Rewatch: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

It’s been 14 years since the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released. Does it hold up to scrutiny when you watch it as adult, or does it flounder? Was it good then, and is it good now?

And does the fridge horror involved in knowing most of its plot points all along ruin the movie?

Well… yes and no, to virtually every one of those questions. I actually first read the books as a young adult, not a child, as I started on them in college (some time between 1999 and 2003, in other words), so I never read them, or saw the movies, with the uncritical eyes of a child. Although I was in fact a fairly critical child.

I don’t remember when I watched the movies, but I have seen them all at least once, so this will be at least the second time through for me on all of them, third or fourth in some cases.

It’s been years. The actors playing Harry, Ron and Hermione literally grew up while they made these movies, and it’s strange to see Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson as tiny little children again. They are awfully cute, but they’re wonderful actors as well, which struck me for the first time as I watched Harry have a very earnest conversation with a snake.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Harry has a conversation with a snake.

The actors, then, are part of the movie that still work, and beautifully so, for the most part.

Another thing that works, astonishingly well, is the movie’s score. Most people would probably recognize it on hearing it – John Williams wrote it, so of course it’s fantastic. It lost the Oscar for Best Original Score to some movie nobody’s heard of called “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” Shame they had to go up against each other.

But then there are things that don’t work quite as well. Case in point:

Baby Harry Potter from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Baby Harry Potter from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Oh my god, Dumbledore, you can’t just leave a baby on a doorstep! That baby has a full head of luxuriant black hair, it’s well out of the “moves as much as a sack of flour” stage! What if it rolls over onto the sidewalk? What if it rolls into the street? Are there coyotes in England? Do we know?

Knowing how the story ends, and knowing information provided by the author also give us two more tidbits about Dumbledore we may not have initially known for this scene:

  1. Dumbledore is gay. That doesn’t really have any bearing on anything at this point, and I can’t remember if it ever does, in the movies.
  2. Dumbledore is planning to essentially sacrifice Harry to get rid of Voldemort. I can’t remember if he had that plan all along or only for the last few books, but it kind of gives you a whole different perspective on the lovable old bearded school principal, doesn’t it? Who knows what evil lurks behind the beards of men? Well, we know, don’t we.

And then there’s the way the books are graduated in reading level, starting out by being written for young children and slowly moving into the older children/adult reading level. While it was a creative, fun idea, it translates into some tone problems in the movies.

For example, the Dursleys:

The Dursleys in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The Dursleys in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

They’re not characters, they’re caricatures, at least early on in the books and in the movies too. This doesn’t work quite as well as the series starts to create more shades of gray in a more grownup landscape, and so if you’ve read to the end, on the rewatch they just seem… unlikely and silly. No one could be that bad in real life, could they? Well, maybe, but they’re also played for laughs. To me they don’t work.

And the other victims of tone in the book are the Slytherins. You can get away with totally evil characters when you’re writing for second-graders, but older age groups aren’t accepting of one-note, one-dimensional villains. You can only watch someone tie a victim to the train tracks so many times before you start to wonder why on earth they’re bothering.

Then there’s the fridge horror in the series. Fridge horror is when something that seems normal or innocuous becomes terrifying or awful after the fact, usually after you’ve thought about it a bit. There’s a more in-depth explanation on TV Tropes.

There’s a bit of fridge horror in knowing that after Hagrid puts a pig tail on Dudley with magic, Dudley has to have it surgically removed.

There’s a lot more fridge horror in this scene:

Food from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Food from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

See all that beautiful, delicious food?

Yeah, slave labor created that. Hogwarts runs on slave labor.

Lest you think I’m somehow making this up, it’s completely true – house elves made the food, and house elves are basically slaves. Slaves keep Hogwarts running on a day-to-day basis.

And even more disturbingly (at least from a certain point of view) most of them are happy to be slaves. There’s a whole genre of literature out there now decried as horribly horribly racist, in which black people who were slaves in the American South were portrayed as being happy to be enslaved, and that parallel is enough to cause this scene to be nauseating even on a good day. Even though you don’t see any of the house elves doing the work.

And Harry and his friends don’t find out that house elves are doing that work until they’ve been at Hogwarts for four years.

I noticed a host of other small things on this rewatch, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Harry is called The Boy Who Lived. He really ought to be called The Boy Who Lived and Got Credit For It Even Though His Mum Did All the Real Work.
  • I was really hoping Neville would turn out to be the real savior from the prophecy. He had a more interesting character arc than Harry did. (Sorry, but he did.)
  • Hermione is such a nerd, and she’s that wonderful rare thing, a female bossy nerd. But it’s always very clear that her bossiness is kindly meant – noting that people should get their robes on before the train gets to Hogwarts, or telling them they have dirt on their nose.
  • The movie is super slow. I thought that the first time I saw it, and I still do think that.


    It’s not that it’s setting up the universe, either, it’s just a lot of unnecessary fluff. We don’t need to see Harry ruminating as he stares out the window, for example. On the other hand, it does give us more of a chance to luxuriate in the music, so there’s that.

  • Modern muggle-born students would have such a hard time going without the Internet that I think wizards must have some sort of equivalent.
  • Madame Hooch has rad porcu-hair.
  • I still suspect the Sorting Hat’s real algorithm is “put people in the House they want to be in.”
  • I’m pretty sure all children caught wandering the halls at night are taken to the terrifying forest of terrifying terror “for a chore,” just to frighten them into not doing that again.
  • Gryffindor winning the House Cup is still highway robbery.
Highway robbery in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Highway robbery in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Seriously, if the heroes of the story weren’t Gryffindors everyone would be so mad right now.

Yes, I Am an Evil Supervillain, Thank You

I’m Lex Luthor and Emperor Palpatine and Magneto and The Penguin.

Best-case scenario, maybe I get to be antihero Beatrix Kiddo on her roaring rampage of revenge in Kill Bill. But that’s on a good day.

Why am I turning into a supervillain? Well, if you believe the Myers-Briggs personality tests, I have an ENTJ personality. You can read all about Myers-Briggs here, and about that specific personality type here, but what that really means, according to lots of people on the Internet, is that I am a bad person who wants to take over the world and then kick puppies or blow up a planet.

That’s not what the research says, of course, or at least not in those words.

ENTJs are a rare personality type in general and even rarer for women. About 2-5% of men are ENTJs and only 1-3% of women. ENTJs are motivated, assertive, competitive, strategic. They’re influential and organized, but their standards are high and they don’t always take people’s personal needs into account. (Here’s where that came from, but you can find similar information all over the place.)

Here’s the problem: people apparently do not like the ENTJ personality. At all. Not even a little.

If you check out some of the fictional people generally believed to be ENTJs, they are some of the worst human beings ever put on page or screen.

Does this mean I’m going to take up puppy-kicking and nun-punching as a hobby, and build a death ray in the basement? No.

I think it might actually mean that ENTJs are misunderstood.

  • Yes, we can seem alarmingly insensitive, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care; it means that a lot of the time, we don’t actually notice. And if we do, it won’t be weighted as heavily as objective data. (Sorry.)
  • Yes, we can seem irritatingly assertive, but groups we’re in will be blessedly free of restaurant choosing discussions that go “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know.” “Eh, don’t care.” “What do you think?” “Not sure.” (repeat 10 times)
  • Yes, we can seem quite bossy, but we see systems everywhere. We want them to be the best systems possible, and we want each person to do the best they possibly can. That’s not just because we like the system, either–it’s because we feel awesome when we’re doing our best and we assume everyone else does too.
  • Yes, we often like to have plans. That doesn’t mean we’re devoid of spontaneity, though, just that we like to have a backup in case spontaneity spontaneously doesn’t happen. If spontaneity occurs we will happily scrap the plan.

In short, if you know someone who’s an ENTJ, give them a hug, or better yet, give them a rational, objective assessment of something awesome they’ve done. They’d probably prefer that over mushy feelings stuff.

But maybe you should keep the nuns and puppies and death rays away.

You know, just in case.

Music Review: Charli XCX’s “Sucker” Is Rude, Crude, but Pretty Good

Charli XCX

Charli XCX

I wouldn’t want kids to listen to Charli XCX’s most recent album, “Sucker,” but if you don’t mind an F-bomb here or there, it’s great stuff–punk-flavored, hard-edged pop with retro-80s styling.

Madonna might have sounded like this, if she was starting her career now and if she were starting with as much musical talent as she acquired over the years. It’s aggressive, unapologetic pop, and every song sounds gloriously distinct from every other song on the album.

Ironically, the song that gave the album its name, “Sucker,” is probably the weakest of the lot.

The second song and second single released, “Break the Rules,” is better, a sort of middle-finger salute to school that revels in its own obnoxiousness. That shouldn’t be a good thing, but if Charli XCX can get the biggest square in town (me) to appreciate a rebellious attitude, she’s doing pretty well, I’d say.

“Breaking Up” is a bouncy, upbeat tune about having dated someone who’s really easy to break up with for an apparently inexhaustible list of reasons, some of which are funny and some less so.

I feel like I’ve heard “Boom Clap” before, possibly on the soundtrack to “The Breakfast Club.” Well, we know that’s not it, but the song would fit right in that era with its wavery synths.

Then there’s the song that doesn’t sound like any of the other tunes on the album, “Need Ur Luv.” Its title may have been deliberately designed to aggravate grammar nerds like me, but it’s like someone took the backbeat of “The Hey Song” and wrote a new song for it. A song that appears to be about an unhealthy relationship, whose upbeat tune doesn’t match its gloomy lyrics. And that’s before the little-girl voice Charli assumes partway through it, which makes it all even more disturbing–and wonderful.

That song happens to have been produced by Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, by the way, and Charli shares a writing credit with Batmanglij and others on it. It’s the best of the album.

There’s plenty here for those who enjoy defiance-infused punkpop. Just chase any kids away before you play it, because there’s bad language and less-than-subtle references to sex and drugs, too.

Cute Shirtless Guy

Every swingin’ bachelorette pad needs a picture of a cute guy with no shirt.

Luckily, I got one for Christmas.



I got one for my desk at work, too!

That’s my nephew, William, who’s about 5 months old now. He’s pretty cute, and apparently he likes not having a shirt on, which puts him in agreement with most of the babies and small children I’ve met over the years.

Escalators and UND Hockey at the Ralph



I finally got to go to a UND hockey game Friday, and I took this (grainy, awful) picture of one of the Ralph Engelstad Arena escalators with my cellphone. It was a pretty shiny escalator!

Watching the hockey game was great fun too, and I almost lost my voice by the end of it.


The View from Our Seats

Our tickets were in one of the “worst” places in the arena, but the view was awesome–we could see everything that happened and every slap-shot and every check was clearly audible.

I haven’t been to a hockey game in a long time (think “North Stars”), but it was still great fun. We were treated to a bout of facemasking and assorted hockey-related violence at some point, too.

I was disappointed that UND lost, but they didn’t seem able to control the puck very well that night, and with a wobbly passing game and a weird hesitation about advancing the puck onto the opponent’s side, UND was not able to make enough headway to overcome Miami. Miami, on the other hand, had scored twice in the first five minutes of the game, which you don’t see that often in hockey unless you’re playing NHL ’95 or something.

Final tally was 3-2 Miami. Still an enjoyable game, though!

Speak Up and Be Heard, Geeks and Gamers!

It’s not okay to threaten a school shooting.

It’s not okay to threaten to kill someone’s family.

It’s not okay to find someone’s address and post it online without consent.

It’s not okay to try to induce someone into committing suicide.

It’s not okay to threaten someone with rape.

None of these things is okay, and yet all of them are happening to people in the video games industry and its offshoots, and by people who claim to be speaking for gamers and acting on gamers’ behalf.

I don’t believe they do speak for gamers, though. I know way too many people who play video games–doctors, programmers, nurses, lawyers, writers, photographers, stay-at-home parents and retired grandparents. None of them would think these behaviors are okay.

Those of you who like to play video games: Is this what you want done on your behalf?

If it isn’t, speak up, and let it be known that you don’t feel it’s acceptable. Don’t give this kind of behavior a pass–speak up and let others know it’s not cool. Say something on Twitter, say something on Facebook, say something on your own blog.

Call people out when they do these things, no matter why they claim they’re doing it. Don’t let it pass as if it were normal and sane, because it’s not. Speak up. A lot of people are speaking up now, but more are needed.

You are all needed.

Be heard!

Why Do Victims of Domestic Abuse Stay?

No one else will ever want me and I’ll die alone.

It was my fault he hit me.

He promised not to do it again.

I’m the only one who cares about him, I can’t leave him now.

I love him.

He’s really sweet most of the time, he only hits me when he’s angry.

He’ll hurt himself if I leave, and it’ll be my fault.

I deserved it for being a bad spouse.

This just means he’s passionate about me.

Maybe he’ll change.

I can’t leave because he has complete control over our finances. The checkbook, savings account, house and cars are all solely in his name.

Everyone will say they told me so.

I’m a stay-at-home parent. But with no income I wouldn’t get custody of our child.

If the above text made your skin crawl, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re not a sociopath.

The Ray Rice incident has a lot of people wondering why domestic violence victims stay with their abusers.

I have been privileged in my life in that I have never experienced domestic violence, but I have spoken with those who have, and I have listened to what they told themselves when they were suffering abuse. These are reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, but really, I suspect they’re just excuses.

The real reason people stay in abusive relationships is that the abuser brainwashes them and victimizes them so constantly that they have no self-worth anymore, and the abuser strategically removes every resource the victim has to prevent them from escaping. It’s all about removing independence from the victim.

It’s a common tactic to cut victims off from family and friends. It’s a common tactic to remove access to money and finances to create dependency. It’s a common tactic to make the victim believe the abuser is the one dependent on the victim. Abusers may get victims to quit their jobs, stop visiting family, drop their friends and stop going out.

These are deliberate choices by the abuser, deliberate manipulations that get the abuser what he or she wants. It’s not some sort of accident that victims think this way. It’s not an accident that victims often stay. That’s what the abusers want; that’s their goal.

In other words, the real reason people stay with their abusers is that they are being abused. It’s not what the victims say to themselves, it’s what the abuser is doing.

Don’t put the onus on the victim, here. Why do they stay? Because they’re being abused, that’s why, and it’s messing with their heads.

And another thing?

Never think this couldn’t happen to you, because that’s probably the one thing that all victims of domestic violence do have in common.

It happens to men and women alike and some victims are very smart, very strong people whose strength has been deliberately, strategically eroded over years by abusers.

A Crummy Month for Geek Women

The last few weeks have been a tough time to be a geek woman, heavy with victim-blaming, brutalization and creepy gender-based harassment and lameness on a number of fronts. All of it has been fraught with victim-blaming.

1. Culture and video game critic Anita Sarkeesian, of Feminist Frequency, was terrorized into leaving her home. It’s one thing to call people names over the internet; it’s another thing to write graphic rape threats along with a person’s address. I don’t care if you agree with her, no one deserves that. (But I agree with her.) Sarkeesian does videos criticizing video games from a feminist perspective, and her last one was really good, albeit extremely hard to watch. You barely notice two minutes of violence against women in an otherwise-also-violent video game, but when those two minutes are strung together with 2 more minutes from dozens of other games over and over again… well, it turns your stomach. And it should. Sarkeesian was right, and the misogynistic abuse she has received since merely reinforces that–but people are blaming her for the abuse.

2. Video game developer Zoe Quinn became the target of a concerted campaign to destroy her career, organized by a small group of people pretending to care about games journalism. However, logs of their conversations have been released showing that it was never about journalism ethics–it was always about destroying what those people call “social justice warriors,” who want to see women and minorities positively represented in video games. People blamed Quinn for daring to produce a video game that became popular and used the old “slept her way to the top” gimmick to explain it–even though the journalist she dated did not, in fact, write a review of her game at all.

3. A major comics company hired a porn artist to create a cover for a comic book led by a female character– a book that was supposedly targeted at women. The image the artist came up with was of Spider-Woman presenting her butt like a baboon, yet the company didn’t see anything wrong with it either before it was published or afterward when women pointed out how creepy that was.

4. Someone hacked into Jennifer Lawrence’s phone and got naked pictures of her, then released them to the public. Other stars were also hacked. Rather than blaming the sex offenders who posted or passed on the photos, people are blaming the celebrities who took photos of themselves–often for loved ones. In some cases the photos were almost immediately deleted, so the criminals had to go to some effort to get the photos. If you leave your window open a crack while you are home, it is still a crime for someone to enter your home and steal from you; this is not different from that.

5. The video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious was released. Rather than focusing on the professional football player who struck a woman so hard she had to be dragged away, much of the conversation has focused on how terrible the woman is for still marrying him afterward. Comments have included how stupid she is or how greedy, with speculation centering on how much money Rice makes. Women suffering domestic violence often convince themselves they are helping the abuser, that they are the only ones who truly understand and love the abuser and that they are worthless and incapable. And abusers often cut off their victims financially–exerting financial control is a common abuse tactic that squeezes off a victim’s options of escape.

Not all of these incidents involve geekery or the geek community at large, but they do all have one thing in common–women were blamed in every single circumstance.

It was Sarkeesian’s fault someone threatened to rape her to death. It was Quinn’s fault people tried to get her fired. It was women’s fault for not liking the Spider-Woman cover, because it’s a comic and they should be used to being sexualized all the time even in work meant specifically for them. It was Lawrence’s fault for taking a naked picture and keeping it. It was Janay Rice’s fault for being greedy.

And they all got called the same crappy gendered insults that women always get called.

What can you do? Sure, you could speak out and take up the cause, but at the least, at the very, very least, at the smallest possible level of humanity, there is this: Stop blaming the victims. Stop finding reasons Sarkeesian or Quinn or Rice or Lawrence deserved it. Stop. Just stop.

It is time to stop.

(And to that end, I’m going to be tougher about moderating this particular post. Normally I’m pretty lenient, but any victim-blaming is not going to be posted here, and if it gets through, it will be removed. Sorry. I’m tired of hearing it, and there are plenty of places you can post that sort of thing to if you like.)

The Frost Giants: A New UND Nickname?

The Sioux nickname issue is over for the University of North Dakota, but it has left UND without a nickname and a mascot.

Last week, UND grad Lisa Monte wrote a letter to the Grand Forks Herald suggesting a new nom de game: The Frost Giants. That’s pretty clever, actually–it’s right out of Norse myth.

Ymir, Frost Giant

Ymir, Frost Giant

The downside might be that people don’t immediately recognize what a Frost Giant is. Someone asked about them on the Herald’s Facebook page, so I got out my “D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths,” an introductory guide to the subject meant for children, and tried to answer the question.

I’ve always loved the book for its beautiful illustrations, made with loving detail in colored pencil by husband-and-wife team Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, so I thought I’d post some of the pictures here to introduce others to the D’Aulaires’ beautiful work. I really can’t recommend this book enough.


Ymir and Trolls

Ymir and Trolls

That’s a six-headed troll sprouting from Ymir’s feet, and another male and female jotun (frost giant) sprouting from his armpits.

Ymir Gets Beaten Up

Ymir Gets Beaten Up

Ymir is a bit like the Titans of Greek mythology, really. Here, Odin and his god-buddies are slaying Ymir, and after the frost giant is dead, they build the world from his body. No, seriously, he was that big, apparently. I love how the illustration shows the remnants of Ymir:

Standing on a Nose

Standing on a Nose

As to whether the UND teams should call themselves the Frost Giants, I’m not sure. They’re usually– but definitely not always– pictured as ugly, and they’re usually–but definitely not always– the antagonists of what we’d think of as the “normal” Norse pantheon.

However, they are also scary, intimidating and large, all traits one normally wants in a sports team.

What do you think?

Public Art, Fountains, Terrifying Weather Drawings: A Tour of Downtown Grand Forks