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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Four

You should all go and read Mitchell’s latest post reviewing a much better book than this one. This chapter is not nice. Trigger warning for assault on a child, and for body shaming.

Chapter Four: The Keeper of the Keys

PS4I have transmogrified from a giant Kirby to a giant horseshoe
magnet. And this isn’t even my final form. Also sadly I am not
being hanged by my own scarf, though I definitely deserve to be.

The dramatic BOOM of someone pounding on the door continues, and wakes Dudley up. The narrative calls him stupid for asking ‘Where’s the cannon?‘ despite the fact that this booming noise is meant to sound like a cannon and they are, after all, at sea. In fact, I’m pretty sure some coastal defences and storm warning systems still use cannon-esque noises to send signals, and there is a storm going on currently. Besides, at least Dudley is asking questions, instead of just sitting there vacantly as Our Hero is doing.

Continuing to show that the Dursleys are frankly better people than Harry is, Vernon comes flying into the room with his implausible new rifle. He demands to know who’s outside and warns them that he’s armed. The mysterious visitor smashes the door off its hinges in response and steps into the room, just barely squeezing through the doorway.

Meet Hagrid.

“A giant of a man… His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.”

We will never get an explanation of why he’s semi-feral and unable to brush his hair. Just as we will also never get an explanation of why he talks in such a horrible way. According to the Harry Potter universe, only certain foreigners and Hagrid have any kind of accent and all British people speak perfect BBC English (even though the author is Scottish… go and look up a Glaswegian accent sometime). This is also the only time he’ll have to duck down to get through a doorway and the only time his head will nearly touch the ceiling, since Hagrid is one of the many people and things throughout this series that will change size constantly. He re-hangs the door (even though doors don’t work like that) and then demands that someone make him a cup of tea. As his opening line of the main plot and his introduction to Our Hero, this lacks panache.

I would like to point out here that Vernon makes no attempt to shoot him the second the door falls over. Pity. Harry also provides no narrative voice and is apparently not even mildly startled by the door being smashed down, let alone being scared of the huge terrifying stranger who’s just broken in.

The giant stomps over to Dudley and orders him to move over, ‘yeh great lump‘. Listen, you arse, you have no room to be calling anyone names, particularly not a fellow Kirby. Dudley, once again far smarter than his cousin, stops being ‘frozen with fear‘ and runs to his parents and their gun, whereupon the giant ignores them and starts fawning over Harry, who still isn’t frightened. He informs Harry that he looks just like his father, except for his mother’s eyes. Get used to this, virtually every character in the series is going to tell us at least once, to the point where even Harry finally gets tired of hearing it.

Vernon demands that the giant leave, because he’s breaking and entering. The giant ignores this extremely true accusation and insults him before reaching across the room, grabbing the rifle out of Vernon’s hands, tying it in a knot and throwing it away.

Firstly, you can’t do that. I could believe he snapped it, maybe, but not tied it in a knot. (I don’t know much about guns but assuming Vernon had taken the safety off, it might have fired at this point? If only.) Secondly, Hagrid has no reason to know what a gun is and there’s no reason why he would know it’s a weapon he needs to take away from Vernon; to him it would just look like a funny stick since he knows Vernon is a Muggle and thus can’t have a wand. Third, Vernon has made no attempt to shoot him or even threatened to do so.

The giant then returns to fawning over Harry, who still isn’t scared despite what he’s just seen, and pulls a whole, full-size birthday cake out of his coat pocket. Damnit, Harry. Petunia’s already shown an awareness of Stranger Danger, I’m sure she warned you about people giving you candy.

Showing a brief spark of awareness, Harry asks who this guy is. Sadly we’re told he meant to say thank you but failed, so asking a reasonable question is actually just him being rude. The giant realises he hasn’t actually told anyone anything, laughs, and says he is Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. I was going to point out all the reasons why Hogwarts doesn’t need keys or a groundskeeper, but I hate this chapter and I can’t be bothered. Hagrid’s job is almost entirely pointless make-work, let’s leave it at that.

Hagrid then returns to his demands for refreshment. He lights the fire (we don’t learn how, just yet, but later we find out his broken wand is inside an umbrella inside his coat, so that means he’s actually using advanced wandless magic here despite being incapable of any magic at all after the next chapter to the best of my recollection) and starts pulling a lot of stuff out of his pockets, including a kettle, a teapot, a poker, a packet of sausages and a bottle of spirits; I’d forgotten the drinking starts this early in the series. I think Rowling was going for a whimsical Mary Poppins bottomless-carpet-bag feel here with Hagrid’s pockets, and if it was any other wizard this would all be perfectly possible, but it’s just a little stupid here.

He starts cooking sausages and Dudley fidgets. We’re meant to see this as him being greedy and food-obsessed, of course, but do remember that in the past 24 hours – at least – he’s had one packet of crisps and a banana. Of course he’s hungry, they all are (including Harry, who is sitting holding a chocolate cake but hasn’t tried to eat any of it despite being cake-deprived and also not having eaten for a day, because he’s a moron). Vernon warns Dudley not to touch anything Hagrid gives him, which is an extremely sensible thing to say, and Hagrid responds by laughing.

“Yer great puddin’ of a son don’ need fattenin’ any more, Dursley, don’ worry.”

Rowling, I hate you. I genuinely, sincerely despise you. That said, this actually isn’t bad characterisation for Hagrid, who never gets to feel superior to anyone normally. If only that was the actual motive, and not just the narrative continuing to body-shame an eleven year old.


Deviating from our joint sporking for a moment, I’d like to say here that I am fat, and likely to be that way for the rest of my life. I grew up fat due to medical reasons that started when I was five years old. Now, at 27, I’m finally more or less happy with myself most of the time (though certainly not always… it never goes away entirely), but my childhood and my teenage years were utterly miserable due to constant fat-shaming from the people around me and in the media, and it’s certainly a significant contributor to my depression. Rowling is telling us to hate Dudley for being fat and to hate his parents for being supportive and not hating him. Because she is an awful, awful person. He’s eleven fucking years old. His treatment here is going to fuck him up for years, and any fat children reading this will unconsciously be absorbing this message even if they’re not aware of it at the time.

All right, I’m getting off my soapbox for now, but we’re not done with this topic and there will be other topics that will necessitate bringing the soapbox back.

– Loten


Hagrid gives sausages to Harry instead and ignores the three other hungry human beings. These sausages have been cooked by spitting them on a poker and held in a fire, so they’re probably burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. Harry unfortunately does not contract salmonella or E. coli poisoning or pick up any fun parasites and spend the next two or three days slowly puking and shitting himself to death, making this the third specific instance where he should have died but didn’t (Voldy should have killed him, he should have died of exposure on the doorstep). Don’t try this at home, kids, undercooked pork is often more dangerous than undercooked chicken – and re-heating rice is more dangerous than either, but I’m digressing again.

Alternately, assuming Hagrid takes the time to cook this food properly, sausages take a good ten-fifteen minutes to cook. That’s a long time for everyone to just be standing there watching him. Harry continues not to ask any questions, the Dursleys make no attempt to sidle into another room and jump out of the window and get back to their boat, Hagrid continues not to explain anything.

Finally Harry remembers how to speak, and finally admits he knows nothing (Jon Snow). Hagrid then proceeds to explain nothing at all while being astonished that Harry knows nothing, as the Dursleys cower. He says Harry knows all about Hogwarts already and is horrified to find out this isn’t the case. He yells at the Dursleys that Harry knows nothing about anything, which is the smartest thing Hagrid will ever say and deserves a round of applause. Harry protests that he ‘can do maths and stuff‘, which probably puts him ahead of most wizarding children in all honesty, but that’s not what Hagrid means.

Hagrid’s getting pretty incoherent now, roaring at the very very frightened Dursleys and saying vague things about Harry’s parents, before finally seeming to get the message and asking if Harry knows what he is. Er, an idiot?

Vernon intervenes at this point. Despite being terrified almost literally out of his wits, he yells back at Hagrid, ordering him not to tell Harry anything. We’re meant to see this as cruel Big Brother behaviour, but honestly I think most people should actually be okay with not telling a young child that his parents were horribly murdered by an evil wizard who’s probably not actually dead and will be coming after him at some point. I’m no expert on parenting but it seems like that probably isn’t something you tell a ten year old. Besides, if Harry had grown up knowing he was a wizard he would have done something very stupid and blown himself up before he was out of nappies. He’s at about the right age to be told the truth now even without mysterious school letters, but being told by a psychotic maniac who’s been stalking and harassing them for days and smashed his way into the house yelling is not the way to do it. Vernon should absolutely be trying to stop Hagrid here and I applaud him for trying to defend his nephew despite being petrified. He argues with Hagrid, briefly, before being shouted down. Petunia’s only contribution to all this is a ‘gasp of horror‘, before Hagrid nonchalantly tells Harry he’s a wizard.

There’s no dramatic pause or anything here. The movie handled it much better. Here, Hagrid tells Harry’s guardians to go and boil their heads, then tells Harry in the same breath, ‘yer a wizard‘. Harry almost, almost has a normal reaction here, replying with “I’m a what?” but once Hagrid repeats it he accepts it and asks no further questions as he takes a copy of the latest letter.

This letter is addressed to “Hut-on-the-rock, The Sea“. One, I highly doubt that’s what this place is called. Two, which sea? Around Britain there’s the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the English Channel. You can’t have a letter so precise it knows Harry’s slept on the floor but somehow doesn’t know which sea the floor’s located in.

Here is the letter.

HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later
than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress

In the US version this is presented as an actual letter, with a letterhead and a written signature, which is a nice touch; the UK edition just gets plain text.

I can’t fathom why the letter starts off with a list of Dumbledore’s titles. Particularly since we’ll never find out what most of them mean (I wonder if many American readers caught “Grand Sorcerer” in that list and wondered whether it was connected to the Sorcerer’s Stone? [Mitchell adds: I don’t remember considering that at the time, though this time around I did have to check to see if it’d been changed to “Grand Philosopher”. And it hadn’t.]). And how is he managing to run the school if he has all these other things occupying his time? Rowling really doesn’t understand that being a headmaster or headmistress – or being a teacher at all – actually involves a lot of work. More on this later.

I’m equally puzzled by McGonagall’s signature here. The addresses of these letters are clearly automatically generated, but apparently she writes the actual letters herself. In which case how has she not realised that Harry probably doesn’t know anything? She told us in Chapter One that the Dursleys were horrible evil Muggle scum, and she doesn’t seem to know they’re his relatives so probably assumes they have no knowledge of the wizarding world. And we’ll learn later that Dumbles has agents watching Harry, he must know our hero hasn’t got a clue about anything. Yet the actual letter is considerably less than informative; I sincerely hope Muggleborn students get more of an explanation than this.

Harry is silent for a while. We’re told his head is full of questions, which would certainly be understandable, but given that he doesn’t ask any of them I suspect his head is actually just full of fluff. Of all things to pick, the one he does ask about is them awaiting his owl, whereupon Hagrid does a comical forehead-slap and produces an actual live owl from his pocket, along with parchment (as I mentioned last time, Harry shouldn’t know what this is) and a quill. But no ink, which makes his next action pretty impressive; he writes a brief note.

Dear Mr Dumbledore,
Given Harry his letter. Taking him to buy his things tomorrow.
Weather’s horrible. Hope you’re well.
Hagrid

Snort. This is kind of cute actually. I’m puzzled by Mister Dumbledore, though, he’ll be Professor or Headmaster to Hagrid from next chapter onwards (and this has, in fact, been changed to “Professor Dumbledore” in the US version). The letter also displays more education than we’re meant to think Hagrid possesses, since we’ll learn shortly he’s unable to spell less complicated things than ‘Dumbledore’.

He then ‘throws the owl out into the storm‘ to go and deliver this letter. Poor owl. We’ll be pausing frequently throughout the series to comment on how terribly post owls are treated and how Rowling really doesn’t know how they work, but for now let’s just say this owl is either sensible and roosts in the roof of this hut until the storm ends, or it tries to fly back to the mainland and ends up drowning because owls have very soft and absolutely not waterproof feathers.

Vernon makes another attempt to defend his nephew at this point, saying Harry’s not going. I agree, Vernon, I wouldn’t want any child under my care attending a deathtrap run by psychotic madmen. Hagrid says a great Muggle like Vernon can’t stop him, and Harry finally takes the hint after listening to this weird word repeatedly for a while and asks what it means; it means someone who doesn’t have magic. Though it’s going to be used throughout the series as a racial slur.

Fun fact, it’s also 1960s-70s slang for a user of marijuana. The more you know.

Vernon retorts that “we swore when we took him in we’d put a stop to that rubbish, swore we’d stamp it out of him!” and Harry finally catches on to the fact that hey, his aunt and uncle totally knew all the time and chose not to tell him for a lot of very good reasons. He gets outraged and Petunia remembers that she’s in this scene, revealing that yes, her sister Lily was a witch, and she wasn’t, and their non-magic parents were very proud and focused on the special daughter and ignored the non-special one. “It was Lily this and Lily that.”

So, let’s review – Mr and Mrs Evans favouring one child over the other one is totally okay and absolutely how the world should be. Their daughter copying their behaviour and doing the same, as they taught her to do, is horrific evil child abuse and worse than Satan. And of course, since Petunia is making a reasonable point and is clearly justifiably hurt by the way she was raised, she has to be described as ‘ranting’ and ‘shrieking‘ lest anyone actually agree with her. She also says James and Lily got blown up, which tells me Dumbledore never bothered telling her how her own sister died and she had to read about the exploded house later and draw her own conclusions.

Harry responds by saying they told him his parents died in a car crash. Yes, Harry, and now they’ve told you that isn’t true. Try to keep up.

Hagrid demands, “How could a car crash kill Lily an’ James Potter?” Well, let’s see… broken neck, internal injuries, being impaled on a piece of the car, head injuries, severed arteries… wizards aren’t immortal, you prat. He rants about it being an outrage and a scandal that Harry doesn’t know who he is, even though Hagrid was present when Dumbledore explained he wanted Harry to grow up not knowing who he was. Harry asks what happened – well done, Harry, a realistic question asked in a timely fashion – and Hagrid stops screaming at the Dursleys and turns all worried, saying he had no idea Harry wouldn’t know anything. Again, Hagrid, the entire point of you taking Harry to the Dursleys in the first place was that he wouldn’t know anything.

Massive infodump exposition story time. Are you all sitting comfortably?

There was a bad wizard (this is literally how he’s described. Bad). People are still scared to say his name and Hagrid can’t spell it to write it down, so he eventually puts on his big boy pants and manages to say it: Voldemort.

DUN DUN DUUUUUN! …sorry.

It is insane that everyone’s too scared to say Voldy’s name. Even the younger generation who never lived through the war, even Muggleborns like Hermione who’d never heard of him during most of their formative years. I assume it was put in to show how SUPER BRAVE Harry was for being the only one who dared to say it, along with Dumbledore. More realistically everyone would be using his name much the way people talk about Hitler now, using it to insult one another and be sarcastic about how terrible situations are and things. (Especially since Voldy’s really not that scary. He was a glorified serial killer. You might as well make people too terrified to say Charles Manson.)

I know I’d feel like a prat constantly saying You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (I’d love a canon character to start saying Voldemort and when everyone gasps in horror just say exasperatedly, ‘It’s quicker.’)

We’ll learn in a later book that Hagrid actually went to school with the boy who would later become Voldemort, as did a few other characters. This will never be brought up, none of them will never say anything about it and nobody will ever ask.

Anyway, twenty years ago Voldemort gathered some followers and some power and started doing unspecified terrible things, taking over and turning people against each other. Hope you didn’t want more details, because you won’t get them. He was killing people, as evil villains tend to do. Hogwarts was apparently one of the only safe places, because Dumbledore is just so awesome, you guys, and Voldemort was totally scared of him. And James and Lily were so awesome that one day Voldemort went to their house and killed them, and he tried to kill Harry too but somehow it didn’t work and that’s why Harry’s awesome.

We’re told here that the lightning bolt scar on Harry’s forehead is what you get when a powerful evil curse touches you. Several characters will repeat this throughout the series but we’ll never meet anyone else with special My Little Pony stamps, and we’ll meet some pretty scarred wizards. Now, if Harry’s meant to be anonymous, why on earth didn’t Dumbledore stick something on his head to hide the damned thing? Or at least Petunia should have insisted he keep makeup smeared over it or something. Funny-shaped facial scars attract attention no matter how often the narrative refers to his messy fringe that’s apparently meant to hide it. Of course, we get no explanation at all of why he even had a scar when anyone killed by this specific curse that we don’t know about yet dies without a mark on them, let alone a scar shaped like a lightning bolt, of all things…

Technically, a scar ten years old would be faded and white and would barely show at all by this point no matter where it is on his face, but given how many times people suddenly seem to notice it, clearly Harry’s Special Scar of Specialness is a glorious beacon proclaiming his identity for the world to see. Which interestingly means that Dumbledore spent those ten years telling everyone that he has the Special Scar, since of course he wasn’t living in the wizarding world. Not to mention that it was lightning-bolt-shaped when he was what, a year old? His head would have doubled in size more than once since then, and the skin would have stretched quite a bit so the shape could have easily been distorted significantly (although I suppose “lightning bolt” is general enough that it could still look like one). Not to mention it’s unrealistic how people are always noticing him – I’m certainly not that observant on a daily basis; do all wizards go around carefully inspecting everyone’s foreheads as a matter of course just in case one of them happens to be Harry Potter so they can pay proper deference?

I digress. Evil wizard, evil curse, James and Lily snuffed it and the house exploded but Harry was fine. Harry then decides that not only can he remember a flash of green light but now he remembers evil laughter. No, Harry, no you don’t.

Vernon tries to intervene, stating that yes, something’s always been weird about Harry, “probably nothing a good beating wouldn’t have cured” – thus making it pretty obvious they never actually beat him, sit down fanfic writers – but it’s just because his parents were weird and got mixed up with the wrong crowd (which is perfectly true) and they asked for it and the world’s better off without them. Frankly I think this is also true, but mostly this tells me he’s met James and Lily and knew quite a bit about them and that there seems to be some nasty history here. Hagrid interrupts by threatening him with violence.

I wish Petunia was permitted any more dialogue, as this is her sister everyone’s talking about, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t get to speak again for the rest of the book; she’s certainly had her allotted speech for this chapter.

I have no idea what Dudley’s been doing this entire time, by the way, but this is all completely new to him too and he should be asking whether it’s really true and how come Harry’s a wizard when he isn’t and no seriously what the fuck is happening why is this maniac threatening Dad?

Harry ignores the fact that his new friend is threatening an unarmed man with violence for disagreeing with him, and ignores everything that’s just been said about his parents, and instead demands more storytime. He wants to know what happened to Voldemort, and because he’s a good little brainwashed muppet he’s already using the phrase You-Know-Who instead, which is going to get really annoying very soon.

Hagrid says nobody knows. Some people say he’s dead, which Hagrid doesn’t believe. Some people say he’s going to come back, which Hagrid also doesn’t believe. I’m not sure what Hagrid actually does believe at this point, since those seem to be the only two options and since the entire point of most of the conflict in later books is that Dumbles and company are the only ones who do believe Voldy’s coming back, but at this point he’s adamant that Voldy’s floating around in the ether too weak to return. I know Hagrid’s an idiot, but he’s also one of Dumbledore’s most faithful minions, so I assume he’s been ordered to lie here.

I have no idea how Harry feels here. Angry, confused, upset? We’re told he doesn’t feel ‘pleased and proud‘ on being told he defeated Voldemort, which is stating the obvious because seriously nobody would be after hearing this weird mess of a story, but we’re not told what he is feeling, if anything at all. He says Hagrid must have made a mistake and he’s not a wizard, which is pretty realistic but really ought to have been said sooner, and Hagrid replies that no, he is, because look at all the weird stuff that’s happened to him over the years, and we’re treated to a laundry list of the exact same examples we had a couple of chapters ago.

There you go, then, says Hagrid, you’ll be famous at Hogwarts (oh, joy). Now you’ve had some candy, little boy, let’s get in my van and go to magic school.

Vernon makes one last attempt to stop the creepy dangerous man kidnapping his nephew, and Hagrid says no, Harry’s name has been down since he was born (making Hogwarts sound very much the upper-class public school that Rowling was insistent on mocking last chapter, incidentally) and he’s going. Vernon retorts that he’s ‘not paying for some crackpot old fool to teach [Harry] magic tricks‘… you all know where this is going, right? Vernon says a very mild insult – Dumbledore calls himself far worse things quite happily throughout the series – and Hagrid’s response is to grab his umbrella, which we’ll learn illegally contains his wand, and attack Dudley, who has been standing silently out of the way all this time and done nothing.

Hagrid uses magic on an eleven year old Muggle boy who hasn’t got a hope of defending himself, in retaliation against the boy’s father. He gives the boy a pig’s tail, effectively assaulting and physically mutilating him, and causing him to ‘howl in pain‘.

Understandably, the Dursleys make a run for it, at least as far as the next room. Hagrid comments calmly and with no sign of remorse whatsoever that yeah, he shouldn’t have done that, “but it didn’t work anyway. Meant ter turn him into a pig, but I suppose he was so much like a pig anyway there wasn’t much left ter do.

No. Fuck you. He’s an innocent child you chose to attack for no fucking reason. I hope you die slowly.

Later in the series we’ll see that this horrific unprovoked violence is a perfectly normal Gryffindor response to someone being very slightly rude. Harry will demonstrate this extremely clearly in the final book, it’s one of the few lessons he bothers to learn.

Hagrid adds that he doesn’t want Harry to tell anyone, because he’s not meant to be using magic. I’m not surprised, you fucking psychopath. Harry asks why, without showing any signs of fear or concern over his poor cousin, and Hagrid says he was expelled but refuses to say why then changes the subject and tells Harry to go to sleep because tomorrow he’s dragging him off fuck knows where.

That’s the end of the chapter, so we assume Harry shrugs this off and goes to sleep nicely without being fucking terrified of this dangerous lunatic criminal, leaving his petrified family trying to cope with what’s just been done to their son.

I hate this chapter.


How to fix this? Send literally anyone but Hagrid to explain things sensibly, without threatening anyone or attacking anyone. Which is actually the fix I suggested for last chapter, so this one wouldn’t have happened and we’d all be much happier about it.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in loten, mitchell

 

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Book Review: A Brief Eternity (Paul Beaumont, 2013)

A Brief Eternity (Paul Beaumont, 2013) [amazon]

Oh dear, where to start with this one? I seriously considered titling this post “I think I have a new favourite book!” This book was almost everything I wanted it to be and more; it’s a gripping read and I could barely put it down; it’s thoughtfully and respectfully written and deals with serious issues while also being laugh-out-loud hilarious; basically, this book is more or less what you’d get if someone intentionally wrote a book that ticked all of my boxes (even the boxes I myself wasn’t aware of). It goes without saying that your mileage may vary, since I think I’m pretty much the ideal audience for a book like this and therefore I’m inclined to be biased in its favour and/or to overlook its flaws, but I absolutely loved it and recommend it unequivocally and as enthusiastically as possible.

Let’s get the disclaimers and disclosures out of the way: I have no affiliation with the author or publisher, and stand to benefit in no way from advertising this book. In point of fact I only read it because it showed up in Amazon’s recommendations for me (kudos, Amazon!), looked vaguely interesting enough that I clicked through for more information, and had an introduction written by Dan Barker (whose work I admire and whose opinion I respect). Barker I have met, though only once and that briefly; that said, if I encounter him again I’d love to have a conversation with him about this book. What all of this adds up to, essentially, is that I knew next to nothing about this book going in, but thought odds were decent that I’d like it.

I’m going to attempt to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can, because I don’t want to ruin anybody’s potential enjoyment of the book and I do think it may be better to go in with minimal information (with regard to worldbuilding as well as plot; more on this later), but that makes it very difficult to discuss in any detail so I’ll try to keep things vague where possible and mark the serious ones if I can.

I think the easiest way to sum up what this book is is to say that it’s a dystopia set in the afterlife. (Or, put another way, it’s what you get if you cross Left Behind with god Is Not Great.) What if the Rapture sects of fundamentalist Christianity had it right?

I think Beaumont basically thought that would be interesting to explore, and decided to start from there and fill out the worldbuilding that would be necessary to explore the moral dimensions of that worldview. And, for what it’s worth, I think he did a great job with that worldbuilding work, though that was probably made easier by the fact that he was deliberately doing inconsistent worldbuilding and expecting the reader to pick up on the inconsistencies along with the characters (how often do you read a book that wants you to notice inconsistencies in the setting?). Considering Poe’s Law it’s probably not saying much to say this, but I never got the impression Beaumont was creating a strawman instead of working from actual religious beliefs, either.

In a way, then, it’s no surprise I loved this book. After all, it’s basically just Bible/religion spitefic and I tend to enjoy that sort of thing in most fandoms that interest me.

The protagonist, Jerry, is a sort of nonreligious/atheist everyman who more or less accidentally gets taken up in the Rapture. Most of the book follows him as he tries to adapt to life in a very physical Heaven, and his inability to fail to notice the niggling problems everywhere and that not everyone is as happy as they appear (physical suffering is gone, but emotional suffering seems to be alive and well). While in Heaven Jerry is able to meet all sorts of people with different perspectives (guided by a man named Bob, who is essentially the Virgil to Jerry’s Dante and provides the exposition we can’t be shown), though he’s bothered by the fact everyone except him seems to have been very religious and eventually discovers the existence of Hell.  There are also quite a few chapters from the perspective of Jerry’s girlfriend Rachael (though not nearly as many as Jerry gets), a secular non-observant Jew, who was left behind on Earth which apparently became combined with Hell. (One of my few disappointments with the book is that, because it focused on the dystopian nature of Heaven and Jerry’s adventures there, we didn’t get to see nearly as much of Hell and the interesting side characters inhabiting it as I would have liked.)

As he learns more and more about the situation in which he’s found himself, and is unable to reconcile himself with the fundamental injustice of heaven and hell (and the fact he can’t be happy in heaven while so many people he loves are suffering), Jerry attempts a legal gambit to free first Rachael and then everyone from Hell.

I found the characters very well-written and relatable, and their reactions to situations entirely understandable (though there were some very uncomfortable moments, such as when we’re faced with learning all of the Jews ended up in hell and see them struggling to deal with it; that said, as someone who is nominally Jewish myself, I didn’t think it was insensitively or offensively handled and it easily could have been. The book also shows the fates of believers in other religions which turned out to be false in this particular fictional universe, such as the Mormons and Muslims, and I thought it had an interesting take on their reactions and didn’t feel contrived.)

[SPOILER WARNING: HEREIN I COMMENT ON THE ENDING]

I found the ending a bit disappointing, in all honesty, though I’m not necessarily sure another ending would have felt authentic. I’m still mulling over whether I think the ending is a positive one; I can’t decide whether it qualifies as a Pyrrhic victory for the antagonists (is there a less clunky term for this?), or if they just won outright and the ending amounts to Jerry and Rachael admitting as much and giving up. I’m going to have to think on that some more (I think the most positive take on it I can come up with right now is that, given the circumstances that led to the events of the book, it’s impossible that Jerry and Rachael could be alone in their resistance; they’re ordinary people in the best possible sense, and therefore there have to be more where they came from to continue the fight).

That said, it’s certainly a realistic ending given the preceding setup, and as such might be preferable to one in which the protagonists’ attempts at resistance had been more successful. It could have been worse, though: it could have been “He loved Big Brother.”. The fact I’ve brought that in as comparison should speak for itself though, I think.

[END SPOILER WARNING]

It’s a pretty short book, and combined with how gripping it can be it ends up being a very quick read. (Though I’ll admit that when I did have to put it down, I often had just as difficult a time getting myself to pick it up again because I was so full of anxiety about what was going to happen to these characters next. That has to be a mark of good writing.)

If this sounds like the sort of thing you’d like, at all, GO READ IT NOW. You can thank me later.

*I will add the caveat that I have no idea what this book would be like for a reader who doesn’t agree ideologically with the author; I’d love to hear from religious people who’ve read it, if any of you happen to be reading my blog for some reason I can’t comprehend. I don’t think there would necessarily be big disagreements as long as such a reader is sympathetic to humanistic ethics irrespective of supernaturalistic beliefs…

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2014 in mitchell

 

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Three

Trigger warning for stalking and extremely insensitive depiction of mental illness.

Chapter Three: The Letters from No One

After what happened last time at the zoo, Harry isn’t allowed out of his cupboard again until the summer holidays start. That must have made going to school a little tricky, it’s surprising nobody bothered to phone the Dursleys and find out where he was, given that it’s illegal for ten year olds to stop attending school. Dudley has already broken most of his new presents, and knocked Mrs Figg over on his new bicycle – the bicycle Harry insisted he was too lazy to ride, if you recall. Incidentally we’ll actually meet Mrs Figg in a couple of books, and if Dudley had knocked her over she’d have knocked his bike over in return and probably spanked him with one of her crutches.

Anyway, Harry’s not enjoying the holidays, because Dudley’s inexplicable gang keep visiting the house. Piers has entered one hell of a growth spurt, since although he was described as ‘scrawny‘ last chapter he is now ‘big and stupid‘ like the rest of the gang. Harry and Dudley are both going to be attending secondary school in the autumn, and are being sent to different schools; I’m going to have to pause to explain a bit of the British school system here.

At age 11 you leave primary school and move to secondary school. Secondary schools come in three types. The free government-funded schools are known as state schools or comprehensives; they’re known as public schools in most other countries, I think [Mitchell adds: yes, we call them public schools in the States]. Harry is going to be attending this type of school; his is called Stonewall High. High school isn’t a common term in Britain, but it is in use. Then you have private schools, which as far as I know are the same thing worldwide. They have often very expensive fees and are perceived to provide a higher standard of education, though in my experience this isn’t necessarily the case most of the time. Then, just to be confusing, we have public schools, which are actually private schools only more upper-class; places like Eton, Roedean and the like, which are extremely expensive and usually reserved for children of the aristocracy and so on.

Look, I didn’t make up the naming system, okay 😛

It’s unclear which type of private school Dudley is going to be attending. His school is called Smeltings and has a very old fashioned and ugly sounding uniform which includes a small stick that students are encouraged to hit one another with. This sounds like a parody of the high end public schools to me, but the Dursleys are absolutely not able to afford such a school and are definitely not of the right social class. Piers is apparently attending too, though we have no idea of his background (except that apparently he gets fed growth hormones and/or steroids, judging by his sudden increase in size).

Both the low-class school and the upper-class school are being mocked here. I think this is supposed to indicate that Hogwarts falls somewhere in the middle, but the class system in the wizarding world is a load of nonsense since they all seem to be upper-class, even the supposedly poor Weasleys (they’re a separate issue we’ll discuss once they show up, don’t worry). Most if not all Muggleborn and half-blood students seem to be middle-class – I believe Snape is the only working-class pupil we ever see – and at least one is extremely upper-class, Justin Double-Barrelled-Surname (at the time the books were written that usually meant your family was extremely rich, though these days it usually means your parents aren’t married; nothing wrong with that, of course) who was apparently on the list for Eton. Eton would be the school the royal family send their sons to, so yeah, about as upper-class as you can get. Hogwarts doesn’t seem to have tuition fees, but they’re still very choosy about who they admit, so it seems to be combining the worst of both school types.

I digress. Petunia takes Dudley to buy his new uniform from a specialist store in London, and Harry is left with Mrs Figg. He criticises her for feeding him stale cake. Harry, you don’t get cake at all at home if the narrative is to be believed, stale cake is still more of a treat than no cake and old ladies often don’t have much money. Stop being an entitled little shit, the book is insisting you’re poor and neglected. That evening Dudley models his new uniform for his family, making his parents cry and Harry laugh. To be fair, it does sound horrible – ‘maroon tailcoats, orange knickerbockers and [a] flat straw hat‘. Even my uniform wasn’t as bad as that.

The following day Harry finds Petunia dyeing some of Dudley’s old clothes grey; this is to be Harry’s uniform. I didn’t go to a state school but I know plenty of people who did; Harry’s uniform would most likely be black or grey trousers and a white shirt, both of which he should already have from primary school, plus the actual school jumper and maybe (though almost certainly not) a school tie, both of which can be bought cheaply second hand directly from the school. Instead, Petunia is apparently going to quite a bit of effort to dye old clothing that Harry will certainly not be allowed to wear. Since we have no indication that she’s stupid, I can’t help but think she at least suspects that he’s not going to need a Stonewall uniform and is actually dyeing the clothing for something else. In any case, Harry decides it’s going to make him look like he’s wearing ‘bits of old elephant skin‘, because he can’t let a chapter pass without comparing Dudley to an animal of some sort (and also apparently wasn’t paying attention at the zoo last chapter, since elephant skin doesn’t sag/hang and look too big for the elephant. Rhino would have made more sense, that at least has large folds in it).

The post arrives, and Vernon tells Dudley to get it despite Harry apparently being some sort of unpaid servant. Consistency, what is that? Dudley refuses and Harry is sent to get it anyway, and finds that he has a letter. It is addressed extremely precisely, to his cupboard, and is made of parchment sealed with wax.

A few points. First, the address is written in green, which is nice. Soon enough absolutely everything green will be pure evil, so let’s all remember this. Second, how does Harry know what parchment is? There is no way he has ever seen any in real life and on television it looks like paper. Third, we will learn that the wizarding world does not use Muggle post, and this letter is explicitly described as having no stamp, so how has it arrived with the Muggle post? Wizarding post is actually sent by owl, though we haven’t been told this yet, and I can’t see an owl managing to put a letter through the letterbox in the time it took the postman to walk away and Harry to get to the front door.

And of course the main point here is that Harry should be freaked out. He has never had a letter in his entire life – which isn’t remotely surprising, very few ten year olds get much in the way of mail, you know, except birthday/Christmas cards – and the first time anyone does write to him, it’s someone who knows where he sleeps. This is creepy. It’s not exciting.

Continuing to fail at common sense, Harry takes his letter back to the others and opens it very slowly and obviously in front of them, and Vernon takes it off him. Vernon then turns green, which becomes greyish-white, and stammers for Petunia, who looks at the letter and reacts in the same way, being about to faint and barely able to speak. They are both absolutely terrified. Not angry, or anything like that, but extremely frightened. We’ll find out next chapter that they have good reason to be.

 Vernon throws both Harry and Dudley out so he can discuss this creepy child-stalking letter with his wife. The boys promptly listen at the door; this is but the first of many, many occasions when Harry will demonstrate that he has zero concept of the idea of privacy. On this occasion it’s justified since it’s clearly about him and it’s clearly serious, but most of the time he’s just a nosy little bastard.

Petunia asks her husband in a quavering voice whether the address means someone is watching the house. Vernon paces up and down muttering about spies for a while as they try to decide whether to reply to the letter or not, and finally says they’ll ignore it, because “Didn’t we swear when we took him in that we’d stamp out that dangerous nonsense?

Rowling, ‘dangerous’ and ‘nonsense’ are incompatible concepts. ‘Nonsense’ implies that whatever Vernon is referring to does not exist. ‘Dangerous’ implies that it does exist and is, well, dangerous. Sadly this is apparently the end of the conversation, so we don’t learn whether Vernon means it’s dangerous to Harry, or dangerous to the Dursleys, or dangerous to all of them. But let’s review – the Dursleys know who has written this letter, it’s someone who knows where their children sleep, and they are petrified of some sort of danger. Harry should also be scared, and maybe be relieved that the adults are trying to deal with it even if he dislikes said adults. Naturally, he’s just sulky that they wouldn’t let him read the very scary stalker letter.

That evening after work Vernon visits Harry in his cupboard and says that he and Petunia have burned the letter and that they have decided Harry’s outgrown the cupboard and should move into Dudley’s second bedroom. (We note that this second bedroom didn’t exist last chapter when Harry was describing all the ways his cousin is spoiled. It’s materialised from nowhere just in time for it to be given to Harry, because he’s a special snowflake with plot-controlling powers.)

Dudley’s second bedroom is full of old presents he’s broken. The very house-proud Dursleys apparently keep an entire room full of broken shit, including a television their son has put his foot through – complete garbage, in other words, that actually they would have thrown away. There’s also an air rifle that’s in here because Dudley sat on it and bent it. I’m getting very tired of your fat-shaming bullshit, Rowling, I’m pretty sure you can’t physically do that no matter how much you weigh. Bending something like that would require a decent grip and some good leverage as well as consistent force, not just sitting on it.

Then there’s a rather odd bit. There’s a small tank (actual size unknown) in this room that Dudley once drove over the neighbour’s dog; he obtained the air rifle from trading away his pet parrot, whose empty cage is also in this room so who knows what the new owner did with it; and we find out on the next page that as part of his tantrum over Harry moving into an unused room full of his broken unwanted junk he’s also thrown his pet tortoise through the greenhouse roof. This sudden tendency towards serious animal cruelty hasn’t been mentioned before and won’t be mentioned again. Rowling’s just thrown it in here… because. Other things Dudley has done during this tantrum include screaming, crying, being sick on purpose and hitting his parents with his school stick. Apparently in Rowling’s world all children are three years old until they suddenly become pseudo-adults somewhere in their teens. I do wonder about her children sometimes. Mostly I wonder how they survived.

We have no idea what Harry thinks or feels about all of this. He describes the room, because that makes Dudley look bad, but the only actual reaction he shows is to think that he’d rather be in his cupboard still if it meant he could read the terrifying stalker letter from the people who watch him sleep. This is because Harry is an idiot who usually possesses no emotions whatsoever.

The next day another letter arrives, addressed to Harry’s new bedroom. Dudley’s been sent to fetch the mail this time and announces it very loudly from the hallway, at which point he, Vernon and Harry get into a three-way brawl for possession of the letter. Poor frail abused little Harry attacks his uncle without hesitation, and isn’t flattened to a pulp despite the apparent unrealistic animalistic hugeness of his relatives, proving that Rowling just fails on all counts here. Vernon wins and sends Harry to his room.

“Harry walked round and round his new room. Someone knew he had moved out of his cupboard and they seemed to know he hadn’t received his first letter. Surely that meant they’d try again? And this time he’d make sure they didn’t fail. He had a plan.”

Harry. Listen very carefully. Terrifying strangers knowing where you sleep is not a good thing. Stop trying to help the scary child-stalkers.

His ‘plan’ is to go downstairs early the next morning, sneak out of the house and go wait at the end of the street for the postman. For the last two days the post hasn’t arrived until the family are eating breakfast, so I’m pretty sure they’d notice he wasn’t there. I also don’t think the postman is allowed to hand all of a household’s mail to some random kid who claims to live there. Anyway, his master plan is thwarted by Vernon having decided to sleep in the hallway by the door in his sleeping bag. Disregarding the question of why he even owns a sleeping bag, this is a pretty insane thing to be doing, and sadly that’s only going to get worse.

Harry also seems to have forgotten his glasses, since he doesn’t spot his apparently gargantuan uncle until he physically treads on the man’s face. It’s six am in July, the sun has been up for a couple of hours by this point, the house is going to be fairly well lit and frankly chances are the Dursleys would already be up since Vernon likely leaves for work fairly early. Vernon seems to be deformed, too, since he apparently has a ‘squashy‘ face, unless Rowling believes fat people don’t have skulls. She might well do.

Vernon follows his random camping in the hallway by staying home from work and nailing the letterbox shut after tearing up three new stalker letters. Not only is this not going to work – and shouldn’t take all day, plus given that the man sells drills for a living he should be using screws anyway – he’s trying to hammer a nail in using a piece of fruit cake. This is meant to be funny, but on top of everything else it tells me that Vernon is undergoing some sort of mental breakdown. He doesn’t go back to work again for at least the rest of the chapter, by the way; I assume he must have some sick days saved up, because he’s going to miss at least a week here, and frankly he probably won’t be fit for some time after that.

“On Friday, no fewer than twelve letters arrived for Harry. As they couldn’t go through the letter-box they had been pushed under the door, slotted through the sides and a few even forced through the small window in the downstairs toilet.

Uncle Vernon stayed at home again. After burning all the letters, he got out a hammer and nails and boarded up the cracks around the front and back doors so no one could go out. He hummed ‘Tiptoe through the Tulips’ as he worked, and jumped at small noises.”

The stalker’s behaviour has dramatically escalated. Once again, I’m asking how the post-owl has managed to do this. And Vernon’s behaviour has become downright alarming now; I would like to see how his poor wife is reacting to this.

On Saturday, twenty-four letters arrive. These ones are rolled up inside the eggs that are delivered to the house. So, these letters aren’t coming by the usual owl, then? Presumably a wizard is making this happen. (I also have to wonder how the letters are fitting inside a chicken egg. They’re not short letters.) So let’s picture this. There is apparently a wizard lurking outside the Dursleys’ house bombarding them with letters addressed to a ten year old’s bedroom, watching them closely enough to know when the child moves bedrooms, and escalating his behaviour when there’s no response from his target. This is really fucking creepy.

On Sunday Vernon happily tells the family there’s no post on Sundays, despite the fact that these letters clearly aren’t coming via post any more. He’s described as ‘looking tired and rather ill… spreading marmalade on his newspaper‘. This series will continually play mental illness for laughs and encourage readers to mock anyone suffering any kind of psychiatric condition, so get used to it now.

He’s interrupted by thirty or forty letters spewing out of the kitchen fireplace. Now, plenty of houses have kitchen chimneys, but those usually don’t come with fireplaces. The fireplace is in the living room. The chimney in the kitchen will be there to accommodate the wood-burning stove that the Dursleys apparently have. Unless we’re meant to believe they’re cooking over open flames, which really ought to have been mentioned earlier given how often we get their breakfast described. The letters are described as ‘pelting out of the fireplace like bullets‘ and once the family make a run for it they can hear the letters ‘bouncing off the walls and floor’. That’s pretty violent; these letters will be hurting anyone they hit, and could even put someone’s eye out if they get hit by a corner. The stalker has further escalated his behaviour and is now attempting to cause his victim physical harm.

Hey, maybe it’s Voldemort! He returned early to try to kill Harry via papercuts! No, I’m kidding, the person doing this is actually one of the good guys. Yeah. I’m worried too.

Given that Vernon can’t possibly tell the police about any of this, his reaction here is pretty reasonable: he decides they’re going to leave, and tells his family to pack some things while he reopens the barricaded doors. But Rowling doesn’t want him to be reasonable, so while he’s saying this he is physically pulling out sizeable amounts of his moustache to the point of removing half of it. This will have drawn blood, by the way, so he is self-harming because he’s terrified beyond rationality and unbalanced by what’s happening to his family. Oh, the comedy. They go on to ‘wrench their way through the boarded-up doors‘ which is a really clumsy description and I’m not sure what actually happened, but somehow they leave the house.

Incidentally, isn’t it interesting that Vernon’s reaction to the letters arriving isn’t “lol okay bye Potter fuck off out of my house at last” but “the entire family’s going to go into hiding with you to avoid the evil child-stalking scary wizards”? By this point he and Petunia clearly know they haven’t managed to stop Harry using magic and they should just want to get rid of him. It’s almost like they’re trying to protect him from the dangerous stalkers.

They spend the entire day just driving around aimlessly. Vernon is muttering to himself most of the time and his family are too scared to ask him what’s going on, and he won’t stop even for food (though presumably he has to stop for petrol at least once) until nightfall when they find a hotel for the night.  Incidentally, Dudley is quite distressed by this point (and with good reason, considering he’s not been to a bathroom or had anything to eat or drink all day, not to mention being trapped in a car with one’s family for long periods can often be quite torturous for all involved in and of itself), though the narrative attributes it to his missing his television and video games and mocks him for complaining about something so frivolous. Rowling needs to learn some fucking empathy. Also, dehydration would be a serious issue here, they’ve been shut in a car all day in late July with no water, and this was before air conditioning. All four of them will be feeling quite ill.

The hotel’s address is given as Cokeworth. This is a made-up town, meant to be somewhere in the north Midlands. Rowling has since revealed – er, somewhere; maybe Pottermore, maybe in an interview, I can’t remember, but not in the books – that Cokeworth is where Snape, Lily and Petunia grew up and where Snape still lives. (This came too late for most of the fandom, who had already run with the few hints we were given in canon and mostly settled on Manchester, though I’ve seen alternative theories.) As such, it’s a really odd choice of stopping place. Does anyone know of an AU fic where Petunia contacts Snape while they’re at this hotel and asks for help? I’d like to see that.

The next morning one of the hotel staff speaks to them, because about a hundred letters have appeared at the front desk, all addressed to Harry’s room. Vernon quickly says he’ll take them, though there’s no explanation of what he did with them; he bundles the family back into the car and they’re off again. They drive to the middle of a field, the top of a multi-storey car park, half way across a bridge and into the middle of a forest, and each time Vernon looks around, decides it’s not safe enough and drives on again.

“‘Daddy’s gone mad, hasn’t he?’ Dudley asked Aunt Petunia dully late that afternoon.”

Yes, Dudley, he has. I’m very sorry. He won’t be able to work for a while, he’s going to need specialist care, so you’re going to end up going to Stonewall High while your mother gets a job to try and pay some of the bills. I don’t think the National Health Service in the early 90s was much good regarding people who’ve undergone serious mental breakdowns; they’d just section him and leave him to rot.

Dudley doesn’t get a response, so starts whining that it’s Monday and he’s missing his favourite TV show. This is the day before Harry’s birthday, so we know it’s July 30th 1991, which was actually a Tuesday. Fail. And yes, Rowling, Dudley does know the days of the week – apparently better than you do – but not because of television schedules. Because he’s eleven and not a total idiot.

Vernon’s locked the car and gone off to get something mysterious. We find out next chapter that he’s bought a rifle; now, I’m sure every American reader accepted this as perfectly normal, but it should have given most British readers pause. You can’t just go and buy a gun here. We don’t sell them in supermarkets and general stores. I doubt Vernon would even know where to buy a gun from – I wouldn’t have a clue, honestly, I’ve only seen two gun stores in my entire life and don’t remember where either of them were – and even if he did, he wouldn’t have a licence, because 99.999% of UK citizens (who aren’t police, military, private security or gamekeepers) don’t have one unless they’re part of the pheasant-shooting upper-class set, which he certainly isn’t. You need to apply to your local Chief of Police to get a gun permit, providing references and fees and presumably the reason why you want the gun, and a police officer will come to your house and interview you and look at where you’re going to keep the gun and so on. You also need a different certificate to buy ammunition. It’s a complicated and lengthy process.

And Rowling should know this.

“In the wake of the 1987 Hungerford massacre, in which one lone gunman killed 16 people, Britain introduced new legislation — the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 — making registration mandatory for owning shotguns.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/17/world/europe/dunblane-lessons/

She would remember the Hungerford shooting. We don’t get many mass shootings, each one stays in the public memory for decades.

Anyway, Vernon comes back with his mysterious new purchase, and won’t answer Petunia when she asks what he bought. I expect he knows she’d ask where the hell he got it and he doesn’t have an answer. He tells the family he’s found ‘the perfect place‘ and points out to sea, where there’s a tiny shack on top of a rock just visible. There’s apparently a storm forecast for that night, and he’s found a random old man who’s going to lend them his boat. I’m pretty sure this old man is actually Dumbledore in disguise, honestly, since he’s grinning wickedly and apparently relishing the notion that his boat’s going to get wrecked and a group of unbalanced strangers including children will drown.

I don’t know that Vernon would know how to row, and even if he did, handling a very small boat in a stormy sea is very difficult to do by yourself [Mitchell adds: absolutely; I’ve had this experience before and wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and in my case the boat had a motor], but somehow they get out to this tiny island. The house is clearly abandoned and pretty much derelict, which begs the question of how did Vernon find it? And why is he so happy about it? Because he’s found a safe place to hide his family from the stalkers? Because he’s thwarting people trying to get in touch with Harry? Because his mind has snapped?

This is the end of July and even out at sea it ought to be pretty warm and humid, particularly since it’s only early evening, but it’s apparently freezing cold in this little shack. Maybe there are Dementors there, I don’t know. Vernon attempts to set fire to some crisp packets, presumably for warmth, though unsurprisingly this doesn’t work. Conveniently there are exactly enough blankets and furnishings inside this abandoned uninhabitable and otherwise almost empty house for everyone to have somewhere to sleep, though Harry stays awake because he can see Dudley’s watch and he’s waiting for his birthday. He can hear noises outside and hopes the roof isn’t going to collapse, though apparently he might be warmer if it did.

Then, at the stroke of midnight, someone bangs very loudly on the door.

This is meant to be dramatic, of course, but this entire chapter is just so horrible. Someone is stalking a child, tracking where he sleeps and escalating the harassment to dangerous levels when there’s no response. Vernon is literally breaking down and going insane and scaring his family. And it’s meant to be funny. I don’t even.


So, how to fix this clusterfuck?

Get rid of this whole chapter. Don’t make the good guys into psychotic child-stalkers who terrify a man into a breakdown. Instead, when the first letter (which is addressed to the house, not the bedroom) doesn’t get a response, an actual sane non-frightening wizard shows up to find out why and chat to the Dursleys and Harry about what’s going on. This wizard will absolutely not react the way Hogwarts’ ambassador does in the next chapter, because seriously what the actual everlasting fuck.

So the first chapter would be more or less the same, just rearranged a bit. The second and third chapters get combined into a much less “dramatic” chapter that demonstrates that Harry has a pretty dull and lonely life, he’s got no friends and his aunt and uncle drastically favour his cousin over him and he doesn’t know what happened to his parents, and sometimes weird things happen around him that he thinks he might be imagining a lot of the time. Then a letter arrives that makes his guardians nervous, they refuse to answer and a stranger comes to the door to actually explain things to them sensibly.


By the way, everyone, our Index page over to your right is now up and running, so it’s easier to find specific posts now.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in loten, mitchell

 

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Pottermore: Order of the Phoenix

Yep, the entire Order of the Phoenix, updated all at once. Don’t get excited, though.


LOTEN:

Lots of Pottermore wank for you today, not only is there Umbridge bullshit but also Order of the Phoenix has started. In fact, it’s finished, too. They’ve taken the largest book of the series and reduced it to twelve scenes. Fuck you, Rowling, and the rest of the Pottermore team. It’s not like there was anything at all in this book we’d have liked to see elaborated on and explained or anything. Like, say, OCCLUMENCY. (And we’ll note these scenes do not include Snape’s Worst Memory. Yeah, you just gloss over that, Rowling. Better that than you try and justify it, I suppose.)

So, sailing into this in an annoyed mood and even less inclined to be forgiving than I usually am. Let’s see.

First scene: “Mrs Figg.” Art of Harry sending Cosmic Bambi at a shadow while Mrs Figg – refreshingly non-insane-looking – stands behind him. No new content beyond the usual random collectables.

“Grimmauld Place.” Shot of the front of the house and a ton of very very conspicuous Order members standing around. No new content, though a nice animation of Number 12 appearing and pushing the neighbouring houses over.

“Doxycide.” Yeah, housecleaning was definitely worth wasting a scene on. No new info, no interesting art, nothing.

“The Atrium.” Not sure why it’s called that, since it’s actually the alley where the phone box to get in is. Oh, I see, you click the phone box and it sinks down into the Atrium. That’s kind of neat. Some of the wizards and witches Disapparate if you mouseover them, too. And finally some new content! Ministers for Magic. The Ministry has apparently only been in place since 1707? What, before that wizarding Britain just ran riot? Whatever. There’s no fixed term, they have to hold elections every 7 years but they can stay in the job until they die or are voted out. And in today’s “if I had to read this, so do you”:

“No Muggle Prime Minister has ever set foot in the Ministry of Magic, for reasons most succinctly summed up by ex-Minister Dugald McPhail (term of office 1858-1865): ‘their puir wee braines couldnae cope wi’ it’.”

Aside from McPhail being a wonderfully ironic name under the circumstances, all I have to say to this is FUCK YOU.

List of previous Ministers… the Wizengamot was already there apparently, a previous Head became the first Minister. So they had a law court, but no government to make laws? Um. What? And the creation of the Ministry coincided with the International Statute of Secrecy, and this first Minister created the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. No seriously what the hell was going on before 1707? Followed by a couple of Slytherins by the surnames, Rowle and Parkinson, and a bunch of other people who all sound dull and irrelevant and mostly have daft names – best/worst examples: Eldritch Diggory, Porteus Knatchbull, Unctuous Osbert, Grogan Stump. Majority males, but it’s pretty close, there’s quite a few women, surprisingly. A Lestrange shows up in the list too – slightly insane, naturally. They didn’t appoint a Muggleborn until 1962. Nothing else of note. A few Scottish names, though no Welsh or Irish.

A footnote: prior to 1707 apparently the country was run by various random organisations, one of which was something called the Wizard’s Council. No further explanation given.

“The Carriages.” Emergerd, Therstrerls. Otherwise known as more hasty retcons to try to explain yet again why Harry should have been able to see them long before this point.

“Being able to see Thestrals is a sign that the beholder has witnessed death, and gained an emotional understanding of what death means.”

Harry couldn’t see Thestrals at the end of fourth year because even at 14 years old he was too damned thick to understand it, basically, despite all the death that’s happened around him. Luna could see Thestrals right after her mother’s death because she’s “intuitive and spiritual”, apparently, and also a lot brighter than Snowflake. Once again no mention of hey, Quirrell died in front of Harry in first year, in fact Harry’s the one who killed him, anyone remember that? No? Okay then.

“Dolores Jane Umbridge.” Harry going to his first detention with her. Timeskip ahoy. Ugly office, bla bla bla. Oh God, the kitten plates meow when you mouseover, and there are pink ribbons tied around the candlesticks.

Umbridge’s backstory, joy. She was a Slytherin, because OF COURSE SHE IS, and a half-blood pretending to be pureblood because she and her father blamed her Muggle mother for her brother being a Squib (so father was a blood snob who nonetheless married a Muggle? Yeah okay Rowling, whatever you say). Both mother and brother were disowned and never seen again. Apparently her blood quill thingy was her own invention. She has literally always been totes evil, getting up the career ladder from age 17 by ruthlessly stealing credit for other people’s work while being judgemental, prejudiced and sadistic. Her father was a janitor in the Ministry until she was promoted high enough that she could bribe him to leave and pay him to stay out of sight until he died, and ‘nasty things’ happened to anyone who asked if she was related to him. Hey, remember when Slytherins were meant to be subtle, and when the pureblood world was so small everyone recognised all surnames and didn’t need to ask those sorts of questions? Oh, and she spent most of her career trying to attract the attention of literally any rich and powerful potential husband. Rowling, you misogynistic bitch. Anyway, she loved torturing kiddies because evil, and she loved working for the Death Eaters because evil, and she was tried and convicted after the war but we’re not told what her sentence was. Rowling then cheerfully admits she based Umbridge on two people, a former co-worker who collected kitten plates and was in favour of the death penalty and a carefully unspecified teacher/instructor in a carefully unspecified subject who was short and fat and liked girly accessories despite being old. Because people who like cute things are very often horrible people, she explains.

This entire story may be the most spiteful, poisonous and totally unnecessary thing I’ve ever read.

“The Closed Ward.” Lockhart’s still insane ha ha ha. Oh, and the Longbottoms. No new info.

“Trelawney is Sacked.” With a horrible looped audio of a woman sobbing. Backstory – Ravenclaw despite never being given credit for any intelligence whatsoever, half-blood, early marriage that collapsed because she wouldn’t take her husband’s surname. She sounds interesting, so naturally the rest of her backstory is pretty short, just rehashing what we already knew, followed by Rowling admitting dismissively that she never bothered inventing a solid backstory for her. In which case, do it now, when you’re about to upload a post about her backstory?

“Patronuses in the Room of Requirement.” No new info, of course. But some pretty art.

“Dumbledore’s Escape.” No new info.

“Row 97.” Completely random aside about how sometimes traditional wizards can consult a Naming Seer to decide what awful name to pin on their offspring. This has nothing to do with anything and I’d rather be reading about the Death Eaters sneaking up on these teenagers and maybe finding out what the hell is in the rest of this department.

Final scene: “The Tattered Veil.” BYE SIRIUS! A bit about Azkaban, rather out of place in a battle scene. It was built in the 15th century by an evil madman and after he died everyone else realised it was there. It was already full of Dementors so they just… left it for another century or so, then someone decided it should be a prison. Only two escapes have ever happened and LOL Sirius’ is described as ‘still more ingenious and impressive’ than Crouch’s. So… literally just walking out is more ingenious and impressive than devising a complicated plot? Okay. Kingsley got rid of the Dementors and now Aurors guard it, and somehow nobody’s escaped past them yet.

The end. I am seriously pissed they condensed it so much and gave us so little.


A couple of hours after I emailed the above to Mitchell, he sent me a text message:

Oh my god. Just read your Pottermore summary and holy shit. I’m tempted to ask if there’s a Die in a Fire spell to use on Rowling but knowing her it’d be “Dieus inus a Fireus” and that’s too depressing to contemplate.

I cracked up laughing.


MITCHELL: (actual response emailed later that day)

So, you already know my overall opinion of the Pottermore wank, but I wanted to make sure I replied ASAP so that we could get this up on the blog if you wanted to… I figure the more timely our response to this, the more likely we’ll get some interesting discussion going on in the commentary.

Rowling’s priorities in this update are decidedly odd, to say the least. I’m not surprised you’re annoyed 😛 I definitely think Rowling and whoever else is involved with running Pottermore are getting tired of it (and/or it’s no longer paying dividends or doing whatever else it’s supposed to be doing) and are starting to take shortcuts.

Art of random stuff isn’t really worth commenting on, especially when I haven’t even seen it.

McPhail is quite apt, though probably not for the same reasons they intended 🙂 Seriously, “the Muggles were just too stupid”? Nice. Very nice. It’s pretty hard to imagine Muggles being stupider than Rowling’s wizards, unless she expects us to believe they’re constantly braindead and comatose.

The Ministry only existing since 1707 is yet another fail; seriously? I suppose that could be salvaged if there were different institutions playing a similar role in society or whatever prior to that and 1707 merely marks the most recent restructuring, but I don’t think that’s how we’re expected to interpret what we’re given. I’m not sure what to do with what she’s giving us; it’s not really enough to draw any serious conclusions from, it’s just a bunch of vague nonsense that seems designed to sound more substantial than it is. If this makes sense at all, I’m exhausted after a long day at work and may not be thinking straight.

Pfeh, thestrals. I don’t care how many angels she can get to dance on a pinhead, she’s not going to be able to explain away the contradiction here (which exists because it’s patently obvious she invented thestrals while writing book five and had not had them in mind while working on earlier books). Boring.

Ooh, Umbridge. Joy. I actually find Slytherin reasonably plausible as a possible house for her, even if I agree with you that in context it’s just yet another EVIL SLYTHERIN BECAUSE SLYTHERINS ARE EVIL (WHO IS PETER PETTIGREW AGAIN STOP MENTIONING HIM); she’s certainly ambitious enough and working one’s way up the ranks by being a bureaucrat isn’t necessarily stupid (and can potentially involve cunning, though the way this is written is dreadful), and she likes being in positions to exercise authority. Hufflepuff would probably have been a better fit though, and gone better with the “banality of evil” concept that Umbridge seems to have been meant to exemplify (if I thought Rowling were intelligent enough to actually write a commentary on the banality of evil, rather than having stumbled accidentally into one, that is). Thanks, Rowling, for sucking any and all interesting nuance out of the narrative yet again. Inevitably, when she elaborates on anything she’s previously written, the end result always gets worse… the real mystery, I think, is how she ended up with the decent original material before allowing herself to ruin it.

I haven’t much else to say about this; not right now, at least. I agree with you that, immediately after this profile in which Umbridge is revealed to have been utter irredeemable evil EVIL EVIL FOR TEH EVULZ, connecting her to real people (who probably are capable of figuring out they’re the ones meant here, even if the world at large cannot) is pretty despicable. Not that we’re unaware that she’s done precisely this same thing before (see Nettleship, John).

Trelawney being Ravenclaw is actually interesting, in the sense that I think it feeds into Rowling’s underlying anti-intellectualism (it comes off as implying something like “see how stupid those academical types really are, ha ha!”). Also, I can’t help reading the thing about surnames as Trelawney being punished for not changing her name, more reactionary/antifeminist subtext because Rowling hadn’t beaten that particular dead horse enough yet.

Sirius’ escape was more clever than Crouch’s? Really? Then again, both escapes basically consist of the characters taking advantage of a contrived loophole that Rowling left in specifically for them to do so (the Crouch version just required more steps and was significantly more complicated). Also, how convenient that one of the nastier aspects of the Potterverse world just happened to have been left behind by a convenient evil madman, ripe for the using! (Then again, that isn’t necessarily unrealistic, judging by things like Guantanamo… people are surprisingly willing to overlook nasty aspects of the status quo, so continuing to use something that’s already been in use is easier to justify than creating it ex nihilo).


LOTEN:

Good plan, it’s going to take me a while to get a coherent post out of our notes on the next book chapter 😛 (Not kidding, folks, it’s an absolute mess.)

It really sucks, though. When the first two books went up, in multiple instalments, there were two or three scenes from every single chapter. That dropped to one or two scenes per chapter for the third book, then one or two scenes in most chapters and a couple of missed ones from the fourth book, and now suddenly a dozen scenes for an entire book that’s twice the length of the earlier ones. They had better add more later, I’ve seen quite a few complaints. As for paying dividends, I’m honestly not sure what it was supposed to be doing, there is a store but it doesn’t sell anything you can’t get elsewhere and there’s no subscription option or anything.

Absolutely agree about the Ministry. I suppose now we know why the wizarding world is so insanely incoherent. They’ve apparently had no concrete stable government for almost their entire existence. And yes, she hasn’t given us enough info to make anything concrete out of it. It would have been a lot easier if she’d just given a much earlier date and only made up a few of the more interesting Ministers – as it is, I suspect she started with Fudge, worked backwards until she got bored, then decided that was when the Ministry started.

Regarding Umbridge, for the first time I’m actually going to encourage you to read the original text; deathtocapslock have a post up about it with a link to somewhere you can read the article. The way she talks about her ‘inspiration’ for Umbridge has to be read to be believed, I don’t think even my scathing commentary has done it justice this time. The whole thing is just toxic.

I think you’re right about Trelawney, yes. I’d like to see this explored in fics though. Having her be intelligent means she knows most of her predictions are nonsense and has figured out that for Dumbles to hire her anyway means she must have made a real prediction – she’s the granddaughter of a famous Seer, she’ll know how the seers don’t remember their trances and so on – and knows he’s keeping her around in case she’s useful again and for no other reason. One, no wonder she starts hitting the sherry. Two, imagine how interesting that could be, if she started opposing Dumbles and using her eccentric outer personality to hide it in exactly the same way he does? (Particularly if Severus noticed?) To our blog readers – someone needs to write this. Or if it already exists someone needs to tell me immediately.

Yes. Sirius is a super genius. Never mind that it took him thirteen years of continually shapeshifting to hide from the Dementors before he worked out that shapeshifting might let him hide from the Dementors. Jesus Christ on a bicycle. And I don’t know why you’re surprised about Azkaban being so conveniently provided, the entire universe runs on deus-ex-machinas fuelled by merrily burning plot coupons 😛 Though I agree its continued existence and use wasn’t unrealistic.


MITCHELL:

Heh, yes. Like I said, I really think Rowling and whoever else may be involved are just getting tired of it…

Working backwards is a rather plausible explanation, yes. I’m not sure whether that’s hilarious or depressing.

I’ve read the original now, and… good grief. I’m not sure what to say about it, honestly. I honestly struggled to get through it more because it was relentlessly boring than because of any toxicity, though I definitely agree with you that it is toxic. There’s just no point to it at all, aside from revelling in unpleasantness (and cruelty – “oh no I really shouldn’t say this kind of thing, but I’m going to say exactly this kind of thing” is no excuse).

Oh, I love that idea about Trelawney 🙂 Yes, if anyone knows of any fanfic that explores that possibility, please do throw us a link.

Haha, yes. And I wasn’t surprised so much as aggravated, honestly 😛


There we are, folks, that’s all we have for the longest book of the series. The next chapter of Philosopher’s Stone will be up as soon as I work out what to do with it; most of our conversation when we were discussing it was ‘but this doesn’t make any sense!’ and ‘I don’t know what this bit is trying to say!’ so it’ll take a little while…

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2014 in loten, mitchell

 

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