Monthly Archives: February 2016

Randomness

Random Notes as I finish Half Blood Prince and prepare to crack open Deathly Hallows:

  • Ugh Romione 4eva.  His whole thing with Lavender just made me so unreasonably irritated.  Like, I know sometimes it feels like options are slim for gingers, but….just….ugh
  • I feel like it’s significant that Harry begins and ends the  year immobilized under his invisibility cloak, listening to Draco discuss his plans and plots, but I can’t quite make the connection.
  • Dumbledore searching for the door to get into Tom Riddle’s horcrux cave was super reminiscent of Gandalf trying to open the gates to the Mines of Moria, and I’m shocked at myself for never noticing this allusion before.
  • It’s mentioned prior to Dumbledore’s funeral that Harry had never been to a funeral before – I guess in this case I can let it slide, because he’s never had any family or friends, but goddamn I’d been to a few by the time I was his age (he’s 16 in this one) – why do authors do this?  Are funerals not inherently sad / awkward /  uncomfortable enough, you need to make it worse?

And, not specifically related to HBP, but a friend of mine is sending me actual scholarly articles on Hermione through a feminist lens and I’m just super geeky nerding out over it.  Cannot wait to get them.

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Ugly

Today on obvious things I should have picked up sometime in my first twenty-two readings of Harry Potter:

Tom Riddle starts out as a very attractive young man, but as he becomes more and more outwardly evil and caring less and less about hiding his actions, his physical appearance deteriorated until he eventually ended up looking subhuman.  Throughout Half-Blood Prince, we (and Harry!) get to see Tom Riddle through the years – he starts out as an attractive child in the orphanage, grows to a good-looking teenager and young adult during and immediately after his Hogwarts years, but has started to lose his looks just a few years after that – when he comes back to ask Dumbledore for a job, and it’s clear that he’s no longer particularly trying to hide his actions, at this point, because it’s the reason Dumbledore gives for not giving him the job.

It’s all very reminiscent of Dorian Grey, and the idea that your character defines whether you’re ugly or pretty and the only reason to be a good person is for the aesthetics.  From a literary perspective, I think it’s great and I love the reference and that it’s subtle and not super-in-your-face.  But from a social, general-reader perspective I’m kind of over the whole pretty=good, ugly=bad dichotomy and would honestly like to see it just die already.

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Cruel Intentions

It’s commonly accepted that the Weasleys are a big family – SEVEN kids.  SEVEN.  That’s just…so many – but I don’t think it’s ever really mentioned much when people talk about the Weasley kids and their personalities.  The fact is, growing up in a big family is totally going to shape your personality – the same way being an only child will shape your personality.  Ron in particular – as the only one we really get a deep look into, personality-wise – has a weird combination of cruelty and loyalty that, when looked at in the context of his home life, makes much more sense.

The first time I read Harry Potter, I didn’t find Ron to be mean, or cruel at all.  It wasn’t till I  re read the books a few times – and discussed some of the characters with my friends who are HP fans – that I recognized that he had the tendency to thoughtlessly fling insults at people.  If I put on my armchair psychiatrist hat for a second – I’m totally qualified in the wizarding world – I’d have to say it’s a function of growing up in a large family, where love is so assured that flinging insults is a natural form of communication (not that I know anything about that).  For proof, I give you Ron standing up to Snape for Hermione when Snape covers Defense Against the Dark Arts in Prisoner of Azkaban.  At this point, I don’t think Ron had any feelings towards Hermione other than friendly – possibly even sisterly – affection, but when someone else insulated her (using the same insults he uses himself) he jumped to her defense.  It reeked of “I can say that because she’s part of my family, you’re not a part of this you don’t get to say that”.

Which ties directly into the second piece of Ron’s personality that I think is directly tied to his large family – his intense loyalty.  Particularly after the first half of Goblet of Fire (when he openly doubts Harry and for a time doesn’t even talk to him), Ron is always, always, always on Harry’s side.  When Harry is going on a life-threatening trip to destroy the most evil wizard of all time, Ron is not about to stay home.  Even when Ron doesn’t agree with Harry (ahem Malfoy ahem) he still at least attempts to support him – and defend him against Hermione.  It’s very clear that Ron sees Harry – and later, Hermione – as a part of his family, and is as intensely loyal to them as he is to his brothers.

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Slugs

One of my many favorite things about the Harry Potter series is that JK mostly refrains from making her characters either completely evil or completely good.  Her heroes – Harry, Dumbledore, Sirius Sirius – have flaws.  Her villians are either humanized – Voldemort, Malfoy – or non-Death Eaters – Umbridge.  Slughorn continues this grand tradition by giving us a character who is ostensibly one of the good guys, while being truly impossible to really like.

Slughorn is, at his core, just a really selfish person who doesn’t really care about anyone else in the world as long as he’s comfortable.  Harry thinks of him as a giant spider, collecting his “prizes” (former students who went on to do great things) in his web and twitching the strings to ensure his comfort, and I think that’s pretty accurate.  He obviously isn’t evil – after all, he’s horrified at the idea that his advice could have led to Voldemort’s seeming immortality – but he just doesn’t care much about the big picture.  Slughorn has no interest in serving a greater good or offering his talents to the world – as long as he has his crystallized pineapple and oak-matured mead and a comfortable, safe place to stay, he’s pleased with himself.

It’s another friendly reminder from JK that the world is not split into Good People and Death Eaters (simple as that may be), and that just because someone isn’t a Death Eater doesn’t mean they’re implicitly worthy of your trust.

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Teenage Struggles

My favorite Harry Potter book is Order of the Phoenix, which is strange because Sirius is my favorite character, and he dies towards the end of the book (spoilers?). I don’t think it’s strange, though, because it came out exactly when I needed it, in 2003, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school.  I was 16 (Harry’s 15 in this one, so yes, I am the Harry Potter generation and basically grew up right alongside him.  Be jealous) and oh my goodness being a teenager was kicking my ass.

Harry is just such a teenager in this one, and 16-year-old me related to him in this book more than any other character in any other book I’d read to that point.  The whole world was against him, and he wasn’t being taken seriously, the adults were just patting him on the head and sending him off on his way, as though he couldn’t possibly understand the situation in front of him. Up till this point, he’d put a lot of faith in the adults in his life, that they were doing what was necessary to keep him safe & that he could trust them.  Order of the Phoenix is the turning point where he started realizing that the adults in his life are people, and they weren’t perfect, and they had flaws and weak points and he may not agree with them on everything.  He is angry, and reacts to it in a flawlessly teenage way, by being withdrawn and secretive and blowing up at people and generally clinging to the idea that nobody could possibly understand his struggles.

I was absolutely that teenager.  Without dragging my entire life story out, I have had a few times in my life when I had struggles with my mental health, and around this particular time, those struggles basically came out of the woodwork and vomited all over me and my life.  I’m sure I was an absolute joy to be around, but believe me when I say it wasn’t awesome being that person, either.

But Harry – specifically the Harry of this book – was the first character that I ever saw go through the same struggles that I did.  Obviously our lives weren’t a perfect parallel – dark wizards never attempted to assassinate me, and my godfather is alive and well to this day – but there were similarities that resonated with me. I saw him struggling with the idea that he was expected to take on adult responsibilities while the adults in his life still treated him like a child when it was convenient for them;  I saw him struggling with a sense of anger towards the world at large and an inability to control it or even direct it properly; I saw him struggling with the idea that even people who he considered “good guys” can be flawed and that there is more than one flavor of shitty person in the world – and I related to him going through those things.  I have been a voracious reader my entire life, and I had never – have never – related to a character as strongly as I related to Harry during Order of the Phoenix.

And that, my friends, is why Order of the Phoenix is my favorite Harry Potter book, despite containing the death of my favorite Harry Potter character.

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Balancing Act

I’m really curious about the Muggle born students who go to Hogwarts and how they interact with the Muggle world when they’re on holiday.  Like, obviously there has to be some sort of provision in the International Statute of Secrecy for the parents of Muggle born witches and wizards (and my research on the subject tells me Hogwarts / the Ministry send a representative to explain things to the parents rather than just sending the standard owl when the kid’s 11), but what about their friends and extended family?  Do all of Dean Thomas’ cousins and aunts and uncles just think he goes to some random boarding school?  Don’t they ask him what he’s studying?  Does Hogwarts send home notices to Hermione’s parents letting them know what their daughter is getting up to during the school year? Did Lily Evans ever have a summer romance with a boy who didn’t understand why she couldn’t call or write when she went back to school?

Harry’s life in the Muggle world is terrible, so he’s all too happy to cast it off and jump feet first into the Wizarding world.  Lily & Hermione both ended up marrying pure blood wizards and leaving their Muggle lives behind, despite not having any trauma (that we know of), but there’s no reason why that should be assumed to be true of all the witches and wizards born in the Muggle world.  I’m just very curious as to whether any of the Muggle born students at Hogwarts ever tried to balance both sides of their lives, and how it worked out for them.

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Potterhead

James Potter has a bad rap, and he doesn’t deserve it.  Severus Snape has a good rap, and he doesn’t deserve it.  The defining moment of James Potter’s character, as far as the HP series goes, is when Harry breaks into Snape’s memories (on accident, of course) and sees his father bullying Snape.  Now, don’t get it twisted – I’m not going to defend Potter from bullying Snape.  It was a shitty thing to do, bullying is bad, etc. etc.

But! Snape was not just an innocent victim in this scenario.  In fact, while he was not the agressor, he was much more vicious –  he used the much more vicious Sectumsempra (James used Levicorpus).   Not only that, but he waited till James’ back was turned, and he and the other Mauraders were walking away, to attack.  This was clearly not about defending himself, this is about revenge.

Kudos to Alan Rickman for making a character who should frankly be despised throughout the fandom so universally loved.

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