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Canon discussion

Five Moments That Show off Rowling’s Storytelling Magic

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The Harry Potter Canon


Five Moments That Show off Rowling’s Storytelling Magic

I haven’t read the books for awhile now. I mean really read them, as opposed to looking things up. I have a feeling that’s true for a lot of us. So when I do read passages in the course of my research, I often spot things that I had forgotten, little nuggets of Rowling’s magical storytelling that had slipped out of my mind.

Here are a five that I’ve noticed lately:

op.c16--in-the-hogs-headThe Hog’s Head sign

The sign shows the head of a butchered hog bleeding all over a white cloth, which isn’t exactly the kind of image I’d want to use to advertise a place to eat or drink, but there you go. The cool thing about it is that the sign is magical, a detail I’d forgotten. Here’s what I mean:

A minute later they turned the corner into the side street where the Hog’s Head’s sign creaked a little, though there was no breeze (HBP25).

Creaking slightly with no breeze. Wonderful. I wonder if it drips blood onto the ground?

Buckbeak attacks

I don’t know why this didn’t stick in my mind! The film did such an excruciatingly poor job of portraying this entire incident that you’d think I would have the real events shining in my mind. But as Harry struggled to fight against Snape as the Potions Master fled the castle at the end of the Battle of the Tower — and yes, movie-only fans, there was an actual battle! — it is Buckbeak who charges in to defend Harry and drive the Death Eaters away:

buckbeak-ar“DON’T -” screamed Snape, and his face was suddenly demented, inhuman, as though he was in as much pain as the yelping, howling dog stuck in the burning house behind them – “CALL ME COWARD!”

And he slashed at the air: Harry felt a white-hot, whiplike something hit him across the face and was slammed backward into the ground. Spots of light burst in front of his eyes and for a moment all the breath seemed to have gone from his body, then he heard a rush of wings above him and something enormous obscured the stars. Buckbeak had flown at Snape, who staggered backward as the razor-sharp claws slashed at him. As Harry raised himself into a sitting position, his head still swimming from its last contact with the ground, he saw Snape running as hard as he could, the enormous beast flapping behind him and screeching as Harry had never heard him screech … (HBP28).

This is Snape at his most insane, almost as out of control as he was at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban. He’s now attacking Harry with some unnamed spell that seems as deadly and Dark as Sectumsempra. What would have happened had Buckbeak not charged into the fray?

Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle’s ambush of Harry goes wrong

Okay, I sort of remembered this one, in part because I really dislike Malfoy so I rejoiced in his getting his comeuppance. This was almost as satisfying to me as Umbridge fleeing the castle. Before anyone protests that it was unfair for them to gang up on Malfoy like that, remember that he started it.

The journey home on the Hogwarts Express next day was eventful in several ways. Firstly Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, who had clearly been waiting all week for the opportunity to strike without teacher witnesses, attempted to ambush Harry halfway down the train as he made his way back from the toilet. The attack might have succeeded had it not been for the fact that they unwittingly chose to stage the attack right outside a compartment full of DA members, who saw what was happening through the glass and rose as one to rush to Harry’s aid. By the time Ernie Macmillan, Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Anthony Goldstein, and Terry Boot had finished using a wide variety of the hexes and jinxes Harry had taught them, Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle resembled nothing so much as three gigantic slugs squeezed into Hogwarts uniform as Harry, Ernie, and Justin hoisted them into the luggage rack and left them there to ooze (OP38).

Yeah. So there, Malfoy. And your big bullying buddies too.

There’s a school bell at Hogwarts

For some reason, every time I notice this in the books I’m a little bit surprised. It just sounds so prosaic and, well, Muggle-ish that Hogwarts has bells like any other school. When it rings, the scene described is so completely mundane and typical of a classroom: the bustle of gathering books and papers, the last minute reminder of homework to be done, and so on. I do wonder if the bell is magical, since it can be heard everywhere, even across the lawn in the greenhouses, but still … school bells to mark the beginning and end of class. Pretty cool.

Ron and Hermione argued all the way to Herbology and in the end, Hermione agreed to run down to Hagrid’s with the other two during morning break. When the bell sounded from the castle at the end of their lesson, the three of them dropped their trowels at once and hurried through the grounds to the edge of the forest (PS14).


A booming bell echoed from the castle across the wet grounds, signaling the end of the lesson, and the class separated; the Hufflepuffs climbing the stone steps for Transfiguration, and the Gryffindors heading in the other direction, down the sloping lawn toward Hagrid’s small wooden cabin, which stood on the edge of the Forbidden Forest (GF13).

Dueling with Fake Wands

I believe that one of the reasons these books are so readable, even for those who are not accustomed to reading long novels, is that Rowling paints such vivid pictures of the action in the books. We are all so visual these days, with television and film, games and websites, that many readers struggle with longer passages of text. However, when we read a Harry Potter book, we can see the story unfolding in our minds so clearly because of Rowling’s gifted writing.

A classic example is the scene of Harry and Ron dueling with fake wands at the back of the classroom. The writing is rich with delightful details, but note particularly the exquisite comedy timing of the end of the duel. I can just see the two boys freeze, looking at McGonagall with that “deer in the headlights” expression, and the head of the haddock dropping to the floor on cue.

It was the end of the lesson; they had finished their work; the guinea fowl they had been changing into guinea pigs had been shut away in a large cage on Professor McGonagall’s desk (Neville’s still had feathers); they had copied down their homework from the blackboard (“Describe, with examples, the ways in which Transforming Spells must be adapted when performing Cross-Species Switches”). The bell was due to ring at any moment, and Harry and Ron, who had been having a sword fight with a couple of Fred and George’s fake wands at the back of the class, looked up, Ron holding a tin parrot and Harry, a rubber haddock.

“Now that Potter and Weasley have been kind enough to act their age,” said Professor McGonagall, with an angry look at the pair of them as the head of Harry’s haddock drooped and fell silently to the floor – Ron’s parrot’s beak had severed it moments before – “I have something to say to you all” (GF22).

What she’s going to tell them is that they need to find dates for the Yule Ball. No, at no point does she try to teach anyone to dance. That scene added into the film is totally out of character.

So those are some of my favorite rediscovered canon delights. What wonderful bits of canon make you smile? What delightful moments have you noticed recently that you had forgotten?


Tags: bullies tricks/trickery