Sunday, April 22, 2007

Where does history end and legend begin?

At what point does history end and legend begin? That's a question that I've been asking myself a lot this last month as my novel has the convergence of legends and an historical figure. I recently read the novel Labyrinth by Kate Mosse which dealt with the persecution of the Cathars in 13th century France. After finishing the book, I went to the author's website and found her repeating a story that I had previously heard from Rick Steves, the travel writer, about Carcassonne.

The tale was of a lengthy siege (some versions suggesting it lasted upwards of five years) that was ended when the widow of the city's leader, a Saracen woman by the name Dame Carcas, used psychological warfare against their enemies. They supposedly fed grain to their last remaining pig, until it appeared nourished. Then they threw the fattened pig over the wall at the foot of the besieging army, hoping they would think that the people of Carcassonne must have a lot of food remaining inside and would not be surrendering anytime soon. Charlemagne reportedly ended the siege shortly thereafter.

Since starting this project, I have been researching the life of Charlemagne as well as the history and culture of Medieval Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries. I found nothing in the biographies of Charlemagne to suggest that he spent any time near Carcassonne, let alone a lengthy and unsuccessful siege of that fortified city.

I sent an email to Kate Mosse asking her if she could verify the story by citing a source. I told her that I thought it more likely that if there had been a siege of this nature, that King Charles the Great was not the leader of the army outside their gates. Rather that somewhere down the line, that the story was embellished by changing the identity of their enemy to someone of greater stature. There could be no worthier opponent than "The Father of Europe" who was crowned as Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. To have withstood an attack by Charlemagne would serve as a mark of distinction.

I was pleased when she wrote back quickly and confirmed my assumption that it was legend and not history. I don't know if the tale has any kernel of truth or not, I simply know that if those events happened – it wasn't Charlemagne at their gates.
That is the genesis of my discomfort with including such legends without disclaimers. If I didn't have a background knowledge in the history of Charlemagne, I might have thought that this story was factual rather than folklore.

People are more likely to absorb and believe information they read in historical novels as being factual than they are from reading history books, because readers are able to vicariously experience what life was like in the past in a manner you cannot when reading a scholarly historical monograph. People also tend to unquestioningly trust those who they believe to be a credible source of information. Mosse's historical novel boasted a review from Philippa Gregory saying it was "(d)eeply researched." I believe those things put together would tend to make the readers of her blog more likely than not to simply accept the story of Charlemagne's besieging Carcassonne as fact without question. They might then tend to repeat this story as interesting "trivia" to others, when instead it should be categorized alongside the anecdote of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree.

That is where I feel that writers need to show more care and responsibility to their readers. We not only should be careful of how we tell our story, our skillful use of language, syntax, punctuation, and sentence structure, but we should also be forthright about using items we know as having only tenuous connections with the truth.

I know I've fallen for Urban Legends in the past, and I appreciate those who run the website for helping me to quickly verify whether stories that sound "too good to be true" are real. I don't want someone to emphatically insist something as fact based on my writing, when it isn't, and for me to be the cause of their public humiliation when someone else proves them wrong.

I feel that part of my responsibility as a writer is to educate myself on any subject I write on and continually question my assumptions. Sometimes, due to plot necessity, I may have to use something that isn't historically accurate, but I plan on giving disclaimers to explain what the truth as I can discern it was and why I chose to include something that deviated from history.

In so doing, I will at least have made a good faith effort with my readers to allow them to discern between what is history and what is legend.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reasons why I have not warmed up to the Harry / Ginny ship, Part I

Jo Rowling’s authorial intent was that the readers along with Harry would “gradually discover Ginny as the ideal girl for Harry.” This is a quote from her interview given after the publication of HBP in 2005.

Unfortunately, I didn’t respond in the manner which Jo Rowling had hoped. I’m going to explain why.

In my first post about the Harry Potter series I detailed my initial and subsequent response to reading the first four volumes sequentially.

I was so impressed by the series that I no longer would casually dismiss the books as simply “kids’ books.” After I had read a quote attributed to J.K. Rowling as saying that she wrote something that she herself would have liked to read as an adult.

I figured that it was marketed for children because the story starts with the hero being an eleven year old child. Concerns about marketing in the publishing world sometimes trump all other concerns, and therefore I was not treating the series as simply YA.

I was treating it as if it was a book written for adults, but that it was accessible for children as well. That meant that she would be cognizant of what would be inappropriate for children and avoid crossing those lines, but that it would live up to the standards of adult entertainment.

Are you seeing why I feel that I had unreasonable expectations now? I expected her romance to live up to the standards I had from authors who write for adults. That doesn’t mean that I expected explicit descriptions of amorous activities, but I did expect that I would be drawn into the romance and be allowed to feel a broad range of emotions in regards to love and attraction.

I didn’t experience those things, nor was I brought to the conclusion that Ginny was Harry’s equal. I would not have described Ginny's character as being “very warm and compassionate” and I especially would not say that we have seen examples of her being a “gifted witch” who does “pretty impressive stuff here and there.” All those things that JKR said about Ginny.

I don’t feel that way because in my opinion, JKR dropped the ball on developing Ginny’s character.

:Sigh: and it didn’t have to be that way.

Jo could have made me love Ginny the way that I loved Hermione in the first five books. It’s not that I hate Ginny’s character, it’s just that the Harry/Ginny (H/G) romance felt forced in book 6. As if Jo finally got around to dealing with Ginny and had to do massive catch up and couldn’t pull it off well.

Let’s start at the beginning now, shall we?

Book 1, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone / Sorcerer’s Stone (PS/SS)

Ginny has two cameo appearances. She’s at the train station when Harry leaves for Hogwarts and when he returns. She’s only ten years old and is still holding her mother’s hand. Once Fred and George come out and tell their mum that they’ve met the famous Harry Potter, Ginny becomes excited and pleads desperately to go onto the train to meet him, as if he was a rock star. Then when Harry returns from Hogwarts she’s pointing and squealing at him when he gets off the train.

Impression: little fangirl.

Book 2, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (CoS)

Ginny’s big book where she’s the unwitting villain because she’s possessed by Tom Riddle. We start out the story with Ginny being tongue-tied in Harry’s presence, blushing, diving under the table, putting her elbows in butter, and being teased mercilessly by her brothers. She’s got a BIG CRUSH on Harry. Everyone knows it and Harry tries to ignore the teasing he gets as a result.

She shows a little spunk when they are at Flourish and Blotts when Malfoy teases Harry, and she sticks up for him. In fact, it is specifically mentioned that it was the first time she had spoken in front of Harry.

Then we see precious little of Ginny, but we read offhand mentions of her. She is bullied into taking Pepperup potion by Percy, which then makes steam pour out of her vivid red hair making her look as if her head were ablaze. We also hear that Ginny was disturbed by the petrification of Mrs. Norris because she was fond of cats. She was distraught at what happened to her classmate Colin Creevey. I mean, those are natural reactions, why wouldn’t anyone be upset about those turns of events in the castle.

Then the singing Valentine. It’s cute and we see Ginny embarrassed again.

The constant theme throughout this book is that Ginny hearts Harry. Of course, she hasn’t really spoken with him at all, so she doesn’t know him. She’s infatuated with his legend. Harry’s uncomfortable about that, but doesn’t want to humiliate her either. He’s a gentleman about it, but he clearly would rather not be idolized.

He saves her life, she cries, and then she’s given hot cocoa and all is well.

She has precious little page time in the book, but is integral in the overall storyline of the plot for CoS.

Impression: she's a fangirl who now cannot find her tongue and blushes whenever she's around the object of her affection. She doesn't really know him, but is enamored of him. She was also a victim of Voldemort. Poor thing.

Book 3, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA)

Ginny is shown again as being red-faced and tongue-tied when she sees Harry. This is not a secret; Ginny still has a crush on Harry. We also see her giggling at Fred and George’s jokes as well as sharing a laugh with Hermione and Mrs. Weasley about love potions. There is also a nice exchange where Ginny and Harry exchange a look and a laugh at Percy’s expense. If only Jo had done more of these exchanges with Ginny. Shortly after that, Ron dismisses his sister when the Trio goes in search of a compartment on the Hogwarts Express. Ron could have stuck up for Ginny and insisted she be included, after all she had survived possession by Voldemort. He didn’t and she was gone.

Ginny was “shaking like mad” from the dementor attack, but she didn’t faint like Harry. She did not join the Trio in their trip to the castle. We don’t read about her again until the flight of the Fat Lady when Ginny has the immortal line of, “What’s going on?”

She’s gone from sight again until Harry’s in the hospital wing and Ginny comes blushing and bearing a shrill singing get well card that he keeps under a bowl of fruit. No dialogue, just a quick narrative mention in a single sentence.

And then she’s nowhere to be seen for the rest of that volume.

Impression: still a fangirl.

Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (GoF),

Ginny’s first mention is once again prefaced with her having “been very taken with Harry” and blushing. Once again, there is no mystery. Ginny-> Harry. (Fandom shorthand for the direction that love arrows go in. Ginny -> (loves) Harry.

We know that, we’ve known that at least since CoS, if not in PS/SS.

Then we see Ginny talking with the Trio. This is a good sign if we want Harry and Ginny to get together (also known as Harry/Ginny or H/G). Ginny has got to be a part of their inner circle. Yet, as soon as Ron makes reference to Sirius, he’s shot a look from Hermione to shut up. Ginny doesn’t know and she’s not going to be taken into their confidence.

The Quidditch World Cup shows the Trio walking amongst the fairgrounds without Ginny. There is one brief mention of her being horror-struck during the game as she sat near Charlie. Then she falls asleep and spills her hot cocoa as the boys re-hash the highlights of the game. When the chaos happened with the Mugglebaiting, the Weasleys got split up and once again it is only the Trio who are together. Ginny is not with them, and so we do not get her reaction to Winky’s inquisition.

That’s the pattern that Jo established. Have a bare mention of Ginny in the narrative, show her blushing around Harry, and then make her disappear.

The best example of Ginny’s character building I think was in GoF when she was trying to soothe Ron’s feelings after his rejection by Fleur Delacour as a date to the Yule Ball. Ginny was comforting to him, once she heard Harry asked Cho Chang to the dance she stopped smiling. It hurt to hear that he liked someone else. She was also protective of Hermione and challenged Ron when he said insensitive things. Ginny also showed integrity by not reneging on her promise to Neville in order to be Harry’s date for the dance.

That was good. Really good. If Jo had only kept up with scenes like that for Ginny, I might have felt that indeed Ginny was the “ideal girl” for Harry. Unfortunately, right after that, she went back to the same pattern of mentioning Ginny in passing. We have no idea what Ginny’s dress robes looked like, for there is no description whatsoever. All we know is that Neville stepped on her feet while they were dancing making Ginny wince.

The next mention of Ginny was in the luncheon before the third task when she once again is mentioned in the narrative as simply being there. Then I do not think she appeared again in that volume.

Overall impression: Ginny as a character was pretty skimpy on detail because she lacked page time.

She has cameo appearances in books 1 and 3, is the key to the mystery in book 2, but is not shown very much, and in book 4 she has one good scene. That was what I had to really work with once I was hooked on the series. Little fangirl sister, and not much else.

Hermione on the other hand had hundreds of pages of characterization and dialogue, etc.

Book 5 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (OotP)

For the first time we have Ginny’s introduction as a character without her blushing or overtly saying that she’s “taken with Harry.” I noticed that immediately from its omission. She also showed some spunk by interacting with Fred and George while admitting to using Dungbombs. Then she unblushingly lies to her mother about Crookshanks being the culprit behind using Dungbombs. We also see Ginny and Hermione joking with Tonks, later Ginny playing with Crookshanks. So we see a playful and jesting side to Ginny. This is good, too bad Jo didn’t keep up with this.

Page 100 of the Scholastic paperback version shows how Jo started to slip into using hearsay evidence to advance Ginny’s characterization. I hate this literary choice with a passion.

“Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,” said George. “Look at Ginny.”

“What d’you mean?” said Harry.

“You’ve never been on the receiving end of one of her Bat-Bogey hexes, have you?”


We have never seen a Bat-Bogey hex cast by Ginny. Not once, but we’ve heard that she’s cast them several times. In that example in passing, then she did one on Malfoy at the end of OotP. We didn’t see it. We only read that he had “giant flying bogeys attacking him.”

Then JKR repeated the hearsay testimony in HBP as to how wonderful that hex is by having Slughorn invite Ginny into his compartment because “I saw this young lady perform the most marvelous Bat-Bogey Hex as I was passing her carriage! I wouldn’t cross her!”

Okay. Can we just her cast it already? I mean, I loved reading about Dudley’s incredibly long tongue which was the result of the twins’ Ton Tongue Toffee. Why can’t I read about flying boogers emanating from someone’s face? As well as Ginny's look of defiance after she cast it?

It is hearsay, and I feel cheated. And Jo has done this three times!

Similarly, I thought it was a bad sign for the Harry/Ginny ship in OotP when Hermione kept telling us information that might have better come from elsewhere.

We heard Hermione tell us what Cho’s emotional state was. It could have come from Cho. She could have broken down in front of Harry and told him what her jumble of emotions were as she sobbed and made his shoulder wet, making him feel uncomfortable and inadequate.

Nope. We had Hermione say everything that Cho was feeling as well as a report that Cho was flying poorly and worried about being kicked off the Quidditch team. See my previous post as to why Hermione didn’t care about the sport of Quidditch unless it related to Harry. That detailed analysis helped convince that Hermione was keeping close tabs on Cho because she saw Cho as a romantic rival for Harry’s affections. I never thought it was because Hermione wanted to keep tabs on Cho on Ginny’s behalf.

We then learned from Hermione that Ginny had been dating Michael Corner, and that they met at the Yule Ball. We also learned from Hermione that Ginny “used to fancy Harry” but had given up on him. To Harry, all that meant is that he now understood why she could actually carry on a conversation in front of him.

Another example of hearsay evidence where it should not have been used to further Ginny’s characterization is when Fred and George were wondering how Ginny had gotten so good at playing Quidditch.

“She’s been breaking into your broom shed in the garden since the age of six and taking each of your brooms out in turn when you weren’t looking,” said Hermione from behind her tottering pile of Ancient Rune books. P. 574 Scholastic paperback.

I mean how much more difficult would it have been for the question by Fred and George have been said in Ginny’s presence and for her to give a retort, then flounce her hair and leave the room? I would have liked that. Similarly I would have liked to have seen Ron’s evolution from team goat to team savior in the Quidditch Cup final. We didn’t.

Harry could have used his omnioculars and shown how Ron screwed up his courage, fought his self-doubts, and was victorious. Instead, we learned second hand that Ron’s character made some leaps and bounds but it was done off the page.

I know, I know, OotP was long enough, and we didn’t need another blow by blow Quidditch game to fatten up the page length, but still…Ron is a major character in the series and this was a major change in his characterization from the beginning of the book to the end and we did not get to read it. Instead it was summarized for us. I felt cheated.

The best scene in OotP to advance Ginny’s characterization was the eating chocolate in the library with Harry. It moved the plot and it showed her being worthy of being Harry’s confidante for the first time. It was a good scene, I just wish there were more of them showing Harry and Ginny interacting together for me to warm up to Harry and Ginny as a couple.

Ginny had some good lines in wanting to leave Hogwarts on the rescue mission, but so did Luna. In fact, I think that Luna in the space of one book was a more completely drawn character than Ginny's who spanned five books.

Another bad sign for H/G for me in OotP was when Ginny became the Bellatrix’s taunting and threats to torture, Harry’s reaction when he caused a diversion wasn’t to try and make sure Ginny was safe, instead he grabbed a fistful of Hermione’s robes and pulled her forward. As the sextet became separated, Ginny was with Ron and Luna and not Harry.

Overall impression: I liked Ginny better because she was no longer a silly fangirl, but I still did not feel that she was up to the task of being Harry's girlfriend.

It seemed once again that it was Harry and Hermione sharing adventures together. I truly thought that if there was a mystery to be solved as to whom Harry would fall in love with that it would be his best friend who had always been there by his side from the beginning. A girl who was dedicated to him to the point of obsession and that he had taken for granted. I thought he would have the realization that no one could ever understand him and love him the way that Hermione did. That is one of the underlying premises that I had in thinking that Jo Rowling was writing Harry/Hermione. Then again, I saw lots and lots of evidence from the text that confirmed my assumption of Hermione ->Harry and Harry being clueless until the end.

Like I said before, I was wrong. And I know because JKR told me so in an interview.

This post is getting too long and I haven’t even started discussing HBP in earnest. I shall finish my thoughts Ginny next time. I shall also in a subsequent posting talk about the Interview from Hell and why I characterize it in that manner.

If anyone wishes to chime in on the subject in the meantime, feel free.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Sins of Commission in the Harry Potter series or “What happened to Hermione’s character in Half-Blood Prince?”

Those of you who know me from my time debating in the Harry Potter fandom know that I was a fierce advocate of the Harry/Hermione (H/Hr) ship.

I honestly, truly thought it was the final romantic relationship of the series and that the Ron/Hermione (R/Hr) and Harry/Ginny (H/G) pairings were literary red hair-ings.

I was wrong.

What I really didn’t like was that I wasn’t certain at the end of reading book 6 that Jo had wanted us to realize for certain that the pairings were destined to be R/Hr and H/G from the text, but instead I learned that from an interview.

Honestly, once I finished reading Half-Blood Prince I had the sinking feeling, but was still a little uncertain. I couldn’t think of how I could possibly articulate a good defense of H/Hr, but I was wondering “What the hell happened to Hermione’s character in book 6?”


Hermione had only shown interest in Quidditch when it came to Harry being involved. In book 1, this was evident by the rare change in narrative voice from 3rd person limited to omniscient narrator.

PS/SS, Chapter 13, “Nicholas Flamel,” Scholastic paperback, p. 222-224,

“Little did Harry know that Ron and Hermione had been secretly practicing the Leg-Locker Curse….”

We return to Harry with:

“Back in the locker room, Wood had taken Harry aside.”

Then later that page we leave Harry’s side again to join Ron and Hermione in the stands.

“Perhaps that was why Snape was looking so angry as the teams marched onto the field, something that Ron noticed, too….”

What is so important about this scene is that when Harry goes into his “spectacular dive” that Hermione was so obsessed with watching him in the game that she was oblivious to Ron and Malfoy literally fighting under her feet.


She was focused intently on Harry, but forgot all about her other best friend who was engaged in a fist fight in her presence.

There are other examples of her obsession with Quidditch as it relates to Harry, but the next best one comes from Order of the Phoenix (OotP). Harry, Fred and George had all been kicked off the Quidditch team by Umbridge and were discussing the prospects of their upcoming game with Hufflepuff when Hermione made this statement:

OotP, chapter 26, “Seen and Unforeseen,” Scholastic paperback, p. 574-575.

“That’s the trouble with Quidditch,” said Hermione absentmindedly, once again bent over her Rune translation, “it creates all this bad feeling and tension between the houses.”

Her opinion wasn’t welcomed by the boys. She followed it up with this statement.

“(A)t least my happiness doesn’t depend on Ron’s goalkeeping ability.”

BAM. End of story. Her happiness did not depend on Ron’s goalkeeping ability.

Uh huh, and that was consistent with her inability to stay awake and celebrate with Ron when he made the Quidditch team earlier in book 5. See Chapter 13, “Detention with Dolores.” She was asleep when Ron would have preferred she bask in his glory.

Harry woke Hermione up to tell her about the nasty sensation he felt when Umbridge touched his arm, and she went through a variety of emotional states from bleary-eyed to listening closely to looking alarmed to looking relieved at the idea of Harry going to bed and not staying at the party. She felt she could then leave without being seen as rude, because she was tired. Oh, and then she asked Harry if he wanted to help her knit hats, and at this point her face was shining with glee.

It seems to me that she was awake enough at this point to join Ron for his big night, if she had any interest in him and his success on making the Quidditch team. However, she didn’t seem to care about Ron, only Harry that night.

Then, comes HBP and she makes an about face when it comes to Ron and Quidditch. All of a sudden she cares about his success, and she hexes a fellow student to assure Ron makes the team.


That was wildly out of character for Hermione.

I honestly was wondering at the end of this book whether or not Malfoy was sitting in the bleachers in Polyjuiced!Disguise and putting her under the Imperius curse in order to hex someone else. That way she would not be as close to Harry and he wouldn’t have her undivided support that he had in years 1-5.

At the beginning of that chapter, “Hermione’s Helping Hand” she is telling Harry that he has never been more “fanciable” and that it didn’t hurt that he had grown about a foot in height over the summer.

Ron kept trying to assert himself into the conversation and she ignored him.

Because she once again was focused on Harry and not Ron, I mean I could see exactly how I was going to debate this book. Until the hexing incident, and when she sicced a flock of yellow birds on Ron.

All of a sudden, Hermione has become obsessed with Ron and does not really care about Harry, his troubles or solving mysteries with him.

My theory about the Imperius curse by Malfoy started to seem pretty attractive to me. It explained her sudden character transplant. She was under a curse!

The other thing that bugged me about Hermione’s character was her abandonment of political interest in house-elves.

In Goblet of Fire (GoF), Hermione tried starting a political movement. She had no idea what she was doing and she alienated more people with her inept, but enthusiastic manner. Then in OotP, she had a new strategy which also was ineffective, the idea she could knit their way to freedom.

Ron was openly hostile to her political beliefs and insulted her at nearly every opportunity. Harry was different, he seemed more put off by her pathetic political organizing skills than her desire to see an oppressed class of magical beings liberated. Harry stopped short however, at having compassion toward the mentally disturbed Kreacher.

I had loved the house-elf subplot in Book 2 and Book 4. I thought it was a great addition to the Potterverse to show that even a magical world has inequality and a need to struggle for social justice. Because I think it is important to introduce these concepts of societal problems to children so that they will want to work to change our system.

I liked the politics, but I just wished that Hermione was given some political organizing skills and not just passion. However, I figured in OotP, it was simply a place marker to show that she would help to lead a house-elf rebellion later in the series.

Then it seemed in HBP that Hermione simply forgot about them. As if it was simply a passing phase and now that she’s discovered boys she doesn’t have time to care about their oppression any more. It made me sick.

Truly, I was disappointed. This was not the feisty character that I once knew and championed. She was sobbing about Ron kissing Lavender, and becoming vindictive enough to ask McLaggen out for a date to make Ron jealous.

This from the same character who was deliberately vague about her relationship with Viktor in books 4 & 5?

To me, it was as if Jo Rowling looked back at her plot outline to see that HBP is when she started to have Hermione have a go at jealousy over Ron while Harry got to start feeling jealous over Ginny. So she had to all of a sudden take these characters she had been writing for five previous books and make them fit into her predetermined plotline.

It felt as if she picked up trains from parallel tracks and moved them where she needed them to be. I found it incredibly abrupt, and I really missed Ron and Hermione trying to help Harry solve the mysteries of the year. Instead, the Trio was different and Ron and Hermione dismissed Harry’s concerns and theories all year long.

It bugged me, because it didn’t feel right to me at all.

I felt disappointed with the resolutions of the mysteries as if Jo just wasn’t trying hard enough in the sixth volume to come up with plot twists. It was Draco all along? Like I thought? Okay, I solved it and felt like it wasn’t all that difficult to solve. Just don’t get thrown off by red herrings and you’ll be fine.

That’s when I considered the idea of Malfoy and the Imperius Curse on Hermione. I was warming up to it, and started to comb the text to find examples that might serve as evidence.

Then I read the infamous TLC/Mugglenet interview and realized that it wasn’t the case at all.

Jo intended Hermione’s character to act in a manner which I found to be “out of character.” It is after all, Jo Rowling's character so anything JKR writes for Hermione is by some definition "in character," but it still was jarring for me as a reader to see what I felt were discrepancies in character motivations.

At another time, I’ll talk about why I was unsatisfied and disappointed with character building of Ginny throughout the series and why I did not feel as though I was carefully brought to the conclusion that she was the perfect girl for Harry. I know that was Jo’s authorial intent, because she said so in an interview.

It didn’t work for me, and I’ll explain why in a future posting.

Anyone have other quibbles about Hermione’s character that I didn’t touch on?


P.S. In the Bloomsbury cover there appears to be Dobby on Harry's back, so hopefully there will be some more mention of house-elves joining with the "good guys" in the war against Voldemort.