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I watched the Harry Potter movies before I read the books and just realised on my second read of HP and the Philosopher's Stone that Harry has zero reaction to being able to communicate with a snake, unlike in the film where he says "can you hear me?" with slight shock (this under-reaction bugs me too but it's better than nothing).

I understand that he doesn't know he is speaking Parseltongue but at this point he has no idea about magic's existence so why is he not at all shocked, surprised or show any other emotion? I mean I'd be freaking out if I'd had a chit-chat with a snake.

Does anyone know any reasoning for this that I have missed?

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    There is a tiny bit of surprise: “It winked. Harry stared.” – chirlu Nov 16 '15 at 23:12
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    "Harry Potter and the Snake at the Zoo" should be the title of the next book if it's written – user13267 Nov 17 '15 at 11:46
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    I'd definitely be surprised if a snake winked, considering they don't even have eyelids! – Pyritie Nov 17 '15 at 12:36
  • @Pyritie You know, that's not the first thought you'll have when a snake winks at you. It's the kind of thing you realize in about two days after the incident. Except that thanks to this scene, thousands of people would of course have this as the very first thought :D – Luaan Nov 18 '15 at 11:20
39

The snake doesn't really talk for most of the conversation, It responds through body movements. Most pets and animals will respond to voices, granted this is incredibly sophisticated for a snake. Although this is Harry's first time at the zoo apart from possibly reading about Snakes in a textbook at school he would have no idea about their capabilities.

It winked.
      Harry stared. Then he looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They weren’t. He looked back at the snake and winked, too.
      The snake jerked its head toward Uncle Vernon and Dudley, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly:
      “I get that all the time.”
      “I know,” Harry murmured through the glass, though he wasn’t sure the snake could hear him. “It must be really annoying.”
      The snake nodded vigorously.
      “Where do you come from, anyway?” Harry asked.
      The snake jabbed its tail at a little sign next to the glass. Harry peered at it.
      Boa Constrictor, Brazil.
      “Was it nice there?”
      The boa constrictor jabbed its tail at the sign again and Harry read on:  This specimen was bred in the zoo. “Oh, I see — so you’ve never been to Brazil?”
      As the snake shook its head

So we see that he has no reason to be really surprised, an animal making physical movements is a lot more believable than an animal speaking. Granted to most of us with knowledge, this snakes responses would be incredibly fascinating. I'm sure Harry is happier to just have someone to talk to for once.

Remember also that he only knows he can speak to snakes he has no idea until CoS that snakes can speak to him so clearly when he hears this:

As the snake slid swiftly past him, Harry could have sworn a low, hissing voice said, “Brazil, here I come.… Thanksss, amigo.”

He didn't quite believe what he had heard, the language used is the same that someone who is unsure of what they have seen or heard would use e.g "I could have sworn I just saw..." he clearly has disbelief in what he heard.

Also it's very likely that Harry was distracted with the commotion of Piers and Dudley's howls of horror.

Harry sat up and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictor’s tank had vanished.

He seems to be too focused on the whole glass front disappearing than to properly focus on the snake. From this point it's likely his mind had wondered onto other things, like trying not to be punished.

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    It winked. - this is the funniest part to me. JKR didn't do her homework :D – Davor Nov 17 '15 at 14:52
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    @Davor Uh, the same magic that allowed them to communicate and made the glass vanish allowed it to wink. A wizard did it! – David Conrad Nov 17 '15 at 19:06
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    How the snake knew what was written on the sign next to the glass is beyond me. – Mast Nov 17 '15 at 22:14
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    @Mast - He read it in the reflection of the glass on the other side of the gallery? Of course this implies that snakes can at least read English... – Darrel Hoffman Nov 17 '15 at 22:33
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    The snake has probably heard countless folks reading the sign out loud ... – GreenMatt Nov 17 '15 at 22:50
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JK Rowling talked about this scene from the book in an radio interview way back in 1999 (jeez, it's been that long already?). She mentioned that, similarly described by @Singular1ty, Harry has been inadvertently making things happen but was also equally aware of them occurring:

You’ve introduced an almost talking Brazilian boa constrictor.

JKR: Yeah, I like him.

I do too. One of the first signs to young Harry that things are not quite what they seem.

JKR: Yeah, that’s right. I’m fond of that scene. That’s the reading I always do. This is the scene, for people who haven’t read the book, where Harry --- until Harry is 11, he is inadvertently making magic happen a lot, but he has no idea what’s going on. This strange stuff keeps happening around him. This culminates in an occasion on his cousin Dudley’s birthday where Harry accidentally sets a boa constrictor on Dudley at the zoo, by releasing it by magic from it‘s tank. That’s my favorite reading to do from Book 1. I could do that one in my sleep.

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On top of the other answers I want to add - from a writing perspective, Harry is surprised, but his reaction is shown, not told. The thing is, JK gets it out of the way really quickly.

The snake suddenly opened its beady eyes. Slowly, very slowly, it raised its head until its eyes were on a level with Harry's.

It winked.

Harry stared. Then he looked quickly around to see if anyone was watching. They weren't. He looked back at the snake and winked, too.

It's a small thing, but the separation of "It winked" into its own paragraph indicates very clearly that Harry is aware that this is an extraordinary action. It's meant to create the impression of stunned silence. The stunned beat is reinforced with the next paragraph's short sentence beginning - consider that this could also have written "Harry stared, then he looked around..."

10

Although it's not canonical, at this point in his life, Harry is already aware that something strange happens around him (he doesn't know it's magic, yet, but definitely not 'normal'). There's the stories of his hair regrowing after being cut; leaping on top of the school building to escape bullies; and various other magic tricks to help defend against Dudley making his life miserable.

So although a talking snake is certainly new, it might not necessarily be surprising to Harry.

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    I can't say this is a particularly satisfying answer (like the OP, I think Harry should be a bit more surprised), but it's probably the right answer given the evidence from the books. – Thunderforge Nov 16 '15 at 23:03
  • @Thunderforge I agree. Harry definitely accepts it far too easily - a few chapters later when Hagrid tells him he's a wizard, he's at least shocked; but talking snakes are apparently normal. – Singular1ty Nov 16 '15 at 23:09
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    Winking snakes are almost as rare as talking snakes. – Major Stackings Nov 17 '15 at 4:11
  • @MajorStackings What about one eyed snakes? – CandiedMango Nov 17 '15 at 11:53
  • @CandiedMango Talking, winking, one-eyed snakes are extremely rare. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 18 '15 at 16:06

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