So, this collection is kind of awesome. Everything from the introduction introducing these tales to Muggle readers to Dumbledore's annotations to the stories themselves is a lot of fun. I really enjoyed how JKR incorporates references to other texts in Harry Potter world, like Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them and even Magick Moste Evile, which, if I remember correctly, Hermione stumbled across in the library at some point. Speaking of Hermione, she supposedly translated this collection, so we get some details about what at least one character did after Hogwarts, and in a much more satisfying context than JKR saying so in some interview. We also get explanations of other details from the series - at one point, Dumbly explains in a footnote about Professor Kettleburn, the former magical creatures professor mentioned in Prisoner of Azkaban, who retired mysteriously to enjoy his remaining limbs.
These stories also do a lot more world-building than the actual series - instead of just action and Harry growing up, we get some history of the wizarding world beyond vague mentions of bloody goblin wars, and some understanding of wizards' anti-Muggle sentiment. We even see how the Malfoys got to be so awful (mostly because they were always awful). Well done, JKR. And now, my comments on each story...
"The Wizard and the Hopping Pot": This was excellent. A pot clattering around on its own foot to shame some douchey wizard? Fantastic. We could all use one of those. I enjoyed the moral ambiguity - is there a difference between doing nice things for the sake of doing nice things and doing nice things just to shut up a stupid piece of crockery? And also, did the saint-like dad set the spell on the pot or was he guilted into his good deeds in the same way? I especially appreciated Dumbly's annotation about Beatrix Bloxam's adaptation of this tale into something sugary sweet, in much the same way that many of Grimm's fairy tales have been transformed from bloody horrors into happy little stories about passive girl-women meeting Prince Charming and ugh. Vomit and retching ensue.
"The Fountain of Fair Fortune": EVERYONE GETS WHAT THEY WANT AND THERE WAS NOTHING MAGIC ABOUT IT AT ALL . Good intentions, guys, it's all about good intentions and being true to yourself. THIS is how I wanted Felix Felicis to work - through giving the confidence to achieve your desire, rather than a magical solution, which is so much less satisfying. And seriously, what a good lesson for kids, Muggle or otherwise. Also, in this story, love is ONE way for a woman to find happiness, but not the only option - business success and good health are equally viable options. Yay, feminism!
"The Warlock's Hairy Heart": Eugh. This was rather gross and seems like it could be a Grimm's fairy tale. While the above two I could totally imagine reading to my kids, I think I'd save this for when they're older because yuck and nightmares and also rape. BUT there are thematic tie-ins to the series, which is awesome. The Dark Arts are anti-love, e.g., the reason that Harry didn't turn into another Voldemort, so that's awesome and also maybe this story explains a bit about where Dumbly got his beliefs about love? Totally random, but we get a definition of "warlock" in the annotations, which I really appreciated. I always thought a warlock was like an old, crusty wizard, but it turns out that it's actually a wizard learned in dueling and all martial magic (56). So that's not at all the same and will make me see the random warlocks that Harry comes across in bars very differently.
"Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump": Ha, this lady's awesome and Muggles are kind of the worst. I'd be annoyed by that latter bit, but considering our historical real-life pursuit of so-called witches, this isn't so far off the mark and goes a long way in explaining why the magical folk in Harry Potter-world are all in hiding. Dumbly connects Babbity Rabbity, an Animagus who takes the form of a rabbit, to Lisette de Lapin, lapin being French for hare or, in some contexts, rabbit (technically, petit-lapin or little hare, means rabbit) and that makes me happy even though, as ever, the naming is unlikely and overly convenient (see: Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and probably some others I can't think of right now).
"The Tale of the Three Brothers": A powerful wand, a way to bring back the dead, or the ultimate defense? Which would you choose? I'm sure we'll get into this more over the next four weeks, but I think that this is an interesting way to build on the Voldemort~Snape~Harry triangle, because it's pretty clear which one each would choose (though Harry has his moments of doubt). I appreciated Dumbly's speculation on wand lore, which suggests that it's the wand's old age and use by many powerful wizards that makes it so powerful, because it absorbed their knowledge and talent, rather than some inherent superiority within itself. This further builds on the discussions about it in Deathly Hallows and, I think, is a pretty reasonable explanation. Also, this would mean that magic has limits and isn't pure - it's about the person who casts the magic just as much as the capabilities of the magic itself. And this: No witch has ever claimed to own the Elder Wand. Make of that what you will (106). GENDERED EXPECTATIONS, THAT'S THE ANSWER, I'VE FIGURED IT OUT.
Oh, and Dumbly was totally snarky and impressed by his own cleverness in this book, which was slightly obnoxious but mostly just hilarious. See you next week for the first part of Deathly Hallows!