[DWJ] HP and misunderstanding as plot-device (was Re: Last Battle)

Ika Willis blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Sun Jun 25 08:10:29 EDT 2006

> Charlie wrote:
>>>  I like it from the moment they enter the stable, but up till then I
>>> get
>>> too stressed by the false Aslan plot - as I tend to by all plots that
>>> involve mistaken identity, people being accused of crimes they did not
>>> commit, misunderstandings, etc (and a lot of plots do). This may be why
>>> I've never been a great reader of school stories, where such things
>>> seem
>>> to go on all the time.

Adding myself as another one who finds this kind of plot very stressful,
though I like school stories a lot - I must have just managed to avoid the
ones of this type. (My gf did a PhD on school stories and says the ones
I've read are highly unrepresentative of the genre, though: I seem to have
read about a million where the problem of the too-exclusive relationship
between the butch girl and the femme girl is resolved by adding a third
girl  to the mix and the formation of a stable threesome, but apparently
this is not usual.)

Minnow wrote:

> I think that one of the reasons I decided not to bother with Harry Potter
> was that the one time I was around when one of my offspring was playing a
> tape of it, the bits I heard all seemed to involve either what I could
> only
> see as being *wilful* misunderstandings, or people not listening to each
> other and jumping on no evidence to the most damning possible conclusions,
> and not bothering even to do very basic checks about the plausibility or
> possibility of the conclusions they'd just jumped to.  There was something
> about a house-elf holding a wand so he must be guilty of summoning some
> evil thing, and nobody made any effort to find out what had really
> happened, or asked the witnesses, or tried to establish whether he would
> have been *able* to use someone else's wand, or anything.  I wasn't
> impressed.
> By accounts I've been given, much of the plotting revolves round even
> Harry's "best friends" habitually assuming that he's behaving in a way
> that
> makes him odious, for no particular reason -- I mean, no reason he would
> do
> it and also no reason for them to assume it.  And I'm told that nobody
> ever
> talks to each other at the time about what's bothering them, they just
> lose
> their tempers and fling accusations around and then stomp off, instead.
> (I'm also told that this makes for touching scenes of reconciliation,
> along
> "how could I have doubted you?" lines, and then it all happens again next
> book because they forget the last time.  Bah.)
> Have I been given false accounts of things, or would people on this list
> who've read the books say that it does happen rather a lot?

I can't think of any examples of Harry's best friends making assumptions
about him, but that's because Harry doesn't ever really *do* anything for
them to jump to conclusions about, he just has things done to him - 
excruciating, unfair, painful things, by both baddies and people who claim
to love him - and endures them (sometimes with shouting, sometimes with
brooding). Oh - the assumptions that do get made are sheer authorial
projection: his friends, who know nothing of the TERRIBLE PAIN of being a
celebrity, sometimes think Harry-Sue is acting out of a desire for FAME
and GLORY where nothing could be further from the truth.

You're right about the House-Elf-with-a-wand incident, although I think
that was used in part to characterize the conclusion-jumper as a Bad
Person. In general, though, I think your impression about quasi-wilful
misunderstandings is about right: one of the things that drives the
plotting of the HP books is Harry acting on the wrong information or on no
information at all, and the plausibility of both character and universe
are stretched to breaking point in the meantime. (For example, there are a
few plots that hinge on the idea of wrongful imprisonment, while at the
same time we're constantly being given information about the
over-bureaucratic legal/governmental system and, um, the existence of an
infallible Truth potion, which makes you wonder why the person in question
didn't mention that he didn't commit the murders *before* spending umpteen
years in prison.)

I'd love to do a careful comparison one day between the plot of *Charmed
Life*, where Chrestomanci makes some wrong assumptions about Cat and
doesn't tell him things he needs to know, with fairly disastrous
consequences, and the HP books, where Dumbledore ditto with respect to
Harry - but to such different emotional/ethical/narrative effect. Someday,
maybe, after I write that long-planned essay on Harry Potter and
spectacular capitalism/consumerism.

Love, Ika

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