In which Harry receives a million and a half letters from an unknown sender, which causes Vernon to lose his ever-loving mind. Also, Hagrid!
The Letter From No One
What’s this?” he asked Aunt Petunia. Her lips tightened as they always did if he dared to ask a question.
“Your new school uniform,” she said.
Harry looked into the bowl again.
“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t realize it had to be so wet.”
Oh, SNAP. Whenever feisty Harry rears up, spewing out sass and flinging zingers, I want to put down my book and clap. Love this kid.
The envelope was thick and heavy, made of yellowish parchment, and the address was written in emerald-green ink. There was no stamp. Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter H.”
A moment of silence for all those still mourning their ‘lost’ letters. I was 12 before I was introduced to the series (I came in between between Goblet and Order of the Phoenix) so I never had any dashed hopes. Also, I don’t know if it was because I was fresh out of a 90’s/early 00’s love-hate relationship with gel pens, but I remember thinking getting a letter with an address written in emerald-green ink seemed like the most magical bit of this entire scene.
No post on Sundays,” he reminded them cheerfully as he spread marmalade on his newspapers, “no damn letters today —”
Something came whizzing down the kitchen chimney as he spoke and caught him sharply on the back of the head. Next moment, thirty or forty letters came pelting out of of the fireplace like bullets. The Dursleys ducked, but Harry leapt into the air trying to catch one —”
Lest we forget, Vernon Dursley loses his freaking mind in this chapter. He boards up his doorway, sleeps under the mail slot, moves the family out of their home, and eventually sets up camp on an island in the middle of nowhere. At one point he tears out tufts of his mustache in his franticness. Here, his insanity is subtle: he’s cheerfully spreading marmalade across his newspaper. Just casually going insane, nothing to see here.
The first film was out before I read the books, and I remembering catching glimpses of this scene in the preview, wondering what the heck was going on with these letters and this crazy kid jumping around attempting to catch one. It’s campy, but I love that shot of Harry in midst the storm of letters.
…and Harry was left to find the softest bit of floor he could and to curl up under the thinnest, most ragged blanket.”
Towards the end of the chapter, this line pops up. I can’t decide if it’s more Dickensian or Dahl, but it’s pitiful and is quite upsetting. This chapter alternates between the fun, magically fantastic feat of the increasingly antagonistic letters and the madness and cruelty of life in the Dursley house. One thing I love about these books is that magic never supersedes the human emotion and struggles. Life is still hard, people are still cruel, and striving to do the right thing isn’t a walk in the park.
The Keeper of the Keys
The giant sat back down on the sofa, which sagged under his weight, and began taking all sorts of things out of the pockets of his coat: a copper kettle, a squashy package of sausages, a poker, a teapot, several chipped mugs, and a bottle of some amber liquid that he took a swig from before starting to make tea.”
“…and from another pocket inside his overcoat he pulled an owl —a real, live, rather ruffled-looking owl —a long quill, and a roll of parchment.”
“He took off his thick black coat and threw it to Harry. “You can kip under that,” he said. “Don’ mind if it wriggles a bit, I think I still got a couple o’ dormice in one o’ the pockets.”
HAGRID! We, of course, met Hagrid in the opening chapter, but goodness, does he make an impression here. I love all of the miscellaneous items he pulls out of his coat. It’s completely absurd and perfect. Who doesn’t love a half-giant with all the essentials for a late night snack and LIVE ANIMALS tucked away in his pockets? And what on earth is he planning to do with the dormice?
Do you mean te tell me,” he growled at the Dursleys, “that this boy —this boy!—knows nothing about ANYTHING?”
Harry thought this was going a bit far. He had been to school, after all, and his marks weren’t bad.
“I know some things,” he said. “I can, you know, do math and stuff.”
Bless your heart, Harry. You have no idea how truly little you know.
Ah, go boil yer heads, both of yeh,” said Hagrid. “Harry — yer a wizard.”
My favorite line to exclaim casually in a British accent. Why not?
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)”
What a fantastic pedigree. Basically, here’s what we know at this point: Dumbledore’s a boss.
Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that… that school — and came home every holiday with her pockets full of frog-spawn, turning tea-cups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was… a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!”
“Now, you listen here, boy,” he snarled, “I accept there’s something strange about you, probably nothing a good beating wouldn’t have cured —and as for all this about your parents, well, they were weirdos, no denying it, and the world’s better off without them in my opinion—asked for all they got, getting mixed up with these wizarding types — just what I expected, always knew they’d come to a sticky end —”
Freshly shocked by this. I get that the Dursleys hate anything not absolutely normal, and that they didn’t like the Potters. But it’s jolting to hear them speak so dismissively about Petunia’s sister who was murdered. Their falling out isn’t even something dramatic.
From Pottermore: “[Petunia] loved their neat square house at number four, Privet Drive. She was secure, now, from objects that behaved strangely, from teapots that suddenly piped tunes as she passed, or long conversations about things she did not understand, with names like ‘Quidditch’ and ‘Transfiguration’. She and Vernon chose not to attend Lily and James’ wedding. The very last piece of correspondence she received from Lily and James was the announcement of Harry’s birth, and after one contemptuous look, Petunia threw it in the bin.”
There’s bad blood, but it’s rooted in Petunia’s jealousy and insecurity. You would think death would soften her to how much she resents Lily, but it doesn’t at all. The Dursleys are unnecessarily harsh, and further cement themselves as wholly horrible people.
Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die.”
Ever heard of a spoiler alert, Hagrid?
Lingering Questions and Oddities
- Not really plot relevant, but I love thinking about Dumbledore sitting in his office, amusing himself with different attempts to flummox Vernon in sending the letters.
- Correct me if I’m wrong, please, but Hagrid’s coat filled with miscellaneous objects more or less disappears after this first book. Now I’m wondering if it was some sort of Undetectable Extension Charm just for the ‘get Harry’ mission he was on, versus a piece of character building that just dropped out. Thoughts?
“CAR CRASH!” roared Hagrid, jumping up so angrily that the Dursleys scuttled back to their corner. “How could a car crash kill Lily an’ James Potter? It’s an outrage! A scandal!”
- Are we to take this to mean that something normal like a car crash couldn’t kill wizards? How does that work? Because they wouldn’t be in a car, or the car would have added protection, or what? I mean, brooms and Floo Powder are great, but for traveling with an infant to run errands or something a car still seems to be the best option. Or is it just an outrage because it is so commonplace compared to the true story?
You May Have Missed…
- “…an’ he’d killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age —the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts…”
The Bones, relatives of Susan Bones (a Hufflepuff Harry’s year, member of the DA) and Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the Prewetts, referring to Fabian and Gideon, Molly Weasley’s brothers.