Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ron and the Mirror

Wow..Jenna’s given us a ton to think about this week! If you haven’t read it already, check out her massively interesting post! I’m going to put alchemy on my back burner for now..because I need to read everything alchemical about 20 times and then dream about it to have it make sense. But if you’re not similarly challenged - post a response on it!! I really want to read more.

The Mirror:
What stood out to me most in this section was Ron’s vision in the mirror of Erised. I love the concept of the mirror - mirror magic is fantastic! It’s one of my favorite things - except after dark, which is sort of the best time for it, but the worst time for looking into mirrors in general. And the mirror itself is nicely done (except, I hate the name..because I’m a snot and just don’t like things like that; and excepting - as Jenna mentioned - the whole trouble of what the mirror would show “the happiest man on earth” Does Dumbledore believe - as it seems here - in nothing beyond this earth? Or does the mirror limit itself to desires earth can satisfy - which makes me wonder what happiness entails for Rowling. But Ron stood out most in the encounter with the mirror. I felt awful for him. Harry has had a real loss, and it’s obvious why he would long for family; but Ron, surrounded by family and yet full of a desperate need to prove himself, a striving that I think should have landed him in Slytherin. It made me feel uncomfortable with his family: Ron’s deepest desire is to outshine them all, be noticed and praised. It shows him with such a lonely, hungry little soul. I wanted something more for him there - but maybe, in his ability to turn away and back to reality, we’re able to see a bit of will-power in him, more than Harry has, to embrace life as it is, and not mourn for shadows. I’m glad he’s given that gift.

Symbolism and Sport:
This is a very minor question about Quidditch. I’ve been reading so much on the symbolism in the Harry Potter series..but can’t find anything on what the symbolism of Quidditch is. Is there any symbolism there??

Commentary by people, not me:
I read this article, by Harold Bloom of the Wall Street Journal recently, it's not a recent article. He is not a fan..unfortunately, he lost all my sympathy early on by implying that Rowling is much like Tolkien, and that he hates Tolkien just as much. People who hate Tolkien have no taste. But, if anyone wants to read him..we could insult his opinions, or occasionally defend opinions unrelated to J.R.R. Tolkien..though I'll need lots of convincing to love Alice in Wonderland half as much as The Hobbit. 

And here, Michael O Brien responds to those of you who think he's being unfair to the series. He mentions knowing "about eight different critics of the Potter series who either write books or magazine articles on the subject. All are sober people—" I'm not a huge fan of sober people..but I did feel bad for them when he added that "they suffer from personal attacks against them that are at times quite irrational, a kind of knee-jerk outrage against any criticism of Harry Potter." 

They're both interesting, SPOILER-FILLED reads..please don't assume I agree with either..remember - Harold Bloom hates Tolkien, and Michael O'Brien probably isn't a huge fan of girls who base major life decisions on dreams.., and don't read if you get too frustrated with un-friendly, non-fans of the books.. But do read if you can..and share your thoughts with me!


  1. ZOMG HAROLD BLOOM. Who is himself the biggest most uncritically swoony fanboy ON EARTH when it comes to that pandering pastiche-monger Will Shakespeare. Who is only trying to solve our energy crisis by sharing his boundless supply of hot air a little at a time. He's completely right about Tom Brown's School Days and the cliches and the fact that it really doesn't make sense for Harry to live with the Dursleys; unfortunately he doesn't seem to get around to why we groundlings are wrong to get so excited about it anyway. He's been to the future in Yale's private time machine and confirmed that it's not one for the ages? Excuse me while I shrug.

    I didn't catch the Tolkien hate, though -- all he said was that there was a Tolkien craze that later waned, which is true, though of course there's been a smaller persistent Tolkien fandom throughout.

    Things Harry Potter has in common with Tolkien:
    * The word "wizard"
    * Lots of pairing off of characters combined with zero attention to sex
    * Dark Lords
    * [SPOILER]
    * [SPOILER]
    * [SPOILER]
    * there was a war
    * Deliriously devoted fandoms
    * The Importance of Friendship and Also Making Sure to Eat Well When Possible
    * The word "elf"

    lemme know if you think of more I guess

    1. I guess I'm sensitive..but I saw it as a link between Rowling and Tolkien in his comment about her fans dying off like Tolkien's did and I looked it up. He hates Tolkien too. :p

      I can't think of much more than you mentioned. Totally different, really. TOTALLY. And I thought his attitude was unpleasant. It's kind of nice to know he's a fanboy about something though. It sort of makes him seem more likeable.

    2. It's all SPOILERS, of course, but Dumbledore actually had a pretty solid reason for putting Harry in with the Dursleys... we can talk about that freely when we get to the end of book five, I think...

      I love your list of Tolkien/Potter connections, Laura! I think there are some of the same character archetypes ('wise old wizard' being the most obvious) used, but other than that, I can't think of anything to add.

    3. I know there's an in-book reason for Harry getting stuck with the Dursleys; I just don't think it's all that great, as an authorial choice. I have some beef with the Dursley plot in general. But yes, let us draw the veil of silence over that which spoils.


      I really hope someone else comes along and joins us who hasn't read all the books, so I'm not the only one spoiling the fun with spoilers!

    5. I'll look forward to your thoughts when we hit the end of book five, Laura. ;)

  2. I was going to work on my book this evening, and here you linked Bloom and O'Brien. :P

    And my comment is too long, so it'll be in two parts...

    But first--I love the Weasleys and think they're an incredibly strong family, but like most families, they have their faults... and one of the more glaring ones is that Ron, the sensitive youngest son, gets overlooked a bit. I think his perception is exaggerated, especially with SPOILERIFIC reasons during a great scene of SPOILERS in DH, but Molly, big-hearted paragon of mothers that she is, misses some details about his tastes and emotional needs, or isn't together enough herself to handle them.

    The Snitch in Quidditch has some alchemical symbolism, but I'll have to look it up, because I don't remember what, other than that it's gold. ;)

    OK. Bloom first. That interview of his is famous among Potter fan circles. I can't recall whether I'd read it or just heard it quoted a lot. But "the dustbin of the ages"??? And "Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or
    personality?" Well, sir, I credit Potter with some of the earliest and most vibrant literary enrichment I have experienced, and with the kick-start to my interest in a deeper understanding of literature. But I'm not sure I'll ever understand literature like Bloom does. I can only handle so much of the sex-tragedy-irony trifecta that seems to form the soul of modern lit criticism. (Somebody correct me if I'm wrong there.)

    1. Or three parts ;) that works..

      I don't want to rip on the response to Ron's vision was more emotional, and less he saw this so that and the other thing..Molly Weasley frustrates me in later books by being too much like the sort of women I don't like being around..but she is delightfully loving and nurturing as well..

      "misses some details about his tastes and emotional needs, or isn't together enough herself to handle them."

      I think this is incredibly on..the whole not together enough herself to handle them..some of the SPOILERy bits of information on Molly remind me that she's actually a pretty human character, in some of the books she might be one of the best done of Rowling's people, and you're right, she probably isn't together enough to handle the extra needs of a needy, un-assured younger child..which, really, I'm the last person who ought to be getting down on people for not having it all together ;)

      And speaking of striving..the Bloom article made me wonder how many literary critics of his sort read "to enrich mind and spirit" and how many read to put down the mind and spirit of others..because I know both can be tempting..but the first is actually a broader more open category than he allows it to be, and the second is unacceptable.

  3. Part II

    O'Brien... I remember reading the LifeSiteNews article, probably because someone posted it on Facebook with some tag like "Why don't people have common sense?" (I wanted to respond: I don't know, but some of O'Brien's comments are uncommon nonsense...) To be fair, however, he is not entirely without points, although I find myself wondering just what universe he wants to live in. A few things:

    Regarding the "knee-jerk outrage"... He says "But it’s fairly consistent tactic to characterize reasonable critics as condemners, Pharisees, hysterical alarmists, prigs, Taliban Catholics, book burners, Nazis, suppressors of freedom, et cetera." Not to defend hate mail or name-calling--some of what he reports is really horrible--but Christian Potter fans who react this way are doing one or both of two things: a) responding to Christian anti-Potter screeds that left them defensive, and/or b) parroting the news media. Which two things are EXACTLY what everyone else on the planet does. Yeah, yeah, we're Christians, we're supposed to be better than everyone else. Well, we're not better, and we're certainly not smarter, and hatred and ignorance feed hatred and ignorance, and all that. Let's not pretend this is a Christian Potter fan thing.

    "Is there such a thing as good sorcery defeating bad sorcery?" No. But there's no sorcery in the books. Should Rowling have just called them superheroes and been done with it? I don't know, but superheroes are what they are. Not neopagans.

    On some level we have concluded intuitively, “There’s nothing wrong with this. It makes me happy, it makes me feel good.” However, the price of this kind of feeling good is ingesting a large amount of false messages mixed with true messages. There are indeed “values” in the Harry Potter series, but they’re confused with anti-values. As long as art is made by humans, this will be a problem. I think there's reason for some caution with the Potter books, especially in handing them freely to young children, but their moral universe is well above most of what's out there, and humans and the world are portrayed more realistically than I've seen in most Christian fiction.

    In Potter world, the saving of the world comes through acquiring secret knowledge and perfecting supernatural powers, while never really developing significant character or virtues such as those we can so clearly see in Tolkien’s and Lewis’s heroes. OK, there's the uncommon nonsense bit. What. The. Freak is he talking about? Would he like me to wax eloquent on the epilogue? SO MANY SPOILERS OH GOSH. Suffice it to say that developing significant character and virtues is THE WHOLE POINT OF THE SERIES. All right, I'll stop shouting.

    1. I've noticed some of the tendency toward lighter personal attacks - as in "intelligent readers of Rowling will pick up on this" or the like, I haven't been around the discussion enough to hear or read the harsher "You're the anti-Christ" type responses..But I imagine that if I were buffeted from all sides by quotes from Catholics saying I was reading/loving/growing from Satanic garbage..I might be tempted to freak out at them..just a little bit.

      I'm glad you mentioned the: On some level we have concluded intuitively, “There’s nothing wrong with this. It makes me happy, it makes me feel good.” However, the price of this kind of feeling good is ingesting a large amount of false messages mixed with true messages. It's part of the reason I shared this. I agree in part with this idea - the idea that we do often conclude that something - like a book or a cigarette - "makes me happy" so it can't be wrong.. That's sort of a huge problem in our culture, really. And sometimes, I think a person has to sacrifice something that makes him happy in what seems like an innocent way to better himself - because, you're right that all art has mixed values, because we're human..and really, really good books will have more of the good in them (whether intentionally or not) than books that are just "ok" or "fun", but some people might have more trouble - morally with the mixed virtues in a great book than a lesser book, and everybody has to decide what mixtures don't work for them.

    2. I can totally see him and others getting the "You're the anti-Christ" type responses... from the same sort of people who leave illiterate and nasty comments on YouTube. And I don't really know how to take responsibility for those people, seeing as how I try not to set examples of illiteracy or nastiness. ;)

      I can, however, imagine some of my friends and even myself making the lighter personal criticisms like you mentioned, possibly without thinking. (And I did call O'Brien a "naughty dragon-hating Muggle" in my blog post, so there's that. :P) That's a good thing for me to remember, that I ought not be part of the problem.

      And you're totally right about the "it makes me happy so it can't be wrong" idea being a huge problem in our culture (and O'Brien is right about that, too... :)). I love what you said, and I won't pretend I'm immune to that failing. My own qualifier is simply that serious bouts with scrupulosity and hyper-legalistic conservative Christian cultures have taught me to be careful about how strictly and specifically and harshly we judge others on their relation to the culture at large.

      My biggest problem with O'Brien is how he draws hard lines on the good or evil of various symbols--like the idea that because vampires are usually demoniac, Edward Cullen is therefore unredeemably evil by nature and Twilight can't possibly be any good. That argument misses the whole point of the story, just like he misses the point of Harry Potter. I think there are reasonable criticisms of the Potter books (and the Twilight books, let alone Philip Pullman's anti-Narnia manifesto), and he makes some, but failing to acknowledge the core virtues of the stories and making harsh (and sometimes personal) judgments on the people who read and think about them is a little bit dangerous.

      And now I'm going to take a deep breath and go get some work done. ;) Thanks for some awesome discussion fodder! I could probably go on for hours more... I doubt I'll be able to avoid touching on some of it Monday.

    3. Honestly, I don't think you can or should take responsibility for those people, because they're sort of the Harry Potter version of those PETA people who dump red paint on people..and every group has some. I'm not exactly charitable myself sometimes, I should feel called by O' Brien's comments more than I do. And I also share the 'it's fun so...' attitude, which is at least better than the "it's fun so it's SATAN" which is a failing some-people display occasionally..but yes! on the biggest problem with O'Brien being his hard lines on various symbols..and the feeling I get reading him that he really doesn't like symbolism much at all, or get it..And I think it makes it impossible at that point for him to judge Twilight and Harry Potter critically as books.

    4. ..I mean because he's not seeing them as books..Flannery O Connor has some great thoughts about books being judged on artistic merit (or lack thereof) and not on morality..I'll find it.

  4. Part III... gosh, sorry for how long this all is!!

    Granger, like a number of pro-Potter Christians, is straining to find redeeming qualities in these profoundly disordered books... Granger strains for his points on occasion, but as a general rule, the only significant part of Potter defense that I find difficult is explaining how it's not a terrible thing that Rowling used the words witchcraft and wizardry. I'm a fairy tale fan and fond of good spoofs, so it's not too hard for me to get beyond it, but some people have a very difficult time.

    And Rowling's story is about facing death with honor and courage and love, NOT about violent death being good. Her battles aren't nearly as immense nor as gory as Tolkien's. And where is the natural death in the Narnia books?? I seem to recall a lot of war, including magical violence, and a wayward train... and shall I talk about the last few chapters of Perelandra?

    I want to talk about Horcruxes... that's an interesting point he makes, although I don't think he takes some things into consideration... but that's a whole SPOILER party.

    He lost me entirely when he started tying the books in to abortion and euthanasia and homosexuality, though. Gah. I realize these are important issues, but can't we have a single discussion without trying to relate them in somehow?

    1. Granger does strain..but so does O'Brien. Do they ever debate each other?? I'd love to see that.

      Tolkien does love a good battle doesn't he - and keeping a head count is sort of out of favor these days..I wonder sometimes why no one ever seems to say "Read The Hobbit to little kids, but save LOTR for older ones." Maybe because it's more like a myth than a novel, and we expect our myths to be bloody..

      I can see the connection to euthanasia in a Spoiler, and homosexuality in a random author comment, which, honestly, I think should be looked at with the reminder that once a book leaves the author's desk, her intentions for a character are sort of unimportant..Abortion..I don't really see any hint of a connection to the topic itself..and yeah, it seems like we can't discuss anything except as it relates to issues..

    2. Oh, gosh, my comment went on SO long... I couldn't believe it when I had to divide it a second time. ;P

      The violence in HP seems so mild compared to much of anything else nowadays--television, movies, even basic crime fiction... it's also generally non-graphic, though there are a couple of awfully creepy scenes. It seems like a weird point to nit-pick over where Harry is concerned.

      Yes, there's the Spoiler and random author comment, and while arguments can be and have been made against discrimination, based on, say, the way Remus Lupin is treated because of his being a SPOILER, they strain when they go beyond "People should be treated respectfully no matter their condition". (Which, being Catholic, I wholeheartedly agree with.) And that's all I can think of. I wouldn't be surprised if Rowling was pro-abortion--I've never heard her say one way or another--but her books are heavily focused on the dignity of human life and the protection of the innocent, and that's the closest thing I can see to a hint of a connection. :)

    3. hahaha..I can tell you don't really care at all about this ;)

      I was surprised he mentioned the violence..I'm kind of disturbed actually that he doesn't mention the hugely problematic aspect of Rowling's magic (to me) at all - so far as I've seen. Which is sort of a spoiler, but we can talk about it soon!!! And instead obsesses over possible connections with abortion ...

      I wonder though, maybe I'm making a huge deal about nothing (the spoilery problematic magical element) since even a Harry Potter hater doesn't see it..but I don't think so..I think it's just that..umm..he's reading into the books without actually reading them in a honest way..honest is a bad word for way? careful way? clear way?...something like that. :) Eh. I don't know..:)

    4. OK, now I'm totally curious. How long do we have to wait???

    5. umm..I think Chamber of Secrets should bring some of it in..actually, you might not like me much in CoS..:p I'll won't talk about 'Dustbins of the Ages' though, I promise ;)

      I totally want to read some of Michael O Brien's novels..except I kind of can't do Christian fiction..but I want to see if his fiction is any good..what sort of relationship he has to symbolism and whatnot..

    6. Well, part of my problem with O'Brien is how awful I thought Father Elijah (the novel, not the character) was. But most of the girls in my book club loved it. ;)

      CoS is my least favorite of the Potter books, by some distance, although I do think there are a couple of fantastic parts and some cool imagery. And we're almost there, which is good, because I'm bursting with curiosity. :P I do have a feeling that I'll be thinking about the Dustbins of the Ages when Mad-Eye Moody enchants his dustbins in GoF, though. ;)

      Will return later to comment on your other post, but the laundry wants switching and my to-do list is not getting as much shorter as it ought to have done by midafternoon...

  5. See..I should read him!!! What didn't you like?? Was it flat, preachy, weak on symbolism ;)..or just not your style?? And what did they like! Everyone recommends that book to me, but never with anything like a description..and half of them haven't read it. I think it's got to be the hardest thing in the world to both write and critique fiction so publicly, because when you say someone's writing style is sitcom-y and emotionally manipulative (which..can be argued re: Rowling) the first thing I'm going to notice is any tendency in that direction in your own work..and of course if you don't sound sitcom-y, you better be Tolstoy or I'll end up labeling you "stuffy" and "striving" ;) Poor know??? Glass houses and all that. CoS is definitely not my least favorite, but it does lack a lot of the energy and delight of the first book. It does have some really wonderful parts though!

    1. Yeah, as a regular blogging reviewer who writes fiction and sometimes catches myself making mistakes I've criticized others for, I must admit that the immensely more famous O'Brien is in a tough spot. :)

      It's been a couple years since I read Father Elijah. My memory of the prose and story development is that they're really just kind of average for Catholic bookstore fiction. Not shockingly bad for a commercial novel with a specific target audience, but not quite John Grisham, either. What I didn't like was the hyper-conservative end times alarmism, and how dated it all felt (it was published in '97). It's possible that it was skirting too closely to my memories of Protestant eschatology for me to understand it properly.

      I don't even know what "emotionally manipulative" means in regard to fiction. I mean, isn't it all, more or less? For which reason, I tend to be forgiving of things like sentimentality (probably especially because under the right conditions, I kind of like it. ;)) But with Father Elijah... if he was trying to be emotionally manipulative, he was failing, at least for me. I was just like... You can't make me believe the world is going to end within living memory of World War II when so few people who were old enough to remember it are still alive and remembering.

      The book club girls who loved it sympathized, I think, with some of the very things that were major turn-offs to me. The idea that current hot-button political issues are signs of the imminent Second Coming. The effect of a thickly conservative Catholic stream of consciousness on the prose. I think the former is a bit naive, and the latter is a fatally restrictive literary form, but it all really works for a certain audience. I'm just not really part of that audience. :S