Tuesday, January 19, 2010
What I'm re-reading #3: Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone
I have read this series many times, mainly because it's my comfort reading, like the books of Tolkien, Kerry Greenwood and Terry Pratchett. I know how it's going to end. I know for sure that Snape is a tormented good guy, not a villain (but then I suspected this from the second book onwards, though I must admit, I never suspected why he was with the Forces of Light and I still can't see any hints during the series, but other fans did).
And now I am back at the beginning, back where Harry, the "male Cinderella" (a term we used in second year Middle English Literature at Monash University)discovers the truth about his heritage. I did suspect, even then, that his aunt Petunia was simply jealous of her sister and resented her gifts. I was right about that.
I remember buying this one at the Children's Book Week Fair after it had been recommended to me by Alison Goodman, a fellow writer who has gone on to do a lot better than me in the world of speculative fiction. We were both on the committee of Aussiecon 3, the last Melbourne World SF Convention, and used to chat on the way to meetings.
I enjoyed it enough to buy the next one when I saw it. By Prisoner of Azkaban I had begun to realise that this was going to be more than just another children's series. Already we had a world where an innocent man, such as Sirius Black and even the lovable Rubeus Hagrid, could be imprisoned and tortured by nightmarish creatures on the Minister's say-so. Not to mention that the word "democracy" doesn't seem to be in the vocab of the wizarding world.I knew now that there was slavery in the wizarding world that seemed so glamorous in the first novel. And I was never easy with the casual way in which animals were turned into inanimate objects by the wizards. I mean, why would you need to turn a living animal into a pin cushion?
But mostly, I wondered about the life of a teenager in Harry's world. Think about it: if you're a young wizard, you may be able to do magic (but not at home!) but you can't hang around the mall, except on occasional visits to Hogsmeade. You can't go on Facebook or Myspace or Livejournal. Your probable only source of clothes is Madam Malkin's Robes - hardly the height of fashion!
And forget about being on the phone with your friends for hours on end - not unless you want to kneel in the fireplace with your head stuck in among the ashes. Eeew!
It is indicated in the novels that there are wizarding rock musicians and maybe even that they have concerts, but you'd probably have to go by Floo Powder or with your parents or on your broomstick if they trust you, because the wizarding community is small and scattered and you can't do Apparition till you're seventeen.
And you can probably only hear them play, the rest of the time, on the same radio station as Celestina Warbeck, that star of the sixties! No doubt there's wizarding technology of which we haven't heard, but the thing is - we haven't heard of it, right?
No TV. No movies unless you sneak off to the local Muggle cinema. Probably Fred and George do. But it's not a part of wizard culture and I suspect parents who would rather not take a chance on having Muggle neighbours find out about their world get very stroppy if their kids do this.
As a teacher-librarian, I don't envy Madame Pince, who, with no computers and not even typewriters, must have to put up with hand-written card catalogues and seems to be working day and night, every day but Christmas Day, alone. If she has a budget and a collection policy, we never hear about it. And getting back to the teens, imagine her reaction if some Hogwarts student wanted to read Twilight or Dolly Magazine instead of spellbooks!
No, thanks, I'm glad I was not brought up in Harry's world. But I do love reading about it. And as an adult I love the references to folklore and alchemy in even the first novel. I intend to keep re-reading them.