It’s probably a bit too friendly to the source material but I honestly don’t care, it’s well-written and snarky and pokes fun at the internal culture of the books. If you’re invested enough in Harry Potter fandom or anti-fandom that you’re following our blog you’ll probably get a kick out of it.
Monthly Archives: February 2016
This is the last post you’re going to see about any of the Cormoran Strike books. This part finally pushed me over the limit. You’ll understand why in a moment – it only took half a chapter.
Content notes: physical assault, victim blaming, transphobia, rape jokes, ableist slurs, misogynistic slurs, racism, fat hatred and anything else disgusting Rowling felt like throwing into the mix. Also my excessive language, I’ve been trying to tone down my swearing but… not this time.
As expected, chapter 37 opens with Strike whining about his knee and about being poor and how he’s spent too much money on eating in a restaurant. He almost has a plot-relevant thought, about how strange it is that everyone familiar with the book is looking to blame anyone except Owen and maybe someone else did write at least some of it, but is distracted by once again encountering the woman who’s been stalking him and fulfilled happy fantasies of most of the readers by trying to stab him.
We’re treated to a nauseating paragraph about how utterly amazing Strike is, which you all have to suffer through too. I know I’m meant to be speed-running through this now, but just look at this crap.
“Strike’s pace did not falter, nor did he turn to look at her. He was not playing games this time; there would be no stopping to test her amateurish stalking style, no letting her know that he had spotted her. On he walked without looking over his shoulder, and only a man or woman similarly expert in counter-surveillance would have noticed his casual glances into helpfully positioned windows and reflective brass door plates; only they could have spotted the hyper-alertness disguised as inattentiveness.”
Excuse me while I throw up.
And it keeps going. There are two full pages of Strike walking along telling us how awesome he is and how stupid people messing with him are – interspersed with comments about his knee, and how even though it just hurts soooo badly it’s not enough to stop him being awesome. Then finally he turns into an alleyway, hears running footsteps behind him, spins around and assaults the person.
Fortunately for him it actually is the woman who was following him and not some random person running for the bus, but I don’t think that justifies a full page of him hitting her with his walking stick, getting ‘a ferocious grip that made her scream‘, putting her in a headlock or forcibly dragging her up the stairs to his office while she screams bloody murder. Of course, there are no witnesses until he actually gets to the office, when someone looks out of the room next door. Oh how I hope they call the police.
Robin lets him into the office and is understandably horrified, especially since the book informs us this woman is very young – maybe 20 – and has scratch marks on her neck where Strike grabbed her. (The book feels the need to specify her ‘white‘ neck several times. I don’t know why.)
Strike tells Robin she tried to knife him again, and orders her to call the police; as Robin picks the phone up, the woman starts crying and begging and pointing out that Strike’s just hurt her quite badly. Robin ignores this in favour of slut-shaming her.
I’m not kidding.
” ‘Why have you been following me?’ Strike said, panting as he stood over her, his tone threatening.
She cowered into the squeaking cushions yet Robin, whose fingers had not left the phone, detected a note of relish in the woman’s fear, a whisper of voluptuousness in the way she twisted away from him. “
Fuck. This. Book. (This was the start of the meltdown.)
And it gets SO MUCH WORSE.
After a lot of yelling, some more assault and battery on Strike’s part and a fucking stupid attempt at good-cop-bad-cop, it turns out this woman is the mysterious Pippa.
Although at the moment she’s actually Philip, and won’t be legally Pippa for a little while yet.
Hence Epicoene the hermaphrodite in Owen’s book, which has just become a hundred times more awful and insensitive.
Strike’s reaction to this is to stare at her Adam’s apple, which under the scratches and bruises he’s left is ‘still prominent‘.
Robin’s reaction is to try not to laugh.
My reaction was to start yelling at Mitchell.
Pippa starts crying, understandably, and these two terrible people continue their ghastly good-cop-bad-cop interrogation routine to try to work out what the fuck is going on and why she wants to kill Strike (apart from the fact that he exists, which would honestly be good enough for any jury). The single bright point is that the book is still using female pronouns.
And then somehow the book manages to become even worse, thanks to Strike.
” ‘If you go for that door one more fucking time I’m calling the police and I’ll testify and be glad to watch you go down for attempted murder. And it won’t be fun for you inside, Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.’ “
Fucking hell, Rowling. Even for you, this is low. The yelling got worse.
Skipping past the rest of the scene, which is just filled with insults and stereotypical hysteria and a lot of bullshit I don’t want to deal with. It boils down to Pippa thinking Leonora hired Strike to frame her and Kathryn, and she’s been following Strike because she wanted him to lead her to Owen so she could kill him for the terrible way he wrote about her in his book. Owen apparently lied to the two of them and said he was writing something much different that was really lovely about them both, and then wrote Bombyx and sent it to them.
I was initially extremely sympathetic, but later in the scene Pippa calls Orlando a retard.
I’m not kidding. I’m done. That was the straw that broke the camel’s fucking back.
I’m going to very quickly skim through the remaining chapters, and give you a brief summary of whodunit and so on. And then I am going to give this book to my father and tell him to throw it on the bonfire next time he burns some garden waste.
There is nothing this book can say or do now that would justify my continuing to read it. Rowling has literally checked every possible box of awfulness and I’m not willing to deal with it any more.
Pippa eventually escapes, and afterwards Strike calls her a ‘self-dramatising twat‘. Full fucking house, Rowling.
Highlights of the rest of the book, speed-read in about twenty minutes while ranting.
In a later chapter we learn one of Strike’s oldest friends has yet another nickname for him, this one derived from a Cornish slur for travellers/Romanies. Because it’s fine to be racist if it’s an obscure regional slur that other people won’t recognise. Their conversation involves endless misogynistic sex jokes and calling Charlotte crazy.
Brief glimpse of plot – Leonora is arrested. Kathryn had a credit card receipt, given to her by Orlando, showing that someone bought overalls, ropes, tarpaulins and a burqa shortly before Owen’s disappearance, and after Strike attacked Pippa the two of them handed it to the police. Leonora insists it was Owen’s card and she never had access to it.
Charlotte texts Strike out of the blue. ‘It was yours.‘ Don’t care, book. Later there’s a lot more bullshit attempting to once again vilify a character who has never appeared onscreen, and I still. Don’t. Care.
Turns out Strike’s daddy knows Fancourt and is in talks with Chard about publishing his biography. Look at all the fucks I don’t give. This never turns out to be relevant and I wouldn’t give a shit if it did.
Emotional blackmail of Orlando in the hope that she happened to steal some evidence.
We finally meet Fancourt. He is true fat-shaming MRA scum who says things about Liz Tassel that make me want to do something very painful to Rowling’s nervous system. If I hadn’t already quit earlier I would have done here. And we’re still not done.
The actual plot resolution would be unbelievably annoying if I still cared. Several chapters of Strike mysteriously telling people to do things that we’re not told about, telling people his theories that we’re not told about, and generally abusing the already long-dead flogged horse.
Turns out all the shit with the Cutter was because Jerry’s daughter might not actually be his, but might be Fancourt’s. This absolutely does not justify all the shit with Charlotte.
Nina finally tells Strike to fuck off. Best bit of the book.
Lots of crap about how clever Strike is.
The final solution to the plot: there were two versions of Bombyx Mori. The version Owen wrote, and the version everyone saw, which Liz Tassel wrote. In a better book this would actually have been a decent twist.
It turns out that it was actually Liz who wrote the parody that caused Fancourt’s wife to kill herself and started this whole feud. And Owen knew and had been blackmailing her ever since.
It was Liz’s idea that Owen should stage his disappearance, and then she met him at Talgarth Road, talked him into posing for a ‘publicity photograph’ and killed him.
The whole thing is summarised in unbelievably poisonous terms. Liz’s entire motivation for all of this is because, being fat and ugly, she wasn’t laid enough. I’m not even kidding – she apparently orchestrated this whole thing out of sexual frustration and depression and a decades-long crush on Fancourt that ended badly. That is the only motivation the narrative gives her and all the depth her character gets – a sick stereotype straight from the depths of dudebro culture and modern fat hatred.
As if that wasn’t enough, over the space of two pages she breaks down and turns into a frothing lunatic talking to herself in weirdly Bellatrix terms (though not the baby-talk) and ends up a stereotypical TV ‘crazy person’.
The book ends with Liz, having been set up, getting into a ‘taxi’ driven by Robin. There’s a big dramatic car chase, and they crash. Sadly they’re both fine. Robin gets a media concussion, i.e. there are no consequences whatsoever.
Liz is on suicide watch pending trial.
She kept the original Bombyx Mori manuscript. In the freezer with Owen’s guts. It’s going to be published.
For reasons surpassing all understanding, Robin and Matthew are still together, though the very last page of the book is her and Strike flirting.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need a very stiff drink and preferably brain surgery to remove any memory of this book.
Do not read it under any circumstances.
I’m not touching anything else Rowling ever produces – unless it’s Harry Potter related, because in children’s books she can’t show her true colours and I don’t have to think about what a terrible person wrote the books that are still a big part of my life and how much she despises me and other people who look like me.
That said, there won’t be a HP post for a week or two. I need time to forget this before I can look at anything else she’s written without screaming. She has forfeited all right to ever be given the benefit of the doubt ever again and it’s going to take a conscious effort to stop my current anger with her bleeding through into our coverage of HP.
I have no idea why she decided to do this.
Egad, a plot coupon. One that, of course, makes no sense whatsoever. This chapter contains a healthy dose of conspiracy-theory paranoia…
Chapter Twelve: The Mirror of Erised
Nothing wrong with the picture this time, shockingly.
Christmas is coming, and it’s finally snowing. Apparently nothing happened for the whole of November, since we’re now in mid-December; Harry makes no mention of being puzzled that wizards don’t celebrate Bonfire Night on November 5th, though he also makes no mention of anything else. I’m glad not to have to endure more Quidditch, but he’s obsessed with it, you’d think it would come up. Also apparently our villain chose not to try anything else nefarious all month. And the lake is ‘froze[n] solid‘, which… doesn’t happen. That’s not how ice works. Frozen over, yes, but not ice all the way down. Which is just as well, given the squid and all the merpeople. There’s also no mention of anyone skating on the lake, ever – I don’t believe this either. You show a group of children a decent-sized patch of ice and they’re going to skate on it.
Anyway, to represent the season, we’re told that the Weasley twins got into trouble for repeatedly bewitching snowballs to follow Quirrell around and bounce off his turban. I like this, it’s another little detail that you only notice on the second readthrough – though you do have to wonder why Quirrell didn’t prevent it. It’s basically his god getting hit, after all. I have no idea how you’d bewitch a snowball to do this without breaking apart – the twins are probably the lovely type of child who packs snow around a rock, but even so.
Continuing our theme of random animal cruelty, the narration informs us that the few owls who actually make it to the castle with post have to be nursed by Hagrid before they can leave again, because of the storms. This is why you don’t use owls. There’s no mention of whether Hagrid treks up to the Owlery to look after them, or if he makes them all huddle in his cold smoky hut with his giant dog, but I think we all know which is more likely. It’s stupid that the wizarding world doesn’t have vets; apparently the groundskeeper is meant to deal with everything at Hogwarts (Care of Magical Creatures doesn’t exist yet) and if I remember rightly everything outside Hogwarts is handled by a random shop assistant in Diagon Alley.
It’s also very, very cold. As in, ice is literally forming on the walls, and they can see their breath in the corridors and some of the classrooms. There are fires in the common room, and we’re told out of nowhere now that there are also fires in the Great Hall, but as I keep saying, fires usually mean smoke holes and you lose most of the heat anyway. Unless there are randomly a lot of chimneys in really weird places. Or the room’s just full of thick smoke all the time. In any case, why doesn’t anyone use magic to warm the place up a bit? Or at least hang some more tapestries up? That’s what they were for.
We’re also told that Snape’s classroom down in the dungeons is the coldest place in the castle. Poor Slytherins – I bet their common room and dormitories are utterly inhumane. Of course, there’s no reason why the underground part of the castle would be the coldest, because that’s really not how that works, but I assume it must be because of the damp from the lake now freezing so they have more ice around, or something.
This segues into Draco trying to be a jerk again, of course. He announces in the middle of a Potions lesson that he feels very sorry for everyone who has to stay at Hogwarts over Christmas because they aren’t wanted at home, and Harry tells us this is because nobody’s interested in listening to Draco making fun of his Quidditch catch any more and they all found it very impressive that Harry managed to stay on his broom.
The topic is never going to come up again, by the way, until Dumbledore tells Harry what happened at the end of the book. There’s no mention of anyone investigating it. Nobody appears to have asked Harry what happened, or asked to examine his broom, or anything else remotely rational and caring. Presumably Harry’s played since that match, but we don’t see another game until next chapter (oh joy) and it never occurs to him then to worry that it might happen again. It was a single isolated incident that nobody ever questions and nobody thinks will reoccur – except, as usual, Snape, owner of the only fully functioning brain in this stupid castle.
I find it funny that there’s nothing in the text to indicate that Draco’s being sarcastic except Crabbe and Goyle laughing – obviously he is, but the book ought to actually say so. Once again, though, I have to question how Draco knows Harry’s not going home for Christmas, or anything about Harry’s home life at all except that his parents are dead. Clearly he’s still keeping his crush under very close observation, but there’s no way he can know this. Is there some sort of public list on display of everyone who’s not going home? We’re told McGonagall talked to the Gryffindors the previous week to find out who was staying, but did she then post the list in the Great Hall or something?
Anyway, Harry’s not going home, understandably. We’re told later that the Dursleys are aware of this, but I don’t see how – even if the school were sadistic enough to send them an owl, which they blatantly are, I can’t see the Dursleys being brave enough to let the owl in and try to take something off its leg, let alone tie a reply on afterwards. Harry’s looking forward to a great Christmas, though, and tells us Ron and his brothers are all staying too because Mr and Mrs Weasley are going to Romania to see Charlie.
I’m choosing to believe this is because Molly and Arthur want a bit of peace, frankly. Once again, Rowling’s forgotten that they’re not Muggles; when you can travel for free and create houses out of nothing, it doesn’t cost anything to take extra children on holiday. We considered the possibility that they could be having the children stay so Hogwarts would feed them; in reality schools tend to charge fees for student meals but as we’re given no indication parents ever pay Hogwarts for anything… in any case, at this point magic has no restrictions and they can make food.
Harry makes no mention of Hermione, by the way, despite allegedly being friends with her now. We’ll find out later that she’s going home to her parents. I’m sure she’ll have fun carefully not telling them that she’s nearly died twice already and assaulted a teacher.
After Potions the students encounter Hagrid dragging a huge Christmas tree down a corridor. This is purely so Ron can offer to help and Draco can sneer that he must be trying to earn some money so he can live in a tiny hut in the woods too because it’s better than his house. Well done, Draco, an insult that actually sounds like an eleven year old came up with it. Good job.
Ron naturally charges at Draco, though quite what he’s imagining he’ll do is beyond me, and grabs his robes just as Snape appears and yells at him to quit it. Hagrid interferes and tattles on Draco like the responsible adult he absolutely is not (it really is quite remarkable: yes, Draco goaded him, but Ron was the first to get physical, and Hagrid really does seem to think this excuses him), and Snape points out perfectly reasonably that fighting is still not allowed and takes points off Ron. This is another scene where we’re meant to think Snape’s evil, but this is how any teacher would have dealt with this type of situation.
Hagrid takes Harry and Ron and his tree (and Hermione, who’s suddenly teleported into this scene) into the Great Hall to show them how pretty it is. Credit where it’s due, the decorations do mostly sound really nice – though real candles on resinous fir trees that are drying out quite nicely what with all the fires around sounds like a very bad idea to me – but I don’t know who they’re for. Most of the children are leaving tomorrow to go home; we’re not told exactly how many students are staying, but Harry, Ron, Percy and the twins appear to be the only Gryffindors of either gender still there over the holidays and no other students are actually mentioned at all. In future books so few people remain that staff and students all fit on a single table, so we clearly have slightly more than that, but is it really enough people to justify twelve huge Christmas trees?
I’m also somewhat disappointed that all the Christmas traditions we’ll see throughout the series are so ordinary. Everything is modern Western Muggle standard (though usually with some sort of sadistic twist, such as fairy lights made with actual live fairies). Even the carols are more or less the same, just with a couple of changed words. Given how old-fashioned the wizarding world is in so many other ways, why couldn’t they have stuck with some of the old pagan Yule traditions? Let’s see some wassailing, or walking the bounds, or at least celebrating the solstice on the 21st instead of sticking to the Christian festival date. They seem to like ancient Rome, at least to the extent that they still use a butchered version of Latin, so how about keeping Saturnalia? Heck, throw in some animal sacrifices, it’s not like that would be out of character for these people.
Hermione reminds the boys that they’ve got time to go to the library before lunch. Hagrid questions this, given that it’s just before the holidays, and Harry says cheerfully that they’re trying to find out who Nicolas Flamel is and would he like to save them some time and just tell them?
It’s a good point, honestly. Why doesn’t Hagrid just tell them, at least partially? What could possibly happen if he says ‘He’s one of Professor Dumbledore’s friends’? That’s a much better way of getting them to let the subject drop than pretending it’s some huge important secret.
Anyway, Hagrid says no and the three of them trot off to the library. Harry’s sure he’s read the name somewhere, so they’ve been going through hundreds of books. Er, Harry, you haven’t read a single library book except Quidditch Through The Ages. If you’ve seen it written in a book, it would only be in that book or one of your textbooks. Why are you looking in books you’ve never read for something you remember reading?
Hermione’s easily bright enough to have realised this. I assume she’s just enjoying the chance to get Harry and Ron into the library without a fight. That certainly won’t happen again.
Of course, we know it wasn’t in a book at all, but that’s not the point. The Hogwarts library is insanely huge, by the way – literally tens of thousands of books. This does not compute with the size of the wizarding world. Who wrote them all? Who publishes them? And who’s meant to be reading them? It would be slightly more sensible if this were a public library, though still somewhat unrealistic, but does a school with at most a couple of hundred students really need tens of thousands of books? Again this is a trope I heartily approve of, huge magic libraries are awesome, but it doesn’t work in this setting.
Hermione has a list of books to check out. Ron’s just grabbing books at random. Harry can’t be bothered to even do that, and decides to go and sprinkle some foreshadowing everywhere instead, wandering over to the so-called Restricted Section. I say ‘so-called’ because it’s not restricted at all, except by a single low rope in front of it. It’s not in a separate room with a lockable door, or anything else sensible. Though I concede this is a step up from the Forbidden Forest, which doesn’t even have a rope…
Harry tells us you need a signed note from a teacher to look at these books, which apparently all contain very advanced dark magic and are only looked at by older Defence Against the Dark Arts students.
There is no possible way to justify these books being in a school. Defence lessons involve learning a list of spells, when they involve anything useful at all (though obviously they shouldn’t, and at this point the most sensible conclusion is that Rowling hadn’t yet decided Defence would be the joke class taught by a sequence of incompetents). Harry is never taught a single thing about the Dark Arts in six years. If we accept that maybe the seventh years actually learn shit, they could order any particular book they might need through the library; having them just sitting around openly is asking for trouble.
Though next book we’ll learn that at least one of them is actually just an advanced Potions textbook, so I suppose it’s possible that what Harry’s saying here is a rumour spread by older students and the books are mostly just slightly rarer ordinary books that need more looking after than the rest.
The librarian, Madam Pince, shows up and asks what Harry’s looking for. She doesn’t get a description of any kind, except that she’s holding a feather duster for some odd reason, which she waves at Harry when he says he’s not looking for anything and orders him out of the library. She will never get any kind of description, to the best of my recollection, and is also apparently the only person working here. One person looking after tens of thousands of books and running a library that’s apparently open from early in the morning to late at night seven days a week? Typical Hogwarts scheduling.
In a more sensible book, they’d have asked her if she knows where they can find information on Nicolas Flamel. That’s what librarians are for, and a character described the way Hermione has been so far would absolutely talk to the library staff at any opportunity. In this series, she never does so. The book does acknowledge that this is stupid, and tries to handwave it by telling us that the children decided not to ask her in case Snape heard about it.
How would he? Do they really think Pince would be so shocked by a student asking a question that she’d go and broadcast it in the staff room? Not that she ever goes to the staff room, or the Great Hall… we’ll only ever see her in the library and never see her talk to another staff member. Or do they think Snape has ordered her to tell him if anyone asks certain questions?
This weirdness, combined with her complete lack of any kind of description and apparent ability to go without sleep permanently, must be the source of the odd fan theory that she’s secretly Eileen Snape in disguise. From what I remember this was mostly based on the fact that ‘Irma Pince’ is an anagram of ‘I’m a Prince’, but I don’t remember anyone explaining why on earth she’d bother or why she never interacts with anyone, least of all Severus himself.
In any case, even if they truly believe it’s too risky to ask the librarian, the children never suggest asking anyone else, such as another teacher or an older student. As they leave the library now, Ron does say that it would be safe for Hermione to ask her parents:
” ‘Very safe, as they’re both dentists,’ said Hermione.”
Of course, the irony is that Nicolas Flamel was a real Muggle alchemist, and it’s not out of the realms of possibility that one of Hermione’s parents might actually recognise the name. It wouldn’t help much, since any Muggle information is obviously going to be inaccurate, but it would give her something to look up when she got back after Christmas. As we’ll see next chapter, they find the answer anyway, so it wouldn’t have changed the plot at all, but it would have been nice. I’m already tired of the book insisting that Muggles all suck and can’t possibly know anything.
Once the holidays have started, Harry and Ron sit around doing nothing.
“They sat by the hour eating anything they could spear on a toasting fork – bread, crumpets, marshmallows – and plotting ways of getting Malfoy expelled, which were fun to talk about even if they wouldn’t work.”
What idiot decided to allow small children to cook their own food over open fires? And where are they getting it from? House elves don’t exist yet, remember. I also don’t believe the wizarding world has marshmallows, at least not in any form recognisable to Harry as such. The original version has been around for centuries and is made from the marshmallow plant, but Harry wouldn’t know what those were; the modern form is way too processed to exist in the wizarding world.
‘Crumpets’ is changed to ‘English muffins’ in the American version, by the way. (At least in this part. In a later sentence it’s left as crumpets.) This slightly irrationally annoyed me, because those are completely different products; they taste similar, but they’re made differently and crumpets have a very distinctive texture that’s nothing like a muffin.
Also, Harry, your obsession with Draco is not helping the subtext here.
Never mind the usual Gryffindor double standard – when Draco talks about wanting Harry to be expelled earlier it’s evidence he’s a horrible person, whereas here Harry and Ron fantasise about having him expelled and it’s all in good fun. What’s with this fixation on expulsion, anyway? It’s a theme for the next several books, and yet only one person – Hagrid – is ever said to have been expelled. (Considering he was found guilty of manslaughter, or possibly causing death by dangerous animal, mere expulsion is shockingly lenient, and never mind that he wasn’t actually guilty of that one.)
Ron is also teaching Harry ‘wizard chess’. Harry tells us this is exactly like actual chess, except with live pieces, i.e. more sadistic; he seems to be implying that he’s familiar with Muggle chess already, though I don’t know how he would be. It’s not as if he had the kind of childhood involving chess clubs, and according to him he has no friends or friendly relatives who could have taught him.
It’s also somewhat puzzling that Ron’s so good at chess. Live pieces aside, it’s still a quiet sort of hobby involving sitting still, and really doesn’t seem to fit with the Weasley household. Not to mention that the more we see of Ron in later books the more obvious it is that he’s just not bright enough, unless he’s some sort of chess savant. I suspect the sole reason for this talent is so he’d actually have some part to play in the finale, since otherwise there’s honestly no reason for him to exist.
Then again, chess itself is an odd Potterverse hobby, because it’s seen as intellectual and requiring at least some intelligence, and the wizarding world often goes to great lengths to discourage that sort of thing. Fantasyland wizards in general are known for liking chess and other scholarly pursuits, but it doesn’t quite fit in with the Potterverse. Particularly since the only other non-Quidditch games we see are Snap and Gobstones (i.e. marbles), which are both as basic as you can possibly get. Not that Exploding Snap ever made any sense – if they have playing cards, why do they only play Snap with them? And do they use the same suits as Muggle cards? It would be neat if they played with the original Tarot and used those suits.
In any case, wizarding chess isn’t explicitly violent in this scene, despite the movie version. The pieces just heckle and mock Harry for not being very good and shout advice at him, and there’s no mention of the losing pieces being brutally smashed or anything. This sounds immensely irritating to play, but it also raises one of the Quidditch objections from last post – if your pieces give you advice, then the player with the oldest and most experienced chess set will win. Once again, it’s a contest that relies on who has the best equipment, not who’s actually better. Harry’s borrowed a set from Seamus for the purposes of this scene.
Unless the pieces are being coerced into obeying you. They come across as pretty sentient and capable of actual independent thought, which has a lot of worrying implications.
Not that it matters. I don’t think any of the characters actually play chess again after this book. It exists purely to foreshadow the finale, and then vanishes into the ether.
When Harry wakes up on Christmas morning, he’s surprised to find a pile of presents on his bed, since he wasn’t expecting anything. Well done, Harry, another normal reaction. Those are already becoming quite rare.
Ron, meanwhile, seems surprised that Harry’s surprised:
” ‘What did you expect, turnips?’ “
This once again demonstrates that the Weasleys aren’t poor; it even states that Ron’s pile of gifts is much bigger than Harry’s, and he seems to find it weird that someone wouldn’t be expecting presents. Even though he’s been told about Harry’s upbringing already. And even though he says in a couple of paragraphs that he specifically told his mother that Harry wasn’t expecting presents. In conclusion, Ron is dumb as a brick.
(Admittedly, I don’t know how common it is, but there are definitely some poor parents who try to hide the extent of that poverty from their children and go out of their way to ensure they get things like Christmas gifts, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with the Weasleys. Ron is certainly aware that his family are ‘poor’.)
Harry’s first present is from Hagrid, a hand-whittled wooden flute that sounds a bit like an owl (what kind of owl? They sound pretty different, you know). This seems an odd choice of present since Harry’s given no indication of any musical ability or interest, but it’s nice, and of course it’s good foreshadowing. I don’t know why they left it out of the film – we see Hagrid playing it at one point but he never gives it to Harry that I recall.
His second present is from the Dursleys, a note saying they got his message about not being home for Christmas and a 50 pence coin.
This is weird on several levels. I’ve already mentioned that it’s not likely they’d have replied to any message, being scared of owls and so on. But it’s also been specified repeatedly by Harry that they never give him anything at all, so them sending a gift now – even a rubbish one – is still a step up. If they usually gave him presents and were this time pointedly giving him a really bad present, that would be nasty, but as it is this is just a bit odd. They’ll keep doing it, too, sending him traditionally lousy but still perfectly civil gifts – very small amounts of money, a pair of socks, etc. And yet there’s no reason why they would, as well as no physical way to send them.
I’m hesitant to use the ‘Dumbledore did it for the lulz’ explanation, especially given the content of the rest of this chapter, but I just can’t see the Dursleys doing this. And whoever typeset the US version seems to share my view, since their note isn’t formatted letter-style as all the others have been.
Anyway, Ron’s fascinated by the coin, so Harry lets him keep it. I’ll forgive Ron this one, even though he’s referenced enough Muggle things by now that he ought to know something of their money. Most British coins are pretty normal but the 50p – and the 20p – has seven sides, it’s not round; I suppose that would look a little odd.
I would also love to see a crossover fic somewhere where this 50p is actually the magic one from ‘The Queen’s Nose’…
Harry wonders who his other presents are from. Ron explains two of them are from his mother – a box of fudge and a hand-knitted jumper, which is apparently a family tradition and all the Weasleys get them every year. I think that’s sweet, honestly, and it’s a shame her children don’t seem to appreciate it. Though I do question how Molly knows what size Harry is, or what size any of her sons are given that most of the ones still at school are at the age for growth spurts.
There’s no note with these gifts, by the way. If Ron hadn’t been here to explain Harry wouldn’t have had a clue who they were from. But I bet he would have eaten the fudge anyway, despite apparently believing that the Potions teacher is trying to kill him. If Quirrell had just sent him some anonymous poisoned sweets, the series would probably have ended right here.
The next present is a large box of Chocolate Frogs, from Hermione. I don’t know where she got them from – I assume maybe she asked Percy to buy them in Hogsmeade. Harry doesn’t give this another thought, it only gets a single sentence after paragraphs about each of his other gifts; it certainly never occurs to him that he should feel bad that he didn’t get her anything. He didn’t get Ron anything either but apparently regifting his 50p was good enough – and to be fair Ron didn’t give him a present, just told his mother to do so.
Hermione also got Ron some sweets – Bertie Botts’ Every-Flavour Beans. That’s excellently nasty of you, Hermione, well done. There’s no mention that Ron got her anything either, of course, inevitably. I hope she wasn’t naive enough to expect it.
And we all know what Harry’s final gift is, don’t we…
” ‘It’s an Invisibility Cloak,’ said Ron, a look of awe on his face. “
How do you know, Ron? You tell us they’re really rare and valuable; when have you ever seen one? Particularly since we’re told in later books that Harry’s cloak is as super-special and unique as everything else he owns, and doesn’t look like regular invisibility cloaks? (Please note I’m refusing to capitalise that as well. Stop it.) And even if Ron does know what they look like, why would that be his first thought on seeing Harry unwrapping some random grey cloth? Why would he assume someone gave Harry one?
There’s also the obvious joke that this can’t be an invisibility cloak, because they can see it! As with so many things in this world, we’re never told how the cloak works. It hides inanimate objects being held by the person wearing it, but not random objects you put it on. It folds up small enough to fit in Harry’s pocket, but apparently opens out large enough to have hidden four near-grown teenage boys.
Also, Harry, once again – you think someone’s trying to murder you. Don’t grab shiny things that have been sent to you anonymously.
And this is anonymous, the note is unsigned:
“Your father left this in my possession before he died.
It is time it was returned to you.
Use it well.
A Very Merry Christmas to you.”
Translation: ‘I took this from your father – sorry, ‘borrowed’ it – at a time when he could have really, really needed it. It’s possible I feel guilty about this, but really I don’t have a conscience so that’s probably not it. I’m now giving it to you, I’m sure you won’t misuse it in any way despite your father and his friends doing so for years. I’m glad you don’t know who I am because this is pretty terrible of me.’
At least we know for a fact this is Dumbledore messing with people for his own amusement. If he thinks Harry has a reason to genuinely need this cloak, he ought to be acting to put a stop to that situation, not just giving it to him.
The note is also well hidden, it’s not pinned to the parcel or anything, so Harry could easily have missed it and had even less of an idea where the cloak came from or why.
Anyway, Harry and Ron are playing with the shiny when the twins bounce in, and Harry hastily shoves it under his bed. (And then later can’t find it since it’s invisible, and never gets to use it again, what a shame.) The twins are also wearing new jumpers, with their initials on them:
” ‘You haven’t got a letter on yours,’ George observed. ‘I suppose she thinks you don’t forget your name. But we’re not stupid – we know we’re called Gred and Forge.’ “
I actually like this line, daft though it is. It’s good to see that not everything the twins do is awful. Particularly since they decide to immediately renege on any goodwill this may have earned them, and end this scene by casually assaulting their brother; Percy shows up to find out what the noise is, and the twins jump on him, force his own jumper over his head and drag him out of the room with his arms pinned, telling him he’s not allowed to sit with his friends because ‘Christmas is a time for family‘. Or faaaaaaamily, as used in a certain whiny tone by anyone who’s ever tried to guilt-trip a relative into putting up with a terrible situation.
We move on to more food porn. I have to dismiss most of Harry’s descriptions as hyperbole after he tells us there are a hundred whole turkeys; even if every single student was present, that would be way too many, even quite a small turkey can easily serve four or five people. Not that we still have any real idea of how many people are here. I’m not even sure how many teachers are present. One assumes all of them are; children don’t see teachers as real people with actual lives, but this does seem to be literally true of the Hogwarts staff. None of them appear to be married, none of them seem to have any relatives (except Dumbledore’s brother, and they’re estranged) and Snape’s the only one who seems to have a house. The rest of them may well literally live there.
Anyway, along with the food, there are crackers. Mitchell tells me he initially had no context for those – Christmas crackers don’t seem to be much of a thing outside Britain. As with so much else, wizard crackers are exactly like the real thing, only more sadistic; these explode, and also contain live mice who somehow don’t die in said explosions. (They get eaten by Mrs Norris instead.)
Why does everything in this universe have to explode? Does Rowling share Michael Bay’s fetish?
Despite the sadism, they are obviously far superior to the Muggle version, because they contain more expensive toys and full-size non-paper hats. I wonder how these crackers work – Harry very conveniently gets a chess set a page after lamenting that he has to play with borrowed pieces, and in Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape’s cracker just happens to have a hat in it designed to torment him. Once again, I’m trying not to say ‘Dumbles did it for the lulz’, but I can’t think of another explanation for this.
Speaking of Dumbledore, he’s one of the few teachers specifically mentioned, sitting with Flitwick and wearing a flowery bonnet. Hagrid and McGonagall are the only other staff we’re told about – why wouldn’t Harry specifically mention Snape, and why wouldn’t the narrative try to subtly point out Quirrell? They’re the plot-relevant teachers, why aren’t they here? It’s nice to think Severus managed to escape, but he’s a head of house, I imagine he would have to stay put during the holidays unless the whole of Slytherin have implausibly gone home.
Hagrid and McGonagall are getting very drunk, by the way. Well, we’re specifically told Hagrid is, since he’s constantly calling for more wine (who from? House elves don’t exist yet and wouldn’t be serving at table if they did) and getting really red in the face. McGonagall must also be drunk, since when Hagrid kisses her she ‘giggled and blushed‘ instead of telling him to fuck off, and her silly hat is crooked. That’s very convenient, we wouldn’t want anyone pointing out that this is an unwanted sexual advance now would we.
This is just stupid. Why is there even wine in a school? Okay, I concede the Hogwarts staff probably need multiple stiff drinks to get them through a lot of working days in this place, but realistically there should not be alcohol on the premises except in their private rooms. Why is Dumbledore allowing his staff to get this drunk in the middle of the day in full view of the students? In a normal school this would lead to suspension pending an investigation and a disciplinary hearing, and the staff in question could lose their jobs.
Along with his chess set, Harry leaves the table with some luminous balloons and a ‘grow-your-own-warts kit‘. This is capitalised in the US version for no real reason. It’s also just a bit odd; why would you want to grow warts? Obviously it’s meant to sound vaguely witchy, but it’s still stupid.
He spends the rest of the day with the Weasleys, having a huge snowball fight outside and then eating until they’re all exhausted and over-full and can barely move. (Including crumpets again; this isn’t changed to muffins, though it doesn’t make sense they’d be eating either with turkey sandwiches and leftover Christmas desserts.) Except, apparently, for the twins and Percy, since they decide to steal his prefect badge and make him chase them. Everyone plays chess for a bit as well, and Harry loses to Ron; he blames Percy helping him for this, though I don’t see why that would make him lose. Percy seems pretty bright. I’d blame the fact that it’s a brand-new chess set, personally, and the pieces don’t know what they’re doing yet.
Harry says this is his best Christmas ever. Things exploded, live mice were let loose to probably die, he was sent suspicious anonymous gifts, his teachers got drunk and he watched the twins bullying their brother multiple times. Yep, sounds great… (In fairness to Harry, all he has for comparison is Christmas with the Dursleys, so it’s probably more accurate to say it’s his first Christmas than anything else. ‘Best ever’ doesn’t sound like it’d take much.)
It takes Harry until after everyone’s gone to bed to remember that he has a shiny thing that turns you invisible. What is wrong with this child? Magic is fucking awesome, why do you seem to be so bored by it? How do you forget about having the power of invisibility? Get excited about something that isn’t a phallic symbol for once!
He’s suddenly not full to bursting and almost asleep any more, now he’s finally remembered it. Ron’s already asleep, and Harry decides he doesn’t want to share – I could believe this of a normal child with Harry’s backstory, but he hasn’t seemed consistently selfish so far. He also doesn’t give any real reason, he just vaguely wants to channel Greta Garbo.
“Something held him back – his father’s Cloak – he felt that this time – the first time – he wanted to use it alone.”
Holy sentence fragments, Batman. It’s basically a magic bedsheet, Harry, it’s not something really personal like, I don’t know, your dad’s wand or something. [Loten, I’d really rather not think about Harry wanting to spend some time alone with his dad’s wand… it sounds bad enough when it’s just a bedsheet.] Snort. But whatever, at least you’ve decided to do something. Now, you’re in a magic castle with the power of invisibility, and the security is a joke so you can probably go pretty much anywhere. So what do you decide to do?
…Go to the library and look up Flamel.
Really? Are you possessed by Hermione?
I know this has already been set up as hugely important, but really, it’s not. Learning Flamel’s identity might – might – give you a clue as to what the mystery secret object is, but so what? It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that (you think) Snape is trying to steal it and willing to kill to do so. At least next book the Trio come up with a plan to actually investigate their suspect, instead of being sidetracked by irrelevant details.
Also, imagine how hilarious it would be if Harry tried to sneak into Severus’ rooms. I’m guessing he’d be stuck to the ceiling with Levicorpus and left there for several days before having to try and explain himself… okay, let’s be real, he’d never be seen again and the series would end here. Shame.
Well, whatever, at least he’s doing something. He still doesn’t seem at all excited, but I’ll take what I can get. He puts on the bedsheet and sneaks out; the Fat Lady (I really want to come up with another name for the poor portrait, this is obnoxious) asks who’s there when her portrait opens, but apparently has no form of alarm system, or just doesn’t give a damn.
“The library was pitch black and very eerie. Harry lit a lamp to see his way along the rows of books. The lamp looked as if it was floating along in mid-air, and even though Harry could feel his arm supporting it, the sight gave him the creeps.”
So put the cloak over it, genius. You should probably try to find out if it blocks light anyway. Also where did the lamp come from, and why weren’t you using it to get here? And, of course, why is the library not locked out of hours? This is the one thing I could see Hermione breaking curfew for, and a lot of the Ravenclaws, and honestly most students come exam time.
There’s a slight problem. Once Harry gets to the Restricted Section, he can’t read any of the titles; they’re all in foreign languages. (This is no longer the case by the next book. Maybe he just can’t read Ye Olde Textspeake. It seems pointless to let the older students access books they can’t understand – Hogwarts doesn’t teach any language classes.) Some of them don’t even have titles. Some of them are bloodstained, because reasons. And he thinks they’re whispering.
So instead of deciding that this is silly and going to see if there’s a card catalogue on Pince’s desk, or some sort of index system (or does he think she’s memorised the location of tens of thousands of books?) he just grabs a random book that looks shiny. Despite thinking these are Dark Arts books. This boy has a real problem with grabbing things that might be cursed, and it’s not going to get any better in future books. I blame his habit of running into walls.
The book screams.
No, this will never be explained. I think we’re meant to believe it’s a security system of some sort, but I don’t know how the book would know he hasn’t got a note giving him permission to look at it. And if it’s just this book in particular, why is it here? What’s the use of a book that gives off blood-curdling shrieks whenever you try to read it? And, of course, why is Harry even bothering to look at a book he can’t read?
Understandably, Harry panics, drops the book and runs for it. He knocks his lamp over on the way, and it goes out, so the rest of this scene takes place in pitch blackness and he probably runs into a few more walls along the way. (Very convenient that it went out, though, otherwise he may well have burnt down the library…)
Predictably he hears footsteps as soon as he starts running, and passes Filch in the doorway of the library. This does not make sense. We’ve just been told that the Restricted Section is right at the back of the very, very big library; if Harry heard footsteps back there, the person making them would be right on top of him, not just wandering towards the entrance which must be a few hundred yards away at least. Pay attention to this, there are a lot of things in this scene that don’t make sense.
Harry runs away for a little while, and finally stops and realises he has no idea where he is. There’s a suit of armour nearby and he knows there’s one of those near the kitchens, ‘but he must be five floors above there‘. The library is on the fifth floor? There’s no mention of him having gone up or down any stairs, just along random corridors (and into walls). Which is just as well, as it’s too dark for him to see whether or not any of the stairs have moved – you could easily fall to your death running around Hogwarts in the dark.
While he’s trying to figure this out, he hears Filch talking to someone.
” ‘You asked me to come directly to you, Professor, if anyone was wandering around at night, and somebody’s been in the library – Restricted Section.’ “
Inevitably, Snape’s voice answers.
Now, even if Harry’s been running in circles for ages, I don’t see that enough time has passed for the elderly and unfit Filch to have gone to get Snape, brought him up here, and then started this conversation. Instead of, for example, following the loud footsteps of someone running around like a crazy person. It sounds like they’ve just met nearby, but in that case why is Snape there? If they’re five floors above the kitchens, they’re at least that many floors above the dungeons. In a huge castle the size of Hogwarts, there’s only so far I’m willing to stretch coincidence, and I can’t think even Snape would bother with his usual random patrols during the holidays when most of the students aren’t there (he’s also not naive enough to expect any of them to be trying to sneak into the library, of all places).
Of course, there’s also the question of whether Snape would actually have bothered to tell Filch. Assuming he does want to enlist people to keep an eye on Quirrell is a big assumption in itself, since he’s quite capable of doing so on his own, but if he does want allies, how likely is it that he’s going to pick the one person in the castle who can’t use magic? And who isn’t fit enough to keep up with anyone? House elves still don’t exist but there are ghosts and sentient pictures. He would also specify who he’s actually looking for. So far apparently Snape’s ordered the librarian to tell him if anyone asks questions about anything and Filch if anyone is out of bed. He’s a busy man, I don’t see that he has time for this sort of nonsense.
More tellingly, while Harry says he sees Filch and Snape come around the corner towards him, there’s no description. He’ll encounter both of them at night at least a couple of times later, and mention what they’re wearing and what they’re doing and what their expressions are like, but here there’s nothing.
He tells us the corridor – in this giant castle – is so narrow that a thin man walking down it will crash into a small skinny boy, so he can’t just avoid them. (This sounds like a servant’s passage, which he should not have been able to run into from the main corridors and should not have classrooms opening off it like the one we’re about to see, and if it’s so narrow why is there a suit of armour in it? Does everyone have to try and squeeze past it?) And he can’t go back the way he came because reasons, apparently – it doesn’t seem to occur to him. But there is a door right beside him that’s slightly ajar, so he squeezes inside, and Filch and Snape walk right past without bothering to check it.
So let’s review. Harry heard footsteps where there couldn’t be any and ran off. He got very badly disorientated, and when he stopped to try to figure out where he was, in an improbably tiny corridor, he heard two people who really would not actually be there talking about something that isn’t likely to be true. He apparently only has one possible escape route. This escape route is not checked by the people allegedly searching for an intruder despite it being very obvious.
I told you this didn’t make any sense whatsoever. Just wait, I have an explanation that rather worryingly makes this entire chapter completely logical and realistic.
Harry’s in a disused classroom, with desks stacked against the walls and so on. Directly opposite the unlocked and half open door is a gigantic ceiling-height mirror which apparently nobody walking past has ever noticed before.
” There was an inscription carved around the top: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. “
I don’t know why this is written backwards, per se. Mirror writing isn’t just reversing the order of the letters. Presumably Rowling couldn’t come up with a clever name if the letters were backwards, or else the publishers couldn’t be bothered to reproduce true mirror writing. Despite that, it’s not bad. Though as we’ll see, it’s not accurate.
We won’t be told until the end of this chapter, but as we all know this is the Mirror of Erised, which apparently shows you the thing you most desperately want to see at the time of looking into it.
Harry goes to look in the mirror because he’s still wearing the bedsheet (that he unaccountably didn’t trip over at any point while running around in the dark) and he wants to see his lack of reflection to confirm that he’s invisible. He wants to see nothing. It specifically tells us he wants to see nothing. This is important.
He does not, in fact, see nothing, despite that being what he wanted to see. Nor does he see anything to tell him who Nicolas Flamel is, despite the fact that he’s spent every spare moment for almost two months trying to discover that. Nor does he see what Snape’s after, which he’s been obsessing over for even longer. So therefore we have to conclude that actually this mirror doesn’t show you what you most want to see at all.
Instead, Harry sees a crowd of people (not just two, as the movie claims). Understandably, he nearly screams in shock and automatically spins around to see them, and when he can’t he puts out his hands to see if he can feel them. Once he realises they’re not actually there and are only in the mirror, he takes another look.
The closest reflection to his own is of a pretty woman with dark red hair and Harry’s bright green eyes; she’s smiling and crying at the same time.
Fuck off, Lily.
Why is she crying? This is apparently from Harry’s head; why would he want to see his mother crying?
Next to her is the reflection of a man wearing glasses, with dark messy hair.
Fuck off, James.
Harry correctly identifies them as his parents, and as he looks at the rest of the people in the mirror he picks out enough familiar features to decide that these are all his relatives.
Why are they all dead? There’s no sign of his aunt or his cousin, and for all that he hates them they’re still his relatives; there’s no mention of anyone resembling either of them either, and they’re the only ones he’d recognise. We know from bloody Pottermore that implausibly James’ parents both died of dragon pox before Harry was born, so he wouldn’t know them, but what about Lily and Petunia’s parents? They are never mentioned anywhere and apparently don’t exist; presumably they’re also implausibly dead, but what are the chances that Harry lost all four grandparents before he was born?
Another problem with this is that there’s nothing in Harry’s head to generate any of these images from. Even if, despite all evidence to the contrary, he actually does want to see his family at this precise moment, he has no idea what any of them look like. He won’t get any photos of his parents for a few more chapters yet and we were specifically told that the Dursleys have no pictures up except of them and their son. Harry was only a year old and has no memory of the Potters. He has been told that Lily had green eyes and that James looked a bit like him, but that’s not enough to create his entire family tree out of nowhere. How can the mirror show you things you don’t know exist, when it apparently works from your intentions and emotions? (One potential explanation could have been that it was just generating images of people that share features with him to fit his mental picture of what a family would be, rather than people who actually existed, but if that were the case Harry would have noticed later when shown actual pictures of Lily and James, and he never does.)
If it’s making things up that Harry can’t possibly know about, come to that, why isn’t Sirius in this reflection? He’s technically a blood relative, the Blacks and Potters are very distantly related, and he’s Harry’s godfather. Harry not knowing that is apparently not an obstacle, and we know from the first chapter that sadly Sirius does in fact exist at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no hurry to deal with him, but his absence doesn’t make sense.
Also, it’s still pitch black. For my own sanity let’s assume the mirror glows. That still doesn’t explain why nobody else has seen it but I don’t care, this chapter is taking forever. Harry stares at them for a long time, possibly several hours, then realises he ought to go to bed and does so.
We’ve already established that Harry has quite a lot of urgent desires at the moment, none of which the mirror saw fit to show him, but let’s assume for a minute that we believe the narrative’s insistence that secretly all he actually wants is faaaaaaaaaaamily.
I think I’m willing to buy a neglected child projecting his desire for an actual family onto dead bioparents, but there are still all sorts of unfortunate implications in glorifying biofamily over all else. Just because someone shares your genetic makeup doesn’t make them automatically worthy of being your family.
More to the point, if we believe the narrative there’s literally no adult in Harry’s life who’s ever been nice to him, except Hagrid. He’s not even spoken to Saint Dumbles yet. if he sees any adult in the mirror at all it should be Hagrid as pseudoparent, rather than people he has no memory of, and maybe Ron as adoptive brother and perhaps by extension a few more Weasleys.
Seeing his ‘real’ family sort of works on an angst level, orphaned Harry with no family etc., etc., but it’s too out of left field for me. He’s never thought about his parents before this, even though people have mentioned them to him repeatedly. He never wonders if they’d be proud of him, or if they liked the same subjects he likes – McGonagall told him James played Quidditch but he’s never wondered about that either. He’s never asked Hagrid what they were like. When Molly sent him one of his first ever Christmas presents he didn’t wonder if his mother would have been like her. He almost never thinks about them. And he never will – he rarely thinks about them at all for the rest of the series, even after finding out more about them more or less by accident, and never asks any of the Order about them outside of a single bullying incident. So it simply can’t be his greatest desire, even without all these other things on his mind that he’d have wanted to see.
By the next morning Harry’s decided that this mirror shows people their families, for whatever reason. Frankly at this point that makes more sense than the canon explanation. When he tells Ron about it, he asks his friend to come with him, because he wants to see Ron’s family too. This is actually quite sweet. If somewhat redundant, since as Ron points out he can come and visit over the summer and meet them all anyway.
Ron adds that it’s a shame Harry didn’t find out about Flamel…
” He had almost forgotten about Flamel. It didn’t seem very important any more. Who cared what the threeheaded dog was guarding? What did it matter if Snape stole it, really?
‘Are you all right?’ said Ron. ‘You look odd.’ “
Yeah, in addition to working very incoherently, the mirror is also apparently insanely addictive. But only in certain cases, i.e. right at this moment. Harry is utterly hooked to a sinister extent after one glimpse of a family he’s given no indication that he cares about; he’s forgotten all about his obsession of the past two months, he’s forgotten about the attempt to murder him, he’s almost forgetting to eat and he even looks noticeably different after just a couple of hours. This is creepy, at least if you’re reading for the first time and don’t realise that it’s never going to happen again.
The boys put on the bedsheet and go looking for the mirror the next night, but Harry can’t find it, and they wander around freezing corridors for almost an hour. I know Hogwarts is a little confusing, but can there really be that many passages containing classrooms near the library that they don’t already know? Also, why is there no sign of Filch or Snape this time? They were apparently patrolling on Christmas night, but not Boxing Day night?
They get there eventually, and Harry drags Ron over to look at all the happy dead people, but Ron can’t see anything. After a bit of shuffling they end up with just Ron in front of it and Harry out of the way, and all Harry can see is Ron’s reflection, but that’s not what Ron’s seeing. He sees himself, older, wearing the Head Boy badge ‘like Bill used to‘ and holding both the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup, and something unexplained that means he’s Quidditch captain too.
I really like this, it ties back to what Ron said about his brothers in an earlier chapter and it makes a lot of sense for his character – or, rather, for what we’ve been told his character is. I really, really wish the books had kept to this; this version of Ron would have been so much more interesting and likeably flawed. But, like everything else, it’s pretty much going to vanish over the rest of the series and he’ll turn into just another entitled bratty teen with about as much nuanced depth as a muddy puddle.
It’s worth noting that Ron never actually tries to make this vision happen. He doesn’t go out of his way to try to earn points for his house. He never tries out for the Quidditch team until the year his best mate is captain. He never tries to stay out of trouble and act the way a future prefect ought to, and is only eventually given the badge because Dumbles decided not to give it to Harry and the other Gryffindor boys don’t count as people. As I said, this version of Ron just vanishes.
Ron’s wondering how the mirror works, does it show the future maybe? Harry points out sensibly that it can’t because his entire family is implausibly dead, and then starts a fight because he wants to spend more hours staring at them and Ron’s not done yet. The noise finally attracts attention and they hear something outside, and shut up and scramble under the bedsheet; it’s Mrs Norris, who we shall note was not present last night with her master.
The boys wonder if the cloak works on cats. Nope, sorry lads. I’ll buy that it means she can’t see them, but she can definitely hear and smell them just fine; we know the cloak doesn’t block sounds, and I can’t imagine it blocks scent, though I don’t think that’s ever confirmed. Anyway, she displays usual cat behaviour and gets bored and wanders off – in defiance of how she’s meant to normally behave – and Ron forcibly drags Harry back to bed before Filch shows up.
The next day Harry doesn’t want to do anything, no matter what Ron suggests, and spends the whole day thinking about the mirror while Ron tries to warn him off.
Why isn’t Ron addicted? His reaction is pretty much ‘yeah, seen the magic mirror, it was kind of neat, let’s go do something else now’. His first look lasted about as long as Harry’s did, and that was enough to get Harry so addicted he spent most of the rest of the night staring. No, this is never going to be explained. During the finale other people are going to look into the mirror, and they’re not going to glaze over and stare vacantly at it for hours either. Just Harry.
Harry goes back the next night, of course, and for all Ron’s attempts to warn him off he apparently makes no real effort to stop him. I know children don’t tattle on their friends, so he wouldn’t go to a teacher, but all he’d have had to do was tell Fred and George that Harry has insomnia and wouldn’t it be funny to jump on him if he tried to go for a walk, then hide the cloak. Problem solved.
This time Harry doesn’t get lost, and he’s just sat down for another healthy dose of staring-at-dead-people when a voice says, “Back again, Harry?” and he pretty much wets himself. (Why on earth did Harry take off the cloak? He can see his visions just fine while he’s wearing it.)
The voice is Dumbledore, of course. He chides Harry for not noticing him, then goes on to imply that he’s been watching invisibly for several nights (creeeeeeepy) which means there’s no way Harry could have noticed him anyway. Lovely, it’s the first time Dumbles has ever spoken to him and he’s gaslighting him. Also, Harry was wearing his bedsheet when going to and from this room – how did Dumbledore know where to look for him? We wonders, yes precious, we wonders…
Dumbles goes on to tell us what this mirror supposedly does, though as I’ve already pointed out, that can’t be right. He uses a rather flawed example, too:
“The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is.”
Apparently in this universe it’s impossible for happy people to want anything, and being happy means not wanting anything to ever change.
He goes on to tell us that ‘this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth.’
Okay, but that’s wrong. It clearly does give knowledge, self-knowledge is still knowledge. And since it’s apparently created perfectly accurate replicas of James and Lily, that gives Harry both knowledge and truth, since until now he didn’t know what they looked like.
Also, the mirror is a troll. ‘Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.’ So, yes, addictive, we already knew that – but why only certain people? Explain please. Related point – just men? Are women (and Ron) immune to this addiction, or are we using the unnecessarily gender-biased language instead of saying ‘people’?
Dumbles finishes by saying the mirror’s going to be moved tomorrow and he doesn’t want Harry to go looking for it again, and I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to this line in particular:
” ‘If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared.’ “
We’ll get to that in a moment.
Right now I would like to point out that addiction really doesn’t work that way. Harry is not going to be magically un-addicted just because the mirror has been moved. He wouldn’t even eat over the last couple of days, it was that bad; he’d have spent every night for the rest of the year hunting for the mirror. Except, of course, that would inconvenience the plot, so in fact Harry is actually suddenly all better and will never give the mirror another thought until the finale, when he’ll be completely unaffected.
This whole sub-plot has been ridiculously rushed. It would have made much more sense if Harry had found the mirror earlier in the year – maybe the Trio and Neville could have found it while trying to get away from Filch, before running into Fluffy? Or maybe Ron and Harry stumble on it while looking for Hermione on Halloween? – and had spent the odd night every now and then creeping back to stare at it, if the addiction was a lot milder than it seems. This could have been happening over several chapters, until he finally gets caught now and has to stop it because the mirror isn’t there any more; maybe he could go and look for it every so often, but not find it, and eventually stop caring so much and give up.
I’d also like to know how Dumbles manages to move the mirror to its new home. We know where it ends up and there are a lot of things in the way. More on that in a moment.
The chapter ends with a completely irrelevant discussion of socks – Harry somehow gets the nerve to ask Dumbledore what he sees in the mirror; this is a good question, but he was terrified of getting into trouble when he was caught and at this point he doesn’t know Dumbledore at all, so it’s a bit odd he’d ask him something so personal. Dumbledore says he sees himself with some socks, because Rowling has some sort of sock fetish according to the rest of the series, and sends Harry to bed. Harry does, at least, doubt that Dumbledore gave him a truthful answer shortly afterwards…
(I think it’s a metaphor for sock puppets.)
And just to end this chapter on a very creepy note, Harry has to move Scabbers off his pillow before he can sleep. Ick.
Okay, time to try to explain all this. Let’s just review the key points.
Point one, the fact that there’s no reason for the mirror to be here. It should have been installed in the final room of the maze before any of the other defences were added around it.
Point two, the way that Harry found the mirror was horribly contrived and could not have been mere coincidence on any world – except possibly the Discworld, which runs on narrativium. He was clearly being herded to that particular room. (Were Snape and Filch really there at all, or just illusions?)
Point three, the vision Harry sees is not what he ought to have seen if the mirror works the way we’re told it does.
Point four, Dumbledore isn’t explaining things at all well, and has been aware of Harry’s addiction since it first happened, and makes a point of telling us that now Harry’s seen it he’ll be fine if he ‘happens’ to see it again.
Point five, Dumbledore has been watching him for several nights even though he was invisible when going to the room, and therefore knew where to watch for him in advance.
So, basically, Dumbledore set this entire thing up, presumably to get Harry’s mirror-addiction out of the way before it could be a problem and to plant the seeds of ‘but faaaaaamily’ as a reason for pretty much everything.
That is the only possible way to make sense of most of what’s happened throughout this chapter. Though it still doesn’t explain why Harry’s the only one to be addicted, out of the at least five people who will have looked at it by the end of the book (I’m assuming Dumbles has actually looked) or how Dumbledore knew that was going to be an issue. Or how that addiction now magically goes away – honestly I’m inclined to say Dumbledore engineered that too, though I can’t think of a reason why except to just get Harry used to being manipulated.
If anyone has a non-Illuminati theory that explains all the wild inconsistencies and implausible ‘coincidences’ here, please feel free to share.
I don’t know why this chapter is even here, except as a mixture of foreshadowing and filler, not that it does terribly well at either. It’s not relevant to the finale, since Harry doesn’t learn anything about the mirror that will be of use later – if he remembered this conversation then and realised how to use the mirror to his advantage, then I wouldn’t have a problem, but he doesn’t. Maybe it’s just to get Dumbles and Harry to meet face to face and set up the weird absolutely not student-teacher dynamic they’ll have for the rest of the series? Because otherwise it’s only here for a combination of angst and showing off the mirror.
Our current spell count has not changed: Hermione, 7. Ron, 1. Harry, 0.
Next time, more tantalising glimpses of a plot somewhere in the mess. Though I suppose I ought to force out another Silkworm post first…
And if you missed it, Mitchell published a post shortly before this one that you really ought to check out.
Have a bit of self-promotion for Darwin Day.
I am one of several contributors to a poetry collection called Filling the Void: A Selection of Atheist and Humanist Poetry, edited by Jonathan MS Pearce. The Kindle edition is available now and, from what he tells me, the physical/print version should be available in about a month.
If this sounds at all like something you’d enjoy, I highly encourage you to check it out – even disregarding my ego, there are quite a lot of interesting and thought-provoking entries, and in lots of different styles. (Though I will note that this is a collection of ‘atheist and humanist poetry’, not ‘poetry by atheists and humanists’: it’s organised along topical lines and they’re all germane to the subject in some way.)
I receive no financial benefit from my work being included, from promoting the book, or anything else. So please do not feel obligated to buy the book for my sake, but obviously I’ll be thrilled if it does interest you.
The next chapter of Philosopher’s Stone is in progress. In the meantime, have some decade-overdue attempts at worldbuilding. Continuing my new policy of avoiding the mess that Pottermore has become, you get Tor’s summary of it instead:
To summarise, Rowling has named four more of the eleven wizarding schools allegedly serving the entire planet.
Castelobruxo, in Brazil – according to the comments this is very dodgy linguistics and should more properly be Castelo dos Bruxos, though either way it just translates to ‘witch castle’ which is really boring. Looks like a ruin in the rainforest and has random magical creatures stopping Muggles trying to explore it. Serves the whole continent of South America (current population around 388 million, for reference). They’re good at herbology and magizoology.
Uagadoo, in Uganda. Presumably serves all of Africa (current population over a billion) but this isn’t explicitly stated. Seems to have its own magic system that doesn’t work along any Potterverse rules:
“Instead of owls, Dream Messengers leave tokens with chosen pupils; African witches and wizards practice wandless magic, opting instead for using fingers and hand gestures; and students have performed synchronized transformations into elephants and cheetahs, panicking other Animagi.”
Good at astronomy, alchemy and self-transfiguration. Apparently all magic originated in Africa too, which makes it even weirder that their magic doesn’t exist anywhere else. What the hell is a Dream Messenger?
Mahoutokoro, in Japan. More linguistic failure, apparently this collection of syllables simply isn’t possible in Japanese and should be spelled slightly differently according to someone in Tor’s comments, but I know precisely zip about it so I’m staying out of it (also, at best the name translates as ‘magic place’, which is perhaps even worse than ‘witch castle’). Random jade palace on an uninhabited island. They take children from 7 years old as day students who are flown back and forth on giant birds. Pupils wear colour-changing robes that show what they’re studying and how well they’re doing at it, so clearly they have a horrific bullying problem. No idea what they’re good at, but they have a Quidditch team, so probably ‘bugger all’.
Ilvermorny, in the USA. Why the American school has such a thoroughly Scottish name is not explained. Implausibly serves the entire continent of North America, population 528 million. Apparently Native American tribal magic was very important to the founding of it – hence the Scottish name, clearly… – and Rowling refuses to say where it is except ‘not in New York’. They don’t seem to be any good at anything either.
Mitchell is a masochist and chose to read the actual Pottermore articles, linked in the Tor summary, and he’ll throw some of the best/worst bits at you now.
Let’s have some fun with quotes. From here:
The wand is a European invention, and while African witches and wizards have adopted it as a useful tool in the last century, many spells are cast simply by pointing the finger or through hand gestures. This gives Uagadou students a sturdy line of defence when accused of breaking the International Statute of Secrecy (‘I was only waving, I never meant his chin to fall off’).
Silliness over consistency yet again, which I suppose is consistent with Rowling’s writing over the years but still disappointing. This is really not how ‘wandless magic’ has been depicted in the rest of her series.
There is also this:
Much (some would say all) magic originated in Africa, and Uagadou graduates are especially well versed in Astronomy, Alchemy and Self-Transfiguration.
I can’t decide whether or not I think this is horribly racist (it seems sketchy to me considering various Magical Negro tropes and/or Backwards Superstitious Africa tropes, but at the same time ‘humanity originated in Africa and therefore so did magic’ shouldn’t be objectionable…), but regardless there’s something very odd about the African school’s specialities being alchemy and astronomy when those are very thoroughly European/Western concepts.
the school offers very popular exchange programmes for European students* who wish to study the magical flora and fauna of South America
It would’ve been nice to have some indication in the actual stories that things like this existed (maybe this is what happened to the students like Sally-Anne Perks that Rowling forgot existed?). That asterisk indicates the following charming footnote:
* It was one of these trips that Bill Weasley’s parents could not afford, causing his disappointed penfriend at Castelobruxo to send him something nasty in the post.
As I said, charming. (Loten adds this is in fact canon, Ron mentions it at some point; I believe it was a cursed hat that made Bill’s ears shrivel up, or something.)
And whilst we are at least vaguely on the subject of quidditch, the article about the Japanese school tells us that they were taught the game
centuries ago by a band of foolhardy Hogwarts students who were blown off course during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe on wholly inadequate broomsticks
I’m too lazy to look it up, but the sport isn’t much more than a few centuries old according to Quidditch Through the Ages and she tried to depict a timeline of developments in the game in that book, so it could be interesting to see what she said the game would have been like at a time this could have happened. And then we get this gem
Every member of the Japanese Quidditch team and the current Champion’s League winners (the Toyohashi Tengu) attributes their prowess to the gruelling training they were given at Mahoutokoro, where they practise over a sometimes turbulent sea in stormy conditions, forced to keep an eye out not only for the Bludgers but also for planes from the Muggle airbase on a neighbouring island
We’re really returning to form here, this is the same stuff we got in the first book with Draco and Ron boasting about nearly encountering hang-gliders and helicopters and things. It’s still just as stupid; I understand what she’s trying to do to some degree, but if you want to maintain a hidden world you probably shouldn’t write its inhabitants as being so completely unconcerned about being seen, and imply that in essence the entire population of the world are unobservant idiots.
Relatively unrelated, but someone has already edited the Wikipedia article of the volcanic island Rowling chose as the location of the Japanese school to add that information. I looked it up because I wanted to see how old the island was and whether or not it would be completely uninhabitable; it looks like a pretty barren place, but it’s at least vaguely plausible I suppose.
Wasn’t that entertaining, boys and girls. The phrase ‘quit while you’re ahead’ has never been so apt. Tor implies we’ll eventually see details of the last four schools; presumably one in Australia or New Zealand, one in China, maybe one around the southern Mediterranean (Italy, Greece or Turkey perhaps) and one out in the Pacific somewhere? This all just makes it even more ridiculous that Britain gets a school to itself, with our population of 64 million.
And why does the entire wizarding world just plain suck at naming things? [Well, it’s a natural consequence of the fact that Rowling does, at least most of the time.]
Have fun discussing this latest mess, the next chapter of our adventure will be done… sometime next week, I should think. See you all then.