Mr. Weasley's fascination with Muggles is meant to be humorous. We, the readers, shake our heads at him with affection and say, "Silly Arthur, don't you know, it's you who are the fascinating ones?" But I'm a stubborn advocate of the magic of ordinary; though I know it's exactly the opposite I'm supposed to take away, I wholeheartedly concur with his conclusions:
"Fascinating!" he would say as Harry talked him through using a telephone. "Ingenious, really, how many ways Muggles have found for getting along without magic."
Here, here, sir!
And aren't we, though? It's something that irks me about wizards' attitudes toward Muggles. At least one sensible wizard recognizes our resilience, vision, and resourcefulness as a race. There's an opportunity here to bring a touch of magic to readres' lives, by helping us view them through the admiration of an outsider. I hope to see more on that.
|by reallycorking, To Freedom|
Meanwhile, we re-visit Diagon Alley, one of the pleasures of the first book. To see how the wizarding world works outside of Hogwarts. Harry, unaccustomed to using Floo powder, gets off one fireplace too early and steps into Knockturn Alley, a section off of Diagon devoted to the Dark Arts.* (As a folktale enthusiast, I appreciated the Hand of Glory cameo.)
Malfoy the elder and son are poking about on suspicious business, so Harry must hide. For the first time we hear Voldemort referred to as The Dark Lord, by Lucius. Not very convincing if his family were supposed to have been controlled by Voldemort against their wills. Harry barely escapes being caught. He is then scooped up by Hagrid, who is "lookin' fer a Flesh-Eatin' Slug Repellent." Hagrid leads Harry down the road and out into the more wholesomely quirky Diagon Alley.
Among other things (entangling mysteries and further plot and character developments in this part abound), I'm surprised that the Dark Arts are so easily accessible. In The Sorcerer's Stone, I got the impression that such things were outlawed, and that black magic had to operate in secret under the benevolent law of the Ministry of Magic. But shady is not illegal, and the presence of Knockturn Alley bugs me like an itch. Just what is the consensus regarding the Dark Arts in the wizarding world? There doesn't seem to be the moral authority to proclaim them universally Wrong and banish their practice; only a general sense of wrongness and a distaste for those who have an affinity for it.
I was glad to see Hermione's parents and was curious as to why they didn't get much "screen time." At that point it would have been tedious to introduce and flesh out two new characters, but we might have got a bit of dialogue, or even a gesture--a nodding of the head, a raising of the eyebrow--other than a passive description of general nervousness at the situation in which they find themselves. I want to know how two decent people previously ignorant of an entire parallel society living among them react to the sudden revelation that There Is Such a Thing as Magic. Oh, and Your Daughter's a Witch.**
|Heather Campbell, Weasleys meet the Grangers, source|
Gilderoy Lockhart and his swooning female fans--Mrs. Weasley among them--are in good fun. They further convince me that the foundational backdrop of the Harry Potter story is meant to be a parody--a kind of cultural stereotype upon which to unfold an entertaining plot and unpack and examine deeper, more significant questions.
As Masha and Jenna noted, Harry's kindness to Ginny is a sweet moment. I enjoyed seeing Ginny step out of two dimensions as a character. Her introduction is well-handled.
|by glocgal, Arthur vs. Lucius|
Ron and Harry's mad adventure is typical boyish mischief, just the sort of thing I can see my son doing (and my husband, at that age). Parental formation might deter irresponsible choices, but some children are just willful and insist to learn through deviation! I felt a great deal of satisfaction at events not turning out how they expected, in both a motherly I-told-you-so way and a makes-for-a-more-interesting-read sort of way. Though some of that was lost when they did indeed end up winning the admiration of their peers, as they had planned.
At this point it can be called a recurring circumstance: the absence of any real negative consequence for the protagonists' actions. I don't like it, for two reasons:
- It's unrealistic. Which could be overlooked using suspension of disbelief, perhaps, if not for the fact that
- It's weak storytelling. One of the more annoying circumstances surrounding a Mary Sue is that everyone, except for the obvious Bad Guys, are on the side of the protagonists and don't fault them for doing bad things with innocent intentions.
A third reason could be listed, and that is morality. What kind of message is communicated to young people, if their heroes are never given more than a slap on the wrist for seriously poor choices? For putting the lives of themselves and others in danger? But I'm not sure if I'm comfortable including that as a literary failing since I don't believe stories ought to be didactic. Of course, we're still early in the series, so we have yet to see if Harry and co. incur any significant consequences for misdeeds, intended or no.
Or is it telling that the chapter ends with the final words "Harry couldn't help it. He grinned, too"?
* Knockturn Alley, huh?--i see whut u did thar
** We've touched on this before in combox discussion, but it's another book element I'd like to examine further: the use the word witch for a female wizard. The two have very different connotations and bring up questions of gendered language.