Tuesday, May 21, 2013

HPP: Creating Expectation

Not like you needed any proof, but our book club shows its superiority over other reading-only types to bring you something extremely palatable: Jenna utilized Masha's recipe to concoct a butterbeer with bite, and I attempted a Knickerbocker Glory using strawberry ice cream with bits of real strawberries, vanilla ice cream, Smuckers strawberry syrup, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries.

Yum.  Also, pumpkin pasties?  Yes, please.

Moving along through Harry Potter raises more questions than answers.  We're getting deeper and deeper into the labyrinth which only leaves us more lost but more eager to reach the center.  After it's revealed to Harry that he is a wizard and accepted to the number one school for wizardry in the world, Hagrid takes him shopping in Diagon Alley (diagonally--get it?!  how fun is that?), and we are introduced to some of the staples of the wizarding world.  Throughout reading, my mental notes looked like this, only less organized:

  • does the wizarding world exist in a parallel dimension to the Muggle world, or is it merely "hidden"?
  • if non-magic people can have magical offspring, are wizards really a race, and if not, what's with the racism?
  • what makes someone have the gift of magic and others not?
  • why does a wizard need a wand to channel his magic?
  • and why do the wands need magical items inside them if the wizards themselves posses magic?
  • why do they need a pet/animal?
  • why do wizards need money?
  • what kind of moral rules are there in place for them to determine when a wizard has "gone to the dark side," and who made them?
  • where is Hogwarts exactly, and why haven't Muggles stumbled upon it?
  • if they have all these spells for easily accomplishing things, why aren't all wizards morbidly obese, and what do they spend all their time doing?

Maybe I'm an atypical curious reader.  But far from frustrating, these are the kind of things that make for delightful reading.  Some of the questions raised, I think, are easily glossed over at first introduction because they are already permeated into our folk culture: witches have cats and broomsticks and magic wands.  That's just a given.  But Rowling has an opportunity here to develop her own fanciful sub-creation and I'm eager to see what she does with it.

R. Teressa Zimmerman, source

These chapters introduce us to Harry's peers: the not-so nice Draco Malfoy, doesn't-quite-know-what-to-do-with-himself Ron, the over-compensating Hermione, and . . . Neville.  Poor Neville!  Harry also gets a chance to show us his moral mettle when he sticks up for Hagrid, and later Ron, firmly establishing himself from here-on-out among the unpopular crowd, albeit popular in reputation.  These two seemingly casual events define his character.  He could have taken the opportunity to use his fame to get a leg up in this new environment, a fresh start--leaving behind the bullying forever--but he doesn't.  And he does it without wasting a second thinking on the consequences.

This leads me to another strong motif in the book, of expectation.  Harry, who has not been expected to amount to anything his entire life, suddenly comes into a rich legacy and a dizzying fame.  What to do with it?  He handles it with innocence, which is very commendable.  Still, I stand with Harry shoulder to shoulder and feel the weight of others' expectations.

"I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter," says Mr. Ollivander.  The follow-up sentence drives the weight home: "After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things--terrible, yes, but great."  So what is a boy to do?  When he is already "known" by a whole class--no, a whole world--of people, yet still inherently unknown?  How does he establish himself as an individual?  And how does he climb out from under the shadow of such a daunting figure, someone he can't even be allowed to name in order to stand against face-to-face and ask, "Who are you?  And, more importantly, who does that make me?"



  1. I love this whole listing potential discussion points trend!

    #2 I got the impression they were less a 'race' and more of a sub-culture built around it's own particular gifts..and so prone to all the 'classisms' that do come along with sub-cultures (have you ever heard Punks talk about hippies?) but more so because the differences make them almost like separate nations..There is lots of actual racism/species ism that comes up in later books though and is dealt with in what I would consider The Worst Possible Way..but we'll leave that til we get to it ;) I almost see the whole Muggles having Wizard children as similar to the whole Happy Middle-Class Suburbanite couple having utterly bohemian child..You know??

    With the wands..I'm not sure how intentional Rowling was with her concept of wands in the magical world, but traditionally a wand is less of a bringer of power and more of a channeling tool to focus and intensify magic..I think Rowling's wizards tend toward an interdependence on wands, but if I remember right some of the Hogwart's teachers agree with me ;) And, again traditionally, they're always made of some magical substances (often with more added on, and infused into the wand itself) to intensify the user's own magic. Her wand treatment only really bothers me in one area..some of them are too ridiculously short! At least I remember thinking she had a bad mind for length..

    "And how does he climb out from under the shadow of such a daunting figure, someone he can't even be allowed to name in order to stand against face-to-face and ask, "Who are you? And, more importantly, who does that make me?" "

    Loved this ending..So much.

    "What kind of moral rules.." She seems to have some..but it'll be interesting to talk about these when we get to them..I'd love to read your thoughts on her 'unforgiveable curses' (was that too much of a spoiler??!!) I sometimes wonder..[spoiler!!!]

    1. Wait, the wands are too short? I always thought some of them seemed awfully long to be waving around all the time. But then, I don't have anything like your knowledge of the subject. :)

      I have the same impression you do about the purpose of the wand, anyway! I'm pretty sure you're absolutely right.

    2. Oh no. Do not get me started on those "unforgivable" curses. There Will Be Spoilers. And fanrage. And more [SPOILERS].

      Does the wizarding world exist in a parallel dimension to the Muggle world, or is it merely "hidden"?

      I think it's pretty clearly meant to be merely hidden -- otherwise intermarriage would be pretty tricky, right?

      Some kind of peer-led "New Wizard Support and Outreach" club at Hogwarts would be helpful, not just for traumatized kids like Harry, but for anyone who wasn't taking the whole, "magic exists and SURPRISE, here's your wand; everything you learned about physics is wrong and also there was this Dark Lord, haha," thing totally in stride. Which -- some kids would just say, "Awesome!" and jump in with both feet, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for some to feel pretty disoriented.

      The wizarding world does seem a bit lax when it comes to social services of any kind.And of course their prison system is. . . [I don't remember if this is a SPOILER or not, actually]

    3. Laura, I guess with the parallel dimension I was thinking of something with the characteristic of Avalon in The Mists of Avalon or the Undying Lands in tLotR. Sort of a different world, but with bridges attached to our world. Or like, both on the same world, but sort of overlapping each other. Eek, too deep!

  2. I like the listing thing too! :D

    Let's see... some of those questions are answered in the book, and others aren't. The ability to do magic is genetic, Rowling has said in interviews; she says that Muggle-borns like Hermione and Lily would have had a magical ancestor way on back, and the gene just cropped up again. Hogwarts is in Scotland, though I don't think she's ever specified where, but later on, the fact that Muggles don't come wandering in all the time will be explained.

    Masha answered the wand question exactly as I would've, only with more information. :) And Masha, I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts on the racism! I really liked the way she handled it... it seemed complex and both-sided and difficult to resolve individually and collectively, just like real racism... but I'm open to being told I'm flat-out wrong.

    I like that parallel dimension question... it sounds so sci-fi! The reasoning behind most of Rowling's magic seems to be "Because they can, because this is the stuff of fairy tales, only all spoofed up," but one could argue that the way things are hidden from Muggle eyes has a dimensional element.

    Gosh, you can write stupendous endings to blog-posts. :) This is one of my favorites. I love the whole last two paragraphs--just love them. That "Who are you? And, more importantly, who does that make me?"--those are questions the reader asks along with Harry, all the way through all seven books, and that's a lot of what makes the story so fantastic in my opinion. Great stuff!!

    Oh: LOL on the knickerbocker glory! And I'm definitely making those pumpkin pasties. Only better. Just wait. :D

  3. OMG, 'diagonally'! *head explodes*

    The thing about wizard money opens up a whole can of worms for me, especially when you see how dysfunctional some wizards are in the muggle world - like where do they go to buy food? Are there wizard supermarkets all over the country? As for moral issues...I'm sure I can moan about them later on ;)

    I think Rowling gives enough to make the world feel lifelike, but in doing so you start to wonder about all the other things that should be present in such a real place (this, for me, is epitomised by Hermione's attempts to start a welfare group in book 5 - I'm not going to give any more away, but I got the impression she was taking an idea from muggle society and trying to inject it into the wizarding one...but why charities/support groups wouldn't already exist is beyond me. You'd think Harry would need one after being plagued by owls, outed by a giant, handed a wand and shoved through a solid wall to go to magic school. Oh, and being told his parents were murdered by the most evil wizard ever.)

    I imagine Rowling has confirmed it somewhere, but based on time on train and landscape, Hogwarts is somewhere in Scotland. I don't know if its explained in this book, but muggles can't see it because of 'protective magic'.

    Your final point is poignant - its made me realise that at this point in his life, Harry is learning more about his relationship with his nemesis than with his parents; it must be pretty daunting to try and place your self, history and heritage with evil as a centre point.

    1. Thank you for making me not the only person to not catch "Diagon Alley" for what it was right away. In fact, I don't think I got it 'til the movie. "{SPOILER} of {SPOILER}" though (chapter 12) I was all over ;).
      -The Neglected Husband

  4. A present for you~




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