Saturday, March 5, 2016

My boys were right about Harry Potter

Back in the days of Pottermania, my boys became avid readers and partakers in all things fantasy and science-fiction.  My oldest was the first.  Initially he wasn’t interested in Harry Potter.  But through a fluke of genetic timing, he came to bear a striking resemblance to the boy wizard at just the right moment.  He even wore round glasses long before he knew of any wizard school or quidditch tournaments. 

Eventually my other boys jumped on board.  The two oldest focused on reading through the series.  When the final book came out, we packed up and went to a Barnes and Noble midnight release party.  My oldest was all the rage, and soon there was a line of fans waiting to have their pictures taken with him.  Being shy, he felt a bit awkward.  But in all honesty, It think he began to warm up to all the fuss as the night went on.
Anyway, they read the books and studied the movies.  And they discussed the books.  Yes, Virginia, a case can be strongly made that Rowling advocates a certain consequentialism in her story.  The fact is, it seems that the more Rowling tried to break away from a charming children’s story and move into the realm of ‘fantasy epic for the ages’, the more the unwieldy the story became.  My second oldest called it a 'Ten year long train of thought.'  In the early books, she kept close to issues she knew: the loss of loved ones, loneliness, the struggles of childhood, the feeling of loss.   That is where she shined.  But as the story developed and attempts were made to lay a down payment on the Epic Literature foundation, the threads seemed to unravel. 
That is what my boys noticed.  The comparisons were often made between her and Tolkien and Lewis.  But those two fellows were brilliant, schooled, deep thinkers on a host of subjects.  When they injected their ideas into their writings, it could be done with ease.  It was second nature.  But it seemed as though many of the ideals Rowling pushed as the series developed were outside of her pay grade.  Therefore it either seemed forced, pushed, or at times, confusing.  Whether or not suicide pacts are good or not became one of the main topics in the wake of her final book.  Whether or not it was good for Frodo to wear the Ring has never been open to debate.
But it’s the final book that has shown my boys’ insight.  They concluded that part of the problem wasn’t so much her delving into areas with which she was only partly schooled.  Part of it was that she changed the story line in mid development due to the phenomenal success she was experiencing. 
When one reads the early books, there is no reason not to believe that Harry is going to suffer some terrible fate.  Something bad.  Somehow.  He’ll die.  He’ll sale to the West.  Somehow he will have to pay an ultimate price for what he does.  And there is a sorrow around him because of this.  Not just the boy whose parents died.  But the boy who clearly is doomed for something from which he will not be delivered a second time.
And this feeling is all through the first three books.  Even in the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, you sense it.  But by the time the final books come out, you almost know he’s off the hook.  Sure, the second and third characters will be buying it by the truck load.  Almost every third support character gets it by the end of the series.  But you know, somehow, that in the end Harry is safe.
Why the change?  My boys suspected it was because when you build a billion dollar global industry based on Mickey Mouse, you don’t then kill the mouse.  Once the mouse is gone, he’s gone.  You need the mouse to come around and keep the feeling alive.  You also need the mouse to be available for future projects. 
They felt that you could see the change in direction during Goblet of Fire.  Twice as big as the previous books, that is where they believe she had to shift from the initial 'Harry doomed to die' focus to expanding more plots and sub plots and elevating more characters, so that when they died in Harry’s place, at least we would care.  When she was working on Goblet is about when Pottermania was taking off full force.  So she started the book with the same trajectory of the first three novels, but during the writing had to shift it around.  Hence the length. 
Other factors no doubt were involved.  Having written Goblet as such a massive work, the following texts had to be just as large, whether the stories warranted it or not.  They increasingly seemed large because of inserting a whole bunch of nothing just to keep the page numbers up to speed.  Even Potter fans say The Half-blood Prince and Order of the Phoenix are sub-par.  My boys say that Prince is the Phantom Menace of the series.  That is, had it not been under the banner of Harry Potter, it would have been dismissed out of hand.
But there you have it.  Their theory:  Despite Rowling’s insistence that there would ever and only be seven books about Harry Potter, the billion dollar Potter corporation beckoned.  And as early as book four, she realized her dilemma.  So at that point, she began changing the story, adopting rather heavy handed Christian imagery to offset the changes in a credible way, and still allow Harry to survive, raise a family, and be ready for more adventures past the promised seven.  And judging from the news, they may have been right after all. 


  1. Yes, Virginia, a case can be strongly made that Rowling advocates a certain consequentialism in her story.

    Which is funny because among several Catholics I've seen (present company excluded), they condemn consequentialism vehemently, but end up praising Harry Potter while condemning Star Trek. Even though Star Trek is pretty much the only show you can find which expressly condemns consequentialism (that is, the prime directive, which can be summed up as, "you cannot interfere that good might come of it"). Irony, no?

  2. Yep. Of course some argued that she did no such thing. But my second boy, when I asked if the series advocated at least some level of consequentialism, answered with one word: Duh! But that whole Harry Potter era was one of the turning points for many blogs, including Mark's. That jab about Frodo and the Ring was due to one of the arguments. I can't remember who, it was one of Mark's friend who had his own blog. But when pressed, he came back with 'yeah, well Frodo used the Ring, didn't he? Huh? Didn't he?' And I just had to shake my head. That was the first time I ever heard someone suggest that Tolkien was somehow, subtlety, saying that using the Ring might be good after all.' And that fellow was someone big in the literary side of the blogosphere.

  3. Yeah, that's why I've never been fond of those who try and get real world war applications from LotR (when it is far more applicable to the personal). In LotR, there is ONE weapon (that the enemy is tied to) which has the option to be destroyed. In actual war, we don't have that. It's not like if we destroy our nuclear bomb, then nobody else can ever use nuclear bombs again. We cannot just "destroy bullets" so that nobody can use them.

    Sounds like that guy couldn't figure out that he'd reached the limit of the metaphor and it couldn't go any further.


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