Harry Potter Book Club: Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 17

At last, magical friends, we've come to the long-awaited final chapter of the first book. I must recommend finishing the book before you read much further in this post, as HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. (For the first book only!)

Also—I must check with my fellow hostesses, but there may be some delay between the end of book 1 and the beginning of book 2. Life happens to Muggle and wizard alike, and we have all been kind of having Things Going On with capital T-G-O, so I want to make sure we're reasonably ready to enter the Chamber of Secrets before we do. (Preparedness is helpful when you're facing giant SPOILERS.) I will let you all know the schedule as I can.

Before we get to all that, however, we must check in with the most recent offerings: Christie's piece on the Point of No Return, which I linked and quoted last week, and Masha's piece on friendship with Harry and acquaintance with Snape:
Snape's [Stone-protecting enchantment] though, is delightful. It's more than a task, it's sort of an introduction to the man, a picture of his layered and solitary soul. A soul full of nooks and chambers and dusty-0ut-of-the-way places where old photos are laid face down so we can't snoop. He's clever, hidden, lost inside himself, and oh-so-full of secrets, like his potions, and he offers clues..but not direct ones. If you need direct clues he despises you..which may be more of the reason for his dislike of Harry than anything else. Harry's a liar, but he's a clumsy one, he has no subtlety. Snape has subtlety in spades. I adore it!
One more link, in case anyone didn't know: Rowling pulled a first-class invisibility-cloak surprise the other day and released a brand-new mystery novel under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. I wasn't excited about her literary novel, being nearly as cautious around depressing fiction as I am around Death Eaters, but a mystery?? I may have to give this one a shot. If I do, I promise to review it.

And now, for this week's reading! There's more to talk about in this last chapter of Sorcerer's Stone than there may be in any one section till we get to Deathly Hallows... let's get to it.

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This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 17

Potential Discussion Points:

1. The Seventh Enchantment: Look into the Mirror of Erised and be totally pure of heart. Dumbledore has set his task up so that no one who actually wants to use the Philosopher's Stone can find it. If your ultimate desire is for life and wealth, that's what the mirror will show you. If your ultimate desire is to serve Lord Voldemort—if you're one of those few, (Le)strange* people—that's what the mirror will show you. If you want to find the Stone but don't care about using it, it drops into your pocket. "One of my more brilliant ideas," Dumbledore says, "and between you and me, that's saying something."

Art by Seraphim-burning.
2. "His head looked strangely small..." Perhaps it's a matter of the old saying that if you're too open-minded, your brains will fall out. Quirrell is no longer master of himself; he's surrendered so thoroughly to Voldemort that the latter's face is sticking out of the back of the former's head. This is one of the vivid horror elements in the series, and it's an interesting reversal, if you will. Those who surrender to love, to faith, show that in their eyes and faces; Moses, after getting a glimpse of God's back on Mt. Sinai, had to veil his face because it was "radiant" (Exodus 34:35). Quirrell gives his soul to the bad guy, and you can see it in the back of his head.

Art by rajafdama.
3. Snape "does seem the type,..." "swooping around like an overgrown bat..." Is Snape bad or is he good? We can't say yet—this is one of the biggest potential SPOILERS in the series, and what enormous debates were had on the subject in the year before Deathly Hallows released! But in this book, he's not the villain. Dark, yes. Terrifying, yes. Mean, yes. But pulled by an obligation he can't escape, forced by it into protecting the boy he hates. He succeeds, but it doesn't assuage his hatred. And I'll stop there, before the spoilers start flowing.

4. Burning hands. Every time Quirrell tries to grab Harry at Voldemort's orders, he gets blistered upon contact with Harry's skin. Dumbledore later explains:
"Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good."
It's interesting here that hatred leaves a scar—as per Harry's forehead—but love leaves an invisible mark with stunning powers. But there's a lot more in this paragraph. This quote is one of a pair of bookends; we'll see its mate in Deathly Hallows. It has various companions, too, of which my favorite is near the end of Order of the Phoenix. Love, specifically self-sacrificial love in the face of death, is the central theme of the series. More on that in a moment.

5. "Three days."

It's often argued, usually by pagans and atheists and others who understandably want to claim the Potter books as equally theirs, that the Potter books aren't particularly thematically Christian. The dying and rising god is a popular story in history, goes the argument. Self-sacrificial love isn't the province of Christians alone.

Bronze figurine of the Egyptians' Osiris,
god of the dead, the afterlife, and rebirth.
By Suraj. Source.
And I say, sure. Self-sacrifice and resurrections are not the exclusive property of Christianity, and neither are the Potter books, which are in many ways obviously, intentionally vague about theology. Rowling steers very clear of making any stated claim about the afterlife other than that it exists.

That said, self-sacrifice and resurrection are the very core of Christianity, and all Christians are commanded to live lives of self-sacrifice, even unto death, in hopes of resurrection. (We often don't, but that's another blog-post.) Now, those facts wouldn't prove that the Potter stories are thematically Christian. There's more than enough evidence to show that the author centered her story in Christian symbolic tradition and meaning, however. Rowling didn't go vague at all with her symbolism, particularly at the ends of books one and seven.

"KILL HIM!" Voldemort yells here, and Harry, believing all is lost, sinks into blackness. When he wakes, one of the first things he asks is how long he's been in the hospital, where he has found himself upon regaining consciousness. He was sunk in the blackness for three days.

Art by Noel Coypel.
That's not vague. Neither is the idea of self-sacrificial love acting as a shield against the attacks of the Evil One. Neither, of course, is this quote from her October 2000 Vancouver Sun interview with Max Wyman:
Harry, of course, is able to battle supernatural evil with supernatural forces of his own, and Rowling is quite clear that she doesn't personally believe in that kind of magic -- ''not at all.'' Is she a Christian? 
''Yes, I am,'' she says. ''Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books.''
Which, by the way, if you've read the series (otherwise, potential SPOILERS for all the books but the last one), you can click this link to see how close this hopefully intelligent then-twenty-nine-year-old reader came to guessing what was coming.

6. The nature of evil. Another point of non-vagueness is Rowling's clarity about how willful evil treats its adherents. "He left Quirrell to die," Dumbledore says of Voldemort; "he shows just as little mercy to his followers as to his enemies." That speaks for itself,  I think.

Art by Linnpuzzle.
7. Dumbledore's quotes. There are some great ones in here:

"After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." That sounds reasonable, but it's certainly not the view of someone who believes in annihilation. In context, he's talking about Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, who have allowed for the destruction of their Philosopher's Stone at the cost of their temporal immortality. They've accepted the reality of death, and SO MANY DEATHLY HALLOWS SPOILERS I WANT TO TALK ABOUT. I'll restrain myself.

"...[T]he trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them." Well, don't we, though?

"The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution." Which is a refreshing idea in a world where popular belief is that truth is a weapon to be thrown around willy-nilly.

"Alas! Earwax!" All right, that one just makes me laugh. I love the whole concept of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. I can't even guess what earwax tastes like, but apparently Dumbledore knows (vomit, on the other hand... that one we all know, and making a jellybean that flavor is just mean). Here are the Parselmouths, trying a few of the beans—yes, someone did capitalize on that idea:

8. Hagrid's book. Here at the end of book one, the Mirror of Erised disappears from Harry's life, but he's passed the test; when he faced it alongside his enemy, it wasn't his long-lost family he saw, but the way to defeat Voldemort and protect the world from an immortal and very powerful evil.

Art by RohanElf
But Harry's love and longing for his family was never the problem with Erised, and Hagrid gives him the same image in a form that isn't dangerous to him: old wizard photographs, collected in a leather-bound book. "Smiling and waving at him from every page were his mother and father." Harry, of course, is moved to tears. I cried, too.

9. Dumbledore's recognition of the four Gryffindor students, three of whom had earlier lost serious points at the hands of McGonagall. I love how appropriate and thoughtful these are. Ron is honored for "the best-played game of chess Hogwarts has seen in many years"; Hermione for "cool logic in the face of fire"; Harry for "pure nerve and outstanding courage". And then there's Neville. "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."

Possibly more, actually, all other things being equal. In this case, all other things are not equal, but Neville will have his chance later. This honor is just the beginning of his goodness and glory.

10. Harry's family. "You must be Harry's family!" says Mrs. Weasley, and Uncle Vernon responds with, "In a manner of speaking." I'm not sure whether this shows that Uncle Vernon is less capable of being family than Aunt Petunia [SPOILERS], or that the Dursleys are less Harry's family than the Potters or even the Weasleys, or just that Uncle Vernon is a jerk. Maybe all of the above.

And that's a wrap for me for book one. Go forth and discuss!

* Sorry, I couldn't resist.

1 comment:

  1. I would just like to point out, if it isn't too spoilerariffic, that Dumbledore's honoring of Neville in this way is much more meaningful and important than it initially appears. How so will have to wait until the very end.


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