Prior Incantato: In Harry Potter, a spell that can reveal the last spell performed by a particular wand. In other words — magic revisited.

I don’t want to introduce this thing too heavily, but if you’d like to know more about why I’m doing this blog series, see these two Harry Potter related posts. The story of the Boy Who Lived is, I feel, one of the greatest modern pieces of writing about death, redemption and sacrificial love – and I don’t know if anything will challenge that title for a long time to come.

I wanted to take some time to dig through the halls of Hogwarts again, to see Harry Potter grow up, to analyze the way J.K. Rowling develops characters and sows the seeds of mystery. Hopefully, I can become a better writer as a result, and we can grow to appreciate Harry’s tale a bit more together. After all, even though the Boy Who Lived is gone, the ones we love never truly leave us.

Part 1 of this series will take us through the end of the third chapter. Future entries will cover more ground, but there’s a lot here I wanted to chew on. Part 2 should take us through the Sorting Hat, and Part 3 might cover through the Mirror of Erised, which is probably the most important chapter in the first book. Also, while I won’t talk about spoilers for the entire series in great detail, they will in fact be sprinkled about. So yeah.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Part 1

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Chapter 1: The Boy Who Lived

Privet Drive: home of the worst sort of Muggles, the Dursleys. I had almost forgotten that the book opens on Vernon’s point of view, as he’s noticing the strange goings-on around his suburban paradise. People in robes, a cat that looks at him disapprovingly, and all manner of other whimsical things. And let’s face it, there’s no room in Vernon’s life for whimsy.

This is one of the few places in the books that we ever see things from another lens besides Harry’s. The most notable ones would be the introductions in both Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows, as we see the events around the Dark Lord’s camp, and most specifically Severus Snape. And even in this Vernon POV we get something similar: a look at the world-that-was, under the grip of Voldemort and suddenly pulled away from it, freed from fear and oppression. For the rest of the books, we only get told stories of what things were like during Voldemort’s rise to power, but here we actually see its effects.

However, despite all of that scene-setting, the most telling sentence in this entire opening is about imagination:

“He hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination.”


I think we’ve all known a few Muggles like Vernon Dursley before, and this seems specifically aimed at them. Rowling is setting the stage for a world that is beyond wonder, and is in fact, more normal than the Muggle world from which it hides itself. In a recent conversation with my bud Chuck, he said rather astutely that Rowling flips the trope – the normal is treated as fantasy to those in the wizarding world, and Harry is actually stepping through the wardrobe from the other side.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, since our hero is just a baby with a scar, still a decade away from a life of wands, transfiguration and moon-spectacled wizards that love candy. Speaking of which, both Dumbledore and McGonagall make their intros here, and it’s clear that something big is going on. Only Dumbledore seems to know the true nature of what has gone down, but as becomes par for the course over the series, hides it behind what people can only puzzle out as jolly madness. We learn that a guy named You-Know-Who, or Voldemort (shudder) has had his power broken by none other than a baby. This is such a big deal it makes wizards shoot off fireworks, apparently.

Hagrid appears shortly after, on a floating motorcycle (which I have dubbed a floatercycle) loaned to him from Sirius Black. I’m still a little fuzzy on the timeline here – is this before or after his supposed explodiarmus to Peter Pettigrew? Anyway, the giant and floatercycle make a crashing entrance, and we meet the first in a long line of Harry’s surrogate father figures – the first and pretty much only one to survive over the course of the series.

Chapter 2: The Vanishing Glass

If this were book 1 of a post-Hogwarts Harry Potter series, the title of this chapter might be referring to the brandy and butter beer Harry throws back during his quarter-life crisis, but sadly, Rowling hasn’t written that book… yet.

Harry wakes up in the now-classic cupboard under the stairs, and we learn that McGonagall’s predictions were true: Harry really is living with the worst sort of Muggles there can be. No wonder Dumbledore’s parting words to him were “good luck, Harry.” He is terrorized every waking moment by not only his aunt and uncle, but also his spoiled blond cousin, Dudley. There are some very interesting parallels here to a family we later see in the wizarding world…

When he’s not at the Dursley’s, Harry is off with their mad cat-loving neighbor Mrs. Figg, who we later find out is a Squib that keeps an eye on Harry under Dumbledore’s orders. When it turns out that Mrs. Figg has broken her leg on Duddykins’ special day (perhaps she was out on Order business, eh?), Harry is forced to go with the Dursleys to the zoo. On the way there, he gets scolded by Vernon for talking about a dream he had about floatercycles, and again the theme of squashing imagination comes up. In fact, Harry feels specifically like the Dursleys worry he’s going to get dangerous ideas when he dares to use his imagination. Get ready, Harry. People are going to do that to you for the next 7 years of your life.

Once at the zoo, Harry speaks parseltongue for the first time to a boa constrictor from Brazil, which is made all the more amazing because apparently he did this in Spanish – the snake even says amigo! If only Harry knew how to accio some sombreros. Do they wear those in Brazil?

Dudley pushes Harry out of the way to get a good look at the winking snake, and Harry accidentally makes the glass vanish. Dudley and his friend Piers fall inside the pen, the snake escapes and everyone promptly goes bananas. This lands Harry in some fairly big trouble.

Chapter 3: The Letters From No One

This is the wacky chapter where Harry gets the wizard’s equivalent to a crapton of spam mail. Seriously, Hogwarts, how can Vernon opt out of your future newsletters? Can you please include a link somewhere in the e-mail about how to unsubscribe? It makes you wonder if any of the Hogwarts envelopes Harry got were from Nigerian princes. Or if any promised satisfying wand enlargement.

Anyway, to avoid all of the Hogwarts enrollment mass mailers, Vernon goes to some great lengths, including sleeping on the floor, staying the night in a hotel and then going on the world’s worst vacation to a cottage on a pile of rocks. Naturally, Harry wants to know what is going on, as he’s never received a proper letter in his entire life. He can’t fathom the reason that Vernon would want to keep these letters from him so desperately.

A storm settles in, and right when the clock strikes midnight for Harry’s 11th birthday, someone starts pounding on the door. And no, it’s not that Nigerian prince.

Random Observations:

  • Re: Hagrid: “He looked simply too big to be allowed…” Lovely piece of description.
  • One of the things that I really want to observe is just how much each sequential book mirrors the book opposite from it. One mirrors seven, two mirrors six, and so on… While there are obvious parallels to Hagrid bringing the floatercycle to Privet Drive in Sorcerer’s Stone and him escorting Harry to safety in The Deathly Hallows – I also find it interesting that Hagrid is first seen carrying Harry in a bundle of blankets in his arms. One of the last times we see Hagrid? When he’s carrying Harry in his arms on that sad march back to Hogwarts.
  • In regards to Dumbledore, even McGonagall seems to question his sanity, despite his brilliance. Later, Dumbledore says he wouldn’t remove Harry’s scar, because “scars can come in handy.” He then goes on to describe a birthmark of his own that is a map to the entire London underground. We establish fairly early on that Dumbledore’s wisdom often appears as folly to those around him. This is the crux of a few major plot points later in the series, especially in regards to Severus Snape.
  • While I’ll talk about this at more length in the next post, it really is striking how the Dursleys are the Muggle Malfoys, even down to the blond hair. It’s easy to see why Harry takes such a strong dislike to Draco – no matter what the fanfiction out there says.
    And that’s the end of Part 1. Expect Part 2 in just a couple of days. Thanks for reading, friends – and do spread the word.

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