A Very Potter Retrospective

For the Harry Potter Readalong…

… I re-read Sorcerer’s Stone and Deathly Hallows, and read the following Harry-relevant books:

      

. . . . . . . . 

Messrs Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs advise readers that the following post contains

!!!!! SPOILERS !!!!!!

!!!!!SPOILERS!!!!!!!

!!!!!!SPOILERS!!!!!!

for the entire Harry Potter series.  Proceed at your own risk.

. . . . . . . .

PART ONE:  In which I somewhat-ramblingly reminisce.

My first Harry Potter book was an eighth-grade graduation gift, back in ‘99.  My younger cousin, whose family was visiting for the occasion, perked up when she saw what I’d gotten, saying her fifth-grade teacher had read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to the class that year, and that it was really good.

13-year-old Nerija wanted a tropical-themed party. And the other book is a blank journal.

I was at first a bit disappointed that the hero wasn’t a girl, but of course Harry very much endeared himself to me by the end of Chapter 2 (though I was, of course, pleasantly surprised when I learned that J. K. stood for Joanne Kathleen).

Flash ahead to the following summer, when I was very tempted to buy Goblet of Fire at an airport bookshop, going to and coming back from a Lithuanian summer camp in Vermont, where I’d watched enviously as another camper read her copy by the pond while the rest of us sunbathed or braved the phosphorescent orange-brown water.  But my mom wisely noted that it would be less expensive at a non-airport bookstore, and in retrospect I’m glad I supported the local children’s bookshop where I’d also bought Prisoner of Azkaban.

In between books, I submitted cheesy fanfics to Harry Potter’s Realm of Wizardry and FanFiction.net.  I read many stories, too, but must’ve missed the now-famous Draco trilogy, which became Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

I debated with my brother and cousins about such issues as the time-turner paradox at the end of Prisoner (i.e. Harry was only able to save himself from the dementors because he went back in time…but he was only able to go back in time after he’d saved himself from the dementors…)

And I pored through the post-Half-Blood Prince theories on the site formerly known as Dumbledoreisnotdead.com – my favorite was the nonverbal spell theory (i.e. that Snape said “Avada Kedavra” but thought a different spell, and thereby helped Dumbledore fake his death).

It was a glorious eight years.

. . . . . . . .

PART TWO:  Re-reading Sorcerer’s Stone and Deathly Hallows.

Ah, that innocent first year at Hogwarts, when Harry was just discovering chocolate frogs and wizard chess and broomstick-soccer Quidditch…

…when Hermione first changed from that bossy, stalker-ish know-it-all who kept harshing on Harry and Ron’s fun, to their still-bossy but loyal and more rule-flexible best friend.  Poor Hermione…yeah, she was kind of obnoxious before the troll incident, but I think she was just a) lonely and b) desperate to prove herself just as capable as all these kids who’d grown up knowing about magic.  Hence, her show-off-yness and constant talk about how much she’s studied.

…when the mood after Harry got through his end-of-the-year Voldemort encounter was much more cheerful, and not bittersweet like the endings of Goblet through Hallows.

Back then, Rowling’s created world was a mostly safe place, an escape from real life.  Yes, bad things happened to good people like Harry’s parents, but that was in the past; in Harry’s present-day experience, the villain was defeated and all our favorite characters were still alive at the end.

And back then, the good-guys and bad-guys were more clear-cut.  Even Snape.  His meanness was explained away as injured pride at having been saved by Harry’s dad.  And James Potter, of course, was still a shining figure, a spotless hero and role model for Harry.  We didn’t yet know he’d been “an arrogant toerag” [1] as a teen, and that Lily had once hated him

Side note:  It’s eerily telling that, while discussing the different Houses on the way to his first term at Hogwarts, James echoes Draco Malfoy’s words from Sorcerer’s Stone:

“Imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?” (Draco) [2]

                                              . . . . . . .

“Who wants to be in Slytherin?  I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?” (James) [3]

Nope, until Book Five, Lily and James were the poster couple, the nicest and best wizards that everyone was proud to know and devastated to lose.

This is the last of the American covers to show Harry smiling. It’s all frown-hill from here.               *ba-dum-KSHH!*

Book Four was the grim turning point.  After that, Rowling was as good as her word in making Voldemort and his followers more-than-cardboard villains.  Belatrix Lestrange once tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents, and happily tortures Hermione for information.  Fenrir Greyback brutally murders a five-year-old boy.  Voldemort murders a Hogwarts teacher and then pleasantly calls his pet snake to dinner.

And in Deathly Hallows, there are strong parallels between the Death Eaters – as well as wizards like Grindelwald – and the Nazi regime.  The Muggle-born Registration Commission.  The old symbol that was once innocuous, but now has ugly connotations.

There are other real-life, real-history elements, too, in the latter half of the series – the centuries-old mistrust between wizards and goblins (on a random lighter note, I LOVE that the goblins’ language is called “Gobbledegook”).  The use of house elves as slaves.

Speaking of which, is anyone else a smidge troubled that Harry’s last thought in Hallows, just before the Epilogue, is whether Kreacher could bring him a sandwich? Is it so ingrained in him to think of house elves as servants, even though he’s only known about them for a few years, and even though he was the one who freed Dobby and treated him with a respect that surprised and impressed the goblin Griphook?  I guess he feels differently about the house elf he “inherited” from his godfather?

Yeahhh, that’s a bit awkward…

As ravenously as I’d powered through Deathly Hallows five years ago, and even having watched the final two movies (and enjoyed them much more than the previous ones), I had a harder time getting through it on my second read-through.

I had to stop for a while after Harry’s fight with Lupin in Grimmauld Place.  I hated seeing Harry’s cruel words, even though I could understand where his rage was coming from, and even though it did have the desired effect of convincing Lupin to go back to Tonks and their soon-to-be-born child.

And by the end, although we get our expected final, unequivocal defeat of Voldemort and the Death Eaters, and though the Epilogue ends on a peaceful note, there’s still that very bittersweet mood.  George has to spend the rest of his life without his best friend and other half (though I’m more than willing to accept this as headcanon).  Teddy Lupin has to grow up, like Harry, without his parents.

Now, some positive moments in re-reading Hallows:

  • The Epilogue felt a lot less fanfic-ey this time.  The first time, I was speeding through so fast I thought it was Ginny squee-ing about Teddy and Victoire.  It made much more sense coming from 9-year-old Lily, and Harry’s response seemed much more natural, rather than expositioney.

           “Oh, it would be lovely if they got married!” whispered Lily ecstatically.  “Teddy would really be part of the family then!”

“He already comes round for dinner about four times a week,” said Harry  “Why don’t we just invite him to live with us and have done with it?” [4]

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, it only took me twelve years to understand the significance of that infamous twinkle in Dumbledore’s eye at the end of Goblet.  Once again, it was a matter of reading more slowly and carefully.  In Chapter 35 of Hallows, Dumbledore explains why Harry doesn’t really have to die to defeat Voldemort – because in Goblet, Voldemort had unknowingly made a(nother) link between himself and Harry by taking some of Harry’s blood…

Now, what exactly did Harry say in GoF that made Dumbledore’s eyes shine triumphantly?  Ding ding ding!  It was the part about Voldemort taking some of Harry’s blood!  Until that moment, Dumbledore thought the only way to kill Voldemort was for Harry to die, but when Harry mentioned the blood, Dumbledore realized there was a loophole – that he could have his cauldron cake and eat it, too!

  • Just as Voldemort became a fully-fleshed villain after Goblet (get it? ^_^; ) Dumbledore became more than a stock, god-like mentor.  It was almost alarming how different he was in Hallows, how he was seeking Harry’s reassurance. The Dumbledore in Books 1–6 was so wise and in control.  The theme of Half-Blood Prince was pretty much Do What Dumbledore Says No Matter What.

But like Harry, by the end of Hallows, we finally get to see the man as a human being whom we have a right to question, and even sometimes disobey (there’s that moment in the Room of Requirement, when Harry decides to confide in more people about his mission).

  • This:

And then a silver hare, a boar, and a fox soared past Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s heads:  The dementors fell back before the creatures’ approach.  Three more people had arrived out of the darkness to stand beside them, their wands outstretched, continuing to cast their Patronuses: Luna, Ernie, and Seamus.

“That’s right,” said Luna encouragingly, as if they were back in the Room of Requirement and this was simply spell practice for the D.A.  “That’s right, Harry . . . come on, think of something happy. . . .”

“Something happy?” he said, his voice cracked.

“We’re all still here,” she whispered, “we’re still fighting.  Come on, now. . . .” [5]

. . . . . . . .

Continued on page 2

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4 Responses to A Very Potter Retrospective

  1. Wow, this post is PACKED FULL of Potter love! It’s amazing, and thank you for sharing.
    I had to skip a few of your reviews since there are books I haven’t read yet (Harry, A History, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, and The Magic Ice Cream), but I enjoyed reading the other reviews.

    The main thing I want to comment on is Kreacher making Harry a sandwich. I haven’t re-read Deathly Hallows in a long time, and it’s coming up soon in my Harry Potter class, but we got into a long discussion about house elves yesterday, mainly because of SPEW. While we all agreed that it’s cruel to have slaves, we wondered about the reality that some house elves would want to stick with their masters because it’s better than trying to find work elsewhere and struggling. We compared it to after slavery was abolished and how many freed slaves stayed with their masters for pay because it was better than suffering without work elsewhere. It took up a big chunk of out class, so I won’t ramble too long, but there’s definitely a lot to think about in regards to house elves and slavery. The main thing we wondered was if Harry and Ron were so unkind about the house elves in Goblet of Fire because they are teenagers, and that’s kind of how teenagers act. Does it make it right? No. That being said, I almost want Harry to have someone make him a sandwich after all the torment he endured over the years with the Dursley family, not to mention everything with Voldemort. Boy deserves a sandwich, haha!

    • Nerija S. says:

      Boy deserves a sandwich, haha!
      LOL, he definitely does, after all that! And I do understand the point about him being a teenager, and that affecting his worldview. And he does feel very differently about Kreacher than about Dobby or other house elves, considering Kreacher’s loyalty to the Malfoys and his part in Sirius’ death.
      Still, it was good to hear Hermione and Dumbledore’s views — i.e. that Kreacher is the way he is because of who’s treated him well vs. who’s neglected him. Even Sirius made the point about a person’s character showing in how he treats those he considers “inferior” (which, ironically, came back to haunt him in terms of his treatment of Kreacher).

      Thanks for visiting! 😀

  2. bookingmama says:

    What an incredible post! Thanks so much for sharing! It’s truly a great way to pay tribute to some of my favorite books!

    • Nerija S. says:

      Thank you! This was definitely one of my favorite posts to write…I’m very nostalgic in general, and it was just a matter of time before I had a Potter-related review 🙂

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