Montag, 11. September 2023

Part of a Larger Story - HP Book 2, Scene 66 - "Walking to Dumbledore's Office" (p204-205)

I like the Harry Potter books. Well, I like half of them. Almost. I like the first three books. I tolerate parts of the fourth book. But books five through seven are those-that-must-not-be-named. When I was younger, I took the "not-naming-them" thing so seriously I would jokingly say stuff like, "Book Two is my favorite of the the Harry Potter trilogy."

I also engaged with others in self-fulfilling monologues about why I think the first three books are better

But they're not better. I consider them better, but...

Instead of attacking HP6 ("Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Plot"), I'm going to do something else. I'm going to do what I do best: gush on this blog about how much I like HP1, HP2, and even HP3 if I have time. 

So what do I like best about the first three books? Well besides the setting (kids having adventures in a boarding school that happens to be magical), they are efficient. Every scene, every interaction fulfills multiple roles. It's actually pretty amazing when you lay it all out. So I'm going to lay it all out for you. I'll start with Book Two, Scene 66 - ie. "Going to Dumbledore's Office." Why am I starting here?

1. In media res, baby. It's fun, look it up.
2. I just finished listening to this section on my audiobook app (albeit in Spanish. I'm learning Spanish)
3. It's an unassuming scene where at first glance, not much seems to happen. But a lot happens! Let me show you how it works.

Scene 66: Going to Dumbledore's Office

1. Marching in Silence
The dialogue between McGonagall and Harry is curt. Harry Potter books are dialogue heavy, so even a half-page of prose is enough to alert the reader to some build-up. Personally, I would have enjoyed a few more sentences in the paragraph, "They marched in silence..." to extend this period of silence as well as to establish Dumbledore's Office as a difficult-to-reach location (which one does not just reach in a single sentence). Something like this:

They marched in silence around a corner. It was so quiet that Harry could hear faint voices from classrooms the floor below. He bent his head down and focused his gaze on his feet. Were they talking about him? He tried counting his footsteps to distract himself, but he soon lost count. McGonagall had stopped abruptly in front of him. Harry looked up. They were standing in an hallway Harry had never seen before, unassuming in appearance, except for a large and extremely ugly stone gargoyle.

2. Out of McGonagall's Hands
We have seen McGonagall five times so far in this book (Scene xx - Snape's Office, Scene xx - Entrance Hall, Scene xx - Lockhart's Office, Scene xx - Hospital Wing, Scene xx - Dark Corridor) and in none of them do we see evidence that McGonagall is the silent type. She's no blabbering Lockhart, but she's also no Viktor Krum. Thus, the effect of her silence, as well as her cutting off Harry's attempt at conversation, hits harder and warns the reader that the situation is dire. 

In addition, to this point we've also gotten to know McGonagall as a very competent figure. And she is. But it's important that the reader understands that there are limits to McGonagall's competence because it makes Dumbledore's removal in Chapter 14 all the more unsettling (upon which McGonagall becomes interim head of school). 

Finally, if something's too much for the second-in-command, there's only one person to escalate to. That lets readers guess where Harry is going ("must be the first-in-command") before he realizes it (another great chapter ending from JK, by the way).

3. Lemon Drop
This lime- I mean line is great. First, it's another clue for the astute reader to guess where Harry is going before he realizes it. Second, it's an easter egg, a rewarding wink to the astute reader that remembers when Dumbledore mentioned lemon drops to McGonagall in HP1. The very astute reader will also remember McGonagall's dismissive, negative reaction to the lemon drops in HP1. With that information, we can imagine McGonagall reluctantly saying "lemon drop" with her trademark pursed lips and maybe a slight eyeroll. Fun moment.

Third, it tells us some things about Dumbledore's character, some of which are new and some of which we knew. Namely:

A: he has a sense of humor ("lemon drop" is a funny password)
B: he is so open, trusting, and confident that he's not concerned with excessive security ("lemon drop" is not a secure password)
C: he has a friendly relationship with McGonagall, beyond just being colleagues (he made "lemon drop" his password just to mess with her). This added dimension makes the teachers appear more human and relatable.

4. Gargoyle, Escalator, Details
Chapter 11's penultimate paragraph uses descriptive imagery to draw out and build up the approach to this significant location. The entry to all other classrooms and offices up to this point has been decidedly unceremonious and unmagical. Dumbledore's office is an exception. All this pomp and buildup remind the reader of Dumbledore's status. 

This is important because Dumbledore himself does not often remind the reader of his status. Dumbledore doesn't appear much in the first three books, and when he does, he's approachable, relatable (he likes sweets), cooperative (he does not resist being removed from the school), and unafraid of "grunt work" (he personally examines a petrified cat). These qualities make him likable, but they also make him clash with the stereotype of the boarding school headmaster. But the reader needs to remember he's headmaster because his role in the story is the highest, wisest moral authority. So he gets a unique staircase (which gets a callback in the diary flashback) and an automatic door (which gets a griffin- shaped knocker). 

Note: I consider the first two sentences of Chapter 12 to be part of Scene 66.

Note: That took a long time. Maybe I won't go into so much detail on future Harry Potter posts.

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