Oh, wow, so it’s been a month since I read this. Good thing I’ve read it five billion times; my reactions are always fresh and ready to go! And also I took pictures of all the quotes I wanted to talk about. This review is not quite the 10,000 words as requested, but I suppose it will do. (I anticipate my review of Goblet of Fire to be monstrous.) I just needed to get this done before I started the next one on 4/1.
Ooh, also before I forget, if you like Harry Potter and you like podcasts, and you haven’t heard of it yet, I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Vanessa and Casper go chapter by chapter through the entire series, challenging themselves to treat the text as sacred, which in practice means trusting the text, empathizing with all the characters (all of them), paying close attention, and opening themselves to compassionate thinking. (More about it HERE.) They’re on Order of the Phoenix right now, but I’m still playing catch-up. I’ll be sad when I hit Half-Blood Prince in June and won’t have it to accompany me.
– – –
Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework, but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of the night. And he also happened to be a wizard.
I just love this opening. It perfectly downplays Harry’s “specialness”, and also highlights how he A) just wants to be a normal kid, and B) can appreciate things normal kids take for granted. Plus, it’s funny. What kid reading this opening wouldn’t laugh?
“St. Brutus’s,” said Uncle Vernon promptly. “It’s a first-rate institution for hopeless cases.”
“I see,” said Aunt Marge. “Do they use the cane at St. Brutus’s, boy?” she barked across the table.
“Er — ”
Uncle Vernon nodded curtly behind Aunt Marge’s back.
“Yes,” said Harry. Then, feeling he might as well do the thing properly, he added, “all the time.”
“Excellent,” said Aunt Marge, “I won’t have this namby-pamby, wishy-washy nonsense about not hitting people who deserve it. A good thrashing is what’s needed in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. Have you been beaten often?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Harry, “loads of times.”
Aunt Marge narrowed her eyes.
“I still don’t like your tone, boy,” she said. “If you can speak of your beatings in that casual way, they clearly aren’t hitting you hard enough. Petunia, I’d write if I were you. Make it clear that you approve the use of extreme force in this boy’s case.”
I really admire Harry’s can-do attitude here. This reminds me of the time when I was a kid and was so abjectly terrified of lightning and thunder and monsoons (when it stormed when I was at school I would quiver in a ball under my desk) my parents put me into therapy. The therapist tried to make a connection between my fear and child abuse. She asked me if my parents hit me, and I told her in a very unconcerned manner, “Oh yeah, they hit me all the time.” (My parents, being baby boomers, were occasional spankers.) I never went back to therapy again.
But a reckless rage had come over Harry. He kicked his trunk open, pulled out his wand, and pointed it at Uncle Vernon.
“She deserved it,” Harry said, breathing very fast. “She deserved what she got. You keep away from me.”
He fumbled behind him for the latch on the door.
“I’m going,” said Harry. “I’ve had enough.”
Oh, this is so cathartic. Harry has never stood up to the Dursleys before; he’s never had the bandwidth before, the emotional support, the power or the options. He knows he has real friends and family and a home to go to after he leaves, and as far as he’s concerned this is it, he’s never going back. That’s one part of it. The other is that this is our first indication of Harry’s temper, his anger that comes from the trauma he’s suffered. I’m sure I will be talking more about that at a later date.
“Who d’you reckon he is?” Ron hissed as they sat down and slid the door shut, taking the seats farthest away from the window.
“Professor R.J. Lupin,” whispered Hermione at once.
“How d’you know that?”
“It’s on his case,” she replied, pointing at the luggage rack over the man’s head, where there was a small, battered case held together with a large quantity of neatly knotted string. The name Professor R.J. Lupin was stamped across one corner in peeling letters.
All right, so I’m going to assume this wasn’t a mistake, but what was Professor Lupin professor of before he came to Hogwarts?? It’s an old case, “battered,” and yet it has his name and title on. Did he have a job in some foreign country where they paid him a pittance? (What was he even doing before he came to Hogwarts?) Did he buy an old case and then pay for it to be monogrammed?? That seems unlikely. I think my head canon is that he’s a sort of itinerant professor in faraway places, never able to hold down a job because of being a werewolf. He certainly has a talent for teaching; he must have had practice.
“You look in excellent health to me, Potter, so you will excuse me if I don’t let you off homework today. I assure you that if you die, you need not hand it in.”
The best part about this joke is that McGonagall is completely serious. (Also, her gruff no-nonsense attitude really makes him feel better.)
“I was hoping that Neville would assist me with the first stage of the operation,” he said, “and I am sure he will perform it admirably.”
So this is what I was talking about! Lupin is such a natural teacher. He knows how to reach his students and impart information, and he knows how to nurture them emotionally, as well. He can sense that Neville has potential that is frequently bullied and intimidated into hiding, and gives Neville the confidence to actually do well in a lesson. (And putting Snape in his grandmother’s clothes is fitting; she’s another person who bullies Neville, even if she’s doing it from a place of love.)
“Talking excitedly, the class left the staffroom. Harry, however, wasn’t feeling cheerful. Professor Lupin had deliberately stopped him from tackling the boggart. Why? Was it because he’d seen Harry collapse on the train, and thought he wasn’t up to much? Had he thought Harry would pass out again?”
And . . .
And then there were the dementors. Harry felt sick and humiliated every time he thought of them. Everyone said the dementors were horrible, but no one else collapsed every time they went near one. No one else heard echoes in their head of their dying parents. Because Harry knew who that screaming voice belonged to now. He had heard her words, heard them over and over again during the night hours in the hospital wing, staring at the strips of moonlight on the ceiling. When the dementors approached him, he heard the last moment’s of his mother’s life, her attempt to protect him, Harry, from Lord Voldemort . . .
And . . .
“It has nothing to do with weakness,” said Professor Lupin sharply, as though he had read Harry’s mind. “The dementors affect you worse than the others because there are horrors in your past that the others don’t have.”
This is a thread that runs throughout the book, and I was never quite able to appreciate it when I was younger. It was too subtle, I think, too adult of a lesson for a kid to even notice. The idea that that vulnerability is the same as weakness is culturally pervasive, and that people who show vulnerability are showing their brokenness. Harry believes that because he showed weakness–vulnerability–on the train, that nobody will believe he is strong, normal. He believes his passing out is indicative of a character flaw, and that the trauma he suffered that caused it, makes him weak. Malfoy and his sidekicks certainly don’t help with that notion. Not only that, but Harry is continually being re-traumatized by the flashes of memory he hears when the dementors come close. He hears his mother’s voice for the first time, but it’s as she’s about to die. That’s a whole other level of trauma. And trauma, as Lupin tells him, has absolutely nothing to do with your character.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
Did she know how good this was when she wrote it? I bet she did.
There were shelves upon shelves of the most succulent-looking sweets imaginable. Creamy chunks of nougat, shimmering pink squares of coconut ice, fat, honey-colored toffees; hundreds of different kinds of chocolate in neat rows; there was a large barrel of Every Flavor Beans, and another of Fizzing Whizzbees, the levitating sherbet balls that Ron had mentioned; along yet another wall were ‘Special Effects’ sweets: Droobles Best Blowing Gum (which filled a room with bluebell-colored bubbles that refused to pop for days), the strange, splintery Toothflossing Stringmints, tiny black Pepper Imps (‘breathe fire for your friends!’), Ice Mice (‘hear your teeth chatter and squeak!’), peppermint creams shaped like toads (‘hop realistically in the stomach!’), fragile sugar-spun quills and exploding bonbons.
Harry squeezed himself through a crowd of sixth-years and saw a sign hanging in the furthest corner of the shop (‘Unusual Tastes’). Ron and Hermione were standing underneath it, examining a tray of blood-flavored lollipops. Harry sneaked up behind them.
“Urgh, no, Harry won’t want one of those, they’re for vampires, I expect,” Hermione was saying.
“How about these?” said Ron, shoving a jar of Cockroach Cluster under Hermione’s nose.
“Definitely not,” said Harry.
Can we just talk about what kind of masochists with twisted senses of humor all these wizards are? They create candy that harms them or that makes them uncomfortable, and there is basically no other kind of wizard candy. Even Every Flavor Beans come with the risk of vomit or earwax flavor! AND WHY WOULD ANYONE CREATE A COCKROACH CLUSTER WHAT IS THE POINT I ASK YOU GOD.
“That’s Madam Rosmerta,” said Ron. “I’ll get the drinks, shall I?” he added, going slightly red.
Ron has an adorable age-inappropriate crush and it is such a good detail.
Why had nobody ever told him? Dumbledore, Hagrid, Mr. Weasley, Cornelius Fudge . . . why hadn’t anyone ever mentioned the fact that Harry’s parents had died because their best friend had betrayed them?
This hits Harry particularly hard, I think, because Ron and Hermione are basically his family at this point, his entire emotional support system. Friendship is almost sacred to Harry; it’s the thing that saved him. And to have somebody betray that is awful, but particularly so to Harry, who grew up without friends and is uniquely situated to appreciate the importance of true friendship. To him, violating that trust is nothing less than horrific.
“I’ll never know what they’d have wanted, because thanks to Black, I’ve never spoken to them.”
Here’s that anger again, this time paired with Sassy Harry. Sassy Harry and Angry Harry combined are pretty lethal. (I also enjoy him combating that thing where somebody presumes to know what a dead person would have wanted; sometimes it’s warranted, and sometimes it’s really, really not.)
“Yeh can’ really remember who yeh are after a while. An’ yeh can’ see the point o’ livin’ at all. I used ter hope I’d jus’ die in me sleep . . . when they let me out, it was like bein’ born again, ev’rythin’ came floodin’ back, it was the bes’ feelin’ in the world. Mind, the Dementors weren’t keen on lettin’ me go.”
“But you were innocent!” said Hermione.
“Think that matters to them? They don’ care. Long as they’ve got a couple o’ hundred humans stuck there with ’em, so they can leech all the happiness out of ’em, they don’ give a damn who’s guilty an’ who’s not.”
Hagrid went quiet for a moment, staring into his tea. Then he said quietly, “Thought o’ jus’ letting Buckbeak go . . . tryin’ ter make him fly away . . . but how d’yeh explain ter a Hippogriff it’s gotta go inter hidin’? An’ – an’ I’m scared o’ breakin’ the law . . .’ He looked up at them, tears leaking down his face again. “I don’ ever want ter go back ter Azkaban.”
Can we also just talk about why there are even Dementors guarding Azkaban at all? Whose bright idea was it back in the day, instead of killing any Dementor that could be found, to employ them instead, and pay them with the souls of imprisoned wizards (whose safety they have a responsibility to maintain, no matter their crimes). Whoever it was, if they were a modern-day muggle, they’d be the same sort of person who thinks it’s a good idea to turn prisons over to corporations.
“JORDAN! ARE YOU BEING PAID TO ADVERTISE FIREBOLTS? GET ON WITH THE COMMENTARY!”
I don’t know why I like these interjections between McGonagall and Lee Jordan so much. He’s constantly getting distracted and she’s constantly on him about it. It’s a nice bit, once which I’m sure Jo introduced to make it more fun to write Quidditch scenes, which she’s said she hated doing.
“Come on, Hermione, come and have some food,” Harry said, looking over at Ron and wondering whether he was in a good enough mood to bury the hatchet.
“I can’t, Harry. I’ve still got four hundred and twenty-two pages to read!” said Hermione, now sounding slightly hysterical. “Anyway. . . ” She glanced over at Ron too. “He doesn’t want me to join in. ”
There was no arguing with this, as Ron chose that moment to say loudly, “If Scabbers hadn’t just been eaten, he could have had some of those Fudge Flies. He used to really like them – ”
Hermione burst into tears. Before Harry could say or do anything, she tucked the enormous book under her arm, and, still sobbing, ran toward the staircase to the girls’ dormitories and out of sight.
“Can’t you give her a break?” Harry asked Ron quietly.
“No,” said Ron flatly. “If she just acted like she was sorry – but she’ll never admit she’s wrong, Hermione. She’s still acting like Scabbers has gone on vacation or something. “
I get where both of them are coming from, I really do, especially with Hermione being stretched so thin. But, if Scabbers had been an actual rat (one not capable of faking his down death), there would be no question what happened to him. I feel like I’m a little more on Ron’s side here. All he wants is her to acknowledge that her cat ate his rat, but she won’t. Later, of course, she does apologize, and I’m finding it really interesting to think about why she could do it then, but not here or before.
“How extraordinarily like your father you are, Potter,” Snape said suddenly, his eyes glinting. “He, too, was exceedingly arrogant. A small amount of talent on the Quidditch pitch made him think he was a cut above the rest of us, too. Strutting around the place with his friends and admirers . . . the resemblance between you is uncanny.”
“My dad didn’t strut,” said Harry, before he could stop himself. “And nor do I.”
“Your father didn’t set much store by rules, either. . . . Rules were for lesser mortals . . . . His head was so swollen—”
Harry was suddenly on his feet. Rage such as he had not felt since his last night in Privet Drive was thundering through him. He didn’t care that Snape’s face had gone rigid, the black eyes flashing dangerously.
“What did you say to me, Potter?”
“I told you to shut up about my dad!” Harry yelled. “I know the truth, all right? He saved your life! . . . You wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for my dad!”
I don’t know how to parse this scene without writing a 20,000 word dissertation. I was gonna try . . . but wow. The amount of baggage Snape is carrying around is astounding. Snape is not unintelligent, and Harry is not James. Far from it. We learn later that James Potter was “a toerag”, and that he grew out of it, but as alike as the look and their Quidditch talent aside, they don’t share much in common. Maybe they would have, if Harry would have grown up with his parents. Maybe he would have been a bit spoiled and bigheaded. But he’s not, at all. And the fact that Snape can’t see it speaks volumes about what kind of messed up nonsense is going on in Snape’s head.
“Why did Snape think I got it from the manufacturers?”
“Because . . . ,” Lupin hesitated, “because these mapmakers would have wanted to lure you out of school. They’d think it extremely entertaining.”
“Do you know them?” asked Harry, impressed.
“We’ve met,” he said shortly.
Lupin is so judgmental about his and the Marauders’ past actions. I don’t have the emotional energy right now to try and dissect that fully, but maybe it’s because he is so alone now, believing James and Peter to be dead, and Black to be a vicious, betraying murderer. Maybe this is really why he gives the map back to Harry at the end. He says it’s because he’s not his teacher anymore, but now he knows Sirius was innocent and he has his friend back (emotionally, if not in physical presence), he can look back at those days with fondness again.
“They can’t do this,” said Harry. “They can’t. Buckbeak isn’t dangerous.”
“Malfoy’s dad’s frightened the Committee into it,” said Hermione, wiping her eyes. “You know what he’s like. They’re a bunch of doddery old fools, and they were scared. There’ll be an appeal, though, there always is. Only I can’t see any hope . . . Nothing will have changed.”
“Yeah, it will,” said Ron fiercely. “You won’t have to do all the work alone this time, Hermione. I’ll help.”
Hermione flung her arms around Ron’s neck and broke down completely. Ron, looking quite terrified, patted her very awkwardly on the top of the head. Finally, Hermione drew away.
“Ron, I’m really, really sorry about Scabbers . . .” she sobbed.
“Oh – well – he was old,” said Ron, looking thoroughly relieved that she had let go of him. “And he was a bit useless. You never know, Mum and Dad might get me an owl now.”
Okay, so this is what I was talking about earlier. I think it might be Ron’s attitude. Hermione is a proud person, especially in the first few books, and that pride covers insecurities. She’s very talented and smart, and knows it, but she’s also used to being a know it all outcast with bushy hair and big front teeth. With Ron being upset and antagonistic, her instinct is to double down, hold up her walls and defend the fortress. But here, when he gives her an in and shows her compassion, she immediately apologizes about Scabbers, even though they hadn’t been talking about him. This is interesting to think about in terms of the major fights the Trio have over the years, because in later ones I am firmly on Hermione’s side, or Harry’s when its his turn in GOF.
“Hermione!” Ron said again, sounding both stunned and impressed.
“Harry, you’d better beat him in the Quidditch final!” Hermione said shrilly. “You just better had, because I can’t stand it if Slytherin wins!”
“We’re due in Charms,” said Ron, still goggling at Hermione.
And . . .
“Hermione, I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately!” said Ron, astounded. “First you hit Malfoy, then you walk out on Professor Trelawney – ”
Hermione looked rather flattered.
And an attraction is born. The seeds of their future romance are planted right here. Ron is so into girls who hit Malfoy in the face.
“It’s called a Time-Turner,” Hermione whispered, “and I got it from Professor McGonagall on our first day back. I’ve been using it all year to get to all my lessons. Professor McGonagall made me swear I wouldn’t tell anyone. She had to write all sorts of letters to the Ministry of Magic so I could have one. She had to tell them that I was a model student, and that I’d never, ever use it for anything except my studies . . . I’ve been turning it back so I could do hours over again, that’s how I’ve been doing several lessons at once, see?”
Hermione: The type of person who possesses a time-travel device and literally only uses it to do more homework.
Fudge, Snape, and Dumbledore came striding into the ward. Dumbledore alone looked calm. Indeed, he looked as though he was quite enjoying himself. Fudge appeared angry. But Snape was beside himself.
“OUT WITH IT, POTTER!” he bellowed. “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
“Professor Snape?” shrieked Madam Pomfrey. ” Control yourself!”
“See here, Snape, be reasonable,” said Fudge. “This door’s been locked, we just saw – ”
“THEY HELPED HIM ESCAPE, I KNOW IT!” Snape howled, pointing at Harry and Hermione. His face was twisted; spit was flying from his mouth.
“Calm down, man!” Fudge barked.
“YOU DON’T KNOW POTTER!” shrieked Snape. “HE DID IT, I KNOW HE DID IT –”
The thing about this is, he’s totally right . . . and so completely unhinged about it. Also, it’s gross that Snape wanted the Dementors to give Sirius the kiss. He’s a very vindictive, hateful person.
“Hang on, there’s a P.S. . . .”
I thought your friend Ron might like to keep this owl, as its my fault he no longer has a rat.
Ron’s eyes widened. The minute owl was still hooting excitedly.
“Keep him?” he said uncertainly. He looked closely at the owl for a moment; then, to Harry’s and Hermione’s great surprise, he held him out for Crookshanks to sniff.
“What d’you reckon?” Ron asked the cat. “Definitely an owl?”
Mostly including this because of how annoyed Ron gets at Pigwidgeon later, but we all know he really secretly loves him. And Ron can be thoughtful and sweet when he wants to. Offering him up to Crookshanks is sort of him apologizing back to Hermione for all the times he called Crookshanks a monster.
– – –
Literally starting Goblet of Fire as soon as I hit “Publish.” I’m not as satisfied with this one because I waited so long to write it. Writing the next one right away.
Also just realized I forgot to include the scene that makes my heart burst–when Harry asks Sirius if he has a house and can he come live with him–but that’s okay because forget a dissertation, I would have needed a novel to enumerate all my feelings.