Since this is the third week of our book club adventure, today we’re going to playing in the lower three segments of Bloom’s taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension and application.
Knowledge- the facts are these.
Plot – Harry Potter (orphan/wizard/Christ figure) was left in the care of his horrible aunt and her sniveling husband after his parents were killed by the horrible Voldemort. Completely unaware of his lineage or talents for a decade, Harry begins to learn the truth about himself and his parents after a series of supernatural events lead to his acceptance at Hogwart’s School for Wizards, where Harry is finally able to feel at home and make real friends, including ever-loyal best friend Ron and foe-turned-ally, Hermione. Even as Harry and his friends begin to blossom into the heroes they’re sure to become, the threat of Voldemort and his attempts to regain his power hang over both the children and the adults at Hogwarts. Like all good stories with wizards, castles and dragons, not everything is as it appears, but Harry and his friends prevail by being clever and good.
Characters – Of all the things I liked about the book, I was especially impressed with how well Rowling introduced new characters, usually with only a brief (but extremely illuminating) paragraph. Some examples:
If the motorcycle was huge, it was nothing to the man sitting astride it. He was almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild — long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, he had hands the size of trash can lids, and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins. In his vast, muscular arms, he was holding a bundle of blankets.
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 thought it hand been broken at least twice. This man’s name was Albus Dumbledore.
Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.
She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
Hagrid, Dumbledore and many of the other characters in the book get the introductory paragraph, but it’s interesting to notice how Rowling defined some characters slightly differently. With Voldemort, we know very little about what he actually looks like, but we still get a pretty clear picture in our heads that this dude is pure evil. (NOT THE UNICORNS!) With Hermione, on the other hand, Rowling only gives her a few words of physical description, then lets Hermione introduce herself to us through her words and actions. But mostly her words.
Setting – Like in her initial character descriptions, Rowling relies on vivid imagery in her writing to transfer the reader to the thick of the action. From introducing Harry’s cupboard under the stairs by way of the spiders on his socks to how Rowling lets us be as surprised by the hidden wonders in the Hogwart’s campus as the children are when they first encounter them, it’s the author’s choice of language that makes this book stand head and shoulders above most modern children’s/YA lit.
Themes - The big, obvious theme is good vs. evil, and like all fairy tales, Harry Potter’s world is full of both. Unlike a lot of fairy tales, however, we do get a few characters with shades of gray. Snape, for example, hates every hair on young Harry’s head, but still puts himself in harm’s way to protect the boy. We’re unsure if Draco is merely a twerp or a potential full-grown asshole. Even lovable Hagrid and wise Dumbledore seem to have some skeletons in their closet. The power of friendship is another theme, as we see the three protagonists learn they’re much stronger if they work together than if they’re apart. Tolerance and acceptance are themes as well, with plenty of tension between the Muggle world and the wizard world, where the two worlds even intersect at all. Even within Hogwart’s, there is an obvious class system among the older and younger students, between the members of the faculty and staff, as well as between the four houses.
Comprehension/Application – How well do we get it?
Take these meaty tidbits to the comments for discussion.
1. Who are the foils to Harry’s hero? How do the minor foils relate to the big one, You Know Who?
2. Why is the magic mirror called the Mirror of Erised?
3. What prompts Hermione to become friends with Harry and Ron?
4. Chekov (the Russian writer, not the navigator on Star Trek) had a truism for playwriting, “If you introduce a gun in the first act, it better go off by the third,” or something like it, which objects/ideas does Rowling introduce early in the story that make a later, critically important, difference?
5. Aside from the Christian elements we touched on last week, are there any other religious or spiritual inferences we can make? Are there elements of ancient mythologies or non-Christian religious symbolism in the book? Do you think Rowling was influenced by other fantasy and/or fiction writers?
6. How does the character of Harry evolve in the first book? What are the events that trigger this evolution?
7. How does Rowling use comic relief to make some of the heavier moments of the text easier to swallow? Which characters seem to have been created solely to add levity? Name other examples of this type of character from other types of literature.
8. Who is Fluffy?
9. Compare/contrast the companion animals in Harry Potter to the daemons in the His Dark Materials trilogy.
10. Was Harry fated to become a great, good, wizard, or did he ever have the option of free will?
Next week, we’re hitting the top three slivers of Bloom’s, which means we’ll be playing with analyzing, evaluating and creating. I’ll have some more in-depth discussion questions, and a challenge for all of you. Between now and next Wednesday at five, you’re all challenged to take on one of these and send it to me (contribute (at) persephonemagazine.com or selena (at)). I’ll run the most awesome pieces I get.
A. Write the opening scenes in the Dursley house from the perspective of Petunia or Dudley Dursley.
B. Write about what either Snape, Hermione, Hagrid, Ron or Dudley would see if they looked in the Mirror of Erised.
C. Create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the four houses at Hogwarts.
D. Compare and contrast the relationship between Dumbledore and Voldemort with other, similar relationships from other examples. (e.g. Gandolf/Sauron, Xavier/Magneto, Krystal/Alexis, Holmes/Moriarty, Maggie/Baby with one eyebrow, etc.)
E. The entire staff of Hogwart’s worked together to create a series of traps to protect The Elixir of Life. Turn your imagination to 11 and create your own maze of traps to protect something precious to you.