Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Web Crush Wednesdays: Potterless

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Harry Potter is a pillar of civilization by this point. What began as a series of children’s/young adult novels is now a virtual empire, with eight movies, several spinoff books, movies of the spinoff books, theme parks, and the website Pottermore to ensure that the franchise is constantly alive and being added to. Given the impact this series has had since its release in the ‘90s, you’d be hard pressed to find someone in the Western world who hasn’t been influenced by it—and it would be nigh-impossible to find someone who hasn’t read the books that have shaped a generation.

You’d think that, but you would be wrong—Mike Schubert, a twenty-four-year-old American man, has never read the Harry Potter novels that so defined the childhood of his peers. And so, in a grand experiment, he’s sitting down to read them all one after the other, and discuss them with his Potterhead friends in this week’s web crush: the Potterless podcast.

Jump to Lady Geek Girl and Friends for the full post!

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The Strange Case of Spoilers

[This is a post about spoilers. It will contain spoilers]

Remember when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince first came out, and yelling “Snape kills Dumbledore!” being something like an evil meme? Something you would yell to ruin people’s lives, an attack reserved for the most devious of tricksters or most obnoxious of bullies? Wasn’t that a wild time? Do we still, collectively, feel that way about the tricky and weird business of “spoilers”? Continue reading

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Happiness is a Nuclear Family in a Dystopia

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Mockingjay Part 2 succeeded as an adaptation in that its ending scene was just as silly as it was in the book. It would have been fantastically poignant and sweet to end on “You love me, real or not real?” “Real” and fade out with hopeful ambiguity that maybe, even after all they’ve been through, our two young heroes are going to be okay, but instead it was deemed more appropriate to have a flash-forward to them picnicking in an idyllic field with their 2.5 children. Which is a strangely pervasive trend and one that, while kind of cute, is outweighed in most cases by the problems with it.

The other obvious big example of this is the Harry Potter epilogue, in which the characters we’ve grown to know and love return as adults to load their beautiful children onto the Hogwarts Express. A lot of people have a lot of problems with this ending, and I can see why, the largest two being that in the scene’s cyclical nature—complete with half the kids seemingly named after past characters—it creates a sense of repetition and almost stagnation. What are Our Brave Wizarding Heroes doing in the future? Oh, they’re dropping their kids off to go to Hogwarts, just like their parents did, and just like their parents did before. What are they doing career-wise? Are dark wizards still on the loose? Have muggle relations improved? How are they coping psychologically with the events they’ve lived through? A lot of the interesting business regarding the state of the world and its inhabitants after the story’s end is effectively shuffled to the side in favour of demonstrating everyone’s family trees. Continue reading

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The Importance of “Found Family” Stories

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“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good.

Yeah, still good.

Lilo and Stitch, making us all cry over an explosive dog-like alien since 2002

Orphan Black is coming back real soon, and I realise this means all the debates over what in the world is happening with Sarah’s love life are going to flare back up. Will she stay with Cal and make a complete nuclear family with their daughter? Or does she still harbour feelings for Paul despite their weird on-again-off-again-secret-military-clone-experiment relationship? Frankly, I’m just going to zone out, because what I’m really and actually invested in is her relationship with her foster brother, her daughter, her estranged reformed murderess of a twin sister, and all the closely-knit friends she’s made along the way. The family plotline, that is. Some of it blood related, most of it forged on her own terms.

“I already have a family,” she said to Helena in the finale of season one, refusing to be tied down by all the weirdness of her genetic family tree and referring instead to the bonds she’d forged by affection, and you know, the people who had actually taken care of her for her whole life and not started that life in an attempt to use her as a scientific experiment (an attempt they then mercilessly continue). Granted, she lets Helena into her life later on and they begin to form a messy but devoted sibling relationship, but that was still her choice. Sometimes, your family is a crappy place to be, whether it contains evil scientists or not, and it’s important for fiction to emphasise that it’s not only okay but sometimes better to make your own choice about who you call home.

Especially in kids’ literature, I think—there’s a trend towards unhappily adopted orphan heroes, as we’ll all know, who are lifted from the abuse/poverty/hilariously wonky living conditions they’re in by discovering that their parents were secretly wizards, or royalty, or holders of some great destiny that Our Hero is now tasked to take up. The truth of their bloodline saves the day, and you can dream of a giant busting through your door declaring “Yer a wizard” and scooping you off into the adventure you were destined for, away from your mundane and terrible home life. Continue reading

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Fandom and Death of the Author

J.K.-Rowling

“Mine, miiiine!”

Roland Barthes’ ‘Death of the Author’ theory, if you’ll allow me to get academic for a moment, is sort of a philosophy on reading and writing, and basically states that once a written work goes out to its readers, the creator loses all control over it. Not in a copyright sense, but in a more intangible and symbolic way: essentially, the human being who made up the story becomes totally irrelevant to the story itself because the power to bring that story to life lies with the reader. Whether or not you agree with that wholeheartedly, I think it’s an interesting thing to think on regarding fandom, especially in its modern incarnation, where we not only have fans speaking directly to and demanding more from authors, but fans gathering in greater communities to demand more from these works of fiction themselves.

Straight up, an excellent example of this is Harry Potter, always a good specimen to examine simply because its fanbase is so huge and so dedicated, and at this point in time, heavily consisted of people who read and loved the books as they were growing up and are now looking back at them with their new sense of maturity. And, as even I learnt, there’s a lot of thinking you can do about the Wizarding World even if you’re not super involved with it, which has naturally led to swathes of headcanons and theories that extend the story world from how it’s presented in the texts, whether that’s prodding into plot holes or extending the story, and doing so with far more varied perspectives than the original author’s. As this compilation post nicely puts it: “Thus the muses spake: ‘JK you dealt kinda shittily with Dumbledore and other diversity aspects, so we’re gonna go ahead and fix this ourselves’.”

I think this is a key aspect of fandom, and definitely translates nicely into fanfiction: readers enjoying something, but wanting more from it. A character is shafted by the narrative, so a reader who thought they could have had more potential will start musing on or writing about them to give them the development they were denied. A story presents a pair of characters they tease heavily as a possible romantic pairing, but won’t actually get them together for whatever reason, so a member of the audience will write about that romantic arc actually occurring. An audience member has trouble finding themselves represented in canon, so they tweak it in their own creative space to make it more inclusive and interesting to them personally. Viewers will wrangle headcanons or stories of sexuality, gender, background and all sorts of things onto characters you’d never have considered them for, mostly, in my experience, because the text itself would never go in that direction and is content with keeping its characters on a narrow, conventional path. And not all consumers are happy with that. Continue reading

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No Good Guys in Slytherin: YA and Box-Putting

Hogwarts crest

The Sorting Hat has run off with the Scarf of Sexual Preference, so we’re just going to put everyone who looks like a good guy into Gryffindor and everyone who looks like a bad guy into Slytherin.

A Very Potter Musical Act I

I admit it—even though I’m not a self-described Harry Potter fanatic, it did capture my heart when I was younger and yes, I did create a self-indulgent fantastical scenario in my head and a little bit on paper where my friends and I went to study at Hogwarts. Frankly, I wouldn’t have lasted a day among the moving staircases and giant spiders (then again, having lived in Australia, maybe I’d just take such things in stride), but it was still fun. There was, of course, the big, crucial question of what house I’d end up in, as there somehow often is when it comes to fantastical or sci-fi series aimed at young people. I grabbed at straws and decided I was bookish and got good grades so I stuck myself in Ravenclaw.

Thinking about it now, I value my sense of loyalty over my smarts, so I’d be more of a Hufflepuff person, but they always kind of seemed like The Other Ones among the much more majestic houses, even when they did give us the occasional major character. Their emblem is a badger, for heaven’s sake. Lion? Badger? Weigh it up. Hell, even a snake is cooler, and those are the bad guys. Well, technically if you’re in Slytherin all it means is that your dominant trait is your cunning, but that’s the trouble with putting characters into groups, isn’t it? We come to associate them and their ilk with certain connotations.

To be fair, Slytherin also favours pureblooded wizards, so by extension they’re also all a bunch of racists. That can’t be true for every member of the house, though. What if you’re a cunning, self-serving little dude who’s also smart and brave? Would the Sorting Hat freeze up? Surely there have been Divergent style Hogwarts students who haven’t fit neatly into one house because they have more than one outgoing attribute, or students that have wanted to transfer halfway through because their personality changes and develops as they mature into young adults? Shock and horror, YA characters not fitting into boxes. Usually it’s cause for revolution, but not always, but either way it’s an interesting trend to look at in media aimed at young-uns. Continue reading

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Manpain and Moral Ambiguity

Kiritsugu

We take a break from staring moodily out the window to bring you this post

Oops, I’m talking about villains and anti-heroes again.

I read and enjoyed the Harry Potter books, but was never really a die-hard fan at heart… nonetheless, the group that is are always interesting to watch, and one of the areas I note they’re most divided in is the case of Severus Snape. Half of them burst into tears at his very mention and mourn and praise the tragic unrequited love story between him and Lily Potter, the other half recoil at the concept and are in absolute denial that Harry named one of his kids after the sometimes-villainous professor. Both sides have their valid points, but looking at this crevasse-like opinion split I do have to wonder whether JKR succeeded in her attempt to make Snape a likeable, sympathetic and morally interesting character by giving him tragic feelings over a pretty girl.

Which, as discussed before, seems to be a bit of a go-to if you’re looking for emotional growth, motivation explanation or the excuse to get your hero weeping on his knees figuratively or otherwise. Now, when done well this can be fantastic and poignant, when not, it falls a little flat. There’s some genuine pathos and poetry in a tragic love story that the hero must mourn (perhaps leading him down the road to become a villain, even), but as with all things it’s about execution. There’s a difference between setting up a tragic loss in a character’s backstory or current adventure to give him (and I’m using ‘him’ because this post is discussing male heroes and their often but not always female love interests/cute little sisters/doting dead mothers etc.) motivation, conflict or just some emotional depth, and throwing it in there as a hook for sympathy and a quick attempt to humanise a character that does awful things.

Snape’s love for and loss of the woman who shaped his life is sad, yes, and you feel bad for the guy learning all of that as he dies, but does it redeem the past seven years/books worth of bullying and evil deeds? Again, some believe so, some refuse to. At least that was considerably thought out, as far as I remember, and Lily Potter was an important character in her own right and didn’t just exist to die for Snape’s look-he’s-crying-he’s-not-totally-evil redemption. By all means, kill off characters to create a story via cause and effect, but don’t do so in a way that cheapens both parties. Continue reading

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