Happy Harry Potter Day! Which is what I have officially dubbed every Friday from now through the end of
The book opens on Privet Drive with a chapter that is entertaining and I love but that could probably be done away with entirely. In this chapter that really should have been a prologue, we don't learn much that isn't repeated later on in the book - the Durselys are awful, Dumbledore twinkles, McGonagall is stern, some dude named Voldemort may or may not have died. We do get a bit of foreshadowing, but I think this distracting introductory chapter tends to undermine the power of the second chapter, which is where the story really starts. What is noteworthy there is that Harry Potter's story starts on his cousin Dudley's birthday. We see, rather than just being told, that Harry's story has not been his own - he has been living in the shadow of a bullying cousin.
But then he gets a letter, and then a few more letters, and then a giant breaks down the door, conveniently interrupting Uncle Vernon's psychotic break, and gives him a letter that says he's a wizard and it's all Chocolate Frogs and Fizzing Whizbees from there on out. He gets placed in Gryffindor, which is clearly meant to be the best house, so that means that he's strong and brave and chivalrous and loyal.
|Just pick one up off the floor and run, you moron. Thought that does look like fun.|
Side note: Pottermore placed me into Gryffindor too, which is ridiculous. I am not at all brave. I am polite and faithful, but I think that fits me better in Hufflepuff, and I get good grades and like logic puzzles, which fits me better into Ravenclaw, but anyway. The Sorting Hat must know something about my 25-year old self of which I am as of yet unaware. Maybe I'm an even later bloomer than Neville.
It amazes me how much foreshadowing Rowling shoves into these chapters and not just for this book, but for the whole series. I wonder whether it was intentional or in later books she went back and found random things she said and decided to turn them into something bigger. We learn that Harry can talk to snakes, we hear about Sirius and his motorbike for the first time, we see that of all the Weasleys, Harry's attention is caught primarily by Ginny. AND MORE, but I can't remember it all - what foreshadowing did you all notice?
And then there's all the prejudice, and not just from Malfoy. It seems like people are queuing up to say how awful Muggles are. Even Ron, son of a world-renowned Muggle-lover, states that he has a cousin who is an accountant, but they don't talk about him. (Side note: if Ron know what an accountant is, how is he so vastly stupid about Muggle life? And couldn't wizards use accountants too? Or do goblins just do double duty? And do wizards pay taxes? Is that how they pay for Hogwarts, because nobody ever presents Harry with a tuition bill. Or do they just take it directly out of his vault without telling him? And how is that okay?) Muggles are presented from every angle as morons barely capable of tying their own shoes but hey, at least we're not sitting around in drafty castles when there's central heating to be had!
The vast majority of this book is exposition, done in various ways. Harry Potter-ville is a new world, so Rowling must tell us about it, and uses the convenient device of a character who, like the reader, knows nothing about it. We see through Harry's eyes and he asks our questions for us. How lucky. I actually don't mind the exposition, though many other readers have complained about it. Because Harry is totally clueless, the long, drawn-out conversations make sense. And I enjoy the whimsical narration - it makes me chuckle, so I don't mind it being right in my face.
Of course, I think that sometimes Rowling gets a little too whimsical. Some things seem to be intended to be merely amusing without having the substance needed to really work. Let's take the system of money, for example. Currency is a pretty important element of world-building, yes? And Rowling seems to realize that, so she creates knuts, sickles, and galleons, which have the following exchanges:
29 knuts = 1 sickle, and
17 sickles = 1 galleon, so therefore...
493 knuts = 1 galleon
Rowling probably should have ventured to do these simple calculations, because can you imagine how ridiculous it would be to make change? Say something costs a galleon or up and you only have a handful of sickles and a whole bunch of knuts in your money bag? You're going to be counting that out forever and you'll probably get kicked out of the store. Maybe you could use the accio charm to do it faster but oh wait you haven't learned that charm yet!
All this to say that as ridiculous as the Harry Potter series is, it is still unfailingly excellent.
The Master Post
My Intro Post
My original review