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Tag: Harry Potter books

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

My re-reading journey is back on track. I finished Goblet of Fire a couple of weeks ago and now I’m a few chapters into Order of the Phoenix. I have a month and a half and three of the longest Harry Potter books to fit into them in (along with all the other things I read for work and fun) but I’m DETERMINED to finish.

Book cover image of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the fourth book:

  • I never noticed the class allusions before with the Riddles. They’re described as rich, snobby, live in a fancy house, have servants. I didn’t think much of this when I read the books in India but I have more context now that I live in the UK and know what kind of family would be able to afford all this. Voldemort, like his father Tom Riddle, seems to have this inherited sense of superiority – based on his mother’s Pureblood family and Slytherin ancestry. But then you can see how his attitude reflects spoiled rich white boys in the UK even now (or spoiled rich brown boys in India).
  • Until they discovered Harry’s godfather is a dangerous murderer, the Dursleys didn’t allow Harry to have his school things with him out of a combination of fear of his powers and the wish to keep him as miserable as possible?! Whose perspective is this – Harry’s assumption or the Dursleys actual intent? If the latter, I’d like to say they’re cartoon villains but tragically, they’re all too recognisable.
  • Aha! Vernon Dursley reads The Daily Mail. Of course he does. When I worked at a children’s newspaper in Mumbai during my late teens/early 20s, we frequently turned to The Daily Mail’s features for our science and weird news round-ups – something I would never dream of doing now that I know the role of the paper in stoking xenophobia and racism amongst other things. The context, of course, was completely lost to me in India – didn’t realise that the newspaper was virulently right-wing.
  • Aunt Petunia’s sharp eyes seem to notice “fingerprints on her gleaming walls” and “the comings and goings of neighbours” it seems. Very specific idea of being a woman, no? It’s almost like Tonks in the next book is exceptionalised because she doesn’t like doing domestic things.
  • Dudley is on a diet but diets don’t work! Especially if you’re starving your son by giving him a quarter of a grapefruit for breakfast, as Witch, Please angrily declaims. vernon and Dudley are constantly fat-shamed and Petunia is described in ugly ways – horsy teeth, for example. Using someone’s looks against them, no matter how much you hate them, is a problematic way of critiquing them. Granted that Harry is fourteen and we’re reading the books from his POV but ultimately it’s the author/narrator who’s asking us to think this way.
  • Even Harry calls the Dursleys “the Muggles” in his letter to Ron. Is Ron rubbing off on him? What is this language? Why can’t he say the Dursleys or my aunt/uncle or my relatives or whatever. “The Muggles” sounds so dismissive and dehumanising.
  • In terms of magical transportation, is Floo travel accessible to everybody? What if you live in a tiny flat with no chimney? How much does Floo powder cost? And the Weasleys might be “poor” but they have immense cultural and social capital. First of all, they have a house with a chimney. And even though Muggle fireplaces aren’t meant to be connected to the Floo network, Arthur uses his networks at work to make it possible. Apparition is supposed to be very difficult – does lack of ability and skill limit how people can travel in the magical world? The Knight Bus doesn’t seem too popular – more like an emergency service that you’d only use as a last resort than anything else. Or only a certain group of people use it because they can’t afford anything else. With Portkeys, are they a government controlled mode of transport? Can people set up their own Portkeys? What controls access – money, bureaucracy or magical skill?
  • Dudley is the butt of all jokes and attacks by magical folks. There’s Hagrid in the first book who gives him a tail and now the Weasley twins in this book who deliberately seek to prank him with their sweets by taking advantage of his diet. And there’s no consent involved! No ethics committee would have allowed this. At this point, surely it’s not a prank but just a wizard bullying a Muggle? And this is encouraged by Bill and Charlie too who are adults – young adults, but still! Mr Weasley does try to explain why this is outrageous and harmful to Muggle-wizard relations but the twins insist they didn’t give them the Ton-Tongue toffee because he’s a Muggle but because he’s a bully. However, there’s still imbalanced power dynamics at play here where them using magic will always have more power than Dudley who can use none.
  • I’m surprisingly sympathetic towards Percy’s reports on cauldron thickness which is presented so dismissively by Ron. He’s pushing to tandardise cauldron thickness so that there aren’t leakages – it might sound boring as much of bureaucracy does but it is still for people’s benefit! Leaky cauldrons can be dangerous depending on what sort of potion you’re making. Reminds me of pre- and post-Brexit complaints about the EU’s bureaucracy getting in the way of business but again, it’s largely to look after people, no? Food standards, vehicle safety, workplace benefits, etc.?
  • Right so Bill’s job at Gringotts seems to involve travelling across Egypt – perhaps other parts of the world – to break into ancient tombs in order to bring treasure back to the British bank? Ummmm not historically and currently problematic at all! They don’t even have the decency to stuff the stolen goods into a museum and then charge Egyptians to go see it. (Yes, Tower of London with the Kohinoor Diamond, I’m talking about you)
  • Why isn’t Molly Weasley going to the World Cup!? Even if she just thinks Quidditch is boring and would rather not, she doesn’t even get a day off just to relax and do things for herself. Instead, she’s going to run errands and buy everyone’s school things. Housewives are taken for granted so much!
  • Being caught up with being critically analytical (and keeping in mind J. K. R’s transphobia), I realise I don’t make enough space for the joy and delight these books still fill me with – the imaginative wonder they evoke when a tent consists of three rooms or a vast field is full of magical tents to watch the World Cup. These scenes take me back to when I read these books for the first time, filled with the same excited enchantment that Harry is.
  • What are the ethics about memory charms used against Muggles? Mr Roberts seems very suspicious about everything with the campground he’s managing – and why shouldn’t he be? He brings up some very good points! But the wizards are happy to Oblivate him ten times a day to keep him off the scent. It’s not just a question of ethics but also of potential harm. What sort of impact does it have on his brain? It’s the magical folks who are going into Muggle territory but still they feel this sense of ownership which sees their needs as more important – very cultural imperialistic.
  • Another instance of men in dresses being the butt of jokes – Archie, an old wizard is wearing a flowery nightdress to dress up as a Muggle and refuses to wear the trousers a Ministry official is handing him. Why can’t men wear dresses? Especially since robes don’t seem to require you to wear clothes or trousers underneath? Another man wearing a dress is funny moment comes when Ron complains about his dress robes with lace at the edges. They look like a dress and he tries to make them look more “manly” by getting rid of the lace. *big sigh*
  • So Seamus is Irish but he attends Hogwarts which is British. Is there an Irish magical school? What sort of politics come into play there – especially during and after the Troubles and with Britain’s history of colonising Ireland?
  • Winky is fully indoctrinated into the House Elf cult/community. She thinks it’s shocking that Dobby is getting ideas above his station and expects payment for his work. She believes house elves shouldn’t have fun and that their only job in life is to do as they’re told.
  • Fudge makes a casual anti-Bulgarian comment: “These Bulgarian blighters have been trying to cadge all the best places …” and doesn’t even learn the Bulgarian Minister’s name or how to pronounce it – British arrogance is alive and well in the wizarding community too. He doesn’t bother because the Minister of Magic can’t speak English apparently 🙄 He is then outraged to discover the Minister can speak English just fine but was just entertaining himself with Fudge’s failed sign language. God forbid you actually learn the language or have a translator at hand. Speaking of which, are there no translation spells in the magical world!? That would make life so much easier!
  • Veela are beautiful women who turn ugly when they’re angry? Why can’t they be angry and powerful and hurl fireballs while still looking gorgeous? Anger doesn’t turn women ugly – all women should be (and probably are) enraged by the world surely.
  • Veela impact those who would be attracted by their gender presumably – Hermione isn’t affected but the boys are. It would have been so interesting to have lesbian witches make a fool of themselves too. But not in this cishet magical world.
  • Mrs Roberts lies at the intersection of Muggle and woman – while the whole family is being levitated like puppets by the Death Eaters, she’s the one they humiliate by spinning around and exposing her underwear, an example of gender-based violence that Witch, Please spoke about. Additionally, Draco implies that Hermione is most in danger of the gang even though she’s a witch.
  • This is the book where you see Hermione’s consciousness being raised against the injustice meted out to house elves (page 106 in my copy). It took her actually meeting Winky and seeing how badly she’s been treated to understand the injustice. Of course, Ron who’s been conditioned by magical world everyday bigotry thinks house elves are happy and the system needn’t be questioned. The way wizards treat house elves is truly shocking. They talk to them like they’re worthless (quite literally less valuable than the witches and wizards they serve).  Mr Crouch frees Winky despite everything she’s done for him – how is she supposed to take care of herself?
  • I do understand Ron’s frustration at not being able to buy anything nice and new and owning everything secondhand and rubbish – I’ve felt that pain growing up! In fact in terms of poverty, I think I’m similar to the Weasleys because we had some attendant privileges (owned the home we lived in so didn’t have to worry about being evicted) but not others (the social and cultural capital, a large house, a stable job with steady money)
  • Hermione’s political awakening about house elf oppression includes setting up S.P.E.W. and all the research and steps she undertakes: pages 154-55, 188,89, 200-01, 319-24. This is met by pushback against everybody she tries to politicise. Nobody takes her activism or house elf rights seriously: pages 201, 223, 310.
  • Mad-Eye Moody, the only explicitly physically disabled character in the series (from what I remember) is introduced in such a strange terrifying way.
  • Dumbledore says that Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, and Hogwarts are three of the largest magical schools in Europe which seems to imply there are other smaller, not as prestigious schools on the continent. Does that mean every country DOES have a magical school? Or even that one country has several? Maybe Seamus is in Hogwarts because that was the most famous school in the area. Apparently Lucius Malfoy wanted to send Draco to Durmstrang because of their attitude towards the Dark Arts but Narcissa didn’t want him so far away. This seems to imply that much like with universities, you may be able to attend foreign magical schools. Then why don’t we see any in Hogwarts? Do they have their own version of a xenophobic Home Office which makes immigration as difficult as possible?
  • How is Moody allowed to discuss the Unforgivable Curses in such a cavalier way in a classroom with two people – Harry and Neville – who have been directly and traumatically impacted by it? If there was ever a need for a trigger warning, this is surely it! Yes, this is fake Moody but he has Dumbledore’s permission – or so he claims.
  • I like the irony of Ron being appalled by foreign food – shellfish stew or French bouillabaisse – while helping himself to black pudding – something I’ve been utterly traumatised by in this country!
  • The narrative introduces Fleur as beautiful and haughty … and not much else? Hermione doesn’t seem to think much of her and we’re seeing Fleur through the lens of her snide comments. (Harry’s unobservant gaze is quite unhelpful)
  • Based on all the podcasts I’ve been listening to, I’ve unconsciously been observing Parvati more than I ever did previously. I liked that she’s trying to establish her own sense of style and individuality even within the otherwise conformative structure of Hogwarts by wearing a butterfly clip on her plait … that McGonagall makes her take off as soon as she spots it.
  • Hagrid is the only example of a man cooking in the series and he seems to be terrible at it. Hermione finds a TALON in her beef casserole???
  • Rita Skeeter, a woman we’re supposed to abhor, is described in very high femme ways – something which the books seem to have a problem with. Fleur, Rita, Lavender, Parvati, Umbridge – all easy to dismiss or demonise for different reasons and all the most feminine characters in the books. Hermione seems to be one of the acceptable ways of being a woman – doesn’t care too much about traditionally feminine pursuits and values other things over them. Why not both?
  • Only girls seem to be obsessed with the Yule Ball. Harry rejects a girl for being taller than him. 🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄🙄 Oh the lovely gender lessons this series offers to more critical eyes.
  • There are a lot of references to goblin rebellions and riots littered through this book. Binns making history so dull becomes a way for them to not question what they’re learning and what their society takes for granted. I’m not sure whether it’s the case in the Hogwarts structure, but in the real world, I’m starting to think that history is deliberately made boring so as to push a certain narrative unquestioned.
  • The Yule ball and compulsory heteronormativity – everyone’s with someone from another gender. And is anyone partnerless? Are you banned from the ball if you go by yourself?
  • McGonagall wears tartan dress robes and thistles around her hat – just Scottishing her way all over the place! Her nationality is definitely something I didn’t pick up on before living here and understanding the context and references.
  • When they discover Hagrid is half-giant, Ron’s prejudice/conditioning shines through – he says they’re vicious, like killing for the sake of it, can’t live among witches and wizards. Harry doesn’t care while Hermione suspected as much and thinks it’s the same sort of bigotry werewolves are subjected to “They can’t all be bad.” Rita’s article outing Hagrid and attitudes towards giants and half giants is on page 370-71 – which also makes The Daily Prophet seem much more like The Daily Mail. Is there just one source of news and views in the entire British magical community?
  • Unicorns prefer a woman’s touch it seems. What would it do with trans women and trans men and non-binary folks? The Gayly Prophet interpret Hagrid as a trans woman and use the fact that unicorns seem to like him as one of their reasoning. I’ve also come across a Tumblr post about genderqueer students and unicorns and how they’re amenable on some days and not on others – depending on the person’s gender on that given day.
  • Even the fact that the Ministry of Magic has a department for the regulation and control of magical creatures is so human-centric. Why are the witches and wizards in-charge of regulating and controlling Other Magical People (hat-tip for the term to The Gayly Prophet)? Do centaurs have their own version of Department for the Regulation and Control of Witches and Wizards?
  • Hagrid’s dad wasn’t sure he would get into Hogwarts since he’s half-giant. I would love fanfic about Hogwarts being populated by not only human students but Other Magical People too – all coming together to exchange ideas and experiences and magic systems across cultures.
  • The way Moaning Myrtle is represented is so sad too. It’s through Harry’s really narrow perspective. She’s helpful and just wants some friendship and compassion and kindness, but he’s always looking to escape her. She’s obviously lonely and just looking for someone to hang out with but she isn’t equipped with the best social skills and that’s what feeds into the cycle. A lot of the ghosts in Hogwarts would benefit from some therapy, I think. Nearly Headless Nick, Rowena Ravenclaw, the Bloody Baron – all with different kinds of mental health issues they’ve carried with them through death.
  • Why doesn’t Harry know more about Merpeople? They live on the Hogwarts grounds and yet there’s no awareness about their culture and customs. Harry doesn’t know if they eat humans or whether they’re murderous or not. This isn’t born out of everyday bigotry as a lot of Ron’s comments are, but just sheer ignorance. I want more people in the magical world to know more about the different cultures – not just focusing on the witch and wizarding accomplishments and histories and beliefs. Same with language as well. Dumbledore speaks Mermish and Barty Crouch Sr speaks to goblins but where did they learn all these different languages? They sure as hell aren’t teaching it in Hogwarts.
  • Out of the four hostages, Ron is the only boy. Fleur’s most precious is her sister and the other two boys have their romantic interests there. I love that Harry’s most precious is his male best friend.
  • Are there no female Death Eaters except Bellatrix? Narcissa doesn’t seem to be a Death Eater because only Lucius is there. Of course a fascist wizard supremacist authoritarian cult would also be misogynist – as most fascist supremacist authoritarian movements are – but this is a really stark distinction.

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I finished reading the third book in June but July and August have flashed by – largely taken over by a move to Scotland. My plan to read a book a month is definitely looking grim but I’m still determined to squeeze in the next four books into two months.

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowing

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the third book:

  • There is so much casual fat-shaming of Dudley in this book – something I hadn’t even thought about before Witch, Please and The Gayly Prophet pointed it out.
  • Harry calls Hedwig his only friend in his house – his only family – which is heartbreaking in itself but it also makes her death in the last book so much more gutting. Relatedly, Harry is constantly described as small and skinny for his age which I glossed over in earlier reads but this time was taken aback by the thought that his size is probably a result of the Durlsey’s abuse where he is starved and made to live in a cupboard. What impact has this had on Harry physically? Mentally? Emotionally?
  • When I read the book as a kid and young person in India, the Weasley’s poverty felt more theoretical than real to me – surrounded as I was by such abject levels of poverty and having grown up without much wealth. I just figured this was the British version of poverty – like many people back home, the pictures of the UK and the US and the West in general we received was full of so much prosperity that I couldn’t really come to terms with their poverty. However, after moving to the UK and after the episode with Ali, I’ve realised that even in British terms, the Weasleys are definitely not extremely poor. They might be poor by the standards of the magical world but their lifestyle is not extreme poverty, my friend.
  • In Ron’s letter to Harry, he writes, “I hope the Muggles didn’t give you a hard time.” That language is a tad dehumanising even though it is the Dursleys he’s speaking about. The letter also includes the phrase “Don’t let the Muggles get you down.” I’d forgotten that this sentence appears in the books – because I have a T-shirt with the same thing on it. Usually, I associate the sentence with specifically Dursleyish Muggles – close-minded and prejudiced and bigoted – and to an extent I still do. However, Jack once pointed out that my shirt promoted anti-Muggle prejudice. Even though he was joking, I now realise how much anti-Muggleness is baked into the structure of the British magical world. I’ve read defenses which point to the Muggles persecuting the magical folk a few hundred years ago – but that leads to a new form of violence. Everyday bigotry – both malicious and benign – do work to dehumanise a group of people and allow fascists like Voldemort and Grindelwald to become prominent in the witching world – and Modi and Trump in the real world. I realise that I now hesitate before saying the phrase wizarding world ever since The Gayly Prophet hosts implied how patriarchal it was and they refer to it as the witching world instead. Even Hagrid calls the Dursleys the Muggles but not Hermione – who, coming from the same cultural background herself, presumably cannot bring herself to use such dehumanising language.
  • This language would have been much easier to defend had it only referred to the Dursleys since they’re so completely terrible. I find the description of the Dursleys so much more recognisable now that I’m in the UK – Petunia is nosy, Vernon is pro-capital punishment – bet they both hate immigrants, think people on benefits are running a scam, and voted for Brexit. Aunt Marge seems even worse than the Dursleys. She approves of teachers beating up children and asks Petunia to write to Harry’s school to use more force – something which even Vernon seems a bit alarmed will set Harry off. She disparages Harry’s parents right in front of him – thinks unemployed people are scroungers (a sentiment the Dursleys share, I’m sure).
  • Again, I was only able to pick up on Stan’s regional working class accent and its implications after moving to the UK and after the episode with Ali. The politics of accent in the UK is also interesting. As someone in India, most British media I watched earlier seemed to portray a singular version of the British accent with others only present to be mocked. Now however, I think shows are trying to be more inclusive of the accents they feature since this has such class, regional and national implications which influence real-life interactions as well. As Jack always complained in Leeds, hardly any of the English people understood his Scottish accent.
  • Stan disparages Muggles and their intelligence too but that just seems to be the norm that he’s buying into without any real malice. Although he does sign up with the Death Eaters so who knows, he might have been a raging bigot all along. Though there might be a link there between benign prejudice being turned into murderous hatred.
  • Is the Knight Bus as a working class magical mode of transport? Is it just the only one? Are there people who cannot afford Floo powder or houses with chimneys?
  • Problems with the justice system is an underlying issue throughout the book. Azkaban is inhumane and a terrible way to reform criminals. Moreover, even innocent people are sent to Azkaban on scant or no evidence at all. Both Hagrid and Sirius have spent two months and twelve years in there respectively. There’s parallels with real-life oppressive prison systems in India and the US. Sirius is deeply traumatised by his twelve years in Azkaban and suffers from depression for the rest of his life. In Azkaban, he blames himself for his best friends’ murders and, thanks to the Dementors, is trapped alone with his darkest thoughts. The justice system is so flawed and broken even in Buckbeak’s case where Lucius Malfoy’s influence and word is the deciding factor. I wonder how much of a role corruption and nepotism plays in Azkaban too. Dumbledore is happy to break the rules by helping Sirius and Buckbeak escape because the rules are unjust in this case. As much as you’re suspicious of Dumbledore, he does seem to be trying to create a more compassionate world – in Hogwarts first and subsequently the wider world.
  • The Dementors are shown as truly evil creatures but it also sounds like the witches and wizards have weaponised them as a form of state control. What are Dementors like in the wild?
  • Fudge suggests that Harry just book a room in The Leaky Cauldron for three weeks – where’s the money coming from?! Of course the fact that Harry can afford it reflects his economic privilege. Unless the government is paying for it or it’s free thanks to Tom, the landlord’s, generosity?
  • There seem to be very limited gender roles for women in the magical world – Mrs Weasley and Hermione and Ginny giggling over a love potion Molly made when she was in Hogwarts; some country witches in The Leaky Cauldron talking about their shopping while wizards were talking about an academic journal called Transfiguration Today – the structure seems to be pretty patriarchal in a way which delineates what men and women can be interested in.
  • If Dementors are a metaphor for depression, it makes sense that Harry was the worst affected in the train and Ginny and Neville were also very pale while Ron and Hermione were shaken but didn’t seem traumatised. The former three have had terrible experiences with abuse and trauma (Harry’s childhood, Neville’s parents, Ginny’s possession) while the latter two have relatively safe childhoods.
  • Accessibility at Hogwarts is terrible! The Divination classroom is accessible only by a ladder into the ceiling. They do make accommodations when Firenze the centaur begins teaching the class in Order of the Phoenix and the school provides him with a ground floor classroom. Which is great for Firenze but what about students with disabilities?
  • Hermione is a much better teacher for Neville than Snape is. He terrorises while she patiently explains. Peer education is a great pedagogical practice but Snape penalises her for it by first asking her not to help and then taking away points from Gryffindor for Neville successfully learning from her (to save his toad no less! Snape was going to test out Neville’s potion – which he thought might have turned out poisonous – on Trevor!)
  • Lupin is also a good teacher. He has practical activities to begin with, teaches patiently, explains the process and what should happen before it happens. Thanks to this, Neville is wildly successful in his class because that’s just what he needs! A different teaching method and not a bully! Even Lupin’s exam is great – activity-based and practical – an obstacle course which includes dealing with the creatures they’ve been studying all year.
  • Filch is casually described as a failed wizard. 🙄 Some casual anti-Muggle, anti-Squib prejudice there with hints of ableism if you take magic as a metaphor for ability. As if people without magical powers can’t have full lives full of value and dignity. The fact that Filch doesn’t is a failure of imagination.
  • Boggart Snape in a dress scene makes me uncomfortable now given Rowling’s transphobia. Also it again reflects such limited and strictly-defined gender roles. Why is a man dressing in women’s clothes funny? Are there no gender-queer or gender nonconforming magical folk?
  • Draco is such a classist ass. He asks Rom whether he wouldn’t rather live in the Shrieking Shack because he heard everyone in the Weasley household sleeps in the same room. What’s wrong with a family sleeping in the same room?!
  • The magical world has such entrenched ideas about any creatures who aren’t wizards and witches. Lupin has been a much-loved teacher all year but as soon as Ron discovers he’s a werewolf, he instantly dehumanises him in a mixture of fear and disgust by exclaiming, “Get away from me, werewolf.” To Lupin! A kind compassionate man! I suppose Ron doesn’t know him very well yet but Hermione didn’t share this prejudice even though she had discovered his lycanthropy ages ago – presumably based on knowing Lupin through his classroom interactions. Even Snape refers to him as a werewolf but that isn’t as shocking since he hates the Marauders.
  • Being a werewolf sounds like having a chronic illness which is more manageable with recent medical discoveries. The wolfsbane potion makes it easier for Lupin to manage the symptoms – a potion which wasn’t around when he was younger. Even then, Dumbledore made accommodations for a young Remus, without having a potion to keep him safe. He provided Lupin with access to education and society – something which being a werewolf – and a disabled person – doesn’t seem to allow. Being a werewolf – like being disabled – impacts all your chances at a good life if you can’t get education or paid employment.

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

After reading the first Harry Potter book way back in March, I only got around to The Chamber of Secrets at the beginning of May. I’m trying to read one book every month but the pandemic-related anxiety and burnout has meddled with those plans a bit.

Book cover image of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the second book:

  • Dobby’s self-harm every time he says something against the Malfoys or breaks their rules was so much more noticeable during this reading. As a kid, Chamber of Secrets used to be my least favourite book of the series and I found Dobby mildly annoying – that is, before discovering his character arc in The Deathly Hallows and all the subsequent fan discussions about him. I felt terrible for Dobby this time around, especially for his lack of self-worth which was born out of abuse and enslavement. He’s brave enough to break the shackles of his slavery to come warn Harry even though he’s going to have to punish himself. He can’t believe Harry treats him as an equal i.e. gives him some basic respect and decency. I couldn’t help but imagine his life at the Malfoys – full of trauma and abuse – and its impact on Dobby’s mental health and sense of self. Much like Harry, he seems to have come out of his abuse with empathy and kindness for others (however misguided that sometimes may be). Harry, although annoyed by Dobby, realised that while he was having a horrid time at the Dursleys, Dobby has it much worse – even without knowing the full details of Dobby’s enslavement and what that entails. Most importantly, while Harry is able to leave the Dursleys when he goes to Hogwarts and will eventually be able to leave them altogether, Dobby has to remain with the family until he dies.
  • Dobby reminds me of all those children of refugees, migrants and poor people in general who can’t even imagine a different life – who are so grateful for the tiniest bit of kindness and attention. This may be reflected in adult attitudes too, though I wonder if you grow more cynical about other people the older you are
  • Later in the book, Dobby says that house elves had it much worse during Voldemort’s reign. But it’s not like him being defeated actually improves their lives much – albeit Dobby acknowledges other house elves largely lead better lives than he does. The magical world is very witch/wizard supremacist.
  • What a silly rule that using magic in the presence of Muggles is a serious offense. What if it’s to save them or yourself? There may be many reasons why you need to use magic. According to the history, witches and wizards decided to hide themselves to escape persecution. But after centuries of this, I think it might be time to engage in some cross-cultural relationships.
  • According to the Weasley twins, a lot of wizards think Muggle tricks like using a hairpin to unlock a door is useless. I wonder if locked doors which are charmed against magical spells can be undone with Muggle tricks. Another example of magical folks overlooking Muggle culture to their own detriment.
  • Muggle-baiting involves things like shrinking keys sold to Muggles so they eventually don’t find them. Arthur’s department tries to stamp this out which the wizard supremacists hate, as evidenced by Lucius Malfoy’s constant sneers about the department. At what stage did fear of Muggle persecution turn towards hatred and derision of them, which in turn, led to the wizard supremacist structure of the magical world? This idea not just impacts Muggles and Muggle-borns but also all magical creatures who aren’t witches and wizards.
  • When Draco calls Hermione a Mudblood, it causes an uproar among everyone except Harry and Hermione who have no idea what the word means. They do realise it’s something terrible based on the reactions. There are such different contexts of taboo and insults even in the real world. Slurs against African Americans, for example, or even in India words like ghaati – where different social and cultural contexts means that what’s insulting or terrible to some people may be something somebody else doesn’t understand at all.  In Trevor Noah’s biography, he talks about how one of his friends is called Hitler. Every country thinks their history is the most important – especially Western countries – but not everyone follows the same rules. In India, things like the swastika, Mein Kampf aren’t seen as taboo. What is taboo is both inconsequential in certain contexts but also belies the ignorance of cultural norms and customs with Muggles and magical folk.
  • Ron’s detention involves helping Filch clean the trophies in the trophy room without magic. Why??? Why is Filch doing this? Why is there no magical assistance for him?! Even Filch’s office is dingy and windowless – what sort of unending punishment does he have to endure as a part of his job?!
  • The Kwikspell correspondence course for Squibs that Filch has subscribed to – its recommendations make it sound like a learning disability than an inability to do magic. Is this just the result of poor pedagogy in Hogwarts which doesn’t make room for different learning needs? Why aren’t there schools or classes for Squibs, if so? Or is Kwikspell running a giant scam?
  • The attacks on Muggleborns in Hogwarts are reminiscent of white fascists attacking mosques, synagogues, gay nightclubs, cinemas in Western countries and Hindu nationalists targeting Muslim communities and businesses in India/Delhi.
  • After the latest attack on Hermione/Penelope, Lee Jordan suggests chucking all the Slytherins out because it’s the heir of Slytherin, it’s Slytherin’s monster, and none of the Slytherins have been murdered. His assertion is met with cheers. That reminds me of rampant Islamaphobia in the world + COVID-19 racism against east Asians and North East Indians. It’s so easy to demonise an entire group of people for the actions of an individual/handful. Even when you think you’re one of the good guys, you can fall prey to bigotry.
  • Is it so easy to suspect Hagrid not just because of his alleged past transgression but also because of his half-giant status? Some groups of people are treated with more suspicion and prejudice – ex-convicts (although Hagrid was a juvenile), werewolves (Lupin has to resign when Snape reveals he’s a werewolf and parents don’t trust him around their children), men from certain communities, Muslims, black men. Even gay men in certain historical and current geographical contexts.
  • Much like fascists and other insecure horrible ghouls, Voldemort has created his own nonsensical narrative about himself and others in his head. He hates his father for leaving his mother after finding out she was a witch. That’s not what happened. Merope love-potioned Tom Riddle into a marriage and he left when he was no longer enchanted. Even Voldemort’s glorious Slytherin family wasn’t so glorious after all; Merope and her family were reduced to abject poverty and Merope’s father and brother were horrible. It’s just like a fascist to hark back to imagined historical glories and slights.
  • Tom Riddle was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever seen according to Dumbledore. Maybe until Hermione came along. It’s almost like being from a Muggle background can mean you’re valuable and have skills too, Voldemort!

Re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

A couple of weeks ago, I re-read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Until a few years ago, I used to re-read the series quite regularly – but then postgraduate life got in the way. I’m going to re-read the entire series and re-watch the movies in order to document my thoughts about them/draw on examples during my podcast episodes. I’m quite interested in seeing whether/how I view the series differently in the context of all the critical conversations I’ve encountered about them. I’m supplementing this reading by listening to three Harry Potter re-read podcasts – The Gayly Prophet, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, and #WizardTeam. While this process doens’t really form the core data of my project, the conversations and readings do inform my ideas and engagement with other texts/people.

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the first book:

  • The first chapter in this edition of the book doesn’t mention that Hagrid borrowed the flying motorbike from Sirius Black, which I thought was an extremely odd exclusion, especially since I have a very firm memory of reading Prisoner of Azkaban for the first time as a teenager and recognising the name instantly from the first book (and feeling quite smug about it too). There were a couple of other edits which were probably only noticeable to me and wouldn’t matter to new child readers encountering this book for the first time (knickerbocker glory is replaced by chocolate ice cream but only in the first mention and it reverts to knickerbocker glory in the second instance; there was an odd mention of money in Diagon Alley in the edition I remember which was fixed in this one). It did make for a distracting experience though because I felt like these edits detracted from the comfort I’d gained in the book as a ten-year-old and I longed for my childhood copy which is back home in Mumbai. Silly, of course! It’s still the same book (though I’m only writing that to pretend and be an adult about it – it still makes me irritable!)
  • The Dursleys hate anything that is different – clothes, ideas, imagination – nothing should disrupt the status quo. They hate the Potters because they are so different which makes the Dursleys ashamed. What is this hatred rooted in? Fear? While reading about their attitudes and prejudices, I could definitely draw more direct parallels with racism and xenophobia in the current British as well as global contexts. They definitely voted for Brexit!
  • “Don’t ask questions” is the Dursley rule. I wonder how much of an influence this had on Harry’s later life in Hogwarts where he is constantly questioning everything – not just all the new things he encounters, but also rules, adult authority, unfair practices and overall injustice.
  • As a result of Witch, Please often pointing this out out, I noticed that the fat-shaming of Dursleys was really evident and made me really uncomfortable. It’s seen both in the narration as well as the characters. For example, Hagrid mocks Dudley in the hut for being hungry. All he (as well as the others) has eaten is a banana and a packet of crisps! Of course he’s hungry! And then Hagrid takes out his anger at Vernon on Dudley BY GIVING HIM A PIG TAIL! How is that fair?!
  • I don’t know if it was because I know how Dudley turns out or because his parents’ over-indulgence harms him as well – just in a different way than it harms Harry, but I felt quite bad for him, despite how nasty he is. He’s only eleven years old and children can be quite horrible sometimes – especially to each other. He was definitely a bully, but doesn’t the blame lie on the adults responsible for his upbringing? He does grow out of this beginning in Order of the Phoenix (and probably needs a lot of therapy as an adult!)
  • Reading as an adult, the Dursleys’ abuse of Harry is so much more noticeable and unsettling. As one of the hosts on The Gayly Prophet says, it’s very Roald Dahlesque. However, as  they also pointed out, in Roald Dahl books, the abused children usually escape or outwit the adults pretty early on in the story whereas with Harry, he has to live with the Dursleys for another six years with increasing levels of abuse. I was also uncomfortable about how the Dursleys’ over-indulgent parenting had a negative impact on Dudley’s life.
  • Hagrid looks big and intimidating and likes scary creatures but sits and knits and makes birthday cake and is rather cuddly. I love the dichotomy in his character where it goes beyond what you would expect based on first appearances
  • I could definitely read Neville as someone with dyspraxia or vertigo. He needs a leg up through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room, he’s not very good at balance and coordination, he’s extremely forgetful and absent-minded
  • McGonagall is described as tall, stern, black haired. As another Witch, Please episode points out, we only see her as old because of the movies’s impact on our imagination. She would have been a pretty cool spinster character or even just a young, powerful woman.
  • The Remembrall is such a rubbish magical contraption, especially if you read it as a disability aid for Neville.  It tells you if you’ve forgotten something, great. BUT IT DOESN’T TELL YOU WHAT IT IS YOU’VE ACTUALLY FORGOTTEN??? Way to crush someone’s self-esteem without providing any solution, Remembrall!
  • Throughout the book, I was keenly aware of how much Draco seems to have a giant crush on Harry. I could blame fandom’s shipping influence but I can’t unsee it now. I would like to read fanfiction where Draco and Harry actually end up being friends and how this may have improved Draco’s Hogwarts life and made him less of a brat (he does eventually become less of a brat but it’s a long, arduous journey). Do I need to write this story?
  • Hermione becomes a bit more relaxed about rule breaking after the troll incident. Maybe the reason she stuck to rules so much is because she’s very conscious of them as an outsider to the magical world. This reflects experiences of people who are newcomers in different unfamiliar cultures -immigrants, class, race, religion etc. – where people may feel they need to assimilate into the new culture to be included, welcomed, and respected
  • Harry didn’t even have to try out for the keeper position. In fact, there were no tryouts! What if there was someone better than him that has now lost the chance forever because McGonagall spotted him catching a ball? At the very least, they could have had a reserve Seeker which would have come in handy for all the times Harry missed a match while lying in the hospital wing. McGonagall directly mentions how his father was a great Quidditch player too. This seems to have implications on Harry’s class, family, and race (i.e. blood status) privilege. His skills had a role to play but he had a much easier time gaining access thanks to his family’s network and the position they had in the magical society.
  • One of the fan podcasts I listened to (I don’t remember which one at all) mentioned that Molly knits jumpers for Harry and all her kids every year and every year Ron moans about his. On the one hand, why is his jumper always maroon if he hates that colour? Just like his sandwiches were corned beef which he also hates. Maybe there is something to the theory that Ron is the most neglected since all the attention goes to either his older brothers or to Ginny. On the other hand, Molly’s thankless labour is constantly rejected by her son (though Fred, George and Harry seem to appreciate theirs)
  • Okay so Charlie Weasley, a fully-grown adult (I’m assuming? Maybe just an older teenager? Early 20s? Okay, a baby adult) is happily smuggling dragons? Okay so he wants to help Hagrid and has noble intentions but surely he could have done that without getting the eleven-year-olds involved?
  • So Hermione, Harry, Draco, and Neville’s detention not only involves going into a very dangerous forest that is literally forbidden to all students because of how risky it is, but they also have to do this in the middle of the night all night?!?!? What sort of school is this?! Was there any sort of debriefing session after the traumatic experience in the forest? How about the traumatic experience rescuing the Philosopher’s Stone? Does Madam Pomfrey have to deal with both physical and mental ailments? Why can’t Dumbledore hire a school therapist? Does Hogwarts just not believe in mental health outreach?

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