Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 2-4

Art by Anariel27
Hail, magical ones—a day late, but here I am! It's time to talk some Potter, and both my co-hostesses have done so this week. Christie went first, with "HPP: Modernism vs. Magic" (emphasis hers):
"You can throw some powder in the chimney, walk into the fireplace, and end up in another town altogether.... we Muggles see it as charming, but for the wizard-born-and-raised, wouldn't the e-mail and the text message seem more magical? And what separates magic from science, in a universe where magic seems to lack all elements of spirituality and is a naturally found occurrence?  It reminds me of the passage in The Lord of the Rings when Lady Galadriel kindly tells Sam that what he considers "elf-magic" is for them art, skill, and science."
Arthur Weasley excepted, I wonder if the wizard-born-and-raised would find texting and email more magical than Floo powder. Those technological advances might just look like the Protean charm.

But while Rowling's magic is a naturally found occurrence as it's portrayed, I don't think it's necessarily unspiritual for all that. Art, skill and science involve the whole person, spirit and all; roughly put, I'd say that there's the hard, technical craft side of any skill or study and the more fluid, artistic side that draws from unseen places. I'm with Sam in taking a bit of a mystical view of such things.

(Apparently I am Sam. Sam I am. [Sorry, I couldn't help myself.])

I'm debating Christie's words here, not her meaning. She would be the first to recognize the Greek honor for the Muses, the Psalmists' inspiration from God, the spiritual aspects of the faculty that allowed Michelangelo to find David in a block of marble and Copernicus to hypothesize about heliocentrism. As for Harry Potter, I've probably introduced terminological confusion into this discussion by too-eagerly defending Rowling's treatment of magic as nonspiritual with nonspiritual meaning "obviously not based upon the invocation of spirits."

If you want to re-create fifth-grade science, here's how.
When put that way, it's easy to view Rowling's magic as comparable to the straightforward act of mixing vinegar and baking soda for a fizz. [*resists urge to go re-create fifth grade volcano experiments in the kitchen sink*] But while said magic is generally distinguished from the pursuit of occult powers, it's also more than the rote combination of reagents for a predicted reaction. Rowling says this flat-out in book one:
"There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words."
She gives very little explanation of what she means there—merely a brief comment on studying astronomy and herbology. Based on the overall presentation in the story, though, I do think of Harry's magic as spiritually invested in the artistic sense, at least. Hints include:
  • it's something he has an innate talent for but must study and perfect
  • it's obviously deeply connected to the emotions/psyche (consider, for instance, what Harry does, wandless, in this week's chapters)
Sheesh. This conversation will be so much easier toward the end of the series.

Gotta keep up with Masha on the cat picture thing.
Masha responded briefly to Christie, included an adorable kitten picture, and said something I keep coming back to, although I think it could take a long time to respond to properly:
This is the [Potter] book that seems to have more unrealized potential than any other
Which suggests that the other books are either more realized, or have less potential, which could be quite a series of arguments (and might become so when we get to OotP and DH). I'd like to keep this in mind as we work through this book; if it hadn't been that I love one and five and seven so much, book three would be my favorite, and I'm hard put to come up with anything I'd change.

In other news: Harry Potter stamps!!! Now—who on earth would you want to send a letter with this on it?:
Two words: TAX RETURN. Hahaha.
Source: Mugglenet.

Also, you can go to Starbucks and get them to make you a butterbeer. Sort of. I still think butterbeer recipes need to have at least trace amounts of alcohol present in order to qualify. But I'm picky like that.

On to this week's reading! But first: why didn't I see this one in time for the last book???


* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapters 2-4

This Katy Perry parody by BYU students is hilarious and adorable. I love it.

Potential Discussion Points:

So much of these three chapters is simple mystery-building, which is why I took them all together. By the end of it, at least Harry understands the Ministry of Magic's uncharacteristic graciousness, but Rowling's dropping details right and left that set up the end of the book. It's hard to comment much on those right now. Here are a few things we can talk about, however.

1. The late Margaret Thatcher. I've always respected her, though admittedly from too much distance to have hard confidence in my feelings. But it's almost taken for canon in Potter fandom that "Aunt Marge" is intended as a pointed mockery of Dame Thatcher and of conservative politicians in general.

Art by heatherlynnharris
On account of which, the Aunt Marge chapter is one of the more politically charged segments of the Potter series, which I kind of wish I didn't know. As story alone, these are a workable few scenes in long-standing children's literature tradition: tough orphan pitted against comically horrible adult guardians. That's an odd tradition, maybe; taking a serious look at the things Aunt Marge does and says to Harry will make the hand twitch toward the phone for a call to CPS. But it works inside the schoolboy-story tradition nonetheless.

Once anyone starts tying something like this too specifically to modern politics, however, it gets mean. Maybe some of the Marge and Vernon Dursley statements are a fair parody of some of the more extreme and mouthy conservatism, but it's certainly not a fair presentation of conservatives in general. Though possibly I'd just find the satire more bearable if groups like the Harry Potter Alliance weren't so desperately prone to presuming that this sort of thing is serious and accurate and that they're therefore justified in writing all conservatives off as monsters.

Disclaimer: I'm politically disenfranchised, to the point where I sometimes don't vote. Part of the reason is that neither side treats the other fairly. Oh, what a rough world we live in....

2. Critique of excess. The final Aunt Marge scene, with the overflow of food and alcohol and criticism of those who need to rely on charity—outside of the party lines, there's some human truth behind the hyperbole here.

Art by Ry-Spirit
3. Harry, free in Diagon Alley. I love this little section, where Harry, used to being practically jailed in cupboards and rooms in the Dursley household, discovers real freedom for the first time in the magical world. Having gone through a similar experience on the spiritual level, his delight gets me right in the feels.

Art by Liza Phoenix
4. Cassandra Vablatsky. The name is almost certainly a reference to Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society. Considering that Rowling has said "New ageism leaves me completely cold," this is perhaps the first playful hint of the nature of Harry's upcoming Divination classes, which Rowling has some fun with in this book.

Death omens, by the bye, are something it would be best if I never know anything about. The Flourish and Blotts shopkeeper is right when he says that reading Death Omens: What to Do when You Know the Worst is Coming will make you start seeing them everywhere. I totally would.

5. "You sometimes have to join forces with those you would rather avoid." Leaving aside the fact that Molly seems conveniently ignorant in this scene for narrative purposes, Arthur's statement is... one of the other reasons I have a hard time with politics. :P We won't meet the Azkaban guards till next week, but considering how horrible they are when we do meet them, I think this is definitely fair game for a real scrapper of a debate about ethics. The stationing of SPOILER-sucking SPOILERS around a school full of adventurous children, even in defense against a murderer who is planning to break into the school with a particular victim in mind, is dangerous almost to the point of insanity. I think Dumbledore knows this, and I'm not sure why he caves here... but the Ministry of Magic is involved, and again, politics.

* * *

Batteries not included.
There are other things we could talk about—the Knight Bus, the loquacious Stan Shunpike, the Invisible Book of Invisibility (which always makes me think of The Emperor's New Clothes), and the fact that if you really thought about the names in Rowling's story they'd be spoilers half the time, which says a lot for Rowling's powers of misdirection, which are on full display here—I'll let you guess where and how. :)

But this post has already been delayed long enough, so—converse away!


  1. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh, I love that Katy Perry parody!!!!

    I'm Galadriel (I think)--no wonder we're such good friends!

    Thanks for explaining about the natural magic vs. spiritual magic. It's true that that some kinds of "science" take much more soul than others, and that seems to be the case here. I expect I'll understand it better and better as we read on.

    1. :D I have seriously watched that parody, like, four times in the last two days. And I'll probably wind up watching it again. I love the kid with the cauldron in chemistry class--and the idea of protecting Muggles--and the lead girl's voice--and yeah, pretty much everything about the video.

      I can TOTALLY see you as Galadriel! <3

      And I'm glad the spiritual magic explanation made sense. It took me forever to write. :P The movies don't provide nearly as nuanced a picture as the books do, so I'll definitely be excited to see what you think as the story progresses!

    2. Also, the science part is something I could stand to think more about. Most present-day scientists go out of their way to remove any aspect of mysticism from their work, but I believe there's an artistic side and therefore a spiritual side to work like research, experimentation, engineering, hypothesizing, etc. Acknowledged or no. Kinda wish I had enough knowledge of philosophical tradition to back up my intuition, of course. But intuition's a place to start....

  2. I'm a bit of an anarchist, really. (How's that for a provocative opening statement on politics?) :)

    That being said, I should probably say nothing more on the politics of Harry Potter or more accurately the politics of those who hijack Harry Potter for their politics.

    1. So, as an anarchist, have you read The Man Who Was Thursday? Never fear--if that one made a clear political statement, I couldn't work it out. ;)

      And I shouldn't be mentioning the political hijackers, either. I should really stop being irritated with a certain big-name Potter fan for things he said five years ago. :P

    2. Haven't read it yet, but it's on my list. I need to get back to work on reading "The Ball and the Cross."

      On the other thing, I don't think a certain Potter fan has ever stopped saying the stuff he said five years ago & perhaps has gotten worse. Of course, that's perhaps neither here nor there.

    3. Oh, I suspect he hasn't changed his tune. But I wouldn't know. Lou made me stop following him online because I got so upset every time I read something of his. :P

    4. And you actually obey your husband?! ;)

    5. HA! I can't believe you said that on the internet. :P But yeah, when he puts his foot down like that, I try to. ;)


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