“Whenever I got stuck I reread the original text and imagined Chaucer winking at me, saying, go girl.”
— Patience Agbabi to The Guardian, 23rd Jan. 2014.
The train slowed right down and finally stopped. People pushed their way towards the door and out on to a tiny, dark platform. Harry shivered in the cold night air. Then a lamp came bobbing over the heads of the students and Harry heard a familiar voice: “Firs’-years! Firs’-years! Firs’-years over here! All right there, Harry?”
Hagrid’s big hairy face beamed over the sea of heads.
“C’mon, follow me – any more firs’-years? Mind yer step, now! Firs’-years follow me!”
Slipping and stumbling, they followed Hagrid down what seemed to be a steep, narrow path. It was so dark either side of them that Harry thought there must be thick trees there. Nobody spoke much. Neville, the boy who kept losing his toad, sniffed once or twice.
“Yeh’ll get yer firs’ sight o’ Hogwarts in a sec,” Hagrid called over his shoulder, “jus’ round this bend here.”
There was a loud “Oooooh!”.
The narrow path had opened suddenly on to the edge of a great black lake. Perched atop a high mountain on the other side, its windows sparkling in the starry sky, was a vast castle with many turrets and towers.
“No more’n four to a boat!” Hagrid called, pointing to a fleet of little boats sitting in the water by the shore. Harry and Ron were followed into their boat by Neville and Hermione.
“Everyone in?” shouted Hagrid, who had a boat to himself, “Right then – FORWARD!”
And the fleet of little boats moved off all at once, gliding across the lake, which was as smooth as glass. Everyone was silent, staring up at the great castle overhead. It towered over them as they sailed nearer and nearer to the cliff on which it stood.
“Heads down!” yelled Hagrid as the first boats reached the cliff; they all bent their heads and the little boats carried them through a curtain of ivy which hid a wide opening in the cliff face. They were carried along a dark tunnel, which seemed to be taking them directly underneath the castle, until they reached a kind of underground harbour, where they clambered out on to rocks and pebbles.
Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013), pp. 83-4.
“Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Mr Potter. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard’s wand.”
Harry suddenly realised that the tape measure, which was measuring between his nostrils, was doing this on its own. Mr Ollivander was flitting around the shelves, taken down boxes.
“That will do,” he said, and the tape measure crumpled into a heap on the floor. “Right then, Mr Potter. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches. Nice and flexible. Just take it and give it a wave.”
Harry took the wand and (feeling foolish) waved it around a bit, but Mr Ollivander snatched it out of his hand almost at once.
“Maple and phoenix feather. Seven inches. Quite whippy. Try -“
Harry tried – but he had hardly raised the wand when it, too, was snatched back by Mr Ollivander.
“No, no – here, ebony and unicorn hair, eight and a half inches, springy. Go on, go on, try it out.”
Harry tried. And tried. He had no idea what Mr Ollicander was waiting for. The pile of tried wands was mounting higher and higher on the spindly chair, but the more wands Mr Ollivander pulled from the shelves, the happier he seemed to become.
“Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry, we’ll find the perfect match here somewhere – I wonder now – yes, why not – unusual combination – holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple.”
Harry took the wand. He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers. He raised the wand above his head, brought it swishing down through the dusty air and a stream of red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework, throwing dancing spots of light on to the walls. Hagrid whooped and clapped and Mr Ollivander cried, “Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh, very good. Well, well, well… how curious… how very curious…”
He put Harry’s wand back into its box and wrapped it in brown paper, still muttering, “Curious… curious…”
“Sorry,” said Harry, “but what’s curious?”
Mr Ollivander fixed Harry with his pale stare.
“I remember every wand I’ve ever sold, Mr Potter. Every single wand. It so happens that the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather – just one other. It is very curious indeed that you should be destined for this wand when its brother – why, its brother gave you that scar.”
Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013), pp. 64-5.
Hagrid led them through the bar and out into a small, walled courtyard, where there was nothing but a dustbin and a few weeds.
Hagrid grinned at Harry.
“Told yeh, didn’t I? Told yeh you was famous. Even Professor Quirrell was tremblin’ ter meet yeh – mind you, he’s usually tremblin’.”
“Is he always that nervous?”
“Oh yeah. Poor bloke. Brilliant mind. He was fine while he was studyin’ outta books but then he took a year off ter get some first-hand experience… They say he met vampires in the Black Forest and there was a nasty bit o’ trouble with a hag – never been the same since. Scared of the students, scared of his own subject – now, where’s me umbrella?”
Vampires? Hags? Harry’s head was swimming. Hagrid, meanwhile, was counting bricks in the wall above the dustbin.
“Three up… two across…” he muttered. “Right, stand back, Harry.”
He tapped the wall three times with the point of his umbrella. The brick he had touched quivered – it wriggled – in the middle, a small hole appeared – it grew wider and wider – a second later they were facing an archway large enough even for Hagrid, an archy on to a cobbled street which twisted and turned out of sight.
“Welcome,” said Hagrid, “to Diagon Alley.”
Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013), pp. 55-6.
Hagrid looked at Harry with warmth and respect blazing in his eyes, but Harry, instead of feeling pleased and proud, felt quite sure there had been a horrible mistake. A wizard? Him? How could he possibly be? He’d spent his life being clouted by Dudley and bullied by Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon; if he was really a wizard, why hadn’t they been turned into warty toads every time they’d tried to lock him in his cupboard? If he’d once defeated the greatest sorcerer in the world, how come Dudley had always been able to kick him around like a football?
“Hagrid,” he said quietly, “I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard.”
To his surprise, Hagrid chuckled.
“Not a wizard, eh? Never made things happen when you was scared, or angry?”
Harry looked into the fire. Now he came to think about it… every odd thing that had ever made his aunt and uncle furious with him had happened when he, Harry, had been upset or angry… chased by Dudley’s gang, he had somehow found himself out of their reach… dreading going to school with that ridiculous haircut, he’d managed to make it grow back… and the very last time Dudley had hit him, hadn’t he got his revenge, without even realising he was doing it? Hadn’t he set a boa constrictor on him? Harry looked back at Hagrid, smiling, and saw that Hagrid was positively beaming at him.
“See?” said Hagrid. “Harry Potter, not a wizard – you wait, you’ll be right famous at Hogwarts.”
But Uncle Vernon wasn’t going to give in without a fight.
“Haven’t I told you he’s not going?” he hissed. “He’s going to Stonewall High and he’ll be grateful for it. I’ve read those letters and he needs all sorts of rubbish – spell books and wands and – “
“If he wants ter go, a great Muggle like you won’t stop him,” growled Hagrid. “Stop Lily an’ James Potter’s son goin’ ter Hogwarts! Yer mad. His name’s been down ever since he was born. He’s off ter the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world. Seven years there and he won’t know himself. He’ll be with youngsters of his own sort, fer a change, an’ he’ll be under the greatest Headmaster Hogwarts ever had, Albus Dumbled-“
“I AM NOT PAYING FOR SOME CRACKPOT OLD FOOL TO TEACH HIM MAGIC TRICKS!” yelled Uncle Vernon.
But he had finally gone too far. Hagrid seized his umbrella and whirled it over his head. “NEVER -” he thundered, “- INSULT – ALBUS – DUMBLEDORE – INFRONT – OF – ME!”
He brought the umbrella swishing down through the air to point at Dudley – there was a flash violet light, a sound like a firecracker, a sharp squeal and next second, Dudley was dancing on the spot with his hands clasped over his fat bottom, howling in pain. When he turned his back on them, Harry saw a curly pig’s tail poking through a hole in his trousers.
Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013), pp. 47-8.
A low rumbling sound had broken the silence around them. It grew steadily louder as they looked up and down the street for some sign of a headlight; it swelled to a roar as they both looked up at the sky – and a huge motorbike fell of the air and landed on the road in front of them.
If the motorbike was huge, it was nothing to the man sitting astride it. He was almost twice as tall as a normal man and at least five times as wide. He looked simply too big to be allowed, and so wild – long tangles of bushy black hair and beard hid most of his face, he had hands the size of dustbin lids and his feet in their leather boots were like baby dolphins. In his vast, muscular arms, he was holding a bundle of blankets.
“Hagrid,” said Dumbledore, sounding relieved. “At last. And where did you get that motorbike?”
“Borrowed it, Professor Dumbledore, sir,” said the giant, climbing carefully off the motorbike as he spoke. “Young Sirius Black lent it me. I’ve got him, sir.”
“No problems, were there?”
“No, sir – house was almost destroyed but I got him out all right before the Muggles started swarmin’ around. He fell asleep as we was flyin’ over Bristol.”
Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall bent forward over the bundle of blankets. Inside, just visible, was a baby boy, fast asleep. Under a tuft of jet-black hair over his forehead they could see a curiously shaped cut, like a bolt of lightning.
“Is that where – ?” whispered Professor McGonagall.
“Yes,” said Dumbledore. “He’ll have that scar for ever.”
Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2013), pp. 16-17.
“Sioned Davies, professor of Welsh at Cardiff University, has written about the stories in The Mabinogion as performances. They fit the speaking voice perfectly and are full of the repetitions and devices that make oral feats of memory possible. We get the onomatopoeia of Peredur hitting a knight “a blow that was brutal and bitter, painful and bold”. The excitement of the action is further intensified by mid-sentence switching into the present tense, as when Geraint, son of Erbin, “struck the knight on the top of his head so that all the armour on his head shatters and all the flesh splits, and the skin, and it pierces the bone and the knight falls on his knees”.
Davies’s arrangement of the tales shows what happens when an oral tradition begins to be committed to the page. The rhetorically simpler “Four Branches” precede “How Culhwch Won Olwen”, a far more “literary” production. Interestingly, Culhwch wins his bride not by his own feats but by invoking 200 of Arthur’s warriors, who do the dirty work for him. This virtuoso recitation is one of the jewels of The Mabinogion, and Davies’s decision not to translate the names conveys the stirring original rhythm of this astonishing heroic catalogue.
The stories are also released from the faux-Victorian romanticism that has dogged the text, even as late as Jeffrey Gantz’s Penguin Classics translation of the late 1970s. So, the “Countess of the Fountain” is now the “Lady of the Well” and “buskins” are “boots”. This fresh, energetic translation is a revelation and, for the first time, shows off The Mabinogion tales as what they were originally: splendid entertainment.”
The review in full can be accessed here.
(Illustration by Margaret Jones. Source.)