HP Re-read: 1.1 The Boy Who Lived

Beginning the first chapter of the first book in the series, we’re introduced to the Dursleys in the very first sentence.

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

This introduction is probably one of the best lines in the entire series. It perfectly sums up the tone of book, what the Dursleys are, and it sets the wheels in motion for Harry’s life at Privet Drive.

Also, can I just say how much I love this description? Reading this single sentence as an 11-year-old immediately drew me in. I thought it was brilliant how it was cheeky yet civil. It stuck with me, and I immediately knew this book was going to be real page-turner.

Vernon Dursley, who didn’t approve of imagination, is a very boring and grumpy man and starts to notice a lot of peculiarities as he went about his day: a tabby cat that reads maps and studies street signs, a flock of owls all over the place in broad daylight, people in cloaks, shooting stars in Britain, and rumors and whispers of the Potters.

“Sorry,” [Vernon Dursley] grunted, as the tiny old man stumbled and almost fell. It was a few seconds before Mr. Dursley realized that the man was wearing a violet cloak. He didn’t seem at all upset at being almost knocked to the ground. On the contrary, his face split into a wide smile and he said in a squeaky voice that made passersby stare, “Don’t be sorry, my dear sir, for nothing could upset me today! Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!”

And the old man hugged Mr. Dursley around the middle and walked off.

Mr. Dursley stood rooted to the spot. He had been hugged by a complete stranger. He also thought he had been called a Muggle, whatever that was. He was rattled.

Reading Vernon Dursley’s reactions to these oddities is laughable. However, it is indeed normal and human. I admit I would be just as flabbergasted and bewildered if someone calls me an odd word, wraps me in a hug, exclaims strange statements, and just walks right off.

And then there was Albus Dumbledore, who appeared so suddenly and silently you’d have thought he’d just popped out of the ground.

Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive. He was tall, thin, and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak that swept the ground, and high-heeled, buckled boots. His blue eyes were light, bright, and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice. This man’s name was Albus Dumbledore.

Dumbledore meets up with the tabby cat, who turns out to be a person named Professor McGonagall, “a rather severe-looking woman who was wearing glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had had around its eyes.” Dumbledore and McGonagall were called professors without us initially knowing any context to that.

Aside from introducing us to some major characters in the series, the first chapter mainly established that the whole Wizarding world is in celebration of Voldemort’s defeat. Voldemort, an evil wizard who tormented the Wizarding world for years that the mere mention of his name brought literal fear to anyone who dares to speak it.

And his demise was caused by a little baby boy?

Then we read about what happened to the baby boy’s parents:

“What they’re saying,” [McGonagall] she pressed on, “is that last night Voldemort turned up in Godric’s Hollow. He went to find the Potters. The rumor is that Lily and James Potter are — are — that they’re — dead.”

Dumbledore bowed his head. Professor McGonagall gasped.

“Lily and James… I can’t believe it… I didn’t want to believe it… Oh, Albus…”

Dumbledore reached out and patted her on the shoulder. “I know… I know…” he said heavily.

We find out that Dumbledore plans to leave Lily and James’ son with the Dursleys.

“It’s the best place for him,” said Dumbledore firmly. “His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he’s older. I’ve written them a letter.”

I saw the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone movie before reading the books. So aside from perusing about the Dursleys at the beginning of this chapter, I already had the knowledge of how awful they are. Even McGonagall couldn’t believe that Dumbledore was leaving baby Harry with those people.

But we’re supposed to trust Dumbledore.

“It’s the best place for him,” said Dumbledore firmly. “His aunt and uncle will be able to explain everything to him when he’s older. I’ve written them a letter.”

Seriously though, a letter? Dumbledore is an exceptional mind. Surely, he doesn’t expect the Dursleys to care for little Harry, considering the kind of muggles they are. McGonagall aired my exact same sentiments.

“A letter?” repeated Professor McGonagall faintly, sitting back down on the wall. “Really, Dumbledore, you think you can explain all this in a letter?

Also, there’s Hagrid.

I’m not particularly sure how I feel about Rubeus Hagrid as a character. I don’t dislike him. I suppose he’s a least favorite character.

Again, McGonagall echoes my sentiments.

“How is the boy getting here, Dumbledore?’ [Professor McGonagall] eyed his cloak suddenly as though she thought he might be hiding Harry underneath it.

‘Hagrid’s bringing him.’

‘You think it – wise – to trust Hagrid with something as important as this?’

‘I would trust Hagrid with my life,’ said Dumbledore.

‘I’m not saying his heart isn’t in the right place,’ said Professor McGonagall grudgingly, ‘but you can’t pretend he’s not careless.’

But Dumbledore trusts Hagrid with his life. And since Dumbledore is described as the only one Voldemort was frightened of and arguably the most important person in the Wizarding world, that is saying a lot.

With this re-read I realize how much I like McGonagall as a character. She was stern and steely, but she seemed to be the most sensible one in this chapter. Also, she genuinely was concerned for Harry and was really heartbroken upon hearing the death of Lily and James.

The chapter brilliantly closes with Dumbledore, Hagrid, and McGonagall leaving little Harry on the Dursleys’ doorstep.  It’s quite tragic.  As a reader, you’re immensely captivated yet deeply distressed at what fate has in store for Harry.

Some notes:

  • It wasn’t surprising when JKR revealed that Dumbledore was gay. Re-reading this chapter describing Dumbledore wearing flamboyant clothing only makes his character more lovable. Also, Dumbledore’s broken nose! I didn’t realize this was mentioned in the very first book in the series. His crooked nose has an actual story behind it that won’t be revealed until much later in the series. What an innocuous thing to mention in the first book!
  • I have the US version of the books, and I know there are a few differences from the UK editions. Aside from the obvious, which is the title (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US edition and Philosopher’s Stone in the UK edition), I’m not completely aware of all the tweaks that were made. I do know there’s “sherbet lemon” in the UK edition and “lemon drop” in the US one. They should have kept the former since it would be called back to later with it being one of Dumbledore’s passwords to his office.
  • Easter egg: The Put-outer, later known as the Deluminator, which plays a key role in the final book.
  • And you know what I just realized? Snape was in Godric’s Hollow BEFORE Hagrid and Sirius showed up! Remember this heartbreaking scene in the Deathly Hallows movie. With that being said, I’m not sure whether it’s cannon or just in the film adaptation. It is possible that Snape went there since he knew of Voldemort’s plan to kill the Potters. He was there to say his final goodbye to his beloved Lily and left Harry for the Order of the Phoenix/Dumbledore to rescue.
  • And I didn’t miss the very first mention of Sirius Black and his motorbike!

 

 

 

 

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