Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Trouble with Dobby

One of the most troubling and problematic aspects of J.K. Rowling’s world is the creation of a race wholly designed for enslavement and degradation. More than anything else, the house-elves make me wonder what on earth Rowling was thinking and what exactly she is revealing to her readers about herself and her worldview.
The domovoi usually appear as a living (or deceased) Master, 
or occasionally as the family dog or cat.

Granted, I’m not very familiar with English household spirits. In my mind, the closest I come to Rowling’s elves are the domovoi - the home-guardian/poltergeist/servant/master who wreaks havoc when his will is thwarted, punishes violently the lazy housewife, the drunken husband, the neglectful servant, drives off animals he considers ugly, and of course, helps out with chores when he considers it worth his while. He is decidedly Slavic though, and I knew I wouldn’t find him in Rowling’s England, so I hunted down the less terrifying English equivalent: the Brownie. Like Rowling’s elves, Brownies leave when offered clothes (the domovoi stomps around in peasant garb and boots, or else skulks through the yard as a dog or cat..rumors have him even becoming a bouncing sack of grain, but I’ve no experience with such playful domovoi.) Brownies are tame, and decidedly English in their Faerie ways, but they have dignity. They are never the slaves of the family they serve, and are not so beaten as to miss the chance to harangue an unpleasant home-owner or defend their strange Faerie pride. It’s a dignity Rowling denies Dobby and his race, and the idea that a being exists not merely to serve, but to be enslaved is horrific. Then to use such a being leaves a sour taste in me that all Harry’s kindness to Dobby can’t wash out. I know Rowling does try to work her way through this problem as the series continues, but at her best she seems to manage a sort of Gone with the Wind attitude: happy slaves, well-meaning but ignorant abolitionists, loving masters, and no concept that a soul could be designed for more.

Adorable Dobby

But Jenna loves Dobby, I know, and so do many fans of the series. Dobby is loveable (though honestly I had trouble finding him loveable until Seth drew Adorable Dobby for this post). He’s earnest if nothing else, and sort of sweet, but why the life-time of slavery for all house-elves? And why is that not troubling anyone (SPOILER/ ‘well meaning but ignorant abolitionist’ aside)? The creation of the house-elves as they are - a downtrodden race with no self-respect and the dismissal of even the tiniest bit of self-worth as being akin to insanity - is the product of a sort of negligent relativism on the part of the author: negligent because she should have been more aware of how her house-elves would reflect on back on her own views and character, which seems to be a sort of contentment with the status quo enslavement of creatures that very obviously have personhood; and relativistic because such an order of creatures - even in an entirely imaginary world - indicates a complete lack of moral order within that world. It’s one of reason why I’m much happier with my Domovoi; demonic tricks, self-serving household management, and all. He’s fully Faerie - in the Slavic sense - dark, dangerous, and too, too intimate; house-elves are merely abused to various degrees, they’re depressing to read about and disturbing to consider.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Reflections: Prayers to a Lowly God and The Sickness unto Death

I learned to pray from Rainer Maria Rilke.

Years after learning the form of things as a little child, prayer came to me all out of the night, in a scrap of paper: "Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now." In those words I found my voice and began a love affair with the One Who wanted to hear.

I learned to see from Rilke as he watched Italian Madonnas nurse their growing he traced the shadows under Icon eyes and mourned the loneliness of God, waiting among His candles and scented air..ready to greet "all the immense images in me .. and those powerful lands that were once pulsing with the life of the gods" as friends I have known and seen before.

But I learned to live from Soren Kierkegaard, who held my hand and whispered that it is good to stand alone, that "every life preoccupied with being like others is a wasted life, a lost life." And it's his kind voice - uncertain and full of haunted dreams - that guides me as I move in this month of quiet retreat.  As I remove myself from groups that weighed me down with their refusal to allow growth, that offer comforting pats of affirmation but balk at building charity. 

I'm learning as I grow that I've less and less patience with the habit of making peace for the sake of avoiding uncomfortable disagreements. And in this Kierkegaard is my guide, though I am blessed in ways he was not - with a family to love me though the arguments, and friends to smile on my hopeless dreams and over-reaching efforts.  In August I'll hold both my mentors in reserve, and reach forward, to one I've only met in passing - Gregory of Nyssa, who's Life of Moses sits beside my bed, waiting. I've read bits of him in Kathleen Norris - we share a love of the quotidian, of darkness, and of the God who can be found in both. I'm looking forward to learning more.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Chamber of Secrets, Chapter One

Every time I think about it, book two ends up near the bottom of my list in the series, but when I pick it up reminds me how much I really do like it - it may actually be one of my favorites..apart from the introduction of [spoiler] whose whole existence is problematic, and the concept of happy family life we’ll see a bit later..and which is one of my more consistent problems with the books. But the story is wonderful, and I do love seeing Harry back at home.
Seth's Severus Snape..knowing he will have to teach Harry once again in the Fall..

Jenna’s right, we’ve got a lot of refreshers in this chapter. Harry is home again, hating
his family, longing for escape, and anticipating another school year with friends..but uncertain again - he never really knows where he stands in the magical world, or the hearts of his friends. He wants certainty that can’t be given in this world, he lacks trust - a faith in the goodness and consistency of those he loves. It’s sort of a common thread for Harry throughout the books - like most of Rowling’s characters, he doesn’t love confidently or consistently..there are too many doubts and resting demons he can’t overcome.

Here in the beginning again, Harry is resentful and angry. He thinks of his friends savagely, jealously..In this book we’ll see a bit more of the families behind the trio..and it leads me to wonder more and more about Rowling’s own family..but I can save that for later..For now, Harry is trapped in misery: angry, lonely, and bitter.

Like Jenna, I long to try Aunt Petunia’s Pudding..Puddings are the best! But she and I are off sugar together, and, as I’m also off coffee, I don’t have the charity and sweetness of heart to make it just for Seth and Yarrow..Christie??? Want to give it a go?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tea, Flowers, and the Essence of Summer

On Saturday, my husband bought me a tin of tea - ‘Hot Cinnamon Sunset’. It’s spicy, sweet, and cozy on these moonlit summer nights. I’m discovering energy reserves that don’t depend on coffee, but my mind is still in the hazy, half-focused light of summer - undirected and lazy.

I’ve got flowers in the house - fading pink lilies; cosmos, daisies, and bee balm on the altar; and undying plastic petals on the flower ‘lei’ a nice boy gave to Yarrow at a Mexican restaurant. Today and yesterday are cool. It’s comfortable after a week of steamy days, but the constant rain this morning is making it hard to appreciate. I’ve a lovely new recipe for Blueberry Maple Corn Cake, and blueberries all over the yard, just waiting to be picked and popped into a cake, but the rain is too heavy to go picking, and the air is too damp to bake well. Maybe tomorrow will be clear enough. Maybe I’ll have cake with tea in the afternoon sunlight.

Last night, when it was still dry, I took my tea out to the yard where torches kept the bugs away and the heavy yellow moon peeked out between clouds and trees. Yarrow dozed to her father’s guitar, and birds sang in the trees. Nothing feels more like summer to me than that.

Monday, July 22, 2013


My lovely new tattoo. The full poem can be found here.  Rilke is my favorite poet, he always writes the poems I wish I could..I'm glad to have him with me now, in such a beautiful way! Thanks John Biswell, for making it perfect!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Simple Pleasures on Sunny Days

I spent the afternoon outdoors. Laying out under the sun and trying to keep from burning my new tattoo. The bugs didn’t bother me - I was too well hidden in the tall grass beside our house. Yarrow napped long and peaceful in front of the fan and Seth did practical, Saturday-afternoon projects, but I just worshiped the sun, the warm earth, and the quiet all around. I’m preparing for August. The month I turn thirty and the month I’ve set aside for retreat and reflection.

In preparation, I’m working to get my days running smoothly (smoother anyway). Waking before my alarm most mornings and replacing coffee with tea. I am deciding on a time to be online, a time to be available for texts and calls, I’m deciding on lectio Divina for my early morning hours, weeding and harvesting after breakfast, afternoon walks, focused cleaning, prayers and short a spiritual detox. A time to form my flighty self in the imitation of Christ. 

I’m giving myself a good part of Yarrow’s average nap-time for writing. I don’t know if anything will come of it - summer is not my season - but I would like to give myself the opportunity that discipline brings. It will not be journal-writing, nor editing, but writing with form, shape, and direction. I would like to give myself tasks and themes to direct the time. I’m not sure whether I’ll be putting together my own, or if there are helpful tools out there I can absorb..Any suggestions??

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Purity of Heart and Utilitarian Readers

The End.

The end of the book is not quite so engaging as the beginning. Ends , for me, never are. I loved the mirror - which only gives to the pure of heart. Magic and mirrors delight me. Mirrors delight me - unless they’re the ones that make my skin go all reddish and add twenty pounds to my chest. Mirrors with secrets are the best of all. And this mirror has secrets. Hidden twists and turns where magic stones can hide and not be found. The mirror bothers me a bit too though; it makes all the other tasks, and Harry’s quest to save the stone itself irrelevant. Quirrel could look and look and never find the stone, he could wish his heart out, smash the thing, and never succeed. So Harry and his tasks are superfluous. And I’m disappointed. I wanted more.

His talk with Dumbledore, though, is enlightening. Jenna’s already shared his words of wisdom. They are good. And there’s a soothing quality to his voice as the plot exposition flows..but even here - so early on - he has the after-taste of utilitarianism, a tendency to use others like chessmen, to manipulate. There’s a similar subtlety and secrecy about him to Snape’s, but sugar coated, and that much sugar gives me headaches. He’s one of my least favorite characters..I don’t like him or trust his motives. And I get the sense that - well meaning as he is - Dumbledore is too often looks at others as tools, and he’s honing Harry here to become his weapon against Voldemort.

Christie goes deeper into Harold Bloom in her post. The critic who compares Rowling to Tolkien and dismisses them both. If he didn’t have such an obvious loathing for Tolkien and, it seems, myth in general, I’d be more willing to give him some of my sympathies. I can see that Rowling’s not the best writer, not even what I’d call a good writer. She’s a strong story-teller, and at least in her early books, the ‘kid’s-book’ feel covers a multitude of sins. Her characters generally get strong introductions, but she tends to lack consistency.

But Bloom goes on to ask us: "Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality?"

I can think of a few reasons, mainly the same reasons I’d give for watching reality t.v. (rare, but that’s what hotel rooms are for, right??). Christie contends that Harry is very much enriching all three..and she’s right, in a way. Not only because there are some good themes in the book, but because, well..mind, spirit, and personality are enriched in many ways. One is by reading Good, True, and Beautiful books (which it can be argued Harry Potter is not..I’m not saying the books definitively aren’t, I’m just saying, the argument can be made, and made well by People, Not Me). Another way, is by Not Being A Snob, and being capable of reading and discussing books that lack talent, genius, or any redeeming factors at long as the reading of them is not a near occasion of sin to you. So I read Twilight (sorry Jenna) and I can admit that, if nothing else, it’s given me delightful internet memes to enjoy and a chance to figure out what others love about it; I’ve read Dan Brown..which turned out to be a near occasion of sin by encouraging me to mock Dan Brown incessantly. I read Harry Potter and found I was too harsh in my original opinion..I found things to admire in the books - and the humility of reading a book you’ve dismissed as un-enriching and discoveing it to be otherwise is in itself enriching to mind, spirit, and personality. Because nobody likes the guy who thinks he has all the answers.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Harry Potter at Last!

 I've had a bad week. It's one thing to read a book, discuss it's merits and failings, and move on. It's another to reach for that book in the dark days and realize that - despite disappointments, frustrations, and occasional outright dislike, the book has become a friend. This week, Harry joined Hobbits and Russians, and one or two others in that fictional friendship, and I'm not at all sure how it happened. I tell myself it's through no merit of his, but I'm not sure I believe myself yet..

Jenna's too long neglected post on chapter 16 is amazing. I like seeing the tasks all laid out before me that way. I liked, as I read, the reminder on every page that all things worth doing will pain us, challenge us, and will lead us to yet another, harder challenge.  That burdens are best when shared with willing friends..Harry and I are alike (shocking, I know) in that we both prefer to avoid burdening others, we would rather not have friends along to aid and comfort, until we give in and realize that without them, we would have failed. I felt with him the surprise and terrified joy that comes when Ron and Hermione insist on helping..the "Oh thank goodness" right after "Oh no!" 

I'm glad they do come along. It makes the story so much more about love and the strength of commitment than about the skills and luck of one particular boy. And the tasks themselves are ..honestly sort of a disappointment. I mean really, aren't these supposed to be skilled witches and wizards? Except Snape's, they're all sort of mundane, really. Snape's though, is delightful. It's more than a task, it's sort of an introduction to the man, a picture of his layered and solitary soul. A soul full of nooks and chambers and dusty-0ut-of-the-way places where old photos are laid face down so we can't snoop. He's clever, hidden, lost inside himself, and oh-so-full of secrets, like his potions, and he offers clues..but not direct ones. If you need direct clues he despises you..which may be more of the reason for his dislike of Harry than anything else. Harry's a liar, but he's a clumsy one, he has no subtlety. Snape has subtlety in spades. I adore it!

Christie's breakdown of the trio's positions on the chessboard is lovely, by the way! I loved it! And I'm thrilled Rowling didn't make Harry the King, that would have been obnoxious..

The rest will have to wait for the final part of our Book one discussion..I'm tired, I haven't written so much in a week, and I have my newest tattoo to plan before Tuesday..Blessings all!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Direction on Moonless Nights

The moon and I are old friends. Especially when she waxes,near to full, and ringed with light. I’ve been lonely - looking up to the sky these past weeks - seeing only darkness. We missed The Biggest Moon in June thanks to some late afternoon storms that never left. I am resenting this tendency our earth has now of giving Maine a rainy season in June, when I’m desperate for sunny days and starry nights. It’s a small burden, I know, we have no fires, no 100 degree heat waves; only drowning gardens and seasonal affective disorder in one of our few warm months. 


As much as I’m looking forward to winter - truly, I am! - I’m looking forward to true summer as well. I live in the future, in potentials. I live in hope that a nice sunny weekend with have us finishing up projects, will find me throwing before an open window - stocking up for an autumn firing, with tomatoes ripening on the vine and roses bursting into bloom. Will leave me, late Sunday night, writing under a bright moon in the garden outside my door. Moonless, I can do little but wait - I have no compass, no friendly guide. I sit and wait and wonder - could I be doing more?