Weekly Archive
May 19, 2002 - May 25, 2002

RE: Neville as Witness

Naama wrote:

Erm. Am I the only one with a dark enough mind to realize that if the torturing DEs had Neville there, in the house with his parents, they would have used torture on him as the best and quickest means to get what they want from the parents?

No, you aren't. I agree, and I've raised that objection before. If Neville had been there, and if the DEs had known that he was there, then they definitely would have brutalized him. He would have to have been hiding in a closet, or something similarly cheesy.

But there's an even worse problem with the entire body of Neville-as-witness theories, you know. There's a big problem, a problem that cuts to the heart of every single one of the Neville-as-witness speculations.

Debbie asked:

But then again, is there any canon evidence that this happened at home?

No. In fact...


Oh. I can't just believe that I'm doing this. But sometimes you really do just have to go with What Is Right over What Is Interesting.

::takes deep breath::

Yeah. Okay. All right.

Not only is it nowhere stated in canon that the Longbottoms were attacked at home, but the canon actually suggests that it did not happen in their own home. Look.

Crouch's summary of the charges against the Pensieve Four begins with:

"The four of you stand accused of capturing an Auror -- Frank Longbottom -- and subjecting him to the Cruciatus Curse..."

Yup. That's right. "Capturing."

Now, you really don't call it "capturing" when somebody is assaulted in his very own home, do you? I mean, to my mind, "capturing" has quite different connotations. If you stand accused of "capturing" someone, then what that implies to me is that you probably snatched them off the street, or that if you did abduct them from their own home, then you thereafter took them somewhere else.

Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. It's a real bummer, isn't it?

—Elkins, mentally cursing her own scruples, even as she hopes that the word "capturing" will prove to be just yet another example of JKR's sloppy writing.


RE: Cracking Frank

In response to Cindy's suggestion the the DEs didn't get around to torturing EyeWitness!Neville until Frank had already lost his mind, at which point they decided there would be no point, Naama wrote:

What I am suggesting, is that if Neville was there, they would have tortured him first - to break down the parents...

Yeah, I'm with Naama here. Especially if they had his wife there as well. See, that way you get two types of pressure in one. You get the tortured toddler pressure, which is pretty harsh in and of itself, and then you also stand a very good chance of getting the wife to do half your job for you by applying a bit of pressure of her own. You know, the "Frank, do something! Stop them!" sort of pressure. I mean, that would be by far the best strategy. Any self-respecting sadist would have realized that.

What? What are you all looking at? We're just talking hypothetically here, okay?


(then why didn't they first torture the wife, you ask. Well.. maybe they didn't think very highly of marital love? *g*)

Because she wasn't there either. Not at first.

"The four of you stand accused of capturing an Auror. . . .You are further accused...of using the Cruciatus Curse on Frank Longbottom's wife, when he would not give you information."

The phrasing does make it seem quite likely that they first captured only Frank. When they couldn't get him to talk, then they sent someone out to nab his wife.

If you really want a DEPRECIATION, or a "Cover Your Tracks" style memory charm theory (one which proposes that Neville was given a memory charm by a Death Eater to prevent him from giving damaging testimony), though, then I suppose that you could imagine that once the culprits found that even torturing Frank's wife was still not sufficient to crack him, then that was when they sent someone out to look for his son—but were forced to flee the scene before their colleague returned with Neville in tow. Their colleague, having already abducted Neville, then got wind of the fact that the game was up, panicked, Memory Charmed the kid, dumped him somewhere, and fled.

This scenario adheres to canon's suggestion that the Longbottoms' condition was known to the public for quite some time before an arrest was made ("The Ministry was under great pressure to catch those who had done it," says Dumbledore), as well as sparing Neville from having actually witnessed any parent-torture at all. It does, however, offer a suggestion as to what the plot-relevant information hidden by his memory charm might be: namely, the identity of that unknown fifth conspirator.

Cindy, rather uncharacteristically sweetly, suggested:

Even DEs aren't evil enough to torture a small child.

Naama wasn't biting:

Nope, sorry. People who kill and torture other people for fun would have no scruples to torture a child in order to achieve an important goal.

Oh, but they don't kill and torture wizards for fun! They only kill and torture Muggles for fun. Whenever we've seen or heard about DEs killing or torturing wizards, there has always been some practical motive for it -- even if it's sometimes a rather dubious one. Even Voldemort himself doesn't really spend all of that time torturing Harry in the graveyard just for kicks; he does it to prove to his Death Eaters that he can.

But still. Restoring Voldemort to power was obviously the most important thing in the world to those guys at that particular moment in time, so I very much doubt that they would have allowed even great big pure-blooded toddler eyes to stand in their way.

As for the Imperius quibble, though...


Now as for me, I'm still waiting for an answer to why the DEs didn't use the undisputed quickest and most efficient way to get the information out of Frank -- The Imperius Curse.

The Imperius Curse?

Oh, please. Frank Longbottom was a trained Auror. I'm sure that he knew how to resist the Imperius Curse. It is a skill that can be taught—otherwise, why would Dumbledore have asked Crouch/Moody to cover it in his DADA class?—and while Crouch/Moody does concede that some people can never get the hang of it, other people can, given the proper training.

I'd be willing to bet that you don't become an Auror unless you're one of those people who can.




The second part of the Symposium had dragged on longer than she had expected, and Elkins was getting tired. Fortunately, she only had one more theory to cover before the scheduled break: the Reverse Memory Charm Theory, M.A.T.C.HI.N.G.A.R.M.C.H.A.I.R. This would be a breeze. After all, Elkins had once (as she now recalled with some degree of embarrassment) ascribed to the Reverse Memory Charm theory herself.

But that had been a long time ago. Back in the halcyon days. Back before she and Cindy had been forced to sever their engagement. Back before Cindy had grown bitter and started carrying around that great big paddle.

Elkins scanned the audience thoughtfully, wondering if it contained anyone who might now remember that -- or worse yet, call her on it. Fortunately, she seemed to be safe. Eloise might have been a risk, but she had fallen asleep in the armchair and was now mumbling something about Sun Gods and hieroglyphs. Dogberry was far too busy rejecting the entire notion of Memory Charm'd Neville. And Naama was scribbling furiously in her notebook, her head bent far down over what appeared to be an anti-DEPRECIATION argument.

Yup. It looked as if Elkins just might get away with this after all.

"But speaking of those yellow flag violations..." she began, hoping that no one would notice how really very awkward the segue was, "we now come at last to..."

The door at the back of the room flew open. Elkins glanced up, and her voice died in her throat.

It was She. The Cinister one herself.

And she'd brought her Big Paddle with her.

There were shiftings and shufflings and murmerings of dismay as Cindy strode confidently across the room to pour herself a glass of unsweetened Kool-aid and load up her Big Paddle with snacks. The occupants of the front row gathered up their notepads and pencils with trembling hands, scrambling to their feet as Cindy approached to allow her her pick of the best seats. A few of them flashed quick ameliorating grins in her direction as they scurried out into the aisle to relocate to seats further back, but most tried not to meet her eyes. "You don't want to get involved in this," they were telling themselves. "Remember Cedric Diggory."

Only Eloise remained seated, snoozing away in her matching armchair. The crowd watched in tense silence as Cindy stared blankly down at the sleeping Eloise, then heaved a huge collective sigh of relief when she merely shrugged and slowly eased herself into the matching matching armchair right beside it.

George, grateful for this show of noblesse oblige, stepped forward to offer Cindy a GIANTCUSHION upon which to rest her feet. Cindy kicked it roughly in the direction of the podium and fixed Elkins with a withering stare.

Elkins swallowed hard. She looked down at her notes and started leafing through pages, glad of any excuse to avoid meeting Cindy's gaze.

Well, she thought. This will complicate things.

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Elkins (citing her canonical objections to Reverse Memory Charm'd Neville):

There's his overall demeanor, and his reaction to the Second Task's mermaid song, and his reaction to the Dementor on the train...


Ah, but that is because you have apparently turned the Dolby sound up really high to the setting marked "Earsplitting Shrieks". You've also apparently selected the "Continuous Loop" setting in which Neville hears these magnified shrieks 24/7. That's very courageous of you, really it is.

<Elkins smiles tentatively at the notion that she might be described as "courageous," rather than merely as "Bent." It's really awfully generous of Cindy to have given her the benefit of the doubt that way. Really it is.>


But you can tone it down a bit if you like. . . . Personally, I'd recommend the intermittent Dolby screaming for you, Elkins. That way, Neville doesn't have to be a complete basket case. There's the extra added bonus that Neville never knows when he's going to get a huge blast of his mother's screams. I like the tension there. He can be brave and heroic at times, and he can be melting cauldrons at other times. Can you work with that?


Er, no, Cindy. See, I can't. Because even if you turn the volume knob all the way down to "intermittent cries of agony," and the frequency dial all the way to "only when Snape picks on Neville in Potions class," you're still left with the problem that Neville ought to what people in pain sound like, and that they really don't sound the slightest bit like a ghost orchestra playing on the musical saw -- which is what the mermaid song from Harry's Egg sounds like. So the Egg Problem still stands.

It also doesn't fix the Dementor problem. If Neville had a Reverse Memory Charm, then the Dementor on the train at the beginning of PoA really should have been able to dredge that memory up for him. He would have been reliving the experience of having witnessed his parents being tortured. And if he really had been reliving that experience, then I just can't imagine that he wouldn't have been in far worse shape than Ginny. Or Harry, for that matter. But he wasn't. He was doing better than either of them. Harry passes out. Ginny looks "as bad as Harry feels." But Neville's just pale and shaken. So that's a problem too.

Now, me? I can live with the 24/7 earsplitting shrieking because it is so Bang-worthy.


Yes, yes. It is indeed most cruel and morbid. There's just no question about that. And you know how much I like that sort of thing.

But it's wobbly, Cindy. It really really is.

And about that yellow flag violation...

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Things seemed to be have been going all right, really. So Elkins probably shouldn't have brought up the yellow flag again. But she just couldn't resist, somehow.

It must have been the podium. Most of her soft tissues were actually behind the podium. This made Elkins feel safe.

"I hate to hurl such monstrous accusations in a public forum," she said apologetically (if not altogether sincerely), "but there are times, terrible times, Long Dark Nights of my Soul, when I almost find myself suspecting that Cindy..."

Elkins winced, then lowered her voice.

"Well, that Cindy might have just made the Reverse Memory Charm up."

Cindy raised her eyes from her Symposium Notebook. Her brow furrowed, and her knuckles tightened on her Big Paddle.

Elkins froze in place. But it was all right. Cindy seemed to think better of it. Slowly, her grip on her paddle relaxed. From the expression on her face, Elkins imagined that perhaps she was thinking that coerced submission just wouldn't be very satisfying here. That it would be better to try for a genuine and sincere Full-Fledged Conversion.

Elkins only felt marginally reassured by this. Perhaps it was just all of this talk about torture and mental domination, but it occurred to her that Winston Smith's conversion at the end of _1984_ was really very sincere.

For now, though, Cindy seemed to be taking the gentle and easy approach.

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In fact, I'm glad you mentioned it. Because you have led me toward a Huge Blockbuster New Canon for Reverse Memory Charm Neville. I can't believe I didn't catch on to this months ago. It's been right there under my nose the whole time.

OK. It's time for me to swing for the fence, so stand back --

[Dixie cup and refreshments fly into the crowd as Cindy hoists her Big Paddle to her shoulder]

<Elkins flinches in spite of herself. Yes, she knows that Cindy is only swinging for the fence. But since Elkins spends much of her time straddling the fence, this is hardly a reassuring concept.>


How about if I find something in canon related to memory that JKR has already established, something that is right there in black and white, but something that JKR seems to have intentionally left vague?

Then I will retract my yellow flag accusation.

How about if I can even link it to Truth Serum, which is similar to the Reverse Memory Charm?

Yeah, yeah, Cindy. Spit it out already.

OK, here goes . . .

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, p. 23. "Jobberknoll: The Jobberknoll (northern Europe and America) is a tiny blue, speckled bird which eats small insects. It makes no sound until the moment of its death, at which point it lets out a long scream made up of every sound it has ever heard, regurgitated backwards. Jobberknoll feathers are used in Truth Serums and Memory Potions."

<Elkins blinks. She blinks again. Then she drops her yellow flag with a sigh.>

Yeah. Yeah, okay. That's, uh...that's pretty good, actually. Yellow flag retracted.

But you've still got the Egg and the Dementor to deal with. The Jobberknoll doesn't fix those. If you really want to convert me to your Reverse Memory Charm cause, then you're going to have to find some way around the Egg and the Dementor. Otherwise, I just can't go for it.

And just calling Reverse Memory Bangy and FEATHERBOASish isn't going to convince me. It is indeed true that the Reverse Memory Charm is appealingly cruel and horrid. But it's hardly the only appealingly cruel and horrid Memory Charm theory floating around in the Bay, you know. Many far more stable Memory Charm theories give every bit as much Bang for the buck -- and a number of them are every last bit as ghastly as the MATCHING ARMCHAIR. Can't I interest you in a Ministry Cover-up instead? One with an option on Ever So Evil Moody, perhaps? That one's pretty Bangy. Or how about Debbie's Memory Charm Most Foul flavored DEPRECIATION variant? That one has Bang and cruelty! Won't you at least try it on for size?

Also, I would like to point out that when it comes to the Bang quotient...

Well, how to say this?

::deep breath::

The Reverse Memory Charm actually isn't even all that Bangy to begin with, now, is it? I mean, the idea that Neville might be hearing his parents screaming in torment all the time is indeed cruel, and it does indeed please my featherboas, but it isn't really in the slightest bit Bangy. It doesn't offer any opportunities for a Great Character-changing Catalyst, or for a Shocking Revelation, or for a Mind-Blowing Plot Twist, or for an Oscar-worthy Cinematic Moment, or any of that.

I mean, where's the Bang? What's the Bang supposed to be?

In fact...

<Elkins draws herself up to her greatest height—even standing on her very tippy-toes to do so—and offers a silent word of thanks for that nice thick wooden podium that is currently standing between Cindy's Big Paddle and all of her innards>

In fact, I don't think that Reverse Memory Charm belongs on the Big Bang Destroyer at all. I say that it's a Dud, and should be stowed away in the hold until it can prove its merit!

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There was a very long silence.

Uh-oh, thought Elkins. Now I've done it.


Posted May 19, 2002 at 1:53 pm
Topics: , ,
Plain text version



In a darkened lecture hall deep within the bowels of the Canon Museum, the battle rages on. Elkins, pale and drawn with exhaustion, wipes her brow with a retracted yellow flag. Cindy reclines in her seat, Zwieback and juice box at her side, Big Paddle at the ready. The hiss from the nearby steam tunnels blends imperceptibly with the sound of Eloise's snores.


"Let's tackle the Egg first," Cindy offers. "What's the problem there?"

Elkins, her voice hoarse and cracked from so many hours of uninterrupted speaking, leans heavily against the podium. She raises her glass to take a sip of water, only to discover that she ran out hours ago. She places the glass back down on the lectern. She sighs.

"The problem with the Egg," she repeats wearily. "Right. The problem with the Egg is that it sounds like wailing. It sounds like a musical saw. Seamus thinks that it sounds like a banshee. But what it does not sound like is a person in pain. Neville thinks that it does. If Neville really could remember his parents' torture, as the Reverse Memory Charm theory suggests, then he wouldn't make that error. Reverse Memory Charm therefore cannot hold. Quod erat effing demonstrandum."

Cindy smiles lazily.

"Welllll," she drawls, with a kind of ghastly bonhomie. "I have some personal experience in this area. Over the years, I have tortured many people within an inch of their lives, and if you go at it just right, if you really know what you're doing, once they stop saying actual words and stop with all the begging, they do in fact make this freakish high-pitched squeal that sounds exactly..."

Cindy stops abruptly, frowning. A dead silence has fallen over the room. Naama, careful to avoid meeting anyone's eyes, gathers up her things quickly but quietly and moves back towards the emergency exit. Cindy glances at her briefly, then back at Elkins, who has gone a trifle pale. She smiles.

"People, people, people!" she laughs. "The Egg is Not A Problem for MATCHINGARMCHAIR."

"Um." Elkins fiddles nervously with the papers in front of her. "Um. Yes. Well. I'm, uh, sure that we're all very pleased, Cindy—really, really very pleased and very, er, grateful—to have been given the opportunity to, uh, learn something new here tonight. But all the same, I really do think that—"

"The Egg's wail is described as "the most horrible noise,'" Cindy points out. "'A loud and screechy wailing" like the ghost orchestra at Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party playing musical saws. When Harry opens the Egg in the bathtub, the wailing, screeching sound is described as 'incomprehensible.' When Harry drops it on the stairs, it again is said to sound like 'wailing.'"

"Yes." Elkins nods, just a bit too fervently. "Yes, well, all right then. Let's just take a look at that word choice, shall we?"

"The Egg wails," she agrees. "That is the primary descriptor of the sound that it makes. JKR uses it twice. So where in canon do we see people 'wailing?'

"Well, Hermione wails, doesn't she? She wails quite often. But whenever we see her 'wailing,' it is always a bit of hyperbole that JKR is using to convey her exasperation. She wails when she is objecting to something, or when she is throwing her hands up in the air at the boys' stupidity, or when she is making some despairing comment or other. But one time that she never wails? Hermione does not wail when she is in pain."

Elkins bangs her palm down on the lectern for emphasis, then winces.

"Ow," she mutters. "In fact," she continues, massaging her wrist. "In fact, nobody does. Wailing is just not what people in the Potterverse do when they are in pain. It's certainly not what we ever see anyone do under the Cruciatus Curse. Cedric 'yells,' and Harry 'screams,' and Avery 'shrieks.' Pettigrew does a lot of sobbing. But nobody ever wails.

"So," she concludes, "while it may indeed be the case that in your, uh, real-life experience, people can indeed be reduced to incomprehensible wailing by, uh, by long-term exposure to excruciating agony, I really do think that in order to evaluate this as a speculation, we need to go by JKR's own word choices, and the fact remains that in the Potterverse—"

"And what does the cry of the tiny Jobberknoll sound like?" Cindy interrupts hurredly. "'A long scream made up of every sound it ever heard, regurgitated backward.' Gee, that might sound a lot like a horrible noise, a loud and screechy wailing that would be incomprehensible."

"What?" Elkins stares at her. "What? You...Oh. Oh, right, yes, I see. So Neville's great and glorious Reverse Memory Charm doesn't even lead him to remember his parents being tortured? All he's got is this memory of some bird being strangled? Oh, yeah." She snorts. "That's very exciting, Cindy. Real Bangy."

"The Egg's screeching," Cindy continues, through gritted teeth. "The Egg's screeching sounds to Neville just like the death scream of the Jobberknoll. No wonder poor Neville likens it to the sound of someone being tortured! The Jobberknoll death rattle is what Neville is reacting to in that scene in GoF, not the actual cries of his parents, which would be plenty comprehensible."

"You just said yourself that they wouldn't be comprehensible!" objects Elkins. "Not five minutes ago, Cindy. You said that—" She shakes her head. "Oh, for God's sake. This is just ludicrous. Right. Okay. So what's your answer to the Dementor problem, then? 'Cause I gotta tell you, I just can't wait to hear this one."

Cindy narrows her eyes at this, but when she speaks, her tone is remarkably civil.

"Ah," she says. "That's not a problem either, because that is exactly as it should be. I challenge the premise that Neville should have a more severe reaction than Harry. Neville watched his parents tortured, not killed. He still goes to see them. And nothing in canon suggests that Neville's life was ever in danger that night."

Elkins stares. Her mouth opens and shuts soundlessly, making her look for all the world like one of those salt-water carp which can occasionally be found stranded at low-tide in the rocky pools of Theory Bay.

"Harry and Ginny react more than Neville to the dementor on the train," concludes Cindy cheerfully, "because they both survived near-death experiences at the hands of Voldemort, whereas Neville merely witnessed an atrocity."

"I...I...I..." Elkins shakes her head rapidly, like a dog shaking off water. "I..." She takes a very deep breath. "ARE YOU COMPLETELY OUT OF YOUR MIND?" she shrieks, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she has just slipped into one of her very least favorite aspects of JKR's chosen idiom. "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? ARE YOU INSANE? YOU THINK THAT A COUPLE OF ABRUPTLY-CUT OFF SCREAMS AND A RUSHING NOISE AND A FLASH OF GREEN LIGHT IS A WORSE MEMORY THAN—"

"Nah." Cindy grins. "The Dementor on the train is no trouble. No trouble at all. So . . . will you convert, Elkins? A deal's a deal, right?"

"Con..convert?" splutters Elkins. "Convert? On the basis of those arguments? On the basis of those, those ridiculous displays of...of, of, of, of sophistry, of pure and think that I'm actually going to—"

Elkins stops suddenly, her mouth still open. She blinks, twice. Then she begins to laugh. She collapses over her podium, giggling hysterically. Cindy, suspicious, narrows her eyes.

"Oh!" gasps Elkins, at length. "Oh, yes. Yes, yes. I see. Dear Cindy." She shakes her head. "Cindy, Cindy, Cindy."

Cindy stops gnawing on her Zwieback. She wipes the sodden cracker from her lips, frowning.

"It's all right, Cindy," Elkins tells her. "It's okay. I really do think I understand. But you know, it's not the end of the world when this happens. Really it's not. It's very simple, really. All you need to do here is to say these four little words. That's all. Four words. 'I.' 'Concede.' 'The.' 'Point.' It really doesn't hurt, you know, to say those four little words. Trust me: I ought to know. Heaven knows I've said them often enough myself. And besides," she adds, apparently not noticing the dangerous throbbing that has started up in the vein in Cindy's right temple. "You didn't really want to run with that Reverse Memory Charm thing anyway, you know. I mean, sure, it was kind of cute and all, but even aside from the fact that it was canonically indefensible on far less subtle grounds, it wasn't even ever all that Bangy, now, was it?"

Cindy stares at her. Her knuckles whiten on her paddle.

"What?" she whispers. "What did you just say to me?"

"The Reverse Memory Charm," Elkins repeats helpfully. "It was actually never all that Bangy to begin with. It didn't offer any opportunities for a Great Character-changing Catalyst, or for a Shocking Revelation, or for a Mind-Blowing Plot Twist, or for an Oscar-worthy Cinematic Moment, or any of that. In fact," she concludes. "In fact, I don't think that the Reverse Memory Charm ever belonged on the Big Bang Destroyer at all. I say that it's a Dud, and should be stowed away in the hold until it can prove its merit."

There is a brief silence.

"Oh lord," Debbie murmers, and slides down very low in her seat. Avery, sitting next to her, nods grimly to himself and Disapparates.

"What," Cindy demands, her voice pitched dangerously low. "Is the meaning of this? Did I hear correctly? Is this an ill-conceived mutiny on the Big Bang Destroyer? A blatant attempt to throw the Captain into the brig, MATCHINGARMCHAIR and all?"

"Well, actually," Elkins begins. "Technically, you know, Cindy, since I don't think that I was ever actually a crew-member of the Big Bang destroyer, I don't really think that this can properly be called a—"

"It has come to this, has it? This challenge -- from the Captain of the Fourth Man Hovercraft of all things! The Hovercraft that is in such bad condition, such disrepair, that it is coated in foul seagull droppings. The Hovercraft that has been left to drift, rudderless, as Judy, Debbie and even Eileen's brother attempt to capsize it just for the sport of it?"

Elkins recoils as if slapped. Two spots of red appear high on her cheekbones.

"Oh, now, hey!" she objects indignantly. "Hey, now, come on. I mean, just hold on. You know perfectly well that I couldn't possibly have gone anywhere near that hovercraft, not back then, not with all of those canonical villains still out there gunning for me and Avery. Didn't you read message #36675? I mean, I was a marked woman, Cindy. Surely you didn't honestly expect me to hang around just waiting for trouble? And besides, it's not as if I hadn't already provided Fourth Man with plenty of canon to—"

"And now," Cindy sneers. "Now Elkins, the Captain of the pitiful, neglected Hovercraft, dares declare which theories belong on the Big Bang Destroyer?! Oh, this is far worse than spraypainted graffiti, far worse than the odd seashell tossing, far worse than murdering Pig, Erroll and Hedwig. . . . This time, Elkins has gone Too Far!"

Cindy launches herself out of her seat. Eloise's pet hedgehog dives under her chair. Naama swings open the emergency exit. Elkins gulps and grips the edges of her lectern, hard.

"Oh, wow," says Stoned!Harry, fumbling to prepare his Shield Charm. "Guys, like, maybe you should just chill out, yeah? I mean, like, it's only a children's boo—"

"Let me tell you something!" screams Cindy, spit flying from the corners of her lips. "I have been Banging since before you were born! I am the Queen of Banging!"

Stoned!Harry starts to giggle idiotically. Elkins closes her eyes, but thankfully, Cindy seems not to have noticed.

"Reverse Memory Charm Neville is Bangy if I say he is!" she shrieks.

"If you say he is?" Elkins opens her eyes again. "If you say he is?" she repeats incredulously. "What, you're claiming for yourself the right to redefine Bang whenever it suits your purposes now? Bang is no longer a means of evaluating canonical plausibility? It's now a matter of pure personal preference? You''re what? You're Humpty Dumptying the Bangs?"

"Humpty Dumptying the Bangs?" repeats Debbie blankly from her seat. Nobody pays her any mind.

"And I can prove it!" yells Cindy, waving her paddle wildly in the air. "What's the future Bang with every one of the Memory Charm Neville variants? Hmmmm? That the Charm will be removed? And? So? What? Neville cries his little eyes out when he finally remembers what happened? He gets a little snippy with Gran? He sleeps past noon for a few days? That's it? That's all you've got?"

"But, but, but," Elkins objects. "But that's not what Bang means. It's...and besides," she continues, her voice now rising to something very like a yell itself. "Didn't you even listen to my symposium? Weren't you even paying attention? Of course they have Bang! They all give you an abrupt character change based on a catalytic plot event! And they're cinematic, too! They're plenty cinematic! Which precise cinematic effect you get from the Big Bang all depends on which one you go for!" She steps out from behind her podium, brandishing a handful of papers. "Look," she says. "Just look. There's—"

"Well, I'll have you know that with Reverse Memory Charm Neville, we get multiple Bangs," interrupts Cindy. "We get a huge scene where Harry finally asks Neville about what happened the night the Longbottoms were tortured and Neville tells the whole gruesome tale in excruciating detail."

Elkins pauses, half-way down the steps of the platform. Her lip curls in disdain.

"Oh," she sneers. "Oh, yes, I see. This is now Cindy's idea of Bang, is it? This is the Great and Powerful Captain Cindy's idea of an Exciting Cinematic Moment?


"Dialogue. A conversation. A Confessional. A 'This Time, On Oprah' moment. Ooooooh," Elkins simpers in a high nasty falsetto. "Will Neville and Harry talk about their feeeeeeeeeeeelings, Cindy? Will Harry go and make Neville a nice comforting cup of tea? Hand him a hankie, perhaps? Tell him, 'Oh, Neville, how I feel your pain? For I, too, come from a tragically-broken home, and I too have never known the comfort and support of a warm and loving family?' And then, maybe once they're done with all of that delving, they can share a Great Big Hug? And then go on to talk about which girls they like, perhaps?

"Pah!" spits Elkins. "Pah! That's not Bang, Cindy. That's girl stuff! It's a chick flick! It's an after-school special! It's a soap opera! It's a Kaffee Klatsch! It is just plain Weak, is what it is. It. Is. A. DUD!"

Cindy raises her paddle, snarling, but Elkins snatches it right out of her hands.

"Now, a Memory Charm Theory," she says, brandishing the paddle menacingly. "A Memory Charm Theory can give you a real Bang. Something cracks Neville's memory charm, and POW! Change! Sudden, abrupt and catalytic change! What does Reverse Memory Charm have to offer? Nothing, that's what! No change worthy of being deemed Big and Bangy is possible with a Reverse Memory Charm because Neville. Already. Remembers. Everything!"

Cindy mutters something under her breath about Neville finally standing up to Snape.

"Ah, but what leads Neville to this sudden desire to assert himself?" demands Elkins. "What brings about this change? Must I remind you, Cindy, of your very own canonical defense for this theory? That JKR always prefers to show her secondary characters changing course only in response to Big, melodramatic, and discrete life-altering events? Must I really be the one to remind you that the Big Bang Destroyer's engines run only on catalytic converters?

"It's not the Road to Damascus itself, but the vision on the Road to Damascus that constitutes the Big Bang, so where is the catalyst here? Where is the Event, the singular, discrete, cinematic and Big and Bangy Event that is supposed to lead to this sudden change in canonical behavior? What leads Neville to change in this so-called Bangy theory of yours? Self-reflection? A gradual process of maturity? Last Strawism? Those are not Big and Bangy. Bangy means that something happens to cause the change. Something abrupt, something dramatic, something sudden. POW!"

Elkins slams the paddle down on the seat in front of her, causing a cloud of dust to rise into the air.

"Bang!" she shouts. "Something happens, something specific, and then the character is never the same again! That is what Bang means. Bang is Neville suddenly regaining his memory, and then launching himself across the Hogwarts campus, wand out and lip drawn back in a snarl, gritting 'My name is Neville Longbottom. You Crucio'd my parents. Prepare to die,' while Harry and Ron and Hermione hang all over him, trying to hold him back and not being able to because he is Just So Pissed! Bang is Neville using his last dying breath to gasp out his hidden secret knowledge to grappling-on-the-catwalk-over-the-pit-of-hot-lava Harry! Bang is Neville rushing in at the last possible minute to scream, 'No! Harry! Don't trust him! He's EVIL!' Bang is Neville blasting his Gran into a million tiny lavender-water-scented pieces in a fit of mad anguish! Bang is Neville pointing his finger at Moody, whom JKR has tricked us all into trusting yet again, and screaming 'J'accuse!' These things have Bang, Cindy, because they are sudden! They happen abruptly! But Reverse Memory Charm does not have that! All that Reverse Memory Charm can give us is gradual change, and gradual change does not qualify as Bang, because it takes a single, abrupt, and discrete catalyst to make a speculation Big and Bangy!"

Elkins stalks up to the podium and swings hard at the lectern. There is a terrible splintering noise.

"Reverse," she screams, swinging madly at the pages of lecture notes now drifting down about her like snow as she makes her way back down to the front row. "Memory." Elkins smashes the paddle down on the seat Cindy has vacated. Droplets of grape juice and Zwieback crumbs fly into the air. "Charm." She swings the paddle once more at the seat. It breaks in half on the back of the uncomfortable metal chair. "Is," she bellows, gripping the haft of her now splintered paddle with both hands and crouching low, aiming its pointed end right at Cindy's throat. "A. DUD!!!!!"

There is a very long silence. Cindy and Elkins stare at each other, breathing hard. The last of Elkins' lecture notes slowly drifts downwards, to land on the floor between them. The heading "No Suppressed Memory At All" is written in tiny cramped handwriting across the top of the page.

Elkins blinks. She glances blankly down at the broken paddle in her hands.

"You, uh, see," she says hoarsely. "You see. You see. When a character who has been carefully established, over the course of many pages of narrative, to be rather timid, really, you know: ameliorating, non-confrontational, always eager—perhaps even, one might say, a tad too eager—to seek consensus rather than opting for open conflict...when you have a character like that, one who has already been shown to be a little bit neurotic, really, even perhaps a bit pathological when it comes to his aversion to open confrontation...when you have this character who does seem to have a most unfortunate tendency to get himself, you know, bullied and insulted and pushed around by all of the more aggressive personalities out there, then naturally we all understand that it makes perfect psychological sense for there to be no particular catalyst leading him to finally snap. We all understand that the gradual accrual of insult and intimidation and abuse and suppressed rage might just eventually become a Bit Too Much. The notion of the Final Straw That Broke The Camel's Back is not an alien one to us, either in life or in fiction. And of course," she adds, straightening slowly. "I mean, naturally, that can be immensely dramatically satisfying. It can be cinematic. It can even be quite cathartic."

Elkins glances down once more at her broken paddle, then hands it back to Cindy, who accepts it wordlessly. She reaches up to straighten her spectacles.

"But it's still not Bang," she says quietly. "That's not what Bang means. Bang means something slightly different."

Elkins turns on one heel and walks back to what remains of the podium. She bends down to pick a manilla envelope off the floor.

"Of course," she says, as she gathers up the crumpled pages of her lecture notes, cramming them one by one in the envelope. "As you know, I'm hoping for a somewhat different resolution for Neville myself. Because for one thing, I'm a pacifist. And for another..."

She gazes helplessly out over the wreckage of the lecture hall, then shrugs and tosses the envelope back down onto the floor. She walks to the door.

"For another," she sighs. "I've never really been all that big a fan of Bang anyway."

Elkins opens the door, then pauses at the threshold. She glances back over her shoulder into the darkened lecture hall.

"Not like you, Cindy," she says. And leaves the room.

Smiling slightly.



Posted May 23, 2002 at 2:58 pm
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RE: FF/SHIP: Authorial Intent, Canonical Plausibility, Draco/Hermione

A few thoughts on authorial intent, canonical plausibility, popular readings, and the extent to which speculation about Draco/Hermione can be said to derive from fanfic, rather than from the canon itself.

Please note that I am not going to be making any arguments either for or against Redeemable!Draco or Draco/Hermione in this message. In this post, I am just talking about where these notions come from in the more general sense, and about the relationship between their appearance in speculation and their appearance in fanfic.

I do hope to write a separate post dealing with Redeemable!Draco in the next day or two, but for reasons which I hope might be clear, I would like to separate that discussion somewhat from this one, which is more a question of general theory than of specific canonical argument.

You will, however, wait in vain to see a Draco/Hermione shipping post from me. This is because I only ship big important major characters, like Mrs. Norris, the lunch trolley witch, Avery, and Florence.


So. First off, a few words about authorial intent.

A while back, Penny cited a number of past exchanges that have appeared on this list in regard to the fanfic/fanspec debate.

Now, one of my constant problems with these conversations is that they tend to start from the assumption that the author's intent is of supreme importance to the work itself, that it confers legitimacy on textual interpretation, that it is, in fact, the final authority on the work's true "meaning."

This is problematic for me on a number of different levels, but primarily because I believe that it is complete and utter rubbish.

My perspective on this has admittedly been quite strongly influenced by the fact that my academic background was in the field of classical literature: the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. "The Author Is Dead!" might be the battle-cry of certain movements within the field of literary criticism, but you know, I'm accustomed to dealing with authors who really are dead. I mean, these guys are so dead. They are so dead that you would not believe it. They aren't only merely dead, they're really most sincerely dead. Dead, dead, dead, as a Theory Bay post might put it. They're history. Their bones are dust, their temples have collapsed to ruins, and in the case of the Romans, even their language is dead.

And yet their works still retain meaning and importance to very many contemporary readers. The works themselves are very much alive.

So while as a classicist, one does indeed often try to reconstruct the cultural context as a means of determing the way in which the works might have been "meant" to be read at the time of their writing, to reconstruct that aspect of authorial intent, it is just such utter guess-work. We don't even know for certain how a Sophoclean drama would have been staged, for heaven's sake! It's all hypothesizing. And unlike many more modern authors, classical writers didn't leave behind much in the way of correspondence or memoirs describing their conscious intentions either. The temptation is therefore to adopt a critical approach which looks to the works themselves for meaning, while allowing the dust that was their authors' bones to rest in peace.

So that's my bias. All the same, I think that it is a valid approach to living authors as well. Certainly it has been a very popular one for...well, for nearly a hundred years now, actually.

I never got around to weighing in on Luke's Nel discussion questions from several weeks ago—the ones which centered around the issue of what makes a book a "classic"—but if I had, then I might have said this:

(1) A book may be said to be a "classic" only to the extent that it succeeds in transcending many aspects of its author's original intent.

If a literary work cannot outlive the specific cultural and historical context in which it was written, then it cannot possibly become a "classic," because it simply will not remain in circulation long enough to do so. To stand the test of time, a work must continue to affect readers strongly and deeply even once those readers are no longer rooted in the same time, place, or precise cultural context as the text's original author.

(2) A book may also be said to be a "classic" to the extent to which it supports multiple interpretations.

A literary work that cannot support more than one interpretation is not only likely to be shallow and uninteresting; it will also prove far too inflexible to stand the test of time.

In short:

Authors die, mores change, and Empires fall.

But really good books remain really good books.

Penny wrote (quoting one her own posts from some time back):

We all put our own spin on the characters. They're the same characters that JKR created. But, everyone looks at them in a different way.

Yup. We call that "reading." *g*

Penny also cited herself here:

Anyway, I'm completely opposed to the notion that there is only one JKR interpretation of these characters and books and I'm especially opposed to the notion that this one interpretation is discernible by people other than JKR herself.

I'd go Penny one step further here. See, even if there were a "One True JKR Interpretation," I don't see why on earth any of us should allow knowing it to influence our reading of her text. Authors are very rarely the best interpreters of their own works, nor are their interpretations necessarily any more valid than anyone else's. Indeed, authors are often notoriously oblivious to the true import of what they themselves have written.

The fanfic writers on the list will surely back me up here. I imagine that most of them have stories to tell about those times that their readers have commented on a powerful running motif, or a strong thematic implication in their work, and by doing so just astonished them, because they themselves had no conscious awareness of having put that in there at all. Everybody who has ever written fiction has had this happen to them. It's par for the course. It is also, in my experience, a large part of what makes the act of writing itself such a profound and personal endeavor.

So while the author can shed light on her original intent, and while this is indeed often very interesting, it does not, IMO, bear any relationship to the actual merit or value of any given reading of a literary work.

Penny wrote:

I still stand by my position that it is impossible to say that you are reading a work with authorial intent in mind, unless you've got firm unequivocal written evidence of authorial intent from the author.

I agree. But honestly, even if it were possible to have such unequivocal evidence, what difference would it make? Who cares how the author wants us to read her work?

As far as I'm concerned, as soon as a written work is distributed, then the question of how it is to be read is out of the author's hands. Authors may indeed own the right to their works in the legal sense, but they do not own the rights to the reader's interpretation of their works, and they certainly have no power to dictate the reader's emotional response to what they have written. That is the inalienable right of the reader.

Some people view this approach as hostile to the author. I do not consider it hostile to the author at all. I consider it respectful to the author.

You see, the author already had the chance to affect the reader's interpretation of the text. She got that chance when she was writing the thing in the first place. She got to choose her plot, and her characters, and her dialogue, and even the very words by which all of those things were conveyed.

We call that "writing," and that is the means by which writers go about dictating reader interpretation. Not through their interviews, and not through their authorized biographies. Through their writing.

To grant the author's stated intent as conveyed through, say, an interview a higher authority than the author's own text is actually very condescending to the author, in my opinion. It's disrespectful, because it implies that the author is so deeply incompetent that her actual writing cannot be trusted to convey any coherent or legitimate meaning on its own merits.

This is the reason that while I do find interviews with JKR interesting, and I do find them compelling evidence as support for various future speculations, I do not really consider them "canon." They are not canon. Canon is the text itself. Literary interviews and literary memoirs are often fascinating -- but they are not the same thing as literature.

Okay. So now that I've got that off my chest, let's look at the question of canonical plausibility, shall we?


Back in early February, I posted a two-part essay about how readers go about evaluating canonical plausibility. Interestingly enough, I used poor old Redeemable!Draco himself as my primary illustrative example of the ways in which different readers might approach the question of how "plausible" a given speculation is. I do feel a bit embarrassed about asking people to go back and read my own old post like this, but as the only alternative would be for me to write it out all over again, I'm going to grit my teeth and do it anyway, and just hope that people won't think it too hideously Lockhartish of me.

The relevant links here are:

part one

part two

The first part is more relevant than the second, which returns at the end to a long running argument that I was having at the time about Snape and his old Slytherin buddies; I include it here, though, because it also contains my attempt to define my use of the term "reader subversion," which seems to have caused no small degree of dismay on the list over the past couple of days.


Now, on to my own take on the canonical "legitimacy" of the D/H ship.

First off, I don't want to get too deeply into the canonical arguments for or against D/H in this post. For one thing, it's really not my favorite topic. For another, I'd like to try to focus on the theory itself here, rather than getting all caught up in the specifics.

Just for the record, though, I will say that while I myself do not consider D/H to be very plausible at all, I don't consider it a "subversive" (ie, only possible as a consciously revisionist reinterpretation of the text) reading either. I think that it does indeed have some canonical suggestion, although I also agree with Jo in believing that the overall weight of canonical evidence militates against it.

I would like, however, to point out that the very fact that D/H is such a very popular fanfic convention is compelling evidence to my mind that it is also a reading of the text that many people have found to be instinctive. Fanfic tropes don't come out of thin air. Occasionally they may develop purely within the fandom (the notion that Lupin lives in North Wales, for example, is AFAIK a "pure" example of "fanon"), but far more often, they derive from popular interpretations of the original text. This is the reason that one tends to find exactly the same concepts appearing over and over again both in fanfic and on discussion boards like this one, even among people who do not, er, swim in both seas. So to speak.

Redeemed!Draco is both a popular fanfic protagonist and a popular focus of reader speculation because both of these phenomena derive from precisely the same source.

That source, of course, is the canon.

Jo wrote, in explanation of her assumption that Heidi's defense of the D/H ship must have derived from fanfic, rather than from the canon itself:

I was thinking that it was certainly unlikely that many readers (of canon), would consider this a plausable possibility, without having been influenced by any of a number of fanfics where both Draco and Hermione have had their personalities altered in a way that would make this possible.


Well, you know, I work in a bookstore. And while I'm at work I often find myself eavesdropping on kids discussing the Potter books. I do this because the question of how children read these books interests me, and as I have neither children of my own nor very much exposure to (or experience with) them, this is one of my few ways of finding out how the, er, target audience ::nervous glance at Penny:: is actually interpreting the text.

And you know what? Adolescent boys 'ship. They do, they really do. It's just a riot. It cracks me up. They sit around in our coffee shop eating cookies and engaging in romantic speculation all the time. It's just like they're talking about a soap opera or something. It's hysterical.

And you know what adolescent boys like to talk about?


As far as I can tell, this is primarily because nearly all of them take it as read that Draco's got this massive crush on Hermione, and they're all quite naturally curious as to whether there is any chance at all that this crush could ever come to be reciprocated in canon. (For what it's worth, most of them seem to be hoping that it won't be.)

This notion that Draco likes Hermione isn't even discussed among them as if it's some wild and out-there speculation. They're not even bothering to debate that. They're just assuming it. To boys of around the same age as the books' protagonists, the notion that Draco has a crush on Hermione—and that he has had since PoA, if not before—seems to be a completely instinctive and unself-conscious reading of the text.

This really surprised me when I noticed it. But then I went back and checked out the relevant scenes, this time keeping in mind that Draco Malfoy is not an adult, nor even an older teen, but instead a rather immature and disturbed adolescent boy, and um...

Well, yeah. I have to say it: I've come around to thinking that Draco's got a crush on Hermione too. I don't think that she reciprocates it at all, mind. But I do think that it's there.

Of course, though, this all comes down to interpretation of character, which is always highly subjective, even more so than many other types of textual analysis. (This is, I believe, the main reason that shipping debates at times seem so much more unresolvable than other types of canonical discussion.) Every single bit of text that I interpret as evidence a crush, you might with equal validity interpret as evidence of Draco's disdain, dismissal, or even outright hatred of Hermione. Which of these readings the author actually intends is unknown, and furthermore, to my mind, it doesn't really matter all that much. The fact of the matter is that the text itself both can and does support both readings -- and that for whatever reason or set of reasons, the "crush" reading seems to be a very instinctive one for the series' adolescent male readership.

Now, somehow I doubt that all of those twelve year old boys are reading a whole lot of fanfic. I think that they're probably just reading the books.

Much like so many of the authors of D/H fanfics were doing, when they came up with the idea of writing fics about it in the first place.

Popular readings don't just come out of nowhere. They are not spontaneously generated. If a particular interpretation proves popular with a wide range of readers, then you can bet that there is something, either in the text itself or in the way in which the text interacts with contemporary mores and beliefs, that is leading all of those people to read it in the same way.

I'm not an H/D shipper myself, but I don't think that the concept is wholly unsupported by canon, nor do I think that it has developed as a pure expression of "fanon." I am certain that many readers first had the possibility of a future canonical Draco/Hermione ship drawn to their attention by fanfic. But I am equally certain that plenty of readers came to it of their own accord, due to factors like the Jane Austen parallel that Heidi has mentioned, the fact that Draco so rarely speaks directly to Hermione at all, the tone of his dialogue when he does address her (particularly in _GoF_), the tenor of his "warning" gloat at the QWC, their own real-life experience of how immature adolescent boys often behave around girls that they like, the suspicion that JKR might have a redemption scenario in mind for Draco, and so forth. In fact, I strongly suspect that these canonical suggestions were precisely what led to D/H's establishment as such a popular fanfic theme in the first place.

If JKR really didn't want for quite so many people to read her Draco as a possibly redeemable character, or to see the possibility of a future D/H ship embedded in the text, then IMO she ought to have made a number of her authorial choices somewhat differently. As things stand, she has indeed written a text which encourages quite a lot of people to independently adopt such interpretations.

If there is a disease here (which I personally don't think that there is, but which some people apparently do), then I don't think that fanfic is its cause at all.

Fanfic is but one of its many symptoms.


Posted May 24, 2002 at 1:59 pm
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