This week we discuss: Oliver Wood’s priorities; we need to discuss phrasing; smarmy Lockhart and softie McGonagall; Hermione Granger saves lives; Hogwarts civic planning must be magic; the history of the basilisk; cockatrices and cock eggs; the strangely powerful weasel; the Superman effect on the Voldemort of the Wizarding world; the complicated history of snakes, lions, birds and griffins; it always comes back to Satan; the powerful Garden of Eden metaphor for strength of character; tiny Snape hints; Lockhart schadenfreude; who knew witch hunts could be so complicated?; the naivete of children; privileges of being a Weasley parent; proof that Lockhart is a shitty wizard; Lockhart as human shield and discredit to the human race; Slytherin the egotist; and the definitive Best Version of Voldemort.
Chapter 16: The Chamber of Secrets
S: You’ve all been waiting for it, kids, and now it’s here.
But now Ron and Harry are even more stymied because they can’t get to Moaning Myrtle‘s bathroom. Everyone is being marched from room to room, class to class. On top of which – they’re having exams!
C: It’s pretty brutal.
S: Apparently Book Hogwarts actually does care about education. As opposed to Movie Hogwarts that absolutely gives zero fucks.
“The whole point is for you to receive your education, and the exams will take place as usual.”
Thanks. The whole world’s falling apart around me and you want me to take exams. Fine.
C: You know what they say: children like structure.
S: I know McGonagall likes structure. Seems to work for her. Another nice inline joke – Harry is trying to turn a pair of white rabbits into slippers! They are literal BUNNY SLIPPERS! It makes me so happy.
C: It’s going to turn out to be a mad chomping rabbit like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
S: Poor Ron.
“Can you imagine me trying to take exams with this?”
His wand has started whistling loudly for no good reason.
C: Factoid about me: I have never learned how to whistle.
S: I can’t do it either. Did you know that we had that in common?
C: I did not! I can’t at all.
S: It’s 3 days before the first exam, and McGonagall comes out with an announcement. People have various guesses as to what this could be. “Dumbledore is coming back!” “You’ve caught the Heir of Slytherin!” But I like that Oliver Wood has his priorities in order. “Quidditch matches are back on!!”
C: He’s got a one-track mind. So tell me that Oliver Wood goes on to play professional Quidditch.
S: I think he does. I seem to remember that they run into him at the Quidditch World Cup, and he’s been scouted for the Puddlemere United reserve team. If I remember correctly.
But no, Wood, it’s not Quidditch. The Mandrakes are ready to be chopped up and stewed!
C: So disturbing!
S: We shall now inflict horrific violence upon our anthropomorphized plants and revive the Petrified!
“And I need hardly remind you all that one of them may be able to tell us who or what attacked them.”
Everyone cheers. Ron: “Hey, that’s awesome, we don’t even have to ask Moaning Myrtle because Hermione will have all the answers when she wakes up!”
Mind you, she’ll go crazy when she finds out we’ve got exams in three days time. She hasn’t studied. It might be kinder to leave her where she is until they’re over.
C: Which does beg the question – I mean, it’s Hermione so we don’t really have to ask this – but how does she catch up on all the schoolwork and pass all her exams and do well enough on them to take every single course offered in her third year?
S: I don’t know. I know in the Movie Hogwarts, Dumbledore cancels all the exams anyway.
C: And she’s all, “Oh no!”
S: I don’t remember if that happens here. But given that we all know that people are waking up tonight, suddenly tense, nervous Ginny appears and sits next to Ron.
Harry suddenly realized who Ginny looked like. She was rocking backward and forward slightly in her chair, exactly like Dobby did when he was teetering on the edge of revealing forbidden information.
S: That’s a heart wrenching little description. She says she has to tell them something, and she’s carefully not looking at Harry. Then Harry asks what it is, which surely makes her more stressed. Harry:
“Is it something about the Chamber of Secrets? Have you seen anyone behaving oddly?”
And right at that moment Percy just Percies in and “Oh, if you’ve finished eating, Ginny, I’ll take your seat. I’m starving. Just come off patrol duty because I’m a prefect, have I mentioned that I’m a prefect? I’M A PREFECT.”
Poor terrified Ginny runs. Ron yells at Percy – “She was just about to tell us something important!” Which makes Percy snort tea out of his nose. “What? Oh. That. She walked in on me…doing…something…and I made her promise not to tell…”
Really, Percy? Poor Ginny. The trauma of seeing Percy sticking his tongue down Penelope Clearwater’s throat.
C: And yet it’s so much better than what I now, as an adult, think when I read this.
S: I know exactly what you mean! Because I read this again and thought, “Oh, you walked in on Percy wanking off.”
C: And I would much rather walk in on a relative or a friend kissing somebody than I would on them jacking off.
S: ABSOLUTELY. Much happier to walk in and see Percy face-sucking Penelope. I still don’t’ know why he’s trying to keep this a secret, anyway.
C: That is interesting. I wonder why Percy isn’t swaggering about, crowing that not only is he a prefect, but he’s also got a prefect girlfriend.
S: I wonder why he’s trying to keep it quiet. Maybe just doesn’t want to get teased by his brothers? That’s fair. Maybe because she’s a Ravenclaw? Or maybe he just wants his privacy, even though there’s really no reason to keep it a secret.
But thank goodness for Harry ‘s persistence. He thinks they should still try to talk to Moaning Myrtle even with everyone getting woken up. And, delightfully, he gets a chance when they are being led to History of Magic….by Lockhart. Who is convinced that it’s not even worth the trouble escorting them down the corridors, because **As we all know, the monster was frightened away by my smile, five-time winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award.**
His hair isn’t even done, which must be driving him mad. And one can only imagine what Harry and the others want to say to him. He’s over here smarming:
“Mark my words, the first words out of those poor Petrified people’s mouths will be It was Hagrid.”
Harry is like, yeah, you’re totally right! You know what, we don’t even need all this security.
“Thank you, Harry! I mean, we teachers have quite enough to be getting on with.”
“THAT’S RIGHT!” Ron says, finally catching on. “Why don’t you leave us? We’ve only got one more corridor to go. We understand!”
Lockhart: “Thank you so much, I really should go prepare my next class.”
Yeah, he’s gonna go curl his hair. But whatever works! It got him away. AND just as they got away from the most inept teacher at Hogwarts, they got caught by the most capable teacher at Hogwarts. And I love how they pull this off. Do you?
C: Of course!
S: It’s such a great moment of characterization. They know they have no excuse, and Harry decides to play the Hermione card and tell McGonagall that they were going to sneak into the hospital wing to tell Hermione that the mandrakes are nearly ready, and not to worry. And stern, strict McGonagall is a big softie. You’ve got to be heartless to not be moved about these poor, terrified children who only want to see their friend. She’s tearing up over it! She thinks they’re so sweet and loyal, she’s touched by the power of their friendship – of course, they’re total liars, but you know, it’s sweet. And it’s sweet that it’s McGonagall of all people who is so moved by their affection for her that this becomes the one time she gives them license to be an exception. Which she doesn’t care to do much.
C: She is totally right about their friendship.
S: That this has been hardest on the friends of those who were Petrified?
C: Yeah. And that they’re all BFFs.
S: Strictly speaking, they weren’t going to visit Hermione, but if they had been free to visit the hospital wing they would have.
C: Of course, it’s hardest on the friends of those who have been Petrified, because the families of those who have been Petrified have no fucking idea that they’ve been Petrified.
S: I would like to pause and tell grown-up, AU Harry to go fuck himself for having the gall to tell Minerva McGonagall that she doesn’t matter because she doesn’t have kids of her own.
S: Go find a rusty nail and sit on it. He is the worst. Cursed Child is the worst. This has been your weekly reminder that Cursed Child is shit. And now we can move on.
Ron: “That was the best story you have ever come up with.”
Now, of course, they have to go so they’re not complete liars. Of course, Madam Pomfrey is like, “There’s really just no point to this, but whatever.”
It’s such a good thing that they went. because if they had not made up this lie, and then gone to cover their tracks, they would never have noticed that Hermione has a piece of paper scrunched in her fist.
C: And I want to know how everybody else missed it, or how it had been missed up to this point.
S: In the book, at least, it’s extremely hard to get it out of her hand because it’s clenched very tight. So one can assume it’s crumbled up very small. Assuming that no one did a full-on examination of Hermione – they assume, oh, she’s Petrified like everyone else, they didn’t see anything obvious other than the mirror – they weren’t really looking to see if she had something in her other hand. I could see how, at least in the book, it could be missed. In the movie, it’s so obvious and so easy to get out of her hand that there’s no way they missed that.
S: In the book, it takes several minutes. But the real story here is that Hermione Granger desecrated a library book.
C: She was in a hurry, okay? She knew the stakes.
S: She must have either temporarily lost her marbles, or thrown all caution to the wind and decided, lives are at stake, the book must be sacrificed! because not only did she write in a book, she ripped the page out! Madam Pince would be having fits right now.
C: And it is a damn good thing she did! because if she didn’t, Penelope Clearwater would probably be dead.
S: Absolutely true. She saved Penelope’s life. It was a fair sacrifice. And finally, it all clicks – this page that explains, finally, that the monster in the castle is a basilisk, also known as the king of serpents. It can reach a gigantic size, live hundreds of years, is born of a chicken’s egg hatched beneath a toad, has deadly venomous fangs, a murderous stare, and anyone who makes eye contact with it suffers instant death. It’s the mortal enemy of spiders, and it only flees from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it. And then there’s Hermione‘s little addition: Pipes.
There is so much information in this one paragraph! And it gives you such a rush of understanding as a reader, and all of a sudden, all these questions make sense. That’s it.
Harry: “That’s why I hear it – it’s a snake – I can talk to them – and everyone has been Petrified because no one looked it in the eye.” Colin saw it through the camera, Justin saw it through Nearly Headless Nick, who couldn’t die again. Hermione had that mirror, which, as you said, saved Penelope‘s life because she’d figured it out, and was telling anyone she met to look around corners with a mirror.
C: And thank God Penelope listened to her.
S: Thank God Penelope had a mirror! And listened to her, and got it out, because they could have both died. And Mrs. Norris saw the reflection in the water from Moaning Myrtle‘s bathroom. Now the roosters make sense – Hagrid mentioned it a couple of time, roosters being slaughtered. Hermione has figured out that it is using the pipes to get around.
If that’s the case, then the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets has got to be in a bathroom.
C: I think that is a brilliant way to have this creature moving about the castle, but I cover municipalities for the newspaper I write for. And that includes discussions about water, sewer lines. There is no way that Hogwarts has sewer or water pipes big enough for this gigantic-ass Basilisk to move around in. That is the most unrealistic part of this book.
S: WHY? Why are you logicking that now?
C: I’m just saying. The biggest pipes we have are 8” in diameter.
S: Yeahh…. Well… I’m just going to say that Salazar Slytherin had something to do with having gigantic pipes installed, because he knew that this basilisk would one day be gigantic and he totally foresaw the need for this, because why not? I don’t know. I’m handwaving at this point.
C: I’m just saying.
But it doesn’t matter, because now they’re realizing that that’s how this works. Harry: “That means I can’t be the only Parselmouth in the school. The Heir of Slytherin is one too, and that’s how he’s been controlling the basilisk.”
Before we go forward, are you willing to sidetrack with me about basilisks?
C: Ride or die with your sidetrack.
S: In European bestiaries, the word basilisk comes from Greek meaning “Little king,” which also in Latin is “Regulus.” Just tossing that out there.
A lot of things that she attributes to the basilisk go back as far as the idea goes. It’s so venomous that it leaves venom in its wake, its gaze is lethal. According to Pliny, it’s weakness is the odor of a weasel – you could throw a weasel into a basilisk’s hole, and the weasel would probably die but the stench would kill the basilisk. Which probably came out of accounts of snakes like the king cobra fighting the mongoose, their natural predators. If you’ve ever seen a mongoose and a cobra fight, it’s incredible.
C: Have you ever seen the animated Riki-Tiki-Tavi?
C: I loved that when I was little!
S: Me too! And it makes a lot of sense. Given the vast amount of intercontinental traffic that’s happening before we even hit 1000 A.D. via the Silk Roads, spice trading between East and West, there are tons of cultural influences going back and forth, coming from China, India, Turkey. You could see where Europeans would bring back these stories of things they saw – this incredibly poisonous snake that kills anything it touches but somehow this little mongoose can take it down.
It’s a cool idea. The note Hermione found in the book dubs it the “king of serpents.” It’s called a king because, supposedly, it had a miter or crown-shaped crest. Also a nod to hooded cobras, possibly. And basilisks are sometimes interchangeable with cockatrices.
C: Many cockatoos?
S: A cockatrice is a two-legged part dragon or serpent creature with a rooster’s head.
Which is so fascinating, given that the rooster can kill the basilisk, and a cockatrice combines those things. The cockatrice is the product of an egg laid by a cock and incubated by a toad.
There is actually a thing called a cock egg. It’s not roosters actually laying eggs. It’s when a hen starts laying, sometimes the first couple of eggs have a soft, unformed shell. They call them cock eggs, and they were a source of superstition. If you found one it meant you might hatch a cockatrice and so you would toss the egg over your house – but it had to land on the other side of the house without actually hitting the house.
C: Not only that, it had to land in the open palm of a Hand of Glory.
S: Under a full moon on a Wednesday!
C: But not in a Leap Year.
S: Cockatrice, same deal – kills by looking at things, in late Medieval bestiaries weasels are immune to a cockatrice’s glance.
C: Have you noticed that in all of these legends there are all these things that can kill you by looking at you?
C: I’m pretty sure all this shit was made up by really shy people who did not like to make eye contact.
S: As humans, we have fascination with sight and seeing – it’s such an integral part of our understanding of the world. So, this idea that there is something that could kill you by looking at you, via the power of sight – that’s got to be a universal concept.
I thought you might like this – the actual word “basilisk” is in some early translations of the Bible. Wycliffe’s Bible, Jerome’s Vulgate – after a while it got translated into “viper,” “adder” or “snake.” But I thought you would appreciate this – in Richard III, the Duchess of York compares her son to a cockatrice!
O ill-dispersing wind of misery!
O my accursed womb, the bed of death!
A cockatrice hast thou hatch’d to the world,
Whose unavoided eye is murderous.
C: God, I love that! “My womb, bed of death.” That’s quite a statement.
S: Going back to the basilisk, you see a lot of jumbled up versions of the same pattern – super poisonous, some even say poisonous breath – the “air of corruption” would kill. Which is kind of an interesting reference to the unique smell snakes have.
It shows up in Chaucer. According to some legends, basilisks can be killed by the crow of the rooster or by gazing at themselves in mirrors. Which is awesome, because there’s a legend of the Basilisk of Warsaw in Poland. In that legend, the basilisk is killed by a man who is carrying mirrors. So I like that Hermione comes up with the notion of using the mirror to at least evade the basilisk.
And, of course, stories grew, as these things do. The original stories had the basilisk being only 12” long.
C: See, that would make sense for the basilisk to be able to travel through the pipes of the school.
S: And over time they started describing it as a larger beast – some said it could breathe fire, some said it could kill with the sound of its voice – and then some said it could kill by touching something that touched the victim, like a sword held in their hand.
I can’t, with all of this. It makes me so nerd giddy.
C: So how was anyone supposed to ever kill a basilisk? Because the basilisk is starting to sound a lot like Superman. Not only is he invulnerable, but he can fly! He also has super speed! He also has icy breath! He also shoots beams from his eyes!
S: It says when a basilisk can’t kill animals with its gaze it then turns on herbs and plants! Its venom can flow up a spear, travel up a spear and get you. It is the Superman/Voldemort of the animal world.
The weasel seems to be the main thing that can kill it.
I told you there was a cockatrice reference in Richard III, right?
C: Yeah, but I’m still stuck on that womb of death.
S: It gets better, because there’s also a separate basilisk reference in Richard III! When Richard is trying to seduce Lady Anne right after he’s murdered her husband, he’s telling her how beautiful her eyes are, and she retorts that she wishes her eyes were those of a basilisk, that she might kill him.
C: Well, it’s good to have honesty in a relationship.
S: I love that it shows up in this play, which is one of both of our favorite plays.
C: Oh, you bunch-backed toad.
S: Hedgehog! So it shows up a lot of places – Pope, Shelley, Browning, Swift all reference basilisks. Now – can I talk about the Christianizing of the basilisk?
C: Oh, god.
S: I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY!
C: We wouldn’t be us if you didn’t.
S: We know that medieval Europe developed these bestiaries, compendiums of stories and pictures of these fantastic beasts – which is the natural predecessor for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Around the 2nd century there was a Christian Greek didactic text entitled Physiologus.
It had some additions from Christian scholars – Ambrose, Isidore of Seville, Rabbinus Marus. It’s a widely-read bestiary. But a lot of times these bestiaries served as religious allegories and vehicles for moral instruction. Big shock. And they would appear in medieval art.
So the basilisk is seen in The Canterbury Tales in the late 14th century, and is equated with the Devil. I am sure that you are startled to find that the basilisk, the king of serpents, would be equated with the Devil. I’m sure you don’t know what to do with that knowledge.
C: I… I am shocked.
S: So we come back to the significance of Christianity. We said Rowling would come back to it, and she has. The Voldemort of the animal world, the King of Serpents, is a snake – OF COURSE IT IS. Not just any snake – a snake that can talk to you.
S: We could not go more Garden of Eden if we tried. Now here’s something really fun. We know that the idea was that only a weasel or the crowing of a rooster could kill a basilisk – but that’s not entirely true. There is also a long history of snakes and lions being mortal enemies. Griffins are half-eagle, half-lion. So the two archetypical enemies of snakes in the animal kingdom, combined.
So there’s a long history of lore with griffins versus snakes.
Snakes tend to represent evil, while lions, while being violent, have more positive connotations. They’re very similar in mythology – they’re often guardians of treasures, they’re kings of their respective realms. The lion is the king of the forest, the basilisk is the king of serpents. And they’re both terribly dangerous, and mortal enemies.
In the 17th century Display of Heraldry by John Guillim, he writes about the basilisk: “He seemeth to be a little king amongst serpents, not in regard to his quantity, but in respect to his pestiferous and poisonful aspect, wherewith he poisoneth the air.”
But the griffin: “By reason, uniteth force and industry together. Having attained his full growth, he will never be taken alive, wherein he doth adumbrate the property of a soldier, who would rather expose himself to all dangers and even to death itself than to become captive.”
So the 17th century Heraldry descriptions are brilliant when looking at Harry Potter. The griffin will never give up, never be taken alive, and would rather expose himself to many dangers than to be taken captive, whereas the snake is utterly poisonous and more or less evil.
C: Which describes Albus.
S: So we’re about to get into this big Gryffindor-Slytherin battle, and this is where it gets fascinating, because the griffin is depicted with the “face, beak, talons and wings of an eagle and body of a lion.” But a lot of times griffins also have the tail of a snake. There’s been much discussed about the fact that the griffin and the snake share traits, even though they are mortal enemies – which works beautifully for the Tom Riddle – Harry Potter dichotomy. They have so many things in common. And yet, they are so different and are mortally opposed to each other.
So of course, because all things are representative of Our Lord – “the griffin’s dual nature led it to be associated with Jesus Christ. God and man, king of heaven and earth. The eagle half of the griffin symbolized Christ’s divinity, the lion half represented his humanity.” And griffins were often symbols of Christ’s resurrection! I don’t know why, but they were!
“The strength of the lion, the wisdom of the eagle combined in the griffin symbolized the strength and wisdom of God.”
C: See, and I’ve just been thinking this whole time that we could have ended up with, instead of Jesus being the Lamb of God, Jesus being the Weasel of God, because he can kill snakes.
S: We really missed out. I would take the Griffin of God, too. That’s cool.
Definite Christianization of this. There are some interesting associations with that, particularly when you look at the fact that both Tom Riddle and Harry are Parselmouths. We know why in terms of the plot, but if you think past the details of the story and take it a little bigger – if we’re going with this whole Satan-Jesus, good-evil parallel with snake vs. griffin, it’s interesting when you tie back to snakes’ association, at a fundamental level, with the Garden of Eden. The snake talks to Eve, misleads her, and causes the downfall of humanity. It’s interesting that both Harry and Tom Riddle can talk to snakes.
If you take the symbolism of the serpent, it’s a great moral allegory that both Harry and Voldemort are presented with the same opportunity in the way Eve was – the snake speaks to both of them. This notion of evil, temptation, the desire for power – because what did the snake want Eve to do? Eat of the tree of Knowledge, so that she could be like God. Which is, translated, a desire for power that should not have been hers.
Translate that to Harry and Voldemort. Both are offered power. Both have the ability to gain it, both are tempted by it – and you see two very different responses to it. This ties in beautifully to what Dumbledore tells us is at the core of this whole thing – it is our choices that make us who we truly are.
It’s a brilliant comparison when you see that they have these things in common, particularly this ability to talk to serpents – so commonly associated with Satan, with evil, with temptation – and they do different things. Tom Riddle can speak to the basilisk, and chooses to let it loose to destroy. Harry Potter can speak to the basilisk, and he chooses to destroy it so that it can’t harm anyone else. Same abilities, opposite decisions.
I’m nerding out so hard over this! And ya’ll just wait, we haven’t even gotten to the final showdown! How many listeners do yo think I’m turning off with my over-reliance on religion here?
C: It’s okay, I brought them back with the Weasel of God comment.
S: I also found, if you’re interested, a great paper that links the basilisk to Medusa, which we’ve talked about at length.
C: Poor Medusa!
S: She’s very strongly represented in this series. We’re seeing a motif. I love this snake/bird enmity and snake/lion enmity. You get the snake/bird enmity at the same time as the snake/lion enmity, as you’re getting the griffin/basilisk enmity, as you’re getting two kings facing off, as you’re getting the temptation of sin, as you’re getting the struggle for power, as you’re getting good vs. evil, as you’re getting Harry and Tom of two worlds, both hybrid creatures in a way like the basilisk and griffin – it’s just fucking brilliant.
Can I teach a class on this? Someone give me a room and a syllabus. I’m ready to go.
C: That’s what the podcast is for.
S: I have rambled at length and I will hold off the rest until the next chapter, because we have just gotten to an important point at this story – suddenly an amplified McGonagall voice comes through the corridors ordering all students to House dormitories at once, and all teachers to the staffroom. Of course, Harry and Ron aren’t going to their dormitories – they’re headed for the staffroom!
C: What else would you do?
S: This is one of my all-time favorite moments in this book – not because of the terrible thing that has happened, which is that Ginny Weasley has been taken into the Chamber, and a message was left saying that “Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever.”
Of course, all the real teachers that matter are devastated. Whether you know who Ginny is or not doesn’t matter – it’s a student in danger. McGonagall says we’re going to have to send the students home. This could be the end of Hogwarts.
C: They’re describing the reactions of all the teachers. “Snape gripped the back of a chair very hard.”
C: Snape’s upset. He does what he does for his reasons, I don’t think he necessarily likes children or maybe even being an educator that much – at least Potions – and he’s a massive dick. We know this. But he’s still not evil.
S: No. Because when faced with the prospect of a child taken by a monster, it hits him as hard as everyone else. His reaction: “How can you be sure?” Of course, that’s how he operates. Think – don’t react, don’t feel, think. Even though he obviously is feeling what everyone else is, he’s trying to solve this. It’s a throwaway line, a small thing, but it speaks volumes about Snape’s character.
Particularly as opposed to the character of the massive douchecanoe who sails in right at this well-timed moment, for the most beautiful bit of schadenfreude so far in this series. Lockhart waltzes in, big smile on his face. “So sorry, dozed off. What have I missed?”
He didn’t seem to notice that the other teachers were looking at him with something remarkably like hatred.
And bless you, Severus Snape, for being the one to step forward and take full advantage of this situation.
“Just the man, the very man. A girl has been snatched by the monster, Lockhart. Taken into the chamber of secrets itself. Your moment has come at last.”
And everyone piles on! Professor Sprout, Professor Flitwick, Snape again! “Weren’t you saying you knew where the entrance was? Weren’t you saying you knew what was inside it?”
“I certainly remember you saying you were sorry you hadn’t had a crack at the monster before Hagrid was arrested. Didn’t you say the whole affair had been bungled and you should have been given free reign from the first?”
HEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHEHHEHEHE. THAT IS THE ONLY REACTION POSSIBLE.
Lockhart stared around at his stony-faced colleagues. “We’ll leave it to you then, Gilderoy. Tonight would be an excellent time to do it. You’ll be able to tackle the monster all by yourself. A free rein at last.”
C: I love this description of him.
Lockhart gazed desperately around him, but no one came to the rescue. He didn’t look remotely handsome any more. His lip was trembling, and in the absence of his usual toothy grin, he looked weak-chinned and feeble.
S: I wish I could say some sort of prominent real-life example came to mind. Certainly not anyone I would ever describe that way who in tense situations resorts to tweeting about witch hunts.
C: Have you seen that editorial cartoon that completely fucks up what a witch hunt is?
C: Oh my god. I’m going to text it to you.
S: I did read an incredible – one of the most amazing bits of sarcasm I’d ever read from The Washington Post – an opinion piece entitled, “Is Donald Trump a witch?” It takes him totally seriously – and then says, but what if he is? I read it out loud at work and we howled with laughter. If you haven’t read it you owe it to yourself to have a good laugh for a moment.
But this is a beautiful portrait of a man who has gotten by on his bluster and his ability to bullshit and con people, and now that he’s faced with having to do something and stand behind his words, he reveals himself to be a useless lump.
It’s a wonderful comeuppance, and you really feel the solidarity of the teachers, the people who have been fighting this fight the whole time.
OMG, this cartoon is the worst.
C: I don’t know how you get that wrong!
S: I saw a great thing on Twitter: “You cannot be a witch unless you are a young woman whose burgeoning sexuality intimidates your community elders!”
That, and to me, the best response from the representative from Massachusetts, who retweeted the witch hunt tweet and said, “I can confirm that this is inaccurate.” His district includes Salem.
I mean, of all the metaphors to pick he would pick the appropriate the quintessential image of oppression of women instead of one that relates to his actual situation. But sure.
C: Never in his life has Donald Trump ever been appropriate.
S: That is a nearly perfect description of the situation. Ten points to Gryffindor.
And I love that – he leaves the room.
“Right,” said Professor McGonagall, whose nostrils were flared. “That’s got him out from under our feet.”
C: What I want to know is what do they think he’s going to do? Do they think he’ll hide in his room? Leave? Do they care?
S: I don’t think they care, but I think they assume he’ll do what he did – run, hide, and possibly try to leave. They know he’ll turn tail and run in the face of an actual confrontation. Where he runs, they don’t care. They don’t give two shits about Gilderoy Lockhart. They just want him out of the way, because he’s a nuisance. And it’s an insult to all of these people who really care about what happens to this girl and the rest of the students.
It’s a triumphant moment. It’s not quite as strong in the movie but damn if it’s not enjoyable. I love how Kenneth Branagh fakes some bravado in the movie on his way out. It works out well because later on, when the boys go to find him, they’ve seen him act like he’ll do something so they think, well, if he’s going let’s help.
C: Which to me, now that you mention that, makes no sense that they would go to him. Even if they thought he was going to try to do something, they are both well aware that he is an incompetent fool. So why are you going to him?
S: I actually liked that move on their part, because to me it showed that they are still frightened kids at this point. They’re desperate. They don’t know what to do. Ron is terrified for his sister. They’re 12.
C: When in doubt, find McGonagall!
S: They’re desperate enough to hope that – even if Lockhart is completely useless, he said he was going to do something so let’s see if we can help him! It’s naïve, it’s too trusting, but it also shows that they’re scared. Anything to try to save Ginny. I thought it was a sweet moment, actually, in that you see that they are children.
Fast forward two years and they would be saying, “Fuck Lockhart, he’s not going to do anything.” This is a kid response, still kind of trusting that even though he’s an idiot, he’s an adult who said he’d act, so maybe….
But you know, they end up marching him down at wand point, so.
Here again is another point where I like that the movie sped this up, so you don’t have these long, painful moments between things happening. It’s more realistic this way – everyone’s cooped up waiting, no one knows what to say or do, it’s torturous – but that doesn’t play as well in a movie so it’s good that they trim it. At this point in the film everything needs to accelerate.
But it’s so painful to read this from Ron. They’ve been sitting there the entire afternoon.
No afternoon had ever lasted as long as that one, nor had Gryffindor tower ever been so crowded yet so quiet. Near sunset, Fred and George went to bed, unable to sit there any longer.
“She knew something, Harry,” said Ron, speaking for the first time since they entered the wardrobe in the staffroom. “That’s why she was taken. It wasn’t some stupid thing about Percy at all. She found out something about the Chamber of Secrets. That must be why.”
Poor Ron. Moments like this show that the entire family is a wreck – even Percy, who finally – FINALLY – went to notify parents! The Weasleys should be honored that they are the first parents to know that something is wrong at Hogwarts!
As soon as he goes to see them, he shuts himself up in the dormitory. Percy has got to feel guilty, thinking that maybe Ginny was trying to tell Ron something, maybe it wasn’t about Penelope. He’s got to be thinking this is his fault somehow – because that’s what you do in these situations. Even Fred and George are probably thinking this is their fault somehow, they should have done more. It shows how much they all love each other. And that’s where I feel that this childish hope and naiveté comes in. Harry doesn’t know what to say because he can’t think of any way Ginny could still be alive. Ron:
“You know what? I think we should go see Lockhart, tell him what we know. He’s going to try and get in the Chamber. We could tell him where we think it is, and tell him it’s a basilisk in there.”
And because Harry couldn’t think of anything else to do, and because he wanted to be doing something, he agreed.
That’s nicely done. You get the pathos of the moment.
C: I guess.
S: It’s quickly demolished, because they go to the office and hear frantic movement. Lockhart is peering through a crack at them.
C: You know what’s funny about this?
There seemed to be a lot of activity going on inside it. They could hear scraping, thumps, and hurried footsteps.
To me that sounds like he’s packing by hand. So he’s not even good enough at magic to wave his wand and use magic to pack his place for him – which is why it’s taken him so long.
S: That’s an excellent point! Because he would want his very nice robes meticulously folded and his hair care products put away neatly. You’re right – he’s not even good enough to pack!
Look at the description:
His robes had been hastily folded into one large trunk, everything is jumbled untidily, photographs crammed into boxes.
Man, Lockhart sucks! I also love in the movie that they do this scene word for word. There’s very little changed. Even Branagh’s jerky dialogue: “Urgent call – unavoidable – must go – well as to that – most unfortunate – no one regrets more than I – “ that’s word for word from the movie!
And now, the moment. “Books can be misleading!” Harry: “You wrote them!” Of course, he did, Harry, and he lied! It’s like the equivalent of someone who “wrote” a book and claims it’s theirs even though they had a ghostwriter the entire time because they never had a thought or the attention span to write a book, and claiming it encapsulates all their wisdom even though they didn’t write it! **ahemARTOFTHEDEALcough**
Of course, Lockhart didn’t do all that crap. You can’t spend 5 minutes with him and think he did. No one would want to read about the actual people who did stuff – they’re ugly! Not photogenic at all! The witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a hairy chin! Come on.
C: I mean, to be fair, you would think that magically she could get rid of that.
S: True. But it doesn’t matter, because – ugly people. No one wants to read about ugly people. And he is right – it did take work. He had to track people down, learn their stories, modify their memories.
“If you want fame you have to be prepared for a long, hard slog.”
True. You’re still a douche.
And of course, he decides he’s going to try to modify the boys’ memories. They in turn Expelliarmus him so hard he’s blasted over his trunk.
“Shouldn’t have let Professor Snape teach us that one,” said Harry furiously.
Lockhart was looking up at him, feeble once more.
S: They basically march him into Moaning Myrtle ‘s bathroom at wand point. They come into the bathroom and ask the question that makes Moaning Myrtle ‘s entire existence worth living.
C: Or dying.
S: “What do you want this time?” “To ask you how you died.” “Ooohhh it was dreadful!” But it is important that someone thought to ask. She was crying in the bathroom years ago and heard a voice speaking a different language – a boy. So she came out to tell him to go away, and wrong place, wrong time – she died. All she remembers is a pair of great big yellow eyes.
Then she came back to haunt Olive Hornby. Priorities.
She points vaguely toward the sink, which they examine – it seems to be normal, except for a tiny copper snake engraved on a tap. Which, now that I know all that history about how the person who built the bathroom knew about the Chamber and took the time to etch that snake in the tap so another Slytherin would come along and find it – it makes this moment more powerful for me than Slytherin himself just leaving that there in the hopes that one day someone would find it. For me that’s way more sinister, knowing how long this has been perpetuated.
C: Here’s my question. What exactly do they think they are going to do with Lockhart?
S: Use him as a human shield? He’s still an adult. Maybe they’re hoping he might be able to do something.
C: He doesn’t even have a wand at this point. Ron threw it out the window.
S: So, I guess, human shield. Maybe they think if the chips are down he’ll be forced to help them. To their credit they know they can’t really do it by themselves, and having him there is better than nothing. But my favorite line in this scene is the one they add in the movie.
Harry looks at the tap, imagines the snake as alive, and tells it to open in Parseltongue. The whole thing opens up.
And I love in the movie when the boys point their wands.
Ron: “You can go first.” Lockhart: “Now, boys, what good would it do?” Ron: “Better you than us.” In the movie, Lockhart agrees! “Yes, well, obviously.” Even though he doesn’t like it, he can’t argue with it!
So the Chamber of Secrets is open, and it is a gigantic slimy dark pipe they slide down. Miles under the school – under the lake, probably. That’s fitting! Everything happens in the lake.
They light their wands and move forward. Harry tells them to watch for signs of movement. Then they hear a crunch from underfoot – tons of animal bones. Then they see, even more frighteningly, a gigantic curved snakeskin 20 feet long.
C: That’s gross. That makes my scalp crawl.
S: Lockhart, being the clever douchecanoe that he is, fakes a faint and snags Ron‘s wand. Which is beautiful, really. because if Lockhart had paid attention to any of his students, he’d know this is a bad idea. But he didn’t, so he takes Ron‘s wand. This is a truly vile plan – he plans to take a bit of the skin back to the school, say he was too late to save the girl, and that the boys lost their minds at the sight of her mangled body.
C: Don’t you think, though, that some combination of Snape, McGonagall and Dumbledore would have gone down anyway? He would never have gotten away with it.
S: No, he wouldn’t. At this point his credibility is so shot, no one would buy it. But of course someone like him, a con artist, thinks he can bluff his way through as he always has. It would be a fatal mistake, because the teachers would have gone down anyway. But this is a despicable plan – to abandon Ginny, not even attempt to save her, destroy the minds of two other children, to save his own lousy skin.
C: He does get what he deserves.
S: He does, because he goes to Obliviate Ron, and it doesn’t work because Ron‘s wand has been a thorn in his side this entire year. But much like the car, when it really matters, it comes through to save him. That wand backfires on Lockhart. Unfortunately, it explodes, creating a massive rock fall that separates Ron and Harry.
“I’m here!” came Ron’s muffled voice from behind the rock fall. “I’m okay! This git’s not, though – he got blasted by the wand – “ There was a dull thud, then a muffled “Ow!” It sounded as though Ron had just kicked Lockhart in the shins.
C: Kick him in the balls!
There was another thud, and another “Ow!” from behind the rocks.
S: I love that Ron vents his feelings on Lockhart.
C: Can’t say that I blame him.
S: Again, it’s practical. Yes, it’s convenient that Harry goes on alone, again. But again, as it was in the first book, it is somewhat out of necessity, not what they’d prefer. He’s not going on alone out of any sense of misplaced saviorhood or bravery – it’s because he has no choice. Meanwhile, Ron is going to try to shift some rock so they can get out of here when Harry comes back.
It’s so poignant that they both know that Ron shifting rock to let Harry and Ginny back through is the most wildly hopeful scenario possible.
C: Sometimes that’s all you have.
“See you in a bit,” said Harry, trying to inject some confidence into his shaking voice.
S: Yeah, sometimes that’s all you’ve got. They’ve got to believe in each other, Ron’s got to believe that Harry can find Ginny and that somehow she’ll be alive and they can make it back, and that’s three very big if’s. Harry’s got to believe the same things — that he can find her, that she’s alive, that he can get her back, that they can get free of the rock fall – there’s so many things that they don’t know, but have to hope that somehow it will work out.
Harry goes down the tunnel and finds a wall on which “two entwined serpents were carved, their eyes set with great glinting emeralds.” Was Salazar Slytherin that much of an egotist that he put entwined S-shaped snakes on the wall? Like his initials? Was this something he doodled on his notebook?
C: Considering how much trouble he seems to have gone to set this thing up in the first place, I think we can safely say that he was that big of an egotist.
S: There’s a cool digital illustration of this in the e-book, but I like what they did in the movie – the 7 snakes on the big door that swings open. That’s a cool practical effect. And of course there are 7 snakes, because why wouldn’t there be?
Harry tells the door to open, and it does.
And Harry, shaking from head to foot, walked inside.
C: DUN DUN DUN.
S: It’s criminal, but that is where we end! Because next week we come back to talk about The Heir of Slytherin, at which point ya’ll better have all your comfy chairs ready, because I’m going to soapbox like no tomorrow. And Professor Creed is going to laugh at me the entire time. Because shit’s about to get good in this book.
C: Should I have my various Bibles in various translations waiting nearby?
S: It wouldn’t hurt! We are going there. We’re going to confront this Christian symbolism thing head-on, but we’ll look at some other stuff too – more mythology and lore, and finally – we will do the thing that somehow we failed to do last time, and we will talk about how hot Tom Riddle is.
C: He was a good-looking actor. I prefer Oliver Wood.
S: I know you do. But I loved the actor – Christian Coulson. He was an inspired casting choice. He hammed it up a little at points but overall, I thought he was an excellent choice for Tom Riddle.
C: My favorite Voldemort will always be the Voldemort from Sorcerer’s Stone, where it’s just a random person in a cloak. That’s the best representation of Voldemort out of all the films.
S: It just occurred to me that we need an alternate universe where it is hot Tom Riddle versus hot Oliver Wood and either Hot Neville or Hot Evil Neville.
C: I just want more footage of Voldemort shambling along with his robe pulled up.
S: Voldemort clearly being pulled through the air on wires?
C: It cracks me up. I don’t know why I find it so funny, but you know they were like, “All right, get that tall guy from craft services over here, we’ll throw the blanket on him.”
S: And then they string a wire rig in the cloak for when it flies away and miraculously no longer has legs.
C: It’s the best.
S: Well, anything else for this week?
C: Earlier, you mentioned – was it the cockatrice or basilisk in Chaucer?
S: I think it was the basilisk, but a lot of literature used them interchangeably.
C: So this is not necessarily Chaucer-specific although it is very Chaucerian, but I believe that one thing that could defeat the basilisk would be the use of a fart trumpet.
S: Well, it did say the weasel’s stench is what defeats the basilisk, so.
C: It’s all connected.
S: If we did a deep dive in some marginalia we might find this whole series played out in fart trumpets. Until then, I am Professor Seraphine –
C: I am the Weasel of God –
S: And we will see you next time – with our Lord – on Advanced Muggle Studies!
Intro music: “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, performed by Kevin McLeod
“Exploring Griffin and Dragon Connections and Origins in Early Prehistoric Times.” Japanese Mythology and Folklore.
“Basilisk.” The Medieval Bestiary.
“The Griffin.” Excerpted Suzetta Tucker’s “The Bestiary.” Mythmaniacs.com
“Animals in Medieval Art.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dash, Mike. “On the Trail of the Warsaw Basilisk.” Smithsonian.com.
“Basiliskos.” The Theoi Project.