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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.