far too many thoughts on why DWJ is better than JKR, was Re:DWJ inIsraeli newspaper

Ika blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Sat Feb 21 05:40:17 EST 2004


Me, then Minnow:

>>I have a tendency to be
>>reduced to a state of incoherent rage by Rowling. I feel about her like
>>Derk feels about Mr Cheney, and for much the same reasons. I'll try and
>>articulate this a bit better when I've thought about it some more.
>
> OK, I'll contain my soul in patience!  :-)   It wasn't very urgent, just a
> slight surprise that it was so strong an emotion about what sounds to me
> like a fairly trivial matter.  (I mean, the books sound more and more
> trivial the more I'm told about them, and I don't think they are actually
> going to destroy the world from pure greed, are they?)

<darkly> You'd be surprised. <g> There's a wonderful cartoon by Alison
Bechdel of a competition in which one of the events is to "deliver an
impromptu critique of misogyny in popular culture", and the competitor in
the picture is saying "... And in summation, I think 'The Little Mermaid'
has done more to undermine the work of feminism than all other forces of
patriarchy combined." I think of it often when I hear myself talking about
Rowling.

Anyway. The books make me angry, in short, because they lie, and they lie
about the very things that get me reading the books in the first place. So
they end up sort of annulling the position from which I read them, which
is a very claustrophobic and upsetting feeling. (A really crude analogy
is, like, when you go and see a film which is obviously relying on its
homoerotic dimension to draw in gay viewers and then spends half its time
loudly denying that the characters are *gay*, dismissing the idea as
self-evidently impossible on what looks like no particular grounds, since
the movie is about same-sex love.)

The Derk-Mr Chesney (thanks for the spelling tip!) analogy comes about
because the books work in a certain way. Like people have said, they don't
hold together on examination: for some fairly obvious examples, time
travel is not only possible but common enough that the 13/14yo Hermione,
who is a neurotic overachiever, is given a Time-Turner in order that she
can work what is probably an illegal number of hours a day for an adult
worker, and take twice the usual number of academic classes in a day.
(When she sleeps/eats/etc is not addressed. Nice job, Dumbledore.)
Similarly, there is a potion called Veritaserum which is an infallible
truth drug. However, several of the books rely on race-against-time or
wrongful-imprisonment plots - and in the most recent book, where Someone
Dies, it's not even suggested that they go back in time to save him.

All of which isn't a particularly big deal - I read books with plot holes
and blind spots the whole time. They're not as satisfying as the books
with "complex, organic universes" others have mentioned, but sometimes
that doesn't matter. But what it means is that the reader is very
dependent on Rowling, because if you *think* about what's going on at any
given moment, it doesn't make any sense. So you basically have to be a
very passive reader, believing what Rowling tells you.

And, like I said, she tells lies. Lies about the place of children in the
world; lies about child-adult relationships and responsibility; lies about
the emotional consequences of things; lies about slavery and race/species.
(Though I like to think DWJ hasn't bothered reading m/any of the HP books,
the invisible creatures in the Regalia in MC are a *brilliant* oblique
put-down to the House Elves in HP.) So, just like DWJ's emotional honesty
and the way her child and adult characters interact has a powerfully
positive dimension, so JKR's persistent shutting-down of what appear to me
to be obvious consequences of the situations she deals with has a
powerfully negative dimension.

Hence, incoherent rage in the manner of Derk. Because the books make
*visible* a wider landscape/history/society, then summarily dismiss or
annul it. For example, Hermione campaigns to free the slaves on whose
unpaid labour the whole wizarding economy seems to be based: this is good.
But *every single* sympathetic character explains to her that the slaves
are *happier* being enslaved, it's "their nature"; and the slaves who
*are* freed conform to the worst stereotypes of pro-slavery American Civil
War writing - they can't cope with their freedom, they worry about their
old masters the whole time, they become alcoholics - as well as speaking
in a similar pidgin English. Further, Hermione, whose *only* character
trait is intelligence, suddenly loses any sign of it and insists on
calling her organization "SPEW" - the oddly Victorian-sounding 'Society
for the Protection of Elvish Welfare'. So the idea that slavery is bad is
raised, and then, instead of being argued against by the characters or
demonstrated through the narrative, it's just, sort of, displaced and
ignored. It's as if you were on a tour with Chesney, and then you stopped
off to chat with Derk or Mara or the Horselady - and then you went back on
the tour as if nothing had happened.

So I don't think the books are complex, I think they're hopelessly muddled.

Ooh. That made more sense than I thought it would - at least to me. Thanks
for asking, Minnow!

Love, Ika

PS: There's a compressed and fairly ranty article by me on Harry Potter
and Capitalism at
http://www.barbelith.com/cgi-bin/articles/00000013.shtml. My girfriend and
I also gave a joint paper on similar themes (but with added Guy DeBord and
a slightly funnier title) at the ARPF conference last November, which
isn't published anywhere but if anyone's interested I could email them a
copy if Jenny doesn't mind, which she won't.

-- 
"There are some bad people on the rise" - Moz
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