I’m not going to lie, the 5th Harry Potter book was my favorite at the time of release, and has stayed my favorite ever since. JK Rowling has said it is the one book she would go back and revise, and many have criticized the book for its long nature and angst. Personally, I love it and see it as one of the most effective books in the series, for a number of reasons. The more I analyze it, the deeper in love I fall.
We go into chapter two with many big questions on our minds, and immediately more are added to the mix. Who is Mr. Tibbles? How does Mrs. Figg know so much about magic, is she a witch? We are also becoming more curious about Mundungus, who seems to be irresponsible in the eyes of Mrs. Figg. And all of this is just in the first paragraph.
Rowling wastes no time in continuing down the path of questions and answers, keeping the suspense high. Mrs. Figg we learn is in fact a squib, Mundungus is a wizard who has been trailing Harry and is also responsible for the loud cracking sound earlier in the book. Though she’s giving us answers to satisfy our curiosity, it also serves to fuel it because with every answer there are only more questions, which get more substantial and intriguing. Why is Harry being followed? What role does Mrs. Figg play in this? The question is quickly answered: Dumbledore. We don’t even have to explicitly be told that Dumbledore has asked her to keep Harry under a watch, we know his character well enough to assume that, though it is made increasingly clear that is what is happening. Rowling gives us the chance to come up with our own answers for a split second, until she confirm they are right, thereby making us feel intelligent, like we are as much a part of this world as Harry. She keeps the reading process participatory, like a mystery novel where readers are constantly trying to figure out clues.
It’s the little things that really elevate the story, and a great example of this is when Mrs. Figg says “we might as well be hanged for a dragon as an egg.” These turn of the phrases make perfect sense to us, even though they are completely original and obviously made to reflect the magical universe. They aren’t abrasive like many new writers tend to be when attempting world building, they feel natural inclusions. We don’t have to think about them, they just make sense. They make a foreign world feel like home.
As soon as Harry comes home the inevitable conflict with the Dursley’s starts. I explore this more in the character section, but this high energy, high tension scene provides the atmosphere we need to be able to take in all the information that is coming at us: Harry might be expelled, Dumbledore is taking care of it, no one will tell Harry whats going on even now besides to stay at the house and on top of it all Vernon wants to kick him out. This kind of information could only be effectively presented in a high energy, high conflict scene like this because the reader is alert and ready to absorb it. Those who remember reading the books for the first time might remember getting an actual adrenalin rush when reading this scene, because we identify so much with Harry that we fear for his situation in a visceral way. Because of this, we have to be prepped for information that might affect his life and wellbeing by being put on alert beforehand.
The question of what the dementors were doing on Privet Drive is asked repeatedly in many different ways to indicate to readers both that it is an important question and that it will soon be answered. Even Vernon himself asks the question allowed, and goes further to make the connection that they must be there for Harry, a surprisingly logical assumption from a character we normally think of as pretty dumb.
At the end of the chapter the key questions we are left with are: Who sent the Howler? What does it mean? Why were the dementors there? Is Harry going to be expelled? When will the next attack on him happen? And what is happening in the magical world he’s been so removed from?
The chapter ends with Harry being sent to his room, which hardly constitutes a cliff hanger. Chances are though, any first time reader would still have to struggle to not flip to the next chapter, because there have been so many questions left unanswered a cliffhanger isn’t even necessary.
Mrs. Figg: It is clear through Mrs. Figg that there is some behind the scenes work going on by Dumbledore, though we don’t know how much or for how long. Presumably Mrs. Figg has been stationed at Privet Drive since Harry’s arrival, since she shows up in the first book. This is a detail that only attentive readers will notice, which means those most dedicated to the story are being rewarded with a better understanding of the long game being played by Dumbledore.
Harry Potter: We see Harry’s frustration with Dumbledore increasing as his suspicions that Dumbledore has been making decisions behind his back are confirmed. If you think about it, this is truly an egregious transgression. Dumbledore has has people constantly following Harry without his knowledge or consent, a major invasion of privacy and in Harry’s eyes a sign that Dumbledore doesn’t believe he can take care of himself. Which, of course, he can’t- he’s a fifteen year old boy in war time, and the worlds most powerful and evil wizard wants him dead. So we see both sides of this. We sympathize with Harry’s desire to be respected, independent and feel like his mentor believes in him. On the other hand, we trust Dumbledore to be wiser than Harry, we know Harry is a minor and decisions have to be made on his behalf, and in the absence of his parents we do trust Dumbledore to make those decisions. Dumbledore goes a little too far with his protection, and Harry is a little too naive. It’s these imperfections that motivate our love for the characters. We also see that Harry does still ultimately trust the authority figures in his life, because against all his wishes and instinct he stays at number 4 Privet Drive, the one place he hates most in the world.
Mundungus Fletcher: We find out Mundungus is a thief, not well put together, not well educated with a dubious sense of morals but is undeniably a “good guy”. The inclusion of shady characters such as Mundungus on the good side bring in the shades of grey that Harry Potter is so famous for, in particular this book. There is good, and there is evil, and both exist in everyone.
Dudley Dursley: As I mentioned in my last post, this dementor attack sparks an insight to Dudley as a complex character, who, like all the other character is both good and bad even if the badness dominates his character. Dudley is unable to recognize that Harry has saved him, instead thinking he was responsible for the attack which is understandable since he can’t see dementors.
Petunia Dursley: Harry’s Aunt and Uncle’s fear of magic is legitimized in this moment, and we find ourselves better able to sympathize with their viewpoints, even if we can’t agree with them. It’s easy to get caught up in the magic and forget that it really does pose a real threat to muggles, and that the Dursley’s fear is somewhat legitimate. The dementor attack demonstrates this, as well as reminding us of a fact that even Petunia herself seems to forget: she is not a stranger to magic, and she loved her sister very much. Looking back with a more mature gaze, I can now see how Petunia’s fear of magic and dissociation from Harry is a self defense mechanism against her sister’s death. To allow herself to love Harry despite his possession of magical abilities would be to allow herself to admit that she cut off her sister for nothing, something she must deeply regret now that Lily has passed. And who can blame Petunia for hating the thing that killed her sister, that left her son orphaned to be a constant reminder of Petunia’s mistakes? And in spite of it all, Petunia can’t help but love him of course, though she is unable to express it. It doesn’t lessen the abuses, but at the end of the day she stands up to her husband and demands that Harry stays. This scene starts to deepen the relationships between Harry and Petunia into something that slightly resembles a familial one, though Petunia will never take the place of Harry’s chosen family because of her past transgressions.
Vernon Dursley: Vernon brings up the question of who sent the dementors after Harry, an ominous question that will have big implications to find out. He also shows immense compassion for his son, which almost seems out of character until we remember that it isn’t. At the end of the day, both of the Dursley’s suffer from loving their son too much, spoiling him, valuing him over Harry. It doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t lessen the abuse but it also isn’t a crime we can condemn completely. Rowling never lets us forget anyones humanity.
I couldn’t identify any significant series in this chapter, though there are some. For one thing, Rowling is establishing the connection between Petunia and Dumbledore, though we won’t know that for quite a while. This will eventually explain why Harry had to spend his summers there, and how he has remained protected from Voldemort by his mothers magic all these years. Primarily though this chapter presented us with a lot of questions and information for what is going to happen in the immediate next chapters.