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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Three

11 Nov

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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27 Comments

Posted by on November 11, 2014 in loten, mitchell

 

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27 responses to “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Three

  1. Ymfon

    November 12, 2014 at 1:30 am

    My headcanon is that this is all Hagrid getting completely carried away at finally being allowed to do magic. We know he’s not really supposed to, and is actively looking for excuses to do it anyway (he says as much next chapter); we also know he’s really bad at understanding that others have a different idea of what’s frightening than he does. And finally, there’s the scene in DH where Snape and Lily talk about getting their Hogwarts letters soon, and he says something like “but you’re Muggleborn so someone’s going to come and explain everything to your parents as well”.

    On a different topic, I seem to recall that Hogwarts does have tuition fees, at least in some books?

     
  2. Loten

    November 12, 2014 at 9:59 am

    It’s certainly possible. All the more reason why Hagrid was probably the worst possible choice for this.

    As for the fees, I forget if later books contradict it, but there’s certainly no mention of any of Harry’s inexplicable gold being taken for tuition fees, and since he’s 11 he can’t legally pay them himself anyway, and the Dursleys never mention having to pay for anything. I also don’t think Snape would have been able to go if there had been fees since his family are obviously very poor. (In theory nor would the younger Weasleys since their family are meant to be poor too.)

     
  3. Gowan

    November 12, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    “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.”

    1: Strange – in Germany, a doubled surname usually means that the parents are married, and both refuse to give up their own surname. When my parents were not married, I just had my mothers surname.

    2: How is “not having tuition fees” a bad thing? I would think it would be considered a good thing. As for tuition fees in Hogwarts, I think it is mentioned that they have a fund for poor students, when Dumbledore visits young Tom Riddle.

     
    • Anodyne

      November 12, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      It’s bad – or at least *really* unusual – because it means that there’s no actual explanation for how the school does things like put food on the table for students, or pay teachers. They can’t be collecting money from the school supplies that each student has to buy, because the money from that would go to the shop-owners (and, with books, a portion of it would go to the publishers).

      It also makes the Poor Students’ Fund rather inexplicable too, because where does the money for that come from? Is the school collecting money from the unicorn herd? Is it sending out letters to alumni and asking them to donate? When you start picking this apart, it just doesn’t hold together well at all.

       
      • Ymfon

        November 12, 2014 at 11:52 pm

        I always assumed Hogwarts is financed the same way as (nearly) all Finnish schools: government taxation. Of course, that leads to the question of how the larger wizard economy actually works, and there Rowling seems to have performed the remarkable meta-level feat of creating a situation that even the classic “A Wizard Did It” can’t explain. It’s probably aliens.

         
      • Loten

        November 13, 2014 at 10:55 am

        One assumes it’s government-funded as any state school would be, but Ymfon raises a point: taxation. Wizards don’t seem to pay taxes, so how does anyone pay for anything? Of course, Rowling doesn’t actually understand how schools work anyway, since in her world there’s a single teacher per subject who can manage truly terrifying workloads, the head teachers can bugger off whenever they please for as long as they please, and there are no administrative positions – secretary, bursar etc.

         
      • Gowan

        November 13, 2014 at 11:41 pm

        Well, as Ymfon mentioned: taxes. That is how schools are normally financed.
        I went to a school that had fees, but parents with lower income had to pay less, and parents with higher income were encouraged to donate. That would explain Lucius Malfoy’s influence on the school; he probably pays a lot in tuition fees.
        And the Weasleys … maybe they are so poor because they refuse to depend on the charity of people like Malfoy, and pay the full fee for each of their children.

         
  4. DawnM

    November 13, 2014 at 12:32 am

    I didn’t question the tuition fee thing. My government funded my schools up until I was 18ish, so I assumed the Ministry of Magic funds this school. But my schools were not residential schools, so that’s a big difference the Ministry would need to cover. Still, I think that might be a reasonable option for where the money comes from.

    We never learn anything much about the Wizarding economy, so we don’t know how taxes are levied and whether they are adequate to cover something like funding HogWarts.

     
  5. SoxyOutfoxing

    November 13, 2014 at 6:17 am

    I always saw the address thing as straight-up magic. You know what wizards are like, always inventing quills that write things for them, (instead of finding a way to use pens.) Probably only useful for harassing Muggles, since security-conscious wizards would all be unplottable or something else that negates the effect.

    Of course, Harry should still be reacting to this like it’s disturbing; he doesn’t know that whoever is sending the letters probably isn’t even bothering to read the addresses. The address magic is just my headcanon, because if Hagrid knew the Dursleys had been keeping Harry in a cupboard I really can’t see him failing to mention it, unlike a certain Dumbledore I could name and just did.

     
    • Loten

      November 13, 2014 at 10:57 am

      Somewhere in one of the Pottermore posts there’s a bit about the Hogwarts admission process, and it is literally Fuck It, It’s Magic. There’s a magic book that somehow detects magic kids, decides whether or not to let them in, and writes down the names of the chosen ones. And nobody knows how it works, they just let it happen. And this still doesn’t explain how the letters are sent out; a teacher must be involved somewhere since they visit Muggleborn or Muggle-raised students to explain things, but the rest seems automated, and who the hell knows.

       
  6. Silver Adept

    November 13, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Why bother with the letters at all? For kids who aren’t in wizard families, the arrival of such a letter would pretty much do nothing to actually get the kids to their appointed place and time, as most sensible people would assume the letter-writer is not on the sane end of the scale. Why not instead send someone to talk about it, and possibly demonstrate a few approved magics for Muggle eyes? Since the people in charge have few ethics when it chimes to the non-magical, they can just Obliviate out the encounter and any memory of the child in question, replacing it with something worthy of the flashy-thingy.

    For kids in wizard families, surely there are better means of letting students know they’ve been accepted to a school they did not apply to. (And, for that matter, just how many schools are there? If Hogwarts is supposed to cover the entire United Kingdom, that’s far too many students in one place, even for a castle and grounds. Do some students get their letters to Beaux Batons, instead?)

     
    • Loten

      November 14, 2014 at 9:30 am

      For the same reason as 90% of this book: Rowling was writing things she thought sounded cool and never followed up with ensuring that they made sense.

      I believe later Hermione says McGonagall went to visit her family and explain things, although it’s possible that’s fanon not canon, we haven’t reached that point yet. I hope so.

      As for how many schools, there are only eleven worldwide, and Hogwarts is indeed the only UK school. We will be discussing the severe numbers fail at some point, maybe in a later chapter or maybe as a separate post.

       
      • Silver Adept

        November 14, 2014 at 2:08 pm

        Well, Rule of Cool is a way to write, and based on the success of the series, JK Rowling achieved that. Just so long as you’re repeating the MST3K Mantra a lot…

         
  7. All-I-need

    November 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I agree with everything you pointed out in this chapter and I can’t believe none of the publishers or editors noticed the rather disturbing issues in this chapter. They really should have, seeing as they didn’t know HP would turn into the phenomenon it eventually became.

    Also, I absolutely want to read that story where Petunia contacts Snape for help. In fact, I’d even love to write it but I can’t seem to keep the characters in these books anywhere even remotely in-character in my own stories, so I stopped trying. It would be quite interesting to see, though, so if anyone (*cough* pretty please Loten? *cough*) actually writes that or finds a story like that, please let me know.

     
    • Loten

      November 14, 2014 at 9:31 am

      No. I don’t need any more plotbunnies to stare accusingly at me from my hard drive. 😛

       
      • All-I-need

        November 14, 2014 at 5:09 pm

        It was worth a try 😉

         
  8. SarahTheEntwife

    November 14, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Oo, yes, I’d love to see that Petunia-contacts-Snape plotbunny.

    As an 11-year-old, I would have thought that letter was the best thing ever. I was a naive, trusting child raised on fantasy literature who tended to feel sort of benignly ignored a lot of the time and would have been delighted to find out I was Special. I think my parents would probably have assumed it was a birthday present from some relative or other and then called the police on this strange woman who was clearly taking the joke way too far, and officers I think she must have somehow drugged us because I could swear I saw her turn into a cat…

    But Harry is not that naive sort of child. And yet neither is he consistently distrustful and frightened, as we might expect an abused and/or neglected child to be. He swings wildly between instant trust and sometimes-inexplicable distrust or hatred, and again not even in a desperate, unstable way that would be understandable from a child who has had all sorts of frighteningly (except apparently not?) inexplicable things happen to him and might cling seemingly-randomly to things in this sea of chaos.

    His attitude toward people is solely a barometer for authorially-assigned good and evil polarity for the character in question except when him getting it wrong causes necessary dramatic tension. The one constant seems to be that he likes people who dislike or torment the Dursleys, except one would expect this to include Mrs. Figg. But offering him a safe place to stay, cake, and positive-if-not-terribly-exciting attention apparently doesn’t count, even though it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable to assume she would have said at least mildly critical things of the way the Dursleys treat him.

     
    • Loten

      November 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

      You’ve been busy! I sadly don’t have time to reply to all your comments right now, but rest assured I’ve read them and agree loudly with them, lol.

       
      • SarahTheEntwife

        November 15, 2014 at 11:00 pm

        Yeah, work was slow yesterday afternoon 😉

         
  9. Paddfoot

    November 15, 2014 at 4:26 am

    When I first picked up this book in the 6th grade, I can honestly say I struggled to make it past this chapter on three different occasions. I was roughly around the same age as the main character, and I remember thinking: Why is he so excited by this, I would be scared out of my wits. I remember even talking to my 6th grade teacher about it, since she was the one who recommended the book to me. She never even thought about it until I pointed it out to her, that this is a boy around my age, being sent a letter addressed to where he sleeps!

    I’m 26 now, and I still find it creepy and weird.

    I will admit, I didn’t pay to close attention to Vernon’s very obvious descent into madness from my original readings or even later readings. I suppose I had a hard time getting over the fact that Harry’s letters were being addressed so accurately, and that the person kept sending them.

    Sorry to dwell on that part, but it was always something that bothered me about this series. It is seriously one of the more scary aspects of the book without even being intentional. Then again JK Rowling has a horrible habit of that. (See apparition descriptions in later books that are meant to be funny) Having Vernon’s mental health pointed out to me now, just makes me a lot more sympathetic to the Dursley’s then I was. They had every reason to be terrified, and they did the best they could as muggles to protect Harry, even if he couldn’t see it. (What he didn’t see could fill the Grand Canyon!)

    JK Rowling is certainly one of the more frustrating authors I have ever read.

    Side note: I to would like to see Petunia reach out to Severus over this. It would be interesting. I imagine Severus would have made an attempt to talk to Dumbledore, which of course it would have fallen on deaf ears. Because you know, Dumbledore. Severus would probably just end up having to tell Petunia that it is out of his hands, and that he can’t do anything to stop it, because yeah, Dumbledore would have also told him to mind his own business or else. Sounds about right unfortunately. But it would be interesting to read in a fan-fic.

     
    • Loten

      November 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

      You’re not alone, both Mitchell and I are surprised by how much we’re on the Dursleys’ side here. Next chapter will reinforce that in spades. I’m just wondering – as are most of us – why nobody involved in the publication of this book recognised how messed up this is.

       
  10. liminal fruitbat

    November 17, 2014 at 1:23 am

    Isn’t green ink typically associated with the sort of people who write incoherent angry letters to newspapers? Hardly inconsistent with the Wizarding World’s standards of maturity…

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

    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.

    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.

    Remember, everyone, the Harry Potter series deals with serious issues! (See also how depression can be fixed by thinking a happy thought, and how parents and loved ones who died keeping you alive have completely reversed their opinion and are so proud of your suicide!)

     
    • Loten

      November 17, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Oh yes, we’re going to be discussing these things at great length in the future…

       
  11. Derived Absurdity

    November 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Well, I don’t really have much to add here, you’ve already said everything I can think of.

    Man, this chapter is awful. Just… really, really awful. And the next one is even worse. How… how did I ever like this? I don’t understand.

    I actually don’t entirely know what to think of chapters like this, where they make light of serious issues in a world that is obviously supposed to be entirely a kiddie cartoon still. I mean, yeah, in real life Uncle Vernon’s behavior would be the exact opposite of hilarious, but as of now we’re still firmly in Spongebob territory here. It’d be like… I don’t know, it would be like criticizing the Tom and Jerry cartoons for being insensitive to cruelty to animals, or something.

    But, I mean, just because it’s a cartoon doesn’t mean we can’t criticize some things in it for being horribly insensitive. Just like we can criticize old Tom and Jerry episodes for depicting offensive racial stereotypes, we can criticize Harry Potter for depicting horribly unrealistic effects of psychological abuse. So… I think that’s warranted. But Uncle Vernon’s behavior here seems to me to be in the same rough ballpark as Tom accidentally hitting himself in the head with a hammer for the funny. Or getting his tail stuck in a toaster. Or whatever. Obviously not expected to be taken in the slightest bit seriously in the context it’s presented. If this was an adult book that expects itself to be taken seriously, that would clearly be different.

    And the thing is, the later books do demand to be taken seriously, and yet these things still keep happening. Trelawney’s horrible spiral into alcoholism is played for laughs in the oh-so-serious Half-Blood Prince. Moaning Myrtle’s depression and loneliness is still made fun of by the narrative. So, yet again, I can’t even defend Rowling using this admittedly already-lame excuse. All I’m saying is… I think I can understand why the publishers didn’t see a problem with this at the beginning. It was a cartoon. I don’t know, I don’t really know where to draw the line here.

    Let me give a parallel with a vastly superior children’s series which seems to suffer from the exact same problem, A Series of Unfortunate Events. In the first book Count Olaf literally kidnaps a baby in the dead of night, ties her up, and puts her in a birdcage dangling from a high tower, threatening to drop her if the orphans don’t do as he says. The overarching conflict involves Olaf marrying a fourteen-year-old girl. Despite all this, the novel has a tone of light-heartedness and playfulness, even if we’re asked to take the conflict somewhat seriously. And yet, it seems to be more acceptable since the entire world obviously takes place in a bizarre macabre cartoon reality. Should we criticize Daniel Handler for being insensitive to child abuse and child marriages? I don’t know. I’m just kind of defending the publishers here. I don’t know even know how much of this I believe myself. I’m just seeing heavy parallels to ASOUE here and I want to defend it, because it rocks.

     
    • JoWrites

      November 20, 2014 at 4:59 pm

      The difference is in A Series of Unfortunate Events the kids ARE very scared and worried about all of this. I get what you mean about it being cartoon like, and if it actually made sense (Harry’s reactions) some of this stuff wouldn’t be as big of a problem in my mind. I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events and all of this rubbed me the wrong way in Harry Potter.

      Like in the beginning here I kept seeing things from the Dursley’s POV and being like: Harry you’re an idiot; listen to them, they are right. I never felt that in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Olaf is just straight up evil. He doesn’t set up child abuse and child marriages as FUNNY and play them off for laughs. He uses them as VERY SCARY THINGS that are unacceptable. Where in Harry Potter all these things are played of as not a big deal and funny.

       
  12. drashizu

    November 21, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    I have really enjoyed reading these so far. Looking forward to the next one.

    (Vague comments for the win! I swear I’m not a bot, I just don’t have anything better to say than, this is exactly correct and I want to read more of it.)

     
    • Loten

      November 22, 2014 at 10:09 am

      Don’t worry, our bots say much, much weirder things!

       

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