As a way of dealing with a stressful situation (like studying for the bar) I reread the Harry Potter series during my limited free time. There was something about this epic tale of friendship and courage that gave me hope when I would rather just give up. Recently, a major event has happened in my life: my wife, Alana, is pregnant.
Don’t get me wrong, both my wife and I are excited by this upcoming addition to our family, but it brings its own stresses for both myself and Alana. While Alana suffers through the physical symptoms of pregnancy and trying to continue on with her career as a teacher, I find myself dealing with my own unique problems. I am taking more of the housework on to give my wife a break, I’m researching whether to buy or rent a new house so we can have room for the baby and wondering whether I make enough money in my current job to afford to care for another human being.
Thus with all of the changes coming quickly to our lives, I found myself suggesting we tackle the Harry Potter series again, together. Alana, who has never reread a book in her life, liked the idea, especially because she read studies showing that children can tell the voices of their parents shortly after birth, even their father’s. Thus, if I read out loud my child would be exposed to the sound of my voice and give me practice in reading to children. This is something I am very excited about doing as some of my favorite moments of childhood involve my parents reading to me before bed from the classic works of the literature (edited down for children, of course).
More importantly, I wasn’t writing for a relaunched SF/F magazine when I last reread the series so I felt this would be a great opportunity to review the series, especially now that is has been re-released with the new covers. So my wife and I curled up in bed at night and spent a few moments listening to me read the fantasy story that captured so many hearts and minds in 1997 (holy crap we are getting close to two decades on this one): The Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (published originally as The Philosopher’s Stone).
For those who don’t know (and trust me there are people even now who don’t) Harry Potter is the story of an orphaned boy who lives with his aunt and uncle and learns one day that he is actually a wizard and is going to go study at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although it is only a short part of the actual book, Harry’s treatment by his aunt and uncle is borderline child abuse. I’m surprised more hasn’t been made about the mental, emotional, and physical abuse the Dursleys have put Harry through. You would think Britain’s version DFS would pick up on the fact that Harry was skinnier and shabbier compared to his cousin Dudley. I guess we have all just brushed it off, much like how Homer chocking Bart remains one of The Simpsons longest running gags. A part of me worries, however, what would have happened if the Dursleys had been worse to Harry…
Anywho, moving on to the meat of the story, Harry arrives at Hogwarts, makes friends (and rivals), learns new skills (including the fact that he is extremely talented at a sport he never played before) and confronts the wizard responsible for his parent’s death. I couldn’t help noticing a few things as I read this book again. First, you can’t help seeing the beginning of Harry’s adventure as part of the classic hero’s journey. Much like Luke Skywalker, Harry gets a call for adventure (from Hagrid who delivers his Hogwart’s letter), he gets supernatural aid (from Albus Dumbledore who gives him his invisibility cloak, tells him about the Mirror of Erised, etc.), and to crossing the first threshold (by seeking to stop anyone from capturing the Sorcerer’s Stone by going to get it himself). I think it is safe to say the entire series, and not just this novel, documents Harry’s quest and although some may argue with me about where in the journey Harry is at in each book, I encourage it since this is the first time I have tried breaking down a book like this.
There are some small things too that caught my eye. The dialogue seems a little too spot on to flow naturally. The foundation for Rowling’s magic system is also not set yet. For example, in The Half-Blood Prince we will see Snape healing a vicious cut caused by a curse with his wand, but in The Sorcerer’s Stone we see him forced to use bandages due to a dog bite (well it was a giant three-headed dog bite, but still). In fact, the book really is a difficult read compared to later books. I don’t know if this has more to do with Rowling’s evolving skill as a writer, the demographic the book was trying to reach at the time of publication, or my own taste in literature. I still enjoyed reading it, for sentimental reasons at the very least, but I liked the books where Harry is older and more flushed out as a character, the danger is greater, and magic is less deus ex machina. People are right when they say that the earlier books in the series are more geared to children.
Side note: Did anyone else find it ridiculously unfair of Dumbledore to take away the House Cup from Slytherin after they had legitimately won it by winning the Quidditch tournament and being the best students they could be during the year? The pure blood fetish aside, maybe there could be another reason why it produces so many dark wizards…
Back to the real world: I found these short moments of storytelling with my wife to be quite enjoyable. I was able to get Alana to relax after a stressful day at work and she admitted it has helped her fall asleep even when her nausea was at its worst (thankfully she has not thrown up yet and probably won’t now that we are entering her second trimester). It has been slow-going (notice, I said second trimester) and I probably will still be rereading these by the time the kid is born. Nevertheless I plan to stick with it although I can’t promise when my review of The Chamber of Secrets will come out. I still have my other reviewing and writing duties to meet. Still, I hope you enjoy this journey with me.