4.29.2013

The Harry Potter Book Club

It's official!


Ladies and gentlemen, wizards and Muggles alike, my co-hostesses and I gladly welcome you to a thoughtful, playful, highly interactive read-through of all seven Harry Potter books, start to finish. We welcome you as fellow bloggers who want to write your own posts; we welcome you as fellow readers who are interested in following along and maybe commenting from time to time; we welcome you no matter what  your experience with the Wizarding World has been, or whether it has been any experience at all.

This is not just any thoughtful, playful, highly interactive read-through, either. It's an extensive conversation between three disparately-experienced readers: one longtime Potter fan, one longtime not-a-Potter-fan, and one new reader of the stories. Ideally, it will be intense—and magical—and legendary—and fun.

Details follow, but first, allow me to introduce your hostesses:

Masha


Blog: Cyganeria
Favorite authors: Lev Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Rainer Maria Rilke, J.R.R. Tolkien
Magical imagination: Superstitious, elemental
Relationship to Harry Potter: Read all the books and didn't like them

Christie


Blog: Spinning Straw into Gold
Favorite authors: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O'Connor
Magical imagination: Traditional, unpredictable/mysterious, fairy-taleish
Relationship to Harry Potter: Has only read the first book

Jenna


Blog: A Light Inside (you're reading it right now, in case that wasn't clear)
Favorite authors: Jane Austen, Orson Scott Card, C.S. Lewis, Shannon Hale
Magical imagination: Bright, paradoxical, transcendent
Relationship to Harry Potter: Wizard-rocking, Blogengamot-hat-wearing, trivia-spouting Potterhead

That's us! I should note that we are all Catholic, so faith will come up from time to time. Religion is not a requirement for the festivities, however, and we certainly hope you'll be able to enjoy yourself no matter where you're coming from thought-wise. I should also note that I made up all the dossiers myself, so, Masha and Christie, hopefully I didn't get your factoids wrong. xD

Now, for some basic details on the schedule and events:
  • Pacing will be informal. We begin with Chapter 1 of Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone, and from thence will work thematically. I will post upcoming reading in sections by week or bi-week, though we may linger over sections that merit extended discussion. No, we have no idea when this will end.
  • Participation is encouraged in a variety of forms. I will include linkups for bloggers who would like to post responses on their own blogs; the first will be at the bottom of this post. Comments are more than welcome, always, provided they are not left by trolls. (We stick wands up trolls' noses and hit them over the head with clubs—beware!) And, of course, we hope you'll read along.
  • Friends of friends are welcome, too, and friends of friends of friends, and curious onlookers, and gate-crashers, though again, trolls will naturally be moderated out of the conversation. ;)
And we don't intend to just talk. There will be recipes. There will be music. There will be pictures. There will be nitwits and oddments and blubber and tweaks! Stick around. And now...

Exordio!*

How does one go about introducing famous Harry Potter, whom so many of you already know? And about whom so much has been said, written, presumed, cogitated, formulated, debated, and analyzed? Harry has inspired thousands of essays, songs, fan sites, a large number of books, at least one activist organization, and conversations beyond number. Little kids in third-world countries read Harry in his day. Prisoners on Death Row read Harry in his day. And apparently the British Royals have read their Harry, too:

William and Kate practicing for the D.A.
I bet they've actually met Kingsley Shacklebolt. Jealous.
Source.
This despite the fact that it at least begins as a children's story—which is very obvious in book one, and Rowling grew the story up in later books without significantly raising her style. But C.S. Lewis said, "I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last," and Rowling apparently agrees. She gave adults plenty to play with: puzzles, games, alchemical symbolism, wordplay, mythology, humor, irony, politics, a detailed world to explore, and a tale that is all but overtly Christian and sacramental, if you know what you're looking for, though it's not so overt that it reads as exclusive to non-Christians or to those whose faith more or less rejects sacramentalism.

And now, since we're Catholic and this comes up: To the very best of my knowledge, the Catholic Church's position on the Potter books is open. You can freely read them or not read them. There have been no official warnings that I am aware of, with official meaning "coming from someone with the authority to make such a call for the Church at large," e.g., a council of bishops. Fr. Amorth's opinions are just opinions. Diplomatic letters from then-Cardinal Ratzinger to the author of an anti-Potter monograph are just diplomatic letters. L'Osservatore Romano is presumably impartial as it has, I believe, run articles on both sides of the debate. Michael O'Brien is a naughty dragon-hating Muggle who ought to go work for Charlie Weasley for a while. Harry Potter numbers plenty of Catholic priests among his fans—try the Secrets of Harry Potter podcast, created and originally hosted by Fr. Roderick Vonhögen, if you're curious—and plenty of popular Catholic bloggers, too; here, since my own name isn't big enough to drop and make any noise, I'll name-drop Mark Shea. You can be a good Catholic and a good Harry Potter fan. It's legit.

Dealing with the Bible directly is waaaayyyy too complicated for this segment, but if I believed that the Bible and Harry Potter were in any real conflict, I wouldn't be championing the latter all over the planet. The books are carefully distanced from common modern superstitions and are absolutely free from invocational sorcery and spiritism. The wizardry in Harry Potter is sort of a parody of a fictive exaggeration of a reality. Like Tim Allen's movie Galaxy Quest, which spoofs not space travel itself but science fiction, Harry's wands and cauldrons and spells are playful takes on the (Disneyfied) fairy tale depiction of magic, which itself is artistically removed from actual paganism. The studies, charms, potions, etc. are often downright funny.

'Would anyone like me to help them interpret the shadowy portents within their Orb?' she murmured over the clinking of her bangles. 
'I don't need help,' Ron whispered. 'It's obvious what this means. There's going to be loads of fog tonight.'
And that's all I've got on that subject for today. Those of other denominations and religions should of course look to their own authorities. :)

Back to the books themselves: I think my best chance at introducing the beloved story any further is to say a few words about the first chapter—that grand little first chapter, which still gives me a nostalgic thrill.

(Unprofessional fangirl aside, made while listening to Ministry of Magic: You guys. I haven't read these books through in years! I'm practically in tears, I'm so excited. :))

Prelude to Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter One

First-time readers aren't told this yet, but the date Mr. Dursley faces off with map-reading cats and men in violet cloaks, running afoul of his destiny with the strange and mysterious, is November 1, 1981. This story, themed upon the fact of death and the question of how to face it, begins on All Saints' Day. This first chapter focuses backward a few hours to Halloween night, on which an evil wizard attempted to murder a baby and vanished when the curse rebounded. Little is yet revealed of how, or why—the cruciform Lily, the twisted snake, and the finer points of that clash between a self-destructed soul and an innocent, whole one are all secrets held by the next few thousand pages.

Mr. Dursley is a good introduction to the fact that most Potter characters at least begin as caricatures. He lives a safe, outwardly respectable suburban life, making a tyrant of his child, married to a woman who offers little more than skinny, horsey, cheap-magazine beauty and a knack for spying on the neighbors to make sure no one is more respectable than the Dursleys. It's telling that he's so completely wrapped up in this superficial life, so shielded from imagination, that despite all the cloaks and owls and shooting stars and cats, neither Halloween nor saints ever seem to come to his mind. It's just another day to the Dursleys.

Art by Linnpuzzle.
And then, his opposite appears on the corner of Privet Drive: someone who makes friendly room in his life for the strange and mysterious. Albus Dumbledore shows up in a colorful cloak with buckled boots, long hair and beard, and his gentle, empathetic sense of humor at hand despite obvious grief at the loss of a couple he had been trying very hard to protect. He made himself a hero of mine from his earliest dialogues. Say what you like about Rowling's prose, mock her work as derivative (I'll growl, but I won't necessarily attack), complain about her punning names (but why, when it was so obviously intentional?) or her minor inconsistencies (they happen), but I can't imagine anyone getting away with calling Dumbledore anything less than a brilliant, complex character who is absolutely unique and thoughtfully developed throughout the series.

Rubeus Hagrid is worth noting here because his alchemical significance makes him one of the most important secondary characters in the series. Thus far, he's just a little like Giant Rumblebuffin—big and clumsy and slightly baffled by life, but innocent and loving.

Lastly, there's our Harry: fifteen months old, asleep in a basket, and unaware of the new name he's been given—the name he'll be called again and again, right through the climax of the last book. The Boy Who Lived.

Lived. Not "survived", though that would admittedly have had less ring to it. The sixteen years between Harry's first encounter with Voldemort and his last are under too much shadow to be much of a life as we selfish Westerners imagine it—being happy, doing what we want to do, being free. Harry is never really free. But despite the destiny, the bonds, the duties, the weight on him, Harry's entire journey will be accomplished in the learning of courage and love—and with those two virtues, his life is more a life, more lived, than many a one that is completely independent and free.



As for what happens after that, I won't yet say. You'll have to read the books. If you haven't, of course.

Again, welcome!!!



UPDATE: Keeping in mind that some of the readers, including our Christie, have not read all the books, please use spoiler warnings when discussing future plot developments in comments and linked discussion posts.

* Look at me, making up Potter spells! From exordium, meaning the beginning or introductory part, especially of an essay or thesis. :)

18 comments:

  1. Lev Tolstoy? Is he a relative of Leo Tolstoy or of Lev Grossman? :)

    I assume we can just start jumping in with conversation & thoughts? Do we need to place spoiler warnings on anything or just assume that people have been fairly warned they might be spoiled?

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    1. Evil twin? Or maybe just the Cyrillic doppelganger? ;)

      Jump in any time!!! And ooh, good question. I tried to be comparatively non-spoilerific in my post; for now, if you plan to discuss a major plot development openly, please place a spoiler warning.

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  2. Jumping in randomly then. Regarding Mr. Dursley, I don't believe he ever stops being a caricature. I thought a quote from p. 5 of (PS) describes him well, i.e. "...he didn't approve of imagination." And thus he misses not just the wonder of the wizarding world but of the world in general.

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    1. Yes, I think you're absolutely right about old Vernon. He never really does get beyond caricature. And that quote struck me, too, on the re-read. (Not approve of imagination? Life would suck.) I like how you put it, because the Muggle world is open to wonders, too--if we're open to seeing them.

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    2. Just remembered that Vernon Dursley would be in some good company with Mr. Gradgrind from Dicken's Hard Times & also Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

      Except Eustace is eventually redeemed & even Mr. Gradgrind has his mind opened up somewhat, at least to what he's missed out on through "fancy" & what the lack of it has done to his family.

      Nothing of that for poor Vernon.

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  3. Nostalgic thrill indeed! My experience of Book One, Chapter One, always centers on the final paragraph:

    " Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours' time by Mrs. Dursley's scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley... He couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: "To Harry Potter -- the boy who lived!" "

    (Disclaimer: I'm commenting and quoting without the physical book on hand, so I'm relying on the internet for my quotage.)

    That last line always, always causes bright triumphant tears to spring to my eyes. Something about the juxtaposition of complete vulnerability and power (in his having lived in the face of death). Love love love it.

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    1. Haha! I use the internet for quotes all the time. As long as it's close to how I remember it... :)

      And I love that last paragraph and line, too! That's a lovely thought about "the juxtaposition of complete vulnerability and power (in his having lived in the face of death)." I pair that up in my head with Dumbledore's stated reason for leaving Harry with the Dursleys, and then think about what Harry lives through in the rest of this book and how he handles things, and auugggh. It's so beautiful.

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  4. Exordio!

    I'm sosooooososososo o eicia]stjaiou excited!!! I can't even type. This was the best introduction ever!

    I laughed like a hyena when I saw how you decorated our photos. Thanks for that awesome surprise! And it's so neat having someone else describe me, it's like, "Gah, I would totally want to be friends with me the way she describes me" I love it! And you've got Masha down in the briefest of summaries, which is quite a feat because I'd take paragraphs to accomplish that!

    I'm already being enlightened by you; I'd never considered the wizardry in HP as a parodied thing, but it is exactly that, isn't it? Hence the kind of nostalgic goofiness to it. It's a compilation informed by all the stereotypes and kitschy books and movies.

    Also, I did not know that the day the story opens is All Saints' Day. I literally got goose bumps. I wonder if that's how the first person who ever figured that out felt. I love a-ha moments like that.

    I won't say more because I want to spoil my answer at SSiG, which I hope to get up as soon as possible! Do you want me to link up when I post it?

    (BTW, I'm working on a playlist for Book 1. If you have any favorites that you associate with it, anything of your own, or something eerie/mysterious/mischievous/magical sounding, let me know.)

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    1. Aw, yeah!!!! I'm glad you liked the pics and dossiers, because I had ridiculous quantities of fun with that. :D

      I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of it, but the All Saints' Day thing only struck me just as I was re-reading the chapter. I just hadn't put the "day after Halloween" thing together before, at least not that I recall, and then it was like, "Ooooooohhh!!" And I had to go look up the Book of Common Prayer to make sure it's the same for Anglicans as it is for Catholics, which it appears to be. So, yeah. It's like reading Austen, or any other good writer--you find something else new every time.

      I cannot wait to read your response! And I'll be looking forward to that playlist. If anything comes to mind, I'll pass it along.

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    2. Oh, I didn't answer your question! The linky is wide open to you, but you're not obligated. I'm expecting to link back to both of you in each post, like I've done with blogalectics. But again, you're more than welcome to!

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    3. Christie

      Christie

      I am so excited for you to read ALL THE BOOKS FOR THE FIRST TIME

      I cannot even express how excited I am

      sorry to come in late to the party but I have just been re-reading some Harry Potter since I learned about this discussion

      and FANSPLODING ALL OVER THE PLACE

      (gleeful fingerspiders)

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  5. So excited about the playlist! And THIS POST!! I love it! I love the dossiers and the photos and the thoughts and the sentiment and I'm so glad this is a delight to all of us, because that makes it so much more fun.

    I'm mentally putting together Harry Potter Book Club care packages..so my actual post might go up sometime after Christie's closer to Friday..Recipes for what Butterbeer better be will be included ;)

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    1. Care packages--OOH. That sounds awesome. And I am so excited to try more butterbeer recipes. :D :D :D

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  6. *Happy dance*
    I'm so excited about this project and just thrilled I've stumbled upon all of your blogs within the last few months. What better way to re-experience and re-examine these novels? You've already given me chills with the idea that Harry is the boy who "lived. Not survived". I hadn't thought of that choice of the word, but your explanation of seems so spot on. Yes, this is a story is about death, but it is so much more a story about life. Because at the end of it all, the Harry Potter series is not about surviving trauma to live an empty life, but about picking up the pieces, carrying on, living on brilliantly in the way only humans can do.

    And speaking of the end- should we be concerned about spoilers since one of you hasn't read the series yet? Or do you already know how things play out? I'm happy to keep quiet if need be :)

    Anyway, on to reading! This is coincidentally perfect timing for me since I'm due for my next re-read of the series in preparation for my upcoming LeakyCon presentation (Yikes!!)

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    1. I definitely should've talked about spoilers... Christie has, I think, seen the movies, so unless you tell her that the Burrow didn't actually burn down, I don't think you'll spoil her too shockingly. ;) However, it seems good to put a spoiler warning on commentary that includes discussion of major plot developments, just in case any other non-Potter-readers come around.

      Great comments about living--I totally agree! And congratulations on your upcoming LeakyCon presentation. Sounds like FUN. :D

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    2. Spoiler warnings please! But I won't hold it against you if something slips. c:

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    3. Oops, I spoke out of turn! Sorry, Christie! I've added a note about spoiler warnings to the post, and will try and remember to make mention of it next week, too. That was kind of a big detail to leave out. :S

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    4. It's okay! Don't worry, I'm not Spartan about not wanting to know spoilers--I've been known to skim over the last page of a book before--I just would like to document my reactions to it as authentically as possible, for the sake of Science! c;

      My post is up, BTW!

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Friendly comments are welcomed with fairy music, magic wishes, and possible unicorn sightings. Troll comments will be Transfigured into decent-looking rocks or Vanished. Spam comments will be shot down with blasters. You have been warned.

It is with much regret that I've set the monster Captcha guarding the gate. There just weren't enough blasters. I'm sorry. I hate it, too.