POSTS TO HPFGU
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Weekly Archive
January 26, 2003 - February 1, 2003

RE: Crouch's memory


Derannimer wrote:

By the way, in a rather serious footnote: Elkins, do you think that Mr. Crouch's inability to recognize other people's identities has anything to do with his cronic inability to remember his assistant's name?)

Heh. I have no idea if "cronic" was intended as a pun or was just a typo, but it amused me no end to read it as the former, given my reading of Crouch-as-Saturn.

Yeah, thematically, I do view Crouch's inability to remember Percy's name in just that light. I also think that it serves to emphasize that whole "misplaced loyalty" motif for Percy, whom I see as being a bit of a double to Crouch Jr. in this story. Poor Percy just idolizes this man, and he seems to be rapidly transferring his filial devotion onto him, and yet Crouch can't even be bothered to get his name right. Just like Voldemort never came to save Barty Jr. from the dementor. ;-)

I also think that the whole "Weatherby" schtick, while it obviously serves mainly as a comedy routine, also may help to facilitate the Whodunnit aspect of the story. In and of itself, it's just humorous, a joke on Percy. But combined with all of the other strange or dodgy things that the author keeps handed us about Crouch, I wonder if it might not also take on faintly sinister connotations, thus serving to subtly reinforce Crouch's role as red herring.

Certainly, something about that stand-alone sentence about Crouch leaving the tea undrunk has always read to me like a deliberate authorial attempt at misdirection. I think that it does come across as a "clue," although in the end, it's nothing but a false lead.

On the more mundane plot level, though -- in terms of Crouch's character as a person? Hmmm. Well, I'd certainly say that it speaks to a certain tellingly high level of self-absorption, much as does his refusal to take so much of a sip of the tea that Percy so eagerly offers him at the QWC (honestly, now! Would it have killed the man to have taken just one polite sip?).

Of course, Crouch would have been unusually stressed and distracted at the time that Percy started working for him. Percy would have started working for him at just about the same time that he would have started fretting about Bertha Jorkins' disappearance. I'm sure that he was also feeling stressed about his plan to take his son to the upcoming QWC. And of course, he would have been very busy plannning the Tournament, as well. Given all of that, I guess that maybe it's a little bit less surprising that his new employee's name somehow never properly registered with him, although it still does snap my suspenders of disbelief just a tiny bit.

It snaps my suspenders mainly, I think, because I just find it so hard to believe that even under somewhat adverse circumstances, Crouch wouldn't have been able to muster better interpersonal skills than those we see him display in canon. He was a successful politician, after all, and while I myself share Meira's difficulty with remembering people's names, successful politicians don't. Successful politicians learn the trick of getting people's names right -- and then of remembering them. They also know that they're supposed to sip the tea. ;-)

Also, I really do find it hard to imagine how even an unusually stressed and distracted Crouch could have failed to know Percy's name, given that (a) he did know Arthur, and (b) everyone else in the wizarding world seems to be able to spot a Weasley a mile off. Even the eleven-year-old Draco knows a Weasley when he sees one. So it does seem strange to me that it wouldn't have occurred to Crouch that his new red-haired-worker-who-has-some-name-beginning-with-a-W really must have been a Weasley.

One possibility that has occurred to me is that Crouch's powers of focus and attention might have been getting subtly sapped by his son's growing Imperius resistance. Where's the cause and where the effect here? Was Barty Jr. finding it easier to resist because his father was going into a mental decline? Or was it because Voldemort's return to corporeal Ugly!Baby form was strengthening young Crouch's will, which in turn then had an insidious yet negative effect on his father's powers of memory and concentration?

I'm partial to the latter theory, myself.

—Elkins (glad that Derannimer liked the Crouch posts so much and currently trying to respond to Eileen's responses without getting into the hundreds-of-pages-long problem.)

 

RE: House points and Dumbledore


Ah, the Ever So Contentious PS/SS Point Award!

Steve/Bboy (which do you prefer?) wrote a summary of the last-minute points awarded to Gryffindor at the end of PS/SS, and then demanded:

And people think Dumbledore was being overly generous?

Er, no. The problem that many people have cited in the past, at any rate, with the infamous "Dissing the Slyths" scene is not their feeling that the point award was unduly generous.

Rather, the objection is usually that the Trio and Neville earned those points long in advance of the Leaving Feast. This meant that Dumbledore had ample time to award them before the very last minute. Instead, however, by allowing Slytherin colors to be displayed in the hall, he chose to convey the impression that the contest was already closed and that House Slytherin was in possession of the Cup, before pulling what I must say has always come across to me as a rather childish and unwarranted "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" on a group of students whose House already has a long-standing enmity to Dumbledore's own, and who therefore already likely had strong reason to suspect their Headmaster of bias against them.

Those who object to 'Dissing the Slyths' feel that even aside from all questions of fairness or maturity, this was also rather a serious tactical error on Dumbledore's part, as it seems so very likely to encourage Slytherin students to turn against Dumbledore and all he represents, which in turn means towards Dark Magic and Voldemort.

This has, however, been a somewhat contentious issue in the past. :->

Maria wrote:

But I am not sure it's wise to compare academic success to the displays of courage, bravery, etc (you list 'em in full). Tom Riddle got a trophy (or whatever that was, my memory has just stopped functioning) for exposing the Heir of Slytherin, so why not do the same for HHR&N? But instead, Dumbledore just jumbles it all together with rewards for good behavior and good grades.

Yes, but the point system is just completely [expleted deleted] anyway, isn't it?

The points are allocated for athletic prowess (winning the Quidditch Cup is also worth House Points), for academic prowess, for comportment issues, and sometimes just for annoying Snape *g*. Furthermore, even the Prefects are allowed to mess around with the house points: in CoS, fifteen-year-old Percy is taking points off from Gryffindor and threatening to penalize Draco, Crabbe and Goyle with them.

So no, they're not fair in the slightest. The entire system is completely arbitrary, which is one of the reasons that I always find it so very amusing that the students seem to be taking that silly House Cup so very seriously. To Harry's credit, he rejects its importance altogether at the end of PS/SS. A nice moment, that.

And then he's rewarded by winning it anyway.

Something that not only the Trio and Neville, but also we the readers, do indeed seem to be expected to read as a terribly exciting victory.

::groans and rolls eyes dramatically::

But I digress. When it comes to the point system itself, I don't know to what extent I feel we can really lay that one at Dumbledore's feet (although I confess that I'm often tempted to do it as well). I tend to put it in the same mental category as the House system itself: something that Dumbledore probably couldn't get rid of even if he wanted to. I doubt that even Dumbledore could get away with mucking about too much with wizarding Britain's hoary, venerable, and amazingly self-destructive old traditions.

—Elkins

who believes that it is the author's choices, not her intentions, that make her works what they are

Posted January 30, 2003 at 12:22 am
Topics: , ,
Plain text version

 

RE: You're reading the wrong book


Jimmy Pickle wrote:

I just finished reading the "Snape and Respect" thread and couldn't believe there are readers out there that thought Snape or Slytherin were hard done by in the whole - Dumbledore point awarding affair at the end of book one.

Yes, HPfGU really is unbelievable that way, isn't it? Did you know that there are actually some people around here who don't think that Ron and Harry are inconsiderate? That there are people who didn't read the Twins as bullies? That there are people who felt no sympathy—none!—for Peter Pettigrew in the Shrieking Shack (no kidding! Just go back through the archives! You'll see that I'm telling the absolute truth! It's incredible!)? There are people who think that Snape never got his hands dirty back when he was a Death Eater. There are people who actually thought that Ton-Tongue toffee was funny. There are people who didn't find Lockhart a supremely irritating character. There are people who don't like Lupin. There are people who don't like Hagrid. There are people who don't like Snape. There are people who don't like Ginny.

Why, there are even a couple of people around here who think that Sirius Black, of all people, is Sexy!

Can you believe it? What a wacky world we live in, eh?

So, if you Love Snape and think he was mis-treated, if you cheer when Slytherin win, if Malfoy the bouncing ferret brought a tear to your eye (and not from laughing - like mine was), if you're hoping that Lupin/Black/Dumbledore/McGonagall/etc turn out to be Evil, then you are reading the wrong book

If you do not at least see something to admire about Snape, then how do you construct the end of GoF? What do you make of the idea of a parallelism being drawn in GoF between Snape and Peter Pettigrew? What do you see as Karkaroff's function in the text, if he is not meant in part to serve as a double to Snape? If we're merely meant to hate him, then what do you make of that long appraising exchange of stares between Snape and Harry at the end of GoF?

If you do not see any elements of injustice in Snape's treatment, then what do you perceive as the role of "Snape's Grudge" in relation to PoA's thematic emphasis on the spiritual perils of vengeance and the dwelling on past wrongs?

If you see nothing disturbing about the bouncing ferret incident, then doesn't that sort of weaken for you the raw emotional power of GoF's moral complexity, of the novel's erosion of the boundaries between how Death Eaters behave and how their enemies (as well as ordinary citizens) behave? It would for me, I think. But I am not you.

(I also assume that you weren't trying to read GoF as a Whodunnit!)

We're likely not reading the same books, no. But I think that the books I've been reading are pretty darned good, and so far, they've grown more to my literary tastes with each volume. I have hopes that this trend will continue.

The books that you've been reading are, I'm sure, every bit as rewarding to you as mine are to me. Perhaps we would not care much for each others' "copies" of the books, though. That's okay. The same readings are never going to seem equally rewarding or enriching to everyone.

One of the main purposes of a discussion group, as I see it, is to serve as a forum in which members can share with each other their differing interpretations of the books, in large part so that they can come to new insights—and therefore new pleasures—in regard to the text.

When people propose readings of the text which strike me as unfruitful or simplistic or unrewarding, or which just (for reasons I cannot even articulate) squick me somehow, then I do indeed often feel tempted to tell them they are wrong. I think, though, that this is something I need to guard myself against. I think that it would probably be far more informative and pleasant for everyone in the long run to resist that temptation. After all, it often turns out that other people are seeing things in the books that I find rewarding as well, once I'm willing to give them a try.

Or not. Sometimes when you try a new food, after all, it really does taste every bit as disgusting as you thought it would. That happens too—especially to me. I'm a pretty picky eater. ;-)

But you know, that doesn't mean that the food is disgusting in any objective sense of the term. It usually just means that it suits some tastes and not others.

There would be little point to this group's existence if we all read the books in precisely the same way. It would be very boring, and not in the least bit instructive to anyone. There would also be little point to the group—for me, at any rate—if I considered other people's understandings of the story to be the "wrong books." If I truly felt that way, then why on earth would I be here? Why not just stick with my own reading and be content with that, rather than seeking out the opinions of others?

I'm here to learn about other people's readings of the books. After all, I already know what I think. If there weren't a multiplicity of viewpoints represented here, I'd have moved on months ago.

Nonetheless, there are many groups out there which do cater to particular readings or interpretations of this text. There are pro-Snape groups and pro-Lupin groups and R/H groups and H/H groups. I'm even given to understand that there is a Cho Is Evil group out there somewhere, for those who like that sort of thing. ;-)

This group, however, does not adhere to any "party line" of interpretation, reading or critical approach, and that is one of the main reasons that I am here, rather than on one of those other groups. I would humbly suggest that perhaps those who find diverse viewpoints very upsetting or threatening to their own personal take on the canon might just be reading the wrong list. There are alternatives which do not adhere to the same policy of inclusivity and which therefore do not host as large or as diverse a multiplicity of viewpoints.

—Elkins

 

RE: House points and Dumbledore, Authorial Intent, and A Question


My goodness! People have been busy today!

A bunch of Point Award Scene thoughts here. If I've replicated anyone's arguments, or missed out on anything vital, then please accept my apologies. It's a bit tricky to compile a post when so many people have had such interesting things to say on the topic, and although I've tried to make this at least marginally coherent, I fear that I may jump around a bit.

-----------------

Errol wrote:

Goodness Gracious! The end-of-term argument all over again!

::smile::

I just love this argument, I really do. It's one of my all-time favorite topics. Heaven only knows why.

I agree that the timing of the announcement was lousy. But it was lousy because the room was already decorated and the Slytherins had prematurely congratulated themselves. My question here is -- Who decorates the hall for the feast? Did the Slytherins put up the house colors anticipating the victory?

You know, I had never considered that angle before? If it came up last time around, I must have missed it.

Certainly, if the Slytherin students were indeed the ones who decorated the hall themselves, as a premature gloat, then that changes my interpretation of the event quite a bit!

Nonetheless, I really do find it hard to imagine that the decorations were put up by students. I feel convinced that they were the work of the school administration itself. If Dumbledore himself doesn't do it, then one of the other professors does, or the elves do, or the banners and suchnot are somehow magically connected to whatever spell or device keeps track of all of those house points in the first place. No matter what the precise mechanism, though, I feel certain that it still comes down to the school administration, just as I feel convinced that it was Dumbledore and the school administration, and not any particular group of students, who made the decision to decorate the hall in mourning black to honor Cedric's memory at the end of the year in GoF.

It's a nice thought, though. But I really do think that Dumbledore allowed the Slytherins to rest assured in their assumption of victory on purpose. Just to swipe it out from under them at the very last minute, in order to make his point.

I think he was in error to do so, myself. Others, however, clearly disagree.

As for the fairness of the point award itself, though, I am in agreement with all of Errol's arguments on this count. I don't think that the fact that none of the other students had the opportunity to save the world from Voldemort is particularly relevant. Points seem to be regularly awarded or penalized for actions taken under special circumstances not shared by the student body as a whole -- the Troll in the toilet is a good example. Students with inner ear problems aren't going to be winning a whole lot of points for their house by playing Quidditch either, but that's okay: they have their chance to do so in other arenas.

Then, as I've said before, I don't see anything the slightest bit "fair" about the point system in the first place. What on earth does winning Quidditch (and the houses do get points for winning it, you know, not for displays of sportsmanship while playing it) have to do with comportment or moral virtue? What does knowing information that you have never been taught and which is not included in any of your coursework, but which you could only have come by through outside reading, have to do with diligence? What does not breaking curfew have to do with academic achievement? What about speaking respectfully to ones professors?

None of these things really has a thing to do with each other. They are merely displays of those traits (athletic prowess, intellectual curiosity, compliance with the rules, respect for ones elders) which the Hogwarts admin wants to encourage in students. The willingness to risk ones life in order to prevent an evil wizard from gaining the secrets of eternal life is presumably also such a trait. Therefore, it is worth points. And (quite rightly, IMO) lots of 'em.

No, it's not the point award itself that bugs me. It's the timing. Not to mention the attitude.

Maria wrote:

I was really sorry for Slytherin at the end of PS. Not only did they lose in such a "humiliating" way, but even more - everybody is incredibly happy to see Slytherin lose. I don't think anyone deserves that.

<Elkins smiles fondly at Maria and offers her a sprig of Bleeding Heart, as while Mr. Kiersey and his cronies may indeed classify her as a "Rationalist" ::waves at Scott::, neither normal colloquial English usage nor her own sense of logic nor the evidence of history suggests to her that being such in any way conflicts with also being a (smaller-case "I") "idealist">

Yeah, I know what you mean. At the same time, though, what we see of their behavior in the first book also makes me feel as if they really did earn that dislike. Also, I think it's pretty natural for people to feel happy to see the seven-year-champions finally get taken down. I'm a New Yorker, and yet I always used to root against the Yankees, just because I was so sick of them winning all the time. If I lived in the Potterverse, I'm sure that I'd share Ron's fondness for the Cannons. ;-)

I feel a lot more sympathy for the Slyths these days, actually, when they've been on this losing streak for three years, and yet the Huffs and the Claws are still prone to cheering on their constantly-winning rivals. Even though I suspect that their rotten interpersonal skills contribute to their being not very well-liked, I still rather sympathize with them, much as I tend to sympathize with Snape, who similarly brings his unpopularity down upon himself by means of his own bad behavior.

Grey Wolf asked:

Do you really think the Slytherins would've been less ticked off if they had lost the House Cup two days before, when Gryffindor suddenly found itself one moning with 170 extra, unspecified points? If you don't mind me saying so, that would've ticked them off exactly the same way, if not more.

Of course it would have ticked them off! Just look at how much it ticked off the Gryffindors, when they woke up one morning to learn that a bunch of their own idiot first-years had lost them 150 points in the middle of the night! They were mad enough to engage in ostracism over that, weren't they? Ostracism of their own house-mates. At a boarding school, in a milieu in which said housemates had absolutely nowhere else to turn for social engagement. Charming.

No, I'm sure that if the Slyths woke up one fine spring morning to find that Gryffindor had been awarded 170 points overnight, they would have been terribly suspicious, and they would have spent a lot of time muttering darkly among themselves about bias and so forth.

And Dumbledore still could have taken advantage of the feast to explain to everyone precisely what had warranted the point award. It would have been a far more emotionally effective way to make the point that he was trying to make, IMO, and actually, I do think that it would have ticked off the Slyths a whole lot less.

I don't think that conflating the message of our protagonists' heroism with the deliberate humiliation of House Slytherin did very much to convince the Slyths that there wasn't bias in play. Nor do I see the slightest bit of evidence in the books to suggest that what Dumbledore did taught the Slytherin students a damned thing about sportsmanship, or about fair play, or about virtue, or about self-sacrifice, or about generosity, or about rolling with the punches, or about trust, or about faith, or about the possible benefits of actually listening to what those in authority have to say -- rather than, say, joining a terrorist organization aimed at bringing down the current status quo.

Well, actually...allow me to rephrase that.

I see no evidence that what Dumbledore did taught them any good lessons about any of those things.

There were certainly plenty of lessons to be learned from his attempt at moral instruction. But I don't think they were at all the lessons that it was really beneficial for the Slytherin students to be learning. If you get my drift.

Not, mind you, that I think that anything that Dumbledore did was very likely to instill the Slytherin students with any deep respect for the virtues of fair play. But if that was indeed what he was trying to do, then he picked the wrong strategy, IMO, just as I think that he picked the wrong strategy with Student!Snape in the aftermath of the infamous Pr*nk.

Maria:

Dumbledore must be aware of the dislike between Gryffindor and Slytherin, but his actions speak of the fact that he simply doesn't care about it - he increases the dislike even more, when he, IMO, should be trying to let them reconcile.

Yes, precisely. That's exactly how I feel about it as well. The Gryff-Slyth rivalry strikes me as a real problem in wizarding society. It's hard for me not to read it as having helped to facilitate Voldemort's first rise -- and it now seems likely to help facilitate his second rise as well.

I often find Dumbledore a troubling character because while at times he seems to be set forth as a person who is unusually capable of transcending what I perceive as the true evils of the Potterverse, at other times he seems to be either oblivious to it or even helping to facilitate it. This is a tension, an ambiguity in his character that I find simultaneously intriguing and unsettling.

Of course, it's also what makes me enjoy him so much as a character. If he didn't strike me as so very fallible, then I'm sure that I would find him perfectly unbearable. ;->

That doesn't make Dumbledore evil (and yes, Grey Wolf -- don't worry! I know that you don't believe in an Evil!Dumbledore! This is just on route to making a broader point). It just means that he's flawed, and that he makes mistakes. As indeed, he has been shown to be, over and over again in the books. Indeed, from that snippet we've now seen of Book Five, it looks as if this trend is likely to continue: Dumbledore should have told Harry something five years ago. But he didn't. In short, he made a mistake.

I think that this was probably what Snapesangel was trying to get at when she wrote:

I think you rather have the idea that Dumbledore is omnipotent. This is clearly not true. He makes mistakes, or fails to act, in several situations (or so we can infer, since bad things have happened during his tenure as a teacher and then as Headmaster.)

[snip very good list of Dumbledore's mistakes]

Yup. (Although not to be pedantic here, but I think maybe "omniscient" might have been even more what you meant? Not only that he isn't all-powerful, but also that he doesn't know everything, that he cannot "see all?")

Dumbledore can make mistakes, and he does. That he can and does make mistakes is canonical. To suggest that he may have made one when it comes to the point award may run contrary to what seems to have been the authorial intent, but it is in no way contrary to the letter, or even really to the spirit of the canon.

But as to that pesky authorial intent. . . .

Did the author intend for the reader to view Dumbledore's last minute point award in PS/SS as one of his mistakes?

Well, obviously none of us can say for sure, but I personally don't think that she did.

And if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

How JKR wanted people to read the scene matters diddly in the long run. In cold hard reality, many readers do interpret the scene in just that way, and that reading is perfectly compatable with all of the other places in the text where Dumbledore is shown to be imperfect: good, yes, and very well-intended. . . .but also very fallible.

If the author wanted this scene to be read one way and one way only, then she made a mistake. Sometimes authors, very much like Dumbledore himself, do make mistakes. They write scenes which they mean to bolster one aspect of the story, but which in fact, for many readers, bolster a completely different aspect of the story instead. So long as the scene can still serve to bolster some coherent aspect of the story, though, then the narrative can still work.

In fact, sometimes it works far better than it would have if the authorial intent had held sway. I once read an excerpt from Henry James' journal, in which he described what he meant to say in the novel _What Maisie Knew._ Now, I just love Henry James, and I really like _What Maisie Knew_ a lot. But I think that it would have been kind of a lame book if Henry James had actually succeeded in writing it to say what he thought that he was trying to say, because what actually ended up on the page is way more interesting than what he describes in his journal.

It's good for fiction to be somewhat ambiguous, IMO. Unambiguous works of fiction—particularly morally unambiguous works of fiction—are really not very enjoyable to read. Even very small children tend to view them with profound disaste, and indeed, often voice their contempt for such stories in terms far more harsh and vituperative than we adults would be likely to use. ;->

Bboy wrote:

The next point is that, we must view this not from Slytherin's perspective or Gryffindor's, but from the perspective of a reader.

The fact of the matter is, though, that all readers do not read from the same perspective.

It's quite obvious that opinions here differ a great deal. To some people, the last minute victory was indeed (as I agree with you the author very likely intended it to be) thrilling, exciting, climactic. A dramatically satisfying end to the story.

To others, however, it left a very nasty taste in the mouth.

I confess that I had the latter reaction to the scene, the first time that I read the book. I did not care for it at all. It was a total eye-roller for me. In fact, I found it sufficiently annoying that I probably would never have bothered to read CoS at all, had I not brought it along with me on the same plane ride. After finishing SS, it was either CoS, the in-flight mag, or a nap. And I wasn't feeling sleepy. ;-)

I didn't really start liking the series until CoS, and part of the reason for that was that I saw many signs in CoS that the author was setting about to undercut to number of the things that I had so DISliked about SS: the pronounced yet unexamined dualism, for example, and the emphasis on inheritance, both of which are privileged in the first volume, but take serious cuts to the jaw by the end of the second.

From the perspective of writing a fun thriling story that encourages us to root for the hero and feel the thrill of his victory, JKR got it right.

For some readers, she did. And for other readers, she really got it wrong.

It seems obvious to me, however, that even people who did not read this scene as an unambiguous "feel good" moment can still enjoy the series as a whole. They're all over this list, right?

So obviously either the ways in which the scene "failed" for them were not sufficient to turn them off of the books, or their reading of the scene was not, in fact, a "failure" at all, but rather, an alternative type of authorial success.

Bboy still:

I do get the point being made from a real world perspective, but from a literary perspective, the last minute vitory snatch from your foes, was the right choice for a thrilling happy end to the story.

What did you think of the "cursing the Slyths on the train" scene at the end of GoF?

I ask because that scene strikes me as very similar to the point award in that it is a humiliating defeat for the Slytherins which makes some readers cheer with glee, but which always leaves a very nasty taste in my mouth.

I also think, though, that the scenes are very unlike each other, not merely in terms of what is actually being depicted (a defeat handed down by an authority figure vs. a squabble between peers, for example), but also because I think that Train Stomp is presenting much the same dynamic to the reader, but in a far more ambiguous and morally complex light.

The similarities and differences that I perceive between these two scenes often strike me as evidence that the series is indeed moving away from an "us vs. them" aesthetic and striking out into some rather more complicated thematic waters.

But now I'm really curious to hear what others think on this. So a question for the list as a whole:

Did the scene on the train at the end of GoF have the same emotional effect on you as the point award scene at the end of PS/SS? If not, then why not? What are the differences in how these two scenes are presented to the reader? How do we interpret those differences in light of the motion of the series as a whole?

—Elkins

 

RE: Crouch's memory


Grey Wolf wrote:

I think you are overlooking something, Elkins. While all your points are valid, you are basing them in an asumption: that Crouch heard the name "Percy Weasley" at least once.

Heh. Yeah, you're right. I had been making that assumption. I suppose that it is possible that he never did. (I particularly liked your suggestion that confronted with the question, "Are you related to the Weasley family?" Percy would likely have simply answered in the affirmative. That cracked me up.)

Grey Wolf:

Now, the real interesting question is: how does an absolute newbie, that has been in the ministry for less than a year, manage to climb far enough to be Crouch's personal assistant and substitute when he is unavailable (for example, as Tournament judge)?

Hmmm. Well, I've actually been a "personal assistant," and in my experience, at any rate, it isn't a job that necessarily goes to someone with seniority. Far to the contrary. In my experience, it goes to the person the Assistee finds most amenable to having around as a dogsbody. Such a person is often someone with very little in the way of seniority, but with quite a lot in the way of...

::long silence::

::sigh::

Oh dear. You know, I really very much want to say "hustle" here? But I suspect that "sycophancy" might actually be a far better and more accurate descriptor.

I have no difficulty believing that Percy would have been that person for Mr. Crouch. I've always read a certain degree of amused approval mixed in with the faint exasperation of Crouch's description of Percy as a tad over-enthusiastic at times.

I also find it believable that Crouch really would have wanted, er, "Weatherby" as his personal assistant because Percy did idolize him. That's an important trait in a personal assistant. I don't know if anyone else has ever held such a job, but I imagine that it may be a bit like being a professional servant. It is work that is much easier to perform well if you are able to convince yourself, at least while on the clock, that your employer really is a kind of minor deity. You don't have to believe it too far down, but it's a lot easier if you do. It's a thankless job, really, and if you can't at least Stanislavsky or Roleplay or Self-hypnosis or what-have-you your way into at least...err... assuming the position of personal devotion then it will likely drive you quite, quite mad.

(Why, yes! I did feel a great deal for Percy at the end of GoF. Why do you ask?)

Cheryl/Lynx, however, has a far more sinister suggestion:

I'm not sure about the position, but I do have a suggestion about why Percy was chosen as the representative. I think that was LV's doing. Especially if/since Crouch, Sr., remember Percy's real name. All he knew was that this newbie was just that, a newbie, overly flattered by Crouch's interest. He probably felt that 'Weatherby' would be the least dangerous person to be the link between Crouch and the tournament, especially with Crouch resisting the Imperious. After all, Percy did accept all Crouch's notes unquestioningly.

I agree that this seems very plausible. Especially since I think it's safe to assume that Voldemort could have learned all he wanted about Crouch's underlings from Crouch himself.

Poor Percy really was an ideal tool, wasn't he?

For pretty much the same reasons that he would have made such an ideal personal assistant, actually.

—Elkins

casting an uneasy glance down at her SYCOPHANTS badge and trying to avoid thinking about that clock chiming somewhere up the hill in the Garden of Good and Evil...

Posted January 30, 2003 at 10:59 pm
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RE: Humor and Morality


Tom asked (a great question!):

For everyone who got so upset over Snape's treatment of Hermione: were you equally upset when Crouch/Moody turned Malfoy into a ferret and started bouncing him around?

Upset?

Oh, I found the ferret bouncing incident far more upsetting. The reason, though, had nothing to do with either the moral positioning of the actors or my personal fondness for the characters involved.

Instead, it had everything to do with the author's perceived moral positioning, and how that differed from my own.

I thought Snape's comment to Hermione was ghastly. Perfectly ghastly. It was gratuitously cruel, unconscionable, a totally vicious thing to say to an adolescent girl (and I agree with Shaun, by the way, that the long silence indicated to my mind that it was also a most calculated and deliberate act of verbal cruelty). It was an abuse of his power and his authority. Not nice behavior at all.

But I didn't feel that the author wanted me to read it any other way. It was therefore not particularly upsetting to me. I thought that Snape had been a right bastard, I felt a bit of vicarious indignation on Hermione's behalf, and I winced a little imagining myself in Hermione's shoes. But really, I experienced nothing too extreme in the way of emotional response there. Mainly, I just read it as Snape being Snape. (I am very fond of Snape, you know, but I would never try to argue that he is not profoundly unkind.)

Now, ferret bounce was ghastly as well, and also gratuitous and cruel, and also an abuse of Crouch/Moody's power and authority. It was not Okay Behavior. Not IMO, at any rate. And it was also, to my mind, rather painfully described, with all of that lashing about and squealing that Ferret!Draco was doing. Yet the authorial voice gave the impression of moral approval.

This made it upsetting to me as a reader in a way that "I see no difference" simply was not. It is always upsetting to me when I feel as if my own moral compass and the author's are rather severely misaligned.

I don't know why this should be so upsetting, mind you. Heaven knows that the books for which this isn't the case are few and far between! And yet, somehow, it still always does have the power to annoy and upset me.

-----------------

The conversation then moved on, however, to the question of which of the two scenes readers found more funny.

Hmmm. Well, clearly (as per usual) I seem to be in the minority here. I really didn't find the ferret bouncing scene at all amusing the first time around (although on re-read, knowing who "Moody" is, I do find it rather funny). Snape's "I see no difference" line, on the other hand, I found quite risible.

Why?

Well, because the types of humor on which Ferret Bounce relies are slapstick, physical sadism, and "comeuppance humor," none of which are forms of humor that usually do a whole lot for me. What can I say? That's just not my sense of humor.

"I see no difference," on the other hand, is humor based in psychological and verbal sadism, which is a type of humor that I almost always find very funny indeed.

Ferret Bounce becomes funny for me on re-reading because once you know what's really going on, the humor of the scene becomes rooted in dark irony, which similarly is a type of humor that I almost always enjoy.

I would like to point out, though, that whether or not something strikes one as funny does not necessarily have any bearing at all on whether or not one finds it moral. I didn't personally consider either Snape's behavior OR Crouch/Moody's in the slightest bit ethical or justified or acceptable or "good." Not at all. Not in the least.

But since when has comedy ever been moral?

Shaun wrote:

It was funny. It was also totally unacceptable.

Yes! Thank you, Shaun!

I think that's a really important distinction to keep in mind. Humor is notoriously subjective, and it is also quite amoral. Most forms of comedy involve the idea of somebody being hurt or humiliated or otherwise discomfited. There are exceptions—puns, whimsy, some types of wordplay—but for the most part, comedy is cruel. Farce, black humor, ghetto humor, "comeuppance humor," insult humor...they're all about people either behaving badly or having bad things happen to them (or both), aren't they?

This issue came up a while back, actually, in regard to the Ton-Tongue Toffee scene, when as now, people started feeling a bit defensive over the perceived need to justify their enjoyment of "comeuppance humor" on moral grounds. Interestingly enough, "I see no difference" came up as an example in that discussion, too; although there it was being contrasted with Ton-Tongue, rather than with Ferret Bounce, the fundamental question—when do people find depictions of cruel and abusive behavior being perpetrated on the weak by the strong a source of humour?—was the same.

Back then, I wrote (excerpted from message #43422):

Yet this whole humour issue really seems to be upsetting people, and I'm still trying to understand the reasons for that. Let me try this as a proposal, just to see if it resonates with people.

Dicey has identified a type of slapstick which takes as its operative principle: "Only if the victim isn't realistically enough depicted for us to take his pain too seriously is it funny."

Could it be, perhaps, that there is a related form of humour, one which takes as its operative principle: "Only if the aggressor is morally clean is it funny?"

In other words, is it true that for some people the morality or ethics of the characters really does have direct bearing on whether or not they find a scene that involves violence amusing? Is THAT why people were conflating the issues of whether the twins are funny and whether their behavior is bullying?

I hadn't realized that there were people who held that view of humour. In my conception of comedy, the moral positioning of the actors doesn't really have very much to do with whether or not something is funny (although the moral positioning of the author sometimes can: a dark comedy about the Klan, for example, I really would consider funny or not in large part based on what I perceived the author's attitude on the subject to be).

Immoral actions can be (and very often are) portrayed in a humorous light. Very many forms of comedy involve some form of harm or discomfiture. Nor is "Danger Averted" comedy the only type of humour out there. Sometimes things are funny not because no harm is done, but because in fact a great deal of harm is being done.

So I think that we might want to be careful about saying that it's not okay to laugh at certain things when we see them depicted in fiction. If we were to declare all forms of comedy which involve people being unkind each other or people getting hurt off-limits, then that really wouldn't leave us with very much to laugh at, would it?

But surely the question of humour is a different one from the question of characterization, isn't it? That Voldemort's actions are occasionally played for very dark humour doesn't make him any less of a sadist. That Snape's verbal abuse is often quite funny doesn't make him any less of a bully. That the Dursleys' locking Harry in the cupboard beneath the stairs or feeding him on nothing but watery soup is a comedic depiction of child abuse doesn't make the Dursleys admirable models of good parenting.

What the characters' behavior reveals about them is a completely different issue than that of whether or not we find them funny.

Sorry to quote myself like this, but it was either that or write it all over again, and I'm lazy. ;-)

Part of the reason, I think, that I always feel such a need to emphasize this distinction is because I myself have a really really sick sense of humor. So you can imagine that I'm not altogether comfortable with the idea that finding something humorous implies moral approval! If I were to do that, then there would really be just no hope for me.

You see, I thought the funniest scene in GoF was Graveyard.

So when Alla asks:

Am I allowed to be amused and at the same time very bothered by that accident?

My instinctive response is: "Good lord. I certainly hope so!"

Another reason I feel the need to draw the distinction gets back to what I was saying last week, about the perils of assuming things about how people might treat others in real life based on their emotional reactions to the text.

John Wall touched on that when he wrote:

I'll confess my guilty pleasure right now - I don't want to see Malfoy redeemed in any way, shape, or form. I want to see him lose. A bit immature on my part? Probably, but again, these books are works of fiction - probably the most entertaining works of fiction I've ever read. So I allow myself the guilty pleasure of the double standard - it's ok when Crouch/Moody does this to Malfoy, but it's not ok when Snape does it to Hermione.

Yup. It tends not to bother us nearly so much when bad things happen to characters we don't like. What a shocker there, eh? ;-)

I don't think that anyone needs to feel guilty about this, though. Really, don't we all sometimes take a bit of vindictive satisfaction in seeing characters we really dislike have bad things happen to them? It doesn't make anyone a vindictive or mean-spirited person in real life. I believe that fiction exists, in large part, to serve as an outlet for just that sort of emotion. I don't consider it at all immature, myself. I think that it's just...well, normal.

When discussing the behavior of characters on moral grounds, I do try not to let favoritism sway my judgement too much, although perhaps this is a losing battle. I do, at least, genuinely try to recognize and acknowledge my biases. But trying to look at least somewhat dispassionately at the characters' ethics doesn't mean that I feel the same emotion in regard to their behavior, or in regard to the victims of their misdeeds. (It's really hard for me to feel much of anything for a character like Dudley Dursley, for example. YMMV.) It just means that I'm trying to evaluate the question on the basis of different criteria than I would be if the question were one of reader sympathy, engagement, identification or affection.

—Elkins

Posted January 31, 2003 at 2:44 am
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RE: Characters you hate


Derannimer asked:

Um. . . how are we defining "hate" here?

An excellent question.

What Does It Mean To "Hate" A Character? *g*

My answer to "what characters do you hate" is utterly dependent on what definition of "hating" people are asking about.

Look, here's the thing. There are plenty of characters whose company I would not especially enjoy were I to meet them in real life. But I enjoy reading probably every single character in the books. And I've read people on this thread saying things that give me the impression that some people don't even like to read certain characters.

Well, a lot of the time people really don't like to read certain characters. Sometimes characters just don't work for you: you don't enjoy their scenes, you don't enjoy their shticks, and then you end up resenting them for taking up "page time" that could have been spent on something else.

But a lot of people here are saying that one character or another really irritates them; which I am taking to mean that they really don't enjoy reading them. So is this true?

Oh, absolutely!

I, for example, simply cannot bear the Dursleys. The Dursley sequences are absolutely my least favorite thing about the books. I deeply resent the fact that they open each novel, thus forcing me to suffer through their one-to-three chapters before I can get on to the enjoyable stuff. When they do things like locking Harry in his room, then that is a Good Thing, as far as I'm concerned, because it means that I'll probably have to read less of them than I would if Harry were interacting with them more directly. And I can never wait for Harry to slip free of their clutches, not so much because I'm rooting for him as because I just want to be able to stop reading them already!

Why do I dislike the Dursleys so much? Oh, I don't know. A number of reasons. They're more broadly caricatured than suits my personal tastes, for one thing. They're far more cartoonishly depicted than even the most grotesque of the Hogwarts characters (Trelawney, for example), which means that they also always seem strangely at odds with the more subtle shadings of the rest of the fictive world to me. They don't seem to...fit, somehow. They feel incongruous.

They also strike me as somewhat derivative. They seem very Roald Dahl to me, and while I like Roald Dahl just fine when Roald Dahl does Roald Dahl, I don't like it nearly so much when JKR tries to do Roald Dahl. If you get my drift.

The humour of their sequences also tends to be very broad, slapstick "comeuppance" humour, which really isn't a type of comedy that I enjoy. Dudley comes in for a lot of "fat humour" as well, which similarly isn't a form of comedy that I enjoy.

Did I leave anything out?

No. No, I think that's about it.

Oh. And I also find them a bit irritating as our textual representatives of all things "Muggle." As silly as this may sound, sometimes that does sort of offend me. I take it personally. ("Over-engage with the text much, Elkins?")

This is a different issue, though, than the questions of which characters I think that I would most dislike in real life, or which characters instill in me the greatest sense of moral disapproval, or which characters make me feel the most angry with them, or which characters I find the least sympathetically portrayed, or which characters I secretly (or not so secretly) want to see evil things happen to.

Quite a few of the characters who would fulfill the above criteria also qualify as the characters I most like to read about!

—Elkins

Posted January 31, 2003 at 4:40 am
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RE: Lily's Height/Harry Has TWO Parents


Lilac found evidence for Lily being short!

(Since there's an absence of any textual evidence at all for Lily's height, even I, Enemy of Authorial Hegemony Extraordinaire, am willing to accept JKR's drawings as Good Enough For Now *g*).

She also wrote:

This goes along with Elkin's theory that Harry is more like his mother than his father. Yeah, he got his dad's hair, but he got his mum's height.

Oh, dear. Thank you, Lilac, but although my inner Lockhart is going to be absolutely furious with me for admitting this, it was actually Pip's theory, not mine.

I only really wish that I'd written that post.

About which, just a few additional thoughts to add to Pip's, which I hope might save me from just mouthing 'me toos' like some stupefied Imperius victim.

Pip wrote:

Subtle indications suggest that Lily may have been the more dominant partner. Hagrid and McGonagall both refer to Lily and James as - well, as 'Lily and James'. [Ch 1 and Ch 4 in PS/SS]. In the UK people tend to put the male name first in a partnership (James and Lily) unless the female name is the person they naturally think of first.

There's also the fact that the text strongly suggests that Lily was the one who cast the Fidelius Charm. The only people who knew about the Secret Keeper switch seem to have been Lily, James and Sirius. JKR went out of her way to establish that Lily's wand was particularly suited to Charm work. I think that this combination of factors does serve to imply that Lily was the one to cast the Fidelius, which given that she was only 21 or so at the time, and given that even Flitwick describes the spell as "immensely complex," does suggest to my mind that she was one seriously formidable witch.

Harry is not like his father in an extremely important way. The Marauder's map [PoA] suggests strongly that its inventors made mischief for the fun of it. Its codewords are 'I solemnly swear I am up to no good', and 'mischief managed'. When Snape tries to break its secrets, it insults him.

It's also really hard for me to imagine Harry enjoying programming a magical artifact with quite the same sort of insults that we see the Map deliver. It's really not his style at all. He's quite skilled with the verbal zingers, Harry is, but he rarely initiates verbal battle, and his style of put-down is rather different. It tends to be more dismissive than straightforward, and more reactive than active.

Not that this is so enormous a difference, mind you. But it does speak to a difference in personality and verbal style between father and son.

Harry really isn't his father's sort of prankster. He plays games (duelling with fake wands with Ron in GoF), but any practical jokes usually have a serious purpose behind them. The firework in the cauldron in CoS [Ch.11, p140 UK paperback] is to create a diversion, not just to enjoy the chaos.

Harry isn't much of a prankster at all, actually, is he? He appreciates pranks a good deal when others play them, but do we ever see him planning one himself? When it comes to pranks, it seems to me that Harry is always playing the role of appreciative audience, never of performer.

And finally. . . .

James isn't real. He's a character in a book. You don't need to feel sorry for him.

Careful, Pip! The meta-thinking bunny might hear you!

I do disagree on the subject of Lily's role in the Prank, though. But I think that's another post.

—Elkins (who thinks it quite possible that James really might have "strutted" from time to time, but is willing to withhold judgement on that until either canon confirms or denies it, or Book Seven comes to an end)

Posted January 31, 2003 at 2:19 pm
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RE: Who told James about the Prank?


Who tipped James off about the Prank?

Pip suggests that it might have been Lily.

Derannimer agrees:

Well, really, when you think about it, who else could it have been?

Sirius? Obviously not, since James heard from someone else.

Lupin? He wasn't even in on it.

Peter?

*Long pause.*

Hmmm.

Yes. Peter.

I'm with Eileen here. My money's on Peter.

No, I really don't think so. I'm trying to imagine Sirius telling him, and I'm not sure that I see why he would. If Prank (Derannimer keeps a watchful eye on the gamboling creature down at the other end of the beach) was an act of impulse, and not a plan, then I don't really think he'd tell anyone. Why bother?

Because he was a thoughtless teenager who hadn't really considered the ramifications? And because he thought it was funny.

Same reason that when I was in high school, I ended up having to break into the school gymnasium in the middle of the night to retrieve the bomb that a friend of mine had planted to go off in the middle of a student election debate -- somehow not realizing when he'd done this that somebody could really get hurt. ("But it's not going to really EXPLODE explode. It's just going to...")

Because sometimes even ordinarily intelligent people can do things so unbelievably stupid and thoughtless and dangerous and deranged and criminally negligent that it can make your brain spin right around in your skull-pan.

And if it was a plan, then why would he tell Peter?

Because part of the social function of the guy in the group of friends who isn't quite in the same league as everyone else is to serve as admiring audience to tales of the others' exploits.

Sirius, James and Lily trusted Peter, remember. They suspected Lupin, but they trusted Peter with their lives. Even though they (or at least Sirius) thought that he was weak. Why?

I imagine that it was in part because they considered loyalty to be one of his most striking characteristics. The person who serves as Admiring Audience to tales of others' amazing exploits is often viewed that way. It's a tragically easy mistake to make, which is part of why sycophants are traditionally cast as traitors and backstabbers. They're well-positioned to play that role.

I don't find it at all inconceivable that Sirius would have told Peter that he'd just sent Snape down the tunnel. I don't find it at all inconceivable that Peter, who does seem to be prone to seeing the more pessimistic possibilities inherent in any given situation ("He was taking over everywhere!" "You're going to kill me too?"), might have twigged to the godawful potential ramifications of this action long before Sirius would have. And I don't find it at all inconceivable that he would have then gone and told James all about it. Isn't that what Peter does? He's a rat, isn't he? A tale-teller? A betrayer of secrets? And someone who looks to those he perceives as more powerful than he is to resolve problems for him.

Anyway, I really don't see why he would have told Peter.

And also, who cares if it was Peter that tipped James off? Where's the Bang in that?

The main reason that I am convinced that it must have been Peter isn't one of Bang, per se, but of thematic consistency.

This relies on the supposition that part of the whole point of the Prank in the story is to serve as a kind of showcase for the self-sabotaging behavior patterns of the characters of Harry's parents' generation, those roles which it is Harry's job to help them to surmount, just as on the broader scale it is Harry's job to help the entire wizarding world to correct the errors and heal the wounds of the past.

When I look at Shrieking Shack, I see a group of characters engaging in precisely the same behavior patterns that they did thirteen years before -- behavior patterns that indeed seem to be their own personal Nemeses, behavior patterns that throughout the book, they seem to keep imposing on themselves, almost as if they are unwilling to make the leap of maturity necessary to overcome them.

Remus Lupin -- Dangerous Monster
Sirius Black -- Vengeful Killer
Severus Snape -- Thwarted Villain

Sirius, thanks in part to Harry's intercession, breaks free of his script at the end of PoA. Remus (with his forgetfulness about his Wolfsbane Potion) and Severus (with his...er...entire thing, really) are still sabotaging themselves and so remain trapped.

So. One down. ;->

Here, I refer back to a very ancient post of Pip's.

Pip:

I have a little theory . . . . that all the Marauders had some basic character flaw, and that one of the effects Harry is having is to make them face that and overcome it.

If we accept this as a supposition and then look to the Prank as its dramatic illustration, then it seems to me that Peter must be revealed to have had some role to play in the Prank.

As it does seem to me that Peter's primary failing is his lack of loyalty, a scenario in which Peter was loyal to no one in regard to the Prank makes a good deal of structural sense.

Personally, I don't think that Sirius told Peter about sending Snape down to meet Lupin after the fact. I suspect that Peter aided Sirius in the Prank in the first place.

And then went running to James.

—Elkins

Posted January 31, 2003 at 3:45 pm
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RE: The Train Stomp vs. Dissin' The Slyths


Jim wrote:

This connects strongly with something that's a real issue for me. We live in a cynical age, which we have created and sustained by holding up people to inhuman standards of behavior which can only be disappointed. As we tear people down because they couldn't reach impossible heights, we get more cynical.

I respect that this is an issue about which you feel deeply, Jim, so I want to tread lightly here, but perhaps we have somewhat different understandings of the meaning of "cynical?"

It has always seemed to me that the sort of moral cynicism to which I assume you refer derives far more from an utter abandonment of ethics (ie, "standards of behavior") than it does from an over-scrupulous insistence on them.

In reference to canon, I would say that the forces of moral cynicism are represented in the text by Voldemort's "no good or evil, only power and the will to seek it." It is also reflected, IMO, in House Slytherin's emphasis on winning at all costs -- using any means to achieve ones ends.

The oppositional viewpoint, on the other hand, seems to me to be represented by Dumbledore's insistence on upholding moral standards of behavior -- lines in the sand, so to speak. So, for example, we are told that he did not resort to the use of the Dark Arts in the fight against Voldemort, even though by doing so he might have achieved victory.

As for holding people up to somewhat "inhuman" standards of behavior, I think that the books do rather support this as a virtue. Lily did, after all, give her life to save her son. That's a pretty inhuman standard of conduct right there, isn't it? Yet, I believe that we are meant to read her as an exemplar.

Similarly, in the Shrieking Shack, Sirius tells Peter that he ought to have been willing to die for his friends, a statement that has struck some listmembers as rather harsh: a rather inhuman standard to which to expect compliance. Yet I believe that JKR does mean for us to accept the statement as moral truth; she reinforces the concept earlier in the scene, by having Ron effectively offer to be killed right along with Harry.

On the more human level, the books also show us quite a few examples of people failing to uphold ethical standards. Sometimes, as with Snape, they manage to redeem themselves. Sometimes they do not. I would say that the moral universe of the books is both hard-nosed and compassionate about human fallibility. Atonement is always possible — but it's hard work. And moral failings may be both human and sympathetic — but they are still portrayed quite firmly as failings.

Take it down to the scene on the train. . . . In another age, among (adult) gentlemen, Harry's friends would have visited Draco's friends to demand satisfaction. We don't duel anymore, but do you consider the Trio "tarnished" by giving those vile odious excuses for humanity part of what they deserved?

We don't duel anymore, no. But wizards do. And when they do so, they are not supposed to be cursing their enemies in the back.

Which is precisely what Fred and George did on that train.

I dare say that they're also not supposed to be stepping on their unconscious opponents. It's never been specified, of course, but I rather suspect that a culture with a duelling protocol that includes bowing before combat also probably has a word or two to say about the proper treatment of ones defeated foes.

Of course, just because the society has those rules doesn't mean that everyone's always going to abide by them, either in letter or in spirit.. Voldemort's "duel" in the graveyard wasn't precisely fair combat either.

JKR seems to understand and accept the concept of rough justice, and I'm glad she does.

JKR also seems to understand—better than most authors, I'd say—both the temptations and the perils of the ethos of vengeance. I suspect that part of the reason she can write so well about the latter is because she is also remarkably adept at depicting the former. Would the end game of PoA have been nearly so dramatically effective, had it not taken place in the context of a series in which "just desserts" humor is so very prevalent, or in which the statement "s/he deserved it" had not been repeated so often over the course of the novel that it had come to read like a kind of a mantra?

It seems quite clear to me that the highest standard of behavior in the Potterverse is not being set forth as 'an eye for an eye.' This leads me to read scenes in which characters fail to live up to higher standards with a very interested eye. It does seem to me that in these books, spiritual temptation often takes the form of the desire for "payback." Snape in PoA is an excellent example. So is that jeering hysterical mob in the Pensieve scene in GoF.

We know that the Trio and Fred and George are not evil people.

No, they're not. But I think that if we are to resist the lure of cynicism, then we must recognize the fact that right and wrong remain right and wrong no matter who happens to be doing them. Fundamentally decent people can and do fall into moral error. Wasn't that a major running motif throughout GoF?

—Elkins

Posted January 31, 2003 at 5:49 pm
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RE: What's annoying about Harry, IS he a procrastinator?


Tom wrote:

What I find most annoying about Harry is his incredible stubbornness, his procrastination, his belief, along Snapian lines, that despite everyone's efforts to safeguard him, he's above the rules. And I can't STAND the way he refuses to listen to reason once he's had his mind made up.

Marina wrote:

See, maybe I'm just strange, but these are precisely the qualities I find most endearing about Harry. If, on top of all his heroic qualities, he was also reasonable, diligent, obedient and uniformly sweet-tempered, I'd hate him with a fiery passion for being such a holier-than-thou little prig.

Heh.

Yeah, Tom, I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with Marina here. I find the particular flaws that you mentioned far more endearing than I do annoying. If Harry weren't flawed, he'd make me wanna womit. But of course, mileages vary.

Actually, the flaw of Harry's that I find by far the least sympathetic is his utter lack of curiosity. Not only do I find that frustrating as a reader, but I also find it somewhat hard to relate to. For heaven's sake, boy -- there's a library! Look something up! Do a bit of research! Don't you realize someone's trying to kill you? Maybe you should learn a little bit about him, no?

Then, I suppose that this is the reason that I would likely not be sorted Gryffindor. ;-)

Of course, I do realize that Harry has to have that particular quirk. He can't be going around trying to learn more about his parents, or asking people probing questions, or using the library to fill himself in on the backstory, because if he did any of that, then he would absolutely cripple the informational structure of the series. The author needs Harry to be apathetic in order to help protect her secrets. I know, I know. But still, I can't deny that I find it irksome sometimes. While I recognize its utility on the authorial level, it also often makes me feel a lot less reader sympathy with Harry as a person.

But a word about that procrastination...

Is Harry really a procrastinator?

He certainly does engage in avoidance behavior in GoF. No question about that. And procrastination is certainly a very normal adolescent sort of tendency. No question about that, either.

But is it really a normal tendency of Harry's, do you think, or is it instead a perhaps not perfectly utilitarian, but nonetheless very normal response to the rather exceptional circumstances surrounding him in his fourth year?

It seems to me that to some extent, procrastination was a very sane response to the events of GoF. I mean, let's consider the situation, shall we?

From the very beginning of the story, Harry knows that Voldemort has some terribly cunning plan that is directed against him. Yet he doesn't know what it is, or who is involved, or when it's supposed to take place, or...well, or anything, really. Although sometimes in the other books Harry is reactive as a matter of proclivity, in this one he is to some extent forced into reactive mode. He's doing very little throughout the novel but sitting around waiting for someone to try to kill him.

Furthermore, the nature of the threat against him is both far less defined and far more palpable than it has been in previous volumes. In PS/SS, he doesn't even know anything's going on until halfway through the book. In CoS, he knows what's going on in all of its really important details: the questions are really just Whodunnit and How. In PoA, he knows (or believes he does) the nature of the threat against his person: it's Sirius Black, out to kill him.

But in GoF, it's all so vague. Vague, and yet also disturbingly specific. Disturbingly directed. Voldemort has a plan to kill him...but he doesn't know any of its details, or who is involved, or from what direction the blow may fall, or how or when or where or why.

Pretty disheartening, really. And given that just about the only thing he can deduce about the forces mustering against him is that they probably somehow conspired to get his name in that Goblet, I can't say that I really blame him for having felt somewhat uninspired when it came to preparing for the Tasks. I would have procrastinated myself, I think. Who wants to exercise hustle and diligence, just to help facilitate someone else's plan to kill you? Rather like being asked to muster enthusiasm for the trip to the slaughterhouse, isn't it?

And in fact, Harry's instincts were absolutely correct. Winning that Tournament really wasn't in his best interests.

It's an interesting issue. I've seen people cite Harry's procrastination in GoF as "just typical adolescent boy stuff" in the past, but really, I think it's a lot more than that. I think it makes perfect sense, given the circumstances. I don't even know if I believe that Harry is ordinarily a procrastinator at all. Have we seen him engage in procrastination in any of the other novels?

—Elkins

Posted February 01, 2003 at 3:20 pm
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RE: Snape/Lily and respect


People are wrangling over what Snape might have been thinking during that deliberate pause right before the "I see no difference" comment.

Pippin proposed a LOLLIPOPS-flavored variant, and then added:

He's not thinking, "what's the nastiest thing I can say to a helpless teenage girl", he's thinking, "how do I make this hysterical underage female get herself under control without blowing my cover, and what the hell just happened to me?"

Marina was dubious, and suggested:

It's all the standard Snape nastiness, and I think that he is, in fact, thinking "what's the nastiest thing I can say to a helpless teenage girl?"

Nah.

I don't think he was thinking anything at all. The nasty comment leapt immediately to his mind -- I agree with Pippin that Snape likely doesn't have to ponder too long to come up with biting things to say.

No, the pause was just for effect.

I think the comment was intended to wound. And comments like that one are just a whole lot more effective if they're preceded by a long pause, preferably accompanied by a steady appraising look. They just are. If what you want is to make someone cry with your words, then that's precisely how you go about it.

—Elkins

Posted February 01, 2003 at 3:39 pm
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RE: House points and Dumbledore - in context of school stories


David wrote:

I wonder if one of the things the author is setting up and undercutting is the British School Story.

The points award scene didn't press any buttons for me, but I think that's partly because I would see that scene, and a number of other aspects of PS, as fitting in with the school story genre. Taken together, they left me not very impressed with the book. It felt derivative to me.
Yes, to me as well, which is why I described it as an "eye-roller." It was standard school story fare, and it also—particularly in the Esteem Boost For Neville part—reminded me quite a bit of an After-School Special, as well. [1]

I suppose that what made it seem particularly annoying, rather than merely trite, was that the book did seem to be diverging from the standard school story format in so many ways. You mentioned the life and death nature of the conflict as one of these. I did feel that the school story genre was being neatly kicked by the "Oh, forget the stupid Cup, it's far more important to save the world" aspect of the plot. I was also partial to the nasty sarcastic school master with an unexpectedly poetic opening lecture, the high fantasy element of the Mirror of Erised, and the snap of much of the dialogue. It all conspired to make me feel that in spite of the rather tedious (IMO) opening (I have mentioned that I don't like Dursley sequences, yes?), there was a very creative authorial mind at work, one who seemed interested in toying with the rules of a number of different genres -- and probably in breaking them as well.

This made me feel vaguely cheated when the story was resolved with such a very standard Victory-cum-Humiliation-of-Enemies sequence. It made me feel talked down to, in a way that most children's books ::nervous glance at Penny and Heidi:: do not. In some way that I find difficult even to articulate, it read like pandering to me.

The cartoonish Dursleys also don't fit, though they didn't recall Dahl to me so much as Grimm: another genre referenced to be left behind, IMO. (Actually I don't like much of Dahl either, even when written by himself ;-) )

I like Dahl now. As a child, I had a violent love/hate relationship with him. His books always made me feel strangely furious, and yet I could not seem to keep myself from returning to them over and over again.

It's interesting that they reminded you of Grimm, though. I was so strongly reminded of Dahl that I found it irritating, but it didn't even occur to me to read them as Grimm's evil step-parents.

The place in the series where I am most reminded of Grimm, actually, is (punningly enough) PoA, in which Sirius Black always reminds me of one of the animal-man mentor figures from one of the more obscure fairy tales.

Once COS starts, the pattern is fatally wounded IMO simply because Harry is ageing.

It's also wounded from the very start, I think, by the expansion of the fictive world. The beginning of CoS gives us the Burrow, and thus seems to open up all manner of possibilities for further exploration of the fictive world outside of either Hogwarts or Privet Drive.

Really, though, it was the doubling of Harry and Riddle, the implications of a much deeper and more complex history to both Hogwarts itself and Voldemort's earlier reign, and the introduction of an entire body of new cultural boundaries and distinctions to contemplate (pureblood/Muggle-born/Squib, wealthy/impoverished, human/elf, aristocrat/trade [yes, sorry, I do see ample evidence of a wizarding class structure existing apart from the issues of either blood or wealth]) that made me feel as if the series was going someplace more complex that the first volume had led me to believe.

(To be fair, Wodehouse also took his characters into adulthood, though I don't think they developed.) Jennings and Billy Bunter will never get any older, and that I think has some of the same kind of appeal that the points awarding ceremony can have.

Although I do like the fact that the tone of the books is evolving as the series progresses, I also think that there's quite a bit of the comforting repetition common to series fiction in the HP books, and that to some extent that repetition serves to provide the reassurance of predictability even in the face of a steadily maturing moral perspective. Some of the comforting repetitions may be omitted from book to book—no Quidditch matches or House Cup in GoF, no train ride to Hogwarts in CoS—but enough of them are always retained to provide that sense of familiarity and comfort. I suspect that this will continue. It would not really surprise me all that much if even Book Seven were to start out with Harry at the Dursleys, thinking about how little he can wait for school to start.

—Elkins

[1] Probably US-Speak, so let me explain. "After-School Specials" are short made-for-television movies that used to be [I'm not sure if they still are] aired in the late afternoons, timed to coincide with the return of children home from school. They tried to tackle ::cue portentious voice:: Serious Topics believed to be important to older children and younger adolescents—things like peer pressure and divorce in the family and bullying and the like—and they almost always did so very badly. No real adolescent would have been caught dead watching one of these programs. I highly doubt than anyone much over the age of seven would have been able to sit through one. Needless to say, the Serious Issue Of The Week was always wrapped up in some tidy package by the end of the one-hour programme, usually with a treacly feel-good sort of scene in which the protagonists of the story Learned Something New or Made Amends or Triumphed Over Their Opponents or some other such rubbish. The last scene always seemed to be either a shot of lots of happy kids cheering, or a heart-warming hug. [back]

 

RE: The Train Stomp vs. Dissin' the Slyths


I asked if people had a different quality of reader response to two separate, yet remarkably similar, "symbolic trouncing of the designated enemy" scenes: the Point Award at the end of PS/SS, and the conflict on the train at the end of GoF.

Eileen was the only person who answered me directly.

Eileen:

It is difficult for me, after reading an entire book which explores the ways in which the good guys are less than good, to read the Train Stomp without a certain degree of apprehension.

So do you think that the difference in your emotional reaction comes down to context alone? Or is there something in how the two scenes are actually written that makes them qualitatively different?

I guess this is really what I'm trying to figure out. I'm not quite sure what I think about the question myself, you see. ;-)

But whereas I felt that JKR was fine with dissin' the Slyths, the Train Stomp seemed to be much more ambiguously presented.

It felt that way to me, too. But why? Is context king? Or is there something specific about the presentation of the event itself that made us share that reader response?

What does it? Is it the quiver in the smirk? Is it the way that the scene leaves the issue of future ramifications unresolved? Is it the discrepancy between the description of Draco, Crabbe and Goyle as "menacing" and the ease of their actual dispatch? Is it the fact that earlier in the novel, we had the Ferret Bounce subverted by revelations about Moody's real identity, and that this makes the reader more suspicious of the pleasures of payback overall?

What precisely is it that makes this scene seem so much more ambiguously presented than the point award scene at the end of PS/SS?

And second, to what extent might Train Stomp actually invite a reevaluation of the point award scene? Were readers as bothered by the point award scene before GoF came out? Or is it the steadily changing tone of the series that is inviting readers to go back and look at past events in a new way, or from a new perspective?

Dicey:

I'd have to add that Harry's vision is growing, too. It's natural for an 11-year-old to see the world in black and white. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she planned the apparent shallowness of the first book.

I am beginning to believe that she did indeed.

This ties into the comment someone (forget who, sorry!) made a while back about childrens' books being written to "lead" the reader far more than "adult" books do.

In the case of the HP series, I think that the series as a whole is being written, to a certain extent, to "lead" the reader. Just as the maturity of Harry's POV is increasing with each passing volume, so is the sophistication of the moral universe that the books present -- as, for that matter, is the vocabulary and overall reading level of the writing itself. GoF is a much "harder" book than PS/SS is. It's longer, it uses bigger words, the plot is more complicated. Even the sentence structures are rather more complex.

Given that this is my take on the series as a whole, I do believe that there is a profound significance to the differences between how the PS/SS point award scene is presented to the reader, and how the scene on the train at the end of GoF is. They are parallel scenes in my mind, but I think that they are viewed through a very different lens.

The Point Award scene at the end of PS/SS is strangely innocent. It glosses the ambiguities inherent in its presentation and expects the reader not to look behind the curtain. It asks the reader to read as a child.

The train scene is not at all innocent. As befits its place within the overall arc of the series, it invites the reader to consider its ambiguities and by doing so, to reconsider many of the events which have come before in a new light. It asks the reader to read as an adolescent.

Train Scene = Point Award + Maturity.

Pippin:

I think we are going to see a broader spectrum of Slytherins in the books to come. Not all the Slytherins refuse to drink to Harry. This is the first indication that they are not all firmly in Malfoy's camp.

Yes, I agree. But why does the first indication of this come in the fourth volume?

Quite some time ago, Pippin wrote:

Perspective in a novel, like perspective in art, is an illusion....

This illusion, like the illusion of perspective on a stage, can only work from certain points of view.

Indeed. And when the point of view changes, then certain illusions are broken. Illusions like Slytherin=Evil. Illusions like Comeuppance=Harmless. Illusions like History=Destiny.

If the Slytherins are indeed "part of the background," then why does JKR herself not permit them to remain there?

If we are not supposed to look behind the curtain, then why does the author start inviting us to do so more and more as Harry, our POV character, comes to a more sophisticated understanding of the world around him?

The problem with viewing events in PS/SS as if they do not belong to the series as a whole, as I see it, is that the series was planned as a series. It does not, in fact, resolve with the end of Book One. The serial nature of the story makes it rather difficult to pretend that the events of the first book are taking place in an entirely different moral universe than the rest of the series. That really does start to feel like sloppy reading.

In fact, the series often seems to me to be designed to force the reader to reevaluate earlier assumptions and responses constantly as the lens of Harry's POV matures.

I was bothered by the point award scene on my first reading of SS. But I find myself wondering how much of the current reader discontent that we see expressed about this scene is to some extent retroactive. I wonder to what extent the series is "leading" us there, by the very nature of its structure.

—Elkins

 

RE: Depictions of Mental Illness


Snuffles wrote (of Moaning Myrtle):

Actually, I never really thought of how much her character bothers me until your post.

We have discussed a lot of stereotyping in the books in these discussions, and perhaps I am biased as I despise seeing mentally ill people portrayed constantly in degrading stereotypes.. but I think I might be on to something here...

ideas?

What an interesting question, Snuffles!

You know, I think that characters who display behaviors that suggest symptoms of RL mental illness actually get a pretty good shake in JKR, compared with most other writers?

I mean, true, adolescent depressive Moaning Myrtle is played for laughs, and schizoid Barty Jr. isn't precisely portrayed as a paragon of human virtue, and charming sociopath Tom Riddle is not someone we're supposed to admire. All true.

But then, when you look at the series' designated good guys, I think that you see a lot of traits that similarly resemble or hint at such RL problems -- and the author expects us to love them anyway. She allows them to be more than the sum of their symptoms.

Remus Lupin seems to have some serious non-compliance issues when it comes to his Wolfsbane Potion, and I think that you can make a very strong case (as the Pip!Squeak has, in the past) that his lycanthropy is actually far more kin to medicable psychosis than it is to either chronic illness or HIV (the other diseases most often cited as the RL analogues). And yet JKR loves him, and his portrayal is overwhelmingly sympathetic.

And then there's Sirius Black. PTSD? Maybe, maybe not, but whatever's wrong with him, I'm almost certain that he would be certifiable by our standards. Certainly in PoA, he is a danger to himself and others. Even by GoF, he doesn't seem precisely stable. But again, he's very sympathetically portrayed, and I think that the reader is supposed to care quite deeply for him.

Hagrid bursts into tears at the slightest provocation, has problems controlling his temper, and has a drinking problem. Percy shows signs of incipient obsessive compulsive disorder. The Twins are oppositional defiants with a marked lack of compassion; and if they were growing up in the contemporary Muggle US, I suspect that they would have been put on Ritalin sometime around when they started Hogwarts. ;-)

As readers, we don't always all like those characters equally -- or even at all. But I think that JKR likes them, and I don't think that their mental quirks (not even Percy's) are portrayed as at all contemptible. They are portrayed as problems for the characters, but not as the sum of their personalities, which cannot always be said for such depictions in other works of fiction.

And then there's Severus Snape, who I would say has some rather serious difficulties and possibly always has had. What sort of person knows all of those curses at the tender age of eleven? Snape not only doesn't look to his personal hygiene now; it seems from Sirius' comments about him that he never did, not even as a schoolboy. In the real world, that's often a sign of mental illness. Snape is not in full control of his emotions, and he shows strong obsessive tendencies. But (while I know that some here would contest this) I do think that his portrayal is in its own way quite sympathetic. In fact, I think that it is generally when he is at his least "sane" (end of PoA, Egg and the Eye) that the narrative voice invites the most sympathy for him.

Lucius Malfoy, on the other hand, doesn't seem to me to show any particular symptoms of RL mental illness. He's just plain venal. Quirrell was only pretending to be suffering from emotional trauma. Lockhart at his most "normal" is also Lockhart revealed to be chillingly capable of murder. Brain-blasted!Lockhart, on the other hand, is harmless.

Really, I think that JKR's a lot less down on the mentally ill than many writers are.

Although we schizoids might want to have a little word with her about the defamatory aspects of her portrayal of Barty Junior. ;-)

—Elkins

Posted February 01, 2003 at 11:01 pm
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