Friday, January 11, 2013

Sorcerer's Stone ~ First Post


Happy Harry Potter Day!  Which is what I have officially dubbed every Friday from now through the end of time June, maybe.  Hello, fellow Harry Potter Readalongers and people who clearly wish they were Harry Potter readalongers!  The readalong is truly upon us now!  For this week, we read the first half of Sorcerer's Stone, up through "The Midnight Duel," better known as "All the Ways in Which Draco Malfoy is a Terrible Person."  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

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.

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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.

Relevant Links:
The Master Post
My Intro Post
My original review

25 comments:

  1. I *never* thought about tuition, and yet was puzzled by their toilet situation...that's clear insight into how warped my head is!

    Maybe when Harry's parents put his name down for Hogwarts they paid tuition up front? Also, this fits neatly into Alice's 'how tiny are Hogwarts classes' point in her point.

    And just to make this a crazy long comment, when Sirius is introduced in #3 I nearly screamed- I think that's when the whole 'JK Rowling had so much of this figured out' thing clicked in my brain.

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  2. Oddly enough, I went off on the currency, too. There are so many things right with the series and I love it enough to be confident enough to go off on all of the wrong and/or inconsistent things, too.

    I think Ron is at his most tolerable in this book. In later books he really makes me want to slap him but not in PS/SS.

    And Dumbledore--I want to shake him and I want to genuflect, all at once.

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    1. Ugh, yes, Ron is the worst. At least in this book he still has value in revealing stuff about the wizarding world. In later books, Hermione's got it covered.

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    2. Nooooo! Ron is great and misunderstood and I will fight for his honour!

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  3. "and it's all Chocolate Frogs and Fizzing Whizbees from there on out." LOVED this.

    I try not to think too hard about the toilet thing that Kayleigh mentioned, or the currency thing. Because that would undermine the perfection of the series. I just tell myself 'I'm sure J.K. has this all figured out and just didn't want to put all those details explaining it in the book for FLOW.'

    Hufflepuff is the best house.

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    1. I can tear the series apart and I still love it. Both of which I intend to do for the next several months.

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  4. Hooray for weekly Harry Potter day!

    "the Durselys are awful, Dumbledore twinkles, McGonagall is stern" I love this especially "Dumbledore twinkles" because that's probably the best description of him.

    I know this is cynical, but I sorta feel like Rowling may have had an idea of how the later books would go, but she sort of retrofitted some ideas to fit things mentioned in the early books. Some things work SO WELL and others are awk.

    "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!" RIGHT? I mean everyone seems to be really patronizing to Muggles but I don't have to use an owl if I want to send a letter (or you know an email) to someone. Wizards are totally letting their prejudices get in the way of taking advantage of awesome Muggle technology.

    I thought the same thing about the money. I was like "this sure seems like a lot of work to figure out. Wizards couldn't just operate on a deci system?"

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    1. I mean...it was probably REALLY OLD, like us and our feet/inches thing, which I'll admit is a stupid system of measurement, but it is OURS and we GET IT, so no metric for us, thank you very much.

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    2. Yeah, would you ever bother using anything other than Galleons? Maybe they have wizarding credit cards now which lightens the bizarre currency load.

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    3. I'd hope so. Cos I figure wizards need to use money far more often than they need to measure things. Cos our measurement system is SO STUPID even if I can't figure out the metric system to save my life...

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  5. And then Harry gets, like, 50p from the Dursleys for Christmas and Ron is like, So THAT'S what money is, how hilarious! And I am all YOU PEOPLE HAVE MONEY WHERE WAS YOUR COPY EDITOR ON THIS JK? Unless their sickles are sickle-shaped and their knuts are...nope. That is no longer a theory.

    Good catch on the pick-a-letter-up-off-the-floor-seriously-Harry.

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    1. Oh god, I'm laughing so hard I'm crying.

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  6. I have never thought about the problems you guys are bringing up: currency, taxes, plumbing etc. I'm loving thinking about all these things, but I've gotta say, I feel like there's no way anything's an accident.

    Like, maybe the currency system is so messed up because it made sense way back when the first wizard or witch organized it, and then they're so tradition-reliant that they never changed it. So all the weird things are commenting on the wizarding world, rather than showing flaws in JKR's writing.

    Basically, I'd take any crazy, roundabout explanation over any kind of failing in the books. JKR doing something wrong does not compute in my brain.

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  7. I have so been thinking of Friday as Harry Potter day! I mean, it's already my favourite day of the week for obvious reasons, but now it's EVEN BETTER!

    DO they even have to pay tuition to go to Hogwarts? I kind of assumed (I guess... I don't know how much I've thought about it!) that it's like a privilege thing and so when you're invited because you're all talented that's pretty much it. But perhaps I am wrong!

    I enjoy how you point out all the things that are kiiiind of wrong with HP and then end with calling it excellent. DAMN straight, missy! :)

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    1. Maybe you don't have to pay tuition to Hogwarts cos otherwise how could the Weasleys afford to send all 7 of their kids? Except then where does all of Hogwarts' funding coming from?

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  8. "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?"

    So many excellent questions, and I am ashamed to say not one of them ever occurred to me. Though I did think early on that Rowling's currency system is perfectly absurd and no one, not even wizards, would invent a system with that much wacko math required for even the simplest transaction. Unless they have spells that do math for them, in which case, maybe it wouldn't matter so much?

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    1. But that doesn't actually add logic to the system. What if you're Hagrid and aren't allowed to do spells?!

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    2. I like the idea of all wizards just using magic to figure out their currency. And overall the wizarding world does not look to kindly on non-wizarding folks (Muggles, squibs, house elves) so maybe they're just like "screw you Hagrid. Better get awesome at math so you can figure out our ridiculous currency."

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  9. Hmmm, the tax question is really bothering me now. I assume (based mostly on JKR's The Casual Vacancy) that she wouldn't want the wizarding world to be a bunch of tax-evaders, so they must pay taxes somehow... Maybe there's a whole department of Gringotts that deals with converting galleons to muggle checks and then magicking up the tax forms?

    SO MANY QUESTIONS.

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    1. Ooh, I wasn't even thinking about the Muggle taxes, I figured wizards must have their own. Can you imagine Lucius Malfoy's outrage if he had to pay taxes to both?!

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  10. Is the currency all weird because it goes by weight? Like 17 Sickles weigh as much as 1 Galleon, and so on? I think they mentioned some scales being used at Gringotts, and back in the day when gold and silver were more widely used weight is what mattered, so maybe the wizards are doing that old-school style.

    I kind of love the Prologue-ish 1st chapter, because there's a lot of mystery and oddness built in there. Like getting introduced to Dumbledore and Hagrid, hearing about this big baddie maybe dying, and seeing Harry as a little baby being left on a doorstep. I think it hooks me in more than the second chapter does.

    Yayyy for Harry Potter Day!

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  11. I'm kind of loving that everyone has read these books multiple times and can point out these nuance-y things and ask all these pressing questions about plumbing while I just sort of soak it all in. I am a sponge.

    Also, pooooor Uncle Vernon. He IS awful, but he kind of lost his marbles there in the sea shack. And do you think maybe he honestly thought he was doing the best thing for Harry by keeping him ignorant of his magical heritage? Not that he was overly concerned with what was best for Harry. OK, Uncle Vernon...I TRIED, but you're too horrible.

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  12. I didn't figure out the math at the time of reading, but something did not seem right about the currencies when I read that part! I wonder if JKR actually thought that only young children would read her books- not millions of children AND adults, so maybe she (and her editors) didn't think some of these things would be an "issue"...

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  13. Fridays are seriously the bestest now :)

    The beginning seems so slow as a re-read, but at the time, it was a perfect pace to set up Harry's depressing childhood and build up to the YER A WIZARD! moment.

    Love that gif, by the way - we were all yelling it when we saw those letters flying around, totally.

    I LOVE that you mentioned prejudice. It's rampant in this book - not just for muggles, but for accounts, for merlin's sake! jk, but seriously, there's prejudice even for slytherins. I'm sure that there are cunning, resourceful, driven, but well-meaning slytherins out there who are feeling all the hate.

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    1. I like the beginning, even though it is so long and slow. I find it very entertaining and a great lead-in to my beloved series. The series wouldn't be the same without it.

      It's kind of strange how everyone starts out kind of equally prejudiced and then as the series goes on, people like Ron become less so and people like Malfoy become more so. Rowling must feel very ambivalent towards muggles, lol!

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