Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Eight

19 Nov

This has been a very long time coming, hasn’t it, folks? I’m sorry. My schedule and Mitchell’s just haven’t been very compatible, it’s been hard to find a few hours uninterrupted by work or relatives. With luck, over the next few weeks we’ll find time to do these much more regularly, but no promises.

Trigger warnings: none. I’ll say this for the Baby Silk Moth of Misogyny and Awfulness, it’s made these books so much more pleasant to write about…

Chapter Eight: The Potions Master (aka the only decently developed character in this whole sorry series)

The chapter art for this is pointless. It’s a book, smoking. This has
nothing to do with anything. Was a cauldron too hard to draw?

The chapter opens with Harry being recognised by literally everyone around him and them all being very shocked by it. For the third time in two chapters. They all heard about him on the train, and then got to stare at him for ten minutes during his Sorting, but the average Hogwarts student has the attention span of a concussed mayfly and they all seem to have forgotten about this overnight. Once again, I ask why any of them would care given that even the seventh years were only around six years old when Voldy was ‘defeated’ and most of the students were toddlers who won’t even remember, yet here they are literally following him around to stare at him.

Harry’s fame and backstory is interesting, in a way. It doesn’t quite fit the standard Chosen One trope. Usually a protagonist is Chosen because of a prophecy that ties into the defining origin myth of their particular world, something that’s been a universally accepted legend in most societies for centuries. That makes it easier, since the entire population has been aware of it for generations and more people are going to believe it than will doubt it. In Harry’s case, the story that makes him Chosen is only ten years old, yet we’re meant to believe it’s somehow permeated the entire world? (As we’ll see later, many other countries are apparently also aware of how amazing Harry Potter is, even though Voldy’s reign never reached beyond Britain.) Subverting tropes is great, but only if it still works.

In addition, Harry’s never talked about in terms of his mythology. He’s not even labelled the Chosen One for several books yet. His title is the Boy Who Lived – his fame is literally simply because he didn’t die. He’s not… I don’t know, Voldykiller, or something more descriptive. It’s not clear if the Hogwarts kids even know why he’s famous and what he’s meant to have done. It’s also worth noting that most wizards think Voldy’s permanently dead, so Harry’s already fulfilled his Chosen One trope – he’s not a potential hero and saviour, he’s done that already. Nobody’s been hoping for him to show up and rescue them from evil, that’s over. The only people who should be excited about Harry’s presence are the very few who believe Voldy’s going to come back and that Harry’s going to defeat him again. One of the Discworld novels says it best – ‘history has a great weight of inertia‘. Most of the population will have moved on. (Especially as Voldy didn’t actually do anything to most people, by all accounts. It wasn’t like the World Wars, no matter how many poorly thought out Nazi analogies Rowling throws in. He wouldn’t have left much of a lasting impression.)

Also, you’d think at least a few people would actually be quite scared of him, assuming they buy into the mythos. This kid supposedly, as an infant, defeated someone who was supposedly the most powerful evil wizard ever. In later books there’s plenty of bullshit with people thinking Harry’s evil, but that’s based on current events and is thrown in purely to try and generate what passes for conflict, but here there’s nothing to indicate it’s possible for people to think that way.

This was a long rant for the opening paragraph of the chapter, wasn’t it. Anyway, Harry wishes people wouldn’t follow him around staring, because he’s got enough to cope with trying to find his way to classes. This segues into a description of just how fucked up Hogwarts is.

‘There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn’t open unless you asked politely, or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren’t really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot.’

On the one hand, I kind of like this. Magic school should be very weird, and a Muggle-raised child should be fairly disorientated, and this ties into the semi-whimsical feel the Potterverse has at this point before Rowling tries for grimdark and fails; it’s also pretty well written, because credit where it’s due, she’s really good at describing scenery. On the other hand, this is ridiculously impractical – why did the Founders build the castle this way? (And how?) Why has nobody tried to fix it in the centuries since then? Because seriously, it sounds like it would be very easy for a student to get utterly lost and end up starving to death because they’ve been teleported somewhere they can’t get out of. Which might explain why we see so few Muggleborns throughout the series, actually… Also, as we learn later this chapter, at this point Harry hasn’t experienced a Friday here yet, so how does he know some stairs are different then? I suppose someone could have told him (and this is the boy who believed a total stranger telling him to charge headfirst at a brick wall, after all) but there’s been no mention of any kind of orientation for the new students. I’ve mentioned before that my secondary school was in a big stately home, and it was pretty easy to get lost without magic troll stairs, which is why they gave us maps and also had teachers come get us and take us to lessons for the first week. There were also signs in the corridors pointing you towards various departments. At Hogwarts you’re on your own.

As if troll stairs and doors weren’t enough, the ghosts make things worse by frequently drifting through doors the children are trying to open and scaring the shit out of them. Peeves, the poltergeist we met last chapter, openly assaults them as well. You could probably develop a pretty interesting story around theories concerning why nobody’s ever tried to get rid of him. Harry assures us that Filch, the caretaker, is somehow worse than Peeves, though. On their first morning, Filch caught Harry and Ron trying to get through the locked door on the third-floor corridor that they were warned not to go near literally a few hours ago, and not unreasonably wouldn’t believe that they didn’t know where they were. He threatened to lock them up, and somehow this makes him worse than a ghost who throws things at them, tries to trip them up, and randomly grabs them. Harry, you are a fucking idiot. Get some perspective. Quirrell ‘happened’ to be passing at the time and rescued them, which is a really nice subtlety that no first-time reader would remember but that jumps out on subsequent readthroughs – Rowling can do foreshadowing well, accidentally, when she’s not trying to telegraph how clever she thinks she is.

Incidentally, Filch is invariably described every time he shows up throughout the series as ‘wheezing‘, and is heavily implied to be quite elderly. Leaving aside the question of why Hogwarts has a caretaker – let’s put that in the file with Hagrid’s redundant job as well – he’s not exactly a great choice for the post. Especially given what we’ll learn about him later. Also, school janitors don’t actually have the power to even scold students, let alone shout and threaten them or assign punishments (though in a few cases they really ought to). In any case, we get some more inexplicable animal cruelty here – Filch has a cat, Mrs Norris, who is super-intelligent and patrols by herself and brings her master to scenes of trouble, and apparently most of the students want to kick her down the stairs.

I never gave it much thought, but if Mrs Norris is that smart she must be part-Kneazle or something, like Crookshanks. I don’t know where Filch would have got her from if that’s the case. Rowling also doesn’t seem to like cats very much – see Umbridge for further evidence.

Anyway, after blathering on about the staircases and the caretaker, Harry finally gets around to telling us a bit about his lessons.

‘There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words.’

Yeah. This line sent Mitchell and me into hysterics. After all, the title of our blog comes from the Harry Potter magic system – point stick, say word. It’s vaguely implied throughout the series that there is a lot more magic can do, but we’ll never see any of it except at a distance, and that rarely. Harry will only ever perform the kind of magic involving waving his stick and saying something in broken quasi-Latin, and no other kinds of magic will ever be explained, nor will we learn any magical theory.

Which sucks, because that’s my favourite part of most fantasy stories. But we’re magic geeks, so we relucantly concede not everyone wants to learn the nerdy stuff. Still, enough people do that we should get something.

The vagueness about how the magic system works could be a positive, as a kind of literary smokescreen to preserve the immersion. In fantasy series that aren’t hyper-focused on magic users, where mages are just side characters, this works pretty well. It’s part of the universe but not a major focus, so it doesn’t need to be picked apart since the main cast have no reason to need to know how it works and it would interrupt the flow of the story. It’s also a good choice for less competent authors, since the fewer details you have, the less chance there is of you fucking up and contradicting yourself or making mistakes.

In a fantasy series where every cast member is a magic user, in a setting designed to teach half the characters how their magic works, it’s just stupid not to include it. And on the very few occasions where Rowling does give us a solid rule about how her magic system operates, she contradicts herself and gets it wrong.

Mitchell adds: let’s have a brief aside to talk about magic systems in fiction, I suppose.

It can be instructive to think about separating the magic system’s transparency to the characters within the story, and its transparency to the reader. There can actually be quite a lot of value in writing in such a way that obscures details to the reader while still making it clear the characters know about them; if nothing else, this is a very good way to preserve the suspension of disbelief. The alternative is making it completely obvious where the Invented Bullshit meets reality, and drawing the reader’s attention to this can catapult them right out of the story (I present as an example Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, throughout which I mostly kept getting distracted by the arbitrariness of the properties he assigned to various metals, and mentally shouting METAL DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY; while there are things I enjoyed in those books, overall they definitely irritated me more often than not). A bit of obfuscation around the specific point of departure is probably a good thing. So, for instance, having the students taking copious notes without actually going into much detail about what the notes contain could be a decent idea. On the other hand, magic systems also need well-defined rules in order to maintain internal consistency in the fictional world (something Rowling’s never seemed to grasp, really), so too much obfuscation causes other problems. As in this case, where she portrays things as ‘point stick, say word’ so consistently that all of her telling us it’s more complicated than that rings hollow.

One way I like to think about magic systems is in terms of the converse of Clarke’s Third Law: “any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology”. Any story is going to have to fall at some point on the scale of advancement, if you will. How well-informed are the characters about the rules by which their world’s magic operates? It’s definitely possible to do interesting things with magic systems that aren’t well-understood by the characters, nor by the readers; there’s a sense of mystery etc this can provide, which I think is definitely conducive to maintaining a ‘magical’ feel to things (as opposed to the point where magic starts to feel like technology); that said, if the author doesn’t have at least some well-defined rules in mind for how things work, there’s some danger of ending up in the deus-ex-machina failure mode (where it looks to the reader like the author is constantly pulling things out of their arse and making everything up as they go along). So the limitations need to be there even if they aren’t mentioned explicitly in the text; done well, this gives the reader something to puzzle over and speculate about (for that matter, done badly it can do this too, somehow: see how many readers have tried to find a way to make a coherent whole out of what Rowling’s given us). The alternative extreme is to go into incredible detail about how the magic works, which can also work very well at times, but as I said above, one risks killing suspension of disbelief etc in taking this too far (never mind also that there’s a risk of boring readers who aren’t specifically interested in those sort of complexities). The other danger with too much specificity is running into what I’ll call the “video game” failure mode – there’s definitely a risk of ending up with lists of predefined spells with numerical costs that will be deducted from a mana meter, etc.

If you’re going to write a story specifically about characters learning magic (and, especially, if you want to make details of the magic system into plot points later – as Rowling does attempt), you probably want to err at least somewhat on the detailed/’technological’ side of the spectrum, so that there’s actually something you can portray the characters learning. Done well, the reader could feel like they’re learning it alongside the characters, which is also a plus (as Loten said earlier, at least for us that seems to be a lot of the appeal of a setting like this). It’s very difficult to successfully portray an academic setting when the sum total of knowledge the students acquire is a list of words or phrases that could be written on a scrap of paper and memorised over a week-end.

One of the things that I think ends up making the Potterverse so rich as a fanfic setting, actually, is the fact its magic system (well, everything, really, but I’m focusing on magic systems here) is so poorly defined; there’s a skeleton there to work with, enough to provide a bit of consistency and recognition between stories, but each author and/or story has the freedom to flesh it out in a way that will suit the story they want to tell. Of course, this doesn’t really work as a defence of the source material: I’ve said before and will probably say again that the qualities of the Potterverse that make it work well as a fandom don’t actually seem to be the same qualities that would make it a quality story or fictional setting; there’s a certain open-endedness to all of its failures that I think might contribute to making it so compelling to tinker with.

For some reason Harry starts his list with the least interesting subjects. On Wednesday nights they study Astronomy, learning the names of stars and the movements of the planets. When I talked about revising the Hogwarts syllabus in my fic Post Tenebras Lux (shameless promotion is shameless), I removed Astronomy from the core timetable and made it a third-year option, because there’s zero reason for the first-years to study it. We’ll learn later that centaurs can predict the future using the stars and planets, but human prophecy doesn’t work that way and there is literally no connection between human magic and astronomy. What they learn about it in Divination in later books will make it clear that it’s a load of rubbish. Astronomy remains utterly irrelevant for the whole of the series, yet it’s mentioned a few times in every book. I wonder if it’s another of Rowling’s ghost plots that was originally intended to have a purpose? Also, Harry’s going to describe his teachers for all his subjects except Astronomy, for some weird reason. We’ll eventually learn that the teacher is a witch named Aurora Sinistra, but I don’t think we ever get any kind of description.

They have Herbology three times a week, learning to look after magical plants and fungi and studying their uses. This actually makes sense – even if it only really ties in to Potions, it seems like something that would actually be useful in later life, and is information-dense enough to need more lessons to take it all in. It should also be more interesting than the books give it credit for, given that most magical plants seem to be dangerous in some way. Herbology is taught by Professor Sprout, head of Hufflepuff house – ‘a dumpy little witch‘. I find it interesting that ‘dumpy’ is generally not a pleasant word, it implies fat and plain and other ‘negative’ traits, but Rowling generally uses it for characters she sort-of likes such as Molly Weasley. It’s also quite awkward seeing female characters described as witches given all the modern connotations; though it is technically the term for a female magic user in this universe, the masculine ‘wizard’ is the default word in most cases. Maybe she thought ‘mage’ was too geeky.

[Mitchell adds: it continues to bother me that the Potterverse arbitrarily divides the terminology along gendered lines when there is no actual reason to. It’s just yet more sexist language, when there’s no difference between a wizard and a witch except what their gender identity happens to be. It’s also a wasted opportunity of a different kind, because it could have been a good way to have multiple kinds of magic/magic-users in the setting – ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’ would be a lot cooler, and a lot less redundant, if witchcraft and wizardry were two different things and we could learn what distinguished them, etc etc. Likewise with other terms, ‘sorcerer’ is definitely thrown about a bit and I think ‘warlock’ makes an appearance too, but Rowling never does anything with them or even suggests they’re anything other than synonyms for ‘wizard’ or ‘witch’.]

Harry’s least favourite subject – so far – is History of Magic, because it’s extremely boring. I’m not sure what he’s basing this on, really, since this is half way through his first week and at most he can only have had maybe two lessons. Also, History of Magic is taught by a ghost – Professor Binns – and a Muggle-raised child is unlikely to be so jaded after only a few days that he’d find this boring regardless of the subject matter. In any case, History of Magic involves taking notes of names and dates as Binns drones on a lot, and it’s easy to mix up what they’re learning (not that we’re told what that actually is). History as a dull list of dry facts by a teacher with a boring voice is an established trope, so I can’t technically fault it here, but this is also an example of the anti-intellectual trend throughout the series. I have no idea why Rowling tried for a school story when she so clearly has no respect for education.

(My history lessons were fairly interesting, actually. Though admittedly a lot of that was because we all knew the history teacher was having an affair with one of the art teachers. The day his daughter, also a pupil at the school, found out was… quite dramatic.)

It’s always seriously annoyed me that History of Magic isn’t given more screen time. It’s used for a plot dump in the next book, and apart from that the only things we’re ever told that they learn about are old witch trials (played for laughs, silly Muggles can’t possibly hurt real wizards) and goblin rebellions that are never relevant to anything. Rowling had the perfect opportunity to use these lessons to tell us about the first wizarding war and explain why we should actually worry about Voldy coming back, to make us care about her villain and want her protagonist to win, and she didn’t bother. This could have been a great vehicle to get us all completely invested in the plot, and she dropped the ball. It would also have been a nice way to explain some of her worldbuilding, but we all know she didn’t do any. (You’d also think that ‘History of Magic’ would actually involve learning about the history of magic, e.g. when various types of magic were discovered or developed, etc… but that would have involved actually developing a magic system. As it stands, the class is really just ‘History, but only the parts Muggles aren’t allowed to know’… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but isn’t really what the name of the class suggests.)

‘Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, was a tiny little wizard who had to stand on a pile of books to see over his desk. At the start of their first lesson he took the register, and when he reached Harry’s name he gave an excited squeak and toppled out of sight.’

Sigh. It’s unclear whether Flitwick actually has dwarfism or is just very short – I honestly can’t remember if his being part-goblin is canon or fanon, and I’m too lazy to look it up – but this certainly comes across as ableist. I can easily buy that Hogwarts wouldn’t bother providing appropriate furniture to help him teach without having to balance on piles of books, but the man is a wizard, why on earth doesn’t he give himself a taller chair, a shorter desk, or both? There’s also no reason why just reading Harry’s name would make him literally lose his balance and fall over, even if he is a fanboy for some reason. As far as I know, Flitwick wasn’t particularly involved in the first war – I don’t think he was in the Order, fanon aside, and he’s certainly not involved in the second one – so there’s really no reason for him to care. But I’m surprised it took four subjects for us to see a fanboy teacher, though this attitude won’t reappear and won’t be relevant since Flitwick himself is rarely onscreen.

Professor McGonagall teaches Transfiguration. We’ve talked about what a pointless waste of time that is before; there are really half a dozen basic concepts that can then be adapted to literally anything. It’s a six-week summer course at best, but is unaccountably a compulsory five-year subject. Harry thinks she’s strict and clever; we’ll see many times over the series that she’s not. The first chapter demonstrated that she’s not, and next chapter is going to really hammer this home in infuriating fashion. Her description is actually very consistent throughout the series, unlike a hell of a lot of the cast, but her behaviour never backs it up.

Of course, it’s not her fault. Someone is throwing around liberal amounts of drugs (shameless promotion is still shameless). She never gets a chance to actually use her brain properly; she might well be quite clever for all we know. She does actually bother to give the children a safety talk in the first lesson, which by Hogwarts standards is off-the-charts levels of intelligence, though her subject isn’t particularly dangerous as far as I can tell and if it was so complicated you wouldn’t be trying to teach it to children.

She demonstrates Transfiguration by turning her desk into a pig. To be fair, it doesn’t specify a live pig, but this is still troubling. Throughout the series the students will blithely be turning inanimate objects into living things and vice versa without anyone ever questioning the ethical or philosophical issues behind this. The students take copious notes, though goodness knows what about, before trying to turn a matchstick into a needle. There is zero reason why either of these products would exist in the wizarding world, incidentally. Hermione’s the only one to make any progress by the end of the lesson.

That’s the other reason Transfiguration mildly annoys me; it seems to have been transplanted from another series, because it runs on a completely different magic system. Almost all magic in the Potterverse is absolutely binary; it either works or it doesn’t, and sometimes backfires and does something dangerous instead. But Transfiguration works by degrees – in this case, Hermione manages to make her match change colour and become vaguely pointy, without actually changing it completely into a needle. Nothing else in this universe works this way.

Harry is disappointed by his Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons; apparently it’s the one class everyone was looking forward to, which could make sense (although I would have been looking forward to all of them, because IT’S BLOODY MAGIC SCHOOL), but Quirrell makes them ‘a bit of a joke’. We’re not actually told how, of course; Harry hasn’t bothered to mention the actual content of most of his lessons, and he never will (lazy author is lazy). The classroom smells of garlic, and the students tell each other it’s to ward off a vampire that Quirrell met in Romania and is worried will be coming after him. God knows what this is based on, but I’m disappointed it wasn’t Albania, since that would have been more accurate and thus more effective misdirection. There’s an odd emphasis on vampires throughout the series, actually, and I’m inclined to think it might be another ghost plot because we only ever see one and he’s not exactly plot-relevant.

(This is also a curious detail because, as far as I can tell, garlic will never be mentioned in connection with Potterverse vampires again. Are we meant to suppose this was baseless speculation by the students based on cultural osmosis and the like, or take it as an actual detail about the setting’s vampires?)

Quirrell tells them his turban was a gift from an African prince as a reward for dealing with a zombie. Rowling will decide in later books that zombies don’t exist in her world, and calls them Inferi instead, but she hadn’t planned that far here. Fair enough, but if you can do magic zombies pose exactly zero threat, and even to Muggles they’re not that terrifying. Quirrell should have come up with a better cover story – or better yet, not drawn so much attention to the fucking turban because nobody cares about the origins of his hat. This is what happens when Rowling makes a conscious effort to do foreshadowing.

The students don’t believe him. Seamus asks how he defeated the zombie and Quirrell blushes and changes the subject – no seriously, is this man an idiot? It’s just a zombie. You set fire to it. You picked up a piece of furniture by magic and smashed its head in. (This would have been a really good explanation to use, given what happens in the troll fight later.) You turned it into a rock. Anyway, there’s also a ‘funny smell’ hanging around the turban. I have no idea how the children can tell it’s specifically the turban that’s the origin of the smell; why are they apparently sniffing Quirrell’s head? The Weasley twins, who have no reason to be discussing this with their little brother’s friends, insist the turban is stuffed with garlic for added vampire protection, but Harry didn’t say the funny smell was garlic and he clearly knows what garlic smells like. (Also, what’s causing the smell? We know what’s actually under the turban and I don’t know why it would have a particular odour.)

‘Harry was very relieved to find out that he wasn’t miles behind everyone else. Lots of people had come from Muggle families and, like him, hadn’t had any idea that they were witches and wizards. There was so much to learn that even people like Ron didn’t have much of a head start.’

Ron is a very poor yardstick to be using, Harry. I assume most of these Muggleborns get lost and starve to death, since we only know of four Muggle-raised students in Harry’s year and one of those is Harry himself. And given how often the issue of purebloods having an advantage has been brought up in the book thus far, it’s a little odd that as far as I remember the subject is now going to vanish and will never, ever be raised again.

When Friday of the first week rolls around, Harry and Ron manage to get to breakfast without getting lost for the first time. (Even though apparently some of the staircases go somewhere different today.) Harry asks Ron what they’ve got today, because God forbid he show some initiative and look at his timetable, and Ron says it’s double Potions with the Slytherins.

Why do they only have Potions once a week? Given how many things potions can apparently do in this universe, I would think it was an important enough subject to take up at least as much timetable space as Herbology. And how long is a double lesson? At my school the timetable was broken up into half-hour slots, and most lessons were an hour long, thus double lessons, but is that the case here? Mitchell tells me the American system is much more arbitrary and periods can last anywhere between forty minutes and an hour – and that they often also sensibly include transition times to walk between classes – but it seems likely a double lesson here is probably going to be two hours. Since it appears to be their only subject all day, it could be a lot longer than that, which would make up for the fact that they apparently only get one lesson a week and would also allow them to do longer practical classes involving more time-consuming potions, but you wouldn’t inflict a long lab session on pre-university students.

And why is this class with the Slytherins? Okay, we know why – so Rowling can tell us all that Snape’s evil – but it’s so arbitrary. There’s been no mention so far of any other class being shared with another house. Later we’ll learn they have Herbology with the Hufflepuffs, and Care of Magical Creatures in third year will also be shared with the Slytherins, but every other subject seems to be one-house only. Given the workload Snape would apparently be under if the Potterverse was real, it does actually make sense that his lessons would be combined – so would McGonagall’s, probably, though her lessons would only need to be infrequent single periods, so perhaps not – but there’s never any actual reason given to justify Rowling’s need for petty drama (seriously, would even Hogwarts staff be stupid enough to deliberately pair up the two houses constantly at war with one another? Especially in potentially dangerous lessons?). It makes less sense for classes to be split by house at all, actually; teaching all the first years together for every subject would be more likely, and in later years they’d probably be separated by ability rather than by what bedroom they sleep in.

(We’ll never really be able to make sense of the class scheduling at Hogwarts… to start with, let’s keep in mind that we’re expected to believe a single professor per subject is sufficient to teach seven years of students. Each year is going to require their own syllabus, of course. This would be an insane workload for a single teacher even if we didn’t consider the fact that for many of those years they’ll need multiple sections – if we assume every subject follows the ‘two houses at a time’ model then each professor is somehow teaching fourteen separate classes. And they somehow still have time to do things like patrol the corridors. The only way to make any sense of it (aside from just saying Rowling never considered anything beyond Harry’s schedule) is to assume they’ve all been outfitted with Time-Turners.)

Ron says Snape is head of Slytherin, and that ‘they’ say he always favours them. Who ‘they’ are isn’t clear; I don’t know why he wouldn’t have just said ‘my brothers’ or something. The series will constantly make a huge deal of the fact that Snape favours his own house, but that’s his job. He is their head of house. Of course he favours them. That’s the point. McGonagall favours her own house too, and nobody ever makes a fuss about that. Harry never pays any attention to Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff but if he ever did I’m sure we’d see their heads of house favouring them too. Also, we see very few examples of this supposed favouritism throughout the series. It does happen, but we’re told about it far more often than we actually see it. Like most things in these books.

About a hundred owls sweep into the Great Hall to deliver the post, as they do every morning. Harry assures us blithely that he’s quite used to this now. Yes, because you are so dull and unimaginative it’s taken you less than a week to stop caring about anything at Bloody Magic School (TM). He’s never had post, but today Hedwig brings him a note and starts nibbling his toast. One, owls don’t nibble things, they swallow them whole. Two, don’t let your owl eat toast, she’s not a dog. Anyway, the note is from Hagrid:

‘Dear Harry, (it said, in a very untidy scrawl)
I know you get Friday afternoons off, so would you like to come and have a cup of tea with me around three? I want to hear all about your first week. Send us an answer back with Hedwig.

(This is in a handwritten font face in the US version, as all letters are. I still wish the British version did that.)

Why do they get Friday afternoons off? What kind of school is this? I didn’t start getting free periods on my timetable until I was taking my NEWT-equivalents and was down to four subjects. I suppose boarding schools might work a little differently, I have no idea, but seriously. And if they were going to get free afternoons it ought to be on Wednesdays given that they have Astronomy lessons at midnight that day. In addition, a random staff member asking a young boy to come to his house is fairly questionable. Anyway, Harry naturally says yes – it occurs to me that there’s no reason why he’d know where Hagrid lives at this point, but okay, sure – though he has to borrow Ron’s quill to reply. He’s apparently starting his school day without any of his things, which might make life a little difficult.

This book doesn’t believe in scene breaks, so we move straight into Potions.

‘At the start-of-term banquet, Harry had got the idea that Professor Snape disliked him. By the end of the first Potions lesson, he knew he’d been wrong. Snape didn’t dislike Harry – he hated him.’

Potions takes place in the dungeons. Once again, this castle was custom-built as a school, why the fuck does it have dungeons. It’s cold, and there are pickled animals in jars around the walls. This is pretty normal for science classrooms, honestly, but here it’s apparently creepy.

‘Snape, like Flitwick, started the class by taking the register, and like Flitwick, he paused at Harry’s name.’

The fact that this is specifically stated implies that none of the other teachers have bothered taking a register and have no idea whether all the students made it to the lesson without being transported somewhere or murdered by sadistic ghosts or getting stuck in fake stairs. Remind me again how Snape’s meant to be a terrible teacher? He’s already showing more responsibility for his classes than almost all the other staff. Also I think this also demonstrates that Snape’s behaviour in this lesson seems so much worse than it actually is because it’s contrasted with literally every other magical adult we’ve met thinking Harry is fucking amazing. Snape is literally the only one not worshipping him.

He refers to Harry as ‘our new – celebrity.‘ While this is clearly sarcastic, it’s not really an insult. It follows on from what I said earlier about Harry not being treated as a hero, in fact; Harry is being treated like a celebrity. He’s famous for existing, not for having done anything awesome. And it’s pretty ironic that Rowling is so anti-celebrity (Lockhart, anyone?) when she goes on to become one. Draco, Crabbe and Goyle snigger, despite this not actually being funny, but it’s nice that the other two are described as Draco’s friends. They’re treated as his henchmen, his minions, so it’s nice to have it pointed out that there’s more to it.

Snape finishes the register and looks at them; his eyes are described as ‘black like Hagrid’s, but they had none of Hagrid’s warmth. They were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels.’ People don’t have black eyes, generally speaking. Non-Caucasian ethnicities often have extremely dark eyes, but still more brown than black; outside Fantasyland I’ve never heard anyone described as having black eyes. I’m also baffled trying to imagine eyes that make people think of tunnels, because honestly that sounds more like empty eye sockets, or as though he has no irises and oversized pupils, or something. And this is really not an analogy an eleven year old would think of. Though presumably ’empty’ means he’s using Occlumency, which would actually make sense (we know she hadn’t thought of that at this point, but hey, stopped clocks and all that).

Anyway, Snape then makes a short speech by way of introduction to his subject, which I’m quoting in full because it’s fucking awesome:

‘You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potionmaking,’ he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word – like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. ‘As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death – if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.’

Seriously, how can you not like this guy. Of course, the film had the added benefit of Alan Rickman’s very dangerous voice, but even without that this is just a cool speech. It’s also a blatant challenge to the students to prove him wrong, which is a perfectly legitimate teaching method and – as Hermione’s reaction in particular shows – pretty successful. (Interestingly, ‘dunderheads’ wasn’t Americanised for the US version.)  Credit where credit’s due, Rowling does manage to come out with a genuinely well-written passage occasionally.

Snape then starts asking Harry questions about various Potions ingredients, and sneering when he doesn’t know the answers. Technically, this is a legitimate teaching method, since Snape does go on to give the right answers and tells them all to write it down – though what he tells them about the Draught of Living Death is contradicted in book six. In some circumstances, pushing a student to make mistakes and then correcting them does help information stick in the memory, and all the potions and ingredients mentioned here do show up again at various points throughout the series. In particular, Harry being taught about bezoars here in a way that guarantees he’ll remember it ends up saving someone’s life (though sadly just Ron, who by that point we could happily do without).

Though the sneering part isn’t necessary, of course. Obviously Snape’s behaviour is unpleasant. Even his fans mostly don’t try to deny that. It’s horrible, and children are occasionally going to be upset by it, and he really shouldn’t be teaching. But there’s a very large gap between ‘my teacher is a temperamental arsehole’ and ‘my teacher is literal evil and abusive and everyone must be terrified of him and think he wants to summon the Devil and rule the world’, and as we’ll see frequently the narrative always takes the latter option.

Just to demonstrate this, let’s look at Neville for a moment. We won’t really see it for a while yet, but he is absolutely petrified of Snape for the entirety of his time at the school, and there’s absolutely no reason why he would be. Think about what we know of Neville. His relatives tried to kill him on a regular basis for most of his life, and his parents were tortured into insanity. There are two possibilities that would make sense here: either he’s not remotely scared of Snape merely for calling him an idiot, because compared to being thrown out of a window or almost drowned or repeatedly tortured for fun that’s not remotely frightening. Or he’s scared of every single teacher, including Snape, in case they start throwing him out of windows or drowning him or torturing him. Having him be perfectly fine with every teacher – including the supposedly strict McGonagall, who is his head of house and has the actual power to punish him – except one is just nonsense. Once again, Rowling had plenty of options and picked the one that doesn’t work.

Moving on, then. There is a fanon theory that there’s a hidden message in the questions Snape asks; if you look at some of the obscure symbolism behind the various plants he mentions, you get references to regret and lilies and death, and a subsection of the fandom ran with this and decided that Snape was trying to apologise for Lily’s death and turned against Harry when he didn’t understand and therefore accept the apology. It’s an… interesting theory, certainly, and I could believe that Snape knows enough to have come up with something this cryptic, but it’s not remotely in character for him to say it and he’s easily smart enough to know Harry wouldn’t get it. [While there may be something genuinely cool about it, I generally give the side-eye to anything you need to use Bible Code-level techniques to discover. Coincidences do exist.]

During this questioning, Hermione starts acting a little oddly. She knows the answers to all the questions Snape asks, and when he ignores her raised hand she escalates her behaviour to get him to notice her, ending by physically standing up. Obviously she’s meant to be a caricature of the teacher’s-pet stereotype, the really smart showoff kid nobody likes who fawns over all the staff, but she doesn’t act like this most of the time and certainly wouldn’t be doing so five minutes into the first lesson with a strict and intimidating new teacher. When she reaches the point of standing up, Harry answers the next question by saying he doesn’t know but that he thinks Hermione does, why doesn’t Snape ask her? Several children laugh at this, but I have to admit it’s not particularly rude – at least, his voice is described as ‘quiet‘ rather than defiant or sarcastic or something. It’s still not really how you should behave towards a teacher, and as we’ve discussed before Harry ought to be very wary of unfamiliar adults, particularly ones he thinks hate him. Snape responds by snapping at Hermione to sit down, explaining the answers to all his questions to the class, and docking a house point from Harry for cheek.

The students are split into pairs and set to work making Boil-Cure Potion. I don’t know why literally their first lesson is a practical, since Snape – theatrical though he can be 🙂 – isn’t the type to go for flashy demonstrations of how awesome his subject is and just expects people to realise it’s awesome on their own, plus it just plain doesn’t make sense. Let’s believe that Dumbledore, who presumably approves the syllabus since there’s no official body regulating it, vetoed the idea of having the first lesson be a health and safety workshop and an explanation of how to use the equipment. Alternatively, let’s go with the more likely reason that Rowling doesn’t remember how science works, since she never describes a single theory-based Potions lesson. All their lessons are brewing. Also, why would a potion designed to cure boils contain stewed slugs, powdered snake fangs, dried nettles and porcupine quills? I get that Rowling was going for anything that sounded creepy and witchy, but seriously, lay off Macbeth and go for actual healing herbs or something.

Snape compliments Draco on his ingredient preparation at one point, and uses it as an example to the rest of the class of what it’s meant to look like. I think this is meant to demonstrate how he so unfairly favours his own house all the time, but he doesn’t give Draco points for it here or on any future occasions (as far as I remember), and there are a lot of examples throughout the series of most of the rest of the staff throwing points around for any Gryffindor student merely doing what was asked of them. If you want to insist a teacher is unfairly biased, you might want to show him actually being unfairly biased a little more often.

In any case, we don’t dwell on it for long since at this point Neville manages to cause an accident. This is why no teacher anywhere would start brand-new first years on a practical lesson. Neville has managed to completely melt Seamus’ cauldron, creating clouds of nasty-sounding fumes and drenching himself literally from head to foot in caustic liquid that’s causing him a lot of pain, creating boils all over his body and burning holes in nearby students’ shoes.

Er. No.

Firstly, the cauldrons are made of pewter. Depending on the quality and the metals present the melting point of pewter can vary, but is around 170–230 °C (338–446 °F). You’re not going to be able to cause an exothermic reaction strong enough to reach those kinds of temperatures with bits of animals. Secondly, I can’t accept that just adding an ingredient before taking the potion off the heat is enough to completely reverse it so it causes boils instead of curing them. Thirdly, none of the ingredients we’re told about would be remotely corrosive, nor would children this young be allowed in the same room as anything dangerous enough to burn through shoes in seconds, nor would anyone be near anything that dangerous without safety shoes. Fourthly, Neville has absolutely covered himself in this stuff, but his partner Seamus and every other student in the vicinity is miraculously completely untouched until the spill manages to reach their shoes? (and despite the liquid itself being incredibly toxic, the fumes have done nothing?) And how is it travelling that far? How big are these cauldrons? I don’t believe they’re using industrial-sized vats for classroom work.

Basically there’s absolutely nothing about this scenario that’s remotely possible. Literally the only thing Rowling ever learned in chemistry is that some liquids are corrosive. And then she forgot even this much by the time she wrote The Silkworm.

Yes, yes, I know, children’s book. That’s not an excuse for not bothering to research anything.

Snape calls Neville an idiot, instead of being impressed that the boy managed to defy most of the laws of the universe. He does so while cleaning up the spill and getting another student to take Neville to the hospital wing, though. What a bastard, right? Then he turns on Harry and Ron, tells them off for not stopping Neville in time and takes another point off Harry. Yeah, all right, that’s a dick move. But it’s also not the end of the world. It’s two entire points. In fact I’m certain we never see Snape taking more than five points from anyone, ever, and one point is pretty normal for him, whereas the other teachers all seem to work in multiples of ten.

Harry is in low spirits when the lesson finishes an hour later – oh, so a double lesson is about an hour and ten minutes long, then? That doesn’t seem very likely, and no seriously why is this apparently all they do on a Friday. Ron tells him to cheer up, Fred and George are always losing points. We’ll see later that actually most students tend to lose points quite frequently and a whole two points won’t register with anyone; right now I can’t believe Harry’s gone through the week without ever witnessing anyone losing a point for anything. Later when he does actually lose quite a lot of points I can understand him feeling bad, but here it’s just Rowling insisting that Snape’s utter scum instead of mildly unpleasant.

Ron asks if he can go and visit Hagrid too, and Harry accepts. No, Harry. If someone asks you to their house, you don’t randomly decide to bring a friend along. You contact the person and ask if that’s okay. If you were consistently written as not understanding normal social rules thanks to your ‘abusive’ upbringing this would work, but instead you’re just occasionally a rude little shit.

Hagrid lives in a one-room wooden hut on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, complete with open fire (though there’s never any mention of it being very smoky and cold). I can certainly see Dumbledore not caring enough about his staff to provide adequate living quarters, but although it’s repeatedly implied that this post was arbitrarily created just for Hagrid, at one point Molly Weasley refers to a previous groundskeeper; unless said groundskeeper was also forbidden to use magic, why didn’t he make himself a proper house? With insulation? And a bathroom? Rowling’s been spending too much time reading about stereotypical Ye Olde Medieval Peasants, so there are hams and dead pheasants hanging from the ceiling of the hut as well. Pheasants I can accept, even a magic forest probably has lots and it’s not like Hagrid’s a real gamekeeper who would be maintaining the population for rich people to shoot and therefore wouldn’t be allowed to eat them, but where did the hams come from? He doesn’t keep pigs or other livestock (though he does grow vegetables), and there’s no mention of anywhere suitable for butchering large animal carcasses, not to mention that there’s more to smoking meat than hanging it in a room with a fire (alternatively that’s just coincidence and Hagrid doesn’t know you’re meant to preserve meat).

Of course, this begs the question of where meat in general comes from in the wizarding world, and in fact most foodstuffs. I don’t see them going in for farming, or milling grain into flour, or making butter or cheese from milk, or processing cane or beets into sugar, or…

Fuck it, it’s magic. (It certainly can’t be economics, most of them don’t even seem to know how Muggle currency works so I can’t imagine they’re buying any of it!)

Hagrid owns a dog, a massive black boarhound named Fang. Fang is apparently the only dog in the multiverse who doesn’t counter-surf and steal food. If you have a large dog, you probably don’t want to be hanging hams from the ceiling. Especially since a boarhound is another name for a Great Dane – so why the filmmakers used a Neapolitan Mastiff is anyone’s guess, and I don’t know how Harry would know the less common name – and Fang is apparently quite a bit larger than average, so can probably reach the ceiling without even having to rear up. Incidentally this is another reason why Hagrid shouldn’t be living in a wooden hut; they’re in the north of Scotland. It gets very cold. And Great Danes are notorious for hating the cold, and getting pretty cranky and snappy. If you want to be at risk of being bitten by the largest breed of dog in the world, put it somewhere cold with no insulation and only one source of heat that requires a large hole above it letting all the heat out.

Also how big is this ‘one room’ when it can hold a gigantic human, a gigantic dog, some gigantic furniture, an open fire and a kitchen? Where did Hagrid get a Great Dane from anyway?

Harry introduces Ron, who Hagrid identifies as another Weasley; he mentions he spends half his time chasing the twins away from the Forest. This isn’t very likely; why would Fred and George want to go into the forest? They can’t play nasty practical jokes on trees. The boys tell Hagrid about their lessons, while Fang drools on Harry (probably the first and last piece of accurate animal behaviour in the series; Danes do dribble a lot. Most giant breeds do) and Hagrid gives them home made rock cakes that are apparently tooth-breakingly hard and inedible. It amuses me to imagine they’re actual rocks and Hagrid didn’t understand what the name really means.

Hagrid agrees with the boys that Filch is horrible, calling him an ‘old git‘, and says he wants to set Fang on Mrs Norris. No really, why does Rowling hate animals? This isn’t remotely in character for Hagrid the obsessive animal lover. He did mention in an earlier chapter that he doesn’t like cats because he’s allergic to them, but I’m sure that’s easily fixable by magic and even if it isn’t that’s not a reason to dislike an animal. I’m allergic to certain types of tree pollen but I don’t hate trees.

He tells Harry not to worry about Snape because Snape doesn’t like any of his students. This is true, but I don’t know how Hagrid would know, since he seems to have no contact with anyone at the school except Dumbledore and the occasional random Gryffindor. Harry says no, Snape totally hates him specifically, and Hagrid says that’s rubbish but won’t look Harry in the eyes and then changes the subject to ask Ron about his brother Charlie the dragon guy. There are a few hints here that Hagrid knows why Snape doesn’t like Harry, but there’s no way he possibly could know even the reason most people believe, let alone the real one. I suppose since we know the Marauders uncharacteristically made friends with Hagrid they might have ranted about hating Snape in front of him, thus Hagrid would know Snape and James Potter didn’t like each other, but that’s not much to go on and there’s no reason Hagrid would still remember it anyway.

While Ron talks about dragons – offscreen, naturally, because dragons are awesome and interesting and therefore Rowling won’t write about them – Harry looks around and just happens to find a newspaper cutting on the table. Not the newspaper, that he could then idly flick through and happen to stumble on that article, or that was even conveniently left open to that article in particular, but a cutting that there’s no reason for Hagrid to possess. Dumbledore, stop using the invisibility cloak and get out, what you’re doing right now is creepy.

The implausible plot coupon talks about the Gringotts break-in that Ron mentioned on the train, and helpfully tells us that the vault that was broken into had been emptied earlier that day, July 31st. Harry realises this must be the one he visited with Hagrid, that had that mysterious thing wrapped in brown paper in it. (I still say it’s porn.) He mentions this to Hagrid, who avoids his eyes and gives him another horrible cake and doesn’t answer. Harry spends the rest of the chapter brooding about this.

‘Harry thought that none of the lessons he’d had so far had given him as much to think about as tea with Hagrid.’

You have been LEARNING TO DO MAGIC, you stupid little shit. That is about a billion times more interesting than someone failing to steal something.

Sigh. Next chapter is an infuriating one, too.

And to finish, here’s a snippet of trivia I meant to include several chapters ago during the long train rant and completely forgot about – King’s Cross and the surrounding streets became a notorious red-light district as soon as the station was built, and still is to this day. Yes, long-ago wizards, truly that was the perfect location to choose for your children to go to school from.


Posted by on November 19, 2015 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

42 responses to “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Eight

  1. drashizu

    November 19, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Yes! Another HP deconstruction! I haven’t finished the whole thing yet, but I love the discussion of magic in fantasy settings. Invented systems of magic or other quasi-physics (psionics, supernatural biology, whatever) is like a car you’re trying to tell the reader is speeding down the highway. You don’t have to lift the hood and talk about how the engine works if you don’t want to, but if it makes the story more interesting, you certainly can. Some readers love to examine a well-constructed fantasy magic engine.

    But even if you don’t want to show it, the engine still has to be well-constructed. The author has to know exactly how the car is built and how it works. Otherwise, the reader will wonder why the hell the car swerves left when your characters are obviously trying to turn on the radio, and nothing will make sense.

    The only thing that you can really get away with handwaving is exactly how the wheels of your invention make contact with the ground – reality, physics as we know it – because if you were describing reality, of course, there would be no magic. So you just never direct the narrative camera at that exact spot. If you do, as in the Mistborn example, everyone will get distracted by the fact that the rubber isn’t actually touching the asphalt, and realize the car was hovering the whole time.

    • Loten

      November 20, 2015 at 9:51 am

      That’s a great analogy actually. Wish I’d thought of it. 😛

  2. liminal fruitbat

    November 19, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Yay, Snape is here!

    why did the Founders build the castle this way?

    Rowena and Salazar believed every day should be a learning experience?

    The vagueness about how the magic system works could be a positive, as a kind of literary smokescreen to preserve the immersion. In fantasy series that aren’t hyper-focused on magic users, where mages are just side characters, this works pretty well.

    It works pretty well in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell too, but of course Susanna Clarke was actually interested in generating a sense of numinous wonder there. (Also her plot-solving magic loophole actually makes sense.)

    I removed Astronomy from the core timetable and made it a third-year option, because there’s zero reason for the first-years to study it.

    I’ve seen some arguments that it’s useful for Potions, if the ingredients have to be gathered at a certain time or the brewing needs to take place at certain phases of the moon or suchlike. Is the brewing time for Polyjuice linked to the moon or does it just take an unspecified definition of a month? (Of course, this is what calendars are for, but it can’t hurt to understand what they’re referring to.)

    It’s interesting that there doesn’t seem to be any magical equivalent of biology lessons given that the medical profession exists in the Wizarding World.

    Anyway, Snape then makes a short speech by way of introduction to his subject

    Literally the only times Rowling makes her magic wondrous is when it’s evil or connected with Snape. He makes Potions and the Dark Arts sound like the coolest things ever, and Voldemort’s resurrection ritual feels like something actually magical.

    But there’s a very large gap between ‘my teacher is a temperamental arsehole’ and ‘my teacher is literal evil and abusive and everyone must be terrified of him and think he wants to summon the Devil and rule the world’

    I’ve seen people claim that Snape is evil and bigoted for outing Lupin at the end of PoA. What the hell is it with fandom?

    We won’t really see it for a while yet, but he is absolutely petrified of Snape for the entirety of his time at the school, and there’s absolutely no reason why he would be… Or he’s scared of every single teacher, including Snape, in case they start throwing him out of windows or drowning him or torturing him.

    YES. On the other hand, given that the opening chapter of CoS attempts to convince us that Draco is a worse bully to Harry than Dudley was, maybe Hogwarts magically amplifies children’s fears for some reason. Makes as much sense as anything else.

    he doesn’t give Draco points for it here or on any future occasions

    I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give anyone points. I’m not sure he knows he can. (More likely he just doesn’t see why he should give points for doing what you’re expected to be able to do at your current level of study: it’s not like anyone in this generation is inventing new spells or becoming Animagi.)

    Re the potion explosion: I think it works for a Roald Dahl-esque children’s book? (And iirc interview-canon (*spits*) says there’s some kind of magic going into any potion so that’s as good an explanation as any for where the energy comes from.)I agree that the explanation for its failure feels like the wrong sort of magic theory bullshit, though.

    • Loten

      November 20, 2015 at 9:58 am

      “It’s interesting that there doesn’t seem to be any magical equivalent of biology lessons”

      Well, there doesn’t need to be, Healing doesn’t require any knowledge of anatomy. You just say a specific word or give them a random potion and that cures everything from a grazed knee to a ruptured appendix to bubonic plague.

      “I’ve seen people claim that Snape is evil and bigoted for outing Lupin at the end of PoA.”

      Me too. Believe me, if we ever make it that far, there are going to be SO MANY RANTS about Lupin and that entire clusterfuck of a situation. SO. MANY.

      “Maybe Hogwarts magically amplifies children’s fears for some reason.”

      …it’s actually a little frightening how much that would explain. Seriously, that makes so much sense. I’m going to have to think about that.

      • Lily

        January 16, 2018 at 1:14 pm

        Why wouldn’t Snape be called evil and bigoted for wanting to keep students safe?

        I mean, nowadays, who cares about common sense and safety anymore?

        We live in a time where women are called evil and bigoted for not wanting to be forced to share intimate spaces, including rooms at shelters and prison cells (and even showers) with males.

        Because the males who demand access to women’s spaces are so poor and oppressed and nice and lovely … all of them. By default. Even though the people demanding and making those laws don’t even know each male who will demand access to women’s spaces personally, but do know plenty evidence of males assaulting women.

        It therefore does not surprise me in the least that people claim Snape is bigoted for prioritizing safety. It is all about virtue-signalling these days. Gotta be all nice and tolerant, who cares if someone gets hurt, as long as it is just second-class people who don’t matter.

        The “he seems nice, let him decide himself if he wants to endanger people” is so idiotic.I have a mind to write a fanfic where Fenrir Greyback becomes DADA teacher in the fourth year. And where he can drink his wolfbane potion or not, as he likes, without anyone supervising him.

        Oh, and where everyone hates Snape for forcing Greyback to drink his wolfbane potion while Snape watches, because oh, the poor oppressed werewolf would certainly drink it anyway. Which is why it is literal violence to supervise it.

        (Really, how effing stupid is it that Snape is literally the only person who supervises Lupin drinking that potion? If you aren’t going to at least shut him in a room in Hogwarts during full moon, you could at least have a second person check that he takes the potion on time, and if it is only Madam Pomfrey.)

      • mcbender

        January 16, 2018 at 3:01 pm

        For the record, I was very reluctant to approve this comment because it reads like transphobic dogwhistles. Transphobia and transmisogyny are not welcome in this space. Trans women are not “males” who want to gain access to “female spaces”, and cis males do not pose as trans people in order to commit sexual assaults. Bathrooms have this thing called “stalls” and people should not be inspecting the genitalia of their neighbours; if they are, the problem is with them and not with the people whose genitalia they are trying to inspect.

        I do not appreciate comparing trans people (who just want to be left alone and allowed to go to the bathroom) to werewolves (who are deadly monsters and literally not in control of themselves) and frankly I think it’s disgusting that you would imply something like that.

        This is a manufactured controversy; I will give you the benefit of the doubt this time that you’ve merely bought into right-wing and TERF framing of this issue rather than knowingly promoting it, but only this once.

  3. Ymfon

    November 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

    Yay, back to a book where things actually happen now and then!

    I have to disagree about the impossible cauldron explosion, though: they’re studying magic, not chemistry. Later on it’s explicitly stated that a potion can turn out completely different depending on whether you stir it clockwise or anti-clockwise.

    • Loten

      November 20, 2015 at 10:00 am

      I know, Harry’s become such a better protagonist since I’ve experienced how he could have turned out instead. At least he does things occasionally. Incredibly stupid things, yes, but still.

      LOL yes, I know, and that’s bullshit too 😛 If the magic system is really that unstable the universe would have imploded centuries ago.

    • mcbender

      November 25, 2015 at 12:10 am

      I suppose there’s something to that, yes – though if potions really are so volatile, it raises a lot of further questions about how anyone ever made any progress in the field to begin with. If the formulae required are so precise and in such arbitrary, nonsensical ways, it beggars belief that anyone could have discovered those formulae in the first place. On the other hand, that does actually contribute a certain “magical” je ne sais quoi, I suppose… it does feel more like magic and less like science, if only because it’s so utterly nonsensical.

      Another thing I just realised here is that this is one of the few, if not the only, times in the series we see potions ingredients being used that aren’t explicitly from magical creatures. This scene just has slugs and porcupine quills and such, but no parts of magical creatures at all, whereas later we have flobberworms and faerie wings and sopophorous beans and various other imaginary things. The only exception I can think of is the boomslang skin in Polyjuice; they are an actual type of snake; I can’t think of any others at all. Obviously this is mostly just what TV Tropes calls “Early Installment Weirdness” (no link because TV Tropes), as I suppose are a lot of the inconsistencies we’re remarking upon but that doesn’t make them less inconsistencies.

  4. Nicole

    November 20, 2015 at 4:31 am

    Yay, more HP deconstructions! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to do these! =)

    I wish the reason why so many kids are shown to be in awe of Harry regardless of their age is because they’ve been told the story of his life by their parents, in an almost mythological way. Like, maybe a lot of them literally don’t think he exists until he shows up, because all they’ve heard is stories and never encountered him or known of anyone who met him in real life? I can imagine magic kids meeting their friends (assuming most magical kids actually get the chance to mingle with each other pre-Hogwarts, which it doesn’t seem like they do) and asking if they think Harry Potter is real and comparing notes of what their parents told them. That theory doesn’t stand up in the books-for one thing, the teachers wouldn’t be in awe of him. But I think it would be more fun.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable that young kids would still be profoundly affected by what happened in the war, even if they weren’t old enough to experience it, simply because the aftershock of a large event (like a war) would carry on for years. They’d see their parents and older siblings getting over the fear of Voldemort and put that fear on themselves. They’d know kids who lost their family members because of the war, I suppose, although you’re right that as it’s shown in the books there really wasn’t much of a war at all. I mean, it’s written very oddly…I know it’s a few books off, but take Neville Longbottom for instance. I don’t know if I’m remembering correctly but in the books wasn’t it a secret that his parents were tortured? It seems to me that in a small, closely knit community literally everyone would know who lost members of their family, who was attacked and by whom and that the memories and pain generated by that would be enough to leave a painful legacy for the younger kids.

    I think it’s kind of hilarious how impractical the school is. Who has ever heard of a school where there is no orientation, no map, no guides, no anything helpful? I got maps in school even when I could clearly see the other buildings that my classes were in. You get them because you need to know not just where your classes are, but where the administrative office/building is, where the school nurse is, how to exit a particular part of the school in case of emergency. Can you imagine what would happen in Hogwarts if a part of it went up in flames? How in god’s name would all the kids get out with the stair cases changing and the fake doors in the walls? I suppose it’s possible that Hogwarts has protective spells in place, but I really doubt it. Hogwarts doesn’t even seem to operate like a school. It’s really just an anything-goes playground for magical children.

    I think the text’s dislike of Filch is really just more of Rowling’s weird anti-Muggle attitude. Isn’t it bizarre that she created a series in which the characters ostensibly fight for Muggles and Muggleborns (and Squibs, by extension), and yet there’s really no good example of a Muggle or Squib character who is kind and decent? I mean, the Weasleys disowned their Squib accountant relative, Harry’s relatives are made out to be monsters, Filch is made out to be a monster and Hermione’s parents are chronically off-screen. Who else is there?

    The gender difference between witch and wizard bothers me too. First of all, I don’t know if I’m correct but I’ve been under the impression for quite a while that the word witch is gender neutral. Why use an obviously gendered word like wizard for “The Wizarding World” when you can easily find gender neutral words? I like the idea of Witchcraft and Wizardry being different ways to practice magic that are not gender specific.

    I cringe any time I read the part of Hermione standing up in class with her hand raised. I was such a teacher’s pet in school and never in a million years would I have dreamed of doing that. Any kid with half a brain knows that’s a recipe for instant embarrassment.

    Now, ok. The astronomy thing is the reason that I really wanted to comment. I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, in a magical world where all you do is point your wand and say words to get magic to work, astronomy is 100% useless. On the other hand, isn’t part of Rowling’s “magic” system based off of our world, medieval type magic? Alchemy becomes Potions and Transfiguration (I’m guessing here), a lot of (all of?) the magical creatures are based off of magical creatures in our mythology, etc. In the case of a magical fantasy world based off of Western magic, astronomy isn’t just a decent class to have around. It is literally essential to having any understanding of how that magic system works. If Rowling were more sophisticated about how she presented their classes, astronomy would have been central, and likely the teacher who taught it would be too.

    One of my weird hobbies is astrology in general-I’ve read translated texts from medieval astrologers among many others. It’s been a while for me, but one of the things that becomes apparent right away is how fundamental astrology and an understanding of the movements and influence of the planets is to medieval magic (any medieval astrologer would have had to learn astronomy before astrology). I’m kind of at a loss of how to explain it (it’s late and you may know this stuff already), but basically to the medieval magic user’s mind, any plant, metal, stone, element would have a kind of intrinsic sympathy with a planet or multiple planets. For instance, a certain plant may be said to have sympathy with Mars based on the fact that it is red, thorny, acidic or poisonous-I’m basically going off of memory here.

    Like someone mentioned above, it’s possible that astrology and astronomy would be necessary to know the best time to harvest the plant if you were going to use it in a magical or medicinal way. Not just the time of year as represented by zodiacal signs, but rulership of certain days of the week and hours of the day were assigned to planets. You may not want to harvest said plant if the planet that sympathizes with it is in detriment (in a sign opposite to the one or two it rules) or retrograde or possibly in a bad aspect with a malefic planet or any number of different things that would make its influence weaker or malignant. As I remember the thinking behind it is that at those times the plant may be more or less potent than it would be if the planet were in a better astrological position and conferring a more positive influence on it.

    In the HP verse specifically, I can easily see Dumblebore (typo-keeping it) using elective astrology, which is the branch of astrology that looks to the future to elect the most positive times to do things, to see for instance what is the best date for Harry to try and kill Voldemort. On what date would Voldemort be weakest, by virtue of having lost a strong henchman or being ill or being in a vulnerable physical space-all of those are things that you could hypothetically look for if you were practicing elective astrology. Horary astrology is a branch of astrology that asks very specific mundane questions. Where did I lose my watch, is this house a good purchase, who stole my bike, etc. Why not use it to find the locations of the horcruxes? It’s just a lost opportunity in my opinion.

    Aside from that, were Snape to be shown creating potions at any time a knowledge of astronomy and/or astrology could help him in the improvement of a potion. If an ingredient that is bonding, cool, moistening, etc, were needed, he would know to look at ingredients that have sympathy with Venus or the Moon, and not ones that have sympathy with Saturn, Jupiter, the Sun or Mars. If he was looking for an ingredient that needed to be able to easily take on the properties of other ingredients, he would possibly look at something that has sympathy with Mercury. Etc. Seriously, there are so many ways that astrology influenced/es the practice of magic in our world, that it could have been used in great ways in the series. Even just for ambience, really.

    Also, I am so sorry that all of that was so long! Apparently I can really talk a lot about astrology.

    Also also, I’m sorry if I end up submitting this twice. I’m submitting it again because I don’t see my comment, but I spent a lot of time writing it and thought that maybe my session timed out? Of course it may just be that it has to be approved first-sorry if that’s the case!

    • Loten

      November 20, 2015 at 10:12 am

      That would be an interesting take on Harry, yes.

      Agreed about Hogwarts – yeah, they’re all extremely dead if a fire broke out. I shouldn’t think the teachers would even try to get to the kids, they’d just shout ‘prefects, deal with this’ and GTFO. Except Snape, naturally, because Snape ❤

      As for Muggles and Squibs… I suppose Arabella Figg sort of counts? She's relatively badass when facing down a Dementor she can't see or fight and telling Harry not to be useless, at least. But that's invalidated later when she goes to pieces and is petrified of talking to Fudge, of all people, and then she vanishes without trace.

      Witch is technically gender-neutral, yes – the witch trials had plenty of male victims too. But it's sad how few people know that, and it's generally perceived to refer to women. It's probably the Brothers Grimm's fault. In other branches of Fantasyland authors tend to go for magician or mage, or make up their own terminology.

      You do make a very good point about astrology, but that still wouldn't justify it being its own separate subject. Astronomy is covered in Divination, and proved to not work in the Potterverse unless a centaur does it. And it should tie into Alchemy, which is non-existent in canon and which Pottermore vaguely retcons and claims is a NEWT option. It should be included in Potions, but it's not. Outside of fanfics, which – as with so much else about this world – do a better job than Rowling ever could.

      Trust me, this is not a place where you need to apologise for long nerdy rambles 😉 we LIKE long nerdy rambles. It did double-post since one of us needs to approve first-time commenters, but you won't have that problem in future.

      • Nicole

        November 24, 2015 at 12:31 am

        I forgot about Arabella Figg. She should have been a bigger character in the books. Lives near Harry for his whole childhood and she’s almost non-existent.

        I prefer magician/mage, to be honest. I suppose she went with witch/wizard because those words have more of an impact. Too bad she didn’t just go with witch. “Yer a witch, Harry!”

        I never got why she would make it so that centaurs exclusively can use astrology as a form of divination. She obviously knows nothing about divination, since she seems to think it’s the same thing as being psychic and/or a hippie. Also: Agreed that alchemy should be a thing in the series. If not a part of Potions, perhaps instead of Transfiguration (which in a more logical and humane universe would probably fall under dark arts)?

        Ok, thanks! =)

    • DawnM

      November 23, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      1. It would be awesome if she showed that the position of the planets had an effect on the outcome of particular spells or potions or plants or animals, the way that you describe.

      2. The only thing they learn in all of the 5 years they have been studying this is how to find the planets in the sky and plot their locations on a chart. That’s makes for a basic first-year course; they learn it in a few sessions in their first year and then it’s done. In later non-astronomy courses they can use the basic skill when they need it for that particular magic

      • Nicole

        November 24, 2015 at 12:12 am

        “1. It would be awesome if she showed that the position of the planets had an effect on the outcome of particular spells or potions or plants or animals, the way that you describe.”

        It would be awesome! I fail to see the point of basing a system of magic off of a real life system of magic and then not actually show it being used or bother to realize it in any significant way. As far as how the positions of planets would effect spells, I have only one example to give: Avatar TLA, when it’s shown at the end of season one that a water bender’s power is at its highest with the full moon and a fire bender’s with the sun. How cool would it have been to have something similar in the HP ‘verse, with certain spells only being useful during certain planetary phases? That would require actual knowledge on the part of the characters and could explain why an underage wizard could be in real trouble if they were confronted with someone/something dangerous at the wrong time, if they didn’t have knowledge of skills that would work at that time.

        “2. The only thing they learn in all of the 5 years they have been studying this is how to find the planets in the sky and plot their locations on a chart. That’s makes for a basic first-year course; they learn it in a few sessions in their first year and then it’s done. In later non-astronomy courses they can use the basic skill when they need it for that particular magic”

        Yeah, but that was part of my point, although didn’t articulate it well at all. Basically, all of the things that I mentioned as a possible use for astrology they wouldn’t be able to put into practice if all they had was a basic course in astronomy. Astronomy and astrology aren’t the same discipline at all. Astrology rests upon astronomy, but it’s kind of like…just because you’ve learned calculus doesn’t mean you know anything about chemistry. You probably need to take calculus courses before or along with chemistry ones to understand how you solve problems or whatever, but they’re not the same field of knowledge (best example I could think of). In order to use that information they would need a basic astronomy course and then subsequent years of astrology courses, because even though astrology does touch upon things like plants and medicine, it has a very specific philosophy and logic system of its own and if you were to only learn it peripherally you would probably miss those things completely and end up applying it incorrectly.

        (I know people sometimes think I’m being ridiculous when I talk about how complex medieval astrology is, but medieval astrology is SO complex and was developed in many different directions by many different people/cultures. It’s sort of like that moment in The Vicar of Dibley when Geraldine thinks she’s just going to jump in a puddle and splash a little water around and finds herself submerged up to her head.)

        That’s why the whole astronomy/astrology thing in the HP books is total bull. They have knowledge of astronomy for no purpose (and not much knowledge to begin with-that thing in book three about them drawing up their own charts and one of them having Neptune twice?…give me a break, they can’t even read an ephemeris) and then to top it off, they take the most bogus, New Age x1000 divination class ever with a teacher who has such a lack of knowledge* of her own subject that she cannot tell that they’re making stuff up. It’s just so lazy, you know? Write about it properly or make up something that’s original to the books.

        *I used the word knowledge too much in this post.

  5. sellmaeth

    November 20, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    “On the other hand, this is ridiculously impractical – why did the Founders build the castle this way? (And how?) Why has nobody tried to fix it in the centuries since then?”

    Okay, that doesn’t make sense, but for a children’s book, I think it is rather fitting – this is the way some children experience their actual schools, just exaggerated.

    I know that was how I felt about university. And to be honest, I am still convinved that university is only one third about the actual science-stuff and two thirds test of how strong your nerves are, if you are socially skilled enough to get the old test documents from other students, if you are shrewd enough to beat everyone in the competition for getting into seminars, and if you are skilled enough at mystery-solving to know where to hand in your essays and how to apply for exams. (Because all the info you could find online? Was outdated or didn’t really apply to me, or whatever.)

    And I studied a rather cozy topic. With law students, I am 100% convinced university is just messing with them to select those who are best able to learn all the time (i.e. the rich ones) and/or tolerate unhealthy amounts of coffee and lack of sleep.

    I say, the founders are to blame. Helga Hufflepuff was the only one whose criteria were meant to create something resembling the modern school system.

    I just bet Slytherin would have liked for the “unworthy” to get themselves killed.

    Haven’t read the rest of the text yet, but I think Rowling is not to blame for that particular thing – just venting about her old school, I’d imagine.

    Although one could question the weird mixture of grimdark and noblebright fantasy.

    Have you read “Skin Hunger” by Kathleen Duey? That’s a book where it is made very clear that the founders of the wizard school indeed want the “unworthy” pupils to die.

    • drashizu

      November 23, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      We actually had a building at my university that people called Hogwarts (or, more often actually, “the freshman maze” or just “that f***ing maze”) because

      (1) it was built on a hill and the front entrance is actually on the fourth level, but you can’t see that from the front;

      (2) it had a wing built onto it at some point in the past which is also well-concealed from the front;

      (3) because of the way the hill is shaped, there are entrances on all 4 of the lowest floors;

      (4) the wing’s bottommost floor has a ground-level exit, but the bottommost floor of the main building is underground and does not; and

      (5) the numbering system in the main building counts rooms from 1, bottom to top, irrespective of story but the numbering system in the new wing uses 4 digits whose first digit was the story number.

      The end result was you could walk in on the “ground” floor in the front, see room numbers in the early hundreds, turn right, go down the hallway, see numbers in the 4000’s, go around to the back of the building in the new wing, go down three flights of stairs, and exit the building on the downhill side. Then you could walk around the near corner of the building, go back in through a pair of doors into the main building, and see numbers in the low tens. You could continue into the main building or turn into a tiny basement-like staircase between two offices, and go up a flight of extra-long stairs, not two, and come out exactly halfway between the new and old wings with rooms on the 3000’s on your left and rooms in the mid-tens on your right.

      Oh and the actual floors had signs labeling them A, B, C, D, etc. instead of numbers. So… yeah. No one could figure it out. You just had to navigate by landmarks. It was batshit.

  6. janach

    November 22, 2015 at 5:54 am

    One explanation for Neville’s fear of Snape is based on the idea that it was specifically his Great-Uncle Algie, not his Gran or Aunt Enid or any witch, who dangled him out of windows and off piers. Therefore having a stern, demanding adult wizard insist that he perform difficult magic to order makes him react as if to a death threat, rather than to an insult or loss of points. Neville can’t allow himself to have hostile feelings toward Uncle Algie (who appears to be his principal father-figure), but he’s expected to have them toward Snape, the Head of a rival House. Transferring all his fears and hostilities to the Dreaded Potions Master is an acceptable and indeed popular move. Minerva is every bit as stern and demanding (and insulting to Neville personally), but having his Gran-buttons pushed doesn’t make him fear for his life like his Uncle-Algie-buttons, and being afraid of his own Head of House is no more acceptable than being afraid of his dear uncle. Snape has no idea he’s pushing Neville’s personal fear-of-death buttons, and even if he did he couldn’t do much about it, because demanding that his students perform magic and do it properly is his job.

    • Loten

      November 22, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Fair enough, I suppose I can see that. Though really, Neville’s not stupid, by book 3 he really ought to have figured out that Snape’s not going to hurt him – and his Boggart should still manifest as the actual scary abusive adult. But then, the only explanation for most of book 3 is that Lupin is an asshole, so it doesn’t matter much. It works as a reason for this book, that will do for now.

    • DawnM

      November 23, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      I like Janach’s suggestion that Neville is reacting to his Great-Uncle when he has problems with Snape. I want to propose that Neville has full-blown PTSD. That would explain why no amount of ‘common sense’ will help Neville in this situation; Snape pushes the triggers and Neville’s disorder kicks in.

      • mcbender

        November 25, 2015 at 12:03 am

        This is a really interesting interpretation, yes. I like it.

      • mary

        December 2, 2015 at 4:12 pm

        I like it too! What’s more, I agree with it. And, though I do think Neville’s pretty smart, he is still only 13 in book three, and 13-year-olds are not actually terribly rational.

        Anyway, I am glad to see this sporking continue!

  7. All-I-need

    November 23, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Reading about how insane Hogwarts and the lack of maps and orientation is reminded me of my former school where the administration office was closed one day due to “important administrative work” and it later turned out everyone was in the staff room getting drunk because it was someone’s birthday.

    I like that theory about Neville being scared of Snape as a substitute for his uncle, but I agree with Loten that a simple application of common sense should have solved that problem rather quickly. Then again, not even Hermione seems to have noticed that Snape isn’t half as terrible as everyone claims and we all know how much stock the Wizarding World puts in common sense.

    The class schedule never made any sense to me and I know there have been many discussions about it in all parts of the fandom, so I don’t think we’ll ever come up with something that would actually work out well for all parties. The one thing I never understood was why the students are expected to attend class in the early morning (depending on when their classes usually start) after Astronomy class at midnight on Wednesday night. Sleep deprivation is never a good idea and also how do they manage to teach a class in the middle of the night without combining the houses? Do all the first years have Astronomy on Wednesday night? Because otherwise they’d need four nights just for the first years and as we know there’s no class on weekends, so when do the others learn Astronomy? This is bugging me a lot.

    Thank you for yet another brilliant analysis! I really appreciate you guys taking the time to re-read the books and analysing them as you go along.

  8. DawnM

    November 23, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Seconding Limnal Fruitbat in praise of how Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell handles the magic in that univeris. The book is full of discussion of scholarship, and specific techniques to try in particular situations, and what’s safe to do or not do, etc., that makes it really convincing that the characters know what they are talking about. And the descriptions of the effects of the magic are great. But Clarke keeps the details of the “how” really, really vague, so there never comes a point where I think to myself “that contradicts what you said 100 pages ago” or “that would never work”.

    Can I offer another example of how not to explain the magic of your univeris? Twilight genetics.

    • mcbender

      November 25, 2015 at 12:02 am

      You could also have said “midi-chlorians”, if you so desired.

  9. PSPaddfoot

    November 23, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    I always wanted to see more of the classes. I started these books in like the 5th or 6th grade, magic school sounded so awesome to me. It still does sound awesome to me, despite being an adult now. Then everything became pointless in the books. You never really learned anything about the magic in the books, which has led to better written fan-fics.

    I remember when I first read the school’s name imagining two different schools of magic, only to continue reading and discover “Oh its just seperating based on if a boy or girl does the magic, lame.” Again, fan-fics have run wild with the idea of there being witchcraft and wizardry type magics. So thank goodness they exist. 🙂

    As someone who loves history, I would have at least liked to have seen that class. It has so much potential to teach us more about past villains we only really hear name dropped. That was actually one of the more frustrating things. I mean why should anyone be afraid of Voldemort? Why should anyone be afraid another wizard like him will surface? It looks like the magical community as a whole doesn’t give two knuts one way or the other. Meanwhile I’ve learned about why we never want another Hitler to come to power ever again.

    Shameless Loten plug, but in Post Tenebra Lux, she has Muggle Studies become mandatory with a competent teacher at the helm. I didn’t understand why this class was optional. Seriously? Arthur Weasley who likes muggles is still awful. He has the mentality that they’re like a weird pet he can study. (Sorry for jumping ahead, I know we don’t meet him until the next book, but I had to bring that class up.) The magical community is shamelessly a bunch of morons.

    Transfiguration is definitely one of the most useless classes in the book and oddly it doesn’t work like the other magics do. I hadn’t realized that until it was pointed out here. As I progressed through the books I remember thinking the only subjects people should be made to have is: Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts (with a competent teacher), History of Magic (with a comptent teacher), Muggle Studies (with a comptent teacher), Potions, and Herbology. Make everything else an elective.

    Sometimes I wonder if the lost plots would help make more sense of JK Rowlings world. Then I remember Pottermore and go “nope.”

    • liminal fruitbat

      November 23, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      Arthur Weasley who likes muggles is still awful. He has the mentality that they’re like a weird pet he can study.

      Someone (and if it was here I’m about to embarrass myself terribly) once described the wizarding views of Muggles as “What a curious animal! Let us study it in its natural habitat!” and “What a curious animal! Its head would look good on my wall!”

      • PSPaddfoot

        November 24, 2015 at 10:14 pm

        It may be on here. I know I’ve seen those views expressed in some form a lot in fan-fiction.

      • mcbender

        November 25, 2015 at 12:01 am

        I know I’ve said something similar in the past (I think I compared Arthur Weasley’s supposed partiality to Muggles to wanting to see them in human zoos), but FWIW I don’t think I’ve seen that wording before 🙂 I like it.

    • janach

      November 24, 2015 at 1:33 am

      It doesn’t make a lot of sense that Transfiguration and Charms are separate classes. I’ve seen some fanfics that posited different schools in which they were combined into a Wandwork course. I suspect the main reason Transfiguration is given its own identity is status. Transfiguration is just one step down from Transubstantiation, whereas Charms are tacky little tricks.

      This is how I rate the Big Four classes based on the traditional British idea that doing any actual work is low-class:

      Transfiguration: You cause change to occur, without any actual work being involved. Dumbledore, McGonagall; highest status, like intellectual/theoretical work. Come into the library for a drink after dinner.

      Charms: You do work, in the “physics” sense, but without using your hands. Flitwick, Hermione; high status but not the very top, like computer programming or skilled clerical work. We’ll join you in the staff room for coffee after the meeting, but expect a touch of condesension.

      Potions: You work with your hands, using tools, in a smelly workshop. Snape, Slughorn; medium-low status blue-collar work, like an artisan or technician. Pew! Use the tradesmen’s entrance.

      Herbology: You’re doing physical labor, with your hands, in the dirt. Sprout, Neville; lowest status, like a peasant or a laborer. Hose yourself down by the barn before you come to the kitchen.

      Notice that by this system, James outranks Lily, and Lily outranks Sev. James and Sirius are both upper class Animagi; Peter only gets there because they condescend to drag him up with them. Severus is no Animagus, but he has no interest in trying for any bit of poncy magic like that. He can brew a specialized version of Polyjuice that will turn him into any animal he wants, if he should ever have any reason to want to be an animal. Which he doesn’t.

      • Nicole

        November 24, 2015 at 1:44 am

        I love this! Such a good explanation.

      • PSPaddfoot

        November 24, 2015 at 10:22 pm

        I love this explanation as well. I never thought of it like that.

        Also, I could see Hogwarts being re-worked to simply have a “wandwork” class. Perhaps that is in line with Martial Magics. Then again I could see Martial Magics replacing defense, as it seems like what one should learn in defending themself anyway. We take things like Martial Arts to defend ourselves.

        Man Hogwart’s classes really begin to make less and less sense when you analyze them. Herbology and Potions makes the most sense.

      • drashizu

        November 24, 2015 at 10:25 pm

        I love this explanation too! There does seem to be so much intellectual elitism in the wizarding world. Well, elitism in general, really. But I’m put in mind of the attitude that the Weasley twins are disreputable lowlifes when they quit school to start their joke shop, even though by all accounts they’re some of the strongest and most talented magic users of their age, and also purebloods. Both the “pureblood magic is best magic” camp and the “strong wizards are rockstars” camp should think they’re the bee’s knees, but they quit school. And quitting school is Just Not Done.

  10. Loten

    November 24, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Mitchell and I are both reading and enjoying all your comments even if we don’t reply to them all 🙂 you guys are awesome.

  11. Tanzenlicht

    December 5, 2015 at 1:22 am

    It seems like they shouldn’t be able to get away with just skipping all the ‘muggle’ subjects. They should still be learning math and literature and social studies and nonmagical history and maybe even some science.

    Or practical medieval skills? Food is magic so I guess they don’t need to learn to cook, but there’s an awful lot of handmade robes to supply. Book binding, metal craft. I guess it’s all done by magic? But is is all transfigured or should there be some sort of artificing class?

  12. Lisa

    December 15, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    I enjoyed all your answers. I think in some parts, the lack of logic is a mixture of JKR wanting to create a Roald Dahl feel (dungeons in a school, a lot of cute exaggerations and oddities) and negligence on her part (maybe at some point she imagined Hogwarts was actually an old castle with dungeons and the like and did not plan yet that she would later write about it being built as a school). Sorry if my English is bad today, I am German and super tired.
    Sometimes, it just gives off the vibe to me that she didn’t think things through at all. Like she created this buzzing background to the real story, but if you actually think about the details, they don’t make sense. Like for example the point someone made above with astronomy being on a Wednesday night. When did all the other students have Astronomy? Are there two shifts?
    Loten, don’t you have some fanfiction to write? 😉

    • Loten

      December 16, 2015 at 7:36 am

      Don’t remind me. *guiltily hides from a lot of unfinished fics*

  13. Lisa

    December 15, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    Oh and I agree with what was said about the students having to take muggle classes. Especially the way they work does not make sense. How is a bunch of eleven-year-olds prepared to write essays all the time? I am actually a teacher and my students ask in which colour they should underline the headline they’re copying from my board. Maybe my muggle students are dumb, but nobody taught the muggleborns like Hermione or muggle-raised like Harry how to write a fucking essay.

    • liminal fruitbat

      December 15, 2015 at 11:58 pm

      No one taught the teachers how to teach either, so they’re all struggling together.

  14. Lisa

    December 16, 2015 at 10:45 am

    I guess that’s true 😀 that is also what is bothering me. I know the German, especially the Bavarian, teacher training is somewhat excessive compared with that of other countries, but they seem to be so painfully unqualified (except Severus, of course).
    after I had finished my A-levels, I studied for 5 years (10 semesters) and majored in three subjects (obligatory is two majors within 4 years), then I took a state exam and then I had two obligatory years (“Referendariat”) of practical training at three different schools, where I was graded and personally rated and trained and then had to take my second state exam. THEN I had my first real job as a teacher at the age of 27, not at 18 directly out of school. Of course now, I am a civil servant (the biggest benefit of the Bavarian school system) and cannot be fired unless I decide to steal or kill a child. But even now at 32 I am considered a beginner and new teacher by my colleagues.

  15. JoWrites

    January 7, 2016 at 5:44 am

    I know I’m way behind on these.

    I’m not sure if anyone else has mentioned this but having rooms underground is actually smart (not that JK did it for this reason because she clearly doesn’t know this) because temperatures underground are less severe than above ground. They are naturally cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. I’d choose living in the “dungeon” or basement as I believe she calls it when she is talking about the kitchens and Hufflepuffs dorm room (even though I’m pretty sure they are all on the same level) over in a tower any day. As for wet, that only happens if they aren’t taken care of properly – and they have magic. They shouldn’t have that problem there.

    On the last point about Hagrid knowing about Snape, James, and Lily – I don’t see why he wouldn’t know. He claims to have been friends with Harry’s mother and father and most of that time must have been when they went to school as they died not long after they left school. Lily and Snape were best friends for their first five (or was it six?) years of school together. I don’t remember that being a secret to anyone. I might be misremembering, but I thought that was the reason James picked on Snape because he was friends with Lily and James had a crush on Lily.

    If anything, I found it odd they were able to keep it from Harry for so long. What was the point of all the adults (while actively trying to get Harry to quit seeing Snape as evil and out to get him) from saying: hey, he was your mum’s best friend when they were kids until she started dating your dad. The truth, which if Lupin didn’t know for 100% sure, is super easy to guess.

    Dumbledore knew, there was no way that Lupin didn’t know. Even out of spite (toward Snape) I could see Sirius telling Harry it just because he was looking at Harry more like James’ replacement than a kid. Just letting a ‘I can’t believe your mother was friends with him’ type of slip.

    Snape and Lily’s friendship was really only a secret (for unknown reasons) from Harry, not the rest of the world.

    You hit on a lot in the chapter and I really do enjoy reading your deconstructions of them. It’s been a while since I read them, so I didn’t notice that Snape took so few point compared to the other teachers. All I remember was reading it, he never seemed as bad as Harry was making him out to be.

    • Loten

      January 7, 2016 at 8:53 am

      Regarding Snape and Lily’s friendship being a secret:

      I assume Black and Lupin never realised it was actual friendship and assumed Lily just pitied Snape for a while (which frankly is probably true). They’re both so self-absorbed I doubt they paid any attention to Lily except as someone who distracted their BFF James from hanging out with them. As for all the other adults, only Dumbledore has a reason to attach any sort of importance to it, and he doesn’t realise it’s still important until Snape explicitly tells him in the infamous memory in the last book. Hagrid may well have known at the time, as some of the other teachers probably did, but it was twenty years before the books open. Teachers see thousands of children in that time, I really can’t see them actually remembering who was friends with whom unless they were notorious pains in the ass like the Marauders.

  16. whatifitwasdifferent

    March 7, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    On the subject of Snape’s implausible teaching schedule:

    What if that is where some of the vampire rumors came from? Some students notice that “Hey, Snape teaches all of these classes, and is Head of Slytherin, and he catches us when we wander outside at night all the time, so it logically (to their tiny brains) follows that he must be a vampire. Or, a oneshot where Snape has a vampire bite him on purpose after developing a potion that controls all of the affects except for the no-sleep factor, because I could see him doing that.


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