Sunday, November 3, 2013

Harry Potter and the Consequences of Magic

All Hallow's Eve and the ensuing feast days are past..It's November, and high time I put my life together again. Harry too, is changing seasons - school fading away for another summer with his aunt and uncle. He's faced his darker self, in a sense, and come away again in one piece. Riddle is an ideal villain in this one book. His Voldemort self is less convincing, and less interesting to me than the conscience-free, arrogant boy facing Harry beneath the castle. Is this why Chamber of Secrets is more unnerving than the rest of the series? Because Harry is still so young, still likeable, and Riddle is very much the image of a boy seduced by darkness, and not the incompetent, almost ridiculous little demon he becomes? 
That's right, pinterest is the best..this one's from Muggelnet

Dumbledore makes a lovely point about choices as well, which Jenna emphasizes nicely. It is a good lesson from author to audience; and I like to think of Rowling's young readers taking it to heart along with Harry's kind willingness to skip right past mentioning Ginny's part in opening the chamber. I imagine eager elementary kids refusing to pass on the gossip of who misdirected the dodge-ball over the fence, or who brought the tuna that filled the cafeteria with that smell, in an attempt to share in Harry's little kindness. But the quote also seems to reflect a sort of 'do as I say, not as I do' attitude in the author, because really, if we were defined by our choices, as Dumbledore says, then Rowling could not have created a character who, as she says in an interview has never loved or cared for anyone at all. A person who has never loved at all is lacking something, not by choice but by nature. He is deficient in humanity and his choices are all limited by this deficiency. It lends to the books a sense that Harry and Co's choices define them, but some people..people in Slytherin for example..are defined less by their choices than their families, their blood, and their abilities. So I end up hoping those impressionable young people don't read too closely or glean too much from the series.

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This week I was surprised, and thrilled to see Harry Potter mentioned in the magazine that gives me so many of my favorite cake recipes. Nestled between a recipe for Rhubarb, Cardamom, Pistachio, and Orange cake (which was amazing, even without the Rhubarb), and an as-yet-untried recipe for blackberry whiskey, "Why We Need Magic" caught my eye. It was delightful, and when Harry is mentioned, I found myself nodding in sympathy:

                          Magic in fiction needs to be more than hocus pocus spells: it must be
                          difficult, rare, and perilous. It's why - forgive me - I personally don't buy
                          the magic of Harry Potter, which is attained too easily and lacks 
                                      ~Philip Ball. Why We Need Magic

I can't help but see his point. The magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense, and teaches us nothing about how to approach this "embodiment of  the sublime virtue of hope", with all it's dangers, pitfalls, and beautiful potentialities. More often than not, the magic of Harry Potter is mere 'hocus-pocus spells' - not fairy at all. But then, there are at times that real sense of 'ritualized optimism' that makes the magic real. What do you think, my fellow readers - easy and mundane, or delightful possibilities??
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In this book, Ginny comes across as an obvious 2 on the enneagram - opening up to the dangers of possession in order to feel the cozy sense of importance to another. It's interesting to me as I'd never even consider such a thing - too much a chance that the kind solicitude of the diary would turn to mocking arrogance - which is exactly what happened, of course..more reason not to trust your secrets with anyone who might not be what they friendly diaries or spirit-guides, or ghosts who come re-arrange your bathroom in the night.
Most of all, I end this book grateful that Harry and Professor Dumbledore show themselves to be the opposite of the Diary-Riddle, safe-holders of Ginny's weakness, and nourishing to her spirit and sense of self. It makes me wonder about Christie's comment that Dumbledore may be something of a Reader of Souls..there's argument for it here, it seems..and he is himself reflective enough to make it a possibility. It's definitely something to watch as we move along! Here, his and Harry's  kindness covers over so much that makes me wonder beneath the surface of the tale and lets me close the book fonder than usual of them both.


  1. I am laughing out loud for real at the snake picture.

    Re: Ginny and the diary, I wonder how unusual it would actually be in Wizardland for diarists or diary manufacturers -- or some combination of both -- to "personify" diaries and other writing tools. Muggles who keep detailed personal journals often personify them to some extent -- Jenna even wrote letters to herself from her diary, which I have to say is an awesome idea that I wish I'd thought of. I doubt I would trust a diary that wrote back to me on its own, either, but I didn't grow up in One Of the Oldest Wizarding Families and would probably think I had bought some kind of freaky new computer by mistake. I'd definitely be torn between wanting to show it to someone (to figure out what the heck was going on) and not wanting to show it to anyone because it was !!MY DIARY!!11! But that would have been way outside my comfort zone as an eleven-year-old Muggle in the 1990s. I don't know that it would be that big a red flag for an eleven-year-old wizard whose whole family is constantly making teapots heat their own insides and infusing the furniture with various personalities as a matter of course.

    Regular-person HP magic is basically technological, I think, for mostly hand-wavy Star Trek-like values of technology. ("magic" is the mechanism by which impossible things happen in HP the way "warp drives" are the mechanism by which impossible things happen in Star Trek). That doesn't make it any less fun to read about, though it does lead to some confusion about how the rules work (because the rules are more like. "we need a transporter beam for this scene!" than "rules" in the traditional sense). Scary Magic tends to be maybe a bit more systematic and ritual-y and "spiritual," I guess. Voldemort and his crew like rituals and their way of doing magic is all about having costs.* There are some in-between or outlying cases, like [SPOILER].

    It is kind of interesting that there isn't much of a theory of how magic works, except in a couple of extraordinary cases. I don't think there necessarily needs to be one, but it's interesting.

    * The Good Guys, on the other hand. . .well, SPOILERS.


    1. It's pretty amazing.

      Ooh..good point about the diary. Though, I've always hated the personalized diaries, I mean, what if.....? Regular person HP magic has a lot of the 'hey look, we need __ and here it is!" in it for sure, whereas for the bad guys it's more of "hey look, we need ___. That's NOT allowed!" Poor Voldey, life was against him from the start :(

      Ahhhh!! PRISONER OF AZKABAN!!!!!!! :)

    2. I went for a superhero analogy, but I like the Star Trek comparison, too. Fascinating point about the difference between the regular magic and the Scary Magic!

      Re: personified writing tools, MORE FANFICTION.

  2. You know, Mr. Ball is onto Something here. I totally get what he means, and it's not that HP doesn't have those moments of real magic and encounters with Faerie, but that they usually have nothing to do with the "magic" performed in the school of magic by witches and wizards!

    1. Yeah..I see the moments of magic, but they really aren't in anyway related to the practiced 'magic'.. I'm sort of fond of Mr. Ball :)

  3. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Well, maybe I'll be grateful for the three sets of Jehovah's Witnesses this year. At least they weren't the snake.

    Hopefully I wasn't too hard on Mr. Ball in this week's piece.... because I think he's absolutely right about magic, he's just wrong about what Harry Potter is. I definitely agree that HP has its magic moments, but that they almost never have anything to do with wand-waving and incantation.

    Fascinating point about Rowling creating Riddle to never really have a choice. She even emphasizes that herself, perhaps unwittingly, in Dumbledore's eventual SPOILERIFIC comments about Merope... I'll stop there... And yeah, Riddle is a more compelling villain than full-fledged Voldemort. I admit it.

    1. A character essentially without free will? Hm, this is going to be interesting . . .

  4. Hmm, Voldemort's free-will is an interesting point. I don't know that it's so much he had no choice as that he's just a sociopath, but the very existence of sociopathy does raise some uncomfortable questions about choice (Rowling muddies the waters unfortunately by providing a pseudo-explaination for it, which is to be dealt with when it comes up). As for Riddle vs. Voldemort, I suppose that's kind of the point; as V goes more and more down his mad path, he actually diminishes himself in the process...but again, that's for another book.

    Now, the Diary: I think that's one of Rowling's best creations. It's a little like the Ring in a way; innocuous, useful, even fun, yet evil to the core. It acts like it's your best friend, and all the while it's eating your soul. Much more than the Philosopher's Stone (which was barely a thing), here we the get the impression of deep, dark, dangerous magic. Ron was right to warn Harry about messing around with it.

    That picture is the best!