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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jiggery Pokery: Or Our Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Victoria and I are still posting away on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook but now that we've finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets we wanted to discuss some of our thoughts here more in depth.

V: I enjoyed Chamber of Secrets much more than I anticipated. It's not my favorite HP book, and though I obviously love all of the books in the series, Sorcerer's Stone and Prisoner of Azkaban stand out so much more to me, leaving Chamber of Secrets behind in the dust. But I really liked it this time. I'm much fonder of this book than I thought, and I think this is because I actually slowed down and paid more attention to the book than I normally would have. Have you experienced this with either of the books we've read so far?? I know most people seem to like books 4 and 5 best (which is strange to me because those two are my least favorite), so what's your opinion on these two early books?? Things really start to get darker in Prisoner of Azkaban (as if they weren't dark enough already), so I'm curious to know what you think of the first two books, since they are generally considered to be more lighthearted and are aimed at a younger audience.  The beginning of the series is very special to me because Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all closest to my age in these books (I was 8). However, having finished Chamber of Secrets again and really enjoyed it this much, I might have to reevaluate my long-standing favorites list of Potter books.
M: I've loved both of these books the second time around. Chamber of Secrets was a bit different than Sorcerer's Stone because even though there is plenty of magic it is less magical; maybe that's just me... I was surprised by how dark this book is. As you say, these two early books are the most lighthearted and this one is full of some pretty heavy stuff. I don't recall connecting more heavily with any one book in the series over another. I connect heavily with scenes involving Neville Longbottom of which I think Book Five has the most - so Order of Phoenix all the way! 
My big thing coming out of Chamber of Secrets though is the foreshadowing!! I know that you have been noticing this stuff from the beginning but anyone familiar with later events in the series cannot deny that JK basically knew what was going to go down in the end at this early date. She begins to build on the relationship between Harry and Voldemort in a way that affects the last actions of the series. It's brilliant really.
Then, though I'm hesitant to bring this up, there's the Ron-Hermione thing. Rowling and Emma Watson recently questioned rather or not Ron and Hermione would have ended up together/had a happy life together. First let's take away the fact that they are children when we know them and we know nothing of their adult life experiences and just deal with this - they are twelve years old in this book and Ron is already so dead loyal to Hermione. Something happened between Books One and Two that changed their dynamic. I will say this, Ron is already clearly in love with Hermione and his reactions to her being abused and harmed in this book prove that. And it's heartwarming and adorable and I like to imagine them happy together in their later years even if Hermione is far more accomplished than Ron. Agreed?
V: I completely agree about the foreshadowing and the Ron/Hermione thing 100%. Ron clearly has deep feelings for her, even if at this point they are only friendship-feelings. He works very hard to defend her in this book, and I really loved it. But I also love that no matter how much he defends Hermione, he still treats her like just Hermione. He doesn't put her on a pedestal and refuse to see her flaws or anything. He still finds her annoying sometimes, he still thinks she's silly and weird and reads too much...it's what makes their friendship and later their romantic relationship so normal and believable. Because sure, Ron makes fun of Hermione plenty, but when push comes to shove, he'll support her completely. 
I think you make a very good point about the fact that we don't see these characters fully into their adult lives. I personally think Ron changes a LOT by the end of the series. It's impossible to watch these two 12 year olds and decide whether or not they could succeed romantically. 
I pointed out SO MUCH FORESHADOWING in my copy of the book. It’s all over the place. I don't know if you noticed, but they even mentioned Mundungus Fletcher early on in this book. Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince are very closely connected books, even JKR said so, and it's obvious and impossible to ignore once you know it's there. I paid special attention to Dumbledore in the closing scenes when Harry hands him Riddle's diary and explains what it did. Because Dumbledore knows a lot more in that scene than he lets on, and you can usually tell. He's quite interested in such an object. 
I also really loved Dobby in this one, though he's changed a little for me. I noticed that Dobby really does only care about keeping Harry safe. Dobby isn't interested in trying to stop the danger or save everyone else, he's interested in keeping Harry safe. This, combined with Dobby's beautiful explanation of what Harry means to the lowly like himself really moved me. Harry literally is Dobby's greatest hope. Harry is the one shining light in a world of darkness for Dobby and other such creatures. It helps explain Firenze's reaction to Harry in Book 1, and it's something that, reading the books mostly from Harry's perspective, we really don't get to see. Just like Harry, we have NO IDEA what the dark days were like. We get some of it by Book 7, but it's not quite the same. We don't really have the benefit of understanding just how much hope and joy Harry brought to the entire Wizarding world. Dobby gives us (and Harry) a little glimpse into that, and I loved it. 
For the record, I super love Lockhart as a character. He's so terrible and over the top that I can't help but love him. Every scene he's in is absolutely hilarious.
M: I totally love Lockhart too! I'm always curious about how that happens - here's this person that anyone would detest upon actually meeting them but the author has molded him into something so gloriously over the top that you can't help but enjoy the scenes that he is in. Gilderoy Lockhart is just beyond and I love it even if it is hard to reconcile the actual havoc he leaves in his wake (not at Hogwarts necessarily but throughout his entire life).
Oh, and Firenze. I am so intrigued by the centaurs and I'm excited to encounter them again later. They embody the sort of beautiful mystery of magic for me. Within Hogwarts we have the actual learning of magic and skills needed to perform it but out there in the Forbidden Forest and beyond we have this wealth of creatures that are in harmony with the magical world - that's very intriguing.
I hadn't really thought about what Harry means to lower lifeforms in the Wizarding world, but I thought a lot about the...should we call it racism? classism? I guess overall prejudice would be the most apt phrasing. Chamber of Secrets is saying a lot about prejudice and judging on merit rather than by blood (or what have you), and what is interesting about that is that Harry completely lacks these prejudices - he has difficulty being unkind to garden gnomes. Growing up Muggle (oh man, that should totally be the title of your memoir by the way) Harry considers all magical creatures equal and equally amazing. As does the reader, which has real world implications. In so many ways this series serves as a morality fable, and like all the best children's literature before it you are so entertained you don't even realize you are learning to be a better person.

V: Exactly! There's just so much! It's what makes these books so magical. There's a whole world out there we never even get to see. The fact that it feels so real that parts that don't even exist in the books can exist in my head is its own kind of magic. I also completely agree about the prejudice ideas you mentioned. That becomes incredibly important in this book and once again foreshadows the development of the rest of the series. Book 2 is the first time Harry has to come to terms with the fact that the Wizarding world is not all magic, wonder, and happiness. There are some really dark things going on, and they don't all stem from Voldemort. 
So that wraps up Chamber of Secrets! We've watched Harry face down He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named twice already, and now it's time to take a turn into the first book in the series that does not feature the series' main villain. We're delving into Prisoner of Azkaban, and I know I certainly can't wait to meet some of my favorite characters in the series once again! Get ready for "double, double, toil and trouble!"

Monday, May 19, 2014

Nitwit! Blubbler! Oddment! Tweak! Or our thoughts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Victoria and I have just finished the first book in our re-read of the Harry Potter series. I think I’ve already gone through every stage of joy and grief – this is going to be one emotional summer. We’ve been sharing our thoughts on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook but we wanted to take a little time here an discuss what coming back to the series has been like.
M: When I started re-reading Sorcerer's Stone I planned to ignore the elements of the story that I know, which is basically everything that happens. I knew I couldn't just forget all of the details, but I didn't want to concentrate on them. This worked out pretty well for me until I saw Hedwig for the first time...knowing what happens in future novels all of a sudden overwhelmed me. This feeling only grew as Harry encountered more of my most beloved characters. I know from Twitter that you are keeping information from later novels in mind as you read; what particularly is coloring your view of this early part of the series?
V: A lot, really. Strangely, I seem to be able to simultaneously keep future details in mind and also read it with fresh eyes, so my perceptions are not entirely colored by knowing what happens. I keep marking bits that foreshadow later events in the series, like Hagrid mentioning that you'd be mad to try and rob Gringotts. There's so much that comes back later, and I really love tracing the thread through the whole series. Some people don't believe that JKR planned it all throughout, but there are just too many little connections for it NOT to have been planned out. 
One thing I have noticed that really struck me: these kids are witty, intelligent, and curious, and they seem completely real to me, but they definitely are still written as eleven year olds. Certain phrases or thoughts betray their youth and immaturity sometimes, and I can't help but love it while at the same time it makes me really sad. I got really sentimental when Hagrid mentioned that after seven years at Hogwarts Harry won't know himself, because that's exactly what happens. In the beginning of Book 7, Harry tours Privet Drive one last time and thinks back on his childhood self with sadness, feeling as though he's lost a younger brother. Knowing the end makes the beginning that much sadder and more precious, I suppose. I relish the innocence. 
Reading these books again feels like a breath of fresh air. It's like I didn't even know I'd been holding my breath until I started reading and discovered what breathing really was. I know it's a silly analogy, but that's the best I can describe it. It's been much too long. I didn't realize how much I was aching to return to this world.
Has anything in particular, besides Hedwig, struck you differently this time since you know what's coming?? I keep noticing even little things, like the fact that Quirrell is the teacher who stumbles upon Filtch yelling at Harry and Ron for trying to break into the 3rd floor corridor. Like, of course that's where Quirrell was hanging around. Does it change the book for you at all?? I always feel that it simply adds another dimension to my reading.
M: So far the only thing that has really struck me has been watching Harry meet characters whose destinies I am aware of (I'm trying not to be too spoilery here and that makes writing about the series a little awkward sometimes). A few little details that I never noticed as a kid are visible to me as an adult reader (some good, others less so). One thing that really excited me was when Harry went in to Ollivander's and Ollivander so clearly remembered his parents and their wands. That's the type of bookseller I strive to be; intimately familiar with both my books and their readers. The book chooses its reader just as a wand chooses a wizard; I love being the facilitator of that choice.
I was really surprised that it took over 100 pages to get to Hogwarts. The school has come to mean so much to readers of the novels yet almost half of the first book is spent outside of it! But the journey was really lovely. Anything surprising you this time around?
V: Ooh I noticed the Ollivander/bookseller analogy too, though I was also thinking librarian with all the old dusty wands. I really can't help liking Ollivander.
I posted on Tumblr about my Diagon Alley love. It's second to Hogwarts for me, but definitely above Hogsmeade and even the Burrow. It's just so full of magic and wizardry, and it's also one of my favorite scenes in the film. 
Many of the characters are surprising me. The films watered many of them down or played them for laughs. Characters like the Dursleys, Malfoy, and Snape are all much crueler and more intense than I normally picture them being. It's been really getting to me. The cruelty of the Dursleys in particular bothered me this time around, and I think it's because I really appreciate how YOUNG 11 actually is (my brother just turned 10). They are shoving this child in a cupboard and telling him he can't have meals?? And he doesn't even understand why, necessarily. Harry knows it's cruel, but it's just life to him, and his acceptance of it only makes it worse. What a terrible life this child has known. No love, no affection, nothing but meanness, spite, and cruelty for absolutely no reason. And he doesn't know any better. He never even questions it or wonders why. All his worries about Hogwarts in the beginning are that he's going to be sent back to the Dursleys. His biggest fear in the first book (until Voldemort shows up) is that they will send him back to Privet Drive. Snape's bullying got to me too. He calls Neville an idiot in his very first potions lesson. What adult teacher calls an eleven year old an idiot on their first day of class because they made a mistake?? Snape is often placed on a pedestal as a tragic hero because of what we learn about him later, and I think it's valuable to look back at the beginning and see him as the mean-spirited and terrible person he often was, especially toward children over whom he held authority. It's painful to read sometimes. 
The powerlessness of the children struck me this time, I guess. Their powerlessness in the face of cruel and powerful adults who misuse their authority in order to mistreat children. 

M: I’m sure we will both have a lot to say about the development of the characters as time goes by. It’s become almost cliché to say that these books aged with the generation that first read them but that truly is the case. I’ve never been a Snape enthusiast though I know he has his very vocal fans; I’ll be interested to hear more of your thoughts on this perceived “tragic hero.” But for now, it’s time for me to dive in to book two! Be sure to follow our conversation on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook and let us know what you think about the books.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Let the Magic Begin!

Welcome to Hogwarts! Today kicks off our CHB Harry Potter Social Media Book Club! Join in the magical fun by picking up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone! Share your thoughts, memories, fan art, fanfiction, or (for first time readers) your theories! We accept all types of wizard readers (even Slytherins)! Look for a full blog post  from Michelle and me about the book next Monday, May 19th!

Happy Reading!

*buries self in Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived*

World Book Night: The Fifth Batch

With this five I have now read twenty-seven of the thirty-five WBN choices; the final eight will have to wait for me a while as Victoria and I began our re-read of the Harry Potter series yesterday, and I’ll be in a state of Potter mania for the bulk of the summer!

Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat and Other Stories has left me with a hunger for short works. The stories in this collection are wonderful. With such a small amount of space Lee was about to fully draw me in to each story and make me care about the lives of her characters. All the while I was lingering over various lines and phrases simply admiring the prose. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by Lee and I thank the WBN committee for introducing me to these stories!

Can something be both idyllic and jaded? If so, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin is a wonderful mingling of the two. This novel of an almost-but-not-quite magical apartment building in San Francisco in the 1970s was such an entertaining read. This book is full of wit, heart, and sass – it’s just a good time.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is one of those books you have to talk about. I have probably mentioned some element of this book in conversation every day since I started reading it. The idea of “little things” making a “big difference” and just what makes things tip is compelling and so interesting to talk about. Definitely a good choice for book clubs (of which it has been a staple for a while now) as it is sure to get conversations going.
Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon have created a perfect middle grade mystery in Zora and Me. Using facts from Zora Neale Hurston’s early life they imbued this novel with a pitch perfect sense of time and place. The imagination at the center of this story fully realizes the spirit of Zora and her tall tales – child readers will enjoy the fun and fear of the mystery while adult readers see a portrait of the child Zora who will continue to challenge established ideas, create great stories, and teach us much about race and history through her collections of folklore. And adult readers get to enjoy the fun too.

Reading Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers was a jarring experience. Myers lulls readers with the monotony and boredom of everyday life for soldiers in Iraq; then just as you settle into that idea of life catastrophe strikes. The sheer psychic rift of inaction shifting dangerously fast into violent action was the greatest thing I took from this novel. While it is still difficult for me to imagine the life of a solider I feel that this novel helped put me into their frame of mind.


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