Thu
Mar 20 2014 8:00am

The Harry Potter Reread: The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapters 3 and 4

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneYou’re back in the Harry Potter Reread! Swim around a little and get comfy! (I don’t know what you’re swimming in… words?)

Today we’re taking a look at Chapters Three and Four of The Philosopher’s Stone, The Letters From No One and The Keeper of the Keys. Otherwise known as The Dursleys Take an Impromptu Vacation and Your Proper Intro to Hagrid.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

 

Chapter 3—The Letters From No One

Summary

Harry is looking forward to the new school term because he’s headed for a different secondary school from Dudley. He spends most of his summer days out of the house since the Dursleys are still pretty furious over the vanishing act at the zoo.

One day in July, the post arrives and Harry notices a letter addressed to him. (Very specifically addressed, in fact; it knows that he lives under the stairs.) He doesn’t think to hide it from the Dursleys, however, so Vernon quickly pulls it from his reach. That evening, Vernon tells Harry that they’ve decided he should move into Dudley’s spare room. Harry does as he’s told while Dudley has to deal with the horror of having a room taken from him and not being allowed to know what Harry’s letter was about. It’s probably the only time he’s been told no in his life.

Harry tries to intercept the post, but Uncle Vernon is lying in wait by the mail slot the following day. He tries nailing the slot shut, nailing up all the cracks in the house where a letter might come through, relying on the post to not deliver on Sunday. When countless letters begin to shoot in through the fireplace, Vernon packs up the family and leads them on a mad trip by car. Letters finds them in their hotel, so he takes them to a ramshackle cottage on a rock out at sea, convinced that nothing will find them there. Harry lies awake on the floor, counting down the minutes until his eleventh birthday that night. When the clock strikes midnight, there’s a tumultuous knock at the door…

 

Commentary

Now that Harry’s punishment phase is over, we can move on from his decidedly un-awesome familial treatment and focus on this delirious chapter that should really be titled, “In Which Vernon Dursley Proves That Logic is A Difficult Thing For Him to Grasp.” There’s something so satisfying about watching his every move get thwarted by an unseen opponent. Then you remember that said opponent is Dumbledore and it’s actually funnier, because can’t you just imagine him sitting in his office, irate and amused by turns? McGonagall is furious because she’s had to charm a quill to write out the same letter over and over; she’s certainly not going to write it by hand hundreds—make that more like thousands—of times.

Where’s a wizard photocopier when you need one?

Also, it is time to welcome the arrival of Sassy Harry. He takes a little time to show up, but once he does, it’s with such disdain and flair:

“What’s this?” he asked Aunt Petunia. Her lips tightened as they always did if he dared to ask a question.

“Your new school uniform,” she said.

Harry looked into the bowl again.

“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t realize it had to be so wet.”

ZING. Oh Harry, how I have missed you.

It makes me sad how much films are forced to omit for the sake of pacing because if anything deserved to be filmed the whole way through, it’s Vernon’s consummate breakdown as he tries to run farther and farther away. Watching them all drive in silence, watching Vernon stop and get out of the car and start muttering. Watching them eat their chips and bananas for dinner. It could be it’s own little weirdo short film.

And then there’s the looming date of Harry’s birth, a sure sign that something’s about to happen….

 

Chapter 4—The Keeper of the Keys

Summary

Hagrid, the Hogwarts keeper of keys and grounds, lets himself into the shack to hand deliver Harry’s letter (and a birthday cake). He has the distinction of being the first person from the wizarding world Harry has ever met (or so he thinks). When Hagrid finds out that the Dursleys haven’t just been keeping his letters from him—they’ve been keeping his entire history and heritage from him—he’s understandably angry and does his best to explain what’s going down.

What Harry finds out is that he’s been offered a chance to go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is a legacy he comes by honestly as both his parents were magical. He also learns that there was a terrible war on years back against a dark wizard named Voldemort, and that his parents were in the fight against him. Voldemort murdered them, but when he tried to do the same to Harry, he couldn’t manage it—which is why Harry has the lightning-shaped scar. Harry asks Hagrid if he thinks Voldemort is dead, to which Hagrid truthfully answers that he thinks Voldemort is probably trying to regain strength before making a comeback.

Vernon insists that there’s something abnormal about Harry, but that he won’t allow him to attend the school. Hagrid insists he has no means of stopping him. Petunia insists that her sister Lily was a freak, but their parents were too short-sighted to realize how awful it was to have a witch for a daughter. Harry is in shock, Hagrid is angry with the Dursleys, and Dudley gets a pig’s tail for being a nuisance. Hagrid gives Harry his giant coat to sleep under and promises to take him to get school supplies in the morning.

 

Commentary

This chapter is basically a big info dump that is made sweeter by the reappearance of Hagrid. After Vernon’s descent into instability, having the big guy show up is akin to being delivered a cup of hot cocoa and a kindly pat on the head. He just exudes warmth, thanks in no small part to his being instantly associated with those things; he starts a fire in the shack, cooks sausages, brings cake. These associations carry on through the series. When we think of Hagrid we think of someone warm, lovable, and nurturing. A little rough around the edges, sure—the cake is a bit squashed, and he’s got owls and mice in his pockets, and his magic (which he’s not supposed to be doing) is a little iffy in the application—but perfectly reliable and dear.

Petunia’s ill-feeling toward her sister bubbles up in a nasty fashion. What’s interesting here is how fresh the anger seems after all this time. Apparently, having Harry around has kept those wounds wide open. But what sort of relationship did the Dursleys have with the Potters prior to their death? And what’s Vernon and Petunia’s story, more specifically?

Rowling has expanded on the Dursley’s background over at Pottermore, in fact, so we now have a better idea. When Petunia finished secondary school, she took a typing course in the city, then got a job at Grunnings as some sort of administrative assistant. That’s where she met Vernon, who eventually proposed to her in his mother’s living room. (Super romantic.) Petunia told Vernon about her sister while they were on a date in Vernon’s car, eating sausage and parked overlooking the sausage shop itself. (Rowling’s details with these sorts of things are always excellent for a laugh.) Vernon was shocked, but promised never to think less of Petunia because of her weirdo family.

At one point the two couples went on a double date. Vernon tried to impress James with what sort of car he was driving, which got James talking about his racing broom. Vernon started talking money, so James went off about his family fortune in wizard money. Vernon thought James was having a laugh at him, and the Dursleys stormed out of the restaurant while Lily sat there in tears. What I take away from this is that James Potter immediately pegged what sort of guy Vernon Dursley was and had no interest in making friends. I can’t exactly blame him. In fact, I’m doing the exact opposite of blaming him. I am waving a “Go James!” banner obnoxiously in the background.

Petunia wouldn’t let Lily be a bridesmaid in her wedding because she’s didn’t want her little sister outshining her. Vernon proceeded to rudely refer to James as a “magician” within earshot at their reception. The Dursleys did not bother to attend Lily and James’ wedding, which is probably just as well. They had very little contact after that.

So… a lot of bad blood here and we’re only catching the surface of it.

It’s incredibly satisfying to watch Vernon and Dudley both get their behinds handed to them by Hagrid (figuratively and literally, respectively). But more importantly, this is where Harry starts to emerge more as a fully realized character, and that’s all sorts of exciting.

Next stop: Diagon Alley!


Emily Asher-Perrin just wishes there was a transcript of that posturing contest between James and Vernon. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

69 comments
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
1. Lisamarie
I definitely have a different reaction to some of this, heh.

I love chapter 3 - the letters coming in through the eggs, the fireplace, the wild drive through the country side, etc. But I have to admit I didn't find Harry's comment as sassy or zingy, I always read it in a kind of perplexed but kind-of-used-to-this-sort-of-treatment way.

As for chapter 4, I think it raises some interesting questions:
1)Are there ever children, especially Muggle children, who aren't allowed to go to the school? Either for religious reasons or parents that want to homeschool, or for whatever other reason. Hagrid says the Dursleys can't stop him, but is that really true? Can Hogwarts truly override parental/guardian authority regarding that?

2)I'm gonna say it now, but I can't STAND James. I really can't. I'm not saying he's evil, but I just never warmed up to him at all. I really never cared for Sirius either. I know we're TOLD that he matured but I just never see it. Yes, Vernon is a posturing idiot, but James was clearly baiting him and keeping the conflict going.

3)I really thought giving Dudley the pig tail was a bit uncalled for. Especially given that they had to go get surgery to get it removed! Again, yes, Dudley is a jerk and a horrible person, but come on. First of all, at this point Hagrid doesn't even know how badly Dudley has treated him, and second of all, he's still an 11 year old boy (who, by the way, was forced to sit there and watch while Harry ate sausages and birthday cake after being starved all day). Not to mention that giving him a pig's tale that then needs surgery isn't a great way to lay low, wizarding wise! Plus, I really, really hate the whole fat=pig metaphor going on. I actually find the whole thing - especially on reread - uncharacteristically cruel for Hagrid.
mutantalbinocrocodile
2. mutantalbinocrocodile
Re: Sassy Harry. This does make me wonder a bit about the confusion on the previous re-read about exactly who Harry told that "Dudley looks like a pig in a wig" when he has no friends. (The latter is, sadly, as plausible as acres of comments made it clear, so I felt no need to add to that topic.) But on who he said it to. . .he probably said it to Dudley's face, or Petunia's, or both. It seems pretty clear from the start that Harry's coping mechanism to the Dahl-esque horrors of his non-parents was to be rude whenever possible and live with the consequences. By Books 3-5 it's gotten to pretty extreme levels.
Stephen Dunscombe
3. cythraul
"Now that Harry’s punishment phase is over,"

Lies.

You know how I know this is lies?

We're not at the back cover of "Deathly Hallows" yet.

Lisaemarie @ 1. "Can Hogwarts truly override parental/guardian authority regarding that?"

There are... a lot of threads in this series that don't really support pulling. >.>
David Levinson
4. DemetriosX
These two chapters are also very Dahl-esque. The letters pouring into the house and Vernon's mad flight in chapter 3 and Hagrid is very like a Dahl character in chapter 4 (there's a bit of the BFG in him, which is interesting considering his heritage). Hagrid will, of course, grow out of that and become a much deeper character, but I think we have to view his actions here through a Dahl lens. His feeding of Harry while the others can only look on hungrily is a reversal of the way Harry has been treated for years, while giving Dudley a pig's tail is also a bit of Dahlian retribution comparable to the fates of the unpleasant children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

I'm in agreement with Lisamarie on James and Sirius, though most of my distaste for the former really comes much, much later through Snape's memories.
mutantalbinocrocodile
5. Masha
Sorry to do this, but this really tripped me up:
"Petunia’s ill-feeling toward her sitter"
Should be "sister"? I spent too much time wondering who the baby-sitter was, and why Petunia was mad at her :)
Adam S.
6. MDNY
I agree that the progressive breakdown of Uncle Vernon is great, especially the details of him pulling over at abandoned fields, etc., getting out of the car, looking around, shaking his head, and muttering to himself before getting back in the car and starting the whole thing again. I tend to agree with above comments that James doesn't come across as that sympathetic to me. While I think he did mature and become a better person late in his time at Hogwarts (as compared with the arrogant snot we saw in the penseive), the details about him don't point to someone who was consistently tactful or considerate. It sounds like the bad feelings between Lily's and Petunia's families was almost as much James' fault as it was Vernon's.
Hagrid's (re)appearance in these chapters was pure brilliance. I can't help feeling that my childhood reading Roald Dahl paved the way for me to instantly know Hagrid as an old beloved friend from the moment Harry met him.
mutantalbinocrocodile
7. flyingtoastr
@1 Lisamarie

It's mentioned explicitly in the 7th book that attendence at Hogwarts has never been compulsory. I'm willing to bet it was a little hyperbole by Hagrid, who has always been a tad bit overprotective of Harry.

I agree completely about James, though. The more that we learned about his character the less I liked him. He seems like a stereotypical jock who egged people on for his own amusement.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
8. Lisamarie
flyingtoastr@7 - oh, duh.

I also, I want to clarify that I am not trying to say that Dudley/the Dursleys don't deserve it and I totally understand from a writerly point of view why it's a funny reversal. Just that if I start looking at it a bit too much like 'real life', it just doesn't seem appropriate for a grown man (or giant) to punish an 11 year old boy in that way. But in general I think a lot of the wizarding 'punishments' requite a bit of smiling and nodding and not thinking too hard about them.

Now, I doubt the Dursleys are going to change their mind about their beliefs (aside from Dudley, as we see in the future) and are always going to see things with a VERY slanted view, but it also seems like it's just confirming their own biases about wizards and magic and how they are dangerous and bad people. I can actually think of a few things that could give them good reason to be angry at wizards!
Kit Case
9. wiredog
Interesting to consider that this point in the book is closer to the death of James and Lily than we are here and now to 9/11. Which (at least for those of us in DC or NYC) is a very fresh memory.

cythraul @3
Yep. Lots of plot points in the book that fall apart if you look even moderately closely at them. Consider the memory charm that Hermione hits her parents with in book 7, and that she must have to hit neighbors with it too. And all her other relatives. And the people her parents have known all their lives. And...

Lisamarie @1
Yeah, put me into the "James and Sirius are jerks" club, too.
Emily Asher-Perrin
10. EmilyAP
Oof. You guys are killing me i.e. James and Sirius. I should put my cards on table straight off here--Sirius is one of my favorite characters in the entire series, and I really don't have a problem with James. I understand he has his awful moments, but I always feel the need to point out that the only realtime example we get of him in action is from a single memory of Snape's, which is going to be as terrible as possible because Snape hates James and holds him primarily responsible for everything that went wrong in his life. (Which is comically unfair in retrospect.)

In regard to Vernon, I actually think it's sort of important that James made the choice to needle him. One of the reasons why Vernon is such a close-minded arse is because no one ever challenges his viewpoint. When they do, he simply tries to shout them down, and Vernon generally avoids those situations in the first place so he never has to. So if James and Hagrid want to put him in his place place refusing to back down, I am very happy to let them do it.
Adam S.
11. MDNY
@10 I think the best arguments that can be made in James's favor are 1. that Lily fell in love with and married him once he got more mature and 2. that Dumbledore considered him a friend. Clearly we never got to see much of his good side, limited as we are to Snape's viewpoint. However, that doesn't change the fact that James WAS somewhat arrogant, and his personality absolutely would not let him be conciliatory toward Vernon in any way, so Harry's mistreatment is at least partly caused by James' attitude toward Vernon, and not just Vernon being a jerk.
I like Sirius, but I still acknowledge that he was not a saint. His treatment of Kreacher is the best example of how he was still limited in his compassion, even as a more mature adult. He was no Hufflepuff, is all I'm saying...
mutantalbinocrocodile
12. BethanyAnne
While I agree that clearly Vernon's breakdown is meant to amuse, I don't find it particularly amusing. The man is terrified. And let's face it: he should be. A baby gets left on his doorstep after his sister- and brother-in-law get killed. He's told that the baby is safe while in his family's care -- and his family is safe while the baby is in their care. He spends the next 10 years or so trying desperately to seem as normal as possible, to not attract undue attention... and then the wizarding world invades his home, draws attention to his home, and then continues to draw attention to his flight. It's like the letters are big red arrows: Look! Over here! That's where Harry Potter and his defenseless Muggle relatives are!!

He hoped they'd get forgotten. They didn't. I wonder, even, if the letters and the invitation for Harry to attend Hogwarts is frightening to Vernon (and Petunia) inasmuch as it's a reminder that someday the magical protection that raising Harry has provided for their family will end, and the wizards and their confusing, dangerous world will still be out there.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
13. Lisamarie
EmilyAP@10 - I agree with you to a point about Snape's perceptions regarding James, and the folly of judging him on that one memory (but I do think there are other places in the text that show it's NOT just Snape overreacting or an isolated incident, or at least, his overraction isn't as over the top as we want to think).

As for James and Vernon - he wasn't challenging Veronon's viewpoint, he was pretty much sinking to his level, and probably (my own interpretation), for the sake of being an ass. I'm certainly not defending Vernon, but I really don't agre with how James handled it. He's human, I get that - I'm not gonna say Lilly should have chosen Snape over him or anything like that - but I definitely would probably not like him in person (or at least be very irritated by him much of the time).
Matt Stoumbaugh
14. LazerWulf
This is awesome! I think it's cool that you're posting stuff from Pottermore. Will you be doing rewatches of the films after each book?
mutantalbinocrocodile
15. Rancho Unicorno
I'm siding heavily with LM on this one.

1) James and Vernon - From the dinner description, what I see is an obnoxious buffoon of a man and his bitter companion are having dinner with the companion's sister and her respective companion. The sister is the one who is continually trying to make the sisterly relationship work, so what does her companion do? Goad the buffoon, undermining the sister. Vernon may be dumb, but James is the jerk. Sirius is a bit more difficult, but only because I love Gary Oldman.

2) Dahl. I think that Chapter 3 stand up well, but 4 has some serious misses. Dahl's comeuppances in his children's books tended towards self-imposed (Charlie), accidental (The Magic Finger), or victim-imposed (The Twits). Third party retribution is unseemly - while Dudley deserved the tail, Hagrid's decision to install a tail feels more malicious in hindsight.

3) Going to school. This reinforces my concerns about Hagrid's actions here. He intentionally used hyperbole against those who could not recognize it as such, intending to create fear and a change within the Dursley/Potter society of four. Coupled with his magic and demonstrations thereof, is it really unreasonable for the Dursleys to continue to live in terror of magic and wizardry?
Valerie Varner
16. varnerv951
I have to disagree with the folks who are saying it was malicious of Hagrid to give Dudders a tail. I think he is so used to living in the wizarding world that he did something like that - thinking once he was gone, "mom and dad" would magic it right back off again. I don't think Hagrid thought about how they would remove it - being non-magical. He just doesn't hang around muggles.

I also have always reserved judgement on James Potter. We don't have a lot of reliable viewpoints to see him through, and he was a teenager, for goodness sakes! I wasn't the most awesome person when I was full of hormones and pimples, either. And honestly - Vernon is such a pompous buffoon, I think even the pope would find not egging him on difficult.

And I love Sirius simply because of his love for Harry and the awesomeness it took to escape from Azkaban...
David Levinson
17. DemetriosX
Thinking about the maliciousness of the pig-tail and Hagrid's actions in general, it occurs to me that we cannot help but view all this from the perspective of everything that comes after. But that is a mistake: at this point we're still dealing with a rather light story aimed at early middle grade readers. Certainly in light of the later books and their deeper world-building, this looks bad, but right now it's really no worse than Willy Wonka manipulating horrible brats into their own downfall.

varnev951 also makes a good point @16. Not only does Hagrid not have any real experience with or understanding of muggles, he also tends to have a fairly simplistic world view. This may also be part of his assertion that the Dursleys can't prevent Harry from going to Hogwarts. To him, that simply is the case, whether it might actually be true or not.

Another thought on the Dursleys having to have the tail removed surgically: Suppose Dumbledore or the Ministry sent someone around to deal with the problem quickly and magically. Can you imagine the Dursleys reactions? There's no way they would consent to it!
Adam S.
18. MDNY
@17 I'm actually surprised the Ministry of Magic didn't send a team of obliviators to erase the Dursleys' memory and remove the tail.
Tom Smith
19. phuzz
McGonagall could have enchanted a pen to write all those letters, or she could have used it as a handy punishment. Hmm, who would have been already at Hogwarts, who might have been in trouble?
mutantalbinocrocodile
20. Michael J. D'Auben
I think JKR has done a serious disservice to James in her out-of-book comments and stories. IIRC we get three real looks at James character in the books; first in Harry's memory of Voldemorts attack (PoA), where James gives his life to try and buy Lily time to escape with Harry. Second, the grave yard (GoF), when he encourages Harry and helps him escape Voldemort, and in Snape's memory (OOP) where's he's a complete bully. The first two (along with the fact that Lily eventually gave him the time of day) support the comments made by Sirius and others that James changed in his seventh year at school and became a better person.

All the out-of-book stories I've heard of from the author involving older James, however, (him baiting Vernon, he and Sirius going out drinking) portray him in a rather negative like, much more like the prat in Snape's memory than the mature, nobel character he supposedly became.
Chris Nelly
21. Aeryl
In re discussion of the tail, he was trying to transform him into a pig, not just give him a tail.

Which changes how you should look at it, IMO. Yes, Hagrid doesn't know how to deal with Muggles, but you can also understand that if it wasn't Aragorn, something else would likely have gotten him expelled.
mutantalbinocrocodile
22. Michael J. D'Auben
@ 1.Lisamarie

Regarding the issue of Hagrid and the pig tail, I always rather got the idea that the wizarding world had a somewhat higher tolerance for what Muggles might consider "assault". Possibly becuase most minor jinxes, hexes and curses can be so easily reversed. Pig tail transfiguration? Slug-vomiting charm? Bat Boogie hex? No big deal, a quick flick of the wand and its fixed.

The fact that the Durselys couldn't (or wouldn't) avail themselves of a magical fix to the problem might never have even occured to Hagrid.
Adam S.
23. MDNY
@21 Aeryl, I think you meant Aragog, not Aragorn.
Birgit
24. birgit
Hmm, who would have been already at Hogwarts, who might have been in trouble?

Fred and George.
mutantalbinocrocodile
25. mutantalbinocrocodile
Re: whether Hogwarts can override parental authority--this does seem to be a pretty straightforward no. In Book 2 Justin Finch-Fletchley makes it clear that his parents had to give him permission to turn down his admission letter from Eton in favor of Hogwarts. (Now THAT is an out-of-book scene I want written!) Presumably a) Hagrid is not the most reliable source on wizarding law and is using emotional reasoning, and b) there might be a big difference between how actual competent parents like Justin's and neglectful guardians like the Dursleys are treated in terms of rights.
Valerie Varner
26. varnerv951
I never knew about Pottermore before this re-read. I finally signed up today, and it is kind of a maze. How do you find anything in there?
mutantalbinocrocodile
27. Gregor Lewis
@12
Initially, the wizarding world invaded nothing. A letter was sent, rather conventionally (even though it was addressed quite unconventionally).

Mr. Dursley's actions precipitated the magical reactions. It's the ABC's of ensuring your mail is delivered wizarding style.

A kind of 'read receipt' tab checked ala Hogwarts.

As for James Potter, he wouldn't be the first 'self-involved' macho jock to sweep a young lady off her feet with a marginal show of access to hitherto unknown sensitivity.

Doesn't mean that sensitivity would be displayed elsewhere, or towards others. It's a favoured trope in the art of fiction aimed at young people, be it books, films (Grease), TV (Henderson Kids). The 'macho, bad boy, jock' softens under the direct influence of his 'girl' before eventually reverting to type when around his mates/gang/regular social circle.

By the time this double-date happened, James would have felt secure, that he had the girl, thus setting the nastier side of his character free.

The way it is written throughout the series, Snape's is the true love for Lily. James' is more the high-school attraction.

Having said all that, even self-centred, 'how-good-am-i' jocks love their children. And said wizarding jocks would be both aware and prepared to do what they could (fight/sacrifice) if under attack, to protect their family.

Even the worst version of James Potter would recognise there was no refuge in smart-assery there.

grl
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
28. Lisamarie
Oh man, I read the chapter a few weeks ago so I fogot he was actually trying to actually turn him into a pig. Maybe that was an acceptable punishment in Hagrid's time, although no longer (I still love love love the ferret scene though...) - so I agree that considering Hagrid's (and the wizarding world in general) perspective provides a good context - although presumably somebody else would be a bit smarter about it!

Oh boy, are we going to have to have the discussion what constitutes true/pure love here too? I'm not sure I even want to go into that yet at this point, heh. I might wait until we get there in the read, and you can all look at the Severus Snape Does Not Deserve Your Pity thread ;)
Elizabeth Doolin
29. mochabean
@21, 23 - yes but that opens up whole worlds of HP/LOTR fan fic. Romance, slash, buddy road trip? Just think of all the Ranger-Gamekeeper lore they could exchange!
mutantalbinocrocodile
30. alreadymadwithVernon
BethanyAnne @12
That's an interesting take on events.
mutantalbinocrocodile
31. DanielB
@27 Snape's is the true love for Lily? Come on, she treated him with kindness and friendlyness, and Snape was in love with her, but Snape was her true love? There's nothing to suggest that in the books, and the fact that she married James strongly hints otherwise.

I don't consider that the canon includes what anyone says on the internet, even if it's JKR herself. James Potter vs Vernon? Dumbledore gay? Don't really care. The books are canon, Pottermore isn't. Against James, we only have Snape's memory of an incident when they were teens. Few people can say that they have not done anything in their teens they do not feel proud of. Also, Snape is not famous for his equanimity. Are those memories supposed to be 100% factual or does the witness' prejudices and perceptions color them, just like normal memories? Anyway, James Potter is not in these chapters, and there will be time to debate his flaws and virtues.

These two chapters are great, very Dahl-like again. Those letters... they are a great mental image. Who needs movies when we have our imaginations? Vernon's breakdown, after we have seen how he treats Harry, is very funny. It's the first time something good seems to be happening to Harry, and that moment when he is sent to fetch the mail and takes the envelope addressed to him is a turning point, the moment when his wonderful, epic adventure starts. Then Hagrid arrives, and you can feel Harry's bug-eyed wonder.

The only thing that didn't fit for me was that Hagrid would punish Dursley instead of Vernon. Dursley did deserve it, but not for anything he does in the presence of Hagrid. I think it's a flaw in Rowling's storytelling. Of course, this book, even if it's the start of an epic journey, is still for children, and this is a mistake she makes in her search of a funny moment.
mutantalbinocrocodile
32. Gregor Lewis
@31. DanielB

Perhaps my poor sentence structure has misled you.

What I meant to convey is, when you compare how each young man felt about Lily, the impression I get from what is written and how and by whom ... in every medium, the 'official' message here is in favour of Snape's feelings representing the archetypal 'true love' - if unrequited.

Lily obviously doesn't share those feelings. I never meant to imply that she did. Nor do Snape's feelings invalidate whatever James and Lily had.

It is an objective 'romantic' comparison only.

grl
mutantalbinocrocodile
33. DanielB
@32 Ah, sorry, I had misunderstood. Yes, it's clear that Snape's love for Lily was deep, and his is a tragic unrequited love story. I can't like Snape because no matter how much he has suffered and what else he is doing there's no excuse for an adult taking his frustrations out on children, but he is an exceptionally interesting antihero.
Chris Meadows
34. Robotech_Master
I think James was always meant to be sort of a jerk, at least early on in his life. The moments where Harry sees (or knows of) him at his best are extreme situations, and also a James near the end of his life when he's at his most most mature.

Remember that Harry spends his early Hogwarts years being sheltered from the whole truth of things—there's stuff Dumbledore never told him even right up until the near-death-experience train station at the end of book 7. One of those things is James's true nature, because Harry is being set up to have to deal with a number of bad shocks as time goes on.

One of those shocks is learning that his father, whom he idolized without ever actually knowing, had feet, calves, and possibly knees of clay. From the context of the book, the shock is to learn that Snape wasn't lying. He actually had just cause to hate James Potter. It defeats the whole purpose of that for it to be explained away as "just Snape's point of view." Harry (and through Harry, the reader) has to learn and deal with the fact that almost nobody is ever entirely good or evil. For that to be the case, then yes, sorry—James Potter was a jerk. His friends were all somewhat jerky, too. (Peter is a snivelling whiny evil coward. We only meet Remus and Sirius once they've mellowed with age, and in Sirius's case he never really had the chance to mellow that much—being sent to Azkaban for years will do that to you. Who knows how he might have turned out if he'd had a normal wizarding adulthood?)

Harry wants to think his father and his pals were like him, Ron, and Hermione—the "good guys." It turns out that in some ways they were more like Draco Malfoy and friends. Too bad, Harry. Just one of those things that will make you have to grow up a little more. (But given some of the stunts those three pull, including the ones that hurt other people with their thoughtlessness, perhaps they're more like their parents than they actually know.)
Herenya
35. Herenya
@1 I think the main reason the Durseleys can't stop Harry from attending Hogwarts is not so much about whether Hogwarts can override parents' wishes, but because the wishes of Harry's parents trump those of Harry's present guardians. Hagrid says something about how Harry's name has been down for Hogwarts since he was born. I've always assumed this meant that Lily and James had formally indicated what they wanted for their son's education.
Kit Case
36. wiredog
As far as Sirius being a jerk, well, there's also the time he lured a fellow student into a tunnel that had a full fledged werewolf at the end of it.

Which actually crosses the line between "jerk" and "attempted murder". If James hadn't intervened it then would've crossed the line from "attempted murder" to "actual murder".
Chris Nelly
37. Aeryl
@35, Good Point.

#34, Also good point. Harry's realization that his dad was more like Malfoy explains the more mature attitide you see in Harry in the epilogue.
mutantalbinocrocodile
38. mutantalbinocrocodile
@34, I'd take it slightly differently--and IMHO this is genuinely key for the whole series. What Harry and his friends have to accomplish emotionally is to actually grow up and leave middle school/high school behind, and one of the most painful aspects of that is realizing that the previous generation (generations?) never did. And that their immature behavior and bullying may not have been totally causally unrelated to the pain and danger their own generation is in, both in and out of school. And that's not easy when they are surrounded by a whole world of adults who often don't seem to have moved on socially from high school, including some emotionally abusive teachers (even Professor Binns could be the same theme in a comic key). Whatever you say about the execution of the epilogue, something like it really had to be there to show that Harry's generation's big accomplishment was getting past Hogwarts into something like a healthy adult life.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
39. Lisamarie
@36 - YES! Not to mention the fact that they talk about all the 'close calls' they had with Lupin werewolfing around. I mean, I can kind of understand why as young teenage boys they'd be doing something like that, but it's still immature. I think Sirius's stunt with Snape crosses a line though (and I also feel that way about the bullying). And even if it is just from Snape's point of view (and I can't remember if we are ever told definitively if the Penseive skews things or not, aside from knowing that the memories can be a bit 'faked', as in Slughorn's case - but in that case, it was obvious) - that's part of the point to me. Bullying is horrible. That is really how he felt, even if James thought he was just having fun or whatever.

James and Sirius certainly have their good points and CMOAs, but they are also very flawed.

@31 - yes! I actually re-read that part last night because I think I still had the movie in my head, where Hagrid gives him a pig tail because he's stealing Harry's cake. But in the book, Vernon is insulting Dumbledore and then Hagrid goes and blasts Dudley! WTH, Hagrid??? Of course he's a little jerk, but Hagrid doesn't know that!

And regarding Snape and love and James and all that - I made a similar comment on the other Snape thread, but I will summarize here. I like Snape, for the record. I sympathize with him in many ways. I think he did some awesome, thankless things. But I still think he also had many flaws that cannot be excused by his 'double agent' status, his childhood bullying, or losing out on the love of his life. I do agree that his love was steadfast, and that love for Lily is part of what made him able to do the right thing in some circumstances (and when we get to that part of the book we can discuss more about what he should have done, heh). But it bothers me when people call the love 'pure' or 'true' because the main point of love is to take pleasure in the happiness of the beloved and to want their greater good - even if it doesn't involve you. I think that is an area that he didn't quite succeed in (although I know he does ask for James and the baby to saved too), as shown by how he treated Harry, the only son of his beloved. Obviously he had a lot of bitterness for James, but if his love really was pure, he would not be cruel to him (and I don't think his 'double agent' role required the level of cruelty he showed), and would also recognize that he is more like his mother than his father. Instead of Harry being a bitter reminder of what he had lost and a person he hated, he would have been a welcome reminder of the person he loved. He's part Lily too, you know.

I'm not saying that it's easy to achieve that level of love or that I or the average person perfectly exhbits that and would act perfectly in that situation. So I'm not blaming him, per se - it's just that I think it's wrong to hold up his love for Lily as this perfect example of what love should look like - because like the other things in these series, it's flawed but good. (Actually, and I can't wait to get to this, one of my favorite examples of flawed but good love is the Malfoy family).

Anyway. Sorry for that, as we are definitely jumping ahead.

Another random Pottermore observation (and I do consider Pottermore canon, personally) - I suppose it kind of speaks highly of Vernon that he is willing to not think less of Petunia despite her weird family? ;) There was some discussion earlier on the Dursley family and if Vernon really cared about not upsetting Petunia, or just his own convenience, and I do think that in his very, very, very flawed way, he does care for his family. He just doesn't care about anybody else.
Chris Nelly
40. Aeryl
#38, To be fair, when we see Harry, he's 36. When James & Lily died they were only 21, they hadn't had time to grow past Hogwarts.

All other evidence points to most of the other adults in the series having done that just fine. Molly and Arthur seem to move past it pretty well, their main issue in their adult lives, drama wise, is the mistreatment of Arthur by the ministry, not old Hogwarts drama.
mutantalbinocrocodile
41. Megs
Lisaemarie @ 1. "Can Hogwarts truly override parental/guardian authority regarding that?"

I imagine that there is some pretty hard selling going on, but that ultimately an individual would be allowed to forgo magic school if they submit to pretty substantial monitoring. We already know about "the trace," so something like that, barring them from ever using magic on pain of inprisonment. Given how dangerous magic is, this doesn't seem like much of a strech in terms of government policy.

Also, I, too, have never been a big fan of James or book!Sirius. (I like movie!Sirius better, though that may be in large part to how awesome Gary Oldman is and how they cut a lot of his whining from the fifth book.) Being reminded in an earlier post how young James and Lily are when they die, and when Sirius is imprisoned, is rather sobering, though, and does make me feel a little more sympathetic toward both characters. Re that double date scene, how old would James have been at that point? 18 or 19?

flyingtoastr @ 7 I forgot that! I stand by my magical surveillance theory, though!
Emily Asher-Perrin
42. EmilyAP
Couple of things:

Regarding whether pensieve memories are influenced by the person whose memory it is--they're not. Rowling has stated this outright in interviews. What you see in the pensieve is what really happened; we can presume that the pensieve lifts what your subconscious has stored without your emotional overlay influencing it. So what Snape shows Harry is indeed what happened.

I do feel the need to point out that this was still a two-sided battle, which is why I have an issue with Snape's memory being the only one we see of young James. Snape retaliated against the Marauders every chance he got, we know that from the curses Harry finds in his potions book sixth year. There are bullying elements on both sides here, and it is far more in line with how Draco and Harry interact--a rivalry.

Regarding permission from gaurdians: I do agree that it was likely James and Lily's wishes that would override the Dursleys in this case. No matter what the law was, I'm sure Dumbledore would bring that to bear. Unlike the students with Muggle families, Harry is on a list; they put him down to attend provided he had magical abilities. If he's on the list, I assume it's just a given.

In regard to Hagrid's treatment of Dudley: I completely agree with 22 here--I think it's all down to how reversible things are. Turning Dudley into a pig is not a permanent thing, therefore most wizards clearly don't think of it as a big deal. McGonagall isn't okay with Draco being turned into a ferret in GoF because it's not a sactioned school punishment. As far as what kind of psychological damage that would cause... well, that doesn't sound like the sort of thing that wizards spend a lot of time worrying over, does it? It's not like Hogwarts has a school counsellor.

As for Sirius and James... I'm thinking I'll have to tackle that in much longer form at some point. So that'll be on the horizon somewhere.
mutantalbinocrocodile
43. stellabymoor
@35, that's what I thought, too: Harry's name had been on the list since birth, which means his real parents did want him to attend Hogwarts, which supercedes the Dursley's wishes. Not only that, this is Harry Potter we're talking about; I always thought Hagrid wasn't so much making a blanket statement (the headmaster can overrule any parent or guardian) as he was being specific to Harry, The Boy Who Lived. If the savior of the wizarding world wants to attend Hogwarts, a couple of known-to-be-abusive, exceptionally Muggle-y Muggles aren't going to stop him.
Chris Nelly
44. Aeryl
I always thought the "Name's been down for Hogwarts" was some sort of magical system they had of determining all who had magic. Like maybe when Hermione was born, her name went "down for Hogwarts" as well.

Like there was a room, with a book and it's magic quill, and everytime someone magic was born in Britain, it wrote it down. Which leads me to ask, are people like Arabella Figg or Argus Filch written in it?
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
45. Lisamarie
Yes, me too! I figured it just kind of 'knew' who was magic...

But, now that I think about it, and now that we know that there are different magic schools (doesn't Draco at one point say his parents had considered Durmstrang?), it probably does more mean something like his parents put him on a waiting list as soon as he was born, like for Packers season tickets or something ;)

(We actually have our kids on a 'waiting list' too, altough it's really more of a 'get on our email notification list' kind of thing).
Brett Dunbar
46. Brett
The way I interpreted it is James and Lily had signed Harry as a future Hogwarts pupil and that permission was still valid, the Dursleys couldn't override it. As Harry had been given parental consernt to attend Hogwarts his guardians couldn't veto it. It is also possible that under the circumstances a court order might have been obtained. Harry was being neglected and either taking him into care or making him a ward of court would allow him to be admitted to Hogwarts whatever his guardians thought.
David Levinson
47. DemetriosX
I think Harry's name being "down for Hogwarts" is a Britishism with a long history in the elite boarding schools. A boy whose father had attended a given school was pretty much guaranteed a slot, regardless of his other qualifications. In essence, it could be said that Dudley was "down for" Vernon's old school as well.

There were probably a number of things that could be brought to bear against the Dursleys to persuade them to let Harry go to Hogwarts. A visit from a government official would certainly be a possibility and something that would work on their need for order and correctness. But Dumbledore would also have 2 very persuasive arguments: 1. If Harry goes away to school, he will be gone and out of your hair for 9 months out of the year. If he goes to day school here, you'll see him every single day. 2. If he doesn't go to Hogwarts, he'll never learn to control his magic, and weird things will happen around him, possibly with increasing frequency. Given some time to think about it, they'd be thrilled to get rid of him.
Megan Dillon
48. catgirl
These are the chapters which finally drew me in when I first read this book as an 11 year old. I remember giggling at the toilet joke and then I don't think I stopped all through chapter 3 :) Uncle Vernon refusing to give up his belief that if the mysterious letter writer can't deliver the letters they'll stop sending the letters, to the backdrop of Aunt Petunia's common sense suggestions, just cracks me up!
John Massey
49. subwoofer
Ahem...

GO HAGRID!

That is all.

Woof™.
Beth Mitcham
50. bethmitcham
I remember thinking it was a tone problem back when I first read this book, which was soon after it came out. I thought (and still think) that the Dahl-like, comic-book problems of the introductary chapters clashed with the more emotionally real problems of the later chapters, which was the style the series stuck with.

I think it's kind of pandering to youth, which doesn't bother me much as an adult but would have annoyed me if I had been a child when I read it. But I think the bits with the Dursleys -- the parts that are set in the mundane world -- are the least believable sections in most of the books. They are funny as long as the characters aren't real, but when we get to Hogwarts then stuff gets real.
mutantalbinocrocodile
51. DanielB
@50
Yes, I think that's it. If the tone had remained the same no one would be complaining about Dudley's pig tail. But, of course, the books wouldn't have been as wildly successful.

The series mixes some whimsical stuff with some very dark stuff, and although the mixture is not always completely smooth, it doesn't really bother me. For me it's part of its charm. One things that bothers me more are J. K. Rowling's lack of judgment for certain things. When we get to the appropriate passages I'll rant about how absurd the rules of quidditch are, or about how badly JKR handles the time-turner stuff.
John Massey
52. subwoofer
Okay.... perhaps I have a little more to say. In terms of the undercurrents going on with the Dursley's and their hatred for magic, it smacks of something like racism and prejudice. We witness the reverse later on from He-who-must- , gah, Voldemort and the Malfoy's so the introduction of magic, something that should make the world bags of awesome, also introduces a new way to hate. An interesting wrinkle that JK brings to light.

Woof™.
Chris Meadows
53. Robotech_Master
It introduces several new ways to hate, actually. Muggles just get to hate people who have magic at all. But wizards get to hate:

1) People who don't have magic at all ("muggles").
2) People who do have magic but "shouldn't" ("mudbloods").
3) People who should have magic but don't ("squibs").

Kind of puts me in mind of Eskimos' zillion different words for snow—Death Eaters' zillion different ways to hate.
Chris Nelly
54. Aeryl
@47, But Dumbledore says about Tom Riddle in HBP that "his name's been down for Hogwarts since he was born" and we know that Merope never communicated with anyone but Caracatus Burke during her time away from the Gaunt home, which implies something magical about it.

It may just be a Britishism, but when wizards say it, it obviously has different connotation.
mutantalbinocrocodile
55. L A Moody
Dudley’s clownish uniform for Smeltings is hilarious! Then to make matters worse, he’s constantly waving that walking stick around as if it were a bloody wand, no less! Can’t help noting that the Smeltings colors of burgundy and orange are just a shade off from the red and gold of Gryffindor, however. As if to say that the two boys are related, but different.

Obviously, the same magical ledger which records wizards at birth for admittance to Hogwarts has no trouble keeping up with Harry’s shifting locations. Could this be a variation of the Trace that attaches to underage wizards?

Hagrid arriving at the hut-on-the-rock at night allows him to use magic, but during the day he must travel in a manner that won’t confuse Muggles (boat), even if he does augment the speed. Just like he was forced to wait until dark to deliver little Harry by motorbike in Chapter 1. Makes me wonder how the Dursleys managed to make it off the rock themselves: did they have to swim? (lol) Admittedly, it is likely that the same chap who rented them the hut will be called upon to retrieve them by boat as one child had cause to leave early.

Nothing says more about Hagrid’s tendency to hyperbole/over-simplification than his statement that all wizards who “went bad” were in Slytherin. Peter Pettigrew will punch a huge hole in that, stressing how generalizations with respect to human beings are never advisable. Harry, thankfully, has no trouble judging persons on their own merits regardless that the wizarding world may see them as substandard, beginning with Hagrid (expelled, half-giant), Sirius (ex-convict, if innocent), Lupin, Andromeda Tonks (Slytherin), Dobby -- even Filch (hateful person in general, but not because he’s a Squib).

Vernon’s comment about beating the wizarding nonsense out of Harry shows that he’s cut from the same cloth as Tobias Snape. (Although Snape’s father tips the hypocrite meter as he knowingly married a witch.) Had either Severus or Harry turned out to be gay, for instance, would their intolerant father/guardians sought to cure such a “malady” with the strap as well? No real-life instances of that, no sirree.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
56. Lisamarie
Aw man, I was waiting until the next post to ask that same question - HOW DID THE DURSLEYS GET OFF THE ISLAND?????? It actually struck me for the first time when I was rereading that chapter (I'm having a hard time restraining myself from reading a head) a week ago!

Also, regarding Hagrid's comment, really, nobody knew Peter was the traitor at that point, BUT, as they thought Sirius was (and I am pretty sure Hagrid knew all about it because I think I remember in PoA that he comments on how he'd gotten his bike from him and never realized he had betrayed them), it's still wrong.
Chris Nelly
57. Aeryl
Hagrid's statement is later modified to be "Slytherin's turned out MORE evil wizards than any other house"

To go back on whether Dumbledore could override a parents desire for their child, his action in HBP in regards to Mrs. Cole at Tom Riddle's orphanage demonstrate that yes, he could.

I think it really comes down to the child's desires overrules the parent's in this case, and as horrifying as that can be to us good, kind and caring parents out there, it helps to remember, as in the case of the Dursleys, that not ALL parents are good kind and caring.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
59. Lisamarie
What about Petunia? ;) Did she have to ride one of them, Incredibles style?
Bill Reamy
60. BillinHI
Re Filtch: I have to wonder if being a Squib wasn't what made him into the hateful person we see in the books. He did, however, remain on the Hogwarts side during the great battle in DH.
mutantalbinocrocodile
61. Purnima
I think James did become noble and a better human being. When he meets Vernon, he must have realized gear a racist person he was- after all, vermin was obsessed with being normal, and very prejudiced towards abnormal people. This would have sparkled anger in James, and he baited Vernon deliberately- by flaunting his wizardly roots! It makes perfect sense to me... I come from Southern part of India, and most North Indians assume I do not speak Hindi, based in my darker color. Sometimes, just as a private joke, I speak Hindi with such a terrible southern accent!
mutantalbinocrocodile
62. Purnima
Oh, dear! Many typos in the above comment, here is the correct sentence: When James meets Vernon, he must have realized what a racist person Vernon was- after all, Vernon was obsessed with being normal...
Kelly LeBourveau
63. Kikuo
Well, I splurged and bought the ebooks so that I don't have to start carrying around Harry Potter books with me at all times in order to follow along with this reread!

Ch. 3 - While rereading this chapter I was just imagining how terrifying it might have been to be in the car with Vernon while he was all cracked out about the letters. And eating only potato chips and bananas in a whole day? Gotta say, without pride, I've done that before and it was totally fine. :)

Ch. 4 - Gotta love Hagrid, I agree with many posters above that what he did to Dudley was probably a little uncalled for (since in the books it is really Vernon who is irritating him to no end) but I will say I liked the movie rendition. I think Dudley deserved the pig tail for stealing Harry's only birthday cake in his whole life! Also I agree with those who mentioned they don't like the whole pig=fat thing. But Dudley does not really do much in the scene in the book, so why does Hagrid choose to (unsuccessfully) try and make Dudley into a pig? Seems there is no real connection in the book with the pig thing - but in the movie Dudley is like snorting and scarfing down Harry's cake, so I could see the pig transformation in the movie.

I read ahead Ch's 5 & 6 because even though I have reread these 4, probably 5 times in my life I just couldn't help myself! Reading these feels like coming home, somehow. Warm and cuddly and welcoming with a roaring fire, after walking for hours in the freezing cold rain. That's how they feel. :)
William McDaniel
64. willmcd
I agree with bethmitcham @50 that there are certain things about the "Dursleys" sections of the book which are harder to believe than the actual magical goings-on which take place later. This was particularly jarring in the first film (which I saw before reading the book), where the sequence with the family driving around and staying at the hotel was omitted. We cut straight from innumerable letters pouring into #4, Privet Drive, to Harry and the Dursleys sleeping in the "shack-on-the-rock", which as far as we can tell is out in the middle of the ocean.

It seemed to me a rather fantastical image to be something happening while Harry was still living among the Muggles. Additionally, in the film, there is no way for viewers to know that Uncle Vernon has not moved the Dursleys there permanently. It is less jarring in the book, but as others have said, these early chapters are more caricature-like than the true character explorations we see later in the series.

Rowling frequently plays games with the names of characters, and one of my favorites is what she did with Voldemort, named here for the first time, with Hagrid stating that he doesn't believe You-Know-Who is actually dead. In French, "Vol" means "flight", so the phrase "flight from death" would be rendered "vol de la mort" . Very clever.

Chapter 3 creates one niggling issue as it relates to the timeline for the series. We know from Nearly-Headless Nick's 500th death-day party that Harry was born in 1980, and that these events are therefore taking place in July 1991. Harry's birthday in the book is on a Tuesday; July 31, 1991 was a Wednesday.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
65. Lisamarie
I think there are some other issues too - for example, the kids are in school on Valentine's Day in one of the books, but based on the dating from the Death Day Party, it was actually a Sunday or something.
mutantalbinocrocodile
66. Michael J. D'Auben
@ 27. Gregor Lewis

I'd have to say you appear to be bending over backwards to view James in the worst possible light. On the other hand I suppose you could say that I am bending over in the opposite direction. Admittedly, JKR has provided a lot of contradictory information on James.

@ 65.Lisamarie

I think that JKR has stated more than once that she was terrible with dates and numbers so I take everything in that area with a big grain of salt. I know a lot of the numbers she throws around (number of students in Hogwarts, number of witches and wizards in Great Britian, galleon/pound exchange rates, costs of various items) just don't hold up to close examination.
mutantalbinocrocodile
67. Athreeren
@19, 24: I don't think there were any traps in the letters. If Fred and George had written them, that scene would have been even more terrifying for the Dursleys.
mutantalbinocrocodile
68. L A Moody
@ 56 Sorry about jumping the gun on Hagrid and Harry taking the boat. Should’ve waited until next chapter myself. Hurrying too much to get caught up, it seems.
mutantalbinocrocodile
69. tmfsw
I kinda think the Evans might have died due to the war. Hermione clearly thinks familial retribution, even on muggles, is a likely Death Eaters recourse. That really seems the only reasonable explaination to me for their fear and hate. I can understand bitterness and jealousy about being the less interesting sibling, as well as distaste after James' dickishness, but their xeno(go?so?)phobia seems much worse.

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