is from the movie version. Superficially, it’s pretty much the same: it shows Harry his family and Ron himself, accomplishing more than any of his brothers. But in the movie, we don’t see Harry becoming so obsessed with it, refusing to play chess or visit Hagrid, entirely losing his interest in Nicholas Flamel and whatever Fluffy is guarding … it reminds me a bit of the Island of the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey, in that Harry thinks it’s making him happy, but it’s an illusion that’s drawing him away from everything that used to be important to him.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Sorcerer’s Stone Ch. 7-9

Reading the sorting ceremony again makes me want to figure out exactly which houses all of Harry’s classmates are in. It’s an exercise in futility, because no one can really say where Lily Moon or Sally-Anne Perks ended up except J.K. Rowling herself. But it always makes me wonder.

Even more than that, though, reading the sorting ceremony again makes me wonder what would have happened if Harry had let the hat put him in Slytherin. If he hadn’t heard from Hagrid and Ron that it was the worst house, if he didn’t already dislike the only Slytherin he’d met so far, and went into it without such a strong preference …

I don’t have nearly enough time or space to get into all that here, but expect to see something soon on it.

I love these early chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone. It all really just comes to life: the characters, the school … you can just see Hermione frantically flipping through books, trying to memorize everything, ghosts floating through doorways, Ron bickering with Dean about quidditch vs. soccer, Malfoy bragging about that time he escaped a muggle helicopter on a broom, Professor McGonagall lecturing the kids on their very first day in her class …

There’s so much detail that you could read it a dozen times and uncover something new each time. I noticed for the first time today that Parvati Patil and Pansy Parkinson seem to know each other. When Parvati tries to stand up for Neville, Pansy tells her, “Never thought you’d like fat little crybabies, Parvati.” They’re in different houses, and they’ve only been at Hogwarts together a short time, but that line sounds like something you’d only say to someone you know well. She also uses Parvati’s first name – which means both that she can tell the difference between the Patil twins, and that she addresses her in a more familiar way than the Slytherins typically use even for their friends, let alone random Gryffindors. Both the Patils and the Parkinsons are wizarding families, and the Patils don’t seem too strongly linked to any one House, so it’s not unreasonable to think they’d have known each other before Hogwarts.

Speaking of tiny details, here are a couple of early signs that Quirrel is not to be trusted:

  • He was at Diagon Alley the day Gringotts was robbed. Harry and Hagrid run into him at the Leaky Cauldron just before they go to Gringotts themselves.
  • He’s seen near the forbidden third floor corridor. When Filch catches Harry and Ron trying to force their way in, unaware of which door it is, they are “rescued by Professor Quirrell”, who just so happens to be passing by.
  • He teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts, but he seems terrified of dark creatures, and his stories about his accomplishments are suspected to be lies.
  • His turban smells bad. The Weasley twins suspect he keeps garlic in there to ward off vampires, but of course, we know what it’s really hiding …

On a different note, one of the very best things that you miss if you only watch the movies is the scene where Malfoy challenges Harry to a wizards’ duel. Not only is it a clever way to introduce something that’s going to be important in future books (although it has changed a lot by the time it shows up again, with – for example – the idea of having a “second” to take over if you die being totally forgotten). It’s also kind of an interesting demonstration of Hogwarts House traits and how a Gryffindor would try to get back at someone they don’t like versus how a Slytherin would. Harry has no problem with breaking the rules and sneaking out at night for a wizards’ duel, but it never occurs to him that Malfoy’s challenge is actually a trap: that he has no intention of fighting Harry and is just trying to get him in trouble.

But most of all, it reminds me of a scene from Ophelia, by Lisa M. Klein. Ophelia is a YA novel that reimagines Hamlet from the point of view of – you guessed it – the novel’s title character. There’s a scene early on in the book where a young Hamlet and Laertes are play-fighting with wooden swords. It’s kind of like that. There’s nothing “friendly” about the duel Malfoy proposes, but Ron assures Harry that “people only die in proper duels” and “neither of you know enough magic to do any real damage”. By the time they do duel the very next year, that’s not necessarily the case (Malfoy’s serpensortia spell is certainly dangerous), and in the final books they duel each other several times, each with potentially deadly consequences. With sectumsempra and fiendfyre in mind, the proposed “wizards’ duel” here seems childish, bitterly ironic, and perhaps a little bit like foreshadowing.

Finally, this is also the section where the main trio – plus Neville, in the book version – first meet Fluffy. We start to get the first clues about the Sorcerer’s Stone: Nicholas Flamel was first mentioned on Dumbledore’s chocolate frog card, we saw Hagrid take the one item from a vault at Gringotts that was later broken into, and now, thanks to Hermione’s keen observation, we find out that the three-headed dog was standing on a trapdoor. It’s guarding something.