This is a huge post, so I'm dividing it up into mini-essays so you can choose what to read. First, however, here's last week's recap: Christie spoke of danger at Hogwarts and the improvement to Harry's situation, Masha celebrated Hogwarts, and Laura provided a roundup of pagan perspectives on Harry Potter. Laura also asked this question in Masha's combox, which inspired the first mini-essay:
Do you (pl. you guys, y'all) think magic in HP is more like its own entity, with its own personality, independent of its users, or more like an emergent property reflecting (with varying degrees of distortion etc.) the personalities (and foibles, and preoccupations, and limitations and hidden gifts) of its users?There it is, an open discussion point for anyone and everyone to talk about this week!
Mini-Essay #1: Is Rowling's Magic a Silent Sentience, or an Incognizant Efficaciousness?The way the characters interact with magic mostly seems to suggest Laura's latter option. At the very least, magic allows itself to be shaped by the user. There's the involuntary magic of children, e.g., Harry Vanishing the glass off the snake display at the zoo, or Neville bouncing when his uncle dropped him out of an upstairs window. This sort of thing isn't controlled by the young witch or wizard, but is shaped by his or her need and emotion.
There's controlled magic, usually worked through a wand, though goblins and house-elves have power over their magic without wands. These things obviously reflect the personalities, etc., of the users.
But then there are magic-infused items like wands and the Hogwarts castle, and it's harder to say how much of that infusion is created by willed wizardry and how much is magic gathering and acting of its own accord. For instance, as it's hopefully not too much of a spoiler to point out, Muggle electronics supposedly go haywire around Hogwarts because of all the magic in the air (this isn't shown, but it's mentioned by Hermione, and she and her photographic memory would probably know).
|Four people who definitely left some magic lying around Hogwarts.
Art by Len.
Possibly the strongest argument for magic as its own entity comes from book seven, in which—trying to be spoiler-free here—a certain wand does a certain something, apparently of its own volition. The question there is: is the wand a semi-volitional creature in its own right, or is it magic itself that is volitional, acting through its own object?
It looks to me like this could be taken either way, but the idea of magic as an animate power is an interesting one to explore. Explore away, fellow students!
This Week in Reading Harry
Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapters 11-12
Also, here's a pattern for making your own Weasley sweater. If you're not up for knitting one (I wouldn't venture without my mom or sister's help), you can also get them on Etsy, presumably handmade with love.
Potential Discussion Points:
Mini-Essay #2: Gender-Inclusive Language
|Oliver Wood. Source.
See, there are some times when neutering English actually changes the meaning; a word like "people" does not carry the same shades of definition as "man" or "mankind" or "humanity". Linguistic inclusivism is also often extraordinarily unartistic. I loathe the practice when it comes to "updating" old hymns, for instance; I'll be singing my heart out in choir, and all at once I'll be singing different words from everyone else, because I'm going off childhood memory and most of the other choristers are reading the hymnal. Dear well-meaning hymn updaters, you cannot replace this:
Mortals join the mighty choruswith this:
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o'er us
Brother love binds man to man
Mortals join the mighty chorusIt doesn't rhyme, AND it's a terrible cliché. Also, all of us who grew up with that hymn already have it ingrained in our heads the old way. Speaking of which, this ploy is worst when imposed upon Christmas carols. Everybody already has them memorized with the traditional lyrics. "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" is what it is, and it should be left alone.
Which the morning stars began
God's own love is reigning o'er us
Joining people hand in hand
All that to say, linguistic inclusivism is a touch ridiculous when universally applied. But it's not a pointless concept, either. In Oliver Wood's case, I'm entirely with Angelina Johnson. You can't just look at your Quidditch team, boys and girls together, and address them all with, "Okay, men." There's this little thing called tact. It's friendly.
Mini Non-Essay: Minor Notable Points
|Art by Jess.
2. Weasley family dynamics. We get more insight into them at Christmastime, with Molly sending Harry a family sweater—considering that she's met him just once, this is incredibly tender and perceptive of her—and Fred and George making sure Percy and Ron stick with the family spirit. Percy's resistance comes from a different place than Ron's, but both of them will pay for their withdrawal before the series is out.
3. Books in Harry Potter. The Restricted Section of the library is creepy and fun; the books, imbued with magic, don't just shut up and let themselves be read. I actually think Rowling could have done a lot more with this, but talking about that would mean spoilers for Half-Blood Prince.
Mini-Essay #3: Alchemy
|I designed this emblem for this discussion point.
You can expect to see it a lot in future.
Before I get started: Everything I know about alchemy, I learned from John Granger. Granger's primary sources are Lyndy Abraham and Titus Burkhardt, as I recall (other oft-referenced names include Jung, Lings, and Eliade). Of course, I may be an imperfect student and make mistakes, but I'll shoot as straight as I can.
There's a lot to alchemy, so here's a basic summary—not of everything, but of the beginning salient points.
A. Alchemy is concerned with several key tasks, including:
- Making the Philosopher's Stone, also sometimes termed the Sorcerer's Stone, which provides the means to immortality
- Turning lead into gold
- Purifying the soul of the alchemist
C. Refinement of the prima materia requires putting it through three main stages (or sometimes four; I'm sticking with Granger's explanation here), innately color coordinated for your convenience:
- The nigredo or black stage, in which the matter is burned and decomposed
- The albedo or white stage, in which impurities are washed away and the matter is acted upon by the "quarreling" opposites mercury and sulfur (this pair is represented in numerous ways, including cold and heat, female and male)
- The rubedo or red stage, in which the reddening of the matter indicates success of the Great Work.
Or they might not be.
Here are some beginning alchemical connections to watch for:
- The quarreling couple. Hermione is our cool, feminine Mercury, and Ron is our hot, masculine Sulphur. The two bicker constantly throughout each of the seven books. Their arguing often intensifies in the middle, during the build-up to the climax of the story, and the pair must always reconcile for the final phase of the story.
- Color progression. Each of the books takes Harry through all three stages (and the final three books are stages in and of themselves; more on that later). We're in the albedo stage now, in which white and silver are common colors; we've progressed from the trip across the "great black lake" to mirrors and silvery invisibility cloaks and snow and a generally paler tone to the story.
- Nicholas Flamel. :D
Mini-Essay #4: The Mirror of Erised
|Art by Harry-Potter-Spain
Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsiHold it up to a mirror, if you haven't yet. (I think I read this book at least three or four times before I got this.)
The Mirror is a tricksy thing, and probably a lot darker and more complicated for adults than for most children. (Harry, obviously, is not most children.) I expect that I'd see different things on different days... but I know what I'd see most commonly, and I know it would mean an explosion of tears, and I know it would feel like losing loved ones to turn away. What would you see? Answer aloud only if you're feeling brave.
Harry and Ron make an interesting contrast here. Harry sees himself with his family, and as Dumbledore put it, "Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them." I'd love to put both of their visions in context with Deathly Hallows right now, but SPOILERS.
There are at least a couple of major discussion possibilities just off Harry's conversation with Dumbledore after looking in the Mirror:
- "The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is." I've never quite bought this. It almost suggests an odd individualism, as if there's nothing beyond being satisfied with ourselves, which sounds like hell, in my opinion. I suspect I'm over-reading it, but there the matter stands.
- "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." This is one of Dumbledore's most famous quotes, with excellent reason. The Mirror is one of the most dangerous things Harry ever comes across. Always wishing for what you don't have is a means to immense regret.
And I absolutely agree with Dumbledore on socks. Though I never turn down books for Christmas. :)
Go forth and talk Potter!