Harry Potter Book Club: Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 16

Good afternoon, fellow book clubbers! I'm feeling a bit distracted and even Confunded today, possibly owing to an Energizing Charm going a little bit awry and keeping me up till four A.M. for the second time in a week.* I do hope this post makes sense by the time I'm through with it.

Art by acutecat.

In recap of the last discussion segment: Masha talked about centaurs (noted last week); Seth protested the insinuation of Harry Potter into his waking and sleeping thoughts, in terms much too fun to evoke sympathy; and Christie said some beautiful things about Neville, courage, innocence, friendship, and being "set against the very stars."

Highly recommended, all of them. And now, for the sake of getting this post done today rather than next Tuesday, we'll move on.

* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 16. If you've never, ever read it, GO READ IT BEFORE YOU READ THE REST OF THIS POST. Otherwise, there will be SPOILERS.

I was going to take in Chapter 17, too, but there's just too much to talk about in both. We'll therefore have one more week on the first book.

Potential Discussion Points:

1. Harry's Declaration of Intent. It's page 270 in my yellowing, fraying little paperback. Oh, what the heck, I'll just quote it:
"SO WHAT?" Harry shouted. "Don't you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort's coming back! Haven't you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won't be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He'll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn't matter anymore, can't you see? D'you think he'll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the house cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I'll have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there, it's only dying a bit later than I would have, because I'm never going over to the Dark Side! I'm going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?"
Art by thepolestar.
He sounds like he's been watching Star Wars, and he's unwittingly off on a couple of the facts, but the power in this statement is almost limitless. There are things in here that won't be fully explained to Harry himself until books five and six, but he feels them well enough now to stand on them: he knows Voldemort, and he knows the cost of renouncing evil. He knows that the mundane things that matter so much to us in the moment, things like the winning of points and the relief of withdrawing from challenges, mean nothing when the time comes to stand against the darkness that lurks loose and ever malignant in the world. He knows that it's better to suffer and to die than to align himself with wickedness or let it gain its desired ground.

That's pretty impressive knowledge for an eleven-year-old. It convicts me of my own weakness and hesitations every time I read it.

2. Neville's courage. Here, I'll quote Christie:
A word about Neville: courage is the dominant trait of Gryffindor, and while there has been a lot of reckless wandering-around-dangerous-places-at-night, disobeying elders, and standing up to bullies, the purest form of courage I've seen so far is from Neville.  It is exactly his lack of chutzpah that make his actions so courageous: standing up to Malfoy, holding his own against Crabbe and Goyle, and risking detention and loss of life (we all know which Hermione would find the more horrifying!) to warn his friends of a dirty trick.  Neville may be the bravest character I have yet to encounter in Harry Potter.
BRAVERY LOVE NEVILLE SPOILERS. So many thoughts that I can't yet speak of!! But Neville displays his pure courage again in this chapter, and while he's misguided as to his friends' intent, what he did was fantastic moral courage at its core. This will be returned to briefly in the next chapter.

3. Ron's response to Neville's courage. Oh, Ron, you're just so... so human:
"Don't you call me an idiot!" said Neville. "I don't think you should be breaking any more rules! And you were the one who told me to stand up to people!" 
"Yes, but not to us," said Ron in exasperation. "Neville, you don't know what you're doing."
His second argument has some merit; Neville doesn't know what he's doing, which is the boy's only mistake here. But Ron's first argument has no merit at all. It sits right at the heart of human weakness: the rules apply, but not to me. We all excuse ourselves where we would condemn anyone else.

4. The problem with quasi-Latin spells spoken aloud. Here, I quote my fellow Blogengamot member, Matthew "Korg20000BC" Boyd (DH SPOILERS at the link):
The fight in the cafe brings up a problem about wand duelling.  I did a little experiment and found I’d be able to cover about 10′-15′ and solidly punch, hit, kick or push someone by the time they could yell “Petrificus Totalus!”  Now, imagine if the witch or wizard’s target was armed with a staff, rock, chair or even a sword (like Godric Gryffindor).  It seems that the wizarding world has locked itself into a reliance on magic and perhaps forgotten what they are physically capable of.  Maybe that’s why there is a total absence of Physical Education at Hogwarts.  I’d put my money on an active muggle over a witch/wizard at close range.
Neville already has his fists up, but then again, he's eleven, and he'd have had to fight Hermione. Maybe it would have been different if Ron had thrown the curse.

5. The tests of faith and skill.

Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indy and friends have to dive out of the way of blades and find their way across a trick floor and step out over an abyss—a leap of faith, Indy calls it?

Here's where I wish I knew my Holy Grail mythology a little better. (I did see Monty Python, but...) Harry's pursuing the Philosopher's Stone (not to claim it for his own, but to save it from someone else, much like Indy). The Stone provides wealth and immortality, which on the latter point at least, bears some similarity to the Grail quest. Harry undergoes a number of trials, mostly enchantments, which test him and Ron and Hermione together in both skill and faith, in knowledge and in heart.

The tests, perhaps because they're headed up by Dumbledore, are basically an alchemical progression; we primarily get to see the nigredo and albedo in this chapter. Cerberus and the Devil's Snare are nigredo tasks. The winged keys (silver) and passing the white chessmen are albedo tasks. The joining of ice and fire by potion and spell at the end of the chapter signify completion of the albedo and prepare Harry to face the final task, which involves a red stone and total purity of heart. We'll save the rest of that discussion for next week.

Organized here for your convenience (let me know if I missed anything):

Knit your own Fluffy!
By janageek.
  1. Getting to the third-floor corridor without getting caught. Requires invisibility cloak, which I'd love to talk about more if it wouldn't mean DH spoilers. ;) Involves safely bypassing Neville, Mrs. Norris (and, by extension, Filch), and Peeves, all of whom have their own reasons for stopping the Trio.
  2. (Enchantment 1, by Hagrid) Cerberus/Fluffy. Note that he's guarding the Underworld. Passing him safely requires the use of music, "a magic beyond all we do here," as Dumbledore said. Music is David's antidote to Saul's evil spirit, and it is perhaps in a similar sense that the hellhound is neutralized by harp and pipe.
  3. Blind drop into abyss. Here's that leap of faith, and Harry, naturally, is the one to first make it. The symbolism of Harry passing the hellhound and going underground on a leap of faith to face Voldemort is serious business, but it's only half the story; we'll be elaborating on this further next week.
  4. (Enchantment 2, by Prof. Sprout) Devil's Snare. The trickster plant that sneaks around you, binds you closer the harder you struggle, and eventually strangles you. Devil's Snare is an appropriate name; the plant's defining attributes are highly suggestive of temptation and sin, and it cringes away from light and warmth.
  5. (Enchantment 3, by Prof. Flitwick) The locked door and the winged keys. Here, we get into three trials that require the special skills of one member of the Trio. The first is Harry's; he's the Seeker, the one who sees things other people don't (like the fact that Voldemort is after the Stone, and that stopping him is more important than not getting expelled.) He is the one to use his otherwise mostly showy Quidditch skills to find the key, to catch it, and to unlock the door.
  6. (Enchantment 4, by Prof. McGonagall) The chess game. This is Ron's big moment, and one of the reasons I love him. Ron is selfish and a bit volatile and, as aforementioned, very human, but he's got the heart of a knight. He shows it beautifully in this scene. For some reason, his choices of bishop for Harry—religious significance, there—and castle for Hermione seem appropriate as well, but I'm not sure I've ever put my finger on why.
  7. (Enchantment 5, by Prof. Quirrell) The troll. Quirrell's rather coarse contribution is already knocked out cold, and the primary significance of this task, as far as I can see, is in its reminder of what first bonded the Trio together. Harry and Hermione don't have to do anything but step over it and go on.
  8. (Enchantment 6, by Prof. Snape) The logic puzzle. Here's Hermione's chance to shine. I've always wanted to know whether this puzzle really works; this being Rowling, I'm nearly positive it does. Here's a post from someone who made an attempt to discover the exact ordering of the potions; I haven't checked his logic, as logic is not my strong suit, but it looks good on first read. And here's a mathematics teacher's version of the test.**
  9. Walk through fire. This is another act of faith as well as one of skill and self-confidence—or, in Harry's case, Hermione-confidence. I suspect there's a lot of plausible symbolism in this little moment that I don't even know about. It reminds me of the final purification in Dante's Purgatorio, not that the matter of Lust particularly applies; it reminds me of a lot of little Scriptural references (Isaiah 43:2; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:7 and perhaps some other testing-by-fire verses). What Harry does in sending Hermione back and going on alone is arguably his bravest act so far, and Hermione contradicts those O'Brien arguments about secret knowledge and superpowers by telling Harry what's really important—the strengths that will really help him survive.
Art by Gustave Doré.

The seventh and final enchantment doesn't appear till next chapter. We'll finish all these half-started Book 1 discussions there, and find out who was waiting in the last chamber.

And if you already know who was in the last chamber, and whose side Snape was really on, here's a wizard rock video for you. Otherwise, SPOILERS.

* Muggle explanation: I think I had too much coffee, too late in the day.
** Weird story: here I'm randomly Googling Snape's logic puzzle, and as it turns out, I KNOW two of the thirty-five people who are listed as having correctly solved that mathematician's test. IN REAL LIFE. Small world. *jaw hits floor*


  1. So much that could be commented on in here, but I have time right now only for one quick point concerning:

    "and castle for Hermione seem appropriate as well, but I'm not sure I've ever put my finger on why."

    You seem right on with the significance of both Ron's and Harry's chess pieces. I think that the castle for Hermione represents "the ivory tower," since she uses her intellect to solve her obstacle. And the logic puzzle of the potions definitely worked when I did it on Pottermore. I refused to go back to the book to see what Hermione actually did, so I had to go by just the pictured line-up of the potions on screen and following the poem--it worked!

    By the way, I LOVE the pictures of the flowers and plants that you put up today--bursting with colorful live! :o)

    1. It's been a holiday week; I don't think anyone's had time. :)

      Great thoughts on Hermione as castle! I hadn't thought of "the ivory tower", but it makes sense, especially since the wizarding hall of learning actually is a castle.

      And I never got that far in Pottermore!!! I got Sorted and then apparently got distracted... now I'm curious; I might have to go try out that puzzle. :D

      I was happy with those pictures, too--they were so much fun to take.

  2. I Know!! I feel horrible for having neglected this post! It's got so much good in it..so much to talk about, and it's one of the most interesting parts of this book as far as giving an idea of Rowling's ideas and direction here!! I promise, I'll get on it soon!

    Quirrell's contribution really is coarse, isn't it. I mean, Defense against the dark arts ought to have more strength to it, you know..Snape's defense is such a character reveal, don't you think, it gave me such a sense of him..clever, cunning, concealing, and deep..I do like Snape. I will write more later! When I have my head together, maybe even a real post..poor neglected blogs..poor neglected Harry..!

    1. Wow, I thought I responded to this. Apparently not...

      I love it that Snape puts in the logic puzzle! I do not normally like Byronic heroes, but after all these years, I must confess a fondness for the Potions Master, despite all his (really horrible) weaknesses. The use of logic as a defense reminds me of his first Potions lesson, where he took down the students for presumably finding it difficult to recognize the non-showy magic of potion-making. He sees the power in the subtler, less eye-catching knowledge and skills... he's kind of like the Weasley twins, in his own way... it's probably why he's such a good SPOILER. Oh, all right, Occlumens. I'd never remember what I meant by SPOILER there if I didn't say so. :P


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