Most long-term Lexicon readers will be familiar with the infamous Missing 24 Hours problem. It was a very popular topic of discussion way back in the day. This mystery first came to light in 2001 when I was writing the original Harry Potter timeline (subsequently copied by Warner Bros. and Scholastic, which I consider to be high praise indeed!).
As I worked out the timeline of the books, I discovered a huge time conundrum in the first chapter of the first book: Where were baby Harry and Hagrid for the 24 hours between the murder of James and Lily in Godric’s Hollow and Hagrid’s arrival in Privet Drive the next night? The implication was that Hagrid flew directly from Godric’s Hollow to Little Whinging, but that’s not the case. I wrote about this mystery in the Lexicon at that time, and since then fans have come up with many interesting theories to explain the missing time, as fans will.
My personal theory is that Hagrid took 18-month-old Harry from the ruins in Godric’s Hollow and flew to the Burrow, which would be about fifty miles to the east and more or less on the way to Little Whinging. Let’s face it, Hagrid might be a whiz at taking care of baby thestrals or unicorns but I can’t quite imagine him changing the diaper of a human baby with those “hands the size of dustbin lids.” Seems logical to me that Dumbledore would have instructed Hagrid to hide out with the Weasleys for a day so Molly and Arthur could help with baby care while Dumbledore made preparations.
Of course, Hagrid did mention that baby Harry “fell asleep as we was flyin’ over Bristol,” which wouldn’t be on the logical route between the Burrow and Privet Drive, but then again, Bristol wouldn’t be on any direct route between any point in Devon and Privet Drive. My guess is that Hagrid used the motorways as reference points to take him to a Muggle place like Surrey. That would mean following the M5 as far as Bristol and then the M4 from the West Country into Surrey.
Rowling has never really accounted for Hagrid’s whereabouts during that twenty-four hours. My suspicion is that over the course of writing ten different versions that first chapter, she simply “lost track of time,” as it were. Here are some comments she made about the complicated process of writing that first chapter:
“There were many different versions of the first chapter of ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ and the one I finally settled on is not the most popular thing I’ve ever written; lots of people have told me that they found it hard work compared with the rest of the book. The trouble with that chapter was (as so often in a Harry Potter book) I had to give a lot of information yet conceal even more. There were various versions of scenes in which you actually saw Voldemort entering Godric’s Hollow and killing the Potters and in early drafts of these, a Muggle betrayed their whereabouts. As the story evolved, however, and Pettigrew became the traitor, this horrible Muggle vanished.
“Other drafts included a character by the name of ‘Pyrites’, whose name means ‘fool’s gold’. He was a servant of Voldemort’s and was meeting Sirius in front of the Potters’ house. Pyrites, too, had to be discarded, though I quite liked him as a character; he was a dandy and wore white silk gloves, which I thought I might stain artistically with blood from time to time.” (from the ‘Extra Stuff‘ on Rowling’s website before the massive overhaul in April of 2012).
But I didn’t actually start writing this post to talk about the Missing 24 Hours. I happened to be thinking about the timelines and calendars for the stories, which we’ve carefully researched and put on the Lexicon, and it occurred to me that the filmmakers committed a far more egregious error in time while making the first film.
Harry celebrates his eleventh birthday in the Hut on the Rock. He morosely scrawls a picture of a birthday cake for himself in the dirt on the Hut floor. Hagrid comes crashing in, confronts the Dursleys, and then the next morning takes Harry to Diagon Alley. We know that the visit to Diagon Alley happened on Harry’s birthday because he notices the date in the Daily Prophet some months later, in a news article about the break-in at Gringotts. Harry’s birthday is July 31.
In the film, Hagrid is then seen delivering Harry to King’s Cross. That makes it a month later, September 1. Did Hagrid come back at the end of August to bring Harry to the station? No, that can’t be. He excuses himself on the bridge by saying he has to deliver the package he got from Gringotts to Dumbledore. So it’s still the same day … yet it’s now September 1. This is not just a complaint that “they did it differently in the film than in the book” … it’s a complete screw-up of the story line of the film itself. Either August is an extremely short month in the film version of the Harry Potter universe, or the filmmakers figured fans would never notice.
Well, I’m sure plenty of fans have already noticed this glaring error. Because seriously, we notice.
We notice everything.
NOTE: If you want to see what the Lexicon looked like in 2001, check out this link. At that time, because pretty much everyone was on slow dial-up connections, I created the site entirely with text so that pages would load as fast as possible. Hard to believe that back then, in 2000, that ancient version of the Lexicon was awarded a Hot Site award by USA Today! How things have changed.