comfort reads, reviews

Comfort Reads: Revisiting Harry Potter (Part 1)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Welcome to Comfort Reads: where I talk about re-reads and what I’ve learned on second (or twelfth) encounters.

When times get tough, both in the world at large and in my interior life, it often seems like there’s nowhere to turn. The internet is filled with news blurbs that inspire fear and frustration, and my mind has too many dark corners to feel safe. In times like this, I need a little comfort reading—so I turn to the world of Harry Potter.

I was nine when I first encountered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. My mom had dragged me shopping with her, and, like any bookish child, I ended up in the book section. I read the inside flap of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and convinced my mom to let me buy the first three installments in hardback (“Mom, they’re on sale! They’re way cheaper than at the regular bookstore!”). It’s been 18 years, but I can still remember where I was when I read Hagrid saying, “Yer a wizard, Harry” (visiting my grandmother at a nursing home). By that point, I was already hooked.

I was a reader before I read the Harry Potter series, but it was obsessively devouring these books that really solidified my relationship to reading. These books were home to me. I wanted to crawl inside them and live in Harry’s world. I spent hours imagining what my life would be like at Hogwarts, despite the fact that my eleventh’s summer came and went without a letter from the wizarding school. By the time the fourth book came out, I’d read the first three books at least three times. My adolescence was mapped out in waiting for the new book to come out, reading it in a matter of hours, and reading it again. I turned 18 the summer the final book was released, and my childhood—and Harry’s—ended.

some Sorcerer’s Stone facts & opinions

  • publication year: 19973
  • movie release date: 2001
  • age of my first encounter: 9
  • favorite moment left out of the film series: The Midnight Duel. When Malfoy tricks Harry and Ron out of bed, along with Hermione and Neville, only to have them nearly caught by Filch. I hated the way the films not only left out this character-building scene but made the discovery of Fluffy and the trap door a totally random moment without any sort of context.
  • favorite magical object introduced: The Invisibility Cloak. Harry receives the Cloak from a mysterious person on Christmas (later revealed to be Dumbledore). Not only is the Cloak incredibly important throughout the series, but it’s also the first thing Harry has that’s related to his parents.
  • best supporting character: Neville. Especially knowing his character growth throughout the series, I love the early moment when Neville stands up to Malfoy, and the moment when he stands up to Harry, Ron, and Hermione when they’re sneaking off to save the sorcerer’s stone.
  • best professor appearance: Snape. As much as I love McGonagall’s sass, Snape’s speech on Harry’s first date of Potions gets me every time (I also hear Alan Rickman’s voice in my head when I read it, to this day).
  • best Dumbledore quote: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” (Ch 12, p.214)

It’s nearly impossible to re-read The Sorcerer’s Stone the same way once you know what happens at the end of the series. Each moment seems to hold more significance, from the moment Harry, Ron, and Hermione become the Gryffindor Three Musketeers, to the moment the centaur Firenze rescues Harry from certain death in the Forbidden Forest (thus going against the rest of the centaurs, who believe the stars predict Voldemort murdering Harry).

The moment that always strikes me in Book 1, aside from the very first Voldemort encounter in the end, is when Harry stumbles upon the Mirror of Erised. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a mirror that shows you your heart’s desire, especially as my heart’s desire has changed subtly as I’ve grown older. The idea that our impossible (or nearly impossible) desires can drive us mad ties in well with the pathetically terrifying figure of Voldemort’s half life. In his desperate attempt to hold onto life despite everything that’s against him, Voldemort becomes his own worst nightmare: weak. As Dumbledore points out, eternal life and endless money are the two things people want most, but they’re also the two worst things for the human soul—and for true happiness.

Harry’s early encounters with Voldemort always make me think of the later ones. I’d completely forgotten the scene in the Forbidden Forest: during a midnight detention led by Hagrid, the search party for an injured unicorn leads Harry directly into a withered, crawling version of Lord Voldemort. Although this is cut short in the film version, there’s a moment when the herd of centaurs discusses Harry’s destiny. Knowing what we know from the rest of the series, the words of the centaurs take on a deeper meaning. While Hagrid brushes them off as being “ruddy stargazers,” it’s apparent to me that the centaurs know that Harry is destined to go up against Voldemort again and again until one of them is destroyed forever. Ronan and Bane berate Firenze, not only for carrying Harry on his back to safety, but for altering Harry’s fate; as Bane says, “we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens.”

Now, you can choose to write this off; after all, as Hagrid says, the centaurs have their heads to the stars, and we all know astrology is an imperfect science. Yet, what if we did take them seriously? It would seem that the stars declare Harry’s death at the hands of Voldemort—which isn’t that far off from the prophecy, which we learn about in Book 5. For as quickly as Book 1 passes, it begs a really important question: does Harry control his fate completely? Could he walk away if he wanted to? Or is there some invisible force that leads him directly into Voldemort’s path?

What do you think about the significance of fate and destiny in the series? Any favorite moments from Book 1 that I missed? Let me know in the comments.


4 thoughts on “Comfort Reads: Revisiting Harry Potter (Part 1)”

  1. I’m trying to reread this whole series in 2017. I’m rereading the third book right now. You’re right that knowing how the series ends changes how you read them. I keep finding all these little clues to later events.

    1. It’s crazy how clues turn up on every new reading, no matter how many times you’ve read them in the past. I love it!

  2. Yes! The midnight duel should be in the films! I think it also tells us a lot about Harry that he would accept a challenge to a duel in the first place.

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