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MuggleCast 253 Transcript (continued)

Pottermore Discussion: Dursley Backstory

Andrew: All right, very good! Now, like we said at the start of the show, we are going to talk about Pottermore, some of the new material from J.K. Rowling we've been going through recently. And this week we're going to be going through the Dursleys' backstory as well as McGonagall's backstory, two very interesting backstories that were very fun to read. And Eric is going to lead this, I think.

Eric: Yes. Before we go into this, remember, Pottermore is now open to everybody.

Andrew: [laughs] Don't forget!

Eric: Don't - [laughs] in case you put your e-mail down and they e-mailed you and said, "In case you haven't signed up," Pottermore is open to everybody. So - look, we have two items that we chose to discuss on this week's episode. I'm not going to go through bullet point by bullet point, but basically we do learn a lot in - I believe it's Chapter 2 of Pottermore Book 1, about Vernon and Petunia Dursley. We find out how they met, we find out how they fell in love, and also their relationship with Lily and James Potter. So, what did you guys think? You guys have all read this, I'm sure, by now. I hope because I put it in the doc. What were some of the stand-out moments of this? Because it's quite a few paragraphs. It's maybe, I don't know, two or three pages.

Andrew: Well, why don't you read the summary first? I think that will be a good way to start.

Eric: Yeah, so I summarized this based on the ten or twelve paragraphs there, and I'll read this quick. So, Petunia separates herself from Lily and her parents when she figures out that they like Lily and her wizardry more. She secures an office job as a typist and she meets a man who is as ordinary as possible. She confesses the existence of her sister to Vernon and he vows not to care. He proposes to her in his mother's house. Due to James Potter's lack of sensitivity, the relationship between James and Lily, and Vernon and Petunia only gets worse. Vernon and Petunia do not attend James and Lily's wedding at all. The last correspondence they have is the announcement of Harry's birth. Also, very interestingly, J.K. Rowling sheds a little bit of light on why they try to drive the magic out of Harry, and when they're running from the letters, why they take him to the hut on the rock. That detail, I thought, was very cool. Apparently there is an old superstition that witchcraft or witches cannot cross water.

Selina: Hmm.

Eric: So that was why they - because didn't it seem odd reading the first book for the first time? You were like, "Okay, a hut in the middle of nowhere." It's funny because didn't they go to the middle of a cornfield or over a suspension bridge first? So we think Vernon has finally lost it when he persuades a fisherman to give him a boat. But really, it's based on superstition, so I liked that she had the opportunity to explain that.

Andrew: So, one of the things that first stood out to me here is that Petunia loves the ordinary. She - after learning about Lily and her special power, she hated - and we already knew this, she hated everything about Lily, that she was being treated as special. So, meeting Vernon - it seems like one of the reasons she fell in love with Vernon was that she liked somebody who was boring, [laughs] who was the complete opposite of her sister...

Selina: Yeah.

Andrew: ...and even fell more in love when he didn't really care for this Lily, either.

Selina: See, I...

Eric: Yeah.

Andrew: And was repulsed by it just as much as she was.

Eric: Mhm.

Selina: See, I - sorry.

Eric: Well, J.K. Rowling's writing helps, too, and that's the reason to really read Pottermore and not to settle for my summary, which was probably God-awful. J.K. Rowling's writing style really helps because when she's talking about this moment, she's talking about Vernon driving the correct car and he's a perfectly ordinary man and he's always doing the perfectly ordinary thing. And so that helps characterize what is going through Petunia's mind...

Selina: Mhm.

Eric: ...when she meets him.

Selina: I just want to say I never understood the logic of Petunia Dursley. She makes no sense to me. The whole...

Eric: Really?

Selina: And I get that she hated magic so much she was attracted to the idea of getting as far away from it as possible, but to go for someone like Vernon and be so attracted to the fact that he was so unbelievably dull, I do not understand. Like, what kind of life did she imagine that she would - well, I guess that's the kind of life she likes, but...

Eric: Well, isn't it also - don't we learn - and I think one of our Twitter followers has said this, which we'll get to later in the episode - essentially that because we know that Petunia wanted to go to Hogwarts, isn't this said...

Selina: Hmmm.

Eric: Is it in Book 6 or Book 7? Where they're young, and Lily is saying, "Well, we could write to Dumbledore and get you to go to Hogwarts possibly." The factor - don't we know from what J.K. Rowling said, that Albus himself wrote Petunia a letter explaining...

Selina: Yeah.

Eric: ...why she couldn't come to Hogwarts, but that he treated it delicately? When it came - she was jealous, essentially. As a young girl, she was jealous that her sister was getting all this attention for, essentially, being a freak, and when it became known that she would not also be able to go to Hogwarts with her sister, they parted ways. There was this split. There was this break. And Petunia never looked back from it. As a coping mechanism for her own self-worth, she convinced herself that her parents were insane, and that Lily was a freak. And unfortunately, she needed to find somebody who felt, or would have felt, the exact same way without all that provocation. So she found the most ordinary man she could possibly come across and marries him.

Micah: It's interesting to me, though, that Vernon actually believed what it was that...

[Selina laughs]

Micah: ...Petunia was saying, because, think about it: you're a regular person never exposed to the magical world before and the woman that you are dating, all of a sudden, comes up to you and tells you that her sister is a witch. I mean, you'd probably think she's a little bit off her rocker, wouldn't you?

Eric: It would make me drop my sausage.

[Selina laughs]

Micah: Whoa.

Eric: Which is exactly what happens.

Selina: What?!

Eric: That was a joke!

Micah: I know, yes.

Eric: That was a joke.

Micah: That's what's written in the text.

Eric: They were eating at the time. They were at a drive-in movie or something, and Vernon drops his sausage when she tells him.

Micah: But...

Eric: But yeah - go on.

Micah: The question I wanted to ask you, though, is do you think it's Petunia and Vernon's fault that this relationship didn't really move forward at all, or do you think James has a large part to play in that?

Selina: What relationship?

Eric: I think James is very much kind of the reason - his temperament and Vernon's temperament are completely clashing. James wants to show off, is proud of magic, has never had a reason to hide his magic, and is just really - he's unashamed about anything. And the fact that Petunia and Vernon want to act as though magic is not the coolest thing in the world, I see a character conflict with James there, and so I do think - because it hurts Lily, and it's said that the strain on their relationship, between Petunia and Lily, really hurt Lily. I think James could have tried harder.

Micah: Right, that's the thing. Because we see so much of that out of him when he has that interaction with Snape as well. It says in Pottermore, "James was amused by Vernon, and made the mistake of showing it." A smarter person would have just kind of placated him, I think, and just...

Selina: Mhm.

Eric: I think so, too. Especially for Lily's sake. Because their relationship is really important to Lily, I think that James should have been a lot more - even little things, just mindful of Muggles - so, I do agree. And there's even some point in the story where James tells Vernon about his huge vault full of gold, and it's said that Vernon isn't sure whether James is being honest or telling the truth. And that's James's fault, really, because if you come across as that kind of a person where you could be making fun of them or you could be being honest, that's your problem, I'm sorry. You need to really come across as - you need to really think a little bit more about how you're presenting yourself, and I don't think James did that, and I do think that that led to their separation. They didn't even come to their wedding, for crying out - [sighs] it's just so upsetting...

Selina: Yeah. There's definitely...

Eric: ...that they couldn't have been better friends.

Selina: There's definitely a lot of shadiness with the way that James sort of is portrayed in some of the scenes in the book. You just - you double - you think of him like Harry did, as just this perfect dad who can do no wrong because he's not there to do any wrong, basically, in Harry's mind. But then, when you actually look at some of these things, it does make you wonder, doesn't it? But I guess he is just like Fred and George, really.

Eric: Well - yeah, and I think what's interesting though is the role that guilt plays, because throughout the series - because we've looked at what Snape - he loved Lily.

Selina: Mhm.

Eric: And his whole guilt over possibly causing her death, or his guilt over not being the right man for her, eventually caused him to protect Harry and look after him through all those years and lie to the Dark Lord and all that stuff. Well, Petunia's guilt, perhaps in the role of not being on better terms with her sister when she died or even at all throughout their lives, that guilt is causing her to also protect Harry. And she's the reason that they take Harry in, and that provides - we know that provides - this strong protection. So all these people have this guilt over Lily, essentially, and that's allowing Harry to be protected. And Lily's own sacrifice protects Harry throughout the series. So I just think that's very interesting.

Andrew: Did anybody have a changed perception of the Dursleys following - reading this backstory? Because we've always had this disgust for them, distaste in our mouths, for the Dursleys because of how they've treated Harry. Did this allow you to understand them more or anything?

Selina: Yeah.

Andrew: Is anybody feeling better about the Dursleys?

Selina: I just feel bad. I feel like it's a very tragic story. Petunia was the one who wasn't chosen, she was the one who was told very early on in her life that [laughs] she was not the special one, and I think that despite - we can hate her for how she let that consume her, but I definitely think - looking at her life, I just think it's really tragic.

Micah: Yeah. No, I agree. I think, as I said before, my perception of James changed a little bit more than...

Selina: Mhm.

Micah: ...really anything related to Vernon or Petunia. And I thought it was interesting - Eric, you brought up the point - that Petunia and Vernon don't go to James and Lily's wedding even though James and Lily go to theirs, and Lily is not asked to be a bridesmaid at that wedding. So, I wonder though, is that more of the fact that Vernon and Petunia don't go because can you imagine them conversing amongst a group of witches and wizards at this wedding?

[Eric laughs]

Micah: It probably wouldn't have gone over very well.

Eric: Especially with James and Lily Potter. Like, two superstars essentially of Hogwarts, going there - everybody at that wedding is going to think that Lily and James are the best thing ever, and I can see why that would be - that alone, not to mention, surrounding yourself with a bunch of wizards to begin with, would be repellent to the Dursleys.

Micah: It's a constant reminder for Petunia of what she could have had.

Selina: Yeah.

Eric: Well, not only that but we see, as Harry grows, that they cannot be - they do not wish to be reminded at all about magic, that there is this whole other world out there. They prefer to be so close-minded and they prefer not to be reminded of that at all in the slightest. They need to be able to ignore it, to go on functioning. Petunia said that she doesn't feel unworthy, and Vernon, just because he's Vernon. So that's very interesting about "trying to be normal." There's this adherence to normal. I keep thinking - Dursleys throughout the series, okay? How the Order gets them out of the house. Is it in Book 5? That fake invitation to the England's...

Selina: Oh, yeah! [laughs]

Eric: ...Best Kept Lawn ceremony? Really, I think over time - and that's, I want to say, a high - it's an exaggerated kind of character, but it's admirable and you kind of just - you do love the Dursleys, I think, by the end of it. Especially because of Dudley's redemption. There are these Muggles - are they the only Muggles in the series, too, that we know of? Besides obviously Ted Tonks.

Selina: Yeah.

Eric: They're what we have for Muggles.

Micah: Well...

Selina: I don't think you end up liking them.

Eric: For people who can't wield magic. No?

Selina: No, I don't. I really don't like - how they treated Harry, there's no excuse for that.

Micah: Yeah. Well, I think - and also Hermione's parents are the complete contrast to the Dursleys.

Eric: Well, Hermione's parents are like Lily's parents, really. The exception is that Lily is an only - or Lily isn't an only child, and Hermione is. Although she wasn't originally going to be...

Selina: No.

Eric: ...which we also find out in Pottermore. Very interesting. But Lily's parents, okay? They find out their daughter is this witch, they're completely - wait, I'm sorry. They were also witches and wizards, which is the difference. But basically, Hermione's parents - she's their only kid, they have to support her in that way, whereas Lily's parents probably share the blame for isolating Petunia, when it was that she was a Muggle-born or a Squib, whatever it is that Petunia exactly is. The fact that Petunia felt neglected, that Lily was more special, is kind of her parents' fault. So I do blame Lily's parents, because Hermione's parents are doing the right thing.

Micah: You were right, though. Just - sorry about that. You were right with what you first said, Eric, though. Her parents were both Muggles, not - they didn't have any magical blood in them.

Eric: Oh.

Micah: Yeah.

Eric: I must be reading - somebody's grandmother, maybe it's McGonagall, that said her grandmother was a great witch. Yes, I'm sorry. I'm confusing their backstories.

Micah: Well, they said there's probably some magical blood in the line somewhere with Muggles who have magical kids. But I think Lily specifically - I'm almost a hundred percent sure both of her parents were not...

Selina: Were Muggles. Yeah, definitely.

Micah: Yeah.

Eric: So look at it, then: you're Muggles, you find out your daughter is this witch. What do you do? Well, Hermione's parents praised that. They were like, "We're going to raise our daughter just like we always raised our daughter, to be special and that kind of thing," whereas Lily's parents were like, "I have two daughters, one of them is special. I'm going to let them know it. I'm going to let the one who is not special know that she's not special." She's going to leave home and get married at the age of seventeen, I think Petunia did. So that's tough. That's rough, actually, for Petunia. I definitely sympathize.

Andrew: J.K. Rowling added her thoughts on this whole backstory as well. She didn't really analyze it too much, she just provided the backstory on the names - how she got the names and there wasn't too much interest in there, to be honest.

Eric: [laughs] She picked the name "Dursley" based on a town...

Selina: [laughs] Yeah.

Eric: ...that was near the town she was born in and she said, "I've never visited but I'm sure they're charming people."

[Everyone laughs]

Andrew: Unlike the Dursley family, ironically.

Eric: Yeah, yeah.

Pottermore Discussion: McGonagall Backstory

Andrew: Okay, so let's move on to McGonagall's backstory now.

Eric: Unfortunately, this is not more redemptive. [laughs] Or it's not a happier story to tell.

Andrew: It's sadder, if you ask me.

Eric: Yeah, and it's in three parts so you get some of it in Chapter 7, then some of it in Chapter 8 of Pottermore, and then the final bit in Chapter 15. So throughout Book 1, you do get these bits added and added on about Professor McGonagall. So this is - again, this is my summary but the real thing, trust me, is five or six times longer. So here's the summary: Minerva's mother, who lived in Scotland, falls for a Presbyterian minister, a Muggle, but doesn't tell him about her magic. Isabelle, which is Minerva's mother, feels trapped by her secret. Only after Minerva is born does she confess to Robert that she's a witch and this leaves a big distrust in their marriage. They still stay together but the wife and husband can't trust each other. Minerva has two younger brothers, who are both wizards. At school Minerva is a Hatstall, which we can talk about a little later on. Minerva is great at Transfiguration and Quidditch. She suffers an injury in the Gryffindor/Slytherin Quidditch game which gives her a long-standing wish to see Slytherin crushed at Quidditch. [laughs] Additionally, Albus Dumbledore guides her to successfully becoming a registered Animagus. They don't become close friends until after McGonagall goes back home. She falls in love. She has to tell her new fiancé that she has to cancel their marriage because she doesn't want to live the same life her mother did, lying to the Muggle that she fell in love with. She works for the Ministry of Magic for two years, she dislikes it due to their anti-Muggle tendencies, and she writes to Hogwarts asking for a job. Dumbledore responds within hours and finds her crying when she learns that her former fiancé has remarried. A trust between Albus and Minerva develops when they get close following that incident. Additionally, McGonagall and Sprout were friends during the last couple of years at Hogwarts. Finally, Minerva did end up marrying her boss from the Ministry of Magic but only after her first fiancé had died. Being quite old in age, her new husband only lasts three years before he dies. They shared a cabin together in Hogsmeade where Minerva's nieces and nephews would visit. Minerva moved back to the castle after his death where she remained at the castle.

Selina: Awww!

Eric: So that's pretty sad.

Andrew: Such a deep backstory, too, for something we never, ever hear about in the books.

Eric: That's true.

Selina: That's the kind of stuff that J.K. Rowling can just pull out of thin air.

Andrew: Yeah.

Eric: Thin air.

Selina: Yeah, this is all of her...

Eric: Yeah.

Selina: Yeah, it's insane.

Eric: So, is it that none of it was in the books? Like, how much of this could we have guessed at? Any of it?

Andrew: No.

Selina: No, none of it.

Andrew: I don't think so. I mean, at best the only thing we could have started guessing about is "Oh, how did Minerva get to Hogwarts anyway? How did she start working?"

Selina: Well, what has always been weird to me has been - you know the trophy that we see in the first book going, "Minerva blah, blah, blah," on the Quidditch team where I guess that showed us that she was on the Quidditch team? Or that her daughter was. I think we speculated that she had a daughter at the time. But I guess that's the only thing.

Eric: Mhm. I mean, it's interesting because for as much as we know about McGonagall, from reading the books, this is - it seems to come completely out of left field. Like, it's plausible, it's completely fitting with the character, but none of this was really ever into that. Like spouses. I think J.K. Rowling was asked once about spouses of Hogwarts headmasters, or of the professors. "What are they like? Did they live with them?" that kind of thing. And I think Jo said that it was really important and that it may come into play later, but what we find out here is that McGonagall has had this tragic history. Her own parents were kind of - their marriage was ruined because her mom was a witch and her dad was a Muggle. She ends up falling in love with a Muggle, has to tell him she's a witch or cancel the relationship, so she cancels the relationship. And the guy who loves her - her boss at the Ministry of Magic - she refuses his proposals the first ten or twenty times until the Muggle that she was in love with dies. And then by that time, this guy is so old in age that he dies after only three years of marriage. Like, there's this long tale of regret and secrecy versus all this other stuff.

Selina: Yeah.

Eric: What comes out of it is that Minerva has this moral code that she got from her father who was the minister, and that's really all we see in the Harry Potter series, is that she's a very - well, stern but also she has this sense of right and wrong.

Selina: Mhm. Yeah, that was one of the biggest things.

Micah: Mhm. Yeah, and I think you also get the foundation for her relationship with Dumbledore, and why she is so sort of dedicated to him throughout the series, and really kind of sticks by his side no matter what. It's said that they have this really deep connecting conversation between the two of them, where he gives pieces of his backstory to her, which I'm assuming is about his sister and his brother and everything that happened when his sister was accidentally killed. So I think that that's kind of a bonding moment for the two of them.

Eric: And I think at the end of the description, Jo describes both Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore as being kind of reserved characters, and I thought - well actually, yeah, that's right. They are - they do keep to themselves. Dumbledore's backstory wasn't even revealed until posthumously, until after he died. Then it was revealed by Rita Skeeter. But really, people don't know - people know Dumbledore and people know McGonagall, but we don't know that much about them in the books, reading through what their histories are all about, what made them who they are. And so all this McGonagall story about not only her parents and their struggles, but herself and what she went through is really cool to have. But does it make you read McGonagall in a new light, or is this something where it's totally extra? We get it from J.K. Rowling but it won't influence our reading in the Harry Potter books because...

Micah: No, I think it's...

Eric: My argument for that is that...

Micah: ...meant as extra.

Eric: Yeah, go on.

Micah: Yeah, I think it's meant as extra. I don't think it's meant to influence your reading necessarily of the series, because that all takes place in a separate time than the information that you're getting. You brought up the Hatstall earlier, I thought that that's really a cool thing, that essentially her and Flitwick could have switched spots, and one could have been the head of Ravenclaw, the other the head of Gryffindor, depending on what the Hat decided. I mean, I was a Hatstall when I did it. I don't know if anybody else on here was.

Selina: No. [laughs]

Eric: No.

Selina: Very jealous. [laughs]

Eric: That's super cool.

Selina: That's so cool.

Eric: Yeah, I'm jealous, too.

Micah: So I had the...

Eric: So you got to pick your House on Pottermore?

Micah: Yes. I had the choice between Ravenclaw and Slytherin.

Selina: Oh, cool!

Andrew: And you picked Ravenclaw?

Micah: Yup.

Eric: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah, I wouldn't want to choose Slytherin.

Selina: No. [laughs]

Eric: Well, a Hatstall is something completely new. It's completely Pottermore, you know?

Andrew: Mhm.

Eric: And it's cool because then J.K. Rowling was able to say, "Well no, it's always existed, because you have these characters McGonagall and Flitwick who were Hatstalls, I always knew that." But it's never mentioned in the books because it's not relevant. Isn't it like when the Sorting Hat - well, the Sorting Hat can't decide, obviously, but takes a certain amount of time to decide. And ultimately it does decide but it's stumped, you stumped the Sorting Hat with what you've got. And I don't think Harry could be considered a Hatstall, right? Because it didn't really take that much time. Or could he? Was the Sorting Hat just speculating, or what's going on?

Selina: Don't know.

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#244 (November 20th, 2011): For the first time ever, MuggleCast has a DVD commentary! Watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 on DVD with us. We'll comment on each and every scene - it's as if we're in your living room watching alongside you!

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