Welcome, wannabe-wizards, to Muggles and Mocha!
But really, raise your hand if you thought your letter to Hogwarts just got lost in the mail. I personally remember feeling a little twinge of disappointment on my twelfth birthday. Even though September 1 had already passed, I still held on to that glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, this fantastic world was real.
Anyway, welcome to our little book club, where we’re covering J.K. Rowling’s series one chapter at a time. For this week, we’re actually discussing chapters three and four in our video. Grab your coffee, and let’s get started!
Today, we’re focusing on how exactly we would have received that Hogwarts letter from Professor McGonagall, the wizarding world’s chosen method of communication: the letter itself. No acceptance email or phone call in the wizarding world! Now, we won’t only be talking about owls, which are an interesting choice on their own; we’ll discuss the written word’s value to our main character during his journey.
In chapter three, “The Letters from No One,” we specifically see this type of communication in the form of hundreds of letters that Hogwarts is desperately trying to get to Harry. It’s pretty humorous as we watch a crazed Uncle Vernon stop at nothing to avoid these letters, even uprooting his family to live in a dark, dangerous shack for who knows how long. Interestingly, the movies changed this up just a little bit—instead of the letters being stuffed through the windows and placed into eggs, there are owls everywhere. This is our first glimpse into the way the wizards send their letters: primarily using owls, or different birds if needed.
J.K. Rowling has actually written an interesting article about her choice of owls on the Wizarding World’s website. She says:
“The advantages of owls as messengers are those very qualities that make Muggles view them with suspicion: they operate under cover of darkness, to which Muggles have a superstitious aversion; they have exceptionally well-developed night vision; and are agile, stealthy and capable of aggression when challenged. So numerous are the owls employed by wizards worldwide that it is generally safe to assume that virtually all of them are either the property of the Owl Postal Service of their country, or of an individual witch or wizard.”J.K. Rowling
Interesting! I’ve always thought it was neat that these owls could automatically find the letter’s recipient, which Rowling talks about as well.
In this first book, we see letters can be delivered in many magical ways besides owls… but there’s one thing we do know. Wizards don’t use the Muggle post office or inventions like the telephone. A bit unfortunate for Harry in this situation, but… it does make Rowling’s world very interesting.
In another article, Rowling explains that wizards know about these types of Muggle technology, but though they may be useful, most decide not to stoop and use Muggle artifacts for something magic should be able to do.
On this subject, J.K. Rowling writes:
“There is another reason for most wizards’ avoidance of Muggle devices, and that is cultural. The magical community prides itself on the fact that it does not need the many (admittedly ingenious) devices that Muggles have created to enable them to do what can be so easily done by magic. To fill one’s house with tumble dryers and telephones would be seen as an admission of magical inadequacy.”J.K. Rowling
Oh, pretentious wizards.
By avoidance of these technologies, though, it seems many of these wizards don’t know how to use them at all, and we see this throughout the series. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, for instance, we see the Weasleys try to use both the telephone and the Muggle post with disastrous results—Ron screams at Uncle Vernon through the phone, and Mrs. Weasley sends a letter with stamps covering almost every inch, thoroughly confusing the mailman.
The trouble that comes from a reliance on letters through owl post, especially when Harry is at the Dursleys’ during the summers, brings us humor at times and makes the wizarding world even more whimsical. But let’s take a look at what these letters mean to Harry and how he functions with this type of communication.
In the first book, we see Harry faces some difficulties with these letters. In the third and fourth chapters specifically, the problem is pretty obvious—the wizarding world is unable to reach him because of the Dursleys’ interference. But this isn’t the only time Harry is cut off from those trying to contact him—in the second book, Dobby the house-elf stops Harry’s letters from coming, and throughout the series, the Dursleys do their best to constantly thwart Harry’s use of Hedwig.
This is extremely unfortunate for Harry because we see how much he lives to receive these letters. Harry thrives at Hogwarts, but at the end of every year, we have his sad return to his prison—excuse me, his family’s house. During this time, Harry’s only connection to the wizarding world comes through the letters he receives as well as the weekly newspaper, The Daily Prophet. And we witness how the absence of this communication affects Harry—he’s miserable. Even in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Ron, Hermione, and Sirius’s withholding of information while Harry is at Privet Drive builds a lot of intense anger in Harry, especially since he’s in the middle of a time in his life that’s filled with such turmoil and uncertainty.
Forget the wizarding world for a second—as humans, we crave communication, whether we’re introverts or extroverts. Beyond this, we want to connect with those we relate to, who we feel understand us—our friends, family, those we love. Harry’s the same way, except he has an extreme disadvantage. Not only is his family as distant from him as it’s possible to be, but the main way to talk to those he cares about is through a letter by owl.
In our modern Muggle world, it’s a bit difficult for us to imagine what this would be like. For us, communication is CONSTANT. It’s on our phones through countless apps and our computer screens, and notifications are continuously ding-ing on our smartphones—we can’t get away from talking to people. Additionally, I’m writing this article during the COVID-19 crisis; I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be able to easily talk to my friends and family right now. The thought of having to wait to hear from my loved ones through letters feels unbearable.
Welcome to Harry Potter’s summers.
Even though we’re far removed from what Harry experiences with his communication difficulties, J.K. Rowling does a good job of placing us in his head throughout the series so we can understand what he feels. We see his joy when he receives letters, his only connection to the wizarding world, and we feel his despair and loneliness when he’s missing Hogwarts.
Despite the troubles Harry has regarding talking to his friends, I think Rowling’s choices have really made her series stand out. I’m glad we see a lot of differences between the Muggle and wizarding worlds because it makes Hogwarts and the fantastic universe Harry enters even more exciting for us.
That’s about it for today, folks! Thanks for tuning in, and if you haven’t yet, check out my video discussing the third and fourth chapters. I just couldn’t hold back—there’s so much tension built in chapter three that I had to dive into chapter four, too. Bring your coffee, and let’s get down to business!
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to discuss these chapters in the comments below, and follow me on social media to keep up with the latest Muggles and Mocha news. Also, I can’t wait to choose one of your thoughts for our Comment Spotlight next week!
See ya, Muggles!
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter series.