Tuesday, May 14, 2013

HPP: Setting, and Settling into the Story

Last week, Jenna shared a recipe for Knickerbocker Glory and some thoughts on half-hidden plot details that will only fully emerge into the light in the last books, while Masha gave us some insight into the famous naming taboo and how it functions in real societies versus its depiction in Harry Potter.  I encourage anyone who has read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or anyone currently reading along with us to click over and read through and join the discussions!

I've got lots of reflections, some of which were quite hard to put to words for this post, as I finish typing and reading by candlelight.  That will be dealt with presently.  First, however, your weekly treat:

aprikose_fanart of dA, The Boy Who Lived

The Harry Potter Book Club Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Playlist

Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived
Sulfjan Stevens' Coventry Carol 
Chapter 2:  The Vanishing Glass
the lullaby from the movie Pan's Labyrinth 
Chapter 3:  The Letters from No One
Harry Potter movie theme song a.k.a. Hedwig's Theme 
Chapter 4:  The Keeper of the Keys
Touch the Sky from the movie Brave 
Chapter 5:  Diagon Alley
Yael Naim's New Soul 
Chapter 6:  The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-quarters
Elements by Lindsey Stirling 
Chapter 7:  The Sorting Hat
Ministry of Magic's House Song(do yourself a favor and watch the video on this one!) 
Chapter 8:  The Potions Master
Pan's Labyrinth music box lullaby 
Chapter 9:  The Midnight Duel
Danuvius by Audiomachine 
Chapter 10:  Halloween
Rhythm of Life 
Chapter 11:  Quidditch
Florence + the Machine's Breath of Life 
Chapter 12:  The Mirror of Erised
Dante's Prayer by Loreena Mckennit 
Chapter 13:  Nicolas Flamel
Idumea by Sulfjan Stevens 
Chapter 14:  Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback
Taylor Swift's Mean 
Chapter 15:
The Forbidden Forest
The Mummer's Dance by Loreena Mckennit 
Chapter 16:  Through the Trapdoor
Aisling's song from The Secret of Kells, a.k.a. Pangur Ban 
Chapter 17:  The Man with Two Faces
Leaving Hogwarts

Or find all of the above plus some on my Youtube playlist.

What stood out to me most strongly in the following chapters after the introductory one is perhaps something that slips under most casual readers' radar . . . if so, I can't say why it was so potent to me.  Am I a sensitive reader or an over-thinking one?  But the recurring theme of chapters two and three is nothing short of a Cinderella tale, a boy-who-in-reality-is-a-prince adopted by relatives and treated as a servant in his own house.  Let us put it this way; if the outline of the chapters were reported on the evening news, it would go something like this:

Eleven-year-old boy discovered to have suffered years of neglect and emotional abuse under the care of his guardians and relatives.

The utter horribleness of Harry's situation is blunted by Rowling's casual tone, and I find myself in a place between admiration and bafflement at Harry's perseverance; true, he's taken on a survival-of-the-fittest type of attitude, getting what he can when he can, but as far as situations go, it couldn't have been much worse for him and he couldn't have come out better.

aprikose_fanart of dA, The Vanishing Glass

So there's an untouchable purity in Harry and a spark of hope that has somehow gone to seed and grown despite the scraggly soil in which it has been planted.  I daresay the best of us would have turned out much worse.  I don't know if this was an oversight on the author's part or a deliberate choice; if the latter, she hasn't yet revealed to us the exact character strengths that went toward this unlikely preservation of innocence.  When the letters come--at first in two's, then clumps, then showers and avalanches of mail--this reader was more than ready for something lightheartedly extraordinary to counteract the tragedy.

The other theme, as it were, that stood out secondarily, was the timelessness of the setting.  Though we know it must take place at least in the 90's because of mention of video games and VCR's; Rowling's description of Dudley's Smelting uniform and accompanying stick; the colloquial Knickerbocker Glory ice cream dessert; and general portrayal of English suburban living hails back to early 20th century Britain.  All references to current events, pop culture, fashions, and trends are deliberately absent, and this I find very fitting and wholly satisfying.  It allows for further suspension of disbelief for the events that are about to occur and also claims solidarity for itself with other children's classics literature, like The Phantom Tollbooth and Narnia.  I mean, children fifty years from now can be reading Harry Potter and not find the story "dated."

aprikose_fanart of dA, The Letters from No One

Jenna mentions the subtle but significant difference in Petunia's and Vernon's reactions to Hagrid and his disclosure that Harry is a wizard in Chapter 4.  When reading this part, I felt a twinge of pity for Aunt Petunia:

". . . I was the only one who saw her for what she was--a freak!  But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!" 
She stopped to draw a deep breath and then went ranting on.  It seemed she had been wanting to say all this for years.

Emphasis mine.  I'm making no excuses for the blatant abuse of the child in her care.  But I can sympathize with a woman who seems to have been overshadowed by a "gifted" sister, praised by her parents in the presence of the other child who had no way of comparing.  At least, that is one way of interpreting her rant.  I wonder if this observation isn't a sign of a continued nit-pick between myself and the Harry Potter books, about the seeming elevation of the wizarding types against normal human beings.  That remains to be seen.



  1. Timelessness..Yes! I know what you mean. I does give a sense of being only lightly connected to any particular time..though the place is very firmly decided. It really MUST be England.

    I pity Petunia as well. I want her to have the chance to grow to develop, to leave the resentment behind and be a soothing presence to delight in. I want her not to be negatively compared to her sister in Harry's life and in the reader's mind..I don't like her, but I want to grow into an affection.

    I want to say more, but my car is all repaired and I have to pick it up! Later..<3

  2. There is an exact date for these events, but I appreciate the sense of timelessness! Rowling did take great care with that, and the story's just so much more readable for it. Fantastic point! I hadn't really thought about it before.

    Haha, Masha and I were just talking about Aunt P. in my combox! I sympathize with that side of her so much it's scary... my next-younger sister was always tougher and louder and more noticeable and better at getting her own way when we were kids, and it took me till adulthood to stop resenting that. Petunia could've done a lot more for the story than she did, even--perhaps especially--in those ten years offscreen... I understand Rowling's choice of the Cruel Relative archetype, but I would have loved a Petunia who showed the full power of Muggle love and greatness.

    That Ministry of Magic video is SUCH a crackup. They and their friends clearly had all kinds of fun with it. :D

    1. P.S. I LOVE the songs you assigned to chapters. Just got chills pairing McKennitt's "Dante's Prayer" with The Mirror of Erised.

    2. Glad you like it! I put a lot of thought into the pairings, hope they turn out okay (some of the chapters are murky in my memory).

  3. The sense of timelessness is something I simply LOVE about the series. Even though I know there are exact dates to the events in the novels I still get a bit taken aback when people actually refer to them. I tend to find modernity in any fantasy novel kind of distracting (though I don't know if this is my own natural preference or if it's because I grew up reading Tolkien and Rowling). And it's strange too, because in Harry Potter there's a sense of timelessness and placelessness (there's is an obvious word here that my brain is forgetting), but there are also strong hints of other places and times throughout the series: Hogwarts itself is steeped in the middle ages and there is a whole wizard history to accompany our 'muggle history' (witch burnings), not to mention Kings Cross, a very real place in London. I just think its all done so subtly.

  4. Really interesting to see the reactions from people who didn't grow up here - for me, relating it to my time and place made it all seem so real. Kings Cross, London Zoo, Surrey - I'd been to all of these places, and the magic felt all the more tangible because of that for little me. (I compare this to a a children's fantasy book I'm reading now where the magic starts in Portland, and I find it much harder to connect until the main character takes the story into the woods - a fantasy arena where all readers are on an even playing field, like when Harry gets to Diagon Alley. Somewhere no one knows, and the wonder is equal for all.)

    Great point about Petunia - my sympathy for her grows massively throughout the series, but at this point in time I don't think her behaviour could be excused - she treated Harry and Dudley the same way her parents treated her and Lily, with a blatant favourite.

    Can't wait to listen to the music! xx

    1. Americans have an inexplicable habit of placing anything-that-happened-in-olden-days in an English setting, so I think that definitely contributes. Culturally, we owe so much to GB, that it's hard not to look at her like a mother or much elder sibling. So when you get things like tea-time, actively used train stations, and post through a slot in the door (rather than a mailbox) it speaks "idyllic era" to us. I get a sense of the early reign of Queen Elizabeth the younger, which I, at least, identify with the tone of my favorite fantasies. Hence Masha's point about why it has to be in England! It's just that England itself is kind of archetypal.

      Though even for someone familiar with living in Britain, Rowling's lack of anchoring details makes it easy for it to float just out of time. I think the early movies did exceptionally well in portraying this--the Dursleys' house wasn't modern or fashionable, the children weren't dressed in trendy clothes, and there was no television shows or popular music to speak of.

      Good feedback about Petunia; I hope to see more of the relationship between her in Lily later in the series.

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