Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Two!
A good setting is more than just a backdrop!
Join us every Saturday as we write about our favourite settings
and the books that make them come alive!
Some reminders before we begin . . . so that I can feel like a teacher addressing her homeroom class again . . .
First, remember that next Saturday, Christmas Day, shall be Narnia Day: The Return. (Yes, it was originally "The Reprise"--but then I remembered that one properly returns to Narnia.)
Secondly, as I've been saying for weeks (elsewhere, if not here), I'm in the middle of a personal "Potter-thon", rereading the first five books and finally starting the last two. Accordingly, I'd like to have another special day for all of J.K. Rowling's settings within the wizarding world. How does late January or early February sound to everyone? I'd like to do it before Lent begins--because Lent will be for J.R.R. Tolkien.
In the meantime, to mark the "Potter-thon" landmark that is the first novel, I offer a setting from Rowling's wizarding world to whet everyone's appetite . . .
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J.K. Rowling
A scarlet steam engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people. A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock. Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three Quarters on it. He had done it.
Smoke from the engine drifted over the heads of the chattering crowd, while cats of every colour wound here and there between their legs. Owls hooted to each other in a disgruntled sort of way over the babble and the scraping of heavy trunks.
The first few carriages were already packed with students, some hanging out of the window to talk with their families, some fighting over seats. Harry pushed his cart off down the platform in search of an empty seat. . .
The Harry Potter books remind me of what one of my old professors calls "Portal Fantasy"--although the wizarding world is not separate from our own at all, but rubs along more or less peacefully with ours. But I think of it, anyway, when I think of portals, because I believe the "doorway" the reader uses to cross from his world into the author's fantasy is an essential detail. That is why I feel a bit sorry for every Narnia lover who first entered Narnia through one of the pools in The Magician's Nephew rather than through the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You can return to a fantasy world a million times in your life . . . but you can enter it for the first time only once. (Okay, I'll shut up about Narnia now.)
I like to think of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters as an extended portal into Hogwarts, which becomes our boy hero's haven and proving ground. It is not his portal into the wizarding world itself: the Leaky Cauldron has already served that purpose. But school--even a magical school--is always something else. Harry had a reliable guide through the confusing Diagon Alley; but upon Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, he is alone. And if the words "First Day of School" mean anything to you, then you understand perfectly.
In later books, Harry enters Hogwarts using very different methods of magical transportation, but nothing beats the shock of sudden immersion in his first view of Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Although Rowling doesn't pile on the details in her description, I think she more than makes up for it in her invention of the method by which one gets on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.
"All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don't stop and don't be scared you'll crash into it, that's very important. Best do it at a bit of a run if you're nervous . . ."
It's the first real test of Harry's ability to do magic--his true initiation into the wizarding world that completely makes up for his having been a stranger to it for ten years. If he had failed at this point, all the learning in Hogwarts could have done nothing for him. But he makes it through . . . and it is this point, more than any other, that marks Voldemort's ultimate failure.
And now I know where my subconscious got that idea about traveling through time by running into walls. (Remember These Dreams: Time Travel?)
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and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D
This Week's Other Loci Foci:
Peter Ackroyd's London @ What' Kate's Reading
London, 1584 @ Birdie's Nest
Image Source: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling