I have been thinking about rereading these books for several years. I have comments on Halbs and ingres77’s reviews to back it up. But the desire to do so started before 2015… I’m pretty sure it’s one of the many things that pulled me into Cannonball in the first place. But in my five previous cannonball outings I haven’t done it. What’s different now? The world, I think. But also knowing that I am not embarking on this journey alone. Caitlin D and emmalita (and the always wonderful Angry Dimples) are undertaking this as well. There was something about emmalita’s titles “ReReading Harry Potter for Sanity and Resistance” which finally pushed me over the proverbial edge – I too could use a little sanity and resistance.
I’m not a huge rereader, but it’s not something I eschew either. However, until now I have never gone back to any of these books, and I think it’s because they exist in this weird emotional vacuum in my life. My mother purchased the first couple of books for my younger sister in preparation for the first movie to be released. It was probably late 2000 or 2001 (my sister would have been about 9 or 10), but I just don’t know for sure. My sister was a reluctant reader and my mom was trying that “hip new thing/what all the other kids are doing” parent trick… it did eventually work for Colleen, but in the meantime my mom and I devoured the available books in the series. These were still good days for me, but like for Harry, there was a darkness coming.
Coming back to the book sixteen years after my previous reading (but many movie viewings) the aspect of the book which stood out to me was how much of the book’s narrative structure takes place outside of Harry Potter. The book is named for him (as the rest of the series will also be) but much of the first third of this book is about the fallout of the battles with Voldemort, the deaths of James and Lily Potter, Dumbledore’s plans and hopes for baby Harry to have a normal life, the realities of life with the Dursleys and what is important to them, and eventually we get to the boy who lives in the cupboard under the stairs.
Harry doesn’t have much to define himself that comes from within when we first meet him. He is an unwanted child who is housed but not cared for. He wears oversized hand me downs, does not receive birthday or Christmas gifts, is bullied at school and at home. He doesn’t have many hobbies or interests. He is merely surviving, and making the best of it as he can. He is so excited to be able to go to the zoo with the Dursleys for Dudley’s birthday that your heart aches for the boy.
When Hagrid reappears following the (slightly over) long battle to get Harry’s Hogwarts letter to him, and makes his dramatic pronouncement: “You’re a wizard, Harry” suddenly there’s something inside Harry that he can begin to piece together. All those occurences he couldn’t explain, events which didn’t make sense now have a reason he can put his finger on. He is also burdened almost immediately with the truth of his parents’ death.
One of my favorite fan theories which bats around the internet is that Mrs. Weasley spots Harry looking confused on the way to platform 9 and ¾ and makes sure to pitch her voice towards him to help this young boy find his way. We don’t know much about the wizarding world yet (Hagrid does an okay job with the intro) but as the reader we can easily believe that this mother of seven is going to see a boy alone, confused, and in possession of an owl and know that he needs help, and in the case of our Harry, he needs her and her family.
There are two parallel story arcs in this book which stand out to me: discovering your identity and found family. Throughout the course of his first year at Hogwarts (the second two thirds of the book) Harry is learning about himself, his interests, his strengths, and is making friends for the first time in his life. He’s also finding the family that is going to carry him through the next six books. It’s as large as Hogwarts itself, or Gryffindor House, but really it’s his close relationships with Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Weasley unit. Molly is mothering him (he does receive a Weasley sweater for Christmas after all), the boys are his brothers in more than arms, and Harry finally has the supportive network he needs to develop into the person he will someday be (McGonagall will accept no substitute for actual growth).
Rowling is giving us hints and nods, laying in groundwork for what’s coming in the future. (One of my favorite moments is Neville receiving his ten points for standing up to his friends.) She’s also kept her story narrow and her characters easily definable to help the young readers this book was aimed for. The series grows with the readers, but it’s a beautiful benefit to read a work so well crafted that adults can find so much in it as well.
I’m listening to the audio version read by Jim Dale, and it is as delightful as I was lead to believe. The only problem I ran into is that he reads Hermione a bit breathier than I expected. I’m also rewatching the movies as I go, and the adaptation from book to screen was well-handled with this one, sacrificing the non-Hogwarts portions to get down to a two and a half hour runtime.