Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Contrasting Regions

By J.K. Rowling

Contrasting Regions

Viewers as far apart as Kent, Yorkshire, and Dundee have been phoning in to tell me that instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they've had a downpour of shooting stars! (1.24)

Muggles are ready to explain away anything out of the ordinary, and wizards often take advantage of this when trying to cover up or keep secret bits of magic that have slipped through the cracks. Here, they've wreaked havoc with the Muggle weather system, creating celestial disturbances the newscasters are classifying as "shooting stars."

"You'd think they'd be a bit more careful, but no – even the Muggles have noticed something's going on. It was on their news." She jerked her head back at the Dursleys' dark living-room window. (1.53)

McGonagall couldn't be clearer here about the separation between worlds. The celebrating wizards are growing careless, letting confusing signs and fragments slip as they rejoice at Voldemort's defeat. But by referring to the people inside the house as "Muggles," and by separating out the news they watch as "their news," McGonagall clarifies that there are huge gaps in understanding and knowledge separating the Muggles from the magic-wielding folk.

But Hagrid simply waved his hand and said, "About our world, I mean. Your world. My world. Yer parents' world."

"What world?" (4.45-46)

Non-magic England and magic England aren't just separate regions: they're completely different worlds. Hagrid's careful use of pronouns – "our," "your," "my," and "yer parents'" – clearly distinguishes that he and Harry belong in this other, new world. This world may be one full of magic and delight, but it's also one that Harry's been completely in the dark about. He may belong in it without question, but he doesn't know anything about it.

"A Muggle," said Hagrid, "it's what we call nonmagic folk like them. An' it's your bad luck you grew up in a family o' the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on." (4.82)

Although we can infer from chapter one that Muggles are "nonmagic folk," it's nice to hear a proper definition of them from Hagrid. The fact that the wizarding world have a whole set of terminology to describe and differentiate themselves from non-magic peoples – in contrast to the non-magic peoples' complete ignorance about the distinction – emphasizes the separation of and contrast between the worlds themselves.

"But what does a Ministry of Magic do?"

"Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there's still witches an' wizards up an' down the country." (5.50-51)

The worlds may be different, but they enjoy similar structures. The magic world has a government and a ministry just like the non-magic world does. However, the Ministry of Magic's primary job is to keep their existence – and the existence of their people – a secret from people in the other region.

"Help yourself," said Harry. "But in, you know, the Muggle world, people just stay put in photos."

"Do they? What, they don't move at all?" Ron sounded amazed. "Weird!" (6.186-187)

Ron may think Muggle pictures are "weird" and be "amazed" by them, but really we and Harry think that pictures with people moving are just as "weird" and "amazing." These kinds of interactions go a long way towards explaining what might seem like oddities or weirdnesses about their own world to us.

"The Chasers throw the Quaffle and put it through the hoops to score," Harry recited. "So – that's sort of like basketball on broomsticks with six hoops, isn't it?"

"What's basketball?" said Wood curiously. (10.40-41)

Face it, especially on a first-round explanation, Quidditch may not make that much sense – particularly when you're just reading about it, not seeing it. But this may be true of any sport. When Harry tries to figure it out by comparing it to other sports he's familiar with, he finds himself on shaky ground: basketball's just as foreign to Wood as Quidditch is to Harry.

Ron was fascinated by the fifty pence.

"Weird!" he said, "What a shape! This is money?"

"You can keep it," said Harry, laughing at how pleased Ron was. (12.55-57)

Compared to Knuts and Sickles, fifty pence sounds straightforward (especially if you're British). The fifty pence piece has no value to Harry – it would barely buy anything Muggle, it's an insulting gift from the dreaded Dursleys, and it has no value in the wizard world, except as a curiosity. But for Ron, it is a curiosity, and it seems as "weird" to him as the idea of a Knut might have first seemed to Harry. Maybe weirder.

"But there aren't wild dragons in Britain?" said Harry.

"Of course there are," said Ron. "Common Welsh Green and Hebridean Blacks. The Ministry of Magic has a job hushing them up, I can tell you. Our kind have to keep putting spells on Muggles who've spotted them, to make them forget." (14.25-26)

Even after the introduction of magic, witchcraft, and wizardry, of goblins, trolls, and three-headed dogs, the wizarding world is still full of surprises. In this case, it's "wild dragons," which to regular magical citizens like Ron are just part of the landscape. We can contrast Ron's use of "our kind" with Malfoy's reference to the "wrong sort," or the Dursleys' purposeful ignorance about people with differences; when magic is involved there can't always be distinctions of separate but equal.

"Ready, are you?"

It was Uncle Vernon, still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious at the nerve of Harry, carrying an owl in a cage in a station full of ordinary people. Behind him stood Aunt Petunia and Dudley, looking terrified at the very sight of Harry. (17.221-22)

Uncle Vernon's not that scary anymore, after facing Voldemort. He hasn't changed that much – "still purple-faced, still mustached, still looking furious" – but Harry has. He's already started to grow up. Now, the tables have turned, and Harry's relatives are "terrified at the very sight of" him, instead of it being the other way around.

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