Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 13-15

"His eeeeeeeyes are as greeeeeeen as a freeeesh pickled toooad
His haaaaair is as daaaaaaark as a blackboooooooard"

Ahem. I think I'm going to be singing that all day. While blushing for poor little Ginny. Here's somebody's lovely orchestrated edition, so you can be singing it, too:

As that plays, here's a recap of last week's posting:

Masha provided recipes for Pepperup potion and "a slow-brewing elixir for lowered inhibitions and reduced internal chatter", the latter of which sounds like just the thing for me. It's too bad I haven't got any of those ingredients in my house... not one. Apparently I need to replenish my stock. (Or maybe just plenish it; I've never had Siberian ginseng.) Anyway, Masha's post also contains some good thoughts about Parseltongue and caricatures and whether to give the Potter books to children:
I can see reasons for pause in the series, as there are in most books, depending on the individual child's needs, temptations, and maturity. Would I be more likely to tuck away Potter and prominently display The Hobbit..yes, I would, but it would be because I love The Hobbit, it's a better book, and one of my favorites, and parents are always going to encourage their favorites. It's just a fact of nature. But while I can see aspects of the books that are very problematic in the formation of youthful morality, I don't see enough to deny a child the books. Yet.
And I say: Well put. I'm too tempted, because the books are so often attacked and misguidedly denounced, to overcompensate with unequivocal praise. Masha's point is a good corrective.

Christie got caught up, offering one post about ghosts and Deathday party and another about potions and Parseltongue. From the latter:
About the Parselmouth gift being the domain of dark wizards, I feel the same as I do about his suitability for placement in Slytherin.  Though the wizarding world is stubborn in its prejudices, I insist that the evilness (or goodness) of a thing, a created object or a genetic gift, is in how it is used.  I'm pulling strongly for Harry, here.  I sense and understand his fear.  It is true that the Parselmouth gift is one often used for evil.  But that makes me even more determined to see Harry use it for good.  The ability to speak to snakes, like most things, is not intrinsically wrong.  So it's unfortunate his classmates see it as such.
Ah, the ability to make fine distinctions. Humans are so bad at it. And yet, for justice's sake, it's imperative. Harry doesn't know why he can speak to snakes, or how; half the time, he doesn't realize he's doing it, and the one time he did knowingly have a conversation with one, he was just being compassionate. After all, snakes are God's creatures, too. But pre-teen Hogwarts is all HARRY'S TRYING TO KILL US. Easy does it, kids.

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This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 13-15

Potential Discussion Points:

1. Dangerous books. Ever since the Teacher wrote "Of making many books there is no end" inside his own book—if not before—authors have been putting meta-commentary on literature inside literature. Rowling's strikes me as incredibly funny:
"Some of the books the Ministry's confiscated—Dad's told me—there was one that burned your eyes out. And everyone who read Sonnets of a Sorcerer spoke in limericks for the rest of their lives. And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed. And—"
The number of times I've wandered around the house with my nose in a book, trying to do everything one-handed... Hahaha. Also, limericks! That would be embarrassing. Especially considering that limericks tend to range from naughty to filthy. I read one of the "man from Nantucket" ones once, and it pretty much soured me on that particular poetic form, mainly because I've never been able to forget it. Worst mental images ever.

2. Valentine's Day. Of all the holidays in all the calendar, Valentine's Day has got to be the worst. I hated it when I was single, primarily because I was single, but when I got married I discovered that while candlelight dinners and romantic evenings are nice anytime, they're really not improved by infusion of lurid pink and being situated in crowded restaurants (both Lou and I recoil in horror from the very thought of going out to dinner on February 14.)

That holiday, commercially appropriated and cheapened far beyond the saccharine point, is an apropos choice for a little more Gilderoy Lockhart party of awkward. Especially since our Gilderoy is "five-time winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile award." What with Snape "looking as though the first person to ask him for a love potion would be force-fed poison" and grim singing dwarfs with wings and harps, this section is beautifully comic.

And now, because I can't resist, some Harry-themed valentines from around the interwebs:




Source. Yes, these last three are all from the same place.
There are more where they came from, too.


Along the same lines, I'm totally giggling about the mandrakes getting all moody and secretive and trying to move into each others' pots. Well. Apparently I'm still in junior high.

3. Poor Hagrid. Between Tom and Fudge... how mean. And unfair. That is all.

4. T.M. Riddle. Here's where the book's mystery—which is pretty awesome—really ramps up. I love it that Riddle is called Riddle here, while Harry's trying to figure him out. And speaking of that mystery, there are so many clues dropping in these chapters. I kept thinking "I want to write about that, but [SPOILER spoiler spoiler MEGASPOILER!!!!!!]"

5. Choosing classes. Presumably some of these kids are writing home for advice, and Neville got barraged whether he asked or not, but Hogwarts, never the sort of school to burden kids with much adult oversight, plunges them into choosing their own classes. Which they're mostly too young and confused to do, and they display that in brilliantly childlike ways. Dean Thomas' tactic sounds as logical as anyone else's.

6. Deus ex Ford Anglia. Clearly Mr. Weasley didn't just enchant the car to make it fly; he made it family-loyal, like a puppy. Cute.

You guys. Someone QUILTED the flying car.
7. Worst Nightmarish Ways to Die. Frankly, SPOILER SPOILER's brush with death in this book is nearer the worst thing I can imagine, but Ron's trails it by an extremely narrow margin of dreadful. Poor boy has hated and feared spiders since big brother Fred turned his teddy bear into a spider while Ron was holding it, and now Ron, along with Harry, nearly gets killed by a swarm of horse-sized spiders. HORRORS.

Art by JamusDu.

8. Dumbledore. "However, you will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it." I love Dumbledore. He sounds like a war general here, or maybe just like a good teacher who also happens to be a really cool and powerful wizard. His odd juxtaposition of mighty protectiveness and shockingly open-handed freedom are on frequent display in these early books, combined with an almost omnipotent sense for what's going on in his school and a plot-benefiting tendency to not know—or not reveal—the big important answers until after the fact. I'm looking forward to more Dumbledore in a week or two.

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Your turn!

...okay, Hagrid, really? I know you wanted to reveal some things, but you thought it was safe to send two twelve-year-old kids and a cowardly dog into a nest of acromantulas? Way deep in the Forbidden Forest? Really?!!!


Harbingers of Autumn and other stories

The baseboard heat has begun coming on this week. Therefore, Maia has appropriated the new bookshelf right over all the warmth:

I'm joining my meme to Masha's again, and probably will do so regularly henceforth. Hop in for "Today" over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

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Today I am...

Feeling... a little behind on things. It's Friday. That's normal, right?

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Seeing... the harbingers of autumn. The shift from warm and mostly sunny to chilly and mostly gray happened almost literally overnight; the trees are only barely starting to turn. It's so wet outside that I haven't got much motivation for taking pictures.

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Smelling... cleansers on my hands, post-housecleaning.

Tasting... well, tonight I'm making fresh tomato soup with garlic and basil and carrot, I think. Maybe a little celery and leek, too. There's also a loaf rising in the breadmaker.

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Listening... to Mendelssohn's Songs without Words, Op. 19. I'm learning number 2 on the piano.

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Grateful... for my Korg Triton LE synth. We used it for the Sister Act piece, because I was the one with a full-size portable piano. Said our accompanist: "You know, you said you had a nice keyboard, and sometimes when people say that... but you actually have a nice keyboard." Yes, I do, and that's my baby. Thanks, Mom and Dad. <3

Now, if only I played it as well as he does. >:( My sightreading is improving, slowly. My tendency to garble my fingers... not so much.

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Reading... exactly the same things I was last week.

Loving... a trenchcoat-wearing Goth student I had in my youth ministry days, whom I haven't seen in at least eight years, but whom I got all emotional about in Masha's combox the other day. I'll never forget him waving me over and holding out one of his earbuds, saying, "Listen to this, it's so beautiful!" He was listening to Richard Marx. I had to sit down to the piano and play "Right Here Waiting" in his honor this week.

Hoping... to get through slush-reading, Harry Potter post prep, article-finishing, and chapter 3 of novel revision this weekend. The word for that is ambitious.

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That's all I've got. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Only Way to Paradise

The Only Way to ParadiseHer curiosity became more and more unbearable as it simmered under her photography lesson, which on another level, she was enjoying. It reminded her of her childhood, this thinking on two different levels. There was the surface level where she heard her parents screaming at each other, threatening divorce, and then there was that calm place inside her where she planned what would be her own perfect life. When she was little, she wrote stories about it. When she was older, she buried herself in books. Big, thick Russian novels so complex that they made her parents into cartoon figures by comparison.

Author: G.G. Vandagriff

Synopsis: Disheartened by their group therapy sessions, four women with very different struggles take a month's vacation to Florence, Italy together in hopes of finding their own healing. Georgia is grieving the death of her husband; MacKenzie is struggling with her husband's apparent abandonment of the family and the subsequent rebellion of her teenage children; Sara has been trying to dull the pain of hated work and suppressed musical genius with a serious addiction to Xanax; and Roxie is afraid of men and haunted by a hazy memory of abuse. Surrounded by art, beauty, warm-hearted Italians, and freedom, each woman meets with an opportunity for peace—but each must find the courage to accept it.

Little Notes: While Vandagriff's concept isn't new—it openly acknowledges its debt to Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel Enchanted April—it's one that holds up to repetition with comparative ease. For myself, I preferred The Only Way to Paradise to the von Arnim novel, primarily because I actually liked the characters.

The combination of self-discovery themes and romantic foreign settings can discomfit as easily as it can thrill, depending on authorial life ethic. Most of us are keenly interested in gaining a comfortable knowledge of self (says your friendly blogging narcissist), and that's a perfectly fair quest if it comes alongside maturation of—as the author called it—agape, or self-giving love. Self-discovery is so commonly celebrated at the expense of others, both in fiction and reality, that I was thoroughly surprised and pleased to find myself reading a story that was clean, positive, even hopeful, without being sugary or absurd.

It's a self-published novel (Vandagriff has had past work traditionally published), but it's very readable. The prose and storytelling aren't spectacular, but they're believable, usually bearable and sometimes downright thoughtful. The emotional progression starts off a bit slow, but develops a lot in the middle, and I appreciated the sensitivity with which mental illness was handled. All told, it was lovable enough that I suspect I'll be reading more of her work.


Harry Potter Book Club: Catch-Up Week... and My Brief Career as a Singing Nun

Hey, everyone, this is catch-up week for the Harry Potter Book Club. I'm taking it off.

I didn't have time or energy to think about Harry Potter this weekend. Our local Catholic school had its centennial celebration, and I got to be part of what—considering how many times I saw the movie—might almost count as a musical dream come true: a group of my fellow choir ladies and I dressed up in habits and sang a medley of "Hail, Holy Queen" and "I Will Follow Him" from Sister Act. Complete with choreography. As a surprise for the gathering of alumni and families.

I apologize for there not being, to my knowledge anyway, a video of this. But you know how it goes, right? It must be admitted that the screenplay displays a colossal ignorance of the most basic workings of the Catholic Church (kind of like the news media, har), but the music is still awesome:

It was hard to hear around the wimple, and I had to stare serenely over the heads of the audience or risk meeting a gaze at the tableful of friends right in front of me (upon which I would never have been able to—as Jane Austen would say—keep my countenance). But a crammed week of rehearsals paid off, and I got all the nerves out of the way in two days of immoderate freakout beforehand, and I was comfortable enough to enjoy myself. People cheered and clapped and laughed, and when it ended with a four-part chord topped by the Mary Robert soloist's high C and backed by a full glissando down the piano, we got a standing ovation. So, yeah. That was awesome. :D

It doesn't help you get any more Harry Potter posts, however, so it's probably good that it was a one-time event. But you can read Christie's chapters 8-9 post, "HPP: Ghosts in the Foreground", and Masha just got her chapters 10-12 post up, "Potions to Pass the Day", and they're both great. More to come in response next week, along with the next couple of chapters. Happy reading!


Aesthetic Restfulness and other stories

It occurred to me this week that Masha's weekly meme and mine would combine really well if needed... so here you have the result. The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

Today I am...

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Feeling... proud of myself, because I figured out thrift shopping this week. It's always been hard for me because I'm outsize due to my height; pants and shoes are nearly unfindable outside of specialized shops. Also, I hate taking unnecessary time with things—I'd rather just figure out exactly what I want and go get it. Owing to necessity, however, I've decided that a) the skirt-with-tights-or-leggings look is super cute and comfortable and much easier than finding pants long enough, and b) thrifting is the only way to fix a desperately failing wardrobe on a small budget.

So, my tactic was: make a single sweep through the relevant racks, looking for the longest stuff available in the best colors, try it all on, and take what works. In an hour or less.

Technically, I wasn't supposed to take eleven items into the fitting room, but the store was mostly empty. I came out with three skirts, three long-sleeved shirts, and a soft gray cardigan that I love, for what almost any of those pieces might've cost me at the mall. Here's me in one of the skirts; I wore it to a meeting today and then cleaned house in it because, like a kid with Superman pajamas, I didn't want to take it off.

No tights today, but I've been acquiring some.
I want these, but as I could never wear them to church,
I haven't justified them to myself yet.

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Seeing... late-summer flowers.

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Smelling... this rose, which has a very sweet scent, and which I could apparently not take a non-blurry picture of:

Tasting... for lunch, Greek yogurt with blueberries. And I have no idea what I'm making for dinner, but it'll have homemade salsa on the side.

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Listening... to something I can't post yet, because I'm singing it with a group this weekend and it's supposed to be a secret. But also, Jen and friends are talking about picking a theme song for your Myers-Briggs personality type. I can't resist. I'm an ISFJ, which translates to the Keirsey temperament analysis as "Protector Guardian." Basically, what this means is that I want to scrape everybody in the whole world up into one giant hug and make sure they're happy and have everything they need. Especially the ones I love.

So, if you ever wonder why I'm so exorbitantly over-helpful—I probably just looked at you and thought this:

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Grateful... for a home in which I can host my artistic mom amid some aesthetic restfulness, and for our long conversation about art in the church. The widespread modern lack thereof, rather, which is a matter of much prayer and hope.

Reading... Mary Stewart's The Hollow Hills and Evoking Sound by James Jordan, the latter of which yesterday had me tapping fingers or toes together to—since I couldn't find my metronome—ticking clocks and car blinkers. Turns out, I have a very hard time coordinating the two sides of my body with any precision.

Loving... new clothes, long-running book clubs, secret (and non-secret) choir teams and projects, and this peaceful little home.

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Hoping... that the secret song goes well, and that we have the miracle of no real rain tomorrow for the barbecue and for getting my 75-pound, 88-key synthesizer in and out of our sedan with no case or cover.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Man Who Was Thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hair-breadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word ‘Victoria,’ it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of Adam.”

Gregory wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile.

“And even then,” he said, “we poets always ask the question, ‘And what is Victoria now that you have got there?’ You think Victoria is like the New Jerusalem. We know that the New Jerusalem will only be like Victoria. Yes, the poet will be discontented even in the streets of heaven. The poet is always in revolt.”

“There again,” said Syme irritably, “what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I’m hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is—revolting. It’s mere vomiting.”

Author: G.K. Chesterton

Mini-Synopsis: After sounding forth against anarchy to an anarchist poet, undercover detective Gabriel Syme finagles his way onto a secret council of anarchist bombers who call themselves by the days of the week. Hoping to find a way to reveal himself and the council to the police without breaking his promise of secrecy to the poet, he begins his investigations with zeal and fear—only to discover that none of his new companions are who or what they seem.

Little Notes: This book defies review, probably because like most nightmares—and it claims to be a nightmare in its own subtitle—it defies comprehension. At least, on first read. Half suspenseful detective novel and half fanciful pursuit of God, the novel juxtaposes the unmixable; the scene near the end with the thrones and the descriptive clothing, which reminded me forcibly of Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, didn’t seem to have much to do with the scene in the underground room near the beginning.

Possibly I just need to read it again, perhaps in turn with That Hideous Strength. Usually I can understand Chesterton, even with his backwards aphorisms, but I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I will say, however, that there’s a touch of comprehension to be had in this quote from his own commentary upon the novel:
“It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.”
Chesterton is ever worth reading for his gleams of hope. And for his humor, which is to be had in plenty in this story, and for his beautiful prose. Even when his story is openly as changeable and confusing as a dream.


Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 10-12

Hello, witches and wizards! We'll need the password to the Slytherin dungeons this week: "pure-blood". Gosh, it would be hard to be a Slytherin and a good person during Harry's day at Hogwarts, wouldn't it? You'd feel like a racist every time you tried to get into your dorms.


I'm a Hufflepuff, so all I have to have to get into my common room is rhythm. But here's to all the good Slytherins, and all the things you suffer, including having to share dorm space with a bunch of skeleton decorations and Draco Malfoy.

Before we go searching out Malfoy on purpose for the first time in Harry and Ron's young lives, here's last week's recap:

Christie posted first with conversation about English schools, mandrakes, and the meaning of words:
It raises a question in Harry Potter, not for the first time, of the meaningfulness of words.  Perhaps I should say meaning-ness.  How much does a word mean itself?  If the hearer of the word is ignorant of its meaning, is it still offensive?  Is meaning inherent?  Or does it depend on the intention of the speaker?  Mudblood, since it is a made up racial slur, is ideal to study when asking these questions, as we have none of the cultural or chronological biases.  I'd be interested to hear your thoughts, now and going forward in our reading.
We could also study witch, of course, since the original force of the Christian protest against Harry Potter is against the use of that word. My sister (who still read and enjoyed the books, and loved Snape) argues—if I understood her accurately—that the inherent meaning of witch is so inescapably tied to the powers of hell that Rowling's use of it opens her work to being used by said powers, even if the portrayal of her witches is carefully distinguished from real-world witchcraft. She comes closer to having a point than anyone else I've heard try to make an argument out of that word. For myself, I'm just not convinced that a) words are so strictly tied to particular definitions and connotations, or b) that the powers of hell work that way. Or that way more than any other, at least. Not to be flippant, but they seem to have such a penchant for good ideas and intentions.

Masha responded with talk about potions and Rowling's relationship to agendas and telling lies:
When Harry finds the Kwikspell Course (I hope it's advertised as The Kwikspell Kourse and sold for five payments of $19.99 - with a 'kwik' response getting you an additional 'spell-boosting wand extender' and three extra-potent toadstools) on Filch's desk, we see more of the habitual lying the students of Hogwarts are noteworthy for (in my reading anyway). Harry lies to Filch, Hermione to Myrtle at the dullest party imaginable, Harry lies to Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore's ghost at Nearly Headless Nick's request, and of course Nick himself is awash in socially-acceptable party lies.... all of this is very casual, expected behavior. It's a small thing, I know, but one that grates on me while reading. Perhaps because I'm learning just how much I do value honesty; or perhaps because most of the lies are so careless.
This is one of those points where, in a secular boarding school, portrayal may be a matter of realism—or it may be a plot device. I couldn't quite say. Of all the characters, Dumbledore seems to make the greatest point of being truthful, and yet he, too, will be shown to sacrifice truth—or openness, at least—for the sake of protecting certain SPOILERY SECRETS.

Reading about moral breaches committed by fictional characters is an inescapable part of the experience of reading novels, so take this next part with that in mind: Reading with discernment entails noting where a sympathetic character does something that goes against your conscience or his, especially if it's done sympathetically. People are too prone to thinking that because story portrays truth, every sympathetic emotion experienced by a sympathetic character is not only valid, but morally acceptable. The careless lying in Harry Potter is probably one of the top five valid moral criticisms to be made of the story, and it would definitely be one of my biggest reasons for making a careful judgment call on what age and maturity level I'd give the books to my own hypothetical children to read.

I would give the books to my hypothetical children, incidentally, upon their reaching that appropriate age and maturity level. Without hesitation.

In other news, Masha's making Pepperup potion, Christie's talking treacle fudge, and I feel like cooking fun things again now that I occasionally have two minutes to rub together. I'm not sure what, though. We'll see if I can come up with something in the next week or two. Egg nog? Plum cake? Scottish porridge? Any preferences? I'll have to do pumpkin juice eventually, but that's got to wait for my pumpkins to finish ripening. :)

Three of them from a few weeks back.
It's too rainy to take pictures today.

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This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 10-12

Potential Discussion Points:

Art by cippow25
1. Hermione breaking rules. This would be out of character, except that Hermione is the kind of person who does what needs to be done, and here she's faced with the potential murder of classmates. She never points out that as a Muggle-born, she herself could be targeted, but she's too smart not to have realized it. I can't go any further on that topic without SPOILERS.

2. Harry, the physical hero. Let the Bludger chase me, Fred and George, we have to win. Oliver Wood, of course, allows it. Harry saves the Quidditch match thereby, and he's so comfortable with a little bodily risk that I'm sure he would have considered the pain and fainting a worthwhile sacrifice. The humiliation he's immediately subjected to by Lockhart and Colin Creevey, maybe not.

3. More house-elf difficulties. Here Dobby points out that, bad as things are for house-elves now, they were worse under Voldemort's reign. Interesting that horror spreads so easily, that—presumably—private families would behave more cruelly to their slaves when their own lives are ruled by tyranny.

Art by Lumosita
4. The hospital wing in such a dangerous school. I love it that Madam Pomfrey never asks too many questions. She'd have to be too jaded to bother after a few years in that role. In these chapters alone, we have Lockhart slamming Harry into the floor during a classroom reenactment (though Harry doesn't seem to be hurt enough to go see the nurse), a Quidditch injury and the ever-inept Lockhart's removing all the bones from Harry's arm, dueling lessons and the fallout therefrom, an exploded swelling potion (though Snape takes care of that one), and Hermione turning herself halfway into a cat. And that's what I can recall off the top of my head. Just an ordinary term at Hogwarts...

5. Fred and George's cheering-up tactics. Oh, sister's upset at the Petrifying of a classmate? Let's cover ourselves in fur and boils and jump out at her from behind statues. Oh, Harry's accused of trying to murder all the Muggle-borns? Let's follow him around, yelling "Make way for the Heir of Slytherin!" Whatever the sickness, those two will try and cure it with humor. This fails miserably on Ginny, not so much because they're mistaken in her temperament as because they're mistaken in [SPOILER REDACTED], but it works well for Harry.

6. Harry's a Parselmouth. In honor of our introduction of this term, here's a song by The Parselmouths. About being in Slytherin, of course.

Also, you can use this site to translate words into Parseltongue. You know, next time you want to free a boa constrictor from the zoo.

Art by StressedJenny
Rowling has answered the question of where the word Parselmouth comes from, in an interview with Stephen Fry at the Royal Albert Hall:
Stephen Fry: "...is a Parselmouth a real thing or did you make that up?"
JK Rowling: "Parselmouth is an old word for someone who has a problem with the mouth, like a hare lip."
In the case of its new meaning, we now know how the captive boa constrictor told Harry that it had never seen Brazil. And we know that Harry has therefore got an unwanted, unexpected connection to the bad guys. Parseltongue, in the HP universe, is something you either know or you don't—you can't learn it—and it's a rare gift, thought to be the province of dark wizards. Snakes, you know.
Art by gryffindor-girl

7. Gryffindor or Slytherin and the question of identity. Like the rest of us, Harry has a deep internal need to know himself. He needs, particularly, to know that he's good. I identify more with that need than with anything else about his character. He is afraid of few things and I am afraid of many, but we are both desperately afraid of being evil.

8. Harry doesn't confide in Dumbledore. Considering how little Harry really knows Dumbledore yet, and the sort of secrets he has going on, this is perhaps understandable. I'm rather curious what Dumbledore is asking about, here. He knows Harry isn't doing the actual attacking, but I wonder if he thinks Harry may be opening the Chamber. Unfortunately, I can't talk about that without SPOILERS.

9. Fawkes. Dumbledore's office is fantastic—I have this bright, airy, azure vision of the circular room at the top of the spiral staircase, all the silvery devices whirring with magic—but the pinnacle of it is the red-and-gold bird that bursts into a fireball and resurrects from the ashes. Named for Guy Fawkes, the Catholic zealot who nearly blew up King James and Parliament several hundred years ago and has been burned in effigy on the fifth of November ever since, the phoenix is one of the coolest pets in all of Harry Potter. There are few more powerful resurrection symbols in the entire series; here, we're just meeting him, but I feel like Rowling used this little side event as a way of pointing directly to her story's core theme: the search for true power over death.
Dumbledore and Fawkes. Art by Neal R. Haney

Guy Fawkes by George Cruikshank

10. Polyjuice Potion. Ingredients list includes, but is not limited to (thanks to the Harry Potter Lexicon for the summary):
The links go to the HPL's entries on the various creatures. Their explanations are not always in depth, however; Wikipedia has more on the bicorn, which "has the reputation of devouring kind-hearted and devoted husbands, and is thus plump and well fed. His counterpart is the Chichevache, which devours only obedient wives and is therefore thin and starving" (hey now, that's low...) and its article on the boomslang (currently) includes a picture:

Green is for Slytherin.
Now how do you say that in Parseltongue?
Photo by William Warby.


The Glory Days of Dreadful and other stories

There's been a lot of talk on the interwebs lately about young girls, modesty, chastity, and the like. I don't want to give any link love to the appalling one I read yesterday that attempted to convince homeschooling parents not to send their daughters to college, but here's some of the good stuff:
Me in the glory days of dreadful.
Photo cropped oddly to
protect the innocent.
When I was being homeschooled, there was a lot of negative reinforcement in the communal discussion. Sometimes in flat contradiction of what my parents themselves believed and meant to teach—enthusiastic ideals are always subject to the law of unintended consequences—I learned to be afraid of getting out in the world, of trying to make a life for myself, of my own physical attractiveness; the latter of which, thanks to the heavy emphasis on modesty and separation from the world, very quickly turned into a conviction of my own unattractiveness.

[<= This was the most embarrassing photo I could come up with on short notice. But there was a worse one in a national homeschooling magazine once. :P]

I learned how not to relate to men instead of how to. I learned that my life was designed to revolve around marriage and childbearing; everything else was just stuff to kill time with till The Right One came along. As you can imagine, those two lessons weren't designed to mix well. To this day, I'm nervous and self-conscious around young men, unduly fearful of their dislike and anxious for their praise.

In brutal honesty: I got off easy. Domineering men often gravitate toward submissive, dependent girls. They're easy to control. I've seen it happen.

Homeschooling parents: you're doing good, hard work in the world, and I'm aware that you have enough battles to fight without me giving you a complex. But please, please teach your girls—especially your cautious ones—to find and pursue interests, including interests outside the home. To look for good work to do and to do it confidently. To smile and converse with and befriend boys as well as girls. To hold their heads up and look men in the eyes as equals, choose husbands who respect women, and give those husbands their respect out of choice, not out of instinct and fear. Feminism wouldn't be so popular if there weren't at least some truth to it. This is some of that truth.

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Cute fix! First, the cat picture:


Second: my family has an unbelievable number of baby bunnies all of a sudden, and I couldn't resist grabbing the camera and sharing the love.

Middle set. I love how they sleep in a big jumble like this.

The littlest set. I think this grey/cinnamon coloring is the most beautiful thing.

Here's looking at you, kid.

The oldest set....

...playing in their grass run with an umbrella for shade.

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Music of the week: I'm feeling light and rocky, and I like these young people's a capella arrangement of the Cups song. You know, I never did master that game. Summer staff retreat just wasn't long enough. :)

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Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: 2312

2312”You’ve done some strange things to yourself.”

She made a face and looked away. “Moral condemnation of other people is always rather rude, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I do. Of course. Though I notice we do it all the time. But I was speaking of strangeness only. No condemnation implied.”

“Oh sure. Strangeness is so good.”

“Well, isn’t it? We’re all strange.”

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

From Goodreads: The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity's only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.

The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.

Little Notes: While reading this book, I caught myself thinking a number of times that “This—this is what a science fiction book should be.” Robinson worked up some of the most beautiful worldbuilding I’ve ever come across and made it contemplative to boot: there’s music, art, science, and a great deal of thought and exploration of such ideas as the existence of evil, the morality of political structures, the effects of gravity on human life, and what sex and gender are like when completely divorced from love, childbearing, original biological makeup, the transgressive, etc.—not that I could agree with all of his conclusions, mind.

There were also a number of times that I caught myself considering putting the book down. There were several graphic sexual images I wouldn't mind un-reading. The story works in the direction of marriage… sort of, but I’m not convinced the author meant anything by that. The heroine, having experimented long and hard with extreme forms of sex, abramovics, and self-enhancement, came off inhuman at times. To be fair, I think that last was intentional, and the hero was generally a beautiful character.

This is some of the most fascinated I’ve ever been by fiction for grown-ups, but the margin by which I found its virtues worth dealing with its sexual grotesqueries was pretty narrow. Reader, beware as you choose. It’s rare, though, that I find a book written with such intensity of thought, such care for detail; rare enough that I can't regret reading this one.


Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 8-9

Hail, fellow Hogwarts students, and hang onto your drippy black candles! We're going down to the dungeons for this one, and there's nothing more Gothic than a Hogwarts dungeon, so it should be creepy. Watch that those tapers don't blow out!

Before we do, though—The Harry Potter Book Club met live for the first time last Monday:

Me, Masha on Skype, Christie

And it was awesome. We talked about Snape and spoilers and the possibility of doing some other book clubs when we finish with Harry... all of which will, I believe, be revealed in time. ;)

Meanwhile: this week, Masha spoke of loving Lockhart and other Rowling caricatures, Hermione's breaking character, Hogwarts' slipshod student management, and the relationship between wizards and everyone else:
...also, as Christie's mentioned, J.K. Rowling seems to be presenting common decency as exceptional goodness pretty often as it relates to any interaction between wizards and anyone else, be they elves or muggles. I'm not sure if it's to create in the reader an awareness of how deeply flawed the wizarding world is, or if it is supposed to be viewed by the reader as exemplary. Thoughts here??
And Christie has been down with a cold (wish I had thought to send her some Pepperup Potion), but I'm going to move forward; Chamber of Secrets is pretty action-based and, compared to some of the other books, easy to write about in a concise fashion. At least, I think so. Christie might scold me later. ;P

And now, for next week's reading!

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This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 8-9

In honor of Nearly Headless Nick's five hundredth deathday, here's a link to the Rowling-penned ballad depicting his death (page down to get to it). A taste:
It was a mistake any wizard could make
Who was tired and caught on the hop
One piffling error, and then, to my terror,
I found myself facing the chop.

Potential Discussion Points:

Art by Keith James
1. The Deathday Party. It's a brilliant little piece of Gothic spoof-comedy, from the screeching saws to the rotted food to the Headless Hunt. Nearly Headless Nick is a bit of a tepid personality, but it's impossible not to feel sorry for him when the gleeful Sir "Properly-Decapitated" Podmore is around.

Art by VivalaVida
2. Squibs. Designated by Rowling to mean a non-magical child born to magical parents, the original definition includes, according to the Oxford:
3 informal a small, slight, or weak person, especially a child.
and according to the World English Dictionary:
2. a firework that does not explode because of a fault; dud
...both of which could be relevant to Rowling's usage.

We meet two Squibs in the Harry Potter series (the other is a spoiler yet); in Filch's case, the janitorial job may have been some of the same kindness, Dumbledorian or otherwise, that allowed the expelled Hagrid to stay on as Keeper of the Keys and Grounds. Unlike for Hagrid, however, being constantly close to magic he can't do seems to have soured Filch (either that, or he was a nastier person to begin with. Or both.) Secondary school students cannot be expected to kindly treat someone who is constantly threatening and punishing them beyond the bounds of reason, but their instinctive distrust and hatred only feeds into Filch's lifelong bitterness. From an obvious sense of inferiority, he sought out the Kwikspell course—which looks like something marketed for $19.99 by infomercial on cable TV—but perhaps he might have become less brutal, lived more peaceably, if he had simply gone out and lived among Muggles from an early age.

Art by matisnape
3. Moaning Myrtle was my first introduction to a Harry Potter book—I happened to pick Chamber of Secrets up off a department store shelf one day, flip through it, and land on Myrtle splashing in the toilet. I doubt that image was responsible for my eventually sneaking into the children's library to pick up the series I'd heard such mixed good and evil of, but Myrtle has always been one of my favorite minor characters, simply because she's so comic. Granted, if you take her life and afterlife seriously at all, it's quite sad—not the sort of thing I can laugh over—but junior high Jenna somehow finds her setting and dialogue excruciatingly funny.

Oh, and here's a song about getting flushed by her wizard rock namesake, The Moaning Myrtles. (I wish I could've found a video for "Wrocking Around the Bathroom Stall", which is set to "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" and is my favorite TMM song, but I couldn't; you can listen to it over on Grooveshark, though.) Wrocking from the U-bend:

4. Professor Binns, history, myth, and boredom. This time spoofing the general perspective on history classes, Rowling gives us a teacher so locked into dry routine and dryer lecturing that he never even notices his own death. History doesn't have to be boring, however, as the entire classroom wakes up when the lesson becomes relevant. Binns will never be this interesting again, so here's a picture of him entering through the blackboard:

Ghostly professor, sleepy class. Art by SusiKISS.

5. Gothic humor and horror. That pair runs these two chapters. Humor leads out with the Deathday party, the salamander, Peeves, Moaning Myrtle, etc.. Horror follows behind with the murderous voice in the wall and the petrification of Mrs. Norris. The creepy message daubed on the stone wall, with the petrified cat hung beneath it, sounds like something straight out of a horror movie—and it's a sign that the book is going to keep getting darker.

Which it will.

Oh, and I don't like spiders either, Ron.

Go forth and talk Potter!


Serious Free Time and other stories

I am home. Where it has rained hard the last two days and been so dark that I've had lamps on all day. But I was so glad to see Lou, who brought these along in picking me up at the airport:

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Vacation being officially over, I'm going to spring some blog changes on you. But first, cat picture:

The cat pictures will keep coming, oh yes.

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I can also assure you that the Harry Potter Book Club should continue as begun.

Now that that's settled... I've decided to put myself through some serious study of music and Spanish (and probably get more into literature as well, eventually) as well as gritting through my authorial burnout and finishing some novels. For that, I need to free up a little time. I love blogging, but like most art forms, it'll suck up all the space and time and energy allowed it. :)

What this mainly means for you is shorter posts. Last week's abridged review of The Crystal Cave took me a quarter of the time most book reviews take me. And Friday posts will probably become less blather among the pictures and music. It's hard for me to imagine anyone complaining about that....

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What this means for me is that I'm devoting fall quarter to finishing the novel I have under contract (the other's getting relegated to spare time for the time being), studying through James Jordan's Evoking Sound since that was loaned to me (and since it's awesome), and spending a little time every day learning Spanish and sightreading, both of which I have plans for much more immersive study in future. I'll spare you the enumeration of my ever-so-specific scheduling and like details—they aren't likely to interest anyone but me—but you might get progress notes. :)

If you need further reasoning for all this, Christie wrote out my underlying thoughts beautifully just yesterday, apparently by way of either Vulcan Mind Meld or the principle of great minds.

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This post is turning out a bit long, but I haven't written in a week. I mean to behave with more brevity henceforth.

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The visit to Florida was about as lovely and ideal as it could possibly have been. Apart from a slight delay on the return, all my flights were smooth—and beautiful:

I am grateful to YD for the First Rule of Wilderness Guiding, which works equally well for air travel when one can pack light enough to make it possible. (Trips to Florida in summer are great for light packing.) That is: Never get separated from your gear. I didn't even put mine in the overhead bins. It made flying much less stressful.

Also, ear plugs. They were my salvation from that sharp inner-ear pressure during landing and from not being able to hear properly for 24 hours after flying. I mean to use them every time I fly in the future.

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Favorite Florida memories include:
  • drinking coffee and sitting on the patio swing in early morning with Grandma B.
  • walking through the surf on Clearwater Beach
  • touring the shoreline and Tarpon Springs with Grandma and Grandpa H, who spoiled me rotten
  • talking music with Uncle R., who had mercy on my loneliness for my piano and loaned me the use of his keyboard; he's the other serious musician in the family, and the conversations were straight-up fun
  • getting to know Aunt M. for the first time, really; also, her and Uncle C.'s fried fish were superb
  • two hours with Christie and Afon!!! Christie introduced me to her son as Aunty. :D Much of our time together was spent Skyping with Masha, Seth, and Yarrow, which was worth all the computer difficulties we had trying to make it work! More on that next week...
  • half an hour talking to J. and Uncle R. about adventure stuff and Grandpa B., who passed away this spring
  • playing the piano for Grandma B.
  • watching Tyler Perry movies with Uncle R. till way past bedtime Monday night
It was a beautiful trip. I couldn't quite cry at goodbyes—they were too rushed, and involved airports—but several times along the return, the partings hit me and my eyes welled up. I miss my family.

Clearwater Beach

The family didn't seem thrilled about having their pictures taken,
but the peach-faced lovebirds were happy to ham it up for the camera.

The back yard of the home I spent most of my early childhood in.
It's now missing the palm tree once used in catching a menacing alligator,
as well as the fire ant hill I stepped in when I was eleven.
But it's as beautiful as ever.

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Music of the week: Audrey Assad's "I Shall Not Want", from her new album Fortunate Fall. You all know I have a terribly up-and-down relationship with modern sacred music, especially of the pop Christian variety. Well. This is one of the ups. Half litany and wholly peaceful, underscored by sweet mellow piano, with a lyric pointed right at my own biggest weaknesses, it put me in tears. Enjoy.

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Happy weekend! I plan to be back with some Harry Potter on Monday...