: [Fwd: Bullying, DWJ, and Harry Potter...]

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Fri Jan 31 15:04:15 EST 2003

On Fri, 31 Jan 2003 10:10:34 +0000, hallieod at indigo.ie wrote:

>>Heck, Hermione is the queen of textbooks and yet she's a
>>Gryffindor.  Which is why I'm not ready to discount the possibilities yet.
>But surely that's still consistent with the logic of really Good Guys 
>being the Gryffindor type, and right the way through, even as grown 
>ups, having less power than the Bad Guys?  So nerd=underdog, 
>Ron=poor=underdog (as is his father), Harry, well, I've said it 

But this logic is externally imposed by readers.  I'm talking about what I
perceive as *Rowling's* intent for the series.  This series is particularly
good for explaining the difference between internal logic and authorial
intent to young readers; Harry goes back to the Dursleys all the time
because the story demands it, but the reasons the characters give for this
happening are very iffy.  When it comes to the Houses, there are specific
characteristics given within the story as being the determining factor for
why people get put there; when a student is sorted into a House, that icky
Hat isn't saying "hmm, you're really nasty, you ought to be in Slytherin."
That this happens is something that needs to be analyzed against the
internal context:  If Gryffindors are courageous, but all the heroic people
are in Gryffindor (which they aren't, but never mind), is that because
Rowling thinks Courage is the primary quality of a hero?  Or because this is
a simple-minded technique to eliminate ambiguity and complexity by making
one group clearly the heroes and another clearly the villains?

And I disagree about Good Guys having less power in this story.  This is the
most realistic aspect of the entire HP universe: Good Guys seem weak because
they have scruples; Bad Guys don't care who gets hurt and are willing to do
anything to gain power, including bending the rules, lying, and tapping into
very unsavory sources of power.  It's also a cliche, or perhaps a rule, of
High Fantasy--which is also fundamentally divided between Good and Evil.
Even if the story has people and issues that are somewhere in the middle,
deep down there's the assumption that there *is* Good and there *is* Evil,
that ultimately everyone will be on one side or the other, and that
ultimately Good will triumph.  Despite the trappings of the school story, I
think this is more usefully read as a high (or heroic) fantasy.

>Dumbledore is the most powerful wizard in the world, except 
>that he's unable to stop Harry's abuse at the Dursleys, unable to 
>stop Malfoy Jr. from bullying in school, and Malfoy Sr. from bullying 
>in the world, etc., etc.

I think sending Harry back to the Dursleys is questionable, and I don't
really buy the internal excuse that he'll be protected or be a better person
or whatever it is.  But I'd kick Dumbledore myself if he went around
stopping everyone from being evil.  If he did that, we'd have a world full
of Muggle-headed wizards who didn't ever have to make the choice between
good and evil for themselves.  There are some battles you have to fight for
yourself.  Harry has no problem defending himself against sweet little Draco
Malfoy; he doesn't need Dumbledore's help.

>>I never in my life foresaw the complexity with which Rowlings ended the
>>fourth book, with not only the split between Good and Evil but between Good
>>and Better.
>I was going to ask about bothering to read onto the fourth one, which 
>I've never read.

You ought to, if you were avoiding it based on the first three books.  There
is far more complexity in the final chapters of that book than anywhere else
in the series.

>After rereading the two HPs, I then reread _A Wizard of Earthsea_. 
>Talk about contrast!  The writing style is very different, but it 
>strikes me that DWJ and Le Guin have the same way of exploring 
>character in a rich and subtle way, while Rowlings takes the easier 
>option of lay-it-on-with-a-trowel black and white depictions.

Absolutely true.  And I ask you (all of you, not just Hallie):  what makes
you certain that one way is better than another, in every situation, in
every text?  Is it fundamentally, objectively better to explore character
subtly, to create ambiguity in a text, to eliminate stark areas of black and
white?  Or is it just what you prefer?

And before anyone answers, I would remind you that there are well-respected
readers who denigrate speculative fiction because its techniques of
characterization, description, and plot are not literary enough to be "real"
literature.  This is relevant, I assure you.

(I can't believe I'm actually writing this.  Just ignore it.  Don't respond.
I don't even have time to be reading all of this.)

Melissa Proffitt

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