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February 2, 2003 - February 8, 2003

RE: TBAY (Mild): Slytherin and the Reader -- Sympathy for the Devil vs SYCOPHANTS


Eileen wrote a terrific essay on reader sympathy for the Slyths, to which I have only a few things to add.

Eileen:

Or at least I think so. There is also that little matter of a sneaking liking for House Slytherin.

In many people, it's a little more than sneaking. And this seems to be one of the issues that upsets people most when it comes to debates about "proper"intrepretations of canon.

If the author did not in fact want readers to feel a sneaking affection for House Slytherin, then she should have done a number of things differently. She should be letting them win more often. She should also be allowing them to do permanent damage to the protagonists without recourse to their adult allies. She should have given their representatives in the text, chiefly Draco Malfoy, some real form of advantage over our heroes, one that is not easily or immediately trumped by Harry and his allies. And she should not have depicted the Slyth kids as, on the whole, not only nasty, but also stupid, incompetent, incapable of tactics and (for the most part) butt-ugly.

She should also have handled Snape's entire PoA plotline completely differently.

Hell. She shouldn't have written Snape at all.

Now, interestingly enough, JKR does not seem to be a dolt when it comes to other aspects of story-telling. She does know how to keep the reader from sympathizing too much with her secondary villains. Quirrell, Lockhart, and Barty Jr. are not sympathetically portrayed characters. A few weirdos, like myself, do indeed feel affection for these guys (although even I can never muster much of anything but irritation with Lockhart), but it's very much a minority reader response.

Sympathy for the Slytherins, on the other hand, is a very common reader response. It's hard to avoid the suspicion that the author herself is not altogether uncool with that. If she had wanted to combat it, then she could have. She has shown elsewhere in the series that she knows how it is done. That she is not doing it in regard to the Slyths indicates to my mind that for whatever reason, the author doesn't really want to rule it out as a reader response.

Eileen:

But hark, what is it Elkins is saying?

"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. ;-)"

Is that C.R.A.B.C.U.S.T.A.R.D. you're talking about, Elkins?

Heh. No, actually, you know, it wasn't? I was using the same analogy, more or less, but your CRABCUSTARD hadn't even crossed my mind.

Besides, I did muster up some canon for that Dead Sexy Crouch Sr. of yours, didn't I?

No. For reasons of politeness, I hadn't planned on mentioning precisely which readings of the text I've given the good ol' college try, but then rejected on the grounds that I find them unrewarding. There have been some, though: readings which are perfectly coherent and consistent, and which seem just as canonically plausible or canonically defensible to me as the ones which I prefer, but which I reject because their adoption does absolutely nothing for me in terms of leaving me with a rewarding vision of the series.

To reject someone's reading is, of course, nothing personal. But it did seem to me that given that the analogy I chose was "disgusting" food, it might have been a bit harsh to give examples. Really, I don't often find other people's readings of the text disgusting. Unpalatable, perhaps. . . . but not disgusting.

And when I do find them disgusting, I try not to say so. Not outside of Theory Bay, at any rate, where the standards of discourse are slightly different. ("Dead Sexy Crouch Sr? Ewwwwwww! Yuk! ::violent retching sounds:: You must be totally Bent to suggest such a thing! What do you have, some sort of unresolved Oedipal issues or something?" *g*)

Scott Northup wrote:

PS A lot of the posts defending Snape (and Draco) over the past few days have piqued my curiosity. Snape-defenders: do you stick up for Wormtongue and other slimy folks in literature in movies? Do you say to your friends "Grima was a good guy! He just hung around with the wrong crowd!"

Eileen wrote:

Oh most definitely? Did you not know, Scott, that some of us listies practice a private devotion to St. Grima Wormtongue, patron of sycophants? The shrine is in the Garden of Good and Evil. Candles can be purchased at the front desk of the Canon Museum.

::lights candle to Blessed Grima Wormtongue, the Patron Saint of SYCOPHANTS::

SYCOPHANTS = Society for Yes-men, Cowards, Ostriches, Passive-Aggressives, Hysterics, Abject Neurotics and Toadying Sycophants.

Yes, Scott. It's true. Some of us—a few, true, but a happy few—do make it our practice, nay, even consider it our solemn duty, to defend those characters who receive, on the whole, less reader sympathy than any others: the cowards, the grovellers, the minions, the toadies, the secondary villains who don't even get snappy lines of sadistic dialogue, who don't even have good dress sense.

Those characters are always my favorites. They always have been, ever since I was very small. Not the cute versions, mind you. Ugh, no! Not the Gurgis and the Dobbys and the like. I can't bear Gurgis, those nasty little SYCOPHANTS wannabes.

No, I liked the real SYCOPHANTS, the sincere ones, the ones who had nothing in the least bit admirable or noble about them. I would sometimes forgive them if they found redemption in death. Sometimes. But I much preferred they not.

I like minions. I like Grimas and Smeagols, and all of those unfortunate Imperial officers in the Star Wars movies too, the ones who were always getting offed. I like the DEs in the graveyard.

I am particularly partial to Avery.

Hey, what can I say? I just dig those characters. Some people always like the villains, but me? Nah. I always like the villains' minions best of all.

I think, though, that you'd best be careful implying that Snape really fits into the same category -- the Snapefans will be after you in a heartbeat. Seriously, Snape really doesn't seem to me to partake of the same appeal at all. For one thing, the dude is seriously heroic in his own way, which is the one thing that you absolutely cannot say about SYCOPHANTS. In fact, a profound lack of heroism is the unifying characteristic of SYCOPHANTS. Snape, with his redemption subplot, his past spying career, and his sense of integrity, doesn't fit the same mold at all. He's a completely different type of character, IMO.

The dynamic of reader response that fuels SYCOPHANTS is, though, one that I think has quite a lot of bearing on the question of Sympathy For the Devil and related phenomena.

Eileen:

The reason I don't think that Sympathy for the Devil is exactly the same thing as rooting for the underdog is that you can often be rooting for the underdog without feeling much for the character.

There's another distinction that can come into play here as well, and I'm not quite sure what to call it. I tend to think of it as the difference between "Sympathy For The Devil" and the operative dynamic of SYCOPHANTS.

I think of Sympathy For the Devil as "rooting" based purely in the readers' understanding of how the meta-text defines the ultimate "winners" and "losers" of the piece. We understand that the villains are the designated losers, and we therefore feel inclined to pump for them. Sympathy for the Devil leads people to sympathize with characters like Voldemort. Darth Vader. Milton's Satan. Guys with flair.

There's another type of "rooting for the underdog" dynamic, though, which applies less to those characters one perceives as the designated losers in "game terms" as it does to the designated losers in terms of authorial portrayal. This is the dynamic that tends to lead to reader sympathy for characters like Peter Pettigrew, Quirrell, Grima Wormtongue. Guys who don't even have style to sustain them.

(Quoting myself here, from a SYCOPHANTS post back in March)

Part of the reason for this, I suppose, is pure sympathy for the underdog. Head Villains very rarely win in the end, it's true, but at least until they finally get what's coming to them, they do get to be powerful. (The story wouldn't be very satisfying if they didn't.) They may be doomed to failure within the wider scope of the narrative, but until the end of the story, they get to kill and bully and torment and otherwise lord it over everyone who crosses their path. And because it's genre convention that proper villains ought to be charismatic, they often get really snappy dialogue, as well.

Their minions, on the other hand, don't even get that much. Not only are they doomed to failure, they're also subject people even while their own side is winning. And not only that, but even the authorial voice often doesn't seem to care for them! If they're not cannon fodder, pure and simple, then they're secondary villains that the reader is supposed to roundly despise: they hardly ever get any cool lines of dialogue, they rarely have a decent dress sense, they're almost never good-looking, and their dignity is stripped from them as a matter of course. Minions just get no respect or sympathy from anyone: they're despised by their enemies and their evil overlords alike. They're losers, through and through.

I do view these as slightly different 'rooting for the underdog' dynamics. Characters like Draco Malfoy and the other Slyth students, of course, often get to partake of both, because while they are being presented to the reader as antagonists proper (rather than just as minions, or SYCOPHANTS), they are also just...

Well...

Oh, well. You know. They're just ever so lame!

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

Eileen also brought up reader self-insertion:

The question here is "How would I as someone who is both cunning and ambitious fit into Hogwarts?"

If you see yourself as a Slytherin, you're going to sympathize with the Slytherins, even if JKR doesn't seem entirely crazy about them.

And again, if JKR didn't anticipate this, then she was a fool.

It's often occurred to me, you know, that one of the reasons that these books are probably so very popular is that they have a personality test built right into the narrative?

Seriously. People love personality tests. People always claim to hate being categorized...but they don't. They really don't. They eat it up. They love being categorized. They like nothing better than to be put in little boxes, and then telling other people which little box they belong in, and then getting to make assumptions about other people based on which little box those other people fit in, or even which little box they think that someone else might properly fit in. They love astrology, and they love Myers-Brigg, and they love Enneagrams, and they love that 'Celestine Prophecy' stuff, and in Japan, a lot of people even believe that blood type, of all the wacky things, is a reliable indicator of personality! Books that purport to turn readers on to some new and even better way to categorize them become best-sellers. "What sort of X are you?" quizzes sell magazines. People flock to websites in droves to take little tests that will tell them what they are.

I mean, people really do just love that stuff. I imagine that it largely derives from a terror of anonymity, a fear of having no identity, of not being known. At least if you can give people some handle to hook you on, you figure that they might have some chance of distinguishing you from every one of the other nameless lumps of clay littering up the face of the planet. You have to share your category with a whole bunch of other people, true, but hey. It's better than nothing, right?

Or maybe not.

But anyway, for whatever reason, people really do enjoy systems of interpersonal categorization. And the HP books have one as a part of the narrative itself.

You may laugh when I say this, but I'm not joking. I truly do believe that this is one of the factors contributing to this series' mass popular appeal.

But here's the thing. If part of the appeal of the books is the built-in personality test, then you cannot expect for House Slytherin to somehow get exempted from the dynamic simply on the basis of its members being the designated enemy. It just doesn't work that way. It would be like inventing sun signs as a part of your novel, and then telling your readers that Scorpios are Evil. It just doesn't work. If people are being drawn to the books in part because they find the whole Sorting thing so darned appealing, then some people are going to find themselves in sympathy with House Slytherin. It's just unavoidable.

So again. If JKR didn't actually want some of her readers to find themselves in sympathy with House Slytherin, then she's only got herself to blame.

Bad Move JKR, indeed!

Eileen:

If you see yourself as a Slytherin, you're going to sympathize with the Slytherins, even if JKR doesn't seem entirely crazy about them.

Yeah. Although, you know, this can cut both ways. I myself happen to have the opposite problem with House Slytherin. No offense at all intended to Eileen's brother, or to any of our many ambitious, cunning, ruthless, power-minded listmembers (all of whom are, I am sure, perfectly lovely people), but when I read the Slytherin House descriptors, you know what my immediate emotional response was?

"Oh lord, no! She means people like my family!"

As it happens, you see, I really don't get on too well with the rest of my family.

The affective fallacy is a double-edged sword. ;-)

This is also, however, largely why I always find myself feeling so very uncomfortable by the "like father, like son" sentiments expressed by the series. For heaven's sake, don't any apples fall far from the tree in the Potterverse?

It annoys me, it does, and while I'd like to think that my annoyance is purely philosophical and ethical, deep down inside, I know better.

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

Eileen also mentioned the possibility that for some readers, Cheering the Slyths is just a roundabout way of Dissing the Gryffs.

Eileen:

And, if you have unresolved issues with Oliver Wood, as I do, you just might start cheering on Marcus Flint, as I ended up doing. And that's helped on by the fact that we don't know anything about Flint.

You really must tell us about your...issues with Wood sometime, you know, Eileen. You really must. Is there some unpleasantly cliquish RL jock lurking around somewhere behind that antipathy?

'Cause I have to say, Oliver Wood was such a flat-liner for me that I didn't even have a mental image of his physical appearance until I was led to one by, er, fanfic contamination. And that's really unusual for me. I tend to visualize things quite vividly while reading fiction. Oliver Wood, though? Nah. He was just a blank slate in my mind.

Good old Marcus Flint, on the other hand, I visualized quite clearly. So strange, how that works!

Eileen, who is considering writing an overview of the portrayal of Slytherin in fanfiction, and how it relates to reader uneasiness with the canon portrayals, but thinks that might be a little too ambitious

Too ambitious? For a Slytherin sympathizer like you? Nonsense!

Seriously. I'd love to read this. Please write it.

—Elkins

 

RE: The Dullest Redemption Subplot Ever


You know, the thing that always amuses me about these conversations which focus so very strongly on the word "redeemable" when it comes to Draco Malfoy is that they almost invariably lead me to wonder precisely what a "redemption" subplot for Draco would have to look like, at this point in the story.

Draco Malfoy repents his wicked ways. He sees the light and seeks to atone for his terrible, terrible sins. And so...uh...

So he apologizes to Neville for cursing him in the corridors, and to Ron, Harry and Hermione for saying all those nasty things to them all the time, with a particularly grovelling apology to Hermione for the racist comments, and a particularly bashful one to Harry for the stupid "dressing up like Dementors" stunt, which could have caused serious damage. He then apologizes to Hagrid for getting Buckbeak into all that trouble that one time and maybe tries to make amends by volunteering some help with the flobberworms or something. And finally, he makes a public apology-cum-recantation to the entire school for having proclaimed wickedly racist sentiments back in his second year, when the Chamber of Secrets was opened and he was twelve.

And then he goes his way and sins no more.

::stifles yawn::

Oh. Oh, sorry. Just came over all...sleepy there, for some reason.

You know, when it comes right down to it, Talk Is Cheap. Redeeming oneself from having said rotten things therefore does not require all that much in the way of atonement.

Actions, now. Actions are a different matter. Evil is as Evil does.

Sadly, when it comes right down to it, Draco Malfoy has not really done very much of anything.

I really like redemption subplots, but I think that in order for a reformed Draco Malfoy to qualify as one, he really needs to do something first -- and something a heckuva lot more dire than mouthing vile rhetoric, saying rotten things, and bullying weaker students by hexing them in the corridors. I mean, really. He's not a nice kid, but his crimes to date are hardly in the same category as rape, torture or murder, are they? He's not a Snape, or a Peter Pettigrew. Those are guys who actually have things to atone for. Serious things. Things like murder. Things like torture. Things like betrayal. Draco, in comparison, just doesn't have all that much of a rap sheet. His attitude is perfectly dreadful, yes, but mainly, he's all talk. The things that he needs to "redeem himself for" are still quite easily affordable, and would require not even a long-term payment plan.

I don't know if I'd even consider a plotline in which a teenager mends his wicked ways by distancing himself from his history of schoolyard bullying, racism, vile political rhetoric, and nasty verbal taunts a "redemption subplot" at all. To my mind, that would be more a coming of age drama serving to parallel and to double Harry's own. For it to be a redemption plotline, I'd expect to see the character first do something seriously dire. Murder, torture, betrayal...even accepting the Dark Mark would suffice. But nasty words, schoolyard bullying, and lip service to a vile political agenda?

I dunno. If that's what's being set forth as the basis of a redemption subplot for Draco Malfoy, then I have to say that I think it rather boring. What little moral debt Draco has incurred over the course of the past four volumes really does strike me as far too easily paid for to carry all that much punch.

—Elkins

Posted February 04, 2003 at 6:20 pm
Topics:
Plain text version

 

RE: The Dullest Redemption Subplot Ever


Errol wrote:

Draco hasn't really done anything yet. But I think its that yet that is under attack. He does seem setup on a fast track to Deatheaterhood. I`d say redeem him from JKR!! ;-)

Hee! Well, I guess my point there really was that people sometimes like to use the word "irredeemable" to refer to Draco, and often cite the fact that he dissed Cedric's memory on the train as proof positive of this assessment.

My feeling on this is that, first of all, I agree with Cindy on the redeemability issue. Anyone with free will is redeemable no matter what they have done. Furthermore, I would say that the moral universe that the author is setting forth in the books shares this assessment. We have been given Snape's plotline to serve as its illustration within the text. I somehow suspect that Snape did worse things in his time than making nasty comments and trying to get a hated teacher's pet hippogriff executed. ;-)

Secondly, though, I wanted to make the point that, far from being "irredeemable" at this point in the storyline, Draco hasn't even done anything bad enough yet to make him require all that much in the way of "redemption," IMO. Questions of his "redeemability" at this point in time therefore strike me as somewhat premature. To put it bluntly, as far as I'm concerned, the boy isn't even damned yet. His sins are minor, the harm he has caused slight. I see no blazing fires of perdition whence he currently needs to be plucked, if you get my drift.

I do see him as on a collision course with serious badness, to be sure. But it's difficult for me to evaluate his 'evilness quotient' in quite the same light as many others seem to be doing, because honestly, I just don't think he's done anything too dreadful yet, and I'm far more concerned overall with what people actually do than with what they think or desire or feel or say.

Cindy, for example, wrote this:

Then Draco is spiteful, malicious, racist, angry, hurts others, takes pleasure in their misfortune and doesn't ever do anything good. Whether we use the label "evil,", we wind up in exactly the same place, do we not?

I'd be very surprised if JKR is among those who thinks that people who are spiteful, malicious, racist, angry and take pleasure in hurting others are not evil.

And all I could think was that it sounded to me rather like Snape.

Who is our narrative representative of a redeemed Death Eater.

And then she wrote:

I'm thinking that sounds like evil by the definitions of most people.

Does it? It certainly doesn't sound like my definition of evil at all. Of the things mentioned above, only "hurts others" and "doesn't ever do anything good" qualify. The rest are just feelings and attitudes. They can certainly motivate people to do evil, but then, you know, so can misguided notions of love, loyalty, justice, devotion or protection. So can thoughtlessness, callousness, ruthlessness or ambition. So, for that matter, can mental illness. But that doesn't mean that possessing any of those things makes someone evil. They're just things that you need to watch carefully, if you suffer from them, because they can often lead people to do evil. But they themselves do not make someone evil -- although they might make someone a person we do not find particularly sympathetic.

I don't really think that JKR thinks that feelings of spite, malice, anger, prejudice, sadism or schadenfreude make people evil either. I think that if she did, then she would not so often show us Harry feeling precisely those things. In fact, though, we are continually shown evidence of Harry feeling precisely those things. He fantasizes about torturing Snape. He wants to kill Sirius Black. He identifies with the jeering, hissing Pensieve mob. He enjoys watching Dudley suffer. He suspects people of criminal actions on the basis of personal dislike for them or for their House affiliation (Snape in PS/SS, Draco in CoS). He thinks ill of Cedric Diggory for reasons of pure black envy. The Sorting Hat considered putting him in House Slytherin.

I'd say that the text makes it clear that you can feel all of those things and still be okay. It's only acting on them that gets you into trouble. That, at any rate, is how I interpret the thematic emphasis on choice.

So when Dicentra writes, for example:

To this I would add that evil has to do what you want, not just what you do. If you continually want to do evil deeds over good ones, you're evil, even if you don't actually do them.

I would have to disagree. I think that if you override your desire to do evil deeds, then you are doing well, no matter how badly you may want to be doing them.

So far, Draco's envy, spite, malice, and so forth has led him to commit a rather petty series of crimes: crimes little worse, in fact, than those which Snape also engages in from time to time. Verbal abuse. Bullying. Gloating over others' misfortunes. Vindictive behavior. When confronted with real evil, however, he seems rather at a loss. He flees from unicorn-blood-swilling Quirrellmorts and dementors on trains. He loiters around in the woods while his father and all of his DE buddies harass the muggles, and he shows not the slightest sign of interest in actually watching what they are doing. He's not craning his neck to watch the dangling muggles and getting off on what is happening to them. Instead, he's just hanging around in the forest and throwing strangely ambiguously phrased taunts in the Trio's general direction.

I certainly do think that Draco is very much at risk due to his tendencies towards resentment and envy and malice and spite. Very much so. But they are not alone sufficient, IMO, to place him in a position from which he desperately needs to be redeemed. Only once they lead him to take rather more serious actions will that be the case, and so far, that's just not happened.

The theme here would be "save him from his future".

Yes. I agree that right now this is precisely what Draco needs to be saved from. Although really, he often strikes me as far more in danger of a nervous breakdown than of becoming Ever So Evil in the classic sense.

But he's cast in the negative quadrant of the storyline, so I guess he's fair game for a `redemption theory' however lame. ;-)

Oh, indeed! And I didn't mean to suggest at all that the entire topic was lame or anything. Not in the least! I was just hoping to point out that so far, the kid just hasn't really done anything all that terrible. His sins exist more in the realms of the potential than in the actual at this point in the story, IMO.

—Elkins

Posted February 04, 2003 at 7:58 pm
Topics:
Plain text version

 

RE: The Dullest Redemption Subplot Ever -- Draco the Nutter


Errol wrote:

*g* I got your point Elkins, and I agree that nothing Draco has done makes him "irredeemable", or indeed vile enough to require drastic redemption. A tiny repentance will do.

Yes! Yes! An itty-bitty redemption. A teeny-tiny redemption. A wee, twee, bite-sized lady-like redemption!

However, at this point in time he does have some things to repent of, including his bullying attitude and his lack of empathy.

Oh, definitely. He's been a very nasty boy, I grant you that. Unpleasant little creature. Sort of like myself at that age, actually, which may be why I always feel this strange urge to defend the rotten little twerp.

Urge to defend or not, though, I still can't quite find an Empathic!Draco in the text. I squint hard at the page, I cross my eyes a little bit...but I just don't see him there.

Mind you, I don't have any difficult in taking Heidi's approach and reading the QWC and Train gloats as warnings. That's dead easy for me: even on first reading, that QWC scene struck me as very bizarre, and as unsettlingly ambiguous as well. But even when I do that, I still don't find myself reading him as possessing anything in the way of empathy. When I parse those lines of dialogue as veiled warnings, I find myself interpreting their subtext as: "I'm important! I Know The Score! You should all listen to me! I can help you! 'Cause I'm a Malfoy, dammit, and that means that I am Ever So Important!"

Which, er, isn't exactly empathy. It's 'pathy' of a type, to be sure -- maybe even of several types. It's certainly pathetic. One might even call it a wee bit pathological. It's even slightly sympathetic (or it is to me, anyway, but then, you know, I was pretty darned spoiled myself as a child, which likely allows me to relate to such things better than perhaps the author really expects me to). But empathic?

No. I wouldn't call it that.

If on the other hand, Draco is aware of what he is doing and has consciously taken a stand at his father's side, he is well on his way to needing...umm, redemption! ;)

Definitely.

It's so hard to reconcile all of Draco's "my fathering" with his actual behavior in regard to his father, though, isn't it? Has Draco Malfoy ever once obeyed his father's wishes?

Seriously. Has he? As far as I can tell, every single thing that we know for sure that Lucius has ever told his son to do, Draco has immediately gone and done the exact opposite.

In CoS, we learn that Lucius told Draco to feign affection for Harry Potter. Draco made the most half-assed attempt to befriend Harry imaginable -- and then lost no time at all in making his antipathy towards Harry Potter known to all of Hogwarts.

We also learn that Lucius Malfoy told his son to "keep his head down" in regard to the entire Chamber of Secrets business. Therefore, naturally, when the first signs of the business begin, Draco pushes his way to the front of the crowd, just to make a spectacle of himself by screaming Voldemortian rhetoric at the top of his lungs in front of half the school.

In Borgin and Burke's, Lucius tells Draco not to touch anything. The instant that his father isn't looking at him, Draco immediately, indeed almost deliberately, resumes touching things.

Lucius obviously wants Draco to apply himself to his studies. Do we ever see him doing so? Err...well, maybe he's studying up a storm in the Slytherin common room. Maybe. Mainly, though, what we see him doing in the classes he shares with Harry is goofing off. He doesn't pay attention in Hagrid's CoMC class. He uses his injury as an excuse to slack off in Snape's Potions class.

Really, I'd say that quite possibly the best hope for Draco's future spiritual well-being is that we have so far in canon never once seen him obey a single one of his father's direct orders. Indeed, although he certainly does give the impression of wanting to follow in his father's footsteps, he nonetheless always seems to go out of his way to do precisely the opposite of what Lucius tells him to do.

Strange, isn't it?

Is there any real indication in canon whether Draco has done so or not? It can be argued both ways I guess.

Yeah, I think it can be argued both ways, and (as I mentioned on OTC a while back, in fact), I always find myself fence-sitting on this particular issue. I just don't know quite what I think of it. It would be far less irritating to me, I think, if I felt convinced that it was meant to be as intriguingly ambiguous as it is. Sadly, though, I often feel that Draco's portrayal is just, err...

::looks both ways, lowers voice to a whisper::

A little bit inept.

I agree with you Elkins. Wanting to do an evil deed, or having the temptation to do evil is not Evil in of itself. But I read Dicentra's comment as evil intent - and in my naivety I put that as having given in to that want and to fully intend to do evil, willingly.

Oh! Oh, okay, I see what you mean, I think. You mean something along the lines of if you point the gun at someone and pull the trigger because you really genuinely want to kill them, then you don't get off the hook (in any moral sense) just because you were so pathetically lame that you forgot to take the safety catch off first?

Yeah, okay. I can agree with that. I'm just sitting the fence, I guess, on whether I think that certain classic Dracoisms—saying that he hopes that Slytherin's monster will kill Hermione, for example—really indicate that he's got enough inner malice to want to really kill someone. I tend to just read lines like that as bored, spoiled, whiney kid talk, so it always startles me somewhat to be reminded that others took them so very seriously. It really just would never have occurred to me to read such lines that way.

Then, I think that I tend to read Draco as rather less deeply malevolent than many people here do, probably due to the fact that it seems to me that when he's at his most beastly, then that's also when he always seems to me to be acting somewhat deranged, as if he's cracking under some type of rather severe mental strain.

But that leads us to MadMadMad!Draco...

I wrote:

Although really, he often strikes me as far more in danger of a nervous breakdown than of becoming Ever So Evil in the classic sense.

Errol asked:

Hee! How so Elkins? I see Draco as a strong character, evil or not. I wouldn't make him a candidate for a nervous breakdown...I'd be interested in your diagnosis!

A strong character? Really? That's funny, because he always strikes me as really incredibly weak. I wish that I could see him as a stronger character, honestly. I think I'd find him a lot less annoying that way.

Let's see. Well, first off, I don't see Draco as having very much in the way of emotional resilience. He's not just a coward; he also seems to be somewhat prone to hysteria. He fled screaming from that scene in the forest, for example. Even Neville, who is canonically established as not only quite timid but also as very easily flustered, was able to keep his head enough to send up the flares when he had been frightened. Draco, on the other hand, just went completely to pieces. Two years later, he showed the same failure of nerve on the train, when confronted by the dementor. We know that he is proud and arrogant, and that his family holds the Weasley clan in utter contempt, yet he fled into the train compartment occupied by Fred and George. That had to have been a rather serious failure of nerve, I'd say. For Draco to have done that, I think that he must have been seriously panicked.

He doesn't recover too well from trauma either. Long after the Bouncing Ferret incident, he's still jumping and blanching at even the sound of Moody's name. "Twitchy little ferret," yes?

He loses his temper easily. Although he verbally provokes others all the time, he can't stand being verbally provoked himself. Not only can't he take what he dishes out; he actually loses his head over it. He flushes, he blanches, he shrieks; he spits out racial epithets; he goes for his wand. His emotional control would seem to be virtually nil.

So I do see him as rather unstable, I guess. Mainly, though, what interests me about that aspect of his character is that it often seems to be at its most pronounced when he is also on his very worst (and most "Junior Death Eater-ish") behavior.

When he pushes his way to the front of the crowd to deliver his gloat over the writing on the wall in CoS, for example, he is described in oddly febrile terms, "cold eyes alive, his usually bloodless face flushed." Perhaps this is meant to convey merely sadistic excitement. To me, though, it always reads like he's tottering on the brink of his own sanity. His demeanor at the QWC, while the Muggle-baiting is going on, is similarly peculiar, and even slightly reminiscent of Snape: he is ostensibly relaxed, even nonchalant, but there's a strange intensity to his dialogue and "his pale eyes" are "glittering." During the train scene at the end of GoF, of course, his smirk "quivers," and he seems to stammer over his line.

It's just odd, it is. I don't think the boy's quite in his right mind, myself, and I do find it interesting that when he seems nuttiest is always also when he's being the most horrid. Whether this is just JKR's way of indicating that the Voldemortian ethos is a kind of madness, a cultural mass hysteria, or whether she means to depict Draco as internally conflicted is something I'm not quite sure about.

I do wonder, however, about an author who would describe a character's smirk as "quivering" without meaning to give the impression of some degree of ambivalence or latent conscience.

But I don't see him as becoming ever-so-evil in the classic sense either. I compare him to what Tom Riddle would have been like at the same age and find Draco curiously lacking in initiative to perpetuate evil.

Heh. Yes, well. The chapter title "The Writing On the Wall" is certainly suggestive, isn't it? Maybe that's what Draco was really reading in that graffiti, scrawled in blood behind Filch's poor petrified cat:

"You have been weighed in the balance. And found wanting."

—Elkins

Posted February 05, 2003 at 12:59 pm
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RE: FF: Evil!Cho: Cho Chang and Reader Response


Some thoughts here on the prevalence of Evil!Cho as a fanon staple, and on what this might tell us about how the readership as a whole is responding to Cho Chang's depiction and role within the canon.

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This topic came up, as far as I can tell, in response to two things: a poster's assertion that she disliked the character of Cho Chang; and a much earlier discussion of the possibilities of Cho-turns-evil as a future canon speculation, a discussion in which the question of the canonical plausibility of such an event was mixed with expressions of reader desire for such a plot turn, mainly based on dislike for the character herself.

Petra Pan wrote:

This is really where this thread came from. The subject of 'disliking' Cho, a character we barely know in canon who gets trashed in fanon.

Well, why does Cho get trashed in fanon?

Presumably because very many readers do dislike the character and/or find the idea of a Cho-Is-Evil plot development plausible or appealing.

It's only to be expected, to my mind, that the same reader responses we see here are also going to be reflected in fan fiction. Fanon is a reflection of popular reader response. It is not random, and it is not arbitrary. It's a reflection of how people are reading the books.

No need to look up passages in canon - just fashion one of your own devising. If you can type it, it can become fanon...and even fanon has its dogmas. This is at the root of my disquiet.

I don't know if I agree with: "if you can type it, it can become fanon."

If that's the case, then why is Evil!Cho fanon? There are fanfics that feature sympathetic portrayals of Cho. I've read them, and some of them are excellent. So why is that portrayal not the "fanon," if all one really needs to do is to type something out to make it so?

Really, you know, anyone can write anything. I don't think that's enough to make it fanon. Things only become fanon, I think, when they touch on some already existant and widespread desire or anxiety or need or perception or projection within the readership as a whole. Evil!Cho, evidently, meets the requisite criteria in a way that Sympathetic!Cho does not.

It's an interesting question, though. Why? What is it about this seemingly harmless—indeed, admirable—character's portrayal or role in the canon that is causing so many people to react so negatively to her?

EvilInFanon!Cho is the best example of giving free and unchecked rein to the desire for wind in the sail. Firstly, nothing in canon characterizes Cho as being unworthy of Harry's attention; the emergence of Fanon!Cho has no roots whatsoever in canon. Not in PoA and definitely not in GoF. Is there?

Oh, almost certainly there is! How else would Fanon!Cho have come about, if it had no roots in the canon? Popular fanon depictions emerge from the canon, after all. They aren't spontaneously generated, and space aliens aren't beaming them into our brains. There are a few examples of HP "fanon" that don't have any particular canon basis but instead are side-effects of people running with ideas that were laid down in early and influential fanfics ("Lupin lives in North Wales" is a good example of this type), but for the most part, fanon emerges from the intersection of the original canonical material and the readership's response to that material.

So let's look at Evil!Cho, shall we? Where does she come from? Why is EvilInFanon!Cho so popular?

Right off the top of my head, I can think of a number of possible reasons. Many of them came up on last week's thread.


1) Dissatisfaction with Storyline

Readers found Harry's crush on Cho an unwanted and irritating intrusion in the storyline of GoF, either because they were not interested in seeing any romantic subplot for Harry or because they would have preferred a romantic subplot involving a different character, or perhaps merely a different type of character.

The 'Crush on Cho' subplot did not interest them and/or actively annoyed them. Annoyance with authorial decisions almost invariably gets displaced onto the characters who serve as the textual agents of those decisions (a phenomenon which ties into that old question of "What Does It Mean To Like/Hate A Character?").


2) "Where the hell did SHE come from?"

Related to (1) above. The introduction of a new character who is slated to be emotionally important to the hero is problematic when it is done mid-series, because it asks the reader to expend the time and energy necessary to engage with someone new. Authors need to work overtime if they want to introduce such a character half-way through the series and still have the readers like him or her. JKR didn't put in that work -- quite possibly because she actually has no intention of shipping Harry with Cho in future canon. Many readers, however, likely did perceive her as the introduction of a long-running romance plotline. Resentment followed, because the reader felt that she was being asked to do "extra work," work that was properly the author's job.


3) Idealized Portrayal

Cho has, so far in the canon, been depicted as a character without flaw. She is pretty, popular, athletic, gracious, nice and (we assume from her House) clever. She displays good sportsmanship. She is not "silly:" she does not giggle idiotically at the approach of a boy who may have a crush on her. She shows remarkable maturity, social skill, consideration and kindness in her ability to reject an invitation. She is desired by the desirable Cedric. She can even weep attractively (no humiliating blubbering for Cho, right? Just those ever so dignified silent tears).

Readers tend not to care very much for characters who are presented as without flaw, even when there are perfectly valid story-telling reasons (Harry's POV, for example) for the author to have done so. One-sided portrayals nearly always foster both reader suspicion and reader resistance. Fans often suspect "perfect" characters of harboring secret or hidden vices, just as they often suspect that flatly-portrayed "evil" characters must actually possess significant yet hidden virtues (cf Fanon!Draco). In Cho's case, this suspicion is likely reinforced by the fact that we see Cho only through the POV of Harry, whom we know to be both besotted and often fallible when it comes to character judgements.


4) Unintentional Authorial Implication

We know very little about Cho, but two of the things we do know about her are that she is "pretty," and that she is "popular." To American readers, "popular" is a somewhat negatively-connoted word, especially when combined with the word "pretty." This is because in colloquial American English, "popular girls" is the code phrase for a particularly unpleasant type of exclusionary and unkind female in-crowd. (I get the impression that while this stereotype does also exist in the UK, the word "popular" is not nearly as negatively-connoted as it is here in the US, nor half so often used as a euphemism for cliquishness.)

Therefore, although Canon!Cho is indeed depicted as an utterly exemplary person (as well as an unusually kind and considerate one), and although JKR surely did not intend for her use of the words "pretty" and "popular" to imply anything dire about her, her word choices act against her intent for many American readers, especially younger ones who may not be as familiar with UK/US differences and for whom the social hierarchies of the schoolyard are still very much a pressing concern. (The conflation of "popular" with "handsome" turns many a reader against Sirius Black as well, although at least with Sirius, those suspicions have a bit more in the way of canon support.)

When you combine this factor with number (3) above, you get a situation in which readers feel that they have succeeded in "sussing out" the true nature of the hidden vice of Cho Chang. She is not actually what Harry believes her to be, but is instead one of those Evil Popular Girls.


5) Competence

This one applies more to Evil!Cho proper than it does to any of fanon's other negative Cho portrayals (Whiny!Cho, Bitchy!Cho, Shallow!Cho, etc.). Cho Chang is a female peer of Harry's about whom we know virtually nothing, but who seems to be talented, intelligent, athletic, beautiful and socially adept. This makes her tempting as a villainess. So far in the canon, JKR has not provided her readers with much at all in the way of female characters upon whom they can project their hopes, their desires, or their fears and aggressions. Evil!Cho tempts precisely because while she is not quite a blank slate, she comes close, and yet the author has not defaced that slate with any scribbles of silliness or banality or incompetence, as she has with Lavender, Parvati, Pansy, etc. One can, at least, imagine Cho as an effective evil character. It's hard to do the same for Harry's other sketchily-portrayed female peers.


6) Narrative Utility

Harry's crush on Cho can be exploited for narrative purposes. Femme fatale. It's a kind of a banal plot hook, IMHO, but it's also a standard one. It is ubiquitous in movies and on television, and in prose fiction as well. To many people, it therefore seems an obvious and instinctive direction in which the character might be taken.


7) "But what's She FOR?"

With Cho, we have the introduction of a character who serves as Harry's romantic interest, yet who is also perceived as rather too blandly and flatly portrayed to serve effectively as a future relationship for the protagonist. Perhaps, therefore (people think), she's actually being set up to do something else. Evil!Cho is one obvious possibility, and the very same things that make her an unlikable character—her blandly idealized portrayal, for example—would also suit that dramatic possibility.



So there are seven reasons that I can think of right off the top of my head for the popularity of Evil!Cho. There are doubtless many more.

How can such a negative prejudgment be so pervasive?

Well, I hope I've helped to suggest some reasons why it might be so.

If the readers had liked the Cho/Harry plotline better, then I am guessing that you would not see such a prevalence of Evil!Cho. If the word "popular" did not have very specific connotations to many American readers, I don't think you would see as much Evil!Cho either. And if Cho's presentation in the books had not been quite so one-sided and idealized, then I also doubt that Evil!Cho would be nearly as widespread a reading as it is.

Combine all of those factors, though, and I'd say that you have a very good recipe for fan vilification of a character.

I would point out, though, that these factors are really not completely external to the canon. They are rooted in the character's canonical role, presentation and depiction. They may not reflect the author's intent, but they do derive from the choices that the author made. Fanon emerges out of the intersection or the collision of what is actually there in the text, and what the readership wants, needs, or expects from that text.

In Cho's case, I would say that what the author wanted to give was clearly not what the readership wanted to take away.

If the strongly negative portrayal in fanon stems not from Cho the character as JKR has delineated so far, then perhaps it stems from her narrative function as the current focus of Harry's romantic interest.

I hardly see how it could not do, honestly. Cho as a character barely exists. So far, her role as Harry's romantic interest is pretty much how JKR has delineated her so far.

I do appreciate the distinction you're trying to make here—it's that old distinction between the character-as-a-person and the character-as-a-construct—but at the same time, when it comes to the develoment of fanon, I think that we have to accept that both factors are always going to come into play. Fanon portrayals reflect reader response, which derives from reactions to the characters both as people and as constructs.

After all, don't you think that it's reader rebellion against Draco's designated narrative function that lends such force and momentum to Fanon!Draco? I certainly believe that it is.

In order to develop an alternate relationSHIP, many fanfic authors felt obliged to address the issue of shifting Harry's focus since his reactions to Cho in PoA are a drag to the dynamics of nautical speed.

I agree that this is surely one of the factors contributing to the popularity of Evil!Cho, but I don't think that it's the only one. See above.

The inconvenience that is Cho's narrative function to shipping has led to poor characterization of her in fanfics in general.

I don't really think that "shipping," in the sense of readers plumping for certain already-hinted-at potential future relationships for Harry, is by any means the only factor at work here. I suspect that many readers who hadn't previously even bothered to consider Harry's love life still may have found Cho to be an irritant. One of my housemates is about as little interested in the entire shipping issue as it is possible for a reader to be, I'd say. He absolutely loathed Cho.

Just for the record, by the way, I myself have no problems with Cho. I felt affection for her while reading the books; I felt rotten for her at the end of GoF; and I'd like to see more of her in future canon (although only if she's actually going to get fleshed out a bit more). But I really can't say that it surprised me in the least when I learned that she was so widely disliked. Neither, however, has this fact led me to reevaluate my own reading of her canonical depiction, which I view as positive, if also rather blandly idealized.

I suspect that if she hadn't been set forth in the text as such an unmitigated collection of idealized traits (pretty, smart, sportsmanlike, popular, athletic, sensible, kind, mature, ick, ick, ick), then people would both have liked her better and be far less inclined now to propose Ever So Evil Cho speculations. I don't particularly dislike the character myself, but I can certainly understand why others would -- as well as why others might consider a descent into darkness a way to redeem her as a character who might add interest and relevance and...well, and Bang! to the storyline.



—Elkins

 

RE: Vengeance


Scott (who will never go wrong on this list proclaiming the sexiness of brainy assertive girls!) wrote:

There's been some discussion about the evils of vengeance; that seeking vengeance is some sort of dark character aspect. I find the modern view of vengeance interesting, when one looks at vengeange in the eyes of the Greeks. To the Greeks, vengeance was a noble pursuit; it was upholding one's honor, and whole wars were started out of a desire for retribution (both Persian Wars, actually, were wars of vengeance). Vengeance was something that 'Real Men' sought at all costs. I don't necessarily hold with this view. I don't necessarily hold with Ghandi's "An Eye for an Eye blinds the world," either.

Well, I guess that the question that really interests me the most here is: what does the story tell us about vengeance? What role is vengeance playing within the story itself?

As I'm reading it, vengeance is being presented in the books as one of the chief spiritual perils for the characters.

Harry's desire for vengeance in PoA leads him to nearly kill Sirius Black, who is an innocent man. Sirius' obsession with vengeance leads him to break the blameless Ron's leg, and to throttle his own godson. Sirius and Remus wish to kill Peter in vengeance, but Harry stops them out of concern for their spiritual well-being -- and whatever we as individuals might make of that decision, I think that the author presents it as wholly positive. Dumbledore praises Harry for it, and on the metaphoric level, it is the decision that enables Harry to fend off the dementors: by preventing the vengeance killing, as his father would have done, Harry is proven a worthy heir to James, who then appears in the form of Harry's own patronus to fend off the dementors, symbols of madness and of spiritual despair.

Snape is at his nastiest and his least rational—the end of PoA, for example—when he is acting out of a desire for vengeance: on Sirius, on Lupin, and often, through Harry, vicariously on James. When Snape is at his most admirable—when, for example, he is working to save Harry's life—it is when he is denying himself the pleasures of vicarious payback to follow instead a somewhat loftier goal.

Moaning Myrtle was bound to Hogwarts after she had made a nuisance of herself trying to get some payback on her adolescent tormentor. I think it strongly suggested that this inability to let go of her anger over having been picked on as a student is in fact what is keeping her a ghost, what prevents her spirit from finding rest.

The unwillingness to forgive past wrongs characterizes Voldemort, of course, who murdered his father and paternal grandparents to "pay them back" for their treatment of his mother and himself, and who in the graveyard tells his erring Death Eaters: "I do not forgive."

In GoF, Barty Jr. is shown as highly motivated by vengeance as well. He gloats over his father falling prey to the Imperius Curse. He avenges himself vicariously on Lucius Malfoy, that hated Death Eater who never suffered, by targetting the man's son. He begs Harry to tell him that his master tortured the other DEs for their disloyalty. He is Payback Man. He is also, I think, depicted as profoundly wicked, as well as quite, quite mad.

Tha ambiguous nature of the desire for vengeance plays a central role in GoF, I think.

Lying in the darkness, Harry felt a rush of anger and hate toward the people who had tortured Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom. ... He remembered the jeers of the crowd as Crouch's son and his companions had been dragged from the court by the dementors. ... He understood how they had felt. . . . Then he remembered the milk-white face of the screaming boy and realized with a jolt that he had died a year later. . . .

It was Voldemort, Harry thought, staring up at the canopy of his bed in the darkness, it all came back to Voldemort ... He was the one who had torn these families apart, who had ruined all these lives. . . .

The "rush of anger and hate" that Harry feels at the thought of the terrible wrong done to the Longbottoms is the source of vengeance. His pity for Crouch's son, whom he believes at the time to have been innocent, leads him to the realization that such expressions of hatred can be seen as every bit as much Voldemort's doing as the original wrong itself.

The passage is ironic because Crouch's son is actually not dead at all; instead, he is Harry's unseen antagonist throughout GoF. It is also, however, profound, in that part of what makes Crouch Jr. so utterly consumed by evil is his own inability to reach the same conclusion that Harry himself just has: that the pursuit of vengeance leads, ultimately, to the loss of ones very soul.

These indications combine to make me feel that JKR is most definitely taking the stand that the desire for vengeance is, while natural, normal and even to some extent beneficial, in that it can lend one the strength to resist (anger over Voldemort's taunts about his parents lends Harry strength in both the Chamber and the Graveyard), also a very serious spiritual peril, a lure and a trap for the unwary.

Part of what interests me so much about this, though (and part of why I keep obsessing on scenes like the Train St...er, Step and how they are constructed), is that this emphasis on Vengeance-As-Peril seems so very much at odds with the author's fondness for 'just deserts' humour and 'comeuppance' resolutions to her plotlines.

It is difficult for me, as a reader, to reconcile these two aspects of the books, particularly when, as with the Ferret Bouncing incident, the author seems to wish to have her cake and eat it too: the scene is meant to be funny and enjoyable—Draco had it coming—and yet it is also given a secondary meaning within the text: Moody is really Crouch Jr., who was giving free rein to his vindictive nature, which is in turn presented as a symptom of his very evilness.

Authorial ambivalence?

Oooooh, yes. I think so.

And in a lot of ways, I think that ambivalence is part of what makes the books work so well. I think that one of the reasons that Snape is such an interesting character is that JKR knows how to make his grudge-holding and his vindictiveness really palpable. She knows how to make it seem real. I suspect that she can do this so well for exactly the same reason that she can write such appealing come-uppance humor scenes: because she really does get the desire for vengeance. She understands how it operates. She knows how it works. She knows how it feels.

Which also may be why it is that she emphasizes it so very strongly as a spiritual peril within her books.

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Oh, and one other thing...

Scott:

When I signed onto this list, I expected to discuss predictions and speculation as to what happens in future books- not full blown philosophy discussions. I'm just a simple Math Major, dang it! Math is so clear cut- you're either right, or wrong, and you're not generally judged on either (well, not morally, heh).

Oh, dear. Well, I certainly hope that nobody's judging anyone here. I personally think that it's a lot of fun to discuss these aspects of the books, but only when we can keep it from getting too personal.

A Math Major, eh? So how many students at Hogwarts, then, do you think?

::evil grin::

—Elkins

Posted February 05, 2003 at 8:02 pm
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RE: TBAY: MD with Lupin -- Neville with Invisibility


Melody and Cindy sat silently in Melody's bedroom in the Safehouse, pondering the possibility that Neville might have been spared his parents' torment only due to being obscured by Popular Auror Frank Longbottom's Invisibility Cloak.

"But," Melody said after a long silence, clutching the stuffed and toothless toy Coney that Pip had given her just the other day to help soothe her nightmares tightly to her chest. "But if Neville's parents had a Cloak, then where is it? Surely Neville doesn't have it."

"No," agreed Cindy. "Neville doesn't have it. And—"

"Oh, doesn't he?" a voice boomed.

Melody squealed and pulled her covers hard over her head. Cindy leapt to her feet, Big Paddle at the ready. She squinted suspiciously around the room.

"Who is that?" she demanded. "Show yourself."

"Er, it's just me, I think," said the voice, now sounding a lot less boomish and rather more plaintive. "Elkins. I'm pretty sure I must be somewhere in the Safe House. There's this room, and there are lots of dials and switches, and monitors showing things all over the Bay, and there are some speakers, and—"

"That would be the Comm Room," said Melody cheerfully, emerging from under her blankets.

"You guys really need to do something about the security in this place," Cindy told her.

"Hey, cool!" Elkins' voice crackled slightly with static. "It looks like a bunch of people are doing an experiment down in the laundry room. They're trying to find out if the Magic Dishwasher will still get the canons every bit as shiny and bright if you use Wolfsbane Potion as your detergent, instead of belladonna."

"Does it?" asked Cindy, with some interest.

"Don't know yet. So far it seems to be working okay, but if you ask me, it's a little bit redundant. I mean, Snape's already been canonically established as Dumbledore's spy, hasn't he? Still. I guess he could be using Lupin as well. Spymasters often do use their people that way, don't they? Setting them at cross-purposes? That happens all the time in spy novels, at any rate. So maybe it does make sense after all. I'm withholding judgement until I see how the rinse cycle works out, myself."

"But what are you doing in the Safe House, Elkins?" asked Cindy, frowning. "Since when do you go in for espionage theories?"

"Well, there is Fourth Man With Deep Undercover," Elkins pointed out. "And I did name the Fourth Man theory the Fourth Man theory, didn't I? Even though it's not really a spy theory. But I didn't actually mean to come to the Safe House. I was just doing a bit of clean-up around the Bay—you know, trying to get some of the trash picked up—and before I knew it—"

"Ah." Cindy nodded grimly. "Say no more."

"Pip never told me anything about a Portkey to the Comm Room," objected Melody indignantly. "I can't even imagine what the purpose of setting one of those up would be! It would totally compromise us!"

"A very plausible-sounding denial," said Elkins approvingly. "Like I said. Spymasters don't always keep all of their people informed about every last one of their plans. But I'm rather hoping that it was just a terrible sloppy oversight, myself. I always like it much better when it turns out that people screwed up big time than I do when it turns out that they were actually being very clever and getting things right all along — which is part of the reason that I don't come around here all that often, actually. Nothing personal, you understand. Nothing to do with plausibility. Just my own subjective preference. Certain types of competence just really get on my nerves, is all. But listen. About that Invisibility Cloak that Neville's not been telling anyone that he's got?"

"He doesn't have one," said Cindy decisively. "Don't make me throw a Yellow Flag your way, Elkins. Especially since I don't even know where you are. We've never seen any indication in the canon that Neville has an Invisibility Cloak!"

"Oh, haven't we? Doesn't Neville seem to disappear a lot? Where does he go on the train at the beginning of Goblet of Fire, for example?"

"What?"

"Well, he's standing right there, talking to Ron. Ron has just tipped the Krum figurine into his hand. And then Malfoy and his cronies show up...and he vanishes!"

"What do you mean, he vanishes? Elkins, that doesn't make any sense!"

"One minute he's there, the next he's not. Read the scene. You'll see what I mean."

Cindy frowned, then picked Melody's copy of _Goblet of Fire_ up off of the bed. She flipped a few pages, then read:

"Oh wow," said Neville enviously as Ron tipped Krum onto his pudgy hand.

"Right," said Elkins. "So then where does he go?"

"Well, he..." Cindy flipped through pages, frowning. "He...By Jove, you know you're right? He does disappear!"

"Let me see that," said Melody. She took the book from Cindy and squinted at it. "Oh!" she exclaimed, after a few moments. "There he is again."

A hundred horseless carriages stood waiting for them outside the station. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville climbed gratefully into one of them, the door shut with a snap, and a few moments later, with a great lurch, the long procession of carriages was rumbling and splashing its way up the track toward Hogwarts Castle.

"So you see?" she demanded triumphantly. "He was there. He was there all along."

"Just invisible," said Elkins drily. "Happens to him all the way through the novel, actually. First he's not there, and then, all of a sudden, he's there. He appears as if by magic! He's not part of the conversation about the Triwizard Tournament...until suddenly he is, so that he can talk 'gloomily' about his Gran wanting him to bring glory to his family name and walk right into that trick step. Harry, Ron and Hermione leave DADA class, and somehow Neville's got out into the corridor ahead of them. The kid's just plain creepy that way, if you ask me. One minute he's there, the next minute he's not."

"So you think that he actually did inherit his father's Invisibility Cloak?" asked Melody.

"Well...maybe," said Elkins. "Maybe. We do know that he's prone to keeping secrets about his parents, after all. That's established. He also really freaked out when the Gryffindor common room got tossed in CoS, didn't he? His reaction makes a lot of sense if you assume that he had something worth stealing. Something he'd been keeping secret? And what do we make of Harry in the Egg and the Eye, getting trapped in the trick step just like Neville always does — and in his Invisibility Cloak?"

"Another one of your parallelisms, Elkins?" asked Melody.

"You aren't really suggesting that Neville's been carting around a secret Invisibiility Cloak for the past three years," asked Cindy. "Are you?"

"It's always possible," Elkins voice said. "But really, I suspect that what Neville's got is something even more magical. Something even weirder. Something that neither Harry, Ron nor Hermione will ever have! Ever."

"Super reality phase-shifting powers?" asked Cindy, her eyes wide.

"Time-travel?" asked Melody.

"No. I mean authorial disinterest. Narrative invisibility."

*************

Elkins

******************

Posted February 08, 2003 at 4:09 pm
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