In this episode, we discuss: Platform 9 3/4, nice Weasleys, portrait boogers, boss Hermione, the four humours, the four Houses, diversity in the Sorting system, why Republicans and Slytherins should compare notes, how Confederate flags lead to Voldemort, Hufflepuff is judging you, racist pie and magical algorithms, the Michael Jackson of the Wizarding world, Harry’s dream life, Hogwarts P.E., medieval morality expressed in cathedrals, penis trees and fart trumpets, Dark Magic Moves perfume ads, Snape Snape Severus Snape, herbalism and symbolism, and why Daily Prophet quotes are gold. (Also, for this half of the episode, please pardon background noise. Maintenance workers have no respect for art or fart jokes.)
Welcome back to Advanced Muggle Studies! I am Professor Seraphine, and today we are considering – if we can get through them all – chapters 6-10 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. That’s a big if, because we talk a lot.
C: I think we can do it. I have faith in us.
Chapter 6: Platform Nine and Three-Quarters
S: We start with the journey from Platform 9 ¾. Was there anything in this chapter that you particularly enjoyed?
C: In the whole chapter? Let me see.
S: It starts pretty basic, Harry goes back to the Dursleys and they’re kind of terrified of him, which is kind of depressing, but it’s not that bad. Harry names his owl Hedwig, and he’s starting to read his school books. Now he’s realizing he’s got to get to King’s Cross, so he asks Uncle Vernon about taking him to the train station, at which point Vernon lets him know that the platform he’s supposed to be on doesn’t actually exist. But he’s got to go to London anyway, because, you know, Dudley’s gotta get that tail taken off.
So they load up and go to King’s Cross, and then Uncle Vernon very kindly leaves him there. Nice, right?
C: As you do.
S: I guess Vernon didn’t care. What would happen if Harry hadn’t been able to go off to school? And he just took off?
C: He would have thought that was a great outcome, I’m sure.
S: I guess Harry would find his way back home if he really really wanted to? Nice move, Vernon. Very classy.
C: It’d be great for the Dursleys if he just ran away or got lost because that would mean he never came home instead of coming home at end of term.
S: This is an excellent point. Now we have Harry stuck, trying to figure out how to get to Platform 9 ¾. Which – it’s a fantastic way of doing this. You can’t come up with a much better way to signal that your character is about to sideslip between worlds than by having him do it by going between two platforms in a way that puts him literally between worlds.
The only way he figures out how to get on the platform, of course, is via a large group of merry redheads coincidentally passing his way.
We meet the Weasleys! Molly, Ginny, Percy, the twins who don’t know who is who – and Ron. This chapter is a lot of us meeting our first people in these world, especially the Weasleys, and Harry trying to get his footing.
C: I think these might be the first nice people he’s ever met.
S: Very possible. They are super nice. So he learns that you go up to the barrier between 9 and 10 and just slip through. He goes up to the barrier at a run and is afraid he’ll crash, but he doesn’t, and finds himself on the platform for the Hogwarts Express with the scarlet steam engine, and it’s a madhouse because that’s how the wizarding world is – people, carts, owls and craziness.
We get some side intros to characters we’ll see later and I like that these intros are representative of who they are. The first thing we ever hear Neville say is that he’s lost his toad. The first thing we see of Lee Jordan is him with a giant hairy insect in a box. You get a pretty basic understanding of who these people are just through these.
The first of the Weasleys to really interact with Harry are the twins, helping him with his trunk, whereas of course in the movie the first person he really interacts with other than Mrs. Weasley helping him onto the platform is Ron. I always forget that the twins were the first to reach out to Harry.
C: They’re nice. I’m not sure it’s in these chapters, but they did something nice even though they might have meant it to be annoying, but there’s more to them than being pranksters.
S: And saying the same thing at the same time, which was all the movies seemed to think they were good for, which was annoying. You get so much of these people from this overheard dialogue – the twins teasing Percy for being pompous over being a prefect, for example. It’s great dialogue because it’s not a lot but it’s conveying a strong sense of character.
The train heads off and we get the scene we all know from the movie, where Ron joins Harry in his compartment, and we have our fateful meeting of two of our three main characters.
C: Bros for life!
S: Ron is so timid in this scene at first. He’s unsure and awkward. Like you brought up last time, we get Ron’s situation – 6th in the family to go to Hogwarts, Bill was Head Boy, Charlie was Quidditch captain, Percy’s a prefect, Fred and George are really popular, and he’s just Ron. Everything he has is hand-me-down and used, including Scabbers, more than he knows, but that’s for later.
C: Poor Scabbers my ass.
S: I like that the two of them – there’s a line that Harry finds Ron just as interesting as Ron finds him, because he’s never met anyone from a wizarding family, and Ron is like, “OMG YOU’RE HARRY POTTER.” So they get on famously, because they both find each other fascinating.
I do love this line: “I think Mum’s got a second cousin who’s an accountant, but we never talk about him.”
C: That is so – what is the word – species-ist? But they’re not a different species.
S: He’s the black sheep of the family.
C: Like it’s not hard enough that he’s a Squib, but they have to shun him as well?
S: Sucks, doesn’t it? But on the upside the Trolley Witch shows up, NOT talking about Ottaline Gambol.
C: WHO THE HELL IS OTTALINE GAMBOL?? I NEED TO KNOW.
S: She gave her the job! She’s VERY IMPORTANT.
C: Was she her boss? The person who hired her? Was she secretly in love with her? Were they passionate lovers for years? I need answers to these questions.
S: I’m going with the last one. I got the impression there was really something there.
C: That’s my favorite one.
S: But she was so obsessive about her job as the Trolley Witch, and she wouldn’t leave her job for Ottaline Gambol, which led to a tragic separation and her losing her identity aboard the Hogwarts Express forever!
C: And just becoming a bizarre immortal whatever the hell she was in that stupidass play.
S: What does she do when the train isn’t running?
C: Reside in St. Mungo’s? They take her out twice a year, dust her off and let her loose for a few hours?
S: I guess! This chapter’s really great for scene setting, world building, little details. Your first glimpse into the wizarding world from a kid’s perspective with all the amazing candy. I love that J.K. Rowling knows that if you’re going to have a magical world, you’re going to have DAMN GOOD CANDY. And she doesn’t disappoint. All these candies, the way they’re described, are amazing.
C: I will take some of each.
S: Which is what Harry does, and he’s happy to do, because he’s never had money or anyone to buy things for, so he’s like, I will have all of it! And he and Ron just sit down, plow through the candy and have a great time.
C: Can I just say it’s very nice of Harry to start with, “Swap you for one of these”?
S: Yes, he’s got some respect for Ron’s pride, which was nice. And after a while the sandwiches are forgotten. We get our Chocolate Frogs with the collecting frogs and a few little references to people in history you might not have suspected were wizards, but now you know! Like Agrippa, or Ptolemy!
C: I like it.
S: And we get some very pertinent information that will be useful later, but you don’t know it because she has cleverly disguised it as biographical information on a trading card. That clever bastard. We get Albus Dumbledore’s card, which tells us about Grindelwald and his work on alchemy with Nicolas Flamel, and that he loves bowling which is also very important. Also, wizards don’t stay in their pictures.
C: Don’t forget the Druidiess Cliodna!
S: Yeah, Dumbledore, Morgana, which is Arthurian legend, Hengist of Woodcroft, Circe, Paracelsus and Merlin. A lot of Greek and British folklore and legends coming together.
C: Oh man, what would you do if you were a picture in these moving portraits and you had a booger?
S: I would hope the people who painted the portraits wouldn’t give them the capacity to have a booger, but I don’t know! Sometimes I’m not sure. The way these portraits are made – what exactly are the limitations?
C: You could go down so many rabbit holes, but we won’t.
S: We do that as it is, but we’ll try to refrain from rabbit holes until we get to serious rabbit hole material. We meet Neville again, looking for his toad, and we meet Ron’s unicorn hair wand which is very old, and he’s trying to do a spell to turn Scabbers yellow. Then Hermione comes in.
C: If that’s Charlie’s old wand, why did Charlie get a new wand if there’s nothing wrong with this one?
S: Only thing I can think is when he started working, maybe he bought another wand for himself and gave that wand to Ron because he knew his parents couldn’t afford another one. Although I don’t know why he wouldn’t buy one for Ron, which would be nice. Not sure why he would have handed it down.
C: We know he’s got one…
S: Maybe he got a work-issue wand. Kind of like a work vehicle.
C: Or a work phone.
S: Hermione comes in trying to help Neville find his toad in what I can only imagine is an extremely efficient way. And she stays to see Ron trying to do magic. I like that very early on Rowling disabuses us of the idea of what magic will look like in this world. We have a lot of notions and cultural influences informing our ideas of magic. A lot of times it’s magic words like Abracadabra, but it’s also these lengthy spells, that rhyme, and I like that she very quickly lets us know that this is not what this looks like and this will not work.
C: “Are you sure that’s a real spell? Well, it’s not very good, is it?” I love Hermione.
S: How Ron fell for that, I do not know. And the fact that Hermione’s tried spells at home is a little worrisome. Maybe she doesn’t know she’s not supposed to do magic at home, and her parents are totally fine with her trying it, which is funny. I’m so curious about Hermione’s parents. They must be very interesting people.
C: Both dentists.
S: Interesting dentists! Because no one else in her family is magic, and her parents are cool with it – we see them come to Diagon Alley in book 2 and hang out with the Weasleys, so her parents are cool. Probably a little stunned by all of this, but cool.
C: Well, they raised a great kid.
S: Our first intro to Hermione: she’s talking a mile a minute, super smart, probably a little intimidating in that know it all bossy sort of phase. But not in a bad way. I know the boys find her annoying, but maybe because I’m a girl, I’m just thinking – man, she’s cool.
C: If you can’t already tell from what I’ve said, she is by far my favorite character.
S: I will have a lot to say about how Rowing deals with Hermione in this series, but I am eternally grateful to her for creating a character like this. Hermione is boss.
Once she leaves we get another discussion of the Houses, and then we get a plot point about someone trying to rob a high security vault in Gringotts, which kind of alarms Harry but he quickly gets distracted talking about Quidditch, because everyone does.
And then we get Draco. He’s come round with his two flunkies, and now that he’s found out who Harry is, he’s much more interested in talking to him. This gives you an idea immediately of who Draco is. He wasn’t interested overmuch in talking to him before, but now that he knows who he is socially and in relation to other people, he’s much more interested in him. This is the first time Harry learns who he is in relation to this world, which is apparently part of a family that thinks they’re better than other wizarding families.
C: Well, they’re wrong.
S: Totally. I mean, really. Malfoy. Could you not have a more ominous name? It’s got “mal” right in it, “draco” which means dragon – this kid was destined to be an ass, one way or the other. He’s destined to be so much of a douche that he grows up and names his child Scorpius. There’s no hope for him.
C: And yet somehow snagged what seemed to have been a very nice wife.
S: Must have been his dazzling good looks.
Harry is like, okay, good for you being awesome with your bad self, but I’m not so interested in being in your clique and I can make my decisions for myself. Which immediately leads to them all about to fight each other. Crabbe and Goyle go to take Harry and Ron’s candy, and Scabbers finally does something useful and bites him on the knuckle, making them leave.
C: Why does Peter Pettigrew bite him?
S: Why not?
C: He’s not exactly a good guy.
S: No, he’s not. But he’s also not just one thing. I loathe Peter Pettigrew personally, but if we assume he’s not a flat character, as most of these aren’t, we also know that he was a small hanger-on, who hung around the other three because they were cool and talented and smart, and they included him, which made him feel good. Maybe the fact that he’s lived relatively safely and comfortably with the Weasleys for quite a long time, and then in come these boys being bullies, I imagine he doesn’t care for that. Other than the fact that it’s misdirection. Rowling doesn’t want us to think anything about Scabbers until she’s good and ready for us to think about Scabbers, so he needs to behave like Ron’s pet rat would, until he doesn’t. But maybe he was just like, these guys are stupid. I imagine he didn’t feel like putting up with the bullies. Doesn’t make him a good person, but not entirely horrible.
Now we have our big transition – getting off the train, Hagrid guiding everyone to the boats, the boats crossing the lake, and we finally make it to the castle. So at this point we are definitely at our First Threshold of the hero’s journey – the point where you cross, leaving the known limits of your world, venturing into an unknown realm where the rules and limits are not known. It’s sink or swim, at this point.
C: And, most importantly, Neville gets Trevor back.
S: He’s “blissful” to find Trevor.
Chapter 7: The Sorting Hat
S: We start to get some interesting stuff, like the first time Harry meets Prof. McGonagall his first thought is that this is someone you do not want to mess with.
C: Very true. Good judge of character, is Harry Potter.
S: That’s a very accurate assessment! He doesn’t get gaslit very much, does he?
C: He wouldn’t, say, develop a crush on the daughter of a Dark wizard.
S: Or fall for her bullshit stories. I’d like to think, anyway. The Sorting Hat chapter is where we get more about the Houses and how the school is organized. We find that it was founded by 4 people and you’ve got the four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin. We get the setup for the house points and house cup. Everyone’s nervous, not sure how they’re going to be sorted.
We meet the ghosts, here too. And now we get our first view inside the Great Hall, which never ceases to be amazing – thousands of candles floating over the tables, golden plates and goblets, hundreds of faces, a velvety black ceiling dotted with stars- the Great Hall is always amazing.
C: I wish that I could enchant the ceiling of my house. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
S: Life would be so much better! Now we get the Sorting Hat song. Every year it has a song about sorting. As Ron says later, it’s a hat, what else is it going to do?
We find out about the 4 houses through the song. Gryffindor, the brave of heart, “their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart”; Hufflepuffs, where “they are just and loyal, those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil”; Ravenclaw, “if you’ve a ready mind, where those of wit and learning will always find their kind”; or Slytherin, “Where you’ll make your real friends, these cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends.”
So they put on the hat! That’s how you get Sorted. The Houses – this 4 basic temperaments or personality types – has a Greco-Roman basis in the notion of the four humours or four temperaments. This comes from Hippocrates’ medical theory of humourism, that there were 4 main bodily fluids that affected your personality and behavior, and if you were ill you needed to balance your humours. Which is, unfortunately, a lot of the influence on the terrible process of bloodletting, because the idea was that humours were contained in the blood and just needed to be balanced. But the humours are remarkably reflective of the four houses. The four types are sanguine, (blood), choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Sanguine, which would be red – “optimistic, active, social.” Choleric – “Short tempered, fast, irritable.” Melancholic – “analytical, wise and quiet.” Phlegmatic – “relaxed and peaceful.”
Tweak the color associations a bit and you’ve got the 4 houses. Sanguine is Gryffindor – optimistic, gutsy, hearty. Choleric is Slytherin. Melancholic is Ravenclaw, and Phlegmatic is Hufflepuff. She’s taken an extremely old model, which is fitting given that this is based on the 4 founders, from hundreds of years ago when the school was founded. She’s taking a classical model and has built her world around it, wherein people are sorted based on where they fall.
What do you think about the Sorting system?
C: “Arbitrary” isn’t the right word, but it does want to put you in a specific box.
S: There’s definitely a box. Which is good, and bad. It puts you in a bubble – we rarely meet more than a handful of people who aren’t Gryffindors, because they stick together. Which is good, but you’re surrounding yourself with people like you. Is that good? I don’t know.
C: I don’t think it’s necessarily good for people in Slytherin, because they seem to be the most likely to become bewitched by Dark magic and become not great people. It’s maybe not a great idea to let them stew in their own evilness. Spread them out among other people and let them absorb some better qualities or focus on their own better qualities as opposed to what they do now.
S: At the very least, exposure to different people. Diversity is a good thing.
C: Also, we know it’s not 100% the case based on the Patil twins and Sirius, but people tend to be sorted a lot by family. The wizarding population is not enormous. If people get sorted by family, and you tend to hang with the people form your house, and marry people from your house, that’s going to really narrow the diversity.
S: Yeah, the world has set itself up to be factional. The family thing makes sense, in that if your parents are Gryffindors, you’re raised in their values, you go to Hogwarts, guess what? You’re a Gryffindor. The idea behind the Sorting Hat is that it has the intelligence of the four founders, and it’s skilled in Legilimency.
I guess we need to talk about Slytherin, since we’re here. I had an epiphany last year about Slytherin. It was because I read an article, I don’t remember where. It was during the presidential race, I think the primaries, and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had not yet gained ascendancy. But at the time people were starting to notice ugly things coming out of one particular side of the race. The article I read talked about the problem with the Republican party, which was that they had tolerated and allowed these attitudes to exist in the party without condemning them.
C: Taking advantage off of them and thriving off them, actually.
S: Absolutely. This was being a little generous. But around this time even some Republicans were becoming dismayed by the openness of the racism, xenophobia and white supremacy coming out.
C: Not that they’ve done anything about it since they’ve actually been in office.
S: No, and up to this point, without any self-awareness they failed to see that they’d created this culture and actively cultivated it. But then that’s the problem – when you have a society that knows this faction exists in your society, and you don’t actively work to eliminate it, and you tacitly let it be, by doing that you’re saying it’s okay to be part of your society. So when it comes out and takes control, you can’t be surprised because you allowed it to stay.
C: Gotta hear both sides, right?
S: And I thought about Slytherin and the houses. This has happened repeatedly. And Hogwarts has a problem – not in allowing Slytherin house as a place for the cunning and ambitious – but you are allowing to remain in your basic framework for your students, your future adults, your world, an ideology largely centered on racism. By allowing that to remain, actively putting people into that classification and encouraging them to identify with that identity, what are you doing? You’re endorsing and tacitly approving those attitudes. You’re just acting like it has to exist and left alone. So how can you be surprised when someone stands up and says “I hate all Muggles and Muggle-borns and want to destroy them. Wizards First! Purebloods only!” How can you be surprised by that?
C: What do you do with the kids who should be in Slytherin, then?
S: Why can’t you – shouldn’t it be possible to separate the notion of being ambitious and clever and strategic from Slytherin’s racist views? By doing so you might have to divest yourself of his name. You might have to realize that by continuing to have Salazar Slytherin as a symbol of something aspirational in your culture, you are allowing his views to be active and alive. You might have to say, “You know, this man achieved some great things, but it’s hard to extract his legacy from the bad things he represented and if we’re going to progress as a society we’ve got to put that aside.” I know in American society, that’s anathema and heretical. It’s like saying, “Let’s not name schools Robert E. Lee High School!” Or let’s not fly Confederate flags!
C: But see, in America, we never do anything wrong. Because God is on our side, and we are exceptional.
S: Yeah, fuck that. Besides, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named just said in an interview that we’re not better than Russia.
C: Interesting how when he says it, there’s no problem from Fox News or Republicans. But can you imagine if Clinton or Obama said that?
S: I saw that on Twitter last night. Someone said that if Obama had said that they would be trying to impeach him already. Aside from the fact that that tactic, “What about this,” is a classic Soviet propaganda technique called ‘whataboutism’ that the USSR used repeatedly in arguments that it was behaving badly toward its citizens. Its response would be to select something from the West and use it to deflect without answering the charge. So the fact that our president is spouting Soviet propaganda techniques should worry us. But who cares, he’s a “successful businessman.”
C: He’s going to make America great again!
S: Yeah, we’re fucked.
C: Don’t buy a house any time soon. Bad idea.
S: I feel like being born any time soon is a bad idea.
C: My sister is reading The Handmaiden’s Tale for the first time, and I told her, “Oh good, you’re getting a preview of your daughter’s future!”
S: Yeah, the series is coming out on Hulu soon. Very much looking forward to that.
But this is the problem I have with Slytherin, and it’s the problem I have with the end of the series, when Harry’s kids are still stressing over being sorted into Slytherin. How did we not learn our lesson? In the later books they talk a lot about being divided, and we need to be united because when we’re divided from within this way, that’s how these bad things happen. We all understood this was a problem – and then we just forgot it and moved on, because tradition and nostalgia, I guess, is more important than looking at our flaws as a society, and saying, “You know, this setup we have where an evil tyrant comes around every few years? We created that system.”
C: What if you could still have Slytherin house, and pick a Slytherin who didn’t turn, put them in charge of the House, and try to foster a different culture inside the house?
S: That’s a possibility. There’s nothing wrong with being a Slytherin per se. Let me put it this way – when I was teaching, one day we were goofing off in a class period, and the kids know I’m obsessed with Harry Potter, so a big group logged on to Pottermore to see what house they’d be sorted into. And I was having fun watching, trying to figure out who was what, and I was right on most of them – but I was astonished how many of the kids I liked a lot, some of my favorites – a lot of them were Slytherins! I was like, wait, huh? And I got along with them so well! They were fun, witty, intelligent, sassy – great kids. Slytherins aren’t necessarily bad.
It’s just that the racism is baked in the pie! If you’re going to keep doing this, Hogwarts, you gotta deal with that! And if you can’t separate Slytherin’s legacy, then you gotta make some changes! If you can, do it!
C: The problem is, if you stick with the 4 house system, even if you change your mind and name it after Mundungus Fletcher, the kids are going to be sorted in the same way. So is a cosmetic change the answer?
S: It depends on whether your problem is with the Sorting, or with the fact that one of the houses is explicitly racist with an explicitly racist history, and we’re acting like they’re the same as the other houses. That’s my basic problem with it. We act like Slytherin is the same, when it clearly is not.
C: How much do we know about Salazar Slytherin? I know he didn’t want Muggle kids or witches from Muggle families educated there, but did he go on to become a Dark wizard himself? Did he just leave the school? Obviously it’s not a great way to look at it, but how bad was he?
S: Let’s be fair – the dude made a fucking Chamber of Secrets in the school and put a basilisk in it so that one day his true heir would come along and purge the school of all those he deemed unworthy to study magic. I’m not sure how good he can be, given that he built a secret monster chamber so one day someone could wake the monster to kill a bunch of kids!
C: I just don’t know what you do fix the problem. Because there’s nothing inherently wrong with being ambitious. There’s not even anything wrong with wanting power and influence. Somebody’s got to have it. I don’t know what you do, other than throw out baby, bathwater and bathtub, get rid of it all and start over.
S: And maybe that’s what needs to happen! I know it’s hard to sacrifice tradition. I’m not a fan of erasing history, because that’s the only way you learn, is by looking at history. That would be like saying, “Let’s not talk about slavery in America.” NO! We need to talk about that. It’s like saying, “Let’s not talk about hate groups or the KKK.” NO! You need to be aware. But as a society you need to take a stand on it and not be okay with it – not even just existing, but actively promoting it.
C: You need to not fly the Confederate flag at your state capital and say, “Oh no, it’s just about the priiiiiiiide!” Fuck you.
S: Precisely. That is exactly what I’m talking about. Because you’re promoting it as something to identify with and be proud of. You act like you can ignore the negative associations with it, until all of a sudden – you can’t!
C: It’s such a weird thing, and I wonder if it’s almost uniquely American. I think of people who fought in Germany in the army in World War II, and they’re by and large not proud of it. But you still have people in the South who say, “Oh, my great-great-great-great grandpappy was in the Confederate army of Virginia!” or whatever the fuck. There’s pride there that I find off putting. And I say that as someone who had multiple relatives who fought for the Confederacy.
S: And there’s a cognitive dissonance, because those people are always the ones who are all, “Murica!”
C: But it was about states’ rights, and the fed’ral gub’mint was comin’ down too hard on us, and they didn’t really want to free the slaves, that’s just a lie! BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH SHUT UP.
S: States’ rights! States’ rights to do what, exactly? States’ rights to continue owning slaves! Because that’s the issue!
“No, it’s just states’ rights!” STATES’ RIGHTS TO DO WHAT? SLAVERY! SAY IT WITH ME! I don’t understand how people can say, “States’ rights!” TO DO WHAT??? It doesn’t exist in a vacuum! They weren’t arguing over philosophical ideals and theories! They were arguing over an economic reality they didn’t want to change!
And maybe that’s the point of all of this – showing us the way we screw up as a society, we allow these things to be tolerated, and then oh look! You’re okay with racism being part of your society, you encourage various people to identify with symbols that have racist history and undertones, you don’t critically think about those things, and then look! Voldemort!
One day you’re flying a Confederate flag, the next day Voldemort is running your country.
It forces you to face the question of how to fix it – and really the only way to fix it is to scrap a lot of things and go to ground and start over. That’s a hard thing for people to face. And it’s so much easier to keep doing what you’ve been doing, and hope for the best.
C: In the case of the wizarding world and Hogwarts, there’s also the problem of – Gryffindor especially, but probably all 3 houses – feeling superior to Slytherin. And they all feel superior to Hufflepuff. You’ve got to convince people that they need to tone that shit down, too.
S: That’s the other problem, this rivalry and factionalism. You’re encouraging people to feel better than others based on a quality you have. The Sorting Hat talks about the positive aspects of those houses, but what about the negative aspects? Gryffindors are brave, noble and chivalrous. They also can be very stupid. Very hot tempered. They’re not the brightest crayon in the box. Ravenclaws are very intelligent, but as Ollivander has shown us they can be amoral and snobby. An evil Ravenclaw would probably be scary. And Hufflepuffs are hard-working, but they’re also cliquish and judgmental, and stubborn. They’re judgey. Of all the houses, Hufflepuff is judging you.
C: They’ve got an inferiority complex they’ve got to try and mask.
S: I’m starting to think that the Sorting over all is a bad idea. It’s good in the sense that it gives you a sense of identity and family, allows you to have a place. There theoretically is no one left out because everyone has a house. There’s no outcasts on the fringes.
C: Oh, please.
S: Yeah, that’s the theory.
C: That’s the same theory that led our school to go to uniforms in high school, was because ‘Oh, it will level the playing field, and no one will know who has money and doesn’t!” Bullshit, everyone knows.
S: That’s the thing.
C: It does nothing to level the playing field or hide any kind of economic advantage or disadvantage. At all.
S: But having a uniform doesn’t give you a sense of identity. Having a house assignment does. And even if you have nothing else, you can be proud of being a Slytherin. Which, let’s be honest, is kind of what happened with Snape. Definitely an outcast who sunk himself into the identity of his house, because it gave him a sense of purpose and identity. Which is not great!
C: Slytherin would be the house of all these scrawny, angsty, pasty little white boys who get mad at the world, take assault rifles, and murder people.
S: OMG, Slytherin would be so many MRAs it’s not funny. That’s another thing that doesn’t get much touched on. I’d be interested to see which house would be the most misogynist.
C: I don’t know. In theory, everyone in Slytherin is there because of ambition. I don’t know that there’s any House you can look at and say that this one is more men than women. If anything you could look at Hufflepuff and say, “Oh, they’re loyal and hardworking, that sounds like a woman more than a man!”
S: Maybe. Maybe by using the system she dodged some obvious pitfalls dealing with gender issues, but so much of this story is about racism, eugenics, these movements to destroy the Other, to Other factions of society. It’s baked in the pie, people. Either cut it out, or get a new pie. But still have pie, because pie is excellent.
C: I recommend cherry.
S: Cherry is good. Lemon is my favorite.
C: Yeah, well, lemon pie doesn’t have an excellent song by Warrant.
S: That is true. Lemon pie is not anyone’s anthem.
C: Before we move on, would you like to discuss our Houses?
S: So you’re a Gryffindor. How do you feel about that?
C: I was quite surprised, honestly. I thought I would get Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff.
S: Why do you think you were sorted into Gryffindor? Since we’re pretending this is a magical hat and not a computer algorithm.
C: Pottermore says it’s where the bravest and boldest end up. I don’t think either of those apply to me, quite frankly.
S: People would have said that about Neville, too, but he was still a gutsy guy when it came down to it.
C: That’s true.
S: Maybe you don’t see yourself as brave in terms of the things you’ve done in your life, but you’ve never been afraid to stand your ground.
C: At the end of the day when there’s this huge, gigantic battle at the school for their lives and the future of the wizarding world, everybody – including some Slytherins – step up. They’re all brave.
S: Who knows, maybe you’re gutsier than you realize. Maybe you’re Neville Longbottom and we haven’t realized it yet.
C: I will definitely pop off and tell you how the cow ate the cabbage. I have no problem with that. I do have a notoriously bad memory and carry a notepad around to write things down on. I don’t have a Remembrall, so I go analog. But I guess, I live in a conservative, Southern state and town, I come from a conservative religious family, and I’m not afraid to say, “Nope, don’t believe it, sorry, you’re wrong, you’re terrible.”
S: Yeah, and you’re not afraid to put it in writing either. You’ve got some balls.
C: Thank you. I appreciate that.
S: The first time – I had 2 Pottermore accounts, because I lost a password. The first time I was sorted into Gryffindor, and the second time I was sorted into Ravenclaw. There was a gap of a few years between the two times I was sorted, so not quite sure how to feel about that. Maybe I’m more of a Hermione situation – the hat was going to put her in Ravenclaw, but the hat put her in Gryffindor because her heart outweighed her brains, which is saying a lot. Maybe I’m reverse Hermione.
I do think it fits me well. It’s all eccentricity, puzzles and riddles. I think that’s probably me.
C: I think it is. It’s not to say you don’t have Gryffindor-y qualities, just like I have Ravenclaw-y qualities, but if I had to pick from the houses where to put you, that’s probably where I would put you.
S: Although it’s a bummer that Gilderoy Lockhart is a Ravenclaw.
C: That’s hilarious, actually. And he runs a great long con! He is smart!
S: It is clever, and he pulls it off well. Everybody has a downside, I suppose.
Maybe it’s a Dumbledore situation – he’s one of the most brilliant characters in this whole thing but as far as I know he’s a Gryffindor.
We finally get Harry’s sorting. The Sorting Hat has a bit of a conversation with him about that, what to do? He’s talented, a little ambitious, brave and intelligent. He’s a little of everything. Which is essentially the makeup of him as a hero – he’s representative of everyone, he has all the qualities of the houses, but he essence of Harry is this chapter right there – Harry chooses not to be in Slytherin. Because everything he’s seen of them are things he abhors – bullying, people trying to leverage power over one another. And he doesn’t really know about the racism yet!
He doesn’t want to be Slytherin because of the way they handle themselves with power. And he doesn’t know about the pureblood stuff much yet, and he’s already saying, “Not Slytherin.” He’s better than most of us.
We get Dumbledore’s open to the year where he shares a few words: “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Dumbledore is the best. I love that Harry asks if he’s a bit mad, and Percy says, “Mad? He’s a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes.”
C: Although a lot of it is an act. But it’s a little true.
S: Maybe he’s just indulging a certain side of himself. We get more of the ghosts, Nearly Headless Nick who is depressed about not eating in 500 years, and the rivalry with the Bloody Baron. We get a little about Seamus and Neville, and learn that Neville’s entire extended family tried to kill him to prove he was a wizard.
C: They don’t sound great! You know what’s weird? I don’t hear people complain about Neville’s family the way they do about the Dursleys.
S: We don’t see as much of it. But Neville’s extended family is a little pushy! A lot of pressure there! What the hell? Hanging him out a window by his ankles?
C: Great-Uncle Algie is the Michael Jackson of the Wizarding world, dangling small children outside of boundaries!
S: I don’t think the Dursleys ever dangled Harry anywhere!
C: Well, they would have had to touch him.
S: They talk about classes, and Harry’s looking up at the staff table. This is the first time we see Snape, and the first time Harry’s scar hurts – while he’s looking at Quirrell and his absurd turban talking to the teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.
C: Snape, why don’t you wash your hair?
S: Good question. Maybe he just has oily hair.
C: Then you wash it more frequently. Also, you’re a wizard. You can probably bewitch it.
S: I feel like he doesn’t care about his appearance, although there is a suggestion of – not necessarily bad hygiene, but…
C: I think it’s part of his aesthetic.
S: But Alan Rickman’s aesthetic in the movie is so badass, with the way he swoops his robes and his never-ending buttons.
C: I like the way that he talks, and will barely move his mouth and speak quietly, with these eyes that beam into you. Movie Snape is an even cooler customer than Book Snape.
S: He’s much more restrained than Book Snape. Book Snape loses his temper quite a bit and gives more away. I used to imagine the two of them differently, but now I just imagine Movie Snape doing the things book Snape does. I’m expanding on Alan Rickman’s performance. Which is good, because any excuse to hear Alan Rickman’s voice in my head is a good one.
C: He had a nice voice.
S: We get our setup for Snape, with Percy saying that Snape makes Quirrell nervous, that he teaches Potions but doesn’t want to, and that everyone knows he wants Quirrell’s job, and he knows a lot about the Dark Arts. What is that, 3 sentences? A lot of misdirection to set up in 3 sentences. Also a lot of characterization there.
Start of term notices: no magic in corridors, Quidditch trials coming up, no Weasleys in the forest, and the third floor corridor is out of bounds to anyone who does not want to die a painful death. Which leads me to – Hogwarts is the worst. Parents should not send their children here. This is a dangerous place. The wizarding world is very cavalier about safety. They accept people getting killed, maimed and disfigured as part of everyday existence.
C: As far as being maimed or disfigured, when you can regrow arm bones overnight with a potion, you’ve just got to make sure someone doesn’t get Avada Kedavra’ed. Everything else, you can fix.
S: This world is cavalier towards pain and suffering because it’s fixable! It’s an interesting counterpoint to a parenting culture today that is fixated on protecting children from breathing, or encountering a germ, heaven forbid.
C: I have a hilarious personal story I can share.
S: Please do.
C: When I was in daycare before kindergarten, my sister is a number of years older than I am and chicken pox was going through the daycare. And my sister was getting to that age where you kind of need to have it because it gets worse the older you get. So some kids came back from being out with chicken pox, and my mom gave me very explicit instructions to go up and hug them. You know why? She wanted me to get the chicken pox so I could give it to my sister, and that is exactly what happened.
S: That’s awful!
C: I think it’s hilarious and I give her crap about it constantly.
S: If you get shingles later you have to yell at her.
C: You do kind of need to have it young though. You’re going to get it eventually.
S: I find it interesting that people who are angry with the Dursleys are more okay with Hogwarts. I guess because it’s fixable? But we get our school song, where everyone picks their favorite tune and sings, which is disastrous and chaotic, and sets the tone for Hogwarts – everyone doing their own individual thing, everyone welcome, and the Weasleys singing to a very slow funeral march.
C: What would your song be?
S: I have no idea.
C: Mine would be “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers. It’s my all time favorite song.
S: That’s an excellent choice. I might do an oldie like “Hang on Sloopy.” Or “Wild Thing.”
We see more of the castle –the coats of armor, Peeves, the paintings, the portrait hole, the Gryffindor common room, the way the dorms are set up, and everyone gets settled in, and we get Harry’s first dream. “He had a very strange dream that he was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him, telling him that he must transfer to Slytherin at once because it was his destiny. Harry told the turban he didn’t want to be in Slytherin. It got heavier and heavier. He tried to pull it off, but it tightened painfully, and there was Malfoy laughing at him as he struggled with it; then Malfoy turned into the hook-nosed teacher Snape, whose laugh became high and cold; there was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating and shaking.” This is what I’m saying about Harry’s dream life. They just gave away a whole lot of information here. It’s so frustrating! He’s wearing the turban? If you get to the end of the book and you’re surprised about what happened? She tried to tell you! She’s trying to tell you a whole lot more about Slytherin, Malfoy, Snape, Voldemort and his connection with Harry – it’s all here! Dammit!
C: It’s a clever ruse, hiding in plain sight.
Chapter 8: The Potions Master
S: Where shit gets real! We get a little intro here, Harry getting accustomed to his surroundings and people staring, and the 142 staircases in the castle. I love Hogwarts. I love that there are doors that won’t open unless you ask politely or tickle them in the right place, or doors that are actually solid walls that are pretending.
C: You know why there’s no physical education class at Hogwarts? Because there are 142 staircases.
S: Just getting around the school is exercise! I was thinking yesterday, the more I think of Hogwarts, the more I think of medieval manuscripts and cathedrals, and their gargoyles. Cathedrals are beautiful, powerful religious spaces with these decorative elements and carvings, often related to religion. But there’s always around the edges, in the top corners or wedged in between – gargoyles, or weird faces. Same thing with a beautiful illuminated manuscript, with gorgeous embellishments, until you start looking around the edges and you see things like people with fart trumpets in their butts, doing all sorts of insane, goofy, rude things.
C: I can’t tell you how much I love people who put fart trumpets in their butts.
S: How many of those have you met?
C: I know some people who have their heads up their butts, which is close enough. I have seen those illustrations and I find them hilarious. I don’t know if you’re supposed to, but I do.
S: You are! It’s a very medieval notion. The medieval view of the world hangs on a wheel – the wheel of fortune, a kind of progression outwards. The notion is that, as humanity got further away from, say, the Garden of Eden, they get further from perfection and further from God. So around the edges is where the monsters are, where you have weird, dark things and low humor. At the center you have beautiful, elevated, illuminating things – but around the corners are the sex jokes, flatulence jokes and scary gargoyle faces peering out at you.
C: Okay, but let’s get real. Jesus was a dude. Do you really think he wouldn’t find a fart joke funny? I think he would.
S: If we’re going off the Bible’s model that God created the earth, and that his son was his Master Worker who helped him create all things, I have to ask – have you met a wombat? Or a sloth? A giraffe?
C: Or a platypus!
S: God has a sense of humor. Have you met people?
C: And how much joy can you get out of being human if you can’t laugh at absurdity?
S: Which is partly what I felt fascinating about the medieval model. It strove for perfection and divinity and holiness, but always acknowledged the humanity that encased the divinity. This is also reflective of a soul encased in a body – beauty and divinity at the center, but around the edges you have the crass stuff that being human is all about. To me that’s Hogwarts. It’s this amazing, historical powerful mystical building. But at the same time there are doors that lie to you and pretend to be walls just to see you walk into them. There are so many weird things in this castle.
C: I would absolutely walk into a wall. I have done that before.
S: That’s the function of Peeves, too. I know Peeves is the manifestation of all the mischief of the children in the castle, which is why he can never be cast out. As long as there are children in the castle, Peeves exists. But at the same time he serves the function of a gargoyle on a cathedral or the guy with a trumpet in his ass on a medieval manuscript.
C: My question then before we move on, is if someone put a fart trumpet up their butt and farted, do you think it would actually be amplified by that trumpet?
S: I’m not sure how much I want to think about the mechanics of that.
C: I’m here to pose the heavy questions that everybody thinks but no one wants to say. I will say it. Maybe that’s why I’m a Gryffindor. There, we’ve solved it.
S: That’s the answer. You are not afraid of fart trumpets.
C: Or of talking about fart trumpets, or anything else you can think of.
S: Hey, in Dante’s Inferno there are fart trumpets in hell. Can’t get away from it.
I love this line: “Nearly Headless Nick was always happy to point new Gryffindors in the right direction, but Peeves was worth two locked doors and a trick staircase if you met him when your’e late for class.”
We meet Filch, the most unhappy man, and Mrs. Norris. Don’t know what the deal is there.
C: I think I would be unhappy too, to be honest, if I was a Squib. It’s got to be really hard.
S: Especially working at a school, watching children learn magic that you can’t do.
C: It seems very masochistic.
S: It’s a complicated dynamic. Dumbledore lets Filch be the caretaker. He hired a man who cannot do magic…to be a caretaker at a magical school. Is that a kindness, letting Filch stay in the world, letting him be useful, have a place and a job, and keeping him in this world when he could easily be marginalized out? There’s the downside of having him around all these things he can’t do, but then again, only Dumbledore would hire Filch.
C: You can see it as cruel, but it’s his choice to stay there. I assume he gets more out of being part of the world; it outweighs the pain.
S: I think Filch loves what he does. The kids annoy him and he’s crabby, but I think he, like everyone else, loves Hogwarts. We get info about the classes, Herbology with Professor Sprout, History of Magic taught by a ghost. One of my favorite things in this story, that Professor Binns died in front of the staffroom fire and got up the next day to teach, apparently unaware that he had died.
C: You and I had a teacher in high school very much like Professor Binns.
S: Oh my god, we did.
C: I bet you know who I’m talking about. I’m not going into details – but you know.
S: I do! I hadn’t made that connection, but oh no!
C: IT IS SO TRUE.
S: Maybe that’s why I find him so amusing. We meet Professor Flitwick, who is kind of adorable and probably wouldn’t like me saying that, and we meet Professor McGonagall in Transfiguration and we learn a bit more about how magic works. And we learn that Quirrell is a joke.
C: A running theme throughout this series, that Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers are terrible.
S: Which is why Book 3 is such a pleasant surprise! You’re so used to terrible teachers, then Lupin comes along and you’re like, “Where am I?”
C: He is so competent.
S: Love him. Not there yet. The Weasley twins insist Quirrell’s turban is stuffed with garlic, because it smells bad, and he does it ward off vampires.
C: I’m going out on a limb and guessing that Voldemort does not actually smell like garlic.
S: I don’t know why it smells bad. Maybe just Dark Magic – you know what it is? Dark magic smells bad. IT’S DARK MAGIC MOVES! IT’S THE SMELL OF DARK MAGIC! WE FOUND IT!
C: The joke has come full circle!
S: I am so happy right now, I feel like my life has been fulfilled.
C: I don’t think that I could sell Dark Magic Moves to people, though, if it smells like a dirty, stinky turban of Dark Lord. That’s not appealing, you know?
S: That’s such a great tagline. “Dark Magic Moves: A dirty, stinky turban of Dark Lord.”
C: Can you imagine the commercials for this? Shirtless Voldemort smoldering at you in a black and white commercial?
S: With someone with a French accent.
C: Eau de parfum.
S: We have to stop doing this.
C: It would be amazing.
S: We see the average day – owls bringing mail in the Great Hall. Hedwig brings a note from Hagrid inviting him to tea to hear about his first week. Hagrid is so great, that he would invite an eleven-year-old around to tell him all about his day. And it was a good thing that he had this to look forward to, because the Potions lesson turned out to be the worst thing that had happened to Harry so far. I love this paragraph: “At the start-of-term banquet, Harry had gotten the idea that Professor Snape disliked him. By the end of the first Potions lesson, he knew he had been wrong. Snape didn’t dislike Harry. He hated him.”
We see the potions and the dungeon, and we meet Severus Snape. Do you like Snape?
C: I think that he is an incredibly interesting character, but he’s not a nice man, so no, I don’t like him.
S: So we get his infamous introductory speech to Potions, which he punctuates with an insult, leading to lines like “Hermione Granger was on the edge of her seat and looked desperate to start proving that she wasn’t a dunderhead.”
We get Snape lashing out at Harry because he can. He starts asking a series of questions to make him look stupid, and it’s fun to see what he’s asking him about. Powdered root of asphodel and an infusion of wormwood. I googled, because Googling is your friend. Asphodel in Greece was associated with mourning and death, and its presence was supposed to facilitate the transition of the dead to Elysium. Wormwood is mentioned in the Bible but also in folklore and herbal use, it generally represents bitterness. So add powdered root of mourning to bitterness, and you get the Draught of Living Death, and an apt description of Snape’s personality.
The bezoar ends up being significant much later on – a stone found in the stomach of a goat – and then he asks him the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane. I did not know, but I love that it’s mentioned here – wolfsbane is mentioned in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and it’s described as the herb that comes out of the slavering mouth of Cerberus, the 3-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell.
C: Of COURSE J.K. Rowling would know that.
S: Of course. Ancient Greeks associated it with rabies. And aconite can poison you and give you rabies-like symptoms, like frothing and vertigo, and put you in a coma if you have enough of it. So they associated that with rabid dogs and Cerberus. I love that that is used in this book.
Monkshood and wolfsbane have a lot of associations with witches as well. This is another reason why – J.K. Rowling, I got my eye on you.
Snape takes points from Gryffindor, and then they try making potions and everyone sucks at it. This reminds me of the worst Chemistry class ever. I believe Rowling actually based Snape on her chemistry teacher and she pulled his name from a village. Neville screws up his potion, gets boils all over his extremities, and Snape blames Harry for that. Because he can. What an introduction to Snape.
C: He’s pretty awful. We all know how it ends, I don’t remember all the details, but everyone listening to this I’m pretty sure has read these before. We know he’s on the good side and makes a huge sacrifice later on. He’s still an ass. He’s bullying an 11-year-old child that he has power over, and it’s not awesome.
S: He’s taking out all of his bitterness on Harry. I know this is all very useful misdirection because this is the first book where she uses Snape to make the kids think he’s the bad guy, and she continues to do so throughout so that by the time it actually becomes pertinent, no one believes it. It’s like a boy who cried wolf.
They make it out of Snape’s class, everyone traumatized, and they make it to Hagrid’s for tea and rock cakes – and Fang! Beautiful boar hound. I want to hug him.
Hagrid’s a good source for the kids to vent, lightly abuses Filch and Mrs. Norris, gives them someone on their side. But when Harry mentions to Hagrid that Snape seems to really hate him, Hagrid brushes it off, but Harry can’t help thinking that Hagrid didn’t quite meet his eyes when he said that. I wonder how much Hagrid knew about all that.
C: That’s a good question. I don’t remember how involved with the resistance against Voldemort Hagrid was. He’s a good guy, obviously, but…
S: I think the most he knows is that James bullied Snape. Probably not much beyond that.
And lo! A plot point appears on the horizon: a cutting from the Daily Prophet about the break-in at Gringotts. As two people with backgrounds in journalism, I love that these stories get the kind of quotes you can never get in real life, and they run them. This quote from a goblin: “But we’re not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what’s good for you.” You never get those for real in the newspaper, and they’re in the Daily Prophet all the frickin time!
Now Harry is noticing that 713 was the vault in question, and Hagrid is anxious to change the subject, so Harry is left with lots of questions. The mystery begins to unfold.