Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | 1 The Boy Who Lived

by Glenn on January 3, 2022

How is it possible that twenty years have gone by since that first Harry Potter film was released? I’ve read through all the books at least three times and listened to them a couple more. The narration by Jim Dale is phenomenal and was pretty key to helping me with some pronunciation.

Perhaps I’ve got one more round in me. We’ll see. I thought I would try and read and write my way through the series one more time, but I have way more projects than I have time for. But if I can keep track of projects better, perhaps I can add this one in.

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Chapter 1 “The Boy Who Lived” in which we meet a baby named Harry Potter who has been orphaned in an unusual event—his parents, Lily and James, were killed by someone named Voldemort who tried for whatever reason to kill Harry as well and disappeared in the process. There is a mark on Harry—a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.

In this opening chapter we meet a family, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number Four Privet Drive. They have a toddler named Dudley. They pride themselves on being thoroughly normal, unlike Mrs. Dursley’s sister and family.

As a typical day begins for this family we understand that somehow this is not a typical day in the world. On his way to work, Mr. Dursley “couldn’t help noticing that there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks.” [3] We’re told Mr. Dursley didn’t like strangely-dressed people.

There are other things going on—owls flying everywhere—and what looks like shooting stars everywhere. And a mysterious cat is watching the Dursley home.

At lunch, Mr. Dursley bumps into one of these strangely-dressed people. The man is not troubled, though. He’s in good spirits and tells Mr. Dursley, “Rejoice, for You-Know-Who has gone at last! Even Muggles like yourself should be celebrating, this happy, happy day!” [5]

It’s hard to approach this novel as though it was the first time. We can’t un-remember everything even as I suspect there are things I have forgotten. But we have some mysteries as this story opens. There are two kinds of people—the normal and the oddly-dressed. We’re not told what the difference is at this point. Mr. Dursley seems to have some awareness that there are two kinds of people. In fact, Mr. Dursley’s wife, Petunia has a sister. He refers to “her crowd.” [7] And he wants nothing to do with that crowd.

And there is this “You-Know-Who” person who apparently has gone, which is a cause for celebration.

Mr. Dursley has a moment of panic. He overhears the name Harry Potter spoken by some strangely-dressed people and there is a glimmer of recognition. When he gets home he approaches the subject with his wife, Petunia. Mrs. Dursley hasn’t seen her sister for quite some time. But she is married to someone with the surname Potter and they have a son named Harry who is about the same age as Dudley. Is there a connection?

That night, one of these strangely-dressed people appears on Privet Drive. His name is Albus Dumbledore. The narrator has an insider’s tone and tells us, “Nothing like this man had ever been seen on Privet Drive.” [8]With a device he carries in his robes he puts out twelve neighborhood streetlights. The cat, seen earlier, that has been sitting there all day, changes into a person—Professor McGonagall. Albus Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall have some sort of familiarity with each other.

Professor McGonagall has a question: “Is You-Know-Who gone?” [8] She apparently doesn’t want to say a name. Dumbledore doesn’t answer the question right away. First he reacts to the fear and says , “I have never seen any reason to be frightened of saying Voldemort’s name.” He has been trying to convince people to use the name for eleven years. Apparently this is a name that causes fear. It’s interesting how Professor McGonagall responds to Dumbledore. She says, “Everyone knows you’re the only one You-Know-oh, all right, Voldemort, was frightened of.” [11]

Dumbledore replies, “You flatter me. Voldemort had powers I will never have.” [11] Professor McGonagall explains why. It’s “Only because you’re too—well—noble to use them.” Dumbledore doesn’t disagree. Just a few pages into this book we become aware of good and evil. Evil involves using powers that good will not. Is this a one-sided battle? Evil wins because it uses powers that are stronger than those who are good? It appears so. Lily and James Potter have been killed by Voldemort.

This book opens with dark powers and the darkness of death. We already know where this story is going, but this tells us this story is about death. There’s a mystery in the death of Lily and James Potter. They were killed by Voldemort, but their baby, Harry was not, although he was left with a scar on his forehead. Professor McGonagall tells us about rumors that say “when he couldn’t kill Harry Potter, Voldemort’s power somehow broke—and that’s why he’s gone.” (Notice that Professor M doesn’t hesitate to use the name Voldemort, now.) Harry is “The Boy Who Lived” when so many people have died.

Dumbledore doesn’t know why this happened. He says, “We can only guess. We may never know.” This is a kind of false foreshadowing. One of the themes of this story is that Dumbledore is going to be working very hard to understand what happened. He will eventually figure it out.

There’s a line in this chapter that I really love. It’s got a “meta” quality to it. Professor M says, regarding Harry Potter, “He’ll be famous—a legend—I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future—there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!” [15] No hyperbole there.

Dumbledore sees this fame as a problem. Harry will be “Famous for something he won’t even remember!” [15] He tells Professor M about a plan for the baby to grow up with the Dursleys. Professor M thinks this is a terrible idea because they are such a bad family, but this is the plan, mostly because this is the only family Harry has.

Dumbledore explains that someone named Hagrid will be bringing Harry. Professor M wonders if this is a good idea but Dumbledore says, “I would trust Hagrid with my life.” Hagrid arrives with the baby, Harry, on a flying motorcycle he borrowed from someone named Sirius Black. The tone of the narrator is fun again, here. While trying to explain how large a man Hagrid is, she explains “He looked simply too bit to be allowed.”

After good-byes are made, Harry is left on the porch with a note of explanation. Dumbledore puts the lights back on. Dumbledore and Professor M go off to celebrate. In the morning, Petunia finds the baby and screams. At the same time people around the country are quietly toasting Harry. Bad things have happened, but because of Harry, people are breathing a sigh of relief—though they are expressing that relief quietly.

Character List

Mr. Dursley
Mrs. Petunia Dursley
Dudley Dursley

James Potter
Lily Potter
Harry Potter

Albus Dumbledore
Professor McGonagall
Hagrid

Two other characters are mentioned, although they are not part of the action:
Dedalus Diggle
Sirius Black

Should we read into this fact that there are three groups of three’s. Does this mean anything? It is a nice balance. A trinity of three trinities.

 

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