Michelle and I have just finished the first book in our re-read of the Harry Potter series. I think I’ve already gone through every stage of joy and grief – this is going to be one emotional summer. We’ve been sharing our thoughts on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook but we wanted to take a little time here an discuss what coming back to the series has been like.
M: When I started re-reading Sorcerer's Stone I planned to ignore the elements of the story that I know, which is basically everything that happens. I knew I couldn't just forget all of the details, but I didn't want to concentrate on them. This worked out pretty well for me until I saw Hedwig for the first time...knowing what happens in future novels all of a sudden overwhelmed me. This feeling only grew as Harry encountered more of my most beloved characters. I know from Twitter that you are keeping information from later novels in mind as you read; what particularly is coloring your view of this early part of the series?
V: A lot, really. Strangely, I seem to be able to simultaneously keep future details in mind and also read it with fresh eyes, so my perceptions are not entirely colored by knowing what happens. I keep marking bits that foreshadow later events in the series, like Hagrid mentioning that you'd be mad to try and rob Gringotts. There's so much that comes back later, and I really love tracing the thread through the whole series. Some people don't believe that JKR planned it all throughout, but there are just too many little connections for it NOT to have been planned out.
One thing I have noticed that really struck me: these kids are witty, intelligent, and curious, and they seem completely real to me, but they definitely are still written as eleven year olds. Certain phrases or thoughts betray their youth and immaturity sometimes, and I can't help but love it while at the same time it makes me really sad. I got really sentimental when Hagrid mentioned that after seven years at Hogwarts Harry won't know himself, because that's exactly what happens. In the beginning of Book 7, Harry tours Privet Drive one last time and thinks back on his childhood self with sadness, feeling as though he's lost a younger brother. Knowing the end makes the beginning that much sadder and more precious, I suppose. I relish the innocence.
Reading these books again feels like a breath of fresh air. It's like I didn't even know I'd been holding my breath until I started reading and discovered what breathing really was. I know it's a silly analogy, but that's the best I can describe it. It's been much too long. I didn't realize how much I was aching to return to this world.
Has anything in particular, besides Hedwig, struck you differently this time since you know what's coming?? I keep noticing even little things, like the fact that Quirrell is the teacher who stumbles upon Filtch yelling at Harry and Ron for trying to break into the 3rd floor corridor. Like, of course that's where Quirrell was hanging around. Does it change the book for you at all?? I always feel that it simply adds another dimension to my reading.
M: So far the only thing that has really struck me has been watching Harry meet characters whose destinies I am aware of (I'm trying not to be too spoilery here and that makes writing about the series a little awkward sometimes). A few little details that I never noticed as a kid are visible to me as an adult reader (some good, others less so). One thing that really excited me was when Harry went in to Ollivander's and Ollivander so clearly remembered his parents and their wands. That's the type of bookseller I strive to be; intimately familiar with both my books and their readers. The book chooses its reader just as a wand chooses a wizard; I love being the facilitator of that choice.
I was really surprised that it took over 100 pages to get to Hogwarts. The school has come to mean so much to readers of the novels yet almost half of the first book is spent outside of it! But the journey was really lovely. Anything surprising you this time around?
V: Ooh I noticed the Ollivander/bookseller analogy too, though I was also thinking librarian with all the old dusty wands. I really can't help liking Ollivander.
Many of the characters are surprising me. The films watered many of them down or played them for laughs. Characters like the Dursleys, Malfoy, and Snape are all much crueler and more intense than I normally picture them being. It's been really getting to me. The cruelty of the Dursleys in particular bothered me this time around, and I think it's because I really appreciate how YOUNG 11 actually is (my brother just turned 10). They are shoving this child in a cupboard and telling him he can't have meals?? And he doesn't even understand why, necessarily. Harry knows it's cruel, but it's just life to him, and his acceptance of it only makes it worse. What a terrible life this child has known. No love, no affection, nothing but meanness, spite, and cruelty for absolutely no reason. And he doesn't know any better. He never even questions it or wonders why. All his worries about Hogwarts in the beginning are that he's going to be sent back to the Dursleys. His biggest fear in the first book (until Voldemort shows up) is that they will send him back to Privet Drive. Snape's bullying got to me too. He calls Neville an idiot in his very first potions lesson. What adult teacher calls an eleven year old an idiot on their first day of class because they made a mistake?? Snape is often placed on a pedestal as a tragic hero because of what we learn about him later, and I think it's valuable to look back at the beginning and see him as the mean-spirited and terrible person he often was, especially toward children over whom he held authority. It's painful to read sometimes.
The powerlessness of the children struck me this time, I guess. Their powerlessness in the face of cruel and powerful adults who misuse their authority in order to mistreat children.
M: I’m sure we will both have a lot to say about the development of the characters as time goes by. It’s become almost cliché to say that these books aged with the generation that first read them but that truly is the case. I’ve never been a Snape enthusiast though I know he has his very vocal fans; I’ll be interested to hear more of your thoughts on this perceived “tragic hero.” But for now, it’s time for me to dive in to book two! Be sure to follow our conversation on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook and let us know what you think about the books.