This week, we discuss: Quidditch-induced ball bruising; Snape/Filch slashfic; Lee Jordan for President; never tell Hagrid a secret; Voldemort’s eternal grudge against the Weasleys; holiday wish fulfillment; shagging in the Restricted Section; Hermione saves the world one piece of chocolate at a time; the logic of giving children priceless and powerful objects; why Dumbledore would never vote to confirm Betsy DeVos; Fred and George warm and fuzzies; the power of Dark Magic books; the Mirror of Erised makes us cry every damn time; why this book is basically the Perseus myth; Quirrell as Medusa; daaaayyyyummmm young Maggie Smith; Ray Harryhausen rules; the paradox of visible and invisible; fuck Greek patriarchal mythology; the Narcissus myth and queer literature; our “President” is an Obscurus; what Harry and the Virgin Mary have in common; how Dumbledore ranks trust; and is Dumbledore secretly Santa Claus?
Welcome back to Advanced Muggle Studies! We are discussing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, chapters 11-14. I am Professor Seraphine, and I talk too much!
C: I am Professor Creed.
S: And you don’t talk enough!
C: I curse a lot though. And make porn jokes.
S: Yeah, we did a lot of that last week. But you know, it’s not my fault because I did not invent humping brooms. I just talked about it.
C: That was your fault.
S: Blame lack of sex toy options in the 15th century. Today, we’re going a little less salacious, but be warned that we will go deep in the crazy zone in the next few chapters. Let’s start with something light: Quidditch!
Chapter 11: Quidditch
C: Who doesn’t love Quidditch?
S: I heard J.K. Rowling didn’t like writing Quidditch, so maybe she doesn’t.
C: I seem to remember from Quidditch Through the Ages that the reason people could ride on brooms and sit on them so long was that there was an Invisible Cushioning Charm that made them comfortable to sit on? And I don’t buy it.
S: That’s an amazing question, because I did wonder about that. There’s no seat. That’s got to be uncomfortable for long games…and the accidents that could arise from ramming someone too hard…
C: Yeah, all the men would have to decide – left or right?
S: That charm is an extremely useful bit of “after the fact this is a thing.” Quidditch is not easy on the genitalia.
C: How would men wear a cup on a broom? Would they need one? Why not wear helmets and face masks? It is a dangerous sport.
S: That’s way too much logic for the wizarding world!
C: There are giant balls flying at people’s faces! And not in a sexy way!
S: I can’t think of a way to make that sexy, so skipping. Aside from worrying about our various characters’ genitals, Chapter 11 starts in November, it’s getting cold, Quidditch season has begun, and Harry is playing his first official game: Gryffindor v. Slytherin. Harry’s stressed, but Hermione pulls through and lends him the very useful Quidditch Through the Ages, in which Harry learns not only are his balls safe, but also about Quidditch. 700 ways of committing a foul!
C: And all of them happened during a World Cup match in 1473. I love that.
S: For all the ridiculous use of Time-Turners, can we not go back to 1473 to watch that match? I want to see it!
C: If there were 700 fouls committed? That was a long-ass match. I don’t think I want to go back in time to see it.
S: Don’t they mention in Goblet of Fire a match that lasted for months because no one caught the Snitch, and they brought in substitute players so they could get sleep?
C: I distinctly remember that.
S: I love that Quidditch is a disaster, like the rest of the wizarding world. At its best, it’s awesome. At its worst, it’s chaotic. That’s what makes this so good.
Seekers are the smallest, fastest, and most often injured players. Also, referees have been known to vanish and turn up months later in the Sahara Desert.
C: Harsh, man.
S: I love that detail. It’s a good thing that isn’t possible, though. The sports world couldn’t handle it.
C: How do you expect to draw good officials when sometimes they get banished to a desert? You’re hurting yourselves!
S: It better pay REALLY WELL. Maybe that’s why so much crap happens on the pitch. In the movies, everyone gets on the field and no one exercises any authority from then on. Ref does jack shit, adults sit around, see kids in danger and do nothing.
C: It’s the same problem soccer has, where there’s only one official on the field for more than a dozen players, and granted in soccer you’ve got the referee assistants supposedly keeping track of things, but you could stand to have a couple more refs in soccer and Quidditch.
S: Hermione’s a good egg. She’s trying to help, and the one way she knows how to do that is give Harry a book, which he reads – and it helps! She also makes these cool blue fires in jam jars.
C: That’s prettier than a regular fire!
S: I’ve noticed that I saw awesome too much. You gotta call me on that. Too much awesome.
C: I probably won’t notice. If you say it too much I’ve been hearing it for the last 20 years, and haven’t noticed it before. Not going to start now.
S: True. Damn. Well, they’re in the yard around Hermione’s blue fire and they notice Snape limping by. Snape picks a little fight with Harry, confiscates the book and takes 5 points because you can’t have books outside the castle.
C: Which is a load of shit, by the way.
S: Yeah. But going back to that theory about the relationship to books, I love that Harry and Snape’s first significant tangle outside of class is over a book. They go back to the common room but Harry wants his book. And he’s 11, and so has yet to learn what the rest of us know — this is a bad idea – but he wants to go talk to Snape. Oh, Harry. So young. So idealistic.
C: So naïve! Sweet summer child.
S: He goes to the staffroom and knocks, peers inside, and a horrible scene met his eyes. I just have to say, since I’m using the ebook version of this, this section comes at the bottom of the page. So this is what you see, and you have to turn the page to get the rest: “He pushed the door ajar and peered inside, and a horrible scene met his eyes. Snape and Filch were inside alone. Snape was holding his robes above his knees. One of his legs was –“ And you have to turn the page to find out what happened. Being with you on these discussions has warped my mind! I got to that part, did a spit take, and it was awesome.
C: BOW CHICKA BOW WOW!
S: Snape’s leg is bloody and mangled, Filch is helping him bandage it. Snape: “Blasted thing, how are you supposed to keep your eyes on all three heads at once?” So we know where he’s been. He sees Harry, gets mad, tells him to get out, but now Harry has a useful bit of information to bolster his biased theory that Snape is up to no good. He was at least near Fluffy. I find it interesting that Filch is bandaging him up – he’s clearly in on it.
C: Why not go to Madam Pomfrey? It’s baffling to me. I know that Filch maybe had to know because he can’t go in that room or corridor, but surely Madam Pomfrey is higher up the chain than Filch is.
S: I don’t know if they’ve let her in on this bit. I could see why Dumbledore would let Filch in, seeing that Filch needs to monitor students and the halls. If you’re Dumbledore and you’re putting a 3-headed monster in the corridor of a school, it would be useful to warn Filch to keep students out. And Filch may be an ass, but he seems trustworthy.
C: I have a point I would like to make. Earlier in this scene Hermione was checking Ron and Harry’s Charms homework. “She would never let them copy – ‘How will you learn?’ – but by asking her to read it through, they got the right answers anyway.” So in this scenario, I am Harry and/or Ron, you are Hermione, and this is our Physics homework.
S: OMG. The sad thing is, you trusted me to have the right answers to Physics homework, and I was still failing that class.
C: You were way closer than anybody else was. We still would have failed it.
S: Yeah, if it wasn’t for the jacked grading system. I did that too with another friend and Calculus homework. She couldn’t spell, I couldn’t Calculus, it worked out. Harry goes back to Ron and Hermione with his theory. Hermione’s not buying it, but Ron’s on board. And Harry’s got to put it on the back burner because Quidditch, and he’s nervous. Seamus is not helping, telling him seekers always get clobbered.
C: Good strategy!
S: This is a time we see Rowling fiddling with her format, because in this chapter she shifts out to omniscient and we see what Ron and Hermione are up to while Harry is playing Quidditch. It jars a bit, and sounds odd, when you’re used to the rest of the series.
C: I noticed that too.
S: Ron and Hermione are up in the stands with Neville, Dean and Seamus, who have a sign saying “Potter for President.”
C: They don’t have presidents. They have Prime Ministers and Ministers of Magic. Eh, it’s alliterative.
S: Nice thought, though. Meanwhile Harry is in the locker room with the team, listening to Wood give his speech that he gives every year.
C: “This is it. The big one.”
S: They go to the field, Madam Hooch is refereeing, we face off with Slytherin captain Marcus Flint, an ugly 5th year suffering from nominative determinism, and we start the game with Lee Jordan’s AMAAAAAAZING commentary.
C: I love it! This is what they were going for in Cursed Child with the made up stuff they had that character say during the tasks.
S: Yeah, Ludo Bagman.
C: And they failed miserably there, and J.K. succeeds in these books with Lee Jordan.
S: Yes, because Lee is using his commentator job to flirt with Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor and make biased observations. Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione are joined in stands by Hagrid. Harry is trying to hang back, a couple of times he thinks he sees the Snitch, and then he does see it. He and the Slytherin seeker are neck and neck until Flint blocks him and he spirals off, and loses the Snitch. Lee: “After that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating…After that open and revolting foul…” McGonagall comes down on him. “All right, all right, Flint nearly kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to everyone, I’m sure.”
Then Harry’s broom decides it’s had enough of his nonsense and starts bucking, lurching and trying to throw him off. He’s just trying to hang on, and no one has noticed, then EVERYONE notices and freaks out, and Hermione starts looking at the crowd because Hagrid says nothing can interfere with a broom but powerful Dark Magic. Spells, etc. I guess, to make a broom do what it’s supposed to do.
Hermione thinks she’s figured it out and heads over to Snape, races on the row behind him, and there’s a casual mention that Hermione knocks Quirrell over just before getting to Snape, catching him on fire, and it distracts him long enough that Harry’s broom stops bucking. Nicely done – you barely notice that she knocked him over until later.
C: Pretty sneaky.
S: Harry heads to the ground, claps his hand to his mouth as though he’ll be sick, out pops the Snitch, “and the game ended in complete confusion.” Love it. When I read this I thought of significance of Quidditch games to book plots. There’s a theory, and I haven’t explored it as deeply (but I will for future books) that the games mirror potential outcomes in the books. We know how this book ends – the way Harry finally manages to obtain the Stone, almost completely by accident, and basically he sort of already has it and it comes from himself – it’s a great way to signal that by how he catches the Snitch here, almost completely by accident, and it’s literally inside him because he almost swallows it. It’s a great way for Harry to win this game, and you see that mirrored at the end.
C: I kind of wish he had to burp up the Sorcerer’s Stone, like it was his own personal bezoar.
S: That’s awful! It makes me think of Ron burping up slugs in the next book.
C: Ugh! I was thinking hair balls.
S: Doesn’t make it better!
C: Okay, terrible all the way around.
S: And then by 7, catching this Snitch the way he does is very significant.
C: And I have no idea what you are talking about, because I haven’t read the 7th book in…what, a decade?
S: You don’t remember! Ahhhhhh! Anyway, Flint is still howling about the game, but they head back to Hagrid’s hut to talk about the game.
C: To have an extremely English cup of strong black tea, which I approve of.
S: Strong black tea is always the answer. Ron is convinced it’s Snape, saying he and Hermione saw him cursing the broom. Hagrid says no. So they say they know about the dog, and that Snape tried to get past it, so Hagrid slips into his habit of letting loose all sorts of important information he’s not supposed to. “Who told you about Fluffy?”
C: Loose lips sink ships, Hagrid! Come on.
S: Who he bought from a Greek chap in a pub, and gave to Dumbledore to guard the – what, Hagrid? Oh, never mind, I should not have said that. Even Hermione’s on board with Snape being evil, and Hagrid tells them it’s not their business, and whatever that dog is guarding is between Dumbledore and Nicolas Flamel. AHA! Thank you Hagrid.
C: Somewhere, Professor McGonagall is pursing her lips and shaking her head.
S: And she’s completely justified!
C: I see her point!
S: He means well, but he can’t keep his mouth shut for anything. It’s a nice fun chapter before the next one.
Chapter 12: The Mirror of Erised
S: It’s Christmas, and opens with the best fact about the Weasley twins: “The lake froze solid, and the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban.”
C: I wonder if that was something Voldemort remembered in the future.
S: A personal grudge? I love that the Weasleys have been irreverent toward Voldemort longer than even they know. When things are bad, remind yourself that you threw snowballs in Voldmort’s face for an hour or so.
C: It’s pretty great. And only one of you died!
S: Holidays are coming. It’s total wish fulfillment, every person’s ideal description of the holidays: roaring fires, snow and snowballs, epic winter perfection.
Meanwhile Draco’s trying to make fun of Harry for not going home, but he doesn’t care, and everyone was so impressed by Harry in Quidditch that Malfoy is scraping the bottom of his material. Harry’s excited because he’s staying with the Weasley boys, since the Weasley parents are going to Romania to see Charlie. And this is the scene you mentioned last week, talking about Malfoy and last names?
S: Snape calls Ron “Weasley” too.
C: In theory, Hagrid, as someone who is not a teacher but an adult in a position of superiority, should call him by his first name, and calls him “Malfoy.” That would be the thing, if it was Hagrid calling Harry “Potter,” that would be one thing. My sister is a teacher and calls some kids by their last name, but the ones she has a relationship with. She doesn’t do it to kids she doesn’t like, which is I’m sure not what Hagrid intends necessarily, but.
S: It’s hard to tell if that’s a reflection of this “schoolboy novel” model, very British thing to call people by last names, but later on too in Book 6, when Hagrid gets pissed at Harry he calls him “Potter.” So Hagrid understands the distinction, because he uses it when he’s sulking. But Snape saves Malfoy’s bacon and takes 5 points from Gryffindor.
C: Can Hagrid give people points? Because he should have just given them 5 points back.
S: He should have. He might not be able to because he’s not a teacher. Does Filch dock points?
C: I’m sure he would if he could, so probably not.
S: I think it’s only teachers. Filch would make up excuses to do it if he could. Filch can write them up for detention, I guess, but not sure if Filch can do points. But the Great Hall looks gorgeous. They say, okay, we’re off to the library. Hagrid: “It’s almost the holidays!” Kids: “No, we’re not working, we’re just trying to find out who Nicolas Flamel is ever since you let that slip.”
C: Poor Hagrid.
S: Again, another tiny hint – all the books they’ve looked in have one specific thing in common: Great Wizards of the 20th Century, Notable Magical Names of Our Time, Important Modern Magical Discoveries, and A Study of Recent Developments in Wizardry. And Flamel isn’t in any of them. So weird.
C: Because he’s an old-ass man.
S: But then Harry thinks maybe it’s in the Restricted Section, which they can’t access without a note, and even then first years probably wouldn’t be let in. This is the first time we see Madam Pince, named for –
C: Those little glasses.
S: Pince-nez! Filch’s lover.
C: Mmmmmm! I thought that was Snape. Didn’t we just read that scene?
S: Maybe they’re not exclusive.
C: Restricted Section is a great area for your BOW CHICKA BOW WOW stuff to go down.
S: That’s where they rendezvous. That’s unpleasant. Well, the kids have looked for 2 weeks and found nothing. Hermione goes home, but Harry and Ron have the ideal vacation – the common room to themselves, chilling out eating junk all day – sounds like half of my school career.
C: Sounds ideal to me!
S: And they learn to play wizard chess! Segue – one thing that bugs me about terribly written movies, and Cursed Child – you know when they introduce something seemingly unrelated to the plot that turns out to be significant, but it’s the ONLY thing they’ve introduced that’s unrelated, and they try to casually slip it in but you know there’s no reason for it, so it’s blatantly obvious and not well done. Like a certain nonexistent blanket.
S: I love how good Rowling is at this! She’s already introduced so many details about this world that Ron teaching Harry wizard chess doesn’t register at all as significant. It’s just another delightful detail.
C: Yes, it’s just more world building so it fits in seamlessly.
S: And great description of players shouting at you about your moves! It IS significant later but you don’t know that now. And then it’s Christmas, and Harry has presents, not turnips!
First present is from Hagrid – a flute.
C: Ah! What were we just talking about?
S: Second, a 50-pence piece from Vernon and Petunia that he gives Ron. Why is it shaped weird? Are pence not circular? Are Galleons, Sickles and Knuts not circular?
C: I guess not.
S: Mrs. Weasley made Harry a green sweater and a box of fudge, which is so motherly.
C: She’s nice. And here, once again, Hermione saves the day without even knowing that she’s going to save the day.
S: Yes! By sending him a box of Chocolate Frogs. Two major solutions between her and Hagrid.
C: Just think – what would have happened if she had gone with Bertie Botts’ Every Flavor Beans instead?
S: Voldemort would have risen to power 7 years earlier and Harry Potter would be dead.
C: And life would be terrible. Thank god for Hermione.
S: Saving the world one day at a time! And we get Harry’s most significant present: “A silvery, fluid gray something that slithers to the floor, laying in gleaming folds.” It’s an Invisibility Cloak, “strange to the touch, like water woven into material.” Harry puts it on and is completely invisible. Note: “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.”
C: So this is from Dumbledore, right? Two questions – what is the deal with James leaving it with Dumbledore, because I don’t remember, and two, what possesses Dumbledore to give this to an 11-year-old child?
S: Two excellent questions! First, the only reason Dumbledore had it – he asked for it. In 7, he explains to Harry that after a while he realized what it was, and asked James if he could borrow it to examine and verify his suspicions, which he quickly did. But while he had it, James and Lily were killed, so he kept it.
C: And this is more Deathly Hallows shit that I don’t remember, right?
S: Yes. So this Cloak is one of the things Dumbledore has sought his entire adult life. When he realized James had it for years, he couldn’t resist looking at it. As to why James had it – it had been passed down in James’ family for generations. Harry is descended from the original owner. So it has always been passed down father to son, which is one of the things that clued Dumbledore in. Ordinary invisibility cloaks wear out over time, but this one has never worn out, is in perfect condition yet immensely old, and has never failed.
As to why he would give Harry the cloak – slightly more loaded question.
C: See, I agree that it should belong to him and Dumbledore should give it to him, but were I in Dumbledore’s place I would wait until he was 14, 15.
S: Number 1, I think Dumbledore felt guilty about having it and felt it only right to give Harry. Maybe he thought James would have already given it to Harry, although that’s conjecture. But this first year, Dumbledore does a lot of “let’s see what he does” stuff. He’s clearly watching him, and I think he’s curious to see what kind of person Harry is and gives him the cloak, which is rightfully his anyway. Which is probably in any other world a terrible attitude to bring to children – “let me give you this powerful thing and see what happens!”
C: Thaaaaaaaaaaat’s Hogwarts!
S: True. I’m sure Dumbledore feels he could mitigate any damage Harry might do. But ultimately I don’t think he expected him to do anything terrible. The real reason, I think, was because in his heart he knew it was wrong for him to have it. At this point he had come to understand a lot more about the Hallows, understood it wasn’t his, and gave it back.
C: That makes sense. I think too he has an idea of what Harry will face in the future should Voldemort come back, and Dumbledore does believe that he will eventually, and he’s on the one hand testing his character, but is also the kind of person who thinks school should be fun, kids should have fun, be rambunctious and get up to mischief. And god knows Harry needs some fun after those years at the Dursleys.
S: No, he’s very much in favor of giving children the tools to get up to things and seeing what they do. Dumbledore does not believe children need to be protected from absolutely everything in the world.
C: Oh, so he’s not a Republican!
S: He respects the autonomy of his students and sees them as people, not as children to be coddled and managed, and the information they have access to needing to be vetted and controlled like Umbridge.
C: Boy, am I going to go off on that book. That will be an angry book.
S: Foul, vile bitch. I know. But Dumbledore believes in letting children show you who they are. The closest I think he’s come to attempts at controlling information was removing some of the books in the Restricted Section once he realized what they were. With the Umbridge / Republican model, you wouldn’t even have a Restricted Section.
C: Yeah. I mean, why teach children about sex ed and birth control and give them birth control when you could just tell kids “Don’t do this” and wind up with a nice teenage birth rate in your state?
S: That’s indicative of their own moral failings, not something that you failed to do. Right?
C: All I have for you is an exhausted sigh.
S: At this point that’s all any of us can muster without turning this podcast into nothing but sustained foul language.
C: We do that as it is.
S: We do try to mix it up.
C: I want to bring something up before we move on from this section. I mentioned a week or two ago something really nice the twins did. I said it was partially tongue in cheek but partially serious, when they force Percy into his sweater and march him out, saying “You’re not sitting with the prefects, either. Christmas is a time for family.” I’m sure they were doing it to annoy him, but that’s how they feel.
S: I love that they escort him from the room to have dinner with them! The boys tease and harass each other, but they love each other and will force Percy to have a good time, dammit. I also love them joking about the sweaters. George to Ron: “You haven’t got a letter on your sweater. I suppose she thinks you don’t forget your name. But we’re not stupid – we know we’re called Gred and Forge.” They have the most amazing dinner of turkeys, gravy, cranberry sauce, and these wizard crackers I want, with all this cool stuff inside! Dumbledore’s wearing a flowered bonnet and loving it, and Hagrid’s getting drunk and kisses Professor McGonagall, who’s giggling.
C: Which is HILARIOUS given what we’ve been joking about with her saying, ‘Really, Dumbledore?’ and him getting tipsy and kissing her, and she blushes. It’s adorable.
S: Harry walks away with good stuff! Non-explodable luminous balloons, a grow our own warts kit, and his own wizard chess set!
C: That’s a serious prize to have in those presents! That’s not something tiny your teacher ordered from Oriental Trading Co. That’s a seriously good present.
S: Magic rules. Harry and the Weasleys have a great snowball fight, go back to the Common Room, he breaks his chess set in by losing spectacularly to Ron. It’s a perfect day. Everyone goes to sleep and Harry pulls out his cloak, and thinks hey, I can use this, go anywhere and do anything! So of course he has to break it in, first night. His thought is to go to Restricted Section to find Nicolas Flamel, so he gets under the cloak and makes his first foray out at night, which students are not supposed to do, which they do every single year.
He goes to the Restricted Section, which is creepy as fuck.
C: I just want to say – he picks up a book, he opens it, the book screams. First, that’s awesome. Second, could you not have used that 20 years down the road, Hermione, when you were trying to keep a Time Turner in your office? Couldn’t you have a screaming book to alert the Aurors?
S: Or you could set off a Caterwauling Charm like in Book 7. But no, that would again have required a basic understanding of the original series. But I love how the Restricted Section is described. Not only is it awesome, creepy, cool and scary, giving you an idea of what Dark Magic is like, but also the power of books, which Rowling leans heavily on – showing the power of knowledge. “Maybe he was imagining it, maybe not, but he thought a faint whispering was coming from the books.” The description is so impactful. And then the book screams, so he runs. Comes to a halt in front of a suit of armor, at least 5 floors above the kitchens. Harry’s freaking out because Filch and Snape are already headed to the Restricted Section. Then he sees a door and squeezes through it. Is this the Room of Requirement?
S: Thought so. Looks like an unused classroom. And there is the mirror. “As high as the ceiling. Something that looked as though someone had just put it there to get it out of the way. An ornate gold frame standing on two clawed feet, and there was an inscription carved around the top.”
When you first read this did you think to read it backward?
C: I knew the “Erised” was desire backwards, but I don’t remember if I puzzled out the rest or not.
S: I don’t know why – maybe too many Nancy Drew books – but as soon as I saw it on the mirror I thought, “Read it backwards!” So I did.
C: Invisible ink written in lemon juice!
S: Yes! Lemon juice and heat! So backwards it says, “I show you, not your face, but your heart’s desire.” Harry steps to the mirror and sees at least 10 people. He sees them in the mirror even though they’re not there, and he realizes that it’s his family. This description is done so well, every time I read it it gets me all choked up. That moment when Harry makes that connection: “She was a very pretty woman, with red hair, and her eyes – her eyes are just like mine,” Harry thought. She’s smiling and crying at the same time, so happy to see him. He’s seeing all these people he’s never known.
Gets me every time. So you want to talk about mirrors right now, or do you want to wait?
C: When would we be waiting until?
S: You know, if you’re going to start weighing in with perfectly logical questions, I don’t know why we’re doing this.
C: It’s what I’m here for.
S: SO! Are you ready to hear me talk about mirrors?
C: I am so ready.
S: I can hear it in your voice. So I went digging because I wanted to look at different cultural influences with respect to mirrors. It’s not hard to know it’s a symbol of reflection, physical or spiritual, often both, since that’s how mirrors work. I was really interested in the depiction of mirrors in the Western canon, and I found a fantastic paper entitled “The Mirror in Art: Venitas, Veritas and Vision.” This book in particular is deeply inspired by Greek mythology – Cerberus/Fluffy is a big clue. But one thing I hadn’t made the connection to at all is the story of Perseus and Medusa. You’ve seen Clash of the Titans, right?
C: The new one?
S: Or the old one.
C: I have seen the new one. It’s awful, and I kind of love it because I love bad things.
S: It’s bad. But you get to see Ralph Fiennes Smoldermort around and Liam Neeson with his sparkle armor. Take a look at the Greek myth of Perseus – he’s a demigod, Zeus is his dad because Zeus is a whore. And when he finds out about his parentage he is given some gifts. One is a cap that makes him invisible. In some versions he steals the cap from Hades, in other versions he’s gifted it. And he’s given a sword and super duper shield. He uses both of those things when he goes to slay the Gorgon Medusa – crazy, snakes for hair, turns you into stone if you look at her – to save the world because there’s a big Kraken coming, he needs the head to kill the Kraken and save the girl. So when you get to this climactic faceoff with Perseus and Medusa, what saves him is a) he’s using his invisible cap, and she can’t see him, and b) he uses the shield as a mirror. It’s a gift from Athena and he knows he can’t look into her eyes or he’ll turn to stone, so he uses the shield to pinpoint her using her reflection. So literally our hero is using a mirror and invisibility cap to fight the big bad snake lady.
C: I gotta say that an invisibility cap is a lot cornier than an invisibility cloak.
S: It is cornier. If you’ve never watched the original with Harry Hamlin and Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus – and Maggie Smith! If you want to see a young McGonagall, she’s hanging out in Olympus with Zeus. She’s super cute, too. And saucy.
C: You know, I have only ever seen her as an older woman. I don’t know if I could handle her as a younger woman.
S: She’s beautiful! It’s the time when Ray Harryhausen, the epic icon of old-school special effects like the Sinbad movies or Jason and the Argonauts, where the skeletons come to life with the shields – the sort of jerky, almost stop motion action – at the time it was super cutting edge, and he did the original Clash of the Titans’ Medusa, who is still freaks me out as an adult with her creepy awesomeness. It’s super cheesy over all though. I think after this I’m going to watch it.
C: I was vascillating between picturing it as a yarmulke on the crown of your head or a long cap with a pompom on the end that people used to sleep in, and it looks nothing like that, so it’s not as bad as I thought.
S: It’s more like a helmet.
So back to the topic. In movie visions they didn’t have Perseus fighting Medusa invisibly because it kills the moment visually; you want to see him. But it provides an interesting perspective on “a mirror’s ability, not only to mediate, but to provide access to that which cannot, or in this case, should not, be seen with one’s own eyes. Seeing and not seeing, visibility and invisibility, lie at the heart of the narrative, and countless other mirror-oriented works, both verbal and visual.”
I was fascinated by the idea of seen and not seen, visible but invisible, and the mirror as a medium for things you shouldn’t be able to see. We see J.K. Rowling plays with this with the mirror, which shows Harry his family, which he would never be able to see otherwise. And he finds the mirror when invisible himself.
The other interesting thing about the myth is the duality of Medusa herself. “Medusa represented the duality of the pharmakos. Much like the shield that served as weapon and protection, Medusa served dual functions. In the original story, her face is not her face.” Do you know how Medusa became Medusa in the original story?
C: These things usually happen because you’ve somehow angered a god.
S: Usually, yes, although in this case it’s way worse. She didn’t anger a male god. Not even Hera, because normally it’s because Zeus came down in the form of an animal or golden shower or something, seduces you—
C: Oh my god, did you mean that in the Trumpian sense?
S: No, I did not. I meant that in a literal shower of golden light. He pulled that once and it worked. But I couldn’t resist calling it a golden shower.
S: I think this is part of the Perseus story. There was a prophecy that Danae, this king’s daughter, would have a son that would grow up to kill his grandfather. Danae’s dad wasn’t having that, so he locked her up in a tower with a tiny window where no one could get in or out. Which is always the way to handle your future death – keep your daughter from getting pregnant! But Danae is hot, Zeus is bored, and he’s like, “Hey, I can get through that window!” So he transformed himself into a golden shower of light, materialized in the chamber, and said, “Hey, Danae. Sup girl?” That’s how Perseus happened.
C: Oh my god, that is my favorite thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Also, Greek mythology – who wrote this stuff down? Was that person high?
S: We need to talk to Homer. He retold a lot of it. Then you have Edith Hamilton’s definitive Mythology. Danae and Perseus get cast out in the sea to die. They don’t, they land on an island, and are welcomed in. Anyway, he goes on this quest, comes back and saves the world, inadvertently killing his grandpa anyway.
But Medusa was a beautiful woman who just happened to be worshipping in the temple of Athena. This time it wasn’t Zeus, it was his loser brother Poseidon, the Aquaman of the Greek mythology universe. And as everyone knows, Aquaman sucks. Unless he’s being played by Jason Momoa, in which case, WOOOOOOOOOOOOO he’s way more interesting.
C: In which case, he is extremely hot. It makes it even more depressing that DC’s movies are so terrible all the fucking time.
S: Oh god, did you see that they want Mel Gibson to direct a Suicide Squad sequel?
C: One – why would anyone want a sequel to that catastrophe? Two – NO! Just no.
S: If I ever could fail upward in my life as many times as a Jew-hating, mediocre white man, I could LITERALLY take over the world.
C: In fairness to Mel Gibson, hating Jews is having a cultural moment right now. Strike while the iron is hot.
S: Yeah, it’s in right now. For fuck’s sake. So Medusa is worshipping, Poseidon shows up and rapes her in the temple, she puts up a struggle as one does, but that never works. So after he’s done, Medusa pleads with the goddess for forgiveness, but Athena is pissed that her temple’s been defiled. And in true Greek style, she’s not mad at Poseidon, she’s mad at Medusa, because it’s your fault for being sexy. So to punish her, she turns her into a Gorgon, half-snake, half woman with snakes for hair, so hideous that anyone who looks at her will turn to stone, and she’s stuck in this realm forever to kill whoever comes near.
C: You know what? That’s some bullshit.
S: Yep. In the new version of the movie they slip in this line that the one consolation for Medusa is that women can’t enter her realm, only men. So…is that supposed to make her feel better? You got epically slut shamed and turned into a monster, but it’s okay, you can kill every man you meet! Trade off!
C: I’m sure if you had offered her those two options, that’s the way she would have gone.
S: Obviously. Medusa is a victim. She becomes a hideous thing, because it’s her fault Poseidon can’t control his dick. But she embodies this contradiction of predator and prey, as the paper explains: “Her fate is fraught with contradictions that generally parallel those adhering to the nature of a mirror as means of verification and insight to the inner self on one hand, and distortion and surface imaging on the other. So mirrors can show you your inner self, but can also distort and provide a surface image that is untrue.” And I love that the Mirror performs both functions. It gives insight into what you desire, but that can be distorting. What you see could be past, future, unattainable or entirely unhealthy. It’s a deep way for Rowling to play with the nature of mirrors. You mentioned last time, too, a Barbara Streisand movie about mirrors?
C: Oh yeah, it is this movie called The Mirror has Two Faces, came out in the 90s. In this movie she plays, if I remember correctly, a slightly overweight, frumpy dumpy college professor in New York and there’s some handsome professor she’s attracted to. And for some reason, he proposes and I think this is all some kind of thought experiment for him, or he needs to run through this to write a paper about it. But he thinks love and emotion gets in the way, and two people should be able to cohabitate, have sex, interact, and not fall in love because what’s love got to do with it? So for whatever reason she goes along with it. I believe they get married and they have this close relationship, but she has feelings and he looks through her, because what’s more sad and forgettable than a frumpy middle aged woman? At a certain point they have it out, she’s rejected and shattered, but gets angry and makes changes. So we get a montage of her running through Central Park in her sweats, because it’s so hard! Frumpy dumpy and middle aged! Eventually she sheds her caterpillar skin and is beautiful, vivacious, sexy, and has confidence because she’s skinnier, learned how to dress and wear makeup. Now he’s like, “Oh, she’s a babe, maybe there is more to life than I thought, how can I win your heart back?” I was probably too young to get it fully, so it would be interesting to revisit for sure.
S: It sounds like there’s some interesting commentary on superficiality and appearances.
C: Yeah, because of course she’s the same person, she’s just a little skinnier and more confident. So suddenly she’s desirable and something he wants to attain, whereas before she was not worth his attention or affection.
S: You could spend months talking about this! The mirror has a paradoxical nature. Take that to the end, where Harry defeats a two-faced figure who is a victim, someone who was taken control of by Voldemort because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don’t know much about him other than that.
C: For Quirrell, it was a case of extraordinary bad luck.
S: Later on too the kids overhear Quirrell talking to someone, and it sounds like he’s trying to resist. He truly is a victim, and who knows what kind of person he actually was, but it does seem he put up a fight. In the movie, they take the Medusa association a little further as Quirrell starts crumbling, like stone, as he touches Harry.
But this was also a case that reminded me of the brooms – another mythological element deeply interwoven with issues of gender and sex that Rowling took and used. There’s a depth of gender and sexual implications invested in that story, and Rowling neutralizes it, changes the gender, eliminates the sex element and uses the structure for the narrative, which allows her to maintain heroic trappings without feeling overly repetitive and without the thorny problem of punishing women for getting raped.
C: As someone who avoids Game of Thrones and all that, partly due to the rapes, it’s nice to have a fantasy series where there are zero rapes.
S: I will hand you that. It is nice to have. Well, the other major Western canon mirror reference is Narcissus, the incredibly handsome guy who is a complete and utter dick. There are women in love with him, chasing him constantly, and he ignores them all because none of them are good enough. So the goddess Nemesis punishes him by making him see his face in water, fall in love with himself, and he wastes away by the pool and dies because he can’t have himself. What he planned to do with himself if he got himself, I’m not sure. But he can’t part from his reflection, so he dies there.
C: So does this make Narcissus bisexual or gay? I don’t know when Sappho’s poetry was written, but is this some of our first examples of gay Greek literature, even if inadvertently?
S: That’s an excellent question. He is hopelessly, obsessively smitten with himself and can’t bear not touching the beautiful being in the pool, so that is an interesting question. I don’t know if the original stories dealt with that undertone and if that was at all related to the body of queer themes weaving their way into ‘mainstream’ narratives. I’d love to know the answer! It’s a little problematic having a gay narrative intertwined with obsessive narcissism, but—
C: That ends badly for everyone, but then again 95% of stories that feature gay characters in any meaningful way end badly. They can’t be happy! Can’t have that, might send the wrong message to the children.
S: You do have to kill your gays, right? That’s how you do it?
C: WON’T YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN?
S: I worry that some of those people saying “think about the children” think about them too much, and in the wrong ways.
Anthropologist James Frazer speculated that the origin of Narcissus story came from a Greek idea that reflections in water or mirrors were souls, which is why they took seeing reflections as omens of death. Freud took the concept and turned it into a psychological one, which gave us narcissistic personality disorder and narcissism, which we’re seeing play out in real time in our own country. And I would be totally fine if he wasted away by his own reflection. It is an option.
C: If he gets close enough to one of the water traps at his golf courses…you never know.
S: Maybe that’s why everything in his apartment is gold and shiny, so he can see his reflection, because lord knows he’s in love with it.
C: Is that not the tackiest fucking apartment you’ve ever seen in your entire life?
S: One of the best descriptions I’ve ever seen was: “He’s a poor person’s idea of a rich man, a stupid person’s idea of a smart man, and a weak person’s idea of a powerful man.”
C: That is profound.
S: That made perfect sense to me.
C: So is it possible that he is the manifestation of the projections of a bunch of dumbasses, and that he was created like in Fantastic Beasts? The black swirly thing?
S: Oh, he’s an Obscurus?
C: Yes. He is what happens when your culture spends so much time and energy not facing things like the legacy of slavery, racism, sexism, and poverty. This is what bubbles up to the surface.
S: And when it is forced to face them, it turns and spins false narratives, like white victimization.
C: Because nobody has had it worse in all history than white people, LET ME TELL YOU.
S: I’m on board with this theory that this moron currently drunk at the wheel is the embodiment of a collective id of a group that has fallen hook, line and sinker for generations of propaganda. It makes me sad, but it does explain the complete buffoonery of this person. How can someone like that exist and not be a literal caricature composed of distilled essence of crazy?
C: Agreed. It’s not awesome. Let’s put it that way.
S: Both myths interweave vision, seeing yourself, understanding, and knowledge that comes or doesn’t come from reflection. One of the most interesting things in that paper argued that the Narcissus myth “implied an irreconcilable split in subject’s confrontation with themself.” The idea is that you’re confronting yourself as object while you are subject, and those two things cannot be united. So Narcissus as subject can view himself as object, but can never obtain himself as an object. He can’t unite himself as both subject an object. Which – that’s how mirrors work.
But philosophically, you can’t exist in both states. It’s about either being subject or object. And this is where my brain sets off a fireworks show of OMG, because In Sorcerer’s Stone – Harry is the only person able to unite subject and object in himself. Dumbledore tells Harry much later in Book 6, talking about when he retrieves the Stone from the Mirror: “Do you have any idea how few people could look into that mirror and see what you saw?” He’s right. That would require reconciling the fundamental divide of self as subject and object. But Harry can do that because of his purity of heart, motives, essential goodness, willingness to self-sacrifice. It allows him to confront the mirror as subject, see himself as object, and then obtain the thing he sees without effort. It simply is. My brain is crying in a corner, unable to think of something that good.
C: I feel like maybe I could do that too, except maybe having the Sorcerer’s Stone show up in my pocket, it would be a beer or something.
S: I could see that! Like when Jack pulls out his compass at the end of the 3rd Pirates movie, and it points back to him – and he realizes why when he sees that his rum is sitting next to him. Now, I have no idea how Dumbledore got the stone IN the mirror…
C: That’s an interesting question.
S: No one knows. I bet even J.K. Rowling doesn’t know. Because it’s such a convenient plot device! And I am fucked if I know how he did it, but the point isn’t how it’s done. The point is that Harry’s so special as the one person who can cross the divide between himself and his image. It speaks to how extraordinary he is, and sets the stage for what is to come with Harry having a dual nature and transitioning between dual sides which no one can do. That’s an extremely basic heroic construct – the hero walks between 2 worlds. Which he already does, between the magic and Muggle worlds, but Harry takes it to the nth degree. It’s so brainy and theoretical and conceptual and abstract. I live for this.
C: I have a question. Somehow the stone is in the mirror. We know that Harry is special in the way that I think even Dumbledore isn’t, because he’s had his own struggles. How were they going to get the Stone out? Could Dumbledore or Flamel get it? He tells Harry he could get the stone because he only wanted it, not to use it.
S: Yeah, his desire to find it was completely unselfish and philanthropic, because he wants to get it to stop bad things happening to others and to stop the rise of evil. It makes sense that he would then be allowed to obtain it. That right there is a huge alarm bell for what will happen in Deathly Hallows. Harry’s ability to get the Stone presages his ability to do what he does in 7.
I don’t know if Dumbledore can get it out – I assume he can – but maybe it was part of the plan! “Oh well, no one could get the stone, oops!”
C: Better nobody be able to access and use it for nefarious means.
S: I think he could, but it’s also a clever way to get it safely tucked away.
C: I just had a thought. And this is not about that specifically, but the whole process of getting to the mirror. You go from Fluffy to Sprout’s plant thing, and I’m wondering if every professor from Hagrid forward only knows what has come before them and their own thing – like McGonagall, who transfigured the chess set – she and Snape are the last ones. So they would see everything going in. Is that an indication of the hierarchy of Dumbledore’s trust? Their skill? Or hierarchy of Hogwarts?
S: I think you are 100% right – both an indication of their skill and of Dumbledore’s trust in them. Which should have been a pretty big clue – Snape is the last barrier before getting to Dumbledore himself. I had never thought about the fact that each one would know the ones before them, so as you got deeper they’d know how to get past each one. That explains why the night the troll gets in, Snape immediately heads for the 3rd floor, because Quirrell’s obstacle was a troll. You have to get past it, and Snape knows that. So if a troll is loose, and your troll expert runs in telling you a troll is loose and hasn’t dealt with it, that’s suspicious.
My last note on mirrors is something called scrying, which is the use of mirrors to summon apparitions of the dead or of the future. The Mirror of Erised is a scrying tool, in that it can summon apparitions or show you what the future could be. We had talked about how what people would see could change later on. You have to wonder if Harry would see the same thing 7 years on. I’d like to see other people’s theories.
C: I wonder what Professor Seraphine would see.
S: Good question!
C: I don’t have any idea what I would see.
S: Me either. I guess that’s why the mirror is useful – it shows you what you want the most, whether or not you know that that is what you want.
C: I feel like it’s something that could really shake you up psychologically.
S: This is Hogwarts, where we leave psychologically scarring magical equipment around the school for students to stumble upon. I know that’s not really a random room, it’s the Room of Requirement, but anyway.
C: Maybe he required a place to hide, and he also required a little bit of knowledge of and connection with his family, which let him access the mirror.
S: I’m sure the plot would agree with you, because that’s awfully convenient!
According to this paper, the Narcissus myth dramatizes “cold, self-centered love that imprisons.” That’s the kind of thing Dumbledore warns Harry about later, that the Mirror could imprison you with what you see, a kind of self-centered desire where you’re desperate to have something and lose yourself in the idea without obtaining it. Whch is harder for Harry, because what he wants is literally impossible to obtain.
In the medieval era (I thought I was done with mirrors, but I lied) mirrors were connected to morality and moral education. There’s a Latin phrase, “speculum sine macula,” which means mirror without stain. The idea is related to Truth. In a lot of medieval art you see depictions of Christians or the Virgin Mary holding mirrors. Flawless mirror serves as metaphor. But particularly In 16th century art, although the mirror is an attribute of Mary, she’s never shown looking in it, just holding it. The idea is that Mary is the mirror, that she embodies and reflects God’s glory. She embodies both subject and object at once, as Harry does. This ties to the idea of Logos, the truth and the word embodied in one. That is the essence of Harry’s journey in this book, his ability to unite those two things in a way no one else can.
C: Repeat that Latin phrase again.
S: Speculum sine macula.
C: SPECULUM? Really? Why??
S: I’m sorry! And “speculum” is mirror – is that what that thing is supposed to be? Or does it just let you see things? Either way it’s horrible.
C: I don’t know. Maybe that’s part of why they’re made of stainless steel and look so terrifying on the counter waiting for the doctor to come use it on you. Seriously, it looks like a medieval torture instrument! It is not a thing you look at and feel comforted by. It’s still the worst every time.
S: I know! No matter how many times someone wields one of those at you…
Harry leaves the room and goes to find Ron. He’s already consumed by what he sees. “He’d almost forgotten about Flamel, who cared what Fluffy was guarding? What did it matter really if Snape stole it?” This mirror saps motivation, makes you lose all perspective. They finally retrace his route for about an hour, find the room, and Ron sees himself older, with prowess – Quidditch Captain, Head Boy, holding the house cup. “I look good!”
C: Now with more testosterone!
S: They leave, and Ron was entranced but has a bad feeling about it and doesn’t have the kind of connection to what he saw. He doesn’t want Harry to go back, wants him to distance himself. “But Harry had only one thought in his head – to get back in front of he mirror – and Ron wasn’t going to stop him.”
He goes back a third night, and Dumbledore shows up, because he’s been hanging out invisibly. He sits on the floor with Harry and explains the mirror. He knows what Ron and Harry saw. You have to wonder how Dumbledore’s monitoring system of this school works. IS he Santa Claus? Does he see you when you’re sleeping and know when you’re awake?
C: Ummmm. I mean, with Dumbledore one never knows. I would venture to say that he has been watching Harry pretty closely to try to gauge his character. He’s got to think that Voldemort is coming back and has an idea what Harry might face eventually, and because Harry and Ron are BFFs it’s only natural he will have had opportunity to observe them both. And with Ron’s situation with his older brothers, some of whom are loud, boisterous and popular, it wouldn’t take a genius to take a wild guess at what Ron wants.
S: Dumbledore tells Harry the mirror will be moved, and not to go looking for it again. On his way out, Harry asks what Dumbledore sees, and Dumbledore has the best answer. “I? I see myself holding a pair of thick woolen socks. One can never have too many socks. Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
C: He did got a flowered bonnet, though, and that cannot be underestimated.
S: Prized on the shelf with the Sorting Hat, no doubt! But Harry realizes, while Dumbledore was probably not telling the truth, it had been a very personal question. And yet another example of Dumbledore using humor when he doesn’t want to answer something.