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

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sat Feb 21 18:43:25 EST 2004


Ika responded to my ruthless prompting:

>> 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.

This refers I assume to the Disney film rather than to the Hans Anderson
story?  I haven't seen the film, I have read the story, I don't see how the
story undermines feminism when the female characters in it are strong
go-getters and the male is (ahem) a lay-figure, so I'll assume the film is
a Disney standard take on a tale.

>Anyway. The books make me angry, in short, because they lie.
[snip]

>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.)

Unthoughtthroughness, then, like "Moreta's Ride", in which all the silly
woman had to do was go back in time, take a ten-day rest, and *then* rush
about delivering serum or whatever it was, once she wasn't already
completely collapsing with exhaustion before she started.

It's true that only a very few writers are able to make a decent job of the
ramifications of time-travel, but that sounds like a nice idea not thought
about at all.

>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.

If there is infallible truth-drug available it generally plays hob with
false accusations, so one just has to build a plot without those.  Mercedes
Lackey has to cope with this after her invention of the "Truth Spell" in
Valdemar, whereby Heralds can always get the truth from a witness; and Lois
McMaster Bujold in the Vorkosegan books does a rather good job of pointing
out how difficult it can be to ask the right questions to arrive at the
truth even when someone *is* compelled not to speak a word of a lie.

Do the truth-drug and the false accusation happen in the same book, or is
it that she has forgotten that she threw the t-d in at some point, and gone
on to write as if it didn't exist?  The latter would be a continuity
problem (she has had a couple of long gaps between books); the former would
prove conclusively that if she had a copy-editor, whoever it was had gone
to sleep, I would say.

>[What this] 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.

One plot-hole; ok.  Two plot-holes; iffy.  Swiss cheese of a plot; make a
fondue, using the book to fuel the fire?

>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.)

My information is that DWJ read the first two books but not the other
three, so if this elf-welfare organisation is later in the series than
that, it was entirely serendipity.  (She stopped reading them because it
was bad for her blood-pressure, alleges her husband: in order to protect
her he took away the third one and lost it, and she never actually asked
for it back.)

>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.

Is this a "don't-bother-your-pretty-little-head-with-this-hard-idea" thing?

If it is, then
<rage>
seems an appropriate response.

>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.

In fairness, it is possible that this is a fact in the world Rowling has
created.  Maybe these "natural slaves" really are just that; some sort of
symbiote that cannot survive without a "host", or something.  As with
Tolkien's orcs, one might just have to accept that This Is How They Are: he
wrote the orcs unremittingly frightful because that was what he needed for
his story, she has written the elves as doormats because...  Because she
needs servants who won't blow the gaff about the magic-users' existence to
the muggles, maybe.  What this might say about the mind that dreamed it up
I wouldn't know, but that is a different issue.

Sudden feeling that it is at least refreshing if she has written elves who
are not tall blond super-hero archers who burst into song all the time and
who are not Old and Wise whilst looking like nineteen-year-olds.

>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'.

Good grief!  I get the feeling that this woman cannot resist any silly play
on words that floats past her.

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

The more people say about them, the more I feel that this is probably true.
I get the distinct sense that people defending them in for instance pub
conversations start to flounder

(Oh!  Sudden joyful red herring.  At a writers' workshop I was once at,
somebody said when critting something one of the others had written: "I
started to flounder among the random rocks of extra-solar coalescence."
Isn't that a lovely image?  Out there in the vacuum and null-g, leaping
from rock to rock with increasing desperation and flailing arms trying to
keep one's balance.  The rroe-sc was a phrase in the text, not his
invention.)

where was I

start to flounder and get less and less coherent themselves, if anyone says
"yes, but" too much.  They fall back on "it's no big deal you know, it's
only *light reading*" (or, worse, "it's only fiction").  Which generally
means too muddled to discuss beyond a certain level.

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

Thanks due to you for the trouble you went to explaining, I think.  I'm
grateful for clarity, always.  If I don't know about a thing, clarity helps
me to find out about it; if I do know about it, it's a lot easier to work
out whether I agree or disagree with a point of view if I can first work
out what the other person is trying to say!

Minnow


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