Masha and Jenna, with the help of other erudites, have delved into some great discussion about Harry Potter criticisms--and there's so much going on there that I'm going to lump my response to all that together in a later, more specialized post.
Chapter 13 picks up pace after the Christmas holiday; in this chapter the vein of friendship runs strong and clear. The loyalty of Gryffindor friends is unwavering, almost to a fault. So much so that they take on their friends' enemies, without question. I can't blame them. I remember those fierce, pure adolescent friendships; in those days, friendship, like young love, your first crush, is potent--animal and instinctive--they are kind of friendships that are because, well, one day you decided to be friends, and you've never looked back. Those're the kind of friendships emerging in Harry Potter so far; free of complication, moral grey areas, and adult caveats. It's an incredible source of strength in the novel(s), craft-wise and character-wise.
|ullakko of dA, Homework, source|
A word about Neville: courage is the dominant trait of Gryffindor, and while there has been a lot of reckless wandering-around-dangerous-places-at-night, disobeying elders, and standing up to bullies, the purest form of courage I've seen so far is from Neville. It is exactly his lack of chutzpah that make his actions so courageous: standing up to Malfoy, holding his own against Crabbe and Goyle, and risking detention and loss of life (we all know which Hermione would find the more horrifying!) to warn his friends of a dirty trick. Neville may be the bravest character I have yet to encounter in Harry Potter.
The themes of courage and friendship continue strong into Chapter 14, with Hermione and Harry risking a great deal to get Norbert somewhere safe, in order to keep Hagrid's job safe. And yeah, it's funny that a lot of the loyalty-and-friendship is tested by means of rule-breaking and into-trouble-getting. I'll have to think more on that a bit and wonder why that's the case. It may be as simple an answer as it moves the plot forward and makes for some exciting reading.
|RavenclawRadiance of dA, Hagrid's Hut, source|
After the very important disclosure of Nicholas Flamel, the sub-plots of Quidditch Cup, Operation Dragon Escape, and bucking horns with Slytherin are good ways to ease the tension before the steep build-up to the finale. It makes the revelations in Chapter 15 that much more rich.
Quirrell seems to have given in to Whomever is pressuring him to attempt getting past Fluffy. Then, entering the Forbidden Forest, a glimmer of the silvery-blue unicorn blood sets the mood, approaching the genre of horror. The vampiric creature, sucking the magical blood of the sacred unicorn, is a clear inversion (at least to this Catholic) of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Its skin-crawling, bug-creeping, weird-out, sinisterness amps up the Serious in swift, breathless strides.
|Martin TenBones of dA, Mars is Bright Tonight, source|
The centaurs who, while harmless in themselves, act as harbingers of doom. This aspect of the stars is often over-looked in modern storytelling, their portents and omens, their steely fixed paths and merciless cold light. It's interesting that this is how the centaurs chose to see them. Masha verbally pins down this reading experience:
So what accounts for the disinterest of the centaurs regarding innocent suffering? I suppose it could be the tendency continual involvement in divination often brings: to see the present only as it relates to the future. To be farsighted, in the sense of being blind to everything immediate. Living in potentialities and portents can be as debilitating as living wrapped in memories, mourning for what has past. With the mirror, we saw Harry tempted by the latter - by visions of loved ones dead and gone; with the centaurs we see a similar failure to live as they spend their time waiting for what may or may not be. It’s an interesting pairing. . .
And I'm back at the beginning on Privet Drive, with Dumbledore and McGonagal and the Boy Who Lived.
It's the potential for great loss that makes what we have so precious. The knowledge that at any moment, apart from anything we do or say, all that is good can be taken away from us. We need that precarious balance. Without it, life would be mundane, and Harry Potter would not make the profound impact it has on readers over the decades. No one could rally behind a hero who stood a good chance of survival in the face of impossibly strong evil. I couldn't care as much as I do that Harry lives (and did live!) now that I know that he is set against the very stars.
|marikaart of dA, Through the bright day, source|
Firenze knows. I know he knows when he says, "Do you not see that unicorn? . . . I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must."
Jenna illuminates further:
Firenze explains: "...it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn... Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips."
This paragraph sets up the—if you'll pardon the wordplay—crux of the entire Potter saga. The conflict on which the whole story turns is this conflict between defenseless innocence and selfishness taken all the way to monstrosity.
Innocence against selfishness, weakness against power, the loss of everything worthy against the terrible upper hand of someone with nothing to lose . . . to see these things triumph against all odds and common sense is food for the human soul, one the very things for which we read--beginning with Odysseus's ten-year struggle to journey home and onward. I'll leave the last word to the clear simplicity of a children's book, one of the greats:
"That's why," said Azaz, "there was one very important thing about your quest that we couldn't discuss until you returned.
"I remember," said Milo eagerly. "Tell me now."
"It was impossible. . ."