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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Two

25 Oct

Fun fact for those of our readers who don’t know: the American editions have chapter illustrations. Really, really bad ones. I didn’t include Chapter One because it was just baby Harry wrapped in his blankie, but the worst and funniest images will be displayed and captioned for your entertainment. Thanks to The Leaky Gallery for all the chapter art images in this spork.


Chapter Two: The Vanishing Glass

PS2
These very tiny presents do not make up for the fact that I have no legs, that I
have the weirdest haircut in history and a deformed nose, or
the fact that the narrative
compares me to different animals
and inanimate objects multiple times per chapter.

It’s now Dudley’s eleventh birthday, and Harry wakes up in his room – which is actually a cupboard under the stairs – to his aunt banging on the door and ordering him (in a shrill and screeching voice, naturally) to get up and not to spoil the day. We’re told that nothing has changed except the age of Dudley in the photographs on display:

“Ten years ago, there had been lots of pictures of what looked like a large pink beach ball wearing different-coloured bobble hats.”

New theory: Dudley is Hagrid!Kirby’s son. Anyway, now the photos are of a large boy, and there aren’t any photos of Harry.

He goes into the kitchen to make sure the breakfast doesn’t burn as instructed, and all Dudley’s presents are piled up on the table (including the bicycle, which is a neat trick. Maybe they should have left that one on the floor). Harry doesn’t know why Dudley wanted a bicycle since he’s so fat and hates exercise, just as all fat people everywhere since the dawn of time do. But Dudley does like hitting Harry, except Harry’s way too fast to be caught most of the time. Harry is small and skinny for his age, and Dudley is apparently four times as large as he is: no really, Dudley must be Hagrid’s son.

Anyway, Harry only has Dudley’s old clothes to wear, and the frames of his glasses are held together with tape because Dudley punches him in the face so often despite apparently never being able to catch him. I wonder what the frames are made of that’s apparently more fragile than the glass lenses? Also, glasses just fall off when you get punched in the face, as both of us can attest from personal experience. Harry also has very messy hair despite getting a lot of haircuts, and the famous lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Hey folks, when did you last see a bolt of lightning that was actually shaped like that?

Dudley is described as large with a thick, fat head, just in case you hadn’t got the message yet that he is in fact fat; he’s also blond and blue-eyed, which is all we really needed to know from a description. Harry goes on to mentally call him a pig in a wig just before putting a plate of bacon in front of him, which is a little disturbing when you think about it.

While everyone is having breakfast Dudley counts his presents, and threatens to throw a tantrum when he discovers there’s one fewer than he got last year until Petunia promises to buy him two more presents today. Dudley was much more advanced last chapter, but now apparently can’t add two to something, since he struggles to work out how many that would be. Damnit, Rowling. Even if he was actually stupid or badly educated, or had learning difficulties, that would not be a reason to make fun of him, but if he can count to thirty seven then he can count to thirty nine and you’re just being idiotic.

Petunia takes a phone call from their neighbour Mrs Figg, crazy cat lady stereotype extraordinaire, who has broken her leg. For some reason this leaves her incapable of babysitting Harry, who is very pleased about this. He’s apparently treated horribly at home yet still manages to hate and look down on a nice old lady who doesn’t shut him in a cupboard. And who has cats! Unless they’ve been traumatised somehow in cat-related incidents or have allergies, any ten year old should be happy to spend a day playing with kitties away from their nasty relatives. (Harry apparently dislikes the smell, which is fair enough I suppose, but he seems to prioritise that over getting away from what the narrative insists we read as horrible maltreatment.)

The Dursleys discuss alternative choices for where to leave Harry while they take Dudley and a friend to the zoo for the day. These include Vernon’s sister Marge – they’re desperate to get rid of Harry but still won’t palm him off on her because she hates him. Is she a danger to him? We’re not meant to believe that the Dursleys would worry about this. This also implies that they don’t hate him since they draw this distinction. (The other way to read this is that they’re concerned for Marge, either because they don’t want to upset her by forcing her to spend time with a child she hates, or because they think she’ll refuse to take him.)

Harry suggests they just leave him home alone. No, Harry, you’re ten years old and this isn’t a terrible Disney movie. Petunia rejects this since she doesn’t want to “come back and find the house in ruins”. This is easy enough to read as typical parental hyperbole – I’ve heard many a parent, including my own, engage in similar rhetoric – but in context, it almost has to be a reference to Lily and James’ house in the previous chapter; I wonder if that was intentional? They also consider leaving him in the car when they get to the zoo, and Vernon says no since the car is new and he doesn’t want Harry in it unsupervised. Both adults seem convinced there’s a risk of property damage should they leave Harry alone. What’s happened in the last ten years to make them think this?

Dudley throws a tantrum complete with fake crying because he doesn’t want Harry to come. He’s constantly portrayed as this over-exaggerated caricature of a very spoiled child. Readers should bear this in mind, since Harry will soon be meeting another blond-haired light-eyed boy who behaves like a spoiled brat. I assume this is Rowling secretly passing judgement on the parenting skills of someone in her social circle.

Why would Dudley want to go to the zoo anyway? A theme park seems more in character, or throwing a huge party for his friends. The narrative even says multiple times later that he and his friend Piers are bored there. Most English zoos don’t have other attractions, beyond maybe a kiddy playground. We’re told that usually these birthday trips are to adventure parks, hamburger bars or the cinema. Our hypothesis is that Rowling had the reptile house scene in mind from the start, and therefore had to find a way to get them to a zoo. There really isn’t any Watsonian explanation for why they’d choose to go there.

Anyway, they take Harry with them to the zoo, and Vernon warns him to avoid any funny business. We learn that strange things often happen around Harry, and are then given a laundry list of them:

Because haircuts seem to make no difference, Petunia once “cut his hair so short he was almost bald except for his fringe, which she left ‘to hide that horrible scar’.” His hair grew back overnight. How can you do magic in your sleep? I’m pretty sure that’s impossible. Just as well, or every future witch or wizard would set the bed on fire when they had nightmares, and I dread to think what would happen to an adolescent having a sexual dream.

On another occasion Petunia was trying to force Harry into an old jumper of Dudley’s, and it kept shrinking as she did so until it was about the size of a glove. “Aunt Petunia had decided it must have shrunk in the wash”. Harry really does think his relatives are complete morons. He has also managed to levitate onto the school roof when running away from Dudley, which he dismisses as a gust of wind catching him at the right moment. Yes, Harry, it’s definitely the Dursleys who are stupid and not you. Obviously. He’s punished for most of these weird incidents by being sent to his cupboard.

En route Vernon is complaining about things, including some passing motorbikes. Harry mentions that he had a dream about a flying motorbike, and his uncle freaks out, nearly crashes the car and screams at him that motorbikes can’t fly. Why is Vernon triggered by Harry mentioning a flying motorbike? That happened when he was asleep and shouldn’t mean anything to him. (Possibly he was in fact awake and saw the motorbike, and dear old Dumbledore wiped his memory leaving only a sense of trauma?) And how does Harry remember? We find out in this chapter that he apparently remembers the ‘car crash’ that killed his parents and gave him his scar, or at least remembers a flash of green light and a pain in his forehead, and later in the series we learn he remembers a great deal more than that. I remind you all that he was around a year old.

[Mitchell adds: judging by the “prequel” Rowling released at one point, James and Sirius apparently enjoyed tormenting Muggle police officers using said motorcycle. I find myself speculating as to whether they could have engaged in similar shenanigans on other occasions when Vernon was present; depending on what happened, that could have been sufficiently traumatic to give him PTSD with a trigger like this. Obviously, this speculation is not, strictly speaking, canon-compliant – if we take into account Pottermore, Vernon only met James once – but I find it rather compelling nonetheless.]

They wander around the zoo. Dudley and Piers get chocolate ice creams and Harry gets a lemon ice lolly (which is explicitly stated to have been chosen because it was the cheapest thing on offer, and the narrator helpfully tells us they only bought it because the vendor asked what Harry wanted before they could get him away. We wonder why that would make the slightest difference to the Dursleys, because there is no way an ice cream vendor would file a child abuse complaint over being told the third child ‘does not want’ an ice cream). He compares Dudley to a gorilla because it’s been three whole pages since he insulted his cousin’s weight. Despite this, he’s enjoying the trip. After lunch Dudley has a tantrum because his knickerbocker glory isn’t big enough, so Vernon buys him another one and Harry eats the first one. For those who don’t know (Mitchell didn’t), a knickerbocker glory is an ice cream sundae served in a tall glass with cream and mixed fruit; interestingly they didn’t change this in the US version even though they changed “ice lolly” to “ice pop” in the preceding paragraph.

After lunch they go to the reptile house, and I begin the first of what will be a lot of animal-related rants throughout this series. Reptile houses are not “cool and dark”. They’re hot. Because reptiles are cold-blooded, so reptile vivariums have to be heated. There’s no reason for it to be particularly dark either, but that would depend on what reptiles they actually have in there.

“Dudley quickly found the largest snake in the place. It could have wrapped its body twice around Uncle Vernon’s car and crushed it into a dustbin”.

The longest snake in the world is the reticulated python, which can in theory get up to 20 feet long but very rarely does, particularly in captivity, and certainly doesn’t have anywhere near the muscle mass to crush anything more dramatic than pig bones. I’ll accept that there’s no reason most people would know this, but it still annoys me. There are plenty of more accurate ways to describe just how scarily big snakes can get, and there’s no excuse for authors not doing their research. Did I mention there will be lots of animal-fail rants?

Harry strikes up a one-sided conversation with a boa constrictor, as you do, about how annoying zoo visitors are and about the snake being captive bred but the species coming from Brazil. Boa constrictors are actually found all over Central and South America and on various islands, but okay, maybe these ones respect border control and stay in Brazil.

Now, snake eyes are always open. And they can’t wink. They do not have eyelids. Nor can they roll their eyes, nod, “snap playfully” at people, use their tails to point to signs – that they can apparently read – or any of the other things that this one does over the next two pages. Is this the source of the this-snake-is-Nagini theory? I thought that was based on the two snakes in the films looking vaguely similar, but actually this snake isn’t acting like an animal at all.

Piers spots that hey, Harry’s talking to a really weird snake, and he and Dudley rush over to see it. Dudley punches Harry out of the way – I’m going to pretend that said “pushes” since that makes more sense – and Harry falls over; this causes the glass on the boa constrictor vivarium to vanish.

Continuing not to act like a snake, the boa notices this immediately and understands it means it can escape, and uncoils and climbs out extremely quickly before anyone can do anything. Everyone panics and runs around screaming, the snake thanks Harry and gets the hell out of there. Yes, this snake talks. We won’t find out the significance of this for another book, but yeah, Potterverse snakes have their own language. Except… no they don’t, because snakes are deaf. They feel vibrations, they see heat signatures and movement, they catch scents on their tongues. They can’t hear jack shit; they have no external ears.

The keepers seem to be incompetent and we’re not told that they manage to catch the snake again, so presumably it escapes somehow. It then starves to death slowly since it was captive bred and never needed to develop its hunting instincts, or possibly freezes to death depending on just how many months are between Dudley’s birthday and Harry’s. Our Hero.

Once everyone gets home Vernon has a mini breakdown, collapsing into a chair and stammering at Harry to get to his cupboard without eating, while Petunia rushes for brandy. I’m not convinced Vernon should have been driving if he was that shaken up, personally. Harry gets to his cupboard and starts angsting about his life, reminding us that he’s lived with the Dursleys for ten years since his parents died. Thank you, Harry, we were only told this at the beginning of this chapter and might have forgotten. His aunt and uncle never talk about his parents and he’s not allowed to ask questions about them.

Harry has always dreamed of someone coming to take him away. Yes, thank you, Rowling, I think we’d all guessed that was going to happen, you don’t need to be quite so heavy-handed. He goes on to tell us that sometimes very odd people wearing funny clothes seem to know him and will come up to him in the street and bow or wave or shake his hand before mysteriously disappearing. There are quite a few things wrong with this.

Firstly, how are people recognising him? He was one year old. Nobody had seen him aside from his parents and their social circle. Even if Dumbles has mentioned the scar to everyone… nobody should be noticing the forehead of a random ten year old boy, especially if his fringe covers it as well as we’re meant to believe. Has Dumbles also told everyone where he is so they can go look for him? Or has he only told the select few who show up to say hi, and trusted that they wouldn’t tell the newspaper or something? There should be crowds trying to find him, like those odd people searching for Elvis or Bigfoot, if he’s famous enough to be recognisable.

The question of Harry’s fame is going to get very, very annoying. He’s always exactly as famous as he needs to be for the plot to work. Sometimes literally everyone will recognise him at a single glance, sometimes nobody will have a clue who he is. Sometimes he’ll be hero-worshipped, sometimes everyone will hate him. The thing is, he shouldn’t be famous at all. All he did was not die. I don’t believe anyone could think a baby actively defeated Voldemort, so most people should be assuming it was a coincidence or a rumour. It’s also been ten years and the wizarding world as a whole will be repeatedly demonstrated to have the attention span of a mayfly on speed. There’s no reason why anyone would still care enough to recognise him, or feel much beyond mild curiosity.

On at least one occasion Petunia hastily drags him away from the funnily-dressed old man who acts overly familiar, and asks Harry if he knows him. (Good guardian Petunia knows the stranger danger rules!)

Also, Harry should be freaked out that every so often random strangers in funny clothes walk up and say hello and then vanish. He should be wondering why, or how they know him, or since he can never see them for long he should be wondering whether most of them even exist at all and maybe he’s seeing ghosts or something.

In any case, Harry goes on to tell us that he has no friends because everyone at school knows Dudley and his gang don’t like him and nobody dares disagree with Dudley, and that’s the end of the chapter. It ends in a really, really weird place. Also how does Dudley control the school? He’s described to us as so fat he can barely walk, incredibly stupid, spoiled and whiny, but somehow he leads a fearsome gang of bullies nobody dares to oppose?


One of the common issues dividing fandom is the question of whether Harry was abused or not. Let’s look at what we learn of his upbringing in this chapter.

  • He sleeps in a cupboard under the stairs. Okay, that’s quite bad, but it’s big enough to have a bed in it, which is not my definition of a cupboard. Also I can’t speak for all children, but being sent to my room? Best punishment ever, all my stuff was in there. I’d have happily been confined to my room for days.
  • Harry has glasses he wears constantly for short sight; these are therefore prescription and therefore expensive. The Dursleys care enough to spend quite a lot of money on something he doesn’t technically need to survive. They also send him to the barbers for haircuts a lot and Petunia only cuts it herself once.
  • They make Harry do some of the cooking – on this one occasion, after Petunia has already started it – but he gets to eat eggs and bacon alongside them, it’s not as if he’s then banished to a corner with a bowl of gruel.
  • They supposedly only bought him an ice cream at the zoo because the lady asked what he wanted after they’d bought some for the other two; they could have just said he doesn’t want anything and walked away. A cheap lolly is better than nothing. They gave him some of Dudley’s ice cream too when it would have been far more in character for Dudley to have eaten both.
  • Harry is a healthier weight than Dudley’s friend Piers, judging by word choice. Harry’s just skinny whereas Piers is scrawny, which seems a more likely description for someone who’s been kept in a cupboard. Not even unhealthily skinny, just skinny for his age, which a lot of boys are.
  • He shows no sign of jealousy or envy; he lists all these expensive presents Dudley got and uses them as an excuse to further insult his cousin, he’s not bothered that he’s missing out.
  • He’s not scared of the Dursleys and talks back to them as sarcastically as a dim ten year old can manage. He’s also not particularly eager to escape from them by spending the day with Mrs Figg.
  • Wearing another child’s second hand clothes is not cruelty. Loten inherited a lot of her brother’s things and a couple of her cousins inherited some of hers. When kids are outgrowing stuff very quickly there’s no point buying new any more than necessary. You buy new things for the bigger kid so the smaller kid can share it. This is normal.
  • They try to find Harry a non-hateful babysitter when they go places. If they were that worried about the house, they could have just locked him in his cupboard, or dumped him with the relative who hates him.
  • There is never any mention of physical threats or punishments. Nor any insults/emotional abuse beyond telling him his scar is ugly and that he needs a haircut. Yes, Vernon says ‘no meals’ when they get home; he’s also clearly having a panic attack at the time and there’s no reason to assume he actually meant it when he can barely speak and needs a restorative brandy because he’s collapsed.

There are other things mentioned later and in other books, but right now we’re only concerned with what we’ve been told so far.

In conclusion, we are meant to see Harry as abused. Based on the evidence we have so far, he’s not. He’s certainly treated very unfairly compared to Dudley, and while this is definitely bad of the Dursleys it’s also natural and understandable given that they didn’t want him and seem scared of what might happen. Harry himself doesn’t seem to care in the slightest and still manages to look down on Dudley and sneer at him. The unfair treatment is more a judgement on Dudley than trauma for Harry. It might well have screwed up a different child later in life, but as we’ll see throughout the series, Harry continues to give no fucks. The Dursleys aren’t nice people but they’re also not rabid child-beating monsters.

Of course, there is the possibility of emotional abuse; a case could definitely be made for that. I don’t think it’s the worst kind necessarily, but they do play obvious favourites, it’s implied they neglect him where possible, and they gaslight him about his personal experiences where magic is involved. Despite that, Harry comes across as weirdly unaffected by it all, which makes it hard to read him as emotionally abused. We are told later about the possibility of some self esteem problems, but Harry never actually displays these in the text, and the only behavioural issue he does show that could have been caused by his upbringing is later revealed to be a plot coupon that had nothing to do with the Dursleys.

Having him be a poor little victim in the first place ruins some of the escapism, in my opinion. Plenty of readers will want to get away from their boring lives. Mercifully few of them will be reading to distract themselves from lives of abuse, one hopes. It’s harder for most readers to identify with Harry when he’s being painted as Oliver Twist.

[Mitchell adds: though I wonder whether some of it could just hook children by being an exaggeration of the inherent unfairness of childhood. Children’s lives are, of necessity, almost completely out of their control (and often subject to arbitrary rules set over them by adults), and I don’t think it’s too uncommon for them to at least somewhat resent that. Maybe some children read this chapter as an exaggerated caricature of the way the world in general treats them, and therefore see Harry’s escape from this life as some kind of allegory?]


To fix this chapter:

Eh. There’s nothing to fix story-wise, this is just setting the scene of how dreadful Harry-Sue’s life is and how amazing it will be when he leaves. At this point it’s unclear whether talking to snakes is foreshadowing or just something Rowling thought was neat at the time and later decided to turn into a significant plot point; foreshadowing or not, I would set this chapter somewhere other than a zoo because I know far more about snakes than Rowling does and wouldn’t fuck up writing about them. (Loten has a zoology degree and has actually been working in a reptile house for the last six months.) In the list of weird shit that happens to Harry, just mention that he saw a grass snake in the garden once that he could have sworn said hello to him – this would later prove to be telepathy, not a spoken language. Otherwise it’s fine as far as the plot goes. Harry = shitty life. Check.

Characterisation-wise, this is just broken and I don’t think it can be salvaged. Taking out the not-really-abuse would spoil the kind of Roald Dahl-esque tone that Rowling was trying to set, but it’s all so inconsistent and incoherent…

I think I would have just cut this chapter by at least half and added it to Chapter Three. All we learn of any use here is that Harry’s relatives aren’t very nice to him, that Harry doesn’t know what really happened to his parents, and that weird things sometimes happen to or around him. The rest is just filler that unnecessarily delays the start of the plot.

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32 Comments

Posted by on October 25, 2014 in loten, mitchell

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

32 responses to “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Two

  1. Cgirl

    October 25, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    I’m really enjoying these reviews. I have a number of different nitpicks around the series and it’s always interesting the read others.
    I do have one small correction, though. You suggest the Dursleys do make a financial investment in Harry’s glasses. But they wouldn’t need to. The NHS covers the cost of children’s glasses and medical appointments in the UK. There is no charge at all, though the selection of free frames can be somewhat limited.

     
    • Anodyne

      October 28, 2014 at 1:22 am

      It would also make sense if they only got him the glasses after a teacher noticed that Harry wasn’t able to see the blackboard. If Rowling’s portrayal is to be believed, they only did it because *not* doing it would result in someone noticing that he’s being badly treated, though.

       
  2. Number27

    October 25, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    On reptile houses: Those I have experience with do tend to be dark in the viewing area with lights in the enclosures. It is easier to see through glass when from the dimmer side than the brighter side and it is desirable both that people be able to see in and the animals not be able to see out.

    Cool, no. Not unless it was high summer and not even then on most days with the English climate.

     
  3. DawnM

    October 26, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Looking at this as though Harry was their only child
    – being shouted at to get out of bed early on a day when they have an excursion planned seems pretty normal
    – having to participate in the daily chores like making breakfast, setting table etc seems pretty normal
    – not getting ice cream very often and only getting a small one when you do seems pretty normal
    – wearing old clothes from a larger relative seems pretty normal. I wore hand-me-downs from my slightly-older Detroit cousin – those were some of my coolest outfits.

    (Except for the cool outfits from my cousin,) even as a normal unabused child I would be sulky and resentful about the horrible unfairness of having to do those things. So that might be resonating with readers.

    I think it only appears genuinely abusive when you compare his treatment to Dudley’s treatment. Obviously, based on the gifts Dudley gets, the Dursleys are relatively well off. There is no reason why they can’t afford bicycles and new clothes for Harry, too. So that extreme unfairness plus the gaslighting might count a abusive.

    I’ve been thinking about the position Vernon and Petunia have been put in by being possibly coerced into adopting a second child. We don’t know what was in the letter that Dumbledore left, but based on a conversation in Half-Blood Prince it sounds like the Dursleys were in a position that they could choose whether to take Harry in or not. I assume that refusing him and sending him to an orphanage was a viable option. But they didn’t choose that option.

    Maybe they felt there was some threat to them if they did not take him? In that case, some misplaced resentment and fear directed toward Harry might be understandable, although unfair.

    But if they took him because that what’s expected by societal norms, or out of a brief spasm of genuine sisterly love, or out of pity for a poor abandoned orphan chlid? Then they need to own that decision. They shouldn’t be treating Harry as an unwelcome second-class person over a decision that they themselves made.

     
    • Loten

      October 26, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      True enough, though I’d certainly question just how many options they had. The whole point of Harry living with them was Petunia being Lily’s blood relative; I can’t see Dumbledore letting them refuse. The ‘REMEMBER MY LAST, PETUNIA’ Howler he sends to stop her throwing Harry out in a later book, and her scared reaction to it, certainly indicate she didn’t feel as though she had a choice.

       
  4. Silver Adept

    October 26, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    This is great work. I think part of this chapter is supposed to establish in the reader that Harry has no reason to have any attachment or love for the Dursleys, so that when his chance comes to get away and be the special child he has always known he is, there’s no need for messy or teary goodbyes.

    There’s also another thing that should be causing issues here – although we never quite get the full details of how it works, all underage magical children get the Trace – so every time Harry does magic, even unintentional magic, the Ministry of Magic should be getting a ping that says “there’s magic happening in this clearly entirely non-magic neighborhood” (at least, as far as we know, it’s not magical) and sending someone to investigate. And if the wizarding world is as fantastically racist about non-wizards as it appears, the equivalent of Child Social Services should have long since swooped in, Obliviated the Dursleys, and sent Harry off to a foster home. Especially for incidents that happen away from the house (which could be handwaved by saying that the protection magic creates a blind spot for magical detection at the house).

    There needs to be a continuity editor.

     
  5. Loten

    October 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    The Trace clearly didn’t exist at this early point. And the way it apparently works is so inconsistent and poorly explained when it does show up that a continuity editor would have given up. It can’t even tell the difference between human magic and house-elf magic, despite those having been stated to be totally different. I have a feeling it’s been implied that the Trace tracks wand use rather than just magic use, and is mostly just designed to stop schoolchildren who should know better? Otherwise whoever’s supposed to monitor it would go mad with all the under-11 children accidentally doing things. Besides, the only way to make sense of the Trace is if it’s manually applied to them when they start school, because how could they possibly track Muggleborns who’ve never touched the wizarding world in any way?

     
  6. All-I-need

    October 26, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    First of all, this is another great chapter analysis and I love all the corrections you made concerning the snake. The “dark” part of the description does probably refer to the walkway while the cages are lit from within, so that would make sense, and as for the cool … I’ve never been to a zoo in the UK, but maybe the cages are heated individually and the path you walk through is airconditioned? Though I have no idea why you would need air-conditioning in Britain.

    Second, I agree about your theory on the Trace, Loten. It just doesn’t make any sense if it is put on children below 11. I suppose they think the children’s parents know how to cope if they are wizards themselves and the stupid Muggles are simply left to fend for themselves with a magical child and no idea what is happening. I don’t want to know how many laughs Ministry employees share about “those Muggles dragging their child to a psychtrout or something”.

    As for Harry being recongised by strangers, I assume that is due to his looking exactly like his father, as we are told more than often enough, and James would have been well-known enough just by apparently coming from a pureblood family. Why they don’t go completely batshit over him may actually be because they realise he won’t know a thing about them or who they are, so they greet him and then go about their business, happy to know their “symbol of hope” (which is what I think is why he’s famous) is alive and well, but without feeling the need to bother him – maybe they don’t want to disturb or confuse him, which would actually be quite considerate.

     
    • SarahTheEntwife

      November 14, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      I could see it being a matter of him looking like James if it was widely known what neighborhood Harry lived in, but it’s not like James was all that unusual looking. If you’re introduced to Harry as his son the resemblance is obvious, but especially for people who weren’t close friends with James as a child, it doesn’t seem like that would be an instant-recognition sort of similarity. There’ve got to be hundreds of skinny dark-haired boys of about the right age in that general geographical area.

       
  7. SoxyOutfoxing

    October 27, 2014 at 6:55 am

    Regarding Vernon’s reaction to Harry’s motorcycle dream, doesn’t Harry say that his aunt and uncle always react like that to him mentioning anything magic? I don’t think Vernon needs to be aware that motorcycles can fly for him to yell at Harry that they can’t; it seems to be part of their belief/hope that magic is something that Harry can be prevented from developing.

    When I was thirteen a strange man once said hello to me in the bus exchange, calling me by name, then excused himself and walked away. It creeps me out to this day. Harry should definitely be more worried about it than he is. Maybe it’s an age difference thing on Rowling’s part. I’m fairly sure she wouldn’t have grown up with stranger danger, since I think that really took hold in the eighties.

    I do think the Dursleys are emotionally abusive though, because they are incapable of meeting Harry’s emotional needs. They don’t provide him with any sort of affection or emotional support, and this chapter makes that pretty clear. The fact that Harry isn’t upset or affected by this is pure authorial convenience and really shouldn’t be invoked in an argument about the Dursleys behaviour, so far as I’m concerned. Even if it wasn’t completely unrealistic, that’s still like saying that it’d be okay if they beat him, as long as he genuinely didn’t mind. Of course it isn’t the Dursleys fault they dislike Harry, especially since they also seem to be afraid of him, but emotional neglect has devastating psychological consequences for children. That sort of deprivation often leads to suicidal depression, not just low self-esteem, and it wouldn’t matter if the Dursleys bought Harry as many things as they do Dudley, if you can’t provide a child with emotional support you aren’t fit to raise it. Basically, Harry living with the Dursleys is an all-round toxic situation and shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

    Probably the reason why it’s where so many Evil!Dumbledore stories start.

     
    • Loten

      October 27, 2014 at 10:47 am

      Rowling wouldn’t have grown up with stranger danger, but she would have raised her children in that period. I’m still quite surprised she has children actually, given how much she seems to misunderstand about how they work…

      I absolutely agree with you about emotional abuse in our world. But in the HP world absolutely nothing has any sort of psychological consequences, good or bad, and the small handful of characters who show anything of the sort are punished for it. It’s the thing I hate most about the series, and believe me there’s a long list! It makes discussing issues like this a bit tricky.

       
      • SoxyOutfoxing

        October 28, 2014 at 5:57 am

        Oh, I totally agree that there’s nothing even close to psychological verisimilitude going on with Harry’s situation, it’s just that I really don’t think Harry’s complete lack of reaction should be mentioned at all when discussing whether the Dursleys are abusive or not. You don’t actually say the Dursleys aren’t abusive because Harry isn’t damaged by their behaviour, but even mentioning the way Harry fails to react in a paragraph stating the Dursleys aren’t abusive bothers me.

        “It might well have screwed up a different child later in life, but as we’ll see throughout the series, Harry continues to give no fucks. The Dursleys aren’t nice people but they’re also not rabid child-beating monsters.”

        Having these sentences right next to each other kind of implies that Harry not giving a fuck is related to how the Dursleys aren’t child-beating monsters, and I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that, (and the Dursleys clearly aren’t child-beating monsters, anyway) but anything that seems to associate the existence of abuse with how the victim responds reads like victim-blaming to me, because it implies that abuse wouldn’t exist if abuse victims could just be chill like Harry and not react. I’m probably being too sensitive.

        It’s one of those difficult things where it’s all but impossible to read Harry as an abused child, but the Dursleys still abuse him. Isn’t illogical writing fun?

         
  8. Ymfon

    October 27, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    The Trace as a wand-tracking system would make a little more sense. It’s actually canon that the Ministry doesn’t care about magic done by children under eleven: Lily and Snape talk about it in the flashback in DH.

     
    • Silver Adept

      October 28, 2014 at 12:54 am

      That doesn’t make much sense, unless it’s a constant of the universe that magical children can only cause catastrophe or ruin the masquerade after the age of eleven. Especially magical children in a non-magic home, where they haven’t been taught the importance of the masquerade note how to control their burgeoning abilities.

      But, at this point, we’re still feeling out the world, and so is the author, so I suppose…

      …it’s just a show, it’s just a show.

       
  9. Gowan

    October 27, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Regarding the emotional abuse, I always assumed that Harry was extraordinarily resilient. Still doesn’t explain why he talks back to the Dursleys, though – it would just explain why he doesn’t display violent behaviour or PTSD when he is at Hogwarts.

    Concerning the snake, the whole book series only makes sense if we assume that snakes are far more intelligent than usually assumed. So, pointing at something with the tail is anatomically possible for a snake, isn’t it? And they can hear – something with vibrations from the ground caused by sound waves, if I recall correctly. Parsel should be different, though – something with beating the ground in a special rhythm would make more sense.

     
  10. Derived Absurdity

    October 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    I always thought Harry was emotionally abused. As someone else said, it’s clear the Dursleys didn’t do most of the things you’re supposed to do to raise a healthy and happy kid – hug him, pay attention to him, show him daily affection, etc. Even if there was nothing physical happening, a kid being raised in a loveless emotionless environment can really screw him up. You do make the case that the Dursleys do a bunch of things which would be weird to do if they didn’t care about him, but despite those weird inconsistencies (which, like most mysteries in this series, I put down to Rowling’s bad writing), it’s clear they’re emotionally neglectful, which constitutes abuse.

    “He’s not scared of the Dursleys and talks back to them as sarcastically as a dim ten year old can manage. He’s also not particularly eager to escape from them by spending the day with Mrs Figg.”

    These two sentences neatly sum up what’s wrong with this chapter (and the next). I think a big reason why there’s such a debate as to whether Harry was abused is simply because he doesn’t *act* like he’s abused. Now I’m not saying there’s some kind of “correct” way for abused children to act, but Harry’s behavior is clearly extremely abnormal. He’s not in the slightest bit scared or intimated of Dudley, even though Dudley beats him up all the time. He’s not intimidated by Ma and Pa Dursley either, even though the text makes clear they’re willing to dish out disproportionate punishments for minor transgressions (well, we’re supposed to get that impression, I think). An actual abused child would jump at the chance to spend some time with Mrs. Figg, literally the only person in Harry’s entire life who shows him the slightest bit of affection, instead of showing joy at news that she hurt herself. Etc. Absolutely nothing here is consistent with an abused minor.

    In fact I’d like to talk about Mrs. Figg a bit, to just hammer home how bizarre I think Harry is written here. Logically, Harry should love Mrs. Figg. She should be the only ray of hope in his miserable life. He has no rest at home, he has no friends at school, the teachers apparently don’t care about him… Mrs. Figg should be like a candle in the dark. She should be his best friend in the entire world. And for any normal kid here, she would be, smelly house or no. But not only does Harry not like her, does not enjoy spending time with her, he actually dislikes her so much he feels happy that she broke her leg just because he won’t have to spend time with her. Seriously. What a prick.

    So why does Harry act like a prick in this chapter? Well, it’s because Rowling is an awful writer, and she wouldn’t be able to convincingly write abused children to save her life. She tries to make his life as relentlessly awful as possible, and mostly just succeeds in turning Harry into a selfish little brat. She’s trying to have it both ways – make his life pure hell, and still make him perfectly normal and relatable, just another ten-year-old kid. In the process she trivializes the actual psychological effects of abuse. As well as destroying all hopes of logical consistency or rational characterization.

    Because *nothing* makes sense in this chapter. I’ve already written four paragraphs and I haven’t even gotten to all the logical problems with it (seriously, if anyone wants me to shorten my comments, just tell me and I’ll be happy to). Why would the Dursleys send Harry to school if they’re going to keep him locked in a broom cupboard all the time? Wouldn’t that get out? Isn’t there a risk of Harry mentioning that to someone? No matter what their justification they would get in serious trouble for that (I hope…). And don’t the Dursleys like normal? In what world is sleeping in a broom cupboard normal? Don’t they have a reputation to uphold? They’re letting him walk around in public in weird ugly clothes, is that not completely contradictory to someone who values normality above everything else?

    In fact, why don’t they just treat Harry normally? Wouldn’t what they’re doing now attract unwanted attention? They should just be treating him like everyone else. I realize they’re trying to beat the magic out of him or whatever, but what gave them the idea that abusing him is going to accomplish that? Since they think magic is the antithesis of normality, wouldn’t treating him normally be more effective? I mean, I realize why Rowling wrote it like that, but it doesn’t work when nothing about it makes the slightest bit of sense.

    I honestly haven’t even said half of what I wanted to say about this chapter. It’s just… I really, really dislike this chapter. A lot.

     
    • Loten

      October 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Yep, pretty much. Welcome to the problems of attempting to spork this series. Generally for any one scene or even single line of dialogue there are multiple interpretations, that are all equally valid because the writing is so horribly inconsistent, and no way of knowing which version is actually intended.

      This is why you should never try to write about a serious issue without doing your research and it’s why I have no respect for Rowling as an author. Who would try to write about child abuse while demonstrably knowing absolutely nothing about it? Not to mention alcohol abuse, bullying, mental illness, racism and the various other topics that show up throughout these books, none of which have been researched at all.

      We are meant to believe Harry is being abused because Rowling wants Harry to have an unnecessarily terrible life to escape from so her magical world looks better by comparison. Therefore the narrative will tell you Harry is being abused and that wizards are awesome. The fact that there’s no evidence for this whatsoever and that it makes no sense in terms of worldbuilding or characterisation is irrelevant. Believe what you’re told like good little sheep and don’t forget to buy the next book/go see the next film/whatever.

      It’s a little more forgiveable in this first book because it’s aimed at younger children so doesn’t need to make sense on the levels older readers would look for, and because Rowling herself clearly hasn’t figured out how things work in her world yet, but it’s still pretty poor, and it only gets worse.

       
      • Derived Absurdity

        October 29, 2014 at 8:31 pm

        Yeah, I guess it works for children. The sales and popularity attest to that. (It worked for me, so I’m not excluding myself here.) But wow… I would think any fourteen-year-old would be able to see how terrible this chapter is. Everything here is an absolutely shocking level of awful. I would like to give Rowling some leeway here, since this was her very first time writing… but really, this is something a teenager should be ashamed of writing. It’s beyond amateurish. If you’re writing an abused kid, is it really too much to ask to fucking write an abused kid? To have at least some clue as to how they work? Even a little? And you don’t even need to do research to make it miles more realistic than this, just basic common fucking sense. You know, a little knowledge of how human emotions work. But this is only one disturbing instance of Rowling showing that she doesn’t actually know how basic emotions work… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

         
    • liminal fruitbat

      October 31, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Re treating Harry normally; god yes. In fact, they should have put actual effort into it and raised him in a way the Discworld’s Auditors would be proud of, doing their best to stifle any imagination he showed (not that Harry demonstrates much imagination anyway, but still). That way the pointless inescapable whimsy might have served a thematic purpose rather than just sitting there annoying us.

       
      • Loten

        November 1, 2014 at 11:36 am

        I now have a very entertaining image in my head of the Auditors seeing the madness that is the Potterverse. That would be such a fun crossover. (Especially if Susan was involved – anyone know of a crossover fic where she becomes the Defence teacher?)

        Regarding your other comment, in my experience snakes tend to be a bit dim and pretty nosy, in which case they are actually the perfect animal for Harry to chat to. No idea what Voldy saw in them.

         
    • JoWrites

      November 6, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      This is spot on what I was thinking when I first read it. I never did get through the first book, until years later when I read a chapter a night to my kids who weren’t really paying attention. They just liked to listen to me talking while playing in their beds (neither one of them could talk at the time). I’ve still never made it through the second book; the third was the first one I liked enough to finish.

      Talking about Mrs. Fig: when I was a kid I was friends with a little old couple that lived two houses down from me. I visited with them, because I wanted to. They were nice and when we moved we let them keep our old cat (it was how I met them, our cat would go sneak into their yard and I was chasing it down one day), because it was an outdoor cat and we didn’t want it to get hurt in the city we were moving to.

      When we moved, there was a single older lady and another older couple we became friends with. A friend of mine who was also friends with them and I even when camping with them in the summer. Yes, older people’s homes do smell kind of funny. (Not all of them, the older single lady’s house smelled just like ours.) But I’ve always liked spending time with my grandmothers, and I liked spending time with the older couples in our neighborhoods. They are nice, and they have a lot of time and patience compared to most adults, so they listen to you and let you talk without talking down to you.

      His whole attitude around her pissed me off. He always sounded like such a spoiled little brat to me, which never fit the backstory he was supposed to have.

       
    • SarahTheEntwife

      November 14, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      Yes! They seem to be doing their standard denial/ignore routine with regards to magic, but in the most complicated, likely-to-draw attention way possible. Why not just never tell Harry he’s adopted? (Other than his impossibly early memories, but I’m sure they could have explained those away as nightmares or something.) Pretend he’s either a year younger than Dudley or that they’re fraternal twins (weirder things have happened) and shower just as much weird ice-cream-filled love on both of them. I’d think Petunia would have gotten unending vicious glee at the idea of raising Harry to be the most Muggleish conformity-loving kid possible, both to potentially squash his magic and just to thumb her nose at her sister from all the pent-up resentment.

       
  11. janach

    October 30, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Turning Parseltongue into telepathy makes a great deal of sense, but then how could the entire dueling club hear Harry “egging on” the snake to attack Justin, thereby proving what an evil, Slytherinesque fellow he is?

     
  12. depizan

    October 30, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Wow. I’m amazed at how horrible it really was from the start.

    I think I may have been puzzled by some of Harry’s behavior – like not wanting to spend time with Mrs. Figg, and his relationship to the Dursleys, particularly Dudley. (Since he doesn’t act like a neglected/abused child or a bullied one.) But I mistook a lot of the fail for intentional cartoonishness, and you don’t expect a whole lot of sense from a cartoon. I still think some of it, like the snake and Harry’s accidental magic incidents, are supposed to be cartoonish (or Roald Dahl-like), except that that’s its own fail, at least if Rowling had any intention of ever turning the series serious. And Rowling never bothers to retcon any of the cartoonish background to her epic fantasy. (One of the reasons why her worldbuilding is so utterly terrible.)

     
    • Derived Absurdity

      October 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      Yes. There’s a lot of things about this series that really only make sense if you view the entire thing as a cartoon. In a “real life” setting a lot of the violence in this series we’re supposed to love – Dudley’s pig tail, Draco’s ferret adventure, Aunt Marge, the assorted animal abuse, the ridiculousness of the spells, and pretty much everything the Weasley twins do – would be awful. But if it’s all a cartoon, well, that’s different.

      But of course Rowling expects us to take some of the stuff in her cartoon world super-deadly-seriously. And that’s where the problems start. You can’t have it both ways.

       
      • depizan

        October 30, 2014 at 11:01 pm

        It’s not just the violence (though that alone is enough – let’s add Quiddich and various Quiddich accidents… and the treatment of Muggles to your list), it’s huge chunks of the worldbuilding itself.

        Hogwarts insensibly being the center of everything and the place to hide dangerous items. (As opposed to somewhere vaguely sensible, like the Ministry of Magic.) Yes, the stories are set there, but ye gad, come up with some vaguely plausible excuse for some of this stuff. Or, you know, stay in cartoon mode. One of the two.

        Then there’s Arthur Weasley’s confusion about the Muggle world (yet somehow he enchanted a car? whut).

        The fact that the Wizarding World in general never seems to gain any understanding of anything Muggle despite gaining new Muggle-born wizard students EVERY FREAKING YEAR and sharing a country with them – and, far as I can tell, living parasitically off the Muggle world.

        Hell, I’m not sure there’s much about Wizard/Muggle relations that’s not super cartoony. Or deeply horrifying. Or both.

        And, hell, I know there are other things. The whole series gives me a headache at this point.

         
  13. liminal fruitbat

    October 31, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    The snake thing really bugs me in light of the whole nonsense later about whether Parseltongue is inherently evil or not – iirc, Tom Riddle tells Dumbledore in the orphanage that snakes tell him things and it’s clearly meant to be sinister, so did Harry happen to find the only non-evil snake around? Can evil snakes recognise future dark lords? (Also Parseltongue makes no sense on the snakes’ part even beyond the “no external ears” problem, but that’s probably something for Chamber of Secrets.)

     
  14. Sm

    November 2, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    Ok, so. I now ship Petunia/Hagrid, and not in a good way.

    (I’m now gonna talk about that for a bit. Apologies if you got this from somewhere else that I didn’t see)

    Like, Dudley was conceived about two months before Harry, which means that he was conceived around about the time of Lilly and James’ wedding? I don’t know what the current word-of-JK is on their wedding, but my new headcanon is that Petunia and Vernon were trying for a baby, Petunia was getting disappointed because it wasn’t working. Lilly then announced she was marrying a wizard and dredged up a whole load of feelings Petunia thought she’d long buried. At the wedding, Petunia met Hagrid, who remembered her from her letters (I’m assuming Dumbledore lets Hagrid read his private correspondence. Why not?). She doesn’t have any of the prejudices against half-giants that the wizarding community does, and she’s feeling so unconfident that she starts flirting with him when Vernon’s not around. Hagrid is so unused to anyone taking an interest in him, because he’s so shunned by the wizarding world. They have a short, incredibly miserable affair based on low self-esteem and Petunia’s repressed desire to be part of the wizarding world. She calls it off when she becomes pregnant, and never sees Hagrid again. I have no idea how this fits in with the scenes with Hagrid and the Dursleys in one room, although I remember Hagrid being irrationally angry at Vernon.

    /miseryship

     
  15. SarahTheEntwife

    November 14, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Snakes apparently become magical creatures when within 5 feet of a parselmouth. Magical creatures that develop human-like intelligence but not to the extent that they realize the distance between Britain and Brazil and decide that the hard floor full of running yelling humans looks more hospitable than their nice warm vivarium with all the rats they can eat.

    As someone who hasn’t ever been hit in the face but who was still oddly destructive to glasses frames, I envied Harry’s ability to tape them together. Tape does not work, not even duct tape. It just makes your nose sticky. I even tried taking mine to a jeweler once and they said it wouldn’t be worth the cost to fix it. In my case the lenses probably are substantially stronger than the frames, but I’ve always had the fancy-science-plastic ultrathin lenses, and I don’t get the impression Harry’s supposed to be quite *that* myopic.

    (I assume we’ll get to this in a few chapters, but why doesn’t he just ask Madame Pomfrey to fix his eyes? Dumbledore’s glasses are presumably magic and because he’s just that whimsical, but Harry’s are an ongoing problem that a very small, reasonably easily defined physical modification would fix.)

     
  16. Elisewyn

    November 16, 2014 at 1:42 am

    I just found your reviews, I enjoy them a lot and the comments to, and I’ll definitely keep reading! 🙂

    I wanted to say, I was one of these kids who started reading Harry Potter as escapism from abuse, and I agree with what you say here. I empathised with Harry a lot at first because of what he was going through, but there are some things that don’t add up.

    There’s absolutely no question for me that the Dursleys are emotionally abusive, though it’s buried under so many layers of making fun of their behaviour and appearance (maybe to make them seem less threatening for a children’s book? Or as a form of revenge?) that it’s hard to take them seriously sometimes. They do make Harry sleep in a closet after all, there’s physical and emotional neglect, gaslighting, and there’s the whole scapegoat/golden child dynamic that abusers inflict on their children a lot. Being raised by real life equivalents of the Durselys is definitely not fun.

    But Harry on the other hand doesn’t really behave like an actual abused child. I mean, he does have a few realistic after-effects, he often expects to be screamed at or abandonned, he has trouble asking for help, doesn’t make friends easily. But then there are the other things that may be easier to overlook, like how he dislikes Mrs Figg even though she’s the closest thing to an ally he has, or how he doesn’t for one second internalize the things the Dursleys say about him even though he has every cause to believe them.

    One of the worse things with gaslighting is how if you’re exposed to it long enough, especially as a child, it starts rewriting the way you understand reality. You end up believing that your guardians are right about you, that you are treated this way because you somehow deserve it, otherwise you have to come to terms with the fact that your world makes no sense and your caretakers may actually be dangerous to you, which not every child is able to do (or should be expected to be able to do, right Dumbledore?). At Harry’s age, a kid who’s being repeatedly told that everything bad that happens is their fault, especially if they have noticed that weird things do tend to happen around them, would in many cases have internalized the Dursleys’ view that they’re a monster and a freak. They most likely would be afraid to be left at home on their own, for fear that something did happen and there would be hell to pay later, or heck, they would probably even believe that they somehow caused the car accident that killed their parents!

    Harry doesn’t have any of that type of consequences. I know there are people who hold up better than others or react differently, but Harry behaves more like a kid who found himself in an abusive situation after being raised by a normal family for several years, like the children in A series of unfortunate events, rather than one who never knew anything else. And he talks back without fear of retribution, with the undying certainty that he’s in the right, as if he had a direct line to the author and already knew already that he doesn’t have to fear consequences since there is a whole community of nice magical adults looking out for him who are going to fetch him soon. In reality you can fantasize about something like that, but you don’t normally dare model your behaviour after it. And it’s not even like JK can’t write realistic psychological consequences of abuse, she does it just fine with Snape, but for some reason he is the one portrayed negatively by the narrative.

    It’s a lot weider with Harry. I agree with Loten that JK wanted a main character with a horrible unfair life that he could just leave later on without remorse, for a better world where his weirdness is the normal and he is accepted for himself. I understand the goal, but it feels like she just started with “main character’s life is unfair”, and only afterwards wrote elements of abuse into the story as window dressing to prove to us that no, really, he’s justified in feeling this way, just look how horrible they are to him. Basically she starts with a character who feels his life is unfair, and only then adds real elements of abuse in order to justify the feeling, without realizing that the elements she adds would be so horrific in reality that a child living in this situation would suffer psychological consequences much more serious than just feeling his life is unfair. Like she wrote the character first and then added the circumstances, instead of writing it so that the character’s psychology is a direct consequence of his circumstances. I’m not sure if this makes sense.

    It works for you when you’re a kid, especially since there are huge gaps in the characterisation that you can just fill up with your own experience, but really this chapter (and the characterisation in this whole series!) is just a complete mess sometimes. I’m so glad you’re tackling it, it’s so interesting, I’m really looking forward to it! (And I’m so sorry for the gigantic comment.)

     
    • Derived Absurdity

      November 17, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Yep. Good point with the feeling of Harry’s abuse being tacked on as somewhat of an afterthought. That’s what it feels like.

      I still think she planned for the abuse from the beginning, though, and just either didn’t know what an abused kid is actually like or just wanted Harry to be as normal and empty as possible so that all the kids reading can easily transport themselves inside him, screw sensitivity or psychological realism. Maybe it’s a bit of both of our theories. Ultimately, though, we’ll never know what the hell she was thinking when she wrote this mess. I don’t think I want to know.

       
  17. Brittany

    December 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    I began reading the series when I was 14, so I didn’t think about it as much then, but now as an adult (and trained counselor), I look back on the abuse/neglect that we are supposed to feel on Harry’s behalf and find this level of mistreatment implausible to have occurred the entire time Harry has been with them. If so, he wouldn’t have been able to form healthy attachments as he aged. He may not have much in terms of loving feelings for the Durselys, but they did provide his basic needs (food, shelter, clothing ,education) and at some point (and to some extent) comfort. Sure, Harry isn’t completely without faults and scars from his experience, but I don’t believe he was as mistreated as JKR attempted to portray. He is able to form strong, healthy friendships with Ron and Hermione, along with others. He is able to determine right and wrong. He is able to self-regulate his emotions (he’s neither extremely fearful or extremely rebellious and isn’t afraid to be a smartass to the Durselys now and then, knowing he’ll be in trouble). Those are just some of the things that we develop from having at least some kind of attachments as children.

    Obviously each individual’s personality shapes how they come out of abusive situations (look at Snape and Voldemort). Harry’s personality was an obvious benefit to him in that he didn’t come out of his situation with an extremely bitter/dark outlook on life and the world (or seek to murder Muggles because of how he’d been treated by them). The Durselys are far from the best guardians Harry could have had, but he could have had much, much worse.

     

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