After a long reading slump, I’m pulling myself out the only way I know how: a slow re-read through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. No summaries or involved analysis, just sharing my favorite bits and quotes every other Wednesday. Don’t worry non-Potter readers, there will still be plenty of other bookish content on the blog in between. HP fans, feel free to comment with your favorite descriptions, quotes, magical world building or character moments that I don’t include in each post.
The Boy Who Lived
Mr. Dursley blinked and stared at the cat. It stared back. As Mr. Dursley drove around the corner and up the road, he watched the cat in his mirror. It was now reading the sign that said Privet Drive — no, looking at the sign; cats couldn’t read maps or signs.
I love that we start this book here, with the Dursleys, instead of with the events at the middle of this chapter or Harry waking up on the morning of Dudley’s birthday. Instead of being thrust into the magical world or starting with Harry the day everything begins to change, we follow this horrible, dull man and his family. We’re exposed to magic in the same way we would be if it were happening around us, as minor oddities that mostly pass unnoticed. I pulled this quote because it gives us a glimpse of how ol’ Vernon desperately tries to hold on to his normal, boring world. You almost feel badly about how everything is about to fall to pieces for him.
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…. Albus Dumbledore didn’t seem to realize he had just arrived in a street where everything from his name to his boots was unwelcome.
Bless you and your high-heeled, buckled boots and purple cloak, Albus. What a bizarre and marvelous introduction. He’s instantly memorable.
He was almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed…
Then, a page later, Hagrid. Again, the perfect turn of phrase to introduce such a lovely character. McGonagall’s introduction makes less of an impression than Hagrid’s or Dumbledore’s, but I so love that as a cat the markings around her eyes are the same as her glasses.
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, not 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!”
The end of this chapter is so cinematic in its scope. In her chapter art, Mary GrandPre perfectly captured this image of tiny Harry sleeping on the precipice of so much change.
Lingering Questions and Oddities
- Dumbledore says,“Fancy seeing you here, Professor McGonagall”. Does it strike anybody else as strange that he doesn’t call her by her first name? I get that as readers we need to know she’s a professor, but it feels odd.
I love this first chapter, the way the magical pieces break through into the mundane world. I love how agitated Vernon gets about people wandering around in cloaks. I love the spot on characterization of Hagrid, Dumbledore, and the Dursleys. What’s your favorite bit of this first chapter?