Tuesday, March 6, 2007

In Defense of L.O.O.N.ish-ness and problems I have with the Harry Potter books

In trying to think of a good title for my blog that was different from others, I harkened to the term League Of Obsessive Nitpickers from the Harry Potter for Grown Ups (HPfGU’s) list serv.

Last night I was talking on the phone with a local high school student whom I agreed to mentor in her senior writing project. In the course of our conversation, she brought up the subject of the Harry Potter series and asked if I was familiar with it. There was this awkward silence when I tried to figure out how to politely say, “yeah, in fact I’m in recovery from having overdosed in Harry Potter fandom politics.”

Yes, I will read the seventh book, but I’m not as excited as others to read the final installment. Because I’ve been greatly disappointed with the last two books. I admit that it is due to my own unreasonable expectations.

I haven’t spent anytime yet on this blog telling about my not so secret obsession with the Potterverse. Many of you who have stopped by and read my blog have come from my dear friend John Granger’s website where he does an amazing job of analyzing aspects of the HP books with a particular emphasis on alchemy and Christian symbolism.

First off, I want to stress that I adore the Harry Potter series. I do. I was floored when I first read the books to realize that the plot lines were intricately woven not only in each volume, but between the volumes. I had never read a series where things that were introduced in a previous book were clues laid for subsequent books.

I had initially read the books in November 2001 when the first movie came out. Having had experience in trying my hand at writing and adapting screenplays, I actually enjoy reading books and then seeing how a screenwriter condenses the plot, characters, etc. to fit the running time for a movie. I had read the first two books and was about halfway through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when I saw the movie.

I remember sitting in the movie theatre and watching as Hagrid fell out of the sky in the flying motorcycle and then feeling floored. I remembered then that he had said that the motorcycle belonged to young Sirius Black. A character briefly mentioned in the first chapter of the first book and then never again until book three where he was the titular character.

I went home and confirmed that indeed he was mentioned in the first chapter, in a throw off manner. As if it wasn’t really important. Just an amusing aside, except it wasn’t an aside at all. It was a clue for future plot points.

I was impressed.

I finished reading the third and fourth books (the series was only 4/7th completed at the time), then I began reading again from the beginning. I was so impressed that I began analyzing the plot structure. It was during my third or fourth read of the series and that I began dissecting things. I made lists of all the characters, all the potions, all the animals, etc. I didn’t realize that I was reinventing Steve Vander Ark’s wheel. I could have saved myself the trouble and merely looked at his website. However, it was good practice for me and honing my analytical skills.

After doing that, I started talking with others whom I knew had read the books. None seemed to share my intense interest in examining the evidence for clues of future plot points. I started to feel a little weird. Then I went online and discovered the global online HP fandom.

It was then I found my niche with the HPfGU list, which led to my writing online fan fiction at Fiction Alley, Portkey, Fanfiction.net and becoming a prominent ship debater. (Ship is slang for relation-ship and an immense amount of bandwidth was/is consumed with people arguing for various romantic pairings of fictional characters.) I spent a lot of time arguing why I felt the Harry/Hermione ship was the ultimate romantic pairing of the series. For those who are wondering, in the online community I am known as either Athena or Pallas Athena, and yes, I did represent the H/Hr ship at the Nimbus Symposium in Orlando in 2003.

My nerdy fandom creds are showing.

Back to L.O.O.N.s…I spent about eight solid months reading the HPfGU’s list and was fascinated by the level of discourse and intense scrutiny of the text (AKA canon.) People would ask a question and if they didn’t have a solid grasp of canon then others would chime in and cite from the books showing that their premise was wrong due to X,Y and Z in chapter 12 of the Chamber of Secrets (Cos). People were polishing their imaginary League Of Obsessive Nitpicker badges, and since I had taken the time to create my own schematic of the series I felt like I was one of their kindred spirits.

I wrote my own fifth year fic based on different theories I happened to favor that were spun on the HPfGU’s list, and one that was truly my original theory. Most have been totally eviscerated by new canon, but a few other minor points still might come true.

Thing is, I spent a lot of time considering where I thought canon was going to go in book 5. There are a few aspects that I didn’t know where Jo Rowling was going to go and so I consciously decided not to explore them. I expected that she would deal with it, but she didn’t and to me it is a gaping plot hole.

Most people don’t even recognize that there are things missing that bother me intensely. It is only when I point them out do they realize their omissions. The things that bother me the most were sins of omission and not sins of commission.

In my talk last night with the high school senior, she said how much she like Half-Blood Prince (HBP) and I felt guilty to say that I didn’t like it. Then I told her a few of the reasons why and afterwards she felt like she should have noticed these things as well.

Okay, here’s a list of what bothered me:

Barty Crouch, Jr.’s soulless body.

What happened to it? Here we have prima facie evidence that something grossly wrong had occurred. This man had been declared dead and buried at Azkaban prison years ago, and yet his living body is found at Hogwarts after the death of a student in the TriWizard Tournament. What? No investigation? And where did this zombie-like thing go? Is it hooked up to feeding tubes in St. Mungo’s?

Lack of penalty for assaults on students.

At the end of Goblet of Fire (GoF) and Order of the Phoenix (OotP), Harry and his friends attacked Draco Malfoy and his gang of Slytherins. They were left on the floor of the Hogwarts Express with footprints on them, or they were stuffed into an overhead bin.

So, why wasn’t there any disciplinary action taken after these assaults? I tell you I if went to the train station to pick up my child after a year of being in a boarding school and he didn’t come off the train safe and sound, I would hold the school accountable. If I had to go onto the train and I found my child unconscious after being attacked, I’d be livid.

I’d want to see those responsible punished. Severely.

I actually worked that into my fifth year fic, and I was critical in my reviews of others fifth year fics for not including something which I felt would naturally follow in the continuing narrative.

Jo didn’t see it the way I did. She not only forgot to have that in the beginning of the school year in OotP, but again in HBP.

No punishment followed Harry and friend’s physical punishments of the bad boys. What kind of message does that send to children? If you are favored by the headmaster you can do anything you like?

As a parent, I don’t like that at all.

Lack of respect for Sirius Black.

Okay, I’ll admit that I adored the fictional character of Sirius Black. I was just a sucker for a handsome man who was wrongly accused and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I felt sorry for him having to live in Azkaban for 12 years, live in the Forbidden Forest for another year, and then subsist on rats and live in a cave for another.

I wanted so much more for his character. I wanted him to be safe, warm, well fed, have a romantic partner, and yes, I wanted him to be exonerated.

My fate for his character arc was so much different than Jo Rowling’s. She made him suffer, suffer, and suffer.

Then she killed him.

Then she really made me mad. Killing him was one thing, but her treatment of Sirius’s character after his death is what really infuriates me.

No funeral.

No memorial service.

No formal anything for Harry to grieve, or for anyone else to grieve the loss of Sirius Black.

Now, if there’s no body, it makes it hard to have a funeral, but you can gather people together to talk about that person’s life and what they meant to you.

She didn’t do that. Jo did have a funeral for Albus Dumbledore, which she needed to do.

Jo also had Hagrid blubber over the death of Aragog. Harry attended the service that his friend had for a monstrous man-eating spider.

Nice. Yet, no one could do the same thing for Harry’s godfather.

And what really bothers me the most about this is that I know that Jo knows better. She was asked after Goblet of Fire about bringing Cedric’s corpse back.

Saving Cedric's body reminded me of the Hector Patroclus Achilles triangle in the Iliad.

JKR: That's where it came from. That really, really, REALLY moved me when I read that when I was 19. The idea of the desecration of a body, a very ancient idea... I was thinking of that when Harry saved Cedric's body.


So Jo drew upon the classical poem the Iliad for Cedric, and yet she did nothing for Sirius after killing him off.

There is still a question in my mind as to whether or not Sirius was fully exonerated by the Ministry of Magic.

I Don’t Know The Answer. And it bugs me.

Okay, that’s all the time I have today to state the problems I had with the last two books. There are more, but that’s enough for people to chew on right now. If you’d like to share your thoughts with me, please feel free.

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