Chapter 5 – Diagon Alley
- I’m a bit confused as to how Hagrid got to the Hut on the Rock. He says he flew, and implies that it was using a spell (“Not s’pposed ter use magic now I’ve got yeh.”) I’m now imagining Hagrid actually flying through the air, pointing his umbrella before him like Thor uses Mjollnir.
- The reasons why wizards keep themselves secret from Muggles is addressed very simply (“Blimey, Harry, everyone’d be wantin’ magic solutions to their problems“), and I suppose it makes sense and there’s not much need to dwell on it.
- Rowling really starts to get into the world-building in this chapter. She goes all out in the diversity and weirdness in Diagon Alley, but still has things make sense for the most part. We are shown things that indicate this is just everyday life for the people here, like somebody complaining about the price of dragon liver. There’s so much chaos and randomness in this world, from the multitude of pockets in Hagrid’s coat to the roller-coaster Gringotts cart. The Muggle world is always portrayed as very dull by comparison: even the escalator in the tube station is broken down.
- This chapter also demonstrates how well Rowling handles characters. We get our first look at Draco Malfoy (though his name isn’t mentioned here) and get a feel for the kind of person he is very quickly: his superior attitude, his agenda, his self-awareness (“I think I’ll bully father into getting me one and I’ll smuggle it in somehow.”) and the fact that he specifically asks Harry what his surname is – that’s what’s important in his eyes. Mr Ollivander, despite having limited time in the spotlight, makes an impression with traits like his mysterious air and his habit of remembering people by which wands he sold them. Harry himself is excited by everything he sees, but still unsure of himself, which makes us engage with him quite easily.
Chapter 6 – The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters
- I’ve seen a few comments in various places wondering why Mrs Weasley would have to ask what the platform number at King’s Cross is, when there’s only one platform and she’s been there plenty of times already. Personally I don’t think she was seriously asking because she couldn’t remember: it was more like asking the children if they all knew because this is an important moment in the wizarding year and she was excited about it.
- There’s more great character introductions as we are introduced to the Weasleys. Percy, right from the start, has a professional and responsible air quite different from his siblings. Fred and George make me love them right away as they make fun of him. Ron is described as “tall, thin and gangling” with “big hands and feet“: he looks awkward, which fits his character in many ways. When he starts talking to Harry on the train, even the conversation is awkward at first, but you get the feeling Ron’s just as happy to have someone new to talk to as Harry is.
- The first mention of moving pictures, one of my favourite details in this universe!
- It is an fascinating detail that Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald in 1945, as even quite young readers would recognise that as the year World War 2 ended. Even in Deathly Hallows when we learn more about Grindelwald, the link between the Muggle war and any wizarding conflict happening at the same time isn’t really discussed, so we just have to imagine for ourselves.
- Considering that Ron has grown up seeing his parents use real spells with simple magic words, one wonders how Fred sold the ‘yellow rat’ spell to him. (“Well, you see, Ron, you’re not going to be using spells like Mum and Dad right away. No, you beginners need longer incantations to get the point across, like this…”)
- The establishment of Hermione’s character in this chapter is perhaps the best of all: talking in a rush, emphasising what a swot she is, telling these two boys she’s just met that they should get changed, calling others childish….and apparently this eleven-year-old Muggleborn went to get details from the driver as well. Also, if Hermione got three books for “background reading” which just happened to mention Harry, exactly how many books did she get in total? I feel very sorry for Mr and Mrs Granger once they got into Flourish and Blotts. (“Hermione, dear, we only converted so much money at that bank, you know.” “Yes, and the store’s closing in ten minutes…”)
- It’s strange how when Ron starts going on about Quidditch, Harry doesn’t seem to take any of it in (thus we don’t get the rules properly explained to us in this chapter). Presumably Ron isn’t as practiced as explaining the rules to a newcomer as Oliver Wood and got bogged down in the technical details.
- Note how Malfoy deliberately comes to Harry on the train: he wants to get ingratiated with this potentially important person. It’s to Harry’s credit that he doesn’t shake Malfoy’s hand: presumably now that he’s in a more comfortable environment and actually has someone to back him up, his confidence is starting to grow.
Chapter 7 – The Sorting Hat
- Again, with Ron not knowing about the Sorting and Fred being able to feed him a false story – maybe it’s tradition to keep it from new students until they arrive.
- I love the bewitched ceiling in the Great Hall: “It was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn’t simply open on to the heavens.”
- Harry’s nervousness leading up to his Sorting feels very realistic: “A horrible thought struck Harry, as horrible thoughts always do when you’re very nervous.”
- “Perhaps it was Harry’s imagination, after all he’d heard about Slytherin, but he thought they looked an unpleasant lot.” And he’s right: Slytherins in general are very nasty to Harry in this book and in subsequent ones. This is one of the things I think Rowling really could have handled better: she says that Slytherins aren’t all bad, and there are indeed a few examples, but most Slytherins that Harry encounters – even unnamed ones – are unfriendly, sneering, self-interested bullies.
- Just the brief behaviour of Harry’s fellow students when they’re Sorted is used to show the kind of people they are: Hermione is so eager that she almost runs, Malfoy swaggers, and Neville falls over.
- Funny how Harry mentions that “the hat took a long time to decide with Neville” but doesn’t say any such thing about Hermione, even though according to Pottermore, the hat took a few minutes with her as well, as it deliberated between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.
- Percy sums up Albus Dumbledore wonderfully: “Mad? He’s a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes.” I suppose you’d have to be a bit eccentric to put on such a Merlin-esque appearance.
- Later books do establish further that Neville Longbottom’s family are generally quite hard on him, but reading about him being pushed off Blackpool Pier and dangled out of a window is alarming. Also, Neville says “my gran brought me up” – he makes no mention of his parents and his phrasing makes it less likely that anyone will ask about them. I remember that I never really thought about where Neville’s parents got to until that terrible reveal in Goblet of Fire.
Chapter 8 – The Potions Master
- The big twist of Philosopher’s Stone is still one of the best red herrings I can remember in a book, and it’s fun to look back and see the clues that indicated the truth. As early as this chapter, we see Harry and Ron being rescued from Filch outside the forbidden corridor “by Professor Quirrell, who was passing“.
- The trick staircases and peculiar doors don’t get mentioned very often in later books, maybe because Harry has learned to navigate efficiently by then and barely thinks about them.
- Casual mentions of things like zombies and vampires give tantalising hints of the wider magical world, and might be why I never thought of any exact reason why Hagrid was so large until Goblet of Fire: maybe that’s just how a few people are. Certainly Harry and his friends never ask or think about it until the secret is revealed.
- Snape may be biased when it comes to giving and taking points, but at least it’s only a couple in Harry’s first lesson – at least he shows some leniency to first years, even ones he hates on sight.
- Hagrid is noticeably unwilling to dwell on the subject of Snape hating Harry – presumably he has at least some idea of Snape’s history? Did Dumbledore tell him, or did he witness Snape’s relationships with James and Lily first hand when they were at Hogwarts?