Harry Potter Book Club: Sorcerer's Stone, Chapters 2-4

Art by 3petits-plaisirs. Source.
Even wizards must occasionally deal with droll, nitty gritty business details, such as the question of writing decent sentences, and Christie, in her introductory post, made a point that made me shoot jubilant sparks at the ceiling out of sheer exuberance and shout, "YES, thank you":
As someone trained in literature and an amateur writer myself, I noticed things like simple diction, trite turns of phrase, and tendency to rely on adverbs.  But I've never been a fan of the high-brow literary school of critics—why can't plain but clear writing, as much as beauteous writing, be an effective stylistic choice?—and when I try to imagine HP written in a florid post-modern voice, it loses an essential quality I can't quite put my finger on.
This writer thinks it highly unlikely that famous Harry Potter (I should really stop quoting Malfoy) would have been nearly so famous if he had been written by a stylist of literary aspirations, particularly one aiming at hooking adult readers along with the youngsters. There's nothing wrong with simple writing; it's a good way to reach young audiences, and it's the only way to reach a broad audience.

Christie also had great things to say about Dumbledore and Muggles and Christmas—heartily recommended. Meanwhile, Masha, having been cheated (by me) out of the chance to be the first to argue with Michael O'Brien (if calling him "a naughty dragon-hating Muggle" counts as arguing), set her sights on John Granger instead:
None of us have the wish or temperament to argue against [magic or dragons]; but that doesn’t mean I won’t be bringing up the problematic aspects of Harry’s magic (there are plenty), and I think a good long discussion of this whole ‘incantational vs. Invocational’ [Granger's] argument has to happen at some point as well, which will be fascinating! Well be talking about the character of the characters, about Rowling's worldview, about the role of men as fathers in the books... Do [the books] inspire readers to see the world in rich possibilities or do they tie readers down to a secular-relativistic worldview in which evil is decidedly banal and suburban and good is its very near twin??
...as well as reminding us that "even if all the books bother you, it’s ok to be delighted by sections, just as it’s ok to be appalled by some things, even if you love the series overall. No author gets it all right!" I wholeheartedly concur.

And now, onto this coming week!

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Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, chapters 2-4

Photo from Shelagh's page, as linked above.
Looks good, Shelagh!
Recipe: (Shelagh's) Knickerbocker Glory. Magic or Muggle, you'll need a whole mouthful of sweet teeth to down this tall-glass concoction, made with fruit, ice cream, fruit syrup, whipped cream, wafers, glazed cherries, and in some variations, even jelly. I'm not sure I could handle jelly, myself... even strawberry ice cream is a bit much for me... but it definitely looks like an exciting parfait.

I'm not sure I'd want to eat after Dudley, though. Cooties!

Potential Discussion Points (but by no means all the potential):

1. Harry has his first communication with a snake in Chapter Two: The Vanishing Glass. From henceforth, snake imagery in the series will—as I recall—be a very traditional, Book-of-Genesis kind of thing. Here, however, a lonely ten-year-old shares a friendly moment with another caged, controlled creature, and manages to unwittingly offer the boa constrictor a bit of helpful magic.

One of the recurring motifs in the books, and here I do owe this point to Prof. Granger, is the idea of doppelgangers—twins, mirror images, shades; pairs set up for striking similarity and/or contrast. They pop up everywhere, and Dudley is arguably Harry's first (of many), but this bored snake is a very early, very striking one. Harry sets the snake free from its confinement and mistreatment much as Hagrid sets Harry free from his. And the connection between Harry and the boa, innocent in itself, foreshadows a darker doppelganger, some sinister facts that aren't quite revealed until the last two books.

2. Voldemort. If I type 'flight of death' into Google Translate and get it turned into French*, the result is vol de la mort. Apropos, no? Of course, we're already being introduced to the fact that the Wizarding World is afraid even to speak that name. I can sympathize. I'm not fond of saying 'Satan' either—one doesn't want to draw diabolic attention, after all. But "You-Know-Who" and "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" are admittedly kind of awkward and evasive, and when great big men like Hagrid jerk and wriggle at the very sound of the syllables, things have gone a bit far.

Art by FrizzyHermione. Source.
3. Both Petunia and Vernon Dursley give short, spiteful little rants upon being confronted by Hagrid, to much the same effect, if in their own voices. You're a freak from a family of weirdos, Harry, and we swore we'd stamp out all that dangerous nonsense. It's interesting to see the subtle differences between how Petunia handles things—or would handle them, if she were in charge—and how Vernon does, however. Petunia grew up with a witch; she knows when not to run. All Vernon knows is control, and he goes dangerously near crazy when he begins losing grip on his own idealized normalcy.

4. "Yeh've got your mom's eyes." It's the first time Harry hears these words. And since we're going cautious with spoilers, all I'll say for now is that it won't be the last.

I love The Keeper of the Keys—it's a favorite chapter of mine; with Hagrid, his pockets full of sausages and dormice, and with Harry's unexpected first experience of having someone call him by his name with affection—
"An' here's Harry!" said the giant. 
Harry looked up into the fierce, wild, shadowy face and saw that the beetle eyes were crinkled in a smile.
—it's the reader's earliest introduction to the Wizarding World through the protagonist's eyes. And Hagrid is such a big lovable cornball fellow, with magic clinging to him like the raindrops on his coat even though he's not technically supposed to do any... I don't care what you call the prose. This chapter is just delightful.

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About spoiler warnings: Please include them in discussion posts if you're about to cover a later plot development, for the sake of Christie and others who haven't read the series from the front cover of SS to the back cover of DH yet.

Ready to discuss? Hop in!

* The spell for translating vernacular to French should be, I think, "Pretatio Franci!" Since I had to use Google Translate to get the Latin instead of actually consulting my resident Latinist (he's at work), however, use carefully or you might suddenly find yourself unable to speak anything but French. Or something equally unhelpful. I don't think you'll find yourself on the floor with a buffalo on your chest, but you never know.


  1. '...as well as reminding us that "even if all the books bother you, it’s ok to be delighted by sections, just as it’s ok to be appalled by some things, even if you love the series overall. No author gets it all right!" I wholeheartedly concur."

    I was giving myself an out for this book particularly, and the beginning of this book more than anything. Hagrid really is "just delightful" here. I LOVE the introduction to Hagrid. I love the goodness that radiates off him in this chapter and the friendliness..I think she's wrong to have Hargid all atremble at Voldemort's name, I think it is a early indication of her tendency to force her characters into attitudes or roles that are unnatural to them (particularly her male characters). But I honestly think that the Hagrid of books 1-3 is a character that can stand on his own merits against most others in the genre. I find him absolutely loveable.

    The snake relationship to Harry in these chapters is..umm..helpful in bringing a bit of balance to the "book of genesis" imagery that fills most of the series (which is also not a bad thing to have, but I think certain critics (cough, Michael O' Brien, cough) have a tendency to lump all serpents into the 'Satan incarnate' category, which isn't really Biblical or symbolically honest. The snake has satanic symbolism, but it also has healing symbolism (the staff with the serpent in...Exodus?? (who knows chapter and verse?) and wisdom symbolism ('wise as serpents' and all that)..I think, like dragons in general, snakes symbolize cunning and power more than good or evil..so the inclusion of a non-threatening, though not non-frightening, snake is a nice balance. It's also a nice sort of 'stepping into power' moment for Harry.

    Good talking points! I'm delighted to KNOW that Knickerbocker Glory is actually a real dessert. I don't think my stomach could handle such a thing..but I like looking at it and imagining the greedy satisfaction in Dudley's face when it's presented to him ;)

    1. I love Hagrid. :) His being all a-tremble never bothered me, though; the whole Wizarding world is, and Hagrid, while fearless around animalian monsters and his brother, shudders at the thought of Azkaban and is so innocent at heart that I sympathize with his recoiling from evil.

      ...that said, I was interested to read your post and will try and comment sometime when I have a few brain cells to rub together.

      I've had Book-of-Genesis imagery so pounded into me throughout life that I forget the other imagery serpents are given. Awesome reminder; thanks! And Google knows--it's Numbers 21: 8-9. :D

      Knickerbocker glory would probably make me a bit sick, honestly. I just don't know about all that fruit in ice cream. I like my parfaits with chocolate... but it's nice to have the mental picture, yes. ;)

    2. I don't mind him all atremble about Azkaban actually, I thought that fit him perfectly..I actually just read that book again..and three..and four..(embarrassing for the 'not-a-fan' to admit, I know, but my library didn't HAVE number one and I had to have SOMETHING to do while waiting for it to come in the mail...yeah. And they're fun to read...;)

    3. "I think, like dragons in general, snakes symbolize cunning and power more than good or evil..so the inclusion of a non-threatening, though not non-frightening, snake is a nice balance."

      I wish JKR had kept something like this point in mind more often, especially with regard to Slytherin House. There's some feeble nods toward the core Slytherin virtues not amounting to "bullying," "evil," and "Wizard Racism," but they get undermined a lot, and ultimately [SPOILER REDACTED].

      Which leaves readers wondering why Hogwarts still bothers to maintain a dedicated Racism and Bullying House in the first place.

      Anyway, hi! I heard there was Harry Potter discussion going on!

    4. YAY Laura! It's been awhile! Hi. :D

      And yeah, I think maybe Rowling had better intentions toward Slytherin than she actually pulled off. I'm hoping some self-identified Slytherins (...George...) will comment when we get to some of those parts and talk about the value they see in the House.

      I just don't want to live in a dungeon under the lake with skulls and a green glow, myself. The Hufflepuff warren is good enough for me. :)

    5. Yeah..Slytherin could have been So Much Better! Even if she'd wanted to keep it as The House that Attracts Bad People..she could have balanced it out at least a tiny bit. A Certain Person could have been more of a type for Slytherins that a lonely hero in a sea of evil..(is that too much of a spoiler??????? If it is, take it out!)

      But I just want to get to book 2 so I can put up my "Well OBVIOUSLY we have a Basilisk.." meme. ;P

    6. All the houses get short shrift, really. JKR talks a good game about how all the House Virtues are important, and sometimes that gets to play a role, but. . . [SPOILERS]

      If the house / personality type / guiding virtue cluster thing was going to be a serious thing, it would have been better for Harry's friends to get sorted into the other houses, instead of all together in the Protagonist Dorm.

      Also, HUFFLEPUFF 4 LIFE.

    7. I NEED to see this Basilisk meme, Masha. We will get to book two!!!

      Laura, getting them all sorted into the same House was totally an act of authorial convenience. It would've been awesome if at least Hermione had been allowed to be in Ravenclaw, and Ron could've made a good Slytherin if Slytherin had been allowed to be good. And I WISH Neville could've been in Hufflepuff.

      Wait, where did all that come from? Usually I don't admit to thinking the books are anything less than brilliant in every way! :P

    8. Hahaha..Maybe it's a good thing. When I'm feeling safe, I can admit the Rilke is sometimes a whiner and Hemingway should have stuck with his first wife and Tolstoy..Is pretty much a writing god, but not so great at sticking to his ideals in life ;P

      I didn't show it too you?? I will! I'll post it next week under a great big 'spoiler alert'! :)

  2. I've never had a Knickerbocker Glory! I wonder if John knows what one is. The only time I was in an ice cream parlor on the coast, it was cold (in Florida terms), and I wasn't in the mood for ordering. :p

    2. Whaaa? That's so smart! I sympathize with the fear of them speaking the name of Voldemort. There's something about naming something that makes it more real and immediate.

    I have lots more to say but I better save it or I'll have nothing to write about!

    1. Looking forward to your post!!

      Rowling's names are mostly pretty dang clever... we've got Malfoy coming up, and the alchemical three, and Lily, and... yeah. :D :D

      If Wales is anything like England, which is a lot like here, it's pretty much always cold in Florida terms... we're lucky to have 10 eighty-degree days in a year. I still manage ice cream, though. You get accustomed to it after a while. ;)

  3. I am excited to talk about Harry Potter! Also, I don't know who Michael O'Brien and John Granger are! Should I know? Will I find out if I go back and read all the posts? Why do they hate dragons? It's ok to be a Muggle! Muggle pride!

    Muggles: We Do All Right, Considering.


    As one of those florid postmodernists who like to heedlessly drizzle hot and sticky lyricism all over everything for no good reason, I don't think criticisms of JKR's writing are about JKR not being Faulkner, or David Foster Wallace or whoever the current go-to guy is for brain-breaking sentence labyrinths or breathtaking orchestral paragraphs.

    It's not like we think of prose as a delivery service for stories and we're mad that JKR rented an Astro instead of splurging on the stretch Mustang with diamond rims. The writing is the story. The story is a living organism made of sentences and paragraphs and chapters instead of cells. I was going to throw down some HP-appropriate animal metaphors here, but then I realized they were [SPOILERS].

    If I ever get to criticizing JKR's writing, it won't be because I liked everything about Harry Potter except that its sentences weren't enough like the sentences in Beloved. It's because some specific choice that JKR made didn't work as well with the thousands of other choices that make up the book.

    Does that make sense? I don't actually think there's any real rivalry between "simple" and "complex" writing in the first place (though of course it's ok to prefer one over the other). You're all beautiful!

    And I think adverbs are totally undervalued. Adverb pride! Adverbs and Muggles, you are both ok the way you are!

    my goodness, talking about Harry Potter makes me silly. I love these books a lot, I just realized.

    And I may not actually be a postmodernist, at least not deliberately. But you know. I like the fancy words.

    1. Haha! No, you don't have to know who Michael O'Brien and John Granger are, but I'll tell you... Michael O'Brien is the dragon-hater, a Catholic writer who has cobbled together a religious excuse for thinking the books are bad thought. John Granger is an Eastern Orthodox guy who has been writing books for years and years about how awesome the Potter books are and how they're alchemically structured and spiritually significant and all that. He doesn't hate dragons. :)

      Yeah, it IS perfectly fine to be a Muggle... shouldn't have used that word as part of an insult. Sorry! I just meant he couldn't see the magical things, but there is a difference between not being able to see them and not being willing to... yeah... anyway.

      Actually, I really like your argument about Rowling's writing. Brilliant!

      Talking about Harry Potter makes me silly, too! We can all be silly together. That's half the fun. :D :D :D

    2. L.

      When you come up in June, I'll let you read BOTH 'finding God in Harry Potter' (Granger) AND 'Harry Potter is Satan incarnate (also known as 'a landscape with dragons..and it doesn't actually MENTION the books, but it gives a dragon-free reading list for children aged birth-graduation..All books with dragons are suspect!)..You can tell which I think is more fun ;)

      Your argument about JKR writing is pretty much amazing..except that I HATE the writing in Beloved ;P

    3. Michael O'Brien is the dragon-hater, a Catholic writer who has cobbled together a religious excuse for thinking the books are bad thought.

      :( :( :( :( :(

      I feel like I should send him a condolence card :(.

  4. M, that would be awesome! I hope we can make it.

    Is this a fantasy-specific dragon-free list, or just "all the books that don't have dragons in them"? I assume it's the former, because the latter would be really long.

    That's ok! I <3 <3 <3 Toni Morrison, but that 100% humidity strangler-vine mode is never going to be everyone's cup of tea.

  5. I've linked my thoughts to the beginning of the book here. Hope you all enjoy :)


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