Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or games, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the girls revisited the original Harry Potter book, which began J.K. Rowling’s “wizarding world” two decades ago. Let’s listen in on their conversation…
“They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”
And she closed the book, laying it on her chest. Eleanor stared at the ceiling. It was one of those books that left you awaiting the sequel – even after you’d read the sequel. Of course, the Wizarding World was much more than just a book series at this point – twenty years of midnight releases, summer blockbuster films, magical theme parks, and West End plays had firmly cemented J.K. Rowling’s creations as a cornerstone of early 21st century popular culture. Even those who hadn’t read the saga of Harry Potter could recognize the names Hermione, Voldemort, and Hogwarts. After the release of the 6th book in 2005, the publicly known spoiler “_____ Kills ________” was almost as famous and no-longer-a-spoiler as “Darth Vader is ____’s Father” or “Rosebud Was His ____.”
Eleanor sighed, just as Gwen came in from the kitchen, where she was fixing dinner.
“Did you finish it?” Gwen asked. The three had recently decided to re-read the Potter series, but Eleanor had been lagging behind.
“Yes!” Eleanor said. “I’m still bitter about the House Cup at the ending.”
“Bitter about it?” Gwen questioned.
“Like, I’m glad that Gryffindor wins and everything, good for Neville being the tiebreaker and all. But come on.” She sat up to look at Gwen directly. “How contrived is it that Dumbledore didn’t award these points earlier?”
“Oh, whatever,” Gwen said. “You can’t have a bittersweet ending in the very first book.”
“He had four days when Harry was in his post-Voldemort coma!” Eleanor groaned. “But ‘no, I’m Dumbledore, great wizard, I’m gonna Shyamalan the entire House Cup at the last possible second!'”
“I did recognize,” Gwen began, “that Dumbledore certainly has more batty moments than brilliant ones in the first book. Aside from the Mirror of Erised, he doesn’t really do much.”
“I noticed that too,” Eleanor agreed. “Everything from his Chocolate Frog card to his ‘few words’ to the students is a notch too ridiculous.”
“Nitwit!” came a voice from the other room. Gwen leaned out of the kitchen in time to see Dania open her door, and say “Blubber!”
“Oddment!” said Gwen and Dania in unison. “Tweak!”
“Just because you’ve read the book more than twice now…” Eleanor grumbled.
“So you finished it!” Dania said, sitting expectantly across from Eleanor. “What’d you think?”
“So…” Eleanor said, flipping through the book. “My expectation was that I was remembering it…differently. You know, with the knowledge of the entire series on it, and everything.”
“Like, example: Harry doesn’t actually get to Hogwarts until like a third of the way into the book. You don’t remember that.”
“Well, duh,” Dania shrugged. “He has to learn he’s a wizard in this one.”
“Right, right,” Eleanor said. “But it’s filled with things like that. The fact that Draco is so…” Eleanor scrunched her face, shaking a fist to the ceiling.
“Aggressively racist?” Gwen suggested.
“Like, it’s not even subtle!” Eleanor started. “He meets Harry in the robe shop and it’s immediately, ‘half bloods shouldn’t be at Hogwarts, Weasley is too poor to go here.'”
“That was what stuck with me most of all,” Gwen said. “The classism throughout the book. Draco’s primary mode of torturing Ron is insulting his family’s money. When Harry gets the Nimbus 2000 and it’s something Draco can’t afford, Ron immediately starts insulting Draco right back.”
“And the fight at the Quiddich match?” Dania said, referring to the incident where Draco’s poor-shaming insult led to a fistfight between Draco and Ron.
“Right!” Eleanor said. “Even the moment on the train. Harry uses his massive inheritance to buy all the candy on the trolley, and eats it in front of Ron, who only has a few sandwiches.”
“V true,” Dania said. “Although he does let Ron share the candy.”
“He learns to be a better person, sure,” Gwen said.
“I think the weirdest thing for me,” Eleanor said, trying to find the page, “was that Hermione is barely in this book.”
“What do you mean ‘barely?'” Dania said. “She’s the center of the climax with Harry!”
“Well, sure,” Eleanor said. “But she doesn’t even enter until page 105, and even then, she’s only an elevated ensemble character until the troll battle scene in Chapter Ten – more than halfway through the book. I think Parvati Patil had more lines up to that point.”
“Honestly, Neville has higher billing in this book than Hermione does, in my opinion,” Eleanor continued. “He’s got the most personality of the first-years mentioned at The Sorting, and he’s the first obstacle they overcome to get the Stone. Not to mention the ending.”
“Andhe’sthesecretchosenone!” Dania interjected, the words slurring together.
Sighing, Eleanor glared at her friend. “And he’s the Secret Chosen One, yes, Dania, I’ve heard that theory too.”
“That would be interesting,” Gwen said. “Especially considering the point of the entire series.”
“What, Harry Potter as the Chosen One?” Eleanor said. “The Boy Who Lived?”
“Well, sort of,” Gwen said. “As I was reading it, I started looking at the book a new way. A thought: how many times does Harry break the rules in the first book on the grounds of “Chosen One?”
“Well,” Dania said, “do you mean he justifies breaking the rules by being the Chosen One, or is able to break the rules because of it?”
“The ban on first years playing Quiddich is one,” Eleanor said. “He becomes Seeker.”
“And the Mirror of Erised,” Dania added. “Dumbledore basically sets him up to find it.”
“But beyond those two, anything else?”
“That’s a leading question,” Eleanor said. “Just get to the point, Gwen.”
“I don’t think the book is about Harry as Chosen One, necessarily,” Gwen began. “Or, at least, it’s not about the things he gets to do as Chosen One. It’s about the difficulty of being the Chosen One.”
“Difficulty?” Dania said, incredulously. “Getting to ignore a lot of rules doesn’t seem that hard.”
“But he doesn’t do that,” Gwen corrected. “Harry is very concerned with the rules of Hogwarts in the first book – he’s a first year, first impressions and all. However, his concerns about doing things right are exacerbated by being told he’s the Chosen One.”
“Consider how he didn’t grow up thinking he was special, or even special by Muggle standards. Suddenly he learns that not only does he have to learn a new set of rules about being a wizard, but he also has to deal with entering that new world as “the boy who lived” – something out of his control.”
“There are a lot of moments like that,” Eleanor said. “On the train, when Harry says he’s worried he’ll be bad at magic, Ron responds with, ‘oh everyone’s worried about that.’ But I was thinking, ‘but not everyone has to be the magic superchild, Ron!'”
“Precisely,” Gwen continued. “Even when Harry learns that ‘plenty of people came from Muggle families,’ it’s harder because everyone expects him to be the legendary ‘Harry Potter.’ But he has no real desire to be the Chosen One.”
“I think he’s still interested in being the Chosen One,” Dania countered, shifting in the chair. “He spends most of the book looking out for the little guy and searching for the Sorcerer’s Stone – Philosopher’s Stone, whatever. And he is weirdly good at Quiddich, like some crazy prodigy at Quiddich.”
“True,” Gwen conceded. “But Quiddich skill isn’t part of the prophecy. If Harry had somehow never found out about being The Boy Who Lived, he’d still be a relatively talented and kindhearted wizard. But merely knowing about the pressure he’s under – without having any responsibilities as Chosen One! – affects the way he sees the world.”
“He does immediately hate Snape for no reason besides Snape being bitter about how famous Harry is,” Eleanor said. “Even after Dumbledore drops the ‘your father hated Snape’ line at the end, Harry could still feel like Snape’s anger comes entirely from Harry’s reputation – something he can’t control!”
“Not to mention, when Harry does make a major error, getting caught while trying to set the dragon free, his response is to stop thinking about the Stone and stay out of trouble. A very un-Chosen-like thing to do.”
“Not wrong,” Dania said. “Even with Dumbledore definitely biased for Harry the entire way – showing him the Mirror, pulling that B.S. at the House Cup ceremony – ”
“Thank you,” Eleanor groaned.
“…Harry finds Fluffy by accident. And defeats the troll basically by accident. And even learns what he needs to about finding the stone not through being the Chosen One, but because Hagrid never knows when to stop talking.”
Gwen agreed. “The book, at least the first one,” she continued, “is a story about how to live with a reputation that we can’t control, but can’t ignore. Sure, there’s a boss battle in the final chapter, but the actual motivation for Harry is to become a good Wizard and live up to his legacy, not to defeat Voldemort or keep Hogwarts safe from all evil.”
“That comes later,” Dania reminded Gwen.
“Sure, it comes later,” Eleanor said. “But that would always ‘come later’ when you don’t even know how to be the Chosen One yet. The first book is more setting up the world, and preparing people who read it for the rest of the books to come.”
“The books,” Dania said, “and the movies, and theme park, and Broadway show, and fanfiction.”
“She didn’t know all that was coming when she wrote the first one,” Gwen said. “Especially the fanfiction.”
“No one expects the fanfiction.”
“Mark of a good book and a good world,” Eleanor said. “That people care about the characters enough to want to see them doing other things.”
“Or each other.”
Image Credit: Illustration by Thomas Taylor for Bloomsbury UK