Life’s Morning Hour by E H Visiak

Visiak’s Life’s Morning Hour. As the original of the cover is listed among his papers, I wonder if the art isn’t by Visiak himself.

I first read E H Visiak’s Life’s Morning Hour (1968) about 15 years ago, when all I really knew of him was his essays on David Lindsay. I’d been hoping for more on Lindsay but, despite the book mentioning other literary friends Visiak had (among whom John Masefield is the only name I knew), there’s no mention of Lindsay. (Unless, that is, I take Visiak’s comment at one point, “I could no more describe it than I could describe an unknown colour had I seen one”, to be an indirect reference to the invented colours in A Voyage to Arcturus. The “it” Visiak is talking about, by the way, is a vision of God. But I’ll come to that later.) The thing is, Life’s Morning Hour is about the first half of Visiak’s life, and comes to an end as his literary career is getting started. (There’s no mention, for instance, of other writers he later knew, including Walter de la Mare and Colin Wilson.) But, having recently read Visiak’s weird novels Medusa and The Haunted Island, and having done some research on his life to flesh out my (previously very skimpy) biography of him on my Violet Apple site, I came back to his memoir, this time to learn about him, rather than Lindsay.

But first, is it a memoir? In a post at his Shiver in the Archives blog, Douglas A Anderson calls it “Visiak’s so-called autobiography”, saying it’s “actually a novel (originally titled David Treffry) Visiak tried to market in the very early 1930s”… But if that’s so, it’s frankly a very bad novel. My impression on re-reading it is that its earlier chapters didn’t so much belong to a narrative meant to be read by others, as a man’s private mulling over his earliest impressions and fragments of memory. (Towards the end of the book, Visiak claims he wrote Life’s Morning Hour “to record my childhood, of blissful memory”.) These early chapters are more about intense sensory experiences the very young Edward Harold Physick (as he was born) had of colours, smells, glints of light, textures. They don’t even work as anecdotes, just fragments. And this is the main argument against Life’s Morning Hour being a novel — it has no story, nor even an attempt at one. Even in its later sections, when Visiak covers his miserable time at the Manchester offices of the Indo-European Telegraph Company (for which he worked before the First World War), he doesn’t cast it as a narrative. He mentions his misery but doesn’t fully explain it, then goes away and remembers a few random incidents at the office, comes back to it again, then goes away from it once more. This really is a memoir — a collection of reminiscences — more than it is even an attempt at an autobiography. And, of course, Visiak had written novels by the 1930s, so he knew how to do that, so the idea he wrote this as a novel isn’t very convincing, unless he was attempting something very new and modernistic, and, ultimately, unsuccessful. (What seems more possible is that, having written this memoir for his own amusement, he wondered what to do with it, and tried to place it with publishers as a novel. But I don’t know.)

Crimes, Creeps and Thrills (1936), edited by John Gawsworth, included Visiak’s “The Shadow”

There are a few frustratingly fictional-feeling aspects to the book, though. Some people’s names are omitted or invented. Visiak is very evasive about the names of family members. He refers to “my literary uncle” a number of times without giving his name, and only late in the book provides a telling footnote to indicate he’s quoting from the Memoirs of W H Helm (which Visiak himself edited, in 1937). Helm was the literary editor of The Morning Post, wrote several books (Jane Austen and Her Country-House Comedy, Homes of the Past: A Sketch of Domestic Buildings and Life in England from the Norman to the Georgian Age), and was married to Visiak’s paternal aunt. Visiak also provides very little information about his father or his father’s family, even though both were successful sculptors, a fact he doesn’t even allude to. (And Visiak spent a lot of time with his grandparents as a boy, it seems.)

Even more fictionalising comes about with Visiak’s changing some names. He mentions, for instance, going to “the Grammar School at Hallingford”, during which time he stayed at the house of a “Mr Blackwaters”. As far as I can tell, there is no such place as “Hallingford”, and the name “Blackwaters” doesn’t appear at all in Short biographies about Visiak, though, mention his going to Hitchin Grammar School (a history of which is among his papers at Reading University), but the only definite proof of a school I can find is his and his brothers’ names in the enrolment lists of St Augustine’s School, Westminster, at the age of 10. And this school isn’t mentioned at all in Visiak’s memoir. Certainly, Life’s Morning Hour can’t be entirely relied on as a factual autobiography. But it is interesting, I think, as a means of learning a little bit more about the man — certainly the inner man.

(His brothers get only a few mentions, despite his having six of them. One who does, Noel Gilbert, died of meningitis at the age of 17, and Visiak describes him as having, at the end, ribs like a skeleton, which can’t help recalling, for me, the “Skeleton Antic Lad” of The Haunted Island.)

Visiak poem from The Graphic, 12th April 1924

Visiak edited the Nonsuch Edition of Milton (1952)

Visiak took a strong pacifist stance during World War I, registering as a conscientious objector and refusing to take even non-military war work as an alternative, as he didn’t want to have anything to do with war. (There’s a quite comprehensive stack of documents at the National Archives detailing the process he went through.) Life’s Morning Hour traces the origins of his pacifism to a story he wrote, as a Rider Haggard-obsessed boy, in which a Zulu king lays down his weapon on a battlefield rather than continue the carnage — an action which seems to have taken Visiak by surprise. (He went on to read about the treatments of the Zulus under the British, and later wrote a poem about them. When it was published, he was surprised to come home one day to find a Zulu man waiting for him, who was in turn surprised to find the writer of the poem wasn’t a Zulu, as he’d thought the rhythms of the poem could only have come from a fellow countryman.) But Visiak wasn’t a lifelong pacifist, certainly not in the personal sense, as at each of the schools he mentions going to he confronts bullies head on, fighting them as soon as they start to pick on him. But his pacifism in relation to the war was perhaps intensified by two other factors. One was his social conscience, which extended not just to his fellow human beings (and he was always writing not just to newspapers but government bodies, suggesting ways in which people’s suffering might be alleviated, or complaining when bad things were done to them — he wrote to a US newspaper after it reported the lynching and burning of an African American, and received, because of it, several nasty replies). He also became a passionate anti-vivisectionist, at one point contemplating studying physiology (despite having no aptitude in the sciences), just so he could infiltrate animal-testing laboratories and expose their atrocities. It was as a result of this, which became an obsessive idea, that the other factor in his pacifism came about. Worrying how he could achieve this aim of infiltrating vivisection laboratories, yet knowing how ill-suited he was to the task, and so being caught in a situation he couldn’t resolve, he had what he interprets as a sudden vision of God, whom he saw as:

“…an orifice of golden motes… of ethereal fire. It was irregular in shape, curved, extending about half way across the office. At either side, within it, a form was visible… They suggested lions with wings. But it was the form I knew to be, but did not see, in the centre that drew and concentrated my attention…

“It was not a human form, nor was it that of any conceivable creature. Had it been that of an angel with wings in the conventional notion of such a being, I might well doubt the authenticity of the vision, suspecting it to have been of subjective derivation; but it was, as I have said, unimaginable

“The Appearance was ineffable; it surpassed the human form as the human form surpasses the most elementary form of life. I should say, indeed, that it transcended form. It was awful, adorable, transcendental. It was also, and identically, a sound; a sound alike ineffable, incomparable in soul-enthralling harmony with any musical chord…”

The effect of his vision, oddly, was to make Visiak feel that his grand anti-vivisectionist plan mattered less in the broad scheme of things than simply continuing his day-to-day life, and this released him from his obsessive thoughts on the matter. But it also no doubt strengthened his Christianity, which was, ultimately, the reason he gave for not wanting to participate in the Great War.

Visiak’s birth name, in his own handwriting (from the 1911 census)

Life’s Morning Hour isn’t a wholly satisfying book. It only works as any kind of autobiography if you have a more factual record of his life to hand; most of its content as a memoir is impressive in terms of how he retained intense early childhood sensory experiences, but generally fails to be interesting even at the level of an anecdote, more as a series of poetic impressions. It certainly doesn’t work as a novel, it has no focus of story or conscious development of character. What it reveals about Visiak as a person is its strongest point: the things that were important to him, his formative moments, the people he met and how he interacted with them. (He petitioned on behalf of a sacked alcoholic colleague three times, each time succeeding in getting him reinstated. The third time, the Indo-European Telegraph Company actually decided to take an active hand in the poor man’s care and rehabilitation.)

Certainly not an essential read, then, even for those who’ve enjoyed Medusa and The Haunted Island (which was mostly written, he reveals, on the train to and from work, just as his early Buccaneer Ballads were written at work), but a valuable addition if you want to know more about the sort of man Visiak was.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling

Art by Jonny Duddle

…So, maybe bathrooms aren’t that important in the Harry Potter series, as they don’t feature at all in the third book. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) feels different in a number of ways from the first two books. The basic elements of a Harry Potter story are here — the eruption of magic into the Dursley’s ultra-mundane lives at the start, leading to a spectacular magical-form-of-transport escape (this time the Knight Bus), a visit to Diagon Alley (the Harry Potter equivalent of James Bond’s visits to Q before a mission), a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher first encountered outside of Hogwarts, Quidditch, Quidditch, and more damned Quidditch (too much Quidditch in this one), a dark character assumed to be the cause of the main evil but who turns out not to be (previously Snape, then Malfoy, now Sirius Black), an underground chamber (or at least one reached by an underground tunnel) where we get a long exposition before a showdown with the actual evil… But some of the other elements I listed as part of the Harry Potter “formula” in my entry on The Chamber of Secrets are getting a lot more tenuous. The magical item unknowingly acquired in Diagon Alley that turns out to drive the rest of the plot, here, is Ron’s rat. He’s been around for a lot longer, of course, but his oddity (his long-livedness) gets highlighted in Diagon Alley for the first time. Ron and Harry don’t, as they do in the last two books, venture into the Forbidden Forest to meet a dangerous-but-neutral magical creature and gain a vital clue, but Sirius Black has been living in the Forbidden Forest for most of the novel; he just comes out to meet them. And the usual resolution, where Harry pulls a magical object out of an item of clothing — a pocket, a hat — might in this case be fulfilled by Peter Pettigrew, who emerges from Ron’s pocket.

Cliff Wright cover

Perhaps most different to the previous two books is that this is the first in the series (the only one, I think) not to feature a personal appearance by Voldemort (or even a fragment of him). This easily might not have worked — normally, you’d expect each book in a series to up the stakes each time — but actually it allows for a much more satisfying and complex resolution, as it can’t all be explained away as the actions of pure evil, but of human beings in all their complexity of flaws, failures, and virtues. By not featuring Voldemort, the third Harry Potter book actually takes the series up a notch in terms of moral and emotional complexity.

I do think that this book — which is half again as long as either of the previous two — feels a bit baggy in the middle, with a lot less focus, and a few scenes on the soap-opera-ish side that add a little colour to the characters but nothing to the plot. Plus, it’s particularly Quidditchy, and Quidditch — whose matches are, in a way, echoes of the main story’s Eucatastrophic endings, with Harry snatching the Snitch out of nowhere to win the game, just as he pulls a Philosopher’s Stone from his pocket, or the Sword of Gryffindor from a hat — feel a bit manipulative in story terms, as it’s all about Harry feeling bad (when his team loses) or good (when he wins), but without gaining any knowledge or interesting experience en route. (Except for the usual mid-match attempts on his life, I suppose.)

But the ending, as I say, is the best so far — helped no end by being a double ending, as the final events are replayed by Harry and Hermione’s use of the Time-Turner, giving them a much-needed nudge towards another (but not wholly) happy ending. That’s satisfying on a plot level (and it’s done even better in the film, where they have a lot more fun with it), but there’s also deeper emotional satisfaction in Harry’s finding he’s gained a godfather and thinking at one point he’s seen his father.

Brian Selznick cover

There’s a lot more of a personal connection between Harry and the past events that drive this book, too. There’s always the connection of Harry wanting to get his own back on Voldemort for killing his parents, of course, but here we learn a lot more about Harry’s father and his friends at school, and how one of them betrayed him, and how another took the blame. We also learn that Harry’s father and his friends weren’t entirely “good”, as they played a prank on a young Severus Snape (who, in this book, is at his most venomous and mean) that could have killed him. For added poignance, we get to witness a moment whose significance it’s easy to miss, as it’s not underlined in the text, as Harry finds himself in a position very similar to that of Voldemort on the fateful night when his parents died. Voldemort wanted to kill baby Harry, but Lily Potter stood in the way; now, we see Harry wanting to kill Sirius Black (who he thinks is responsible for his parents’ death), only to have Crookshanks the cat leap in the way. It’s like a test of how different Harry is from Voldemort — or, maybe, it’s a living flashback. And Harry’s been having plenty of those, thanks to the Dementors bringing back in vivid detail his mother’s screams on the night she died.

Olly Moss ebook cover

I said in my entry about The Chamber of Secrets that memory and memory-related magic were important to the series, and it’s even more true in this book. Rowling finds all sorts of ways of bringing the past alive as a living force. It can be in characters who were thought to be dead coming back to life (Peter Pettigrew), Harry’s Dementor-driven flashbacks (traumatic memory as a source of weakness), or the counter to them, where positive memories can power a Patronus (memory as a source of strength). Harry and Hermione’s use of the Time-Turner to revisit their own close past and make a few changes is like another version of the series’ use of relived memories (the Mirror of Erised in Stone, Tom Riddle’s diary in Chamber, and Dumbledore’s Pensieve later on). Meanwhile, the malleability of memories and stories about the past are highlighted by Peter Pettigrew’s faking his own death to frame Sirius, but also perhaps in this book’s other memory-themed thread, Divination, where prophecies are a sort of memory of the future, and just as deceptive as memories of the past. (And just as powerful in their ability to reshape the world, too, as comes clear in a later book, where we learn Voldemort’s motive in seeking Harry that night — and thus bringing about his own demise — was down to his believing one particular prophecy.)

Recovering — and correcting — memories and stories of the past, in this book, are part of Harry’s role as a truth-seeker, which can lead not just to a sense of the truth revealed but to a righting of wrongs. Given the chance to kill Pettigrew, the man who brought about his parents’ death, Harry decides to hand him over so his story can be told, meaning not only will Pettigrew get his proper punishment, but Sirius Black can be absolved. As Dumbledore says, in one of his wise summings up at the end of the book:

“Didn’t make any difference?” said Dumbledore quietly. “It made all the difference in the world, Harry. You helped uncover the truth. You saved an innocent man from a terrible fate.”

Kazu Kibuishi cover

And it’s no surprise that a book with such a title as The Prisoner of Azkaban is full of prisons both literal and metaphorical, as well as escapes from them. There’s Harry’s escape from the Dursleys in a burst of magic (and a certain amount of wild-talent psychokinesis, too, which makes this now-teen resemble Stephen King’s Carrie, in a way — both get locked in cupboards by their parent/guardians, after all). There’s Sirius’s escape from Azkaban. There’s Harry’s being told to stay at the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley till he’s released by the arrival of the Weasley clan. There’s Buckbeak’s escape from a sentence of death. There’s Pettigrew’s escape from a self-imposed imprisonment as Ron’s rat. Hogwarts becomes a sort of prison for Harry when he doesn’t have the signed form to let him visit Hogsmeade — until he escapes with the aid of his sneaky magical possessions, the Cloak of Invisibility and the Marauder’s Map. Hermione gets herself trapped in a self-imposed prison of too much schoolwork, till she sets herself free by admitting how much she’s expecting of herself (which is also part of the theme of mental illness that runs through the book, including Lupin’s self-injuring when he struggles with his wolf-side, Harry’s traumatic flashbacks, Sirius Black’s purported “madness”, and Hagrid’s despair at Buckbeak’s fate). Harry learns to escape a little from his own past, too, by learning to counter the traumatic memories the Dementors bring out in him. (And I can’t help likening Harry’s fainting fits before the dark-hooded Dementors to a wounded Frodo’s wooziness before the Nazgûl in Lord of the Rings.)

Along with this theme of imprisonment and freedom is one of punishment and retribution. As usual, it’s introduced in comic form in the Dursley section, with Harry having to pretend he goes to school at “St Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys”, which leads Aunt Marge to ask if he’s “beaten often”. Uncle Vernon, meanwhile, on hearing the Muggle-friendly version of Sirius Black’s supposed atrocities, asks:

“When will they learn,” said Uncle Vernon, pounding the table with his large purple fist, “that hanging’s the only way to deal with these people?”

Back cover of UK paperback, art by Cliff Wright

While the series has had dark moments from the start, they become less comic and more oppressive in The Prisoner of Azkaban, with its decidedly Gothic tinges of trauma, betrayal, depression, and madness. This is all part of the series’, and its main characters’, growing up. (Their entry into adolescence — the start of their transformation from childhood to adulthood — is perhaps heralded by the four key figures from the past, Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, all being animagi, wizards who can transform themselves.) Harry is more outspoken against the Dursleys, and experiences a killing hatred in this book, something I don’t feel would fit in the previous two. Perhaps the ultimate sign of his growing up is that he at one point mistakes himself for his own father. Hermione, meanwhile, learns not to expect so much of herself, and indulges in a little uncharacteristic rule-breaking. Ron, um… Well, Ron learns to get over the loss of his rat.

(And it’s nice to see that, as Harry’s Patronus is a stag, he’s joining other YA protagonists covered on this blog — Stag Boy, A Monster Calls — in allying with the horned god Cernunnos.)


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling

Kazu Kibuishi cover

Coming back to J K Rowling’s second Harry Potter book (published in 1998), I was expecting it to feel (as the film does), pretty much a re-run of the first. So, we have Harry’s magic-fuelled rescue from the repressive Dursleys; an early meeting with yet another (dangerously inadequate) Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher; the unknowing acquisition of an object that’s the cause of the rest of the book’s plot at Diagon Alley; a spectacular entry to Hogwarts (in the first book it’s spectacular because your first entry to Hogwarts can’t help being spectacular, in the second book it’s because Harry and Ron drive a flying car into an angry tree); an encounter with a magical creature in a bathroom (a troll, a ghost); the lead trio’s assuming another character (Snape, Malfoy) is the cause of all the evil just because they’re a bully; a trip into the Forbidden Forest to gain a final clue then flee a malevolent being; a chamber deep underground where the evil is faced — an evil which first of all provides an explanation of all the plot points Harry (and the reader) might have missed; then a rabbit-from-the-hat (literally from a hat, here) acquisition of a powerful magical artefact that saves the day. (And it’s odd how important a role items of clothing — a pocket, a cloak, a battered hat, a slimy sock — have had in these books.)

Mary DuPré cover

All this highlights how certain locations have already, in this second book, acquired specific functions. The Dursleys’ is a place of comic scenes about the Oliver Twist-levels of awfulness with which Harry’s treated just for being different, and which can only be escaped with spectacular irruptions of magic. The Weasleys’ is the opposite. In the first book we didn’t see their home, but their mere presence at King’s Cross Station as a bustle of kids round the ultimate good-enough mother, Mrs Weasley, was enough; now we get to see their actual home, the Burrow (a name that can’t help but summon associations with hobbits, rabbits, and Borrowers), which Harry calls “the best house I’ve ever been in”, but by which he really means the best home. Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest, meanwhile, share a role as dangerously neutral places, of the Wizarding World, but outside the safety of Hogwarts. This is less the case with Diagon Alley, though it allows glimpses of how the Wizarding World includes the Dark Arts as well as the light (in its sinister twin, Knockturn Alley, for instance), but which is basically civilised. The creatures met in the Forbidden Forest, on the other hand, are neither good nor evil; they may help Harry, but they’re suspicious of, and antagonistic towards, humans, and their neutrality is an even more extreme variety of that unreliable sort I mentioned in my entry on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (in relation to Ollivander and the Sorting Hat, who are impressed by “greatness” — power — rather than goodness).

Brian Selznick cover

And then there’s bathrooms… Bathrooms, two books into the series, have already acquired a weirdly specific role. They’re places where characters — generally female characters, though I’m sure Malfoy joins the list in a later book — can go to be alone and miserable, and where doing so opens them up to supernatural attack. In the first book, Hermione retreats to a bathroom after being rejected by Ron and Harry, only to have to be rescued from a troll. Moaning Myrtle, when she was still alive, was hiding in the bathroom, crying after being bullied, when she found herself abruptly shunted into her present ghosthood. (She feels, now, like the presiding spirit of misery Rowling seems to associate with school bathrooms.) We don’t see Ginny Weasley retreat to a girls’ bathroom in the same way, but she has a similar air of vulnerable unhappiness and a need to unburden herself (which she does in the secret diary, rather than a toilet cubicle), but which ends in the same way, as the Chamber of Secrets, reached through a girls’ bathroom, becomes the most girls-bathroom of all girls’ bathrooms, the ultimate in lonely hideaways where misery has left her helplessly at the mercy of supernatural danger.

Which leads me to wonder about the possible metaphorical meanings of this second Harry Potter book’s title. What is The Chamber of Secrets? Is it a hidden and “best-forgotten” repository of the darker aspects of Hogwarts’ past (such as the fact that one of its founders, Salazar Slytherin, was a pure-blood extremist)? Or is it, perhaps, an eleven-year-old girl’s heart, whose deepest, most vulnerable feelings have been deposited in a secret diary? (“I suppose the real reason Ginny Weasley’s like this is because she opened her heart and spilled all her secrets to an invisible stranger.”)

Olly Moss ebook cover

Because there are two types of secrets, here. The first sort — the “best-forgotten” aspects of a darker past that are in fact best not forgotten — are secret because they’re morally shameful, and no one wants to remember them, but they really need to be remembered, otherwise they’ll come back and repeat the horrors of former days. The second sort — those hidden in Ginny’s heart, and briefly expressed in a supposed-to-be-anonymous Valentine’s card — are secret because they reveal one’s human vulnerability, and are really best kept hidden, at least from those one can’t fully trust. The first type are a society’s guilty secrets, the second a blameless individual’s. (Harry’s hiding away under his Cloak of Invisibility to visit the Mirror of Erised in Philosopher’s Stone has a similar feel to Ginny’s dangerous relationship with Tom Riddle’s diary. Both are about the risks of dwelling on one’s unhappiness alone. But Ginny’s are all the more dangerous because she’s not really alone.)

I said in my look at the first book how the Harry Potter series’ main fantasy element was the existence of magic, and how that led to a major theme being the use and misuse of power. But with this second book I’m starting to suspect some aspects of magic are more thematically rich than others. Those relating to memory, for instance, which comes to prominence as a theme in The Chamber of Secrets.

Professor Lockhart manipulates others’ memories through his misuse of magical power, making them forget their most heroic stories so he can claim them as his own. This may not be an explicit evil, but is as close to it as selfishness always is.

Cliff Wright UK PB cover

And Lockhart reveals something important about memory in the Harry Potter series as a whole. By stealing others’ stories and claiming them as his own, he’s not just altering personal memories, but rewriting a collective memory, the story the Wizarding World tells itself about itself. (In this case, that heroic deeds are done by handsome wizards, not warty-faced witches.) Lockhart’s might seem a minor “evil” — we might compare it to the Dursleys’ non-magical tampering with Harry’s memories (or lack of them), by lying about what happened to his parents. The Dursleys, like Lockhart, manipulate the truth in small ways to their own ends, not caring about the damage they cause to the individuals involved.

But Tom Riddle, and the Chamber of Secrets, show how dangerous the manipulation of memory (and, really, history) can be. Because everyone has done their best to forget about the last opening of the Chamber of Secrets, no one’s prepared to deal with it when it opens again. Some even do their best to dismiss it as a myth until they’re well past the danger-point. And because the Chamber’s secret was never properly unearthed in the past (Tom Riddle made it so Hagrid got the blame, and Hagrid is of course blamed again when the Chamber re-opens, allowing it to claim yet more victims), so Hogwarts is just as vulnerable and unprepared this time round — both for the Chamber of Secrets in this book, and Voldemort’s rise in the whole series.

Jonny Duddle cover

Tom Riddle not only manipulates memory. When Harry asks if he’s a ghost, he claims to actually be a memory. Evil lives on in hidden memories, is enabled by our attempts to forget the darkness of the past, and gains its ability to operate without interference from the manipulating of history. (“Dumbledore’s been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me!”) Rowling’s use of characters being able to experience others’ memories (here, through the diary; later, through Dumbledore’s pensieve) is not just a way of spicing up what would otherwise be exposition by telling it as “live” story, but allows those memories to be flawed — incomplete, blurred, elided, manipulated. Voldemort’s return to power, ultimately, is enabled because people forget how it happened the last time, and deny for too long it’s happening again. That, in large part, is what the Harry Potter series is about — and why Harry, being a truth-Seeker, aided in his task by wisdom (Dumbledore), knowledge (Hermione), and down-to-earthness (Ron), is the focal character the series needs.

After Chamber of Secrets, my own memory of the Harry Potter books increasingly blends into one narrative. Which means, I think, that the deeper story starts to really take hold with the next book, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Now, what role do bathrooms play in that one?