How gorgeous are Mary Grandpre’s illustrations for the Harry Potter books? SO GORGEOUS.
Book One, my little Every Flavor Beans! This is where we begin our long-ass adventure together, with the tantalizingly titled first chapter, “The Boy Who Lived.” Ooooooh. Who is this boy? What did he live through?! Why should we care, aside from basic human decency??? SOOOO many questions already and we’ve only just opened the book.
Chapter one introduces us to some boring, uptight L7s named The Dursleys. J.K.Rowling (who is so important, and so boss, that she’s allowed to have kind of obnoxious initials in her name all the time, like J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin,) is great at describing people. Mr. Dursley looks like a sunburnt walrus (beefy man, no neck, large moustache, I imagine his face is red because he’s mad all the time), whereas if Mrs. Dursley was an animal she’d be an ostrich (thin, blonde, long neck, very nosy) or maybe a giraffe? Mr. Dursley sells drills at a company called Grunnings, which is a VERY Dursley-sounding company name. They also have a little boy named Dudley. Dudley Dursley! Perfect. J.K.R. is ALSO very good at names, P.S.
So, what’s the deal with these Dursley people? I thought this was a book about a kid named Potter. Don’t even worry because we learn by page 2 that Mrs. Dursley is related to Mrs. Potter and the Dursleys are wildly, deeply ashamed of the relation. Why? Are the Potters criminals? Drug addicts? GYPSIES??? They must be something super bad for the Dursleys to consider them their deepest. darkest secret! In addition to possibly being gypsy junkie serial killers, the Potters have their own son, right around Dudley’s age. (What an interesting coincidence! Wonder if we’ll learn more about this mysterious other Potter baby.)
Our story really starts on an overcast Tuesday, though. Just a normal Tuesday, with Mr. Dursley picking out his most boring tie and Mrs. Dursley gossiping with someone while she tries to feed Dudley. (A brief side-note: I love that J.K.R. only refers to them as Mrs. and Mr. Dursley. Dudley gets a first name because he’s a baby, but we’re left on formal terms with the Dursleys, which totally makes sense. They’re the type of people who would think being called by their first names by strangers was wildly vulgar and rude.) In the middle of our description of how ho-hum this Tuesday is holy crap an owl just flew past the window! During the daytime! What the?! Luckily, the Dursley’s don’t notice the owl. They just smile complacently while Dudley throws a temper tantrum and do their morning stuff. Mr. Dursley heads off to work and this is where his day begins to take a turn because he notices a cat reading a map on his street corner. Except of course cats can’t read maps, so he must be mistaken. Weird. Oh well! He gets back to thinking about the large shipment of drills he’s anticipating receiving at work. (I thought Grunnings MAKES drills, so why are they having drills shipped to them? Seems fishy to me…) As he drives to work, he notices a lot of strangely dressed people on the streets, gathering in little groups to talk. People in cloaks. Mr. Dursley doesn’t know about LARPing, probably, because if I saw a bunch of people in cloaks I’d be like, “Rad, ‘Vampire: The Gathering’ meet-up. Have fun, dorks!”
But Mr. Dursley doesn’t know about LARPing (and if he did, he’d still probably be annoyed because when they’re doing their thing on your city’s streets, it can be a bummer for real) so he just grumbles to himself about weirdos and goes into his office, where he has a typical Tuesday, and yells at some people. Because his back is facing away from the window he misses some more cuh-ray-zee owl action outside. Like owls flying hither and yon. But he misses it because he’s working so so hard. Drills!
At lunch, Mr. Dursley goes for a little walk to get a sweet treat and passes more LARPers. “Ugh, weirdos. Calm down. Get a job!” is what me and Mr. Dursley think about them. As he walks past, he hears the LARPers talking, and they say both “the Potters” and the name “Harry.” Fuuuuuuuuuuuuu
Mr. Dursley scurries back to the office and tries to chill the heck out. Probably he’s tripping, right? It doesn’t have to be THE Potters. He’s not even sure his nephew’s name is Harry at all. Could be something else. Probably it’s nothing. No reason to worry Mrs. Dursley about it.
Unfortunately, though, this pretty much screws his entire day. He gets mad jumpy and can’t stop fretting. He can’t even think about the “drills” his company makes OR imports, WHO EVEN KNOWS WHAT’S HAPPENING AT GRUNNINGS?! As he leaves work to go home at the end of the day, he bowls over a very small old man in a violet cloak, but the little dude is in such a happy mood, he isn’t even bummed about being knocked over by an angry, distracted walrus in a gross tie!
“…His face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passersby stare, ‘Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!’ And the old man hugged Mr. Dursley around the middle and walked off.”
We get some big stuff referenced for the first time in this quote, like You-Know-Who, and the term “Muggles.” Unsurprisingly, Mr. D thinks that being hugged by a tiny stranger IN A PURPLE CLOAK is mega unchill (I HEAR THAT, MAN) and he’s straight up mortified about the entire thing. (I love that J.K.R. includes how squeaky the stranger’s voice is because that would absolutely be Mr. Dursley’s #1 concern: PEOPLE ARE LOOKING OH GOD OH GOD.)
Mr. Dursley frets his way home, hoping so hard that it was all a big, scary coincidence, but there’s that cat from this morning. Now it’s on his garden wall! Get out of here, you weird cat! But the cat is immune to shooing. This is another concern for him, but he’s still trying to keep cool so he doesn’t worry Mrs. Dursley, who has had a totally normal, owl- and people-in-cloaks-free day.
After dinner and Dudley’s bedtime, Mr. Dursley heads in to watch the news, where there’s a story about crazy owl activity all over England, and THEN a story about tons and tons of shooting stars all over the place. CRRRRRRAP. Something weird is clearly happening. Mr. Dursley feels that he needs to broach the subject of his Potter fears with his lovely wife. It’s during this conversation, when a strangely tentative Mr. Dursley attempts to casually mention all the freaky occurrences, that we learn Mrs. Dursley’s first name: Petunia! No duh. She’s a tooootal Petunia. So Dursleyish! (J.K.R. labels things as “unDursleyish” right in the beginning of the book, and I like to designate things as such. Petunia? Dursleyish. Purple cloaks? VERY unDursleyish.) Mr. Dursley, usually a scowling rageaholic, tiptoes into a conversation about his concerns, and unhappily learns from a thin-lipped Mrs. D that the Potters’ son IS named Harry. Rats. Despite how carefully Mr. Dursley touches on the subject of the Potters, Mrs. Dursley is NOT receptive, so he just drops it.
As the Dursleys get ready for bed, Mr. D peeks out the bedroom window and sees that same freaking cat, in the same spot, and he feels like it’s waiting. This is the upsetting ending to an overall deeply upsetting day in the boring life of Mr. Dursley. As he drifts off to sleep, he tries to console himself that even if there is some crazy stuff happening with the Potters, there’s no reason it should affect the Dursleys, right? LOL SURE PROBABLY.
At this point, the narrative focus shifts from the Dursleys, who are sleeping, to the dreaded cat from outside, who has been hanging around their house for an entire day, cooling its furry heels. As this patient, unshooable cat waits, further down the street a man appears out of thin air. Whoa! Enter, Albus Dumbledore, to whom we’re introduced with a first AND last name, and with a very complete description. This guy is clearly a Person Of Some Importance to us!
“Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive. He was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice.”
That is a VERY unDursleyish dude. Purple cloak? HIGH-HEELED boots?! He’s basically Prince.
Of course he knows the cat. Why wouldn’t this Albus Dumbledore fellow know a cat? He’s amused to see this cat, and uses something called a Put-Outer to steal all the lights on the street so he can hang with his cat buddy in the dark. His cat buddy’s name is Professor McGonagall, but she’s not really a cat at all! She’s a lady, who can become a cat! You guys. I think maybe something magical is happening here. I can’t be sure. But I’m pretty sure!
After Professor Dumbledore teases Professor McGonagall about being the stiffest sitting cat in the world, because he’s a fun guy, we get a nice chunk of solid information on what these mysterious happenings are that Mr. Dursley accidentally stumbled upon. J.K.Rowling does a great job giving us information without it being awkward or forced. It’s just a normal, easy breezy chat between some magical friends about current events! We learn that there is definitely some celebratory stuff happening in the magical world, and that there hasn’t been much to celebrate in the last 11 years. We also learn that “their kind” (the LARPers?) usually keep their lifestyle on the DL, but the celebrations made people incautious, so they’re just out in non-Muggle clothes! (By this point it’s clear that Muggles are basically the Dursleys and other squares. It’s still not explicitly stated what “their kind” is, as opposed to the Muggles, but we can guess by now, I hope.)
Professor McGonagall asks Professor Dumbledore if You-Know-Who is really GONE gone, because his having disappeared doesn’t mean he’s dead, but Professor Dumbledore says it certainly looks like Y-K-W is gone. He also kind of scolds Professor McGonagall for calling him “You-Know-Who” and tells her to use his real name, which we learn is Voldemort. Spooky! Very unDursleyish name! We also learn that almost no one calls Y-K-W by his name, which is annoying for Professor Dumbledore. Professor McGonagall feels like it’s easy for him to scold, when he’s the only BAMF that Voldemort is scared of. Professor Dumbledore demurs, but basically it’s clear Voldemort is the Sauron to Professor Dumbledore’s Gandalf, which explains why everyone is so relieved Moldywort’s gone.
The news turns much sadder here. Professor McGonagall asks Professor Dumbledore to confirm that Lily and James Potter are dead, which he does. They are both so very sad about this. Voldemort’s power broke as he was attempting to kill little baby Harry Potter, which is shocking and beyond belief to Professor McGonagall. How the heck? What in the world?! Professor Dumbledore is like, “SMDH, girl, I know. It’s cray.” He says they may never know how or why it happened, but it seems like it did. (Wonder if we’ll ever learn the deal with that!)
While the two nutty Professors (sorry) wait for someone named Hagrid, they have a frank discussion about the wisdom of leaving wee baby Harry Potter here with the Dursleys. Professor McGonagall sagely notes that they seem REALLY ill-suited for raising a magical baby. Basically, they’re the worst. Why them? Professor Dumbledore has some solid arguments:
- They’re Harry’s only living family.
- Professor Dumbledore’s leaving a note, so the Dursleys can explain everything to Harry when he’s older.
- Maybe it’ll be for the best – Harry being raised by a non-magical family – so he doesn’t end up a conceited jerk growing up with his super famous legacy in the wizarding world. Maybe this will be better for him?
Me and Professor McGonagall are skeptical, but she lets it go because he’s Professor Dumbledore and it seems like he’s kind of the boss of everything. They go back to waiting for Hagrid, who is late. Professor McGonagall is concerned when she hears Hagrid’s bringing Harry, because he’s a big doofus or something. Professor Dumbledore defends Hagrid stoutly, and Professor McGonagall concedes that Hagrid’s heart is in the right place, but feels like he’s pretty careless. Discussion of Hagrid’s defects is interrupted, though, by some loud rumbling and a huge-ass motorcycle dropping out of the sky.
We’re introduced to Hagrid, and, as a person who REGULARLY daydreams about being best friends with a giant mammal (grizzly or polar bear, Totoro, seal, whatever), Hagrid sounds like he is THE BEST. J.K.R. busts out some A++++ descriptions, saying his hands are the size of trash can lids and his feet in their boots are like baby dolphins! Describing ANYTHING as the size of a baby dolphin is hilarious, because who even knows how big a baby dolphin is? Not me! But I still know exactly how big to imagine Hagrid’s feet somehow! So perfect.
Hagrid is late, but wee babby Harry is safe and sound. Hagrid borrowed the flying motorcycle from a fellow named Sirius Black. (Cool name. Wonder if we’ll find out more about him.) The professors look at Harry, sleeping in Hagrid’s arms, and talk about a cut on Harry’s forehead, that’s the shape of a lightning bolt. Very tough! Professor McGonagall asks Professor Dumbledore about fixing the owie on the babby’s forehead, so it won’t scar. Professor Dumbledore says something which I’m SURE will not end up being important later: that even if he could fix it, he wouldn’t because scars can be useful. (Probably won’t come up later, right?)
Professor Dumbledore goes to take Harry away, but first Hagrid wants to kiss the babby goodbye, and he starts crying VERY LOUDLY, and Professor McGonagall has a very Dursleyish moment of getting annoyed and exasperated at him for making so much noise, because he’ll wake the Muggles. I get it, but let the man have his experience, Professor McGonagall. Sheesh. Hagrid is very, very sad to say goodbye to Harry, and he’s maybe finally dealing with his grief over the death of the Potters, who we gather they all know pretty well. Professor Dumbledore puts bb Harry on the Dursley’s front porch, with a note tucked into his blankets. All three of the adults stand and look at little Harry sadly for a second before parting ways. Professor Dumbledore is the last to leave, and, after using his Put-Outer to return the streetlights, he pauses for a second to watch little Harry for another moment, and he quietly wishes Harry well.
“A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley. . . .He couldn’t know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!’”
Good first chapter, Mrs. Rowling!
Some thoughts and questions:
1) Interesting to note all the things that are mentioned in passing in chapter one that don’t get picked back up again until books later. J.K.R. must’ve been really well organized, to keep track of all her story threads for so long.
2) I’ve been keeping an ongoing list of things that J.K.R. deems Magical. It’s fun! Purple. Owls. People who are either very large or very small.
3) Knowing how grim Harry’s life is with the Dursleys, I was infuriated at Dumbledore for not just waiting a little bit to make sure that they’re okay people. THEY ARE NOT OKAY PEOPLE TO RAISE HARRY. Professor McGonagall warned you, man! Why doesn’t he just hand Harry off in person? Why leave Harry on the front step and just take off without a backward glance? UGH
4) HEAVILY pondering a Sliding Doors alternate universe version of HP where Harry is raised by a wizarding family. Have already thought of a buuuuunch of pivot points, where a different decision would’ve changed the entire series. I’ll point them out as we go along. I’m sure someone’s already written a fan fic about every single one.
5) Anything you noticed rereading for the nth time? I’m crafting a dissection of the Dursleys’ marriage, personally.
6) I don’t think all the write ups will be this long, but maybe they will!
TL;DR EAT MY SHORTS, MAN.
7) Let’s meet back here on Wednesday for chapter two, m’kay?