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Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Aristocratic Children's Club
November 28, 2010 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Aristocratic Children's Club
posted by Joe Beese (161 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
One only needs to read George Orwell's essay, "Boys Weeklies," to understand the model that Rowling is working from.

And then of course, "Such, Such Were the Joys...," to get a better sense of the realities of public school education from the same period.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:24 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Note to the press: Giving a lot of money to Tony Blair's party is not a proxy for being a true liberal, especially in a political system with a legitimate, more-liberal third party.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's a very interesting read to me because she has almost exactly the opposite political problem with the Potter books to the one I had: the solidly middle-class morality that makes middle-class but struggling folks like the Weasleys (with Arthur and Percy the bureaucrats) good but all people with any money evil racists, only redeemed by abandoning their families and cultures (see: Sirius Black). I would have pegged the books as unpleasantly bourgeois Labour instead of conservative.

Also, I have a hard time taking anyone who defends the Vander Ark encyclopedia project seriously; it tells me they're either on a very different page to me or, more likely, haven't researched the case thoroughly and are just using it to score points against Rowling. I was reading fandom_wank when all that went down and whatever you think of him ripping off J.K. Rowling or not, he was ripping off other contributors to his web site and planning to publish their contributions without permission or compensation. That was the uncoolest part of the Vander Ark proposal to me.
posted by immlass at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is awesome, simply for the gorgeous animation in it. They could have done 2 1/2 hours of that and I would have been happy.

The actual story? They could have done it in one film. Considering that part 2 is supposed to be in 2D and 3D, with that lovely surcharge for glasses you've already bought, they're trying to wring every last dollar out the series before it's over.
posted by nomadicink at 8:35 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Which brings us to the disconnect between reality and appearances regarding the nonconformity that Rowling so hamfistedly praises at every turn. Harry Potter and his friends, far from being renegades, are in fact slavishly obedient to the all-powerful, omniscient, do-no-wrong Dumbledore. And why not, when he provides them in advance with every rare and fabulous magical gewgaw and hint they will ever need in order to extricate themselves from whatever peril they may find themselves in.

She really nailed it here. The Matrix movies also bothered me for this reason - the whole plot consists of the (all powerful, omniscient, do-no-wrong) Oracle manipulating everybody, good and evil, to achieve her own ends. Dumbledore is just the Oracle with a beard and a wand!
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 8:35 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Think instead of the strapping young buck Rupert Grint, a fine young actor who manages to rise above the tawdry, maudlin script...

Does he now? Maybe we watched different films.
posted by djgh at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not a fan of special magical destinies for characters in general, but I think that the article gets a bit silly where it gets personal. The Whole thing with the Lexicon is misrepresented as well.
posted by Artw at 8:41 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Purely in the interests of science, I have replaced the word "wand" with "wang" in the first Harry Potter Book. Let's see the results...
posted by notion at 8:43 AM on November 28, 2010 [28 favorites]


whatever you think of him ripping off J.K. Rowling or not, he was ripping off other contributors to his web site and planning to publish their contributions without permission or compensation

immlass, the Wikipedia page about the lawsuit has this quote from Vander Ark's site at the time: "I have been just as diligent with the rights of fans who have allowed me to use their writing and artwork. In each case I have listed the copyright owner and made sure that they were credited and that they retained their copyright."

Are you saying that's not true, or that he had to be pushed to that position with the contributors to his site?
posted by mediareport at 8:43 AM on November 28, 2010


You never see the sacrifices that Harold has to make to obtain the purple crayon.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:44 AM on November 28, 2010 [24 favorites]


I found this article to be rather a rambling mess, myself. Still, I agree with some of the points made, especially the "rules are for the little people" part. Remember this awesome post, featuring short and blunt movie plot summaries? HARRY POTTER: Celebrity Jock thinks rules don’t apply to him, is right.

Don't get me wrong, I am not one of Those People who is opposed to fun. I enjoyed reading the HP books. But there was a part of me that, from the very beginning (and increasingly as the series progressed), was really irritated by the fact that Potter and his buddies were constantly inserting themselves into dangerous situations because they thought they knew better than the adults. Even in the very first book, it turned out that the Sorcerer's Stone was never in real danger of being snagged by Voldemort, and all the kids' "bravery" and keeping secrets from the grownups was pretty much pointless except for the obvious reason that there wouldn't be a book to read without it.
posted by Gator at 8:46 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


In the world of Harry Potter, rules are for the little people. The “wisest” adult, headmaster Albus Dumbledore, showers magical gifts and indulgences on his favorites and lets them break every rule because they are so special, better than all others

We usually only see things from the perspective of Harry Potter, so yes, we see when they are exempt from rules. But who's not to say that other characters are exempt via their own house heads? If Draco beat up the 3 amigos, rules be damned, might Snape would give 100 points Slytherin? We see a little of this when Draco becomes their seeker and Snape tries to give them the pitch even though Griffindor already booked it, just because Slytherin's his house. We know virtually nothing of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw and how things are done there. There are times I'd like to have the George RR Martin treatment to see things from the other house's perspective.

In any case it is a horrible thing to be teaching children, that you have to be “chosen”; that the highest places in this world are gained by celestial fiat, rather than by working out how to get there yourself and then busting tail until you succeed

I disagree with this premise. In one way, the children aren't even "chosen"- I haven't read the books in quite some time, so somebody need to correct me, but I thought magic in the HPverse as something innate. Not just something any muggle could perform on a whim. And even then, within the magical realm, it's rather obvious that there's the haves and the have nots. Just because somebody is "chosen" to be a wizard doesn't inheritantly mean anything, which is where Hermione comes into place.

Hermione Granger is just naturally the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen
Yes, she may be the uber smart girl, but she also works at it 24/7. It's not like Harry where his wicked skills are just handed to him on a silver platter (or in a scar as it may be), but she is able to outwit others because she's learned spells through perseverance. How many scenes do we see where she's the one studying and then studying some more? She reminds me rather of the little sister of the valedictorian who feels the need to prove their mental worth at every turn.

This may not be such a very good description of liberals in general but it is an excellent description of J.K. Rowling. In the “touching” climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the house-elf Dobby has been “liberated” by, and now sacrifices himself to save, Harry Potter & co.
a) Dobby didn't strictly sacrifice himself for harry in a "if I die, he lives" manner. That knife could have easily killed Ron, or had Dobby been 1/2 second quicker, nobody would have died.
b) The article makes it sound like Dobby was liberated in that scene. Not so.
c) Dobby put his life on the line for Harry 4 years prior.
posted by jmd82 at 8:48 AM on November 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


Argh, I meant to type Philosopher's Stone. I even bought my copies of the books from amazon.co.uk specifically because I didn't want the doggone Americanisms. ANGLOPHILE FAIL on my part, there.
posted by Gator at 8:48 AM on November 28, 2010


Harry Potter and his friends, far from being renegades, are in fact slavishly obedient to the all-powerful, omniscient, do-no-wrong Dumbledore. And why not, when he provides them in advance with every rare and fabulous magical gewgaw and hint they will ever need in order to extricate themselves from whatever peril they may find themselves in.

Or maybe it's because Dumbledore is a literary representation of all that is good in the world. And his gifts are a manifestation of that goodness.

Don't we all want to have superpowers to do good? To right the wrongs of the world? Heck I know I do and I'm almost 40.

Yeah, there's some sort of religiosity or pro-authoritarianism flavour in the stories, but I'm not so jaded about religion and authority that I can't enjoy a story that appeals to our raw emotions and desires.

Maybe this author has a legitimate reason to hate authority, power and/or religion. And maybe JK Rowling has some ulterior motive to writing her stories, but probably not.

This author is overthinking this plate of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, and if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back into my fantasy world where I have friends who love me, magical powers, a flying broomstick, and nice hot mugs of butterbeer on a cold wintry day like today.
posted by bitteroldman at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


The Christopher Hitchens item, linked in the article.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:55 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


they thought they knew better than the adults

What kid wants to read a book in which all the adults know best, all the time? Potter and his posse learned from those experiences, which is pretty much the point of all children's lit. Complaining that they inserted themselves into potentially dangerous situations, instead of letting Mom, Dad and the Powers that Be handle things, seems rather to miss the big picture.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:56 AM on November 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


The Whole thing with the Lexicon is misrepresented as well.

How so? I admit I didn't follow it closely, but was generally sympathetic to the Lexicon's arguments at the time, so I'm curious what informed folks think is missing or distorted in Bustillos' summary.
posted by mediareport at 8:57 AM on November 28, 2010


The UK has a genuinely liberal alternative to Labour? Would that be the Lib Dems, who um, coalitioned with the Tories to devastate the country with pure old-fashioned, not at all liberal budget cuts?
posted by Maias at 8:58 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hence my additional remark about "the obvious reason that there wouldn't be a book to read without it," Ideefixe.
posted by Gator at 8:59 AM on November 28, 2010


What's funny is that in the US, a lot of her supposedly conservative ideas just read as standard children's fantasy tropes. When I was a teenager, the only clear associations I had with boarding schools, domestic servants, big country manor houses and all that came from reading C.S. Lewis. It wouldn't have occurred to me that they represented actual hereditary power and all the nastiness that comes with it, because to me those elements of the story were just as fantastic as the wands and brooms and owls and whatnot.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:01 AM on November 28, 2010 [55 favorites]


But there was a part of me that, from the very beginning (and increasingly as the series progressed), was really irritated by the fact that Potter and his buddies were constantly inserting themselves into dangerous situations because they thought they knew better than the adults.

Don't forget -- these books were written for kids. Kids who probably feel annoyed at having all these rule that they gotta deal with, teachers and parents who won't let them do cool things, or -- some kids with even darker problems, kids who know that they should tell someone about the things that Uncle Harry is doing, except Uncle Harry has said that he'd hurt them if they did or that "other people wouldn't understand", and everything in the kid's gut is saying "but I need to break Uncle Harry's rule this time...right?"

Kid's aren't equipped to understand that sometimes, some of those rules adults give them are for their own good. I'm reminded of a Star Trek Next Generation episode where some other race is investigating the Enterprise, but is incorporeal -- so it is looking for an unobtrusive persona to take. It settles on taking on the form of the "imaginary friend" a little girl on the ship has, and conducts its entire investigation of humans by following this little girl around, in the form of her imaginary friend -- and comes to the conclusion that humans are cruel, because it doesn't let their kids do anything or have any freedom. It then begins proceedings to wipe out the Enterprise. Only when everyone gets that "oh, wait, you're looking at things from a young child's perspective, here's the ADULT perspective" does the alien realize "ohhhh, I get it now" and call off the attack.

But that's the thing -- kids don't get yet that the rules adults impose on them are not to just be mean, but are for their own protection and well-being. They just believe that they could do so many massively cool things if the grownups would just let them. And -- living vicariously through Harry Potter is one way for them to feel safely vindicated, that "see? We kids do TOO have good ideas!" And in the case of a kid who's wrestling with a more serious "should I go against Uncle Harry" problem, seeing Harry stand up for something can give them the courage to do just that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 AM on November 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


Are you saying that's not true, or that he had to be pushed to that position with the contributors to his site?

If that's what he did with the book as published, mediareport, it's a change from what he said when he originally planned to publish the book, when he didn't refer to the contributions of other fans at all. Also I notice that the quote you repeat says nothing about compensation. I have not read the Vander Ark book, nor do I intend to, not least because the Lexicon has been slow to incorporate the details of books 6 and 7. I prefer the wiki for Potter details on wikia.com for my canon-picking needs. (I read the books as background for a journal RPG that I was joining through roleplayers I knew, and book 7 wasn't out when I started, so canon-picking the books on the web was a big part of my early exposure to Potter fandom.)
posted by immlass at 9:04 AM on November 28, 2010


Giving a lot of money to Tony Blair's party is not a proxy for being a true liberal, especially in a political system with a legitimate, more-liberal third party.

Do you mean the Greens?

I'm trying to work out what you mean, but it's tricky.
posted by motty at 9:05 AM on November 28, 2010


Even in the very first book, it turned out that the Sorcerer's Stone was never in real danger of being snagged by Voldemort, and all the kids' "bravery" and keeping secrets from the grownups was pretty much pointless except for the obvious reason that there wouldn't be a book to read without it

Sorry for the derail, but this reminds me of your typical Three's Company episode where the entire show would be based on someone's misinterpretation of a conversation that they overhear, with hilarity ensuing as a result of that misunderstanding.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:08 AM on November 28, 2010


Mixed blood families are actually fairly common in the books. Though they are not always in the forefront they inform many of the character's actions.
Screed on the subject of blood purity (sorry):

Dumbledore's mother Kendra was muggle-born, as was Harry's mother Lily. Snape is of course the half-blood prince, due to his muggle father. Tonk's is also of mixed blood in some uncertain way.

Hagrid is basically a second-class citizen due to his mother the giantess, Olympe Maxime of Beauxbatons is half-giant as well but is able to suppress the obvious to her advantage.

So who's left? The majority of the Death Eaters are of course "full" blooded. On the OotP side you have people like Lupin (who's an outcast of a different type) and Sirius Black (who turns his back on the full blood obsession even as he is as pure as anyone). The Weasley family is also pure but love muggles. Mr. Weasley is constantly impressed by their ingenuity, while Ron (ahem) loves him some muggle-born as well. Alastor Moody might be pure-blood, but who would dare ask and his protegy is Tonks, a mixed-blooded witch.

Almost all the protagonists are either mixed-blooded, love mixed blooded people, or actively deny their pure blood heritage.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


The HP series never moved me the way Roald Dahl's books did, and a big reason for that was the portrayal of adults. Harry and the gang have too many allies among the adults. In Dahl's books, adults are either malevolent, incompetent, or both. The few adult characters who have any sympathy for children (like Charlie Bucket's grandfather, or Jenny from Matilda) are veritable oases in a cruel, arbitrary universe. These characters stand out and have their own magical glow. When I was a kid, meeting adults like that felt like a precious secret.

Dahl's child characters also rang truer. They are essentially helpless and they know it. The odds are stacked against them and the world is unjust. So when they rise above, by virtue of cleverness, luck and occasional supernatural intervention, it doesn't seem like a foregone conclusion. Even in the case of Matlida, who (spoiler alert) actually employs her own magical powers (/spoiler alert), it kind of takes a toll on her. It's not all "ALAKAZAM!" and saving the day.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:11 AM on November 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


The number of lawsuits brought all over the world by Rowling and Warner Brothers against practically anybody who would dare to slap the Potter moniker on so much as a work of fanfic would curl your hair.

This author has clearly never been on livejournal. The harry potter fandoms are the largest out there.

In the best-known and most terrible of these lawsuits, the proud liberal Rowling saw fit to sue a fan who’d devoted years of his life to making an online encyclopedia about her books. I don’t believe I’ll ever cry again over the plight of an alleged copyright violator but you never know, I guess. Steve Vander Ark wept openly himself when he testified at the trial, and even though Rowling personally sued him, he later wrote on the blog part of the Harry Potter Lexicon—just like a house-elf!—that he was “still Jo’s man, through and through.” It just breaks your heart, the integrity and gentleness of this man, the love he bears these wretched books, the way he was so wrongly disgraced. A shorter version of Vander Ark’s book finally did see the light of day, in 2009.

Horse shit. Steve Vander Ark copied huge chunks of the books then sought to publish it. From the judge "Lexicon appropriates too much of Rowling's creative work for its purposes as a reference guide". He wanted to reprint her works under another name. The guide printed later was shorter, because it had less copy & paste.

I'm not saying that Rowling hasn't been lawsuit happy, but it's been more about protecting the secrecy around the books than protecting their integrity.

This whole article feels poorly researched.
posted by litleozy at 9:12 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think Harry Potter, in all of its forms, is dreck. There, I said it.

The FPP article was poorly written but makes a few good points, the Hitchens linked above is better and raises more.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:12 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think that the article gets a bit silly where it gets personal.

Agreed.

The thing in the movies that always offended me for "political" reasons was at the end of Sorcerer's Stone when Neville wins the House Cup for Gryffindor by having tried to stop the three heroes from leaving the dorm after lights out - because "it takes courage to stand up to your friends".

The fate of the world is hanging in the balance and all this unimaginative clod can do is worry about the house getting in trouble for rule-breaking. He even threatens - albeit pathetically - to fight them.

Yes, let's reward obedience to authority enforced by physical violence.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:16 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This reads like an essay by someone who is trying very hard to make every point fit their agenda, no matter how convoluted, where it would be more honest to admit "there's are a few cases that don't fit, but overall I think this is right."

Rowling has been incredibly supportive of her fans and their creations, for instance, and it's incredibly misrepresentative to act like she goes around suing all of them. I think you could ask any of the people who run mugglenet or the like on that one.

Harry Potter and his friends, far from being renegades, are in fact slavishly obedient to the all-powerful, omniscient, do-no-wrong Dumbledore.

This alone shows a lack of close-reading ability. Dumbledore is hero-worshiped by Harry, sure, but he has a lot of serious flaws that the books are honest about in the end: he's not let off the hook for the dangers he placed the kids in, and in a lot of ways he fails at protecting them. When he was younger he and Grindelwald tried to stage a wizard revolution, where the magical would rule over the non-magical, any deaths along the way be damned, for the "greater good". Even after realizing how repugnant that was and refusing to become Minister of Magic, he still ends up in a position of leadership making choices for "the greater good": see the reviled role he pushes Snape into.

He knows what he's asking of people, and he allows them to chose, but I think he also knows that they won't say no. As he says himself, he asks "too much". He's a great person and a wise character but to say he "goes no wrong" is idiotic, the books are very honest about what he does wrong.

I could write more about the "Hermione is naturally smart" bull, how many scenes do we have to read of her being incredibly stressed out from studying all night?

In the end this essay makes a few good points but the way it aggressively tries to shoehorn in ones that are simply wrong by misrepresenting the books put me off. I'm sympathetic to "Harry Potter books are fun to read but not very good in a lot of ways", this "Harry Potter represents everything wrong with society" is just... silly.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:22 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's always interesting to read articles that come from alternate universes. Let's see, in the one this writer comes from, apparently the heroes of the Harry Potter series are all aristocrats, Voldemort's motivations are never revealed, Hermione never gets anything wrong and is always shown in the best possible light, the main characters' continuous rule-breaking is never questioned and is never problematic, Harry Potter's implicit trust in Dumbledore is never examined in the last book, and the house-elf subplot is supportive of naive liberalism rather than poking fun at it.

It's true that does sound like a much less interesting series than the one I read. Maybe we should send this person a copy of the series from this universe; although it's not without some flaws as well, I suspect it's much more enjoyable.
posted by kyrademon at 9:23 AM on November 28, 2010 [18 favorites]


Oh, what clueless rubbish. Half a dozen Livejournal posts a day make all these tired points more eloquently, complete with obligatory references to Alan Rickman reading the phone book. But I've already wasted enough of my youth arguing about Harry Potter on the internet, so all I will say is I really don't understand why joyless adults constantly put Philip Pullman's books forward as some kind of replacement for Rowling's. Not only do they scratch a completely different itch, but they are also deeply flawed throughout in perhaps even more irritating ways, and completely fall apart at the end. Also:

It just breaks your heart, the integrity and gentleness of this man, the love he bears these wretched books, the way he was so wrongly disgraced.

Nobody who knew anything about the HP Lexicon case could say a thing like this about Vander Ark.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:33 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


all people with any money evil racists

tea party funders i rest my case
posted by DU at 9:38 AM on November 28, 2010


But if you have a young Harry Potter fan in your orbit, you might steer him or her toward Philip Pullman, whose Dark Materials trilogy is genuine in every way that Harry Potter is false; a fully realized work of fantasy to rival Tolkien in its wisdom, inventiveness and questioning . . .

. . . and preaching. Good Lord at the preaching. It was quite as bad as Narnia in that respect (by design, too) and less fun. I'm an avowed atheist who supports everything that Pullman was pulling for, but I wandered away before the trilogy was over.

The author sounds like about as much fun as unsalted quinoa, but she's got a good point. And the ending of the books was wretched. Before the series came to an end, the fandom joke was that Rowling was going to be so sick of it all that the ending would be "Rocks fall, everyone dies." And in the event that pretty much was what happened -- except for a few key characters who paired up in the most fanficulent way possible. (She wanted to make for an increasingly adult reading experience by the end, I understand, hence the killing. But then honestly, who in a novel for grownups ends up happily married to their high school sweethearts?)
posted by Countess Elena at 9:49 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of the things that was drilled into me at journalism school was "Don't write the lede on the way to the ballpark." Meaning, don't walk into something with pre-suppositions, because messy facts -- the actual ballgame -- might contradict or supersede your great idea.

This was a really crappy wannabe takedown that completely misses many, many facts (e.g. Hermione studying -- in Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore gives her the Time-Turner so she can study more).

It's also useful to consider that Rowling didn't write the first two books with a mind toward having it be a cohesive, self-contained, multimedia sensation. The real through-line of the series plot doesn't start until book three.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:59 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's always interesting to read articles that come from alternate universes.

The same one that David Brin's critique of LotR came from, apparently.
posted by rodgerd at 10:01 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's a bit disappoint how an article about helping kids assert their independence and not wait for adults to choose them ends with a recommendation of how adults should direct their reading habits based on the adult's values.
posted by nangua at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


I never cared for Harry Potter (I guess I'm both too young and too old), and was cheering along with the article until the author informed us of the party line on young adult magic books at the end.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:03 AM on November 28, 2010


I was never entirely comfortable with the whole "half-blood" thing. I'm still waiting for the book about Harry Potter's son, "Harvey Potter and the Octaroon Prince."
posted by ErikaB at 10:08 AM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I read the whole thing. There wasn't a prize at the end.

This is poorly written, poorly written, deadline-driven drivel with a premise in search of evidence.

Fuck this shit.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


From the article: In any case it is a horrible thing to be teaching children, that you have to be “chosen”; that the highest places in this world are gained by celestial fiat, rather than by working out how to get there yourself and then busting tail until you succeed.

Well, but how realistic is that really? In the real world the children of the rich are far better off, simply by the happenstance of their birth, then the children of the poor. It may well be that poor children don't even have access too good schools where they could work their asses off if the wanted too. Secondly, even though the author craps on Hermione as being a Marry Sue, she embodies that message: Excel through hard work (at least from what I'm reading here, I haven't read the books)

The argument here is that JK Rowling's work is conservative because it doesn't buy into the myth of meritocracy. But the myth of meritocracy is really a conservative myth. Of course liberals believe that some people are more productive then others, they just believe that people who have more need to give back to society, and that everyone should have a chance to excel.

But of course conservatives don't fully believe it either; it's just something they promote because it allows them to use it to justify policies that screw the poor.
But there was a part of me that, from the very beginning (and increasingly as the series progressed), was really irritated by the fact that Potter and his buddies were constantly inserting themselves into dangerous situations because they thought they knew better than the adults. Even in the very first book, it turned out that the Sorcerer's Stone was never in real danger of being snagged by Voldemort, and all the kids' "bravery" and keeping secrets from the grownups was pretty much pointless except for the obvious reason that there wouldn't be a book to read without it.
If you don't want books that take the kids side, don't read children's books.
posted by delmoi at 10:21 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


jmd82: "Yes, she may be the uber smart girl, but she also works at it 24/7."

If you buy into Hermione as the self insert of the author, does that make it any better? "Yes, she's the smartest", you assert, "she's worked ever so hard and was able to rise up and jolly well sort things out using her perseverance and wit".
posted by boo_radley at 10:22 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting -- the massive sexism of the books is brought up ever so briefly, then ignored, for half-accurate discussion about classism in the books. Hermione, as many people have mentioned, works very hard in school; Harry, as I recall, worked quite hard at learning the Patronus spell, and spent hours with Hermione learning all the other defensive spells in book 4. He may have been naturally good at flying brooms, but there are a lot of practices there to make sure he's good at playing Quidditch.

There are also good points about magical artifacts being used only once -- the time-turners, for instance, were ignored in books 3, 4, and all of 5 until the very end. And certainly Hermione and SPEW shows incredibly odd politics.

I enjoy the books, despite all the problems I have with them, but I wish that articles complaining about the books were based on the actual books, and not a misremembering of them.
posted by jeather at 10:22 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


One thing I really liked about 'Never Let Me Go' is that it reads like a good Harry Potter parody.
posted by ovvl at 10:24 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The same one that David Brin's critique of LotR came from, apparently.

Not to mention his critique of Star Wars.

tea party funders i rest my case

Actually I understand the Black sisters are supposed to be a nod to the Mitfords, which would make Lucius Malfoy the in-world equivalent of Oswald Mosley. Rowling's only a couple of years older than I am, and reading her books always reminds me a lot of my stint living in England as a teenager. For a lot of folks in the early 80s, it seemed like World War II wasn't over yet, and that comes through to me very clearly in the later Potter books.
posted by immlass at 10:25 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


two or three cars parked under the stars: But I've already wasted enough of my youth arguing about Harry Potter on the internet

"Wasted?" If you didn't spend the years around the turn of the century arguing about Harry Potter on the internet you weren't there, man.
posted by Kattullus at 10:27 AM on November 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


This reminds me about how pissed off I was about the hidden political message in "The Cat in the Hat." I really don't need that kind of propaganda polluting the minds of my children. That kind of thing is how we got to where we are today in American politics.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:34 AM on November 28, 2010


If you don't want books that take the kids side, don't read children's books.

Oh, pffft. There's a difference between kids saving the day in spite of bumbling and/or malicious grownups (yay!) and kids thinking they're saving the day when they're really playing right into the Bad Guy's hands and making things worse. In addition to that happening in book one, as I already mentioned, all the crap in the climax of book five was Harry's fault -- if he had just talked to Dumbledore instead of chasing Voldemort on his own, the bad guys wouldn't have gotten into the Department of Mysteries and Sirius wouldn't have died trying to rescue Harry. Stuff like that makes it very hard for me to find the kids sympathetic or heroic. Contrast that with book four, where (at least as far as I recall) Harry didn't bring any of the problems on himself, but still fought through and came out a hero. That was a good story.
posted by Gator at 10:46 AM on November 28, 2010


A bit of a derail, but for those of you who would like to hear Alan Rickman read the phone book, consider listening to him read Beckett instead.
posted by phooky at 10:47 AM on November 28, 2010


Okay, WTF. Recommending Pullman as an alternative? Lyra being a complete monster of a child aside, how is anything really different there? Lyra is the protagonist by virtue of her birth; her parents are the right people. Her parents are also both members of the aristocracy. She's also "chosen" in the sense that she acquires the right device... she wouldn't get anywhere without the alethiometer.

So the only real difference is that Lyra provides a very different model to children--one where no adults are trustworthy (which is just as bad as one where all adults are trustworthy), one where other kids are not generally respected and helpful friends... and most importantly, to my mind, one where lying is an unabashed good if you can use it to your own advantage. Harry Potter does lie sometimes... but he also feels conflicted about it much of the time, and sometimes it turns out to have been a bad thing to do, just like in the real world. Their rule-breaking is notable because they really try to operate within the rules until they can't anymore, which is a generally pro-social way to behave; Lyra is basically just a little sociopath, coming from just as entitled a background.

Given a choice between the two, I don't think HP is perfect in any fashion, but I know which I'd give to a child first.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:50 AM on November 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I actually remember being slightly turned off by the fact that, no matter how hard Hermoine worked and or was smarter than everyone else, Harry Potter always fell upwards due to his "very special boy" status. That's the feminist critique as opposed to a merely class-based one, I suppose.
posted by availablelight at 10:55 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I couldn't make it past the first couple of chapters of the first Harry Potter book, so I'll just note that to call Wide Sargasso Sea "fanfic" is completely and utterly wrong and is wrong about both the Rhys and fanfic itself. Harrumph.
posted by jokeefe at 10:56 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Had any of the many adults who knew that Voldemort was trying to get Harry into the Department of Mysteries and who knew that Harry wanted to be involved and that Harry had zero common sense and never did what he was told, as he was a typical teenager, put those BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS points together, they would have prevented the entire catastrophe. Had Sirius explained what the gift he gave was, so Harry knew it wasn't a risk; had Dumbledore said anything at all about his motives, ever; had Lupin for once been honest instead of trying to make sure everyone was happy; had Snape put away his resentment for half a second to explain why he was teaching Occlumency; etc. Harry is at fault for a lot of other catastrophes, but book 5 was pretty much on the adults. The book -- like book 4 -- had a half dozen series plot points it had to hit (prophecy, Sirius dies, Azkaban escape, Voldemort out in the open) and it was plotted around that, or it read like it was.
posted by jeather at 11:01 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait, sorry - Harry's son would be a quadroon. Harry's grandson would be an octaroon.
posted by ErikaB at 11:02 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


In any case it is a horrible thing to be teaching children, that you have to be “chosen”; that the highest places in this world are gained by celestial fiat, rather than by working out how to get there yourself and then busting tail until you succeed.

Yes, perish the thought that we teach/warn kids about the way the world all-too-often actually works instead of the way we wished it did in happy-happy-liberal-la-la-land.

Disclaimer: I have never read one single word of any Harry Potter book. However, it's my understanding that they are fiction fantasy - you know, pretend and shit - rather than carefully-vetted right-on political tracts. Perhaps I have been misled on this score.
posted by Decani at 11:22 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is all kinds of things to say about Rowling's ways of handling language, plot-economy, and good and bad morality (I have no clue of how well she handles success; the pressure must be enormous).
Nevertheless this article is, as research, deplorable in that it confuses content and intent. Shooting at the latter before making a proper analysis of the former is totally unprofessional.
posted by Namlit at 11:23 AM on November 28, 2010


I like Harry Potter and I think the article ignores a lot of stuff in the books to make a labored point.

Regardless, The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a really good satire of both Harry Potter, and the entire children's fantasy literature genre.
posted by codacorolla at 11:26 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sick of the idea that real-world problems are "a horrible thing to be teaching children".

You have to be “chosen”; the highest places in this world are gained by celestial fiat, rather than by working out how to get there yourself and then busting tail until you succeed pretty well describes how the "highest places" in the vast majority of human institutions work, from the royal family to celebrity on through to simple economics. Being in the position to "bust tail until you succeed" is very much a matter of birth, as loath as we are to admit it, and nepotism is everywhere. The Harry Potter books give kids a way to explore this, to question it, and to come to decisions about how they might deal with it in their own lives -- that's far from horrible.

In 2010, it's also much less "conventional and materialist" than the article author's beloved "if you work hard and be good then the world will owe you a living" trope. Talk about a "tool of the corpocracy"...
posted by vorfeed at 11:29 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's also useful to consider that Rowling didn't write the first two books with a mind toward having it be a cohesive, self-contained, multimedia sensation. The real through-line of the series plot doesn't start until book three.
Cool Papa Bell, do you have a cite for that? I've heard entirely the opposite actually, that she had the entire story worked out before Book 1.

One of the things I find most interesting about long sagas like this is the ways it could have gone and the Harry Potters that might have been.
posted by Brainy at 11:34 AM on November 28, 2010


Okay, now that my GRAR is back to workable levels...

There are definitely critiques one could make of the HP series. Bustillos makes none of them, or at least doesn't make any of them convincingly.

Starting with the "chosen-ness." You're either a wizard or not. Hogwarts takes all Wizards. I kinda sorta not really get it if the problem is that not everybody gets to be a wizard but come the fuck on. It's a classic sort of hook for the reader to live vicariously through the protagonist and be taken into a new world where, let's keep in mind, the protagonist must be as unfamiliar with his or her surroundings as the reader is in order for the story to properly progress.

As for considering the Weasleys to be Aristocratic - this is patently absurd in a series with its own firmly established aristocracy. Sure, you could decide that Wizards are nobles and Muggles are commoners if you really wanted to, but you'd have to ignore a whole hell of a lot of the rest of the story to do so. The Wizarding world acts as a parallel to the Muggle world, not as its superior counterpart. And in the Wizarding world, while the Weasleys are an old bloodline, there is never the sense that they have ever had any money or power. If you want to see what an Aristocratic wizarding family in decline looks like, JKR gives us the Gaunts - dirt poor, ignorant and implicitly inbred, but clinging to the fact that they were descended from Salazar Slytherin.

Bustillos basically tries to make the claim here that the series' theme of the evils of obsession with "pure blood" (and it's analogues) is undercut by setting it in a world where people are obsessed with purity of blood. Clearly, this is a deeply silly claim to make.

Onto the rule-breaking... this is a complaint which comes up a lot and is firmly set entirely within Book One. In fact, most of the critiques with the series come purely from a reading of the first book. I understand that - if you find the first one offensive you probably aren't going to keep reading the rest. Still, the complaints are mostly misplaced. See:
Harry Potter is just naturally fantastic at flying around on a broom and conjuring illuminated stags up out of his soul and things, Hermione Granger is just naturally the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen, and so on. Ron Weasley, the impoverished aristocrat, is a Sancho Panza-like figure whose rough common sense is meant to keep Harry on the straight and narrow; his noble blood is his “chosen” quality, and marks him, too, as an unimpeachable Establishment figure.
Harry is actually a strictly average student. Flying a broom is his only exceptional skill, really. Hermione is bright, but more than anything works her ass off. As for Ron's "common sense" and "keeping Harry on the straight and narrow," these presumably come from a similarly named character in an entirely different series, because they don't describe Ron Weasley at all. Ron Weasley's main function is in fact to be the ordinary kid thrust into these adventures with no personal stake at all, and to be the source of knowledge about the Wizarding world, which neither Harry nor Hermione grew up in.

Anyway, Rule-breaking. Philosopher's Stone spends a lot of time in "wish-fulfillment" mode, which I agree is probably too much. In Rowling's defense, she has a ball with it, and introduces a world of so much inventive magic that once the shit hits the fan you'd still want to stay in it. Harry's inheritance rings the hollowest for me here, though I get that she might want to just get that issue out of the way so that her orphan protagonist's dire financial straits wouldn't crowd out the rest of the story. And in the rest of the story through the series, it isn't really a thing. Harry has enough money for books and to buy candy for his friends. And then we forget about it. When Harry's rule-breaking is first rewarded with a spot on the Quidditch team, it's a funny surprising reversal. Later on, however, when they're helping Hagrid get rid of his baby dragon, they are punished "appropriately," leading to ostracization by their housemates.

At the end, Dumbledore rewards not their rule-breaking, but their heroism. And I even get down with the Neville thing - Neville didn't know what the stakes were, only that Harry, Hermione and Ron were putting the house in more trouble, and that this time he'd stand up to them. I thought it was cute. If anything, I look a bit askance at the apparent Glee Dumbledore takes in screwing Slytherin out of their celebration at the final feast.

Beyond the first book, though, the rules apply to the main trio as much as they do to anyone else, pretty much, it's just that the rules are administered in arbitrary and capricious ways. Dumbledore plays favorites with Harry, Snape plays favorites with Draco. McGonnagle is stern but fair. Snape, when he punishes Harry, is severe, but at least punishes him for actual crimes, whereas Umbridge is just vindictive and Orwellian. The rules are a minefield and nobody is safe.

I could go on, but the GRAR levels are rising again, so I think I'll take a breather for now.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2010 [23 favorites]


Righteous Hipster and the Indescribable Humorlessness of Self-Important Rhetoric
posted by nanojath at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Think instead of the strapping young buck Rupert Grint, a fine young actor who manages to rise above the tawdry, maudlin script...

Add this to his credits for Thunderpants and you've got a young Kenneth Branaugh in the works.
posted by Mcable at 11:46 AM on November 28, 2010


But the myth of meritocracy is really a conservative myth

The word "meritocracy" was invented by a Labour politician in a book warning of the dangers of it, so yes.
posted by atrazine at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2010


vorfeed: You have to be “chosen”; the highest places in this world are gained by celestial fiat, rather than by working out how to get there yourself and then busting tail until you succeed pretty well describes how the "highest places" in the vast majority of human institutions work, from the royal family to celebrity on through to simple economics. Being in the position to "bust tail until you succeed" is very much a matter of birth, as loath as we are to admit it, and nepotism is everywhere.

That was the thing where the author of the article completely lost me, too. In the real world no one asks you if you want to be born a rich white male living in an industrial nation or a poor brown female in a poor region of Africa - so why should a fantasy world not have its share of unjustly disadvataged people, too?
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:23 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The first few paragraphs accurately describes my dislike of Harry Potter since Day 1. This is not a universe worth fantasizing about. Damn kids should be dreaming about worlds where they're given the respect they deserve, not respect they don't deserve.

They should also be dreaming about getting off my lawn.
posted by spamguy at 12:30 PM on November 28, 2010


Hey, there's a great line in the Deathly Hallows movie, Ron freaks out when Harry invites him to take off with him, in order to spare all the attacks on their friends. "Without Hermione?!" he exclaims. "We wouldn't last two days without her!"

Was that line in the book?

Hee, Safari's spellchecker knows the how to Hermione.
posted by nomadicink at 12:50 PM on November 28, 2010


Was that line in the book?

Just checked my copy. That scene in the film does not exist in the book. Instead, there's a much longer passage explaining that Harry is uncertain that Ron and Hermione should accompany him, but they've already made plans to do so (Hermione packing lots of reference books, should they need to do research on the run), and the question is more or less settled. The passage also provides exposition about the Horcruxes and the plot in general.

Maybe that specific line comes up later; I don't know. But the late-night scene at that point in the film isn't there in the book.

Seems to me to have been a change to economize the flow of the movie.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:03 PM on November 28, 2010


I quite like the HP books, but I've always had one huge problem with them: what's the point of being a witch or a wizard if you still have to put on a suit and report to work at the Abuse of Muggle Artifacts Office every day?
posted by steambadger at 1:09 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't remember if that line was in the book, but the sentiment certainly is.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the series is how, beneath and between all of the action and intrigue, you've really got a year-by-year account of teenagers being teenagers. They've got petty jealousies. They've got romantic hopes and worries and awkwardness and joy. They're concerned about their grades. Half-Blood Prince works so well because almost all of the high-fantasy is happening in the background while in the foreground, Harry-and-Ginny, Ron-and-Hermione (and Lavender) is all the rage. It is the last hurrah of kids defiantly being kids against all odds, before they have to make the conscious choice to be adults in the last book - a choice which provides a terrified and sorrowful tone for most of the final book.

This also makes Draco into a fascinating and tragic character in HBP, a kid whose choices have been stolen from him, who already has to be acting like an adult, and who isn't ready for that yet at all. His progression through the book, first of being cocky about receiving the honor of his task, then getting more and more paranoid and distrustful of the rightfulness of everything he'd been brought up to believe, but not totally recanting it either... god it's good.

The latest movie is very good, but I don't think it did as good a job as the book did of (SPOILERS) Draco, faced with a disfigured Harry, trying to keep Harry's blood off of his own hands as the walls closed around him. Just one of a few niggling details in what was probably the strongest of the film adaptations. (END SPOILERS)

Which is why this kind of facile and inaccurate criticism pisses me off so much. There's a lot there to criticize, but Rowling created a massive world of minute details, with secondary and tertiary characters having deep, rich histories filled with shades of gray. Nobody is perfect in this universe, and not even Voldemort is perfectly evil. (Okay, maybe he is, but HBP does a lot to inspire some sympathy for him.) It is a lived-in world that was going on for all history before our hero found it, and would keep going on forever afterwards. It is a world where everyone has their own desires and fears, and those only occasionally have anything to do with the grand battle between good and evil.

In other words, she creates a world worth caring about before putting it at risk, which is her major coup in this series. Maria Bustillos, on the other hand, has chosen some british-kids-lit trope that she doesn't love, blamed Rowling for it, and made up the rest basically by pulling it out of her ass. If you're going to try to take down something like this, at least know your stuff.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:18 PM on November 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, do you have a cite for that? I've heard entirely the opposite actually, that she had the entire story worked out before Book 1.

That's just an interpretation I heard somewhere from some friends. It makes sense to me, because the first two books are very disconnected from books 3-7, plot-wise. Sirius and Lupin are introduced in book 3, as well as other plot threads -- the notion of blood purity as a wedge between wizarding families, people that knew Potter's parents are still around (e.g. Pettigrew, and Snape as a target of James Potter's pranks), and there's a growing suspicion of a direct tie between Voldemort and Harry, more than just that "he's the boy who lived." Dobby pretty mch disappears as a main character after book 2. Gilderoy Lockhart is a primary villain in book 2, and he's dispatched from the main plot line, just as Quirrell was in book 1. Horcruxes aren't introduced until book 6, and oh by the way, the diary from book 2 was a Horcrux, only nobody knew it. Well, perhaps, nobody knew it because Jo Rowling hadn't thought of it yet ... in book 2, the main issue was "who is the heir to Slytherin?" which is also pretty much discarded after book 2.

In this light, the first two books appear to be one-offs. Side stories, if you will, to the main plot.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:21 PM on November 28, 2010


Next: Maria Bustillos finds hidden messages that rationalize aristocratic entitlements...in a plate of beans.

For crying out loud, the whole boarding school, dead parents, orphaned children, crime and mystery solving groups of friends, magical empowerment tropes have been staples of British adolescent media for decades and decades and decades. Rowling wasn't original, but she did do a fantastic job of combining all these popular and well-loved elements in an immersive work, written engagingly and charmingly.

And it's not about "having" to be chosen - the fantasy is about being chosen. Being special. Everyone wants to wield magical power to wash the dishes and smite their enemies.

And Hermione being Rowling's personal projection of herself? Puh-lease. True or not, Bustillos has no standing to make this charge. Well, no more than it would be for me to say that this is nothing more than Bustillos' resentment of Rowling's success oozing it's way to the surface.

Perhaps Bustillos could write a series of books about ordinary children who are left at home, while the chosen magical few are whisked away. Great idea! Except that nobody would want to read it.
posted by Xoebe at 1:25 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think what children's fantasy really needs is a book called something like:

Percy Weasley and the Departmental Sub-Committee

The plot would revolve around a sensible boy from a poor background who has no special abilities but works hard at school, plays by the rules, avoids all distractions and reckless adventures, and through his focus and efforts over many years finally gets a well-paid job working for a large organization.

I'm sure kids would be queuing round the block for it.
posted by philipy at 1:34 PM on November 28, 2010 [23 favorites]


I don't have much of a dog in the Harry Potter hunt; have seen the movies, not read the books because I don't have the time, generally like the movies up to the last one and I understand that's because the last one was telescoped too much. Not sure yet whether I will see this one.

That said, I think this sentence is the core of the OP article: Her volcanic ego burns down everything in its path. I also have no dog in the hunt for the truth of that statement about Rowling, but I do believe the entire article was written as a wrapper for that sentence.
posted by localroger at 1:36 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It amazes me people don't see that Dumbledore is playing Harry for a chump from the get, by making himself scarce whenever there's a chance to set up a life and death encounter between Harry and Voldemort.

The Prophecy, remember?

Dumbledore mainly fails to understand Harry's true advantage over Voldemort until the very end, and in some sense deserves everything that happens to him. He is anything but a loving mentor with the best interests of these children at heart; he is willing to sacrifice their lives at any moment to defeat Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

Harry Potter is, by the way, a classic Arthurian romance.
posted by jamjam at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2010


And Hermione being Rowling's personal projection of herself?

Kinda sorta, but it's more complex than that, according to Wikipedia. Hermione has elements Rowling as she was as young girl but Dumbledore is who she speaks through.
posted by nomadicink at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2010


I began and quickly quite reading the Potter nonsense. I have no quarrel with anyone wanting to read it and perhaps enjoying it. My daughter, 17, is now working her way through the lot and will not see the films till she has read the books, but the comments here lead me to believe that there is a confusion between and among:
1. the books themselves
2. the author's life and political perspective
3. the films based upon the books,
posted by Postroad at 1:56 PM on November 28, 2010


Also: almost any heroic story of good and evil is going to be conservative, isn't it? Absolute good and evil is what predicates a lot of conservative ideology. Liberalism is all about accepting the post-modern idea that good and evil don't exist in any meaningful way, and that human action usually is the product of circumstances and rationalization. Most children's stories are going to be conservative because they're all about representing the world in a simplified view to impart basic moral ideas. I think the books follow this too. It's almost like the author in the FPP never read beyond the first book (as others have said in this thread) because it becomes a lot more relativistic as the story progresses.
posted by codacorolla at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, my understanding of the throughline of the main plot (from interviews with Rowling on mugglenet) is that she had the option of inserting the darker elements in the first two books, but chose to delay the introductions.

For example, Chamber of Secrets was originally going to be called the Half-Blood Prince, and would have presented more of Snape's background, as well as the Heir of Slytherin.

I think it's important to remember that the books started out as appropriate for the younger audience, so the darker elements were delayed so that the reader's wouldn't be scared to death -- a basilisk and Aragog are heavy enough without adding Snape's abusive childhood.
posted by freshwater at 2:16 PM on November 28, 2010


Lovon' it.

When the conservatives call you a pansy and the liberals call you a defender of the old guard... When the Christians call you a witch and the witches roll their eyes at yet another Christ parable...

You know you've done something right.
posted by pla at 2:42 PM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Kids are also well aware that not everybody is born equal, and that, yes, some people are better at some things than others. Persuading and reassuring them that all is otherwise does result in America's children leading the world in self-confidence, but not much else.
posted by bonaldi at 3:03 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


The most conservative element of Harry Potter’s world is that it is a materialist paradise, full of costly and rare magical artifacts, invisibility cloaks and piles of “wizard gold” at Gringott’s Bank.
{gleam votaries of Iuz}

'Borgin and Burkes' has a nice coffee bar and free scry-fi!
posted by clavdivs at 3:08 PM on November 28, 2010


You sure mean a coffin bar?
posted by Namlit at 3:17 PM on November 28, 2010


♫Just repeat to yourself "it's just a show; I should really just relax..."♫
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:22 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even though I am not a big Harry Potter fan, this type of attack compels me to defend the series.

Harry's glorification for his natural (or supernatural) talents, rather than for his earnest labors, and that characters inherit a rung in a social hierarchy, gives the series its core of realism, in my opinion. Life rewards the athletic, the beautiful, the intelligent, the rich -- a state of affairs that even the most moderately advantaged children cannot help but notice.

What strikes me as "incredibly conservative" and regressive is Bustillos' view that the merit of children's fantasy literature must be judged through the narrow prism of interpreting and applying its political message to modern Western society. This makes me think that perhaps fiction isn't for her.

How would Tolkein fare by this standard? I mean, what did those pompous aristocratic elves ever do to be so special?
posted by knoyers at 4:05 PM on November 28, 2010


"I came to know more about being poor and isolated here than in any other city. It was in Edinburgh, rather than in Paris, London, Manchester or Oporto, all of which I inhabited during my nomadic twenties, that I became most acutely aware of the barriers, invisible and inflexible as bullet-proof glass, that separate those in the affluent and able-bodied mainstream of our society from those who, for whatever reason, live on the fringes"
This is Rowling speaking in the introduction to this book of short stories about the city. I live in Edinburgh and believe it is vital to understand something about the place when considering issues of class and conservatism in the Harry Potter books.

Edinburgh was maybe the world's original multi storey city: the rich would live on the upper floors of the old town, or around the castle, while the poor would be underground. (Rowling wrote at the Elephant House cafe - located in the old town and about half way up in this strata).Today the city remains sharply geographically demarcated on class lines in both real life and in its literature: we have Alexander McCall Smith's rather bourgeois Scotland Street novels in the affluent new town and Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting a few miles away in grim peripheral housing estates. Like in Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Body Snatcher" or James Hogg's "Confessions of a Justified Sinner" there have been many famous books inspired by the close proximity between opulent gentility and impoverished desperation.

In 2002 a branch of the high end shop Harvey Nichols opened in Edinburgh - and performed badly - Edinburgh is not like fashion-crazy Glasgow, the journalists explained- the wealthy people here like to spend their money on sending their kids to expensive private schools instead. Look along the skyline of the city and you will soon spot the gothic towers of Fettes school (which Rowling denies was a model for Hogwarts). Take a train ride into the countryside and you will come to Glenalmond - which has a better case as a template.

In fact I was a pupil and this school and much of the Harry Potter books read to me like a fly on the wall account of being there - with a layer of magic thrown in: fiercely competitive houses, sport obsession, tyrannical old-school teachers, sneaking off to the local village and so on. But also the whole conflict between aristocrats versus meritocrats with all the pretensions, feelings of entitlement and conservatism that goes with this.

Anyway: look to Edinburgh as inspiration for class division and educational practices in the book. In passing note that Tony Blair went to Fettes and Robbie Coltrane to Glenalmond.
posted by rongorongo at 4:17 PM on November 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm going to quote my entire comment that I posted on the original blog post a few days ago because I'm interested in hearing objections from MeFi.
I have slightly different interpretation, that Rowling's world represents a conflict between traditional aristocratic privilege assigned via birth (born to the right family) vs. capitalist meritocratic privilege assigned via… birth (winning the genetic lottery). What we can read in Harry Potter is that meritocracy is an affirmation of a hierarchical class system, it only means that you want it to be organized scientifically according to who has talent, perseverance, etc. The central political conflict of the series is the split in the wizarding community over whether the small percentage of muggles who demonstrate magical talent should be allowed to enter the ranks of the elites. That the anti-muggle side is represented as cruel, callous and immoral while the pro-muggle side is benevolent and wise only serves to legitimize their rule. Another disturbing aspect is how the benevolent rulers systematically conceal their existence, almost as if they are trying to avoid popular resentment from forming and threatening their rule. This is confirmed by the fact that, in the books, the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy that hide the wizarding world from the muggles was enacted in circumstances essentially similar to the French Revolution. Therefore it's possible to read the narrative as a kind of conservative alternate history where the aristocracy reacted to the rise of democracy by making themselves invisible and continuing to rule in secret, and this is called capitalism. The cynicism here is quite breathtaking: the elites publicly pretend to live in an egalitarian, democratic society, but they control everything behind the scenes. It's tempting to write the other side of the story: the muggles know of the existence of the magical elite, but they pretend not to know because they believe they will be chosen to join them.

We can look at this through the lens of Hegel's master-slave dialectic: the master is dependent on the slave for recognition, and lords it over him, building impressive castles and so on, because he needs an Other to confirm that he really is a master. Rowling's insight is that this is ultimately what undoes the elite class, because it generates popular resentment who then revolt. So the idea is that the good wizards are somehow free of this dialectic, they have high self-esteem, don't need recognition and don't need to dominate and rule the muggles.

For kids and adults who read the books, the political implications are that they are solicited to endorse the hierarchical status quo. As a reader, it neutralizes your alienation from the system to reinforce the system, by flattering you and reframing your alienation so it's not an effect of domination, instead its your specialness gone unrecognized. The flaw in the system is that it doesn't see that your rightful place is among the elites, so rather than finding solidarity with other alienated individuals and overthrowing the system, you end up in favor of the existence of the hierarchy in general, only taking issue with the fact that you and your unique gifts are unfairly excluded from it. But this part is what makes Rowling's solution to the master-slave dialectic false. The reader who identifies with Harry Potter desperately craves recognition of his or her specialness from the Other, symbolized by the owl arriving with a message from Hogwart's that he/she has been chosen. The other side of this coin, of recognition of one's superiority, is the essence of the fascist Voldemortian wizard supremacist ideology.

Rowling's solution is that the elites can demonstrate their superiority through high-minded benevolence towards the lower classes instead of dominating them, a kind of noblesse oblige, as in Dumbledore's belief that love is the most powerful form of magic, which Voldemort was unable to see. But historically this sort of thing has turned out to be false ideological screen that only legitimizes domination, so someone should rewrite the story to show that Voldemort and Dumbledore are secretly working together to dominate the muggle world.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:39 PM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Good Christ. Written by the twit who crapped herself at the sleepover. Beanplating for the class anxiety set.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:44 PM on November 28, 2010


Wizard People, Dear Reader
posted by mrgrimm at 4:46 PM on November 28, 2010


You know, I'm a little surprised at the seeming lack of attention to Rowling's creation of the four Hogwarts houses as a literary device, and looking at the books through that lens. What does it mean to be brave, intelligent, ambitious and ... Hufflepuff, which is apparently everyone else. Intelligent Ravenclaw is seemingly divorced from everyday affairs. Hard-working Hufflepuff is the proletariat, looked down upon by everyone (it's a surprise to everyone that Cedric Diggory is the chosen competitor in book 4). Gryffindor is brave, but McGonagal is hardly "brave," and is rather a voice of conservatism, rather than rugged individuality. But while Slytherin is supposed to be cunning and ambitious, it's a one-dimensional stand-in for all things bad. Besides Snape, there's not a "good" Slytherin to be seen.

What's up with that?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:01 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


immlass: If that's what he did with the book as published, mediareport, it's a change from what he said when he originally planned to publish the book, when he didn't refer to the contributions of other fans at all. Also I notice that the quote you repeat says nothing about compensation.

I wonder when he changed his mind about getting permission, then. I'd still love to see a link to more info about Vander Ark's behavior when he originally announced the book, like an archived livejournal discussion or an HP wiki somewhere or something.

two or three cars parked under the stars: Nobody who knew anything about the HP Lexicon case could say a thing like this about Vander Ark.

Can you give us a little more than that offhand dismissal? What exactly are you objecting to?
posted by mediareport at 5:08 PM on November 28, 2010


I was seventeen when the seventh Harry Potter book came out. This means that for all intents and purposes I am at the exact center of the Harry Potter generation, and therefore the words I say matter twice as much as anybody else's.

What genius there is in the Harry Potter series has entirely to do with its portrayal of the wizarding world as similarly mundane and boring to ours. Arthur Weasley in my opinion is one of the series' two defining characters: He's the wizard who works in government and secretly collects Muggle memorabilia because he's FASCINATED by our world. He's a geek who is as interested in us as we are in Harry Potter. Partly this is because — shades of Douglas Adams — our own Muggle world is hilariously fucked up, to the point where even getting on a subway is bizarrely difficult if you've never done it before.

The Muggle world is an absurd place that hurts Harry as a child because he exists outside of it; as he grows older and leaves it, Dudley and the Dursleys become more and more hilarious to him. Distance lets him realize that all the petty bullshit of their life is funny and somewhat meaningless; he moves away from fearing it and towards laughing at it, but then (as he reaches the end of his maturation) he starts to feel a certain fondness for it, and in Deathly Hallows he leaves the Muggle world for the last time on a bittersweet note. Gone is his original adolescent resentment; it is replaced with a certain nostalgia that we the readers share.

If you don't believe me you never read the first book, which gives us an entire chapter devoted to the Dursleys before Harry even enters. I don't care how much of an asshole snob you are (and, my fellow snob friends, I am right there with you), the opening line to Harry Potter is a masterful set-up for the rest of the series:

"Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

Contained in that sentence is such unpleasant, hostile banality that it still gives me the happy squirmlies. The mention of the exact street location (like we're meant to care), the pride in their normality, the snotty little rejoinder... it all summarizes that obsession with the mundane and the meaninglessness that so frequently turns cruel. It also lets us know that Harry Potter is not really about the magic spells, it's about the nature of the people that use them. Harry Potter's magic is only special because it doesn't make the people that have it special. They're still geeks and losers and bureaucrats and human beings. Just because Harry's got it doesn't make him special. He's special for entirely other reasons. In fact, he's a fairly mediocre magician, as Snape likes reminding Voldemort.

Harry is meant to be Rowling's ideal human because he does the right thing. Sometimes he doesn't know what the right thing is and fucks up. Sometimes he's a petty whiny bastard teen. But Rowling (and Dumbledore) suggests that that matters less than his heart. Voldemort, after all, is in many ways an exemplary person. He's a brilliant, innovative student, who teachers and students alike love. He's handsome and perfect. But he's incapable of caring about other people, and so all his wonderful characteristics mean nothing. What matters more than anything else is friendship, and the bonds people form. The rest is secondary.

In fact you can analyze any character in Harry Potter pretty much perfectly based on their relationships with other people. Dumbledore's great tragic weakness is that as a child he was more like Voldemort than he was like Harry Potter. Even as an adult he's pretty heartless. He sets up Harry to die, he mercilessly taunts Snape with memories of Harry's mother until Snape agrees to serve him. (Dumbledore's actions lead directly to Snape's eventual death.) Snape in turn is closer to Harry in the end than to Voldemort; for all his hatred and willingness to hurt others, he comes undone through his love for Lily, and finds himself incapable of dishonoring her memory.

The Ministry is evil, but they're a lesser evil: Cornelius Fudge represents the sort of man who's perfectly nice unless his career's in the way, at which point he'll abandon all the people who ought to matter to him. Dolores Umbridge, meanwhile, is the other defining character of the Harry Potter world. She's Arthur Weasley's foil, though the two characters never directly face off. She is the petty, trivial careerist who furthermore thinks that she's free to force her beliefs on the world. (Compare this to Arthur, who willingly sits in a dead-end job for his Muggle love, simply because he doesn't think success matters more than his passions.)

Harry Potter at its most sublime moments deals strictly with these relationships coming into conflict. Cedric's death in the fourth book, which gave me nightmares after I read it: It's not that he dies, it's how. Harry spends the whole book resenting him for being beautiful and intelligent and pretty much better than him in every way. Then they grab the cup, and Cedric is almost dismissively killed by Pettigrew, who doesn't even bother to look his way. All that wasted resentment and jealousy gone in an instant, for no other reason than that Cedric's there. It's the turning point of the series, and one of its best moments.

Then there's the "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" line at the end of Deathly Hallows, which would have justified the rest of the series even if it was wretched. Another moment of perspective just suddenly leveling: Molly Weasley cares in the abstract about the forces of evil and the war and all that, yeah, and she's a good person, but what really matters in the end is that you don't fucking touch somebody that she loves or she will tear you to goddamn pieces. Actually the entirety of the Deathly Hallows' closing is similarly wonderful, like when the Malfoys abandon the fight entirely and run screaming for their son, or when Hagrid has to carry the body of the boy he once delivered as a baby out of the woods, or when goddamn fatass Neville Longbottom who can't cast a spell to save his life still uses what he thinks is his last breath to taunt Voldemort, and pulls out the sword of Gryffindor and we realize, shit, Harry didn't get that sword because he's the chosen one, he got it because he was brave, and bravery is NOT a Master HP-exclusive domain. And a hundred other moments that all wrecked the fuck out of me on July 21 2007 (I read it twice that day and it was just as good the second time.)

People who mock the ending showdown between Harry and Voldemort are fucking imbeciles and I will fight them with every ounce of my former adolescence. Of course Harry doesn't duel Voldemort properly. That would be fucking boring and Harry would get ripped to shreds. In a fair fight Harry loses instantly. But the fight isn't fair. Voldemort doesn't have a choice. And he doesn't have that choice because he's sacrificed everything that matters for the sake of trivial worldly possessions. He gave up his wand and his soul because he wanted a better wand that a better wizard once possessed. Rather than killing Harry when he had the chance he decided to try and humiliate him and besmirch his name, which gave Harry the further protection that his mother had once given him. He even abandoned his boring Muggle name for something more exciting and unfulfilling, giving up his half-blood roots and ultimately losing everything. The whole point of that showdown is that Harry doesn't beat Voldemort. He just tells Voldemort that he's already lost. That Tom Riddle will never stop being Tom Riddle just because he turns his eyes red. That he's the same boy he was when he was an orphan, and just because he killed his family while Harry eventually comes to terms with them doesn't somehow stop that family from existing. Then Harry tries to disarm him because let's face it that's all he really knows how to do, and in the process Voldemort shoots himself. Because that's all he can do. He's out of other people to shoot, even if he hasn't realized it.

The series is nowhere near perfect. I wish there were more Muggles in it, for one. Also Rowling has occasional moments of complete stylistic ruinment that make me feel icky. But it's still a great series, and one whose themes run deeper than most people bother to notice because most people don't love the series nearly as much as they think they do (and other people just flat-out dislike it, but they can just pat themselves on the back for being as clever and discerning as Harold Bloom and his silly Western Canon).

I have to say that I'm disappointed in the movies. When I heard originally that Terry Gilliam offered to direct I was excited as fuck. Gilliam understands that contrast between the seemingly epic and the actually mundane. He could have given us a Harry Potter that was a geeky loser and convinced us that being a loser and a geek was okay. (Hell, Daniel Radcliffe could have stayed on as Harry and delivered that; Radcliffe is capable of that.) But instead we got director after director who insisted on turning the series into an epic, on eliminating all of the nuances and sticking us with the unsatisfying archetypal story that Harry Potter was never actually about. The epic format of the books was just a mask for a lot of teenage insecurity and slow, painful maturation and coming to terms with what the right and wrong ways to be a human being are. We get almost none of that in the movies.

And similarly I'm annoyed with the fandom. Not with the people like Harry and the Potters who fetishize the books — I'm all for book fetishizing. And not with the likes of Brad Neely, who manage to lampoon the series while still managing to be faithful to the things that make the books awesome. But the people who look at Harry Potter and only see magic spells and a castle and a wizard with a beard. Those are the people who missed all the good stuff and got only the cliche and made the world feel like the cliche was all that was there. Rowling was poking fun at the cliche a moment that wizard in emerald robes hugged Vernon Dursley in the streets, and by the time Ron mentioned he was missing his Ptolemy chocolate frog card anybody who missed the parallels Rowling was drawing either mistook Harry Potter for a much stupider book series than it was, or just plain missed out on all the really sweet bits.

------

Unrelated, I would like to recommend you all the YA Fantasy novel Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones. It too captures the same magic/mundane contrast that Harry Potter does, but it's much better-written and more English and relies more on old folklore. It's beautiful and enchanting and makes me cry and, when I was twelve years old, it was the first book to ever make me realize just what it means when somebody says a book cast a spell on them. It is still one of the finest books I have ever read.

Not that Harry Potter isn't great. It is. But yeasayers and naysayers alike I think would like Fire and Hemlock, and I would love that book to be much more recognized than it is.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:19 PM on November 28, 2010 [63 favorites]


Bad, self serving and just too late. Of course Harry Potter is a public school story, with all that goes along with it, but the idea that no-one noticed it before is just ridiculous. And the idea that children's books are devalued by being demogagic is equally silly. Yes, Alan Garner IS a better writer then Rowling, but this mean and boring little article is of value to no-one.
posted by howfar at 5:21 PM on November 28, 2010


Demagogic.
posted by howfar at 5:31 PM on November 28, 2010


Rowling's solution is that the elites can demonstrate their superiority through high-minded benevolence towards the lower classes instead of dominating them, a kind of noblesse oblige...historically this sort of thing has turned out to be false ideological screen that only legitimizes domination

Yeah, I'm totally sure that's just what Rowling was thinking.

"It's a sort of noblesse oblige, don't you th"Blimey!" exclaimed Ron exclaimedly.

"I think it's a false ideological screen that only legitimizes dominat "Er!" said Harry, again.

"He's trying to demonstrate his superiority through high-minded benevo "Well!" huffed Hermione, in a huff.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:37 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


knoyers: How would Tolkein fare by this standard? I mean, what did those pompous aristocratic elves ever do to be so special?

I don't want to get too far into Tolkien's fictional world because it all ends with shouting and burning houses and someone arguing that clearly there's an error in the family trees in Morgoth's Ring because the name is a Quenya noun in the allative and not the nominative, and therefore your mother is a whore.

That's why I'm gonna limit myself to one small, but I feel crucial, point of difference, between Tolkien's principal protagonists in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. Harry is chosen by fate (or prophecy, if you prefer) while Tolkien goes to considerable lengths to establish that chance lead the One Ring to Frodo.
posted by Kattullus at 5:38 PM on November 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


This article frustrates me, because I disagree with it as a whole, but can't exactly pick out any particular item that I agree with (apart from the axe-grindy tone).

On one hand, I think that the author might be projecting too much of her Calvinist-American worth ethic onto a decidedly European piece of fiction, while I also agree with the author that the idea of being "born into greatness" is devastatingly harmful to society. Rowling could have downplayed this without harming (or really, even affecting) the plot, and I was always a bit peeved that she didn't. (Sort of like how I was peeved about how she started spilling details about Dumbledore's character after the series was done. Such a missed opportunity to make a positive statement...)

The Conservative vs. Liberal argument that everybody is making here is a bit difficult to pick apart. I consider myself to be fairly politically-savvy, and despite the fact that I lived in the UK, and still follow their politics, I don't necessarily feel like I have a good grasp on what it means to be a Conservative or a Liberal in Britain, although I do have a strong feeling that those labels are completely separate from their American counterparts, and that any attempts to cram the UK political parties and the US parties onto a one-dimensional sliding scale of liberal/conservative-ness is a pointless and counterproductive exercise. (The only correct answer to "Are the Lib-Dems more/less conservative than Labour?" is "That's a stupid question, could you be more specific?")

Then there's the small issue that Labour was in power for decades. No party holds power for that long without becoming a bit crusty. In the most recent election, one could have very legitimately made the argument that the Tories were championing more progressive policies than Labour.

Even in the US, those labels don't make very much sense any more -- you'd be hard pressed to find a more vocal supporter of Medicare than the Republican party. Calling Rowling an "avowed Liberal" because of a donation to George Bush's friend, Tony Blair, and then calling her out for not firmly adhering to leftist politics in her works of fiction is moronic to the core.

Do I have a point here? Not really. However, I would strongly caution against making sweeping statments about British politics if your only understanding of their current state of affairs is the USAnian definition of "Liberal" and "Conservative." Maria Bustillos does hit some major chords of British issues such as the class struggle, although I think that she ultimately missed the mark.

Also, if you haven't read Philip Pullman, go do that now. Seriously. Stop reading this, and don't come back until you've finished the third book.

posted by schmod at 5:39 PM on November 28, 2010


Personally, I recently read The Hunger Games and liked it for all the reasons I disliked Harry Potter. Potter-haters (of which we apparently have many) should definitely give it a read!
posted by ErikaB at 5:42 PM on November 28, 2010


You know, I'm a little surprised at the seeming lack of attention to Rowling's creation of the four Hogwarts houses as a literary device, and looking at the books through that lens.

When Dumbledore tells Harry that "only a true Gryffindor" could have produced Godric's sword from the hat, we should hear it as "only a true Yale man".
posted by Joe Beese at 5:49 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


one small, but I feel crucial, point of difference, between Tolkien's principal protagonists in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter

The latter, to the best of my the knowledge, would not believe that what is needed to win one's war against evil forces is having the right monarch on the throne.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:59 PM on November 28, 2010


I wonder when he changed his mind about getting permission, then.

That may have been part of the outcome of the trial. Up until the trial, nobody had any solid idea of what was going to be in the books; this was part of the problem that led to the suit. It was going to be "what was on the web site" which is the essays, which SVA hadn't cleared, and the lexicon itself, which quoted the books so extensively that there was very little new/paraphrased material.

I'd read through the fandom_wank Harry Potter memories with dates in 2008 and 2009 if I were looking for the best coverage of the whole thing. There's a lot of editorializing in the posts (and even more in the comments) but the links are solid.
posted by immlass at 6:00 PM on November 28, 2010


Also, if you haven't read Philip Pullman, go do that now. Seriously. Stop reading this, and don't come back until you've finished the third book.

I hated the His Dark Materials trilogy for many reasons: they're basically a screed, they're preachy, they take every chance they can get to have someone make the author's point, the writing gets progressively out of control until the story comes apart at the seems. Sadly, I felt the same way reading His Dark Materials as I did reading Atlas Shrugged: the writer needs to chill and have more respect for the readers intellect and imagination.

one small, but I feel crucial, point of difference, between Tolkien's principal protagonists in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter

Even in the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf continually admonishes Frodo (and Bilbo before him) for assuming that luck is what is causing the confluence of events. Just as bad things happen due to the innate weakness of individuals and the malignancy of Dark Powers (the Fall of Númenor, the survival of the One Ring, the corruption of Saruman) good things are the result of the goodness in people and an invisible beneficence that guides the world. One aspect that is repeated in every single volume is the fact that continually sparing Gollum (even when it made no sense what-so-ever) is the only reason the Ring was destroyed. Frodo obviously couldn't have known that at the time. But as Gandalf points out, there are other powers at work in Middle-Earth rather than just those of evil. There is a world vision that seems like random chance to the individual but is actually is the goodness of the Earth made manifest.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:15 PM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


The latter, to the best of my the knowledge, would not believe that what is needed to win one's war against evil forces is having the right monarch on the throne.

I think the idea was that the right monarch could only be restored because the evil forces had to be battled both internally and externally. It's like a reverse of King Lear's story.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:17 PM on November 28, 2010


> Kid's aren't equipped to understand that sometimes, some of those rules adults give them are for their own good.
> posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on November 28 [10 favorites +] [!]

You do recall what country Harry Potter is set in, right?


Pencil sharpeners redesigned to prevent use as weapons.
Fire extinguishers banned as fire safety hazard.
Three-year-olds among 250,000 British children reported as racist under Race Relations Act 2000.
Graduates asked not to throw morterboard hats in air. Safety risk.
Schools switching to clip-on ties. Tied ties pose strangulation risk.
Per Worcester City Council, ice cream van jingle is noise pollution.
Boy, 6, ordered to stop building pebble dams in stream. Flash flood risk.
Boy aged 2 accused of verbally abusing adults.
16-year-old banned from using vacuum cleaner under health and safety rules.

The are the first few links to come to hand of recent instances of Adult Says Kid Must Wear Underpants On Head For Own Good, out of (as Carl Sagan used to say) billions and billions and billions.
posted by jfuller at 6:39 PM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


The fandomwank wiki has a pretty thorough page on Lexicongate, though it is a lot of reading if you want to get through it all.
posted by kmz at 7:12 PM on November 28, 2010


There's something about monarchy.

Also:
In the opening natter to one of Asimov's F&SF essays, he relates a conversation with a woman who thought it would be wonderful to have lived "in the days when we could get good servants." Asimov replied that no, it would be terrible! Why do you say that, the woman wanted to know.

"Because we'd be the servants."

posted by dhartung at 7:52 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks, immlass. Someone memailed me this page, which links this, which both make a pretty good case that Vander Ark's side said contradictory things and then probably backtracked on the issue of essays from other contributors who weren't asked for permission to have their stuff included in the print version. Thanks, that helps me understand the criticisms of Bustillos' version of the story here.
posted by mediareport at 8:00 PM on November 28, 2010


Tolkien goes to considerable lengths to establish that chance lead the One Ring to Frodo.

Not exactly.

But let's not get into the whole Tolkien-was-a-whatever debate here as well.
posted by philipy at 8:14 PM on November 28, 2010


Regardless of anything else in the article, the author's opinion of Hermione seems to come entirely from the movies, as vast chunks of dialogue that belonged to other characters are given to Hermione, and scenes that never existed are created simply to feature her. For what reasons, I don't know, but it's frustrating as hell that the character gets far more focus in the movies than in the books. Not that she's a minor character in the books, but Jesus Christ, the role of Ron Weasley is quite literally *reduced* to comic relief in the films, because every single thing Ron does that is not flat-out comedy in the novels is either a) cut, or b) given to Hermione to do/say instead.
posted by tzikeh at 8:33 PM on November 28, 2010


And [Voldemort] doesn't have that choice because he's sacrificed everything that matters for the sake of trivial worldly possessions.

I actually don't think it's about possessions for Voldemort, though he is very worldly in another way. He's not greedy, just scared. The driving force behind so many of his evil actions, beginning with the Horcruxes when he's still just a teenager, is his inability to accept that he must leave this (or rather, that) world, and die.

Death is serious business in Harry Potter. Rowling uses it in two ways. Sometimes it's a just a monster: blind, swift, arbitrary and cruel, it takes the lives of Cedric, Sirius, Hedwig, etc in a brutal instant, without any purpose. But other times, it's anticipated and deliberately chosen, and then it becomes a powerful weapon. The best and most useful act of heroism in the books is to die gracefully and willingly. You see it in the Deathly Hallows fable, where the first two Peverell brothers try to control death and end up in the ground in short order, while the third keeps his head down and dies gladly when it's time, departing the world as Death's equal. But it's huge in the rest of the series too. It's fine, in these books, to have a master plan sometimes, but when things get serious, somebody's got to lay down their life. The greatest things that happen - Lily protecting her son from the curse that should have killed him, Harry keeping the whole world from being taken over and fucked up completely - get done not through strength or talent or cleverness, but through sacrifice. Dumbledore also accomplishes great things by choosing to die.

And Voldemort is totally incapable of any of this because he is terrified of death, not because he loves stuff. (Which I don't think he does actually - look at the latest movie, and all those Death Eaters sitting on hard chairs in the cold and the dark all the time. Evil people can't get a lamp?) In fact he would destroy absolutely anything, up to his body, up to his soul, to preserve his life.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:03 PM on November 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


I wonder what would have happened if Rowling took Harry Potter the way of Rand al'Thor, and had him go raving mad halfway through the series, while Ron and Hermionie struggled to keep him lucid enough to kill Voldermort without destroying the world, or becoming Voldermort in the process.

Oh, how much potential that series had...
posted by schmod at 9:28 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Harry is chosen by fate (or prophecy, if you prefer) while Tolkien goes to considerable lengths to establish that chance lead the One Ring to Frodo.

This takes some deep reading to suss out, mind you, and so maybe isn't an adequate refutation to this claim, but in fact chance really does lead to Harry's predicament, a fact which becomes part of his character in later books. I actually wrote an essay for Mugglenet about this years ago, before HBP more or less confirmed my thoughts on the matter (Geek win!) but basically:

We have knowledge of two prophecies within the HP universe, both spoken by Trelawny, and both in a trance state. The first one we come across states that Voldemort's servant will rejoin his master that night, making him more powerful than ever. The other one is the prophecy stating that Voldemort's nemesis will be born at the end of July, with power "the Dark Lord knows not, and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal."

Now, because they are prophecies, they seem very much like fate, but here's the interesting thing: both are heard by someone highly invested in keeping them from coming true, and it is only by the actions of that person that they come true at all.

In thinking that Sirius is the "servant," the trio chase him into the Shrieking Shack, leading to Scabbers' unmasking and flight to Voldemort. When Snape overhears the first prophecy, he rushes to tell Voldemort and curry favor. We learn that Voldemort could have chosen the pure-blood Neville Longbottom, but instead sought out his fellow half-blood Harry, thus fulfilling the prophecy by trying to fight it. But actions are the key here, not random happenstance. all of this leads to maybe my favorite passage in the series, quoted here at length.
"But Sir," said Harry, making valiant efforts not to sound argumentative, "it all comes down to the same thing, doesn't it? I've got to try to kill him, or-"

"Got to?" said Dumbledore. "Of course you've got to! But not because of the prophecy! Because you, yourself, will never rest until you've tried! Imagine, please, just for a moment, that you had never heard that prophecy! How would you feel about Voldemort now? Think!"

Harry watched Dumbledore striding up and down in front of him and thought. He thought of his mother, his father, and Sirius. He thought of Cedric Diggory. He thought of all the terrible deeds he knew Lord Voldemort had done. A flame seemed to leap inside his chest, searing his throat.

"I'd want him finished," said Harry quietly. "And I'd want to do it."

"Of course you would!," cried Dumbledore. "You see, the prophecy does not mean you have to do anything! But the prophecy cause Lord Voldemort to mark you as his equal... In other words, you are free to choose your way, quite free to turn your back on the prophecy! But Voldemort continues to set store by the prophecy. He will continue to hunt you... which makes it certain, really, that-"

"That one of us is going to end up killing the other," said Harry. "Yes."

But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:06 PM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ugh, this shoddy critique of Harry Potter reminds me of some of the garbage essays I would write back in school with looming deadlines and the lack of motivation to do any real research on the topic on hand.
posted by Schwartz_User at 12:20 AM on November 29, 2010


The thing that bothers me and keeps raising its head is the disempowerment of the characters via the magic.

If Hogwarts taught maths the way it teaches magic, and to save the day the gang is faced with the mathematical riddle "What is 6 times 4?", then;

Ron would shrug his shoulders, because he knows 6 times 3, and 6 times 5, but was home sick the day they learned 6 times 4.
Hermione would start leafing through a book, because she knows that a multiplication should contain the answer.
Harry wouldn't even understand the question, but would close his eyes, and somehow divine "24".

None of them would understand the maths or be able to work out the answer themselves, because it's magic - it's inscrutable. It just is.

In deathy hallows, they were trying to destroy a locket, and none of their spells could manage to harm it. No-one pondered why it was immune to their spells, no-one thinks beyond "because it's magic, that's why". No-one tried to figure out how it was put together, and from this deduce how it could be taken apart. They are helpless to solve problems with their brains. Eventually one of them remembered something they had done previously that had worked.

The world of magic is the world of helplessness, where problem are not solved by solving them, but by searching the past for solutions devised and left by someone else.

(How these people from the past ever created these solutions is not addressed, I can only assume that they didn't go to Hogwarts and got a genuine education. Or that the Hogwarts curriculum has been changed to render its students helpless)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:09 AM on November 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


(I see this intellectual helplessness and incuriousity riddling the whole series, the locket example I gave probably isn't the best example, but I've just come back from watching the Deathly Hallows film, so that's one of the ones that was bugging me)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:16 AM on November 29, 2010


Joe Beese: "one small, but I feel crucial, point of difference, between Tolkien's principal protagonists in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter

The latter, to the best of my the knowledge, would not believe that what is needed to win one's war against evil forces is having the right monarch on the throne.
"

Spoken like a man who hasn't actually read the books - you're aware, I take it, that the books end with Harry Potter taking a civil service job in the wizarding world equivalent of Scotland Yard, rather than ascending to High Wizarding Poo-Bah?

Deeply silly article taking a torturous logical rollercoaster to an absurd conclusion.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:01 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Happy Dave : you're aware, I take it, that the books end with Harry Potter taking a civil service job in the wizarding world equivalent of Scotland Yard, rather than ascending to High Wizarding Poo-Bah?

A great many fans of the series consider the last chapter non-canonical. Like SW:III, it doesn't matter if the author actually wrote it, it sucks and doesn't belong there.
posted by pla at 3:22 AM on November 29, 2010


Regardless, The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a really good satire of both Harry Potter, and the entire children's fantasy literature genre.

This.
posted by acb at 4:08 AM on November 29, 2010


Anyone who considers something written by the author non-canonical is probably unfamiliar with the meaning of the word. While I'd agree that a lot of the loose ends were tied up a little too neatly in that epilogue, it was written by J.K. Rowling and is hence the very definition of Harry Potter canon.

And I think the greater point (that Harry's 'Chosen One' status does not lead him to become Ruler of the Wizards and the 'Good King' version of Voldemort, and hence the whole idea of a 'Chosen One' is not an implicit approval of monarchism) stands despite the howls of uberfans determined that Harry would end up married to Cho Chang or whatever.

Not that will stop a million fanfic rewrites.

Honestly, sometimes I think Americans take the idea of our monarchy and the effect it's had on British culture waaaay more seriously than we do. We're not all compulsive forelock tugging feudalists y'know.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:10 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Happy Dave: Spoken like a man who hasn't actually read the books - you're aware, I take it, that the books end with Harry Potter taking a civil service job in the wizarding world equivalent of Scotland Yard, rather than ascending to High Wizarding Poo-Bah?

Joe Beese was talking about Lord of the Rings ending with Aragorn becoming king, and that in Harry Potter that doesn't happen.

philippy: Not exactly.

But let's not get into the whole Tolkien-was-a-whatever debate here as well.


Yes let's not, but I'll just make the point that we could argue fate vs. chance in LotR until we're blue in the face because both readings are plausible (though my own view is that, the quoted passage aside, Tolkien goes out of his way to establish that Frodo ends up with the ring by chance and while I'm at it, Gandalf is frequently wrong, in fact, very often, so often that the first volume might as well be called "Gandalf Fucks Things Up").

Happy Dave: Honestly, sometimes I think Americans take the idea of our monarchy and the effect it's had on British culture waaaay more seriously than we do. We're not all compulsive forelock tugging feudalists y'know.

In any other time I would agree completely, but that sentiment has been undermined somewhat by how y'all have lost your collective shit over Prince William getting married to Kate Middleton.
posted by Kattullus at 5:17 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kattullus: "

Joe Beese was talking about Lord of the Rings ending with Aragorn becoming king, and that in Harry Potter that doesn't happen.

Ah, fair enough, my misreading.


In any other time I would agree completely, but that sentiment has been undermined somewhat by how y'all have lost your collective shit over Prince William getting married to Kate Middleton."

I suspect you're conflating the British media and the relatively small minority of people who buy the Express every time they put Diana on the cover with the other 58 million of us.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:38 AM on November 29, 2010


Anyone who considers something written by the author non-canonical is probably unfamiliar with the meaning of the word.

Nope. It's possible for a book or film series that is much beloved by its fans to be better and more thoroughly understood by its fans than it is by its creator. In which case, it's possible for the author to create a non-canonical chapter or scene or whatever by being mistaken about something to do with the franchise. In addition to creating things that are non-canonical by intent, such as the Halloween episodes of the Simpsons, or the What-If Machine / Finglonger eps of Futurama.

At the extreme, Lucas says Greedo shot first, but this is non-canonical and incorrect. I imagine a fan who was more interested could tell you why Lucas's "canon" that people are strong with the Force because they're infested with tiny bugs is also not merely stupid but actually non-canonically stupid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:18 AM on November 29, 2010


Canon implies that it's from an authorized source and thus the author (or someone he has placed with his authority) determines what is canon or not. You can say that you didn't like the last couple pages of Deathly Hallows, but you're in no position to determine what is canon or not. Ignore it if you wish, but do not insist that you have more authority than the author as far as legitimacy.

(Wow, between "authority", "authorized", and "author", I think I'm overusing the root.)
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:30 AM on November 29, 2010


ROU_Xenophobe: "Nope. It's possible for a book or film series that is much beloved by its fans to be better and more thoroughly understood by its fans than it is by its creator. In which case, it's possible for the author to create a non-canonical chapter or scene or whatever by being mistaken about something to do with the franchise. In addition to creating things that are non-canonical by intent, such as the Halloween episodes of the Simpsons, or the What-If Machine / Finglonger eps of Futurama."

Wuh? I get what you're saying about non-canonical by intent (i.e. Treehouse of Horror), but fans having a better and more thorough understanding than a series creator is, well, it's impossible, given that they only have access to the output of the author, whereas the author has their own brain, reams of notes, backstory and other ephemera that will never see the light of day.

Everything that fans think is correct or better or what have you is ultimately interpretation. Only an author can truly know their own text and decide what is 'real' or not in the universe they create. Fans can cover their ears and go 'lalalala' as much as they like and post a million furious refutations on their blogs, but it's J.K. Rowling's trainset - if she says Harry married Gini and became an Auror with oddly named kids, that's canon.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:20 AM on November 29, 2010


because the name is a Quenya noun in the allative and not the nominative, and therefore your mother is a whore

I love you, Kattullus.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:57 AM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The concept of "canon" is merely a fan's way of deciding "what counts".

This makes the fan - not the author - the supreme authority.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:04 AM on November 29, 2010


The concept of "canon" is merely a fan's way of deciding "what counts".

This makes the fan - not the author - the supreme authority.


That doesn't follow. The author is by default the authority. Which fan? A consensus? What if there (as is in many cases) a disagreement among fans on what counts or not? There isn't any voting. I enjoy SW Episode III; is someone going to tell me it's not canonical? In lieu of any other governing body, the author remains sole dictator of what is legitimately part of his created canon. This, of course, does not mean that his decisions are smart or that what he creates is good.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:20 AM on November 29, 2010


Remember that fourth book of the Earthsea trilogy that Le Guin published after a lapse of eighteen years?

Non-canonical.


Somewhat more seriously,

> given that they only have access to the output of the author, whereas the author has their
> own brain, reams of notes, backstory and other ephemera that will never see the light of day.

So what happens if somebody I'll call Christopher Tolkien ransacks all those notes, half-finished stories, and grocery lists and peddles it all to a publisher with JRRT's name on it? Who decides which of all that is canonical? Answer: I do.
posted by jfuller at 9:27 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a semantic argument here about the meaning of the term canon.

There's two kinds of canon being discussed. The first is, "what's in the work," and the other is "what we think the work means."

Look at this way: Rowling herself said in an interview that she thought Dumbledore was gay, but there's nothing definitive in the work that speaks to that -- not even the "his ideas inflamed me" line about Grindlewald. So, "Dumbledore is gay" cannot be the same kind of "canon" as "Ron Weasley has red hair."

The epilogue is actually in the book. It's "red hair canon." You can have fun arguments about other kinds of canon (which is really just interpretation), but you can't argue with red hair canon.

Take this from me, the Ferris Bueller / Fight Club guy. Try to keep the nerd boots off the table. ;-)
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:32 AM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Only an author can truly know their own text

So non meta.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:32 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


but fans having a better and more thorough understanding than a series creator is, well, it's impossible

In serious art academia, this view is generally considered wrong. A work of art stands on its own merits, and once produced, the artist's intentions may be interesting, may offer interesting insights, but ultimately do not define the artwork. If an artist creates a story that is a fantastic metaphor for something, and would be mediocre otherwise, it does not matter if the artist did this by accident and had no knowledge or intention of it, the fact that the artwork works in this way - stands on it own feet, regardless of how it came to be produced - is what matters.

Authors intentions are interesting, but ultimately not relevant.

In this case, yes, it's a bit of an odd case to be arguing, but it seemed relevant to note that an author is generally not seen as the final authority by academia.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:41 AM on November 29, 2010


I'm on the fence about the "author is the final authority" question. Certainly, they can speak to intent and the work better than I can.

But Philip K. Dick was insane. Charles Bukowski was a drunk. Stieg Larsson died before the "Dragon Tattoo" series was even published. It's hard to imagine these authors having anything really useful to say about their own work. ;-)

Heck, Stephen King says he was so high, he can't even remember writing Cujo...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:14 AM on November 29, 2010


I'm firmly against criticizing ancient works for their outdated morality, well ideally even modern stories should even use the morality of their historical setting when appropriate. A work set in the modern day like Harry Potter should however be expected to deliver modern morality.

Worse yet, both Maria Bustillos and immlass are correct. Harry Potter couples the worst of middle class morality with elitism. But isn't elitism exactly what the middle class wants? Just look what they did to classical music!
posted by jeffburdges at 10:19 AM on November 29, 2010


Cool Papa Bell: Certainly, they can speak to intent and the work better than I can.

Intent, certainly, but having all that extra matter in the head can cloud an author's interpretation of their work as it is.
posted by Kattullus at 10:20 AM on November 29, 2010


I'm not saying that an author can control his or her work in the public sphere as far as criticism and appreciation. Of course, that depends on the literary critical method too as things like New Criticism are much more likely to see only the work and not the author.

However, I was speaking of canon which IS determined by the author. The author might have no idea what's she talking about, but the canonical list is still hers to control, just as much as publication and copyright is (she, of course, can transfer this).
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:31 AM on November 29, 2010


What are you gonna do, Lord Chancellor, tell on us?
posted by Gator at 10:37 AM on November 29, 2010


fans having a better and more thorough understanding than a series creator is, well, it's impossible

No, Greedo didn't shoot first. Even after Lucas rediddled it to make it so that Greedo shot first, Greedo still didn't shoot first, even though he did. I don't just know this because I saw the original. I know this because, like a lot of people my age, I know Star Wars and the character of Han Solo better than Lucas does. I get it and get him in ways that Lucas does not, even though he created them.

In the appropriate case, it's entirely possible for fans of Harry Potter to have a better sense of what he would have done -- who he would have married, what he might have named his children, what kind of person he would finally have grown to be as a result of his choices as an adolescent -- than Rowling did. In that case, Rowling can be wrong about what Harry would have done, even though she made Harry do it in the text. In the case of a severe enough error, fans wouldn't be crazy to discount what the author said and treat the text as not having happened, even if it did.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:02 AM on November 29, 2010


What are you gonna do, Lord Chancellor, tell on us?

Nope. Saying it's not canon doesn't make it so. The entire point is that your view on something being canon is irrelevant for the purposes of determining canon. It is, of course, not canon for the purposes of taste though. I shan't be informing the Authorial Authority Agency of your infraction though.

And yes, I can feel that a character took a wrong turn, but I'm in just as much position to determine the published history of JK Rowlings characters as she is to determine my mortgage.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 11:19 AM on November 29, 2010


... I thought it was possible that this thread would go in any number of different directions, but I will admit that seeing classic Derridaian deconstruction theory applied to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in an attempt to demonstrate that Harry never married Ginny was really not one of them.
posted by kyrademon at 11:19 AM on November 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


Welcome to MetaFilter. No plate of beans too small!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:26 AM on November 29, 2010


(I see this intellectual helplessness and incuriousity riddling the whole series, the locket example I gave probably isn't the best example, but I've just come back from watching the Deathly Hallows film, so that's one of the ones that was bugging me)

You're not alone. This topic's been given plenty of treatment in fanfiction, and is part of why HP fandom is so popular. Tons of material to work with, and tons of big problems to address.
posted by asperity at 11:48 AM on November 29, 2010


I was speaking of canon which IS determined by the author

What happens when the author dies and we find a text that may or may not have been written by her?

Who decides whether than unpublished piece is "in the canon"?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:37 PM on November 29, 2010


Well, just like the UN switching it's recognition from Republic of China to People's Republic of China, that's a procedural determination, not one rooted in exercise of legitimacy. That (very rare) example would be scholars trying to figure out who is the author, not saying the author doesn't have the authority to add to his or her corpus with previous unknown works.

And, yes, there's always strange examples out there, but in general, I feel the author has control over their manuscript. They are the legitimate power over their work (or a company if the original author has either sold the rights, endorsed someone else a la Wheel of Time, or the work was originally developed by a company in the first time like Star Trek). They obviously can't control much more than that, but I'll given 'em that.

And no, I hate Rocky V as much as the next guy, and I don't tend to remember it when I think of the Rocky films. But it is canon until an official source retconns it out of existence. And yes, although illegitimate, a fan-made Rocky V would probably be better than the normal one.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:29 PM on November 29, 2010


Lord Chancellor, I don't think any of us have quite got the gist of the point you're trying to make, here. Can you perhaps say some more words on the subject of canon, that we might better understand your feelings on the matter?
posted by Gator at 1:31 PM on November 29, 2010


I was replying to questions posed, Gator.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:41 PM on November 29, 2010


And I think the greater point (that Harry's 'Chosen One' status does not lead him to become Ruler of the Wizards and the 'Good King' version of Voldemort, and hence the whole idea of a 'Chosen One' is not an implicit approval of monarchism) stands despite the howls of uberfans

Right from the very beginning of the series, Rowling's depiction of Harry draws heavily on a familiar narrative: the rightful heir overcomes the usurper and is restored to the throne to rule. (I think most underdog stories are retellings of this story, which is why they are fundamentally conservative.) The fans are upset because at the very last moment, she takes a left turn and avoids this conclusion, returning Harry to a state of relative ordinariness, but the cost is an emotionally unsatisfying ending and the fans feel deprived. In contrast, Frodo returning to the shire is a relief, because his story is the unwilling hero thrust into the role by circumstance. But really, she has no other choice, because she wants to indulge our narcissistic dreams of specialness and belief in our own exception, which leads her to endorse a meritocratic hierarchical social organization. Her premise is that this doesn’t necessarily lead to outright domination by the elite class, as long as they have “love”, so Harry obviously cannot end up as the Wizard King. This is because she wants to deny that specialness is a dangerous form of will to power, for her it’s a demand for love and recognition of who you are which ought to be fulfilled. Overcoming Voldemort should have been a rite similar to pulling the sword from the stone, an objective recognition of his specialness that finally and indisputably proves that he is the true king. Rowling is almost saying that despite this, he still has no right to be the king, and her fans say “Why would you spend 7 books making us feel that he ought to be the king and then not make him the king?” They’re right, this is implausible.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:57 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm by no means a huge Harry Potter fan, and quite frankly, finished the books just because I am a completionist, but I did find that the ending was rather more satisfying than if Harry had become the One King To Rule Them All.

That may be, however, because I am weird.
posted by lizarrd at 2:02 PM on November 29, 2010


I did find that the ending was rather more satisfying than if Harry had become the One King To Rule Them All.

I was hoping that the Shire Was Saved, but Not For Harry. Sadly, though, Rowling wasn't interested in the Ringbearer ending for Harry. He might not have ended up King, but he did end up as a solid bureaucrat with a lovely middle-class wife and 3.5 kids, and probably a white picket fence to go with.
posted by immlass at 2:38 PM on November 29, 2010


I'm by no means a huge Harry Potter fan, and quite frankly, finished the books just because I am a completionist, but I did find that the ending was rather more satisfying than if Harry had become the One King To Rule Them All.


I don't follow the fandom at all, but I'm seriously flabbergasted that anyone thought this was a possibility, much less the desired result.

The entire goddamn character is set up wanting a family. That's why the Dursleys are terrible, why he adores Dumbledore, why he envies Ron, why he selfishly tries to save Sirius. JK Rowling isn't subtle, people.

How else does the series end other than Harry doing what he's always done (fighting the corrupt and amoral) and what he's always wanted (a family)? He's the minister of magic? Harry shows disdain for the ministry by and large. He's the headmaster of hogwarts? Harry is never an academic or especially talented wizard (outside of defence against the dark arts). Harry is the wizard god-king that unites the muggle and wizarding worlds? Ehhhhh....

The whole point of Harry is that he's a decent person who never wanted to be famous, and mostly acts to protect the people and things that he loves. The fact that he becomes a wizard-policeman and moves to the wizard-suburbs at the end is perfectly consistent and pretty telegraphed from the beginning.

Although I will say that I'd have respected Rowling if she killed him. Another whole can of flobberworms right there.
posted by codacorolla at 2:58 PM on November 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Overcoming Voldemort should have been a rite similar to pulling the sword from the stone, an objective recognition of his specialness that finally and indisputably proves that he is the true king. Rowling is almost saying that despite this, he still has no right to be the king, and her fans say “Why would you spend 7 books making us feel that he ought to be the king and then not make him the king?” They’re right, this is implausible.

That's what people said about George Washington and the Continental Army, too. Implausible or not, sometimes the story doesn't end that way.
posted by vorfeed at 2:59 PM on November 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't necessarily think authors are always right--my mental ending of BSG is never going to be the one that actually aired--but in this case, if it had ended otherwise I would have felt terrible for poor Harry. He never wanted to be famous, powerful, fabulously wealthy. I think giving him that would have been about as sad an ending as you could get. Go back to the very beginning: What did Harry first see in the Mirror of Erised? A family.

To end on that note, given that the series begins with his separation from the people who love him, seems like the only appropriate thing.

No comment on the names of his kids, though.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:22 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and I hold off hitting post to grab food and codacorolla steals my brain cell.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:23 PM on November 29, 2010


Harry is not King Arthur.

Harry is Galahad, worthy of the Holy Grail because of the integrity and purity of his spirit.

Only Harry of all wizards and witches has the strength and loving goodness to possess the 'killing stick' (and the cloak and ring) and by refusing to use it remove its malevolent influence from the world for all time.

I think Rowling fails to give Hermione her due when she makes her question Harry's determination to put aside the killing stick. I didn't care for that at all.

As far as any kind of free will is concerned, Harry Potter's characters make Tolkien's look like so many very large insects in amber.
posted by jamjam at 3:28 PM on November 29, 2010


After reading the last book my main complaint was that it didn't hurt enough (I have a similar but slightly different complaint about LotR, but nevermind). It would've been more narratively satisfying for me, if psychologically more scarring, to have one of the central three die, especially either Ron or Hermione. I didn't quite get the catharsis I longed for.

It would also have been sufficiently cathartic for me if Neville Longbottom perished in his act of bravery.
posted by Kattullus at 4:23 PM on November 29, 2010


It would also have been sufficiently cathartic for me if Neville Longbottom perished in his act of bravery.

You have a heart made of pure glacier ice, don't you?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:26 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lord Chancellor : Nope. Saying it's not canon doesn't make it so. [...] I'm in just as much position to determine the published history of JK Rowlings characters as she is to determine my mortgage.

Think of it from this angle - Authors make continuity errors, yes? JKL, interestingly enough, even has a reputation for minor revisions between editions to correct some of the worse ones (which leads to the obvious, "which counts as canon, 1st or most recent edition?")

Well, if they can forget that a character lost her shoes the previous chapter and never leaves the forest before throwing a shoe at the monster, why can't they make conceptual continuity errors?

It counts as no less "wrong" to wave the narrative wand and turn a character into someone else entirely in the interest of a happy ending, than it does to have their dress change color (for nonmagical reasons) mid-scene.
posted by pla at 4:38 PM on November 29, 2010


Any contradictions in the canon could be dealt with by saying "A wizard did it."

Seriously. You could say that, right?
posted by Joe Beese at 6:14 PM on November 29, 2010


one small, but I feel crucial, point of difference, between Tolkien's principal protagonists in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter

The latter, to the best of my the knowledge, would not believe that what is needed to win one's war against evil forces is having the right monarch on the throne.


Fascinating. I'd be intrigued to read your parallel-universe copy of The Lord of the Rings, where victory hinged not on the destruction of the artifact of power but on getting Aragorn on the throne.
posted by rodgerd at 12:04 AM on November 30, 2010


rodgerd : Fascinating. I'd be intrigued to read your parallel-universe copy of The Lord of the Rings, where victory hinged not on the destruction of the artifact of power but on getting Aragorn on the throne.

These didn't happen as entirely separate events. The One Ring had the power to shift the balance, but Sauron had still made quite good progress entirely by (relatively) mundane means.

"Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur's Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.
"

In order to properly win, the good guys needed to not only end the Third Age with the destruction of the ring, but to unite the mortal world under a single benevolent ruler to secure a military victory as well.
posted by pla at 3:32 AM on November 30, 2010


Isn't Islidur's Bane the One Ring?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:11 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lord Chancellor : Isn't Islidur's Bane the One Ring?

Yeah, I screwed up the bolding. I wanted the first line as well as the last two.

Basically, 90% of the entire story has no purpose if it just takes destroying the ring... Chop out everything from Gandalf's return to the Shire through book five, gloss all the book six battles over as Sauron-bait, and bam, you have the central plot tidily wrapped up. Get rid of the annoying Hobbits and just have a giant eagle drop the ring in a crack on Mt. Doom right up front, and the whole thing reduces to a short story.

UNLESS... You need the silly mortal races to come together to actually accomplish something rather than just entertain Mr. Spooky.
posted by pla at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2010


Yeah, Harry's wish is to have a family. But the reason I more than forgive, but sort of love the epilogue, is that 1.) it is written in the same style as the first book, suggesting a new generation of witches and wizards, and 2.) that it shows an understanding of Snape and his sacrifice, so much as to make Harry tell his son that greatness can come from Slytherin. After all of those books, and what Rowling must have known were some grumblings about the point, having the point of the final chapter rest on the idea that one can be brave and good in that house was wonderful, to me.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:11 PM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


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