April 5, 2017 · 12:06 pm
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!
February 9, 2017 · 12:40 am
[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 →
December 17, 2015 · 12:03 am
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 →
April 9, 2015 · 12:38 am
“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 →
October 2, 2014 · 12:05 am
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 →
August 14, 2014 · 12:44 am
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 →
July 10, 2014 · 12:21 am
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 →
December 26, 2013 · 12:15 am
This is not a post musing in a mutter about whether Hollywood is running out of ideas since half the new cinema releases these days are book adaptations, but instead looking at the trend towards the young adult audience within those adaptations. Just this year we’ve had Beautiful Creatures, The Host, City of Bones and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, with many more in the works and peeping over the developmental horizon. It’s a pretty interesting trend considering before a few years ago movies based on teen books, much less books for teen girls, weren’t so much A Thing, but now the genre is practically booming.
Why is this? Well, much as everyone has mercifully stopped talking about Twilight I think it’s worth a mention here—Harry Potter too, for being the first to take on the ambitious project of adapting an entire series of seven books (that turned into eight movies), which was a ridiculous feat when it first came out, but now every other series seems intent on following suit. But Twilight stood out as being the first major adaptation of a YA series geared specifically towards girls (not that guys can’t enjoy the saga too, of course… Bella’s so wonderfully bland that inserting yourself into her shell is really rather gender neutral), going on to draw legions of devoted and new fans, casually ruin Robert Pattinson’s life and make squillions of dollars. And while they were at it, prove that adaptations of YA novels made for and led by teenaged girls can be successful, which opened the doors for a flood of new productions.
Which is pretty awesome, because if there’s one thing this little everyman media critic never turns down it’s mainstream fiction with strong female characters, especially those of the coming of age variety which, classically, is a pretty male-dominated field. It’s also interesting to note that a lot of these adaptations are of urban fantasy series, which makes sense because they contain a lot of visual splendour and action that would translate well to the screen. It’s opening up the field for new talent and injecting imagination into the stream of blockbuster releases. It’s great, but is it entirely a good thing? Well, let me bring out my scales. Continue reading →
November 7, 2013 · 12:07 am
‘…recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying “I knew a girl once…” I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, “Dumbledore’s gay!” [laughter] If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!’
There’s a sticky situation one runs into when writing LGBTQ characters. So you want to write some non-heterosexual people into your story, whether to reach out to an abysmally underrepresented minority (which really isn’t such a minority, not that the media would have you think so) or to look cool and hip and fresh by being inclusive or to lay out fish hooks for the slash fans. The question then becomes, how does one write in gay characters while making them characters and not just gay?
I name this post after the case of Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series (really, should I have to spell that out in this day and age?), as his acclaimed author simply let it drop one day that the character was in fact homosexual, expressing it as Word of God rather than having it come through in the books themselves. This inspired an ovation from some and outrage from others, and academic eye-narrowing from all sorts of angles about the nature of this decision.
Was J.K. just pulling the factoid out of her hat after the books as a cheap attempt to seem inclusive and an ally? This seems to be a question still floating around. One argument is that there was absolutely nothing in Dumbledore’s characterisation that indicates he was gay, which would have saved J.K. Rowling conveniently from any obtrusive moral guardians while the books were still being published. The counterargument is that of course there wasn’t any evidence of Dumbledore being gay, because, well, people don’t actually come with neon signs announcing their sexuality.
Am I sensing a cop-out, or a legitimate representation?
Continue reading →
July 11, 2013 · 12:33 am
You all know the story—a world-innocent but slightly bored peasant boy gets swept into an adventure to save his people. How’s he going to do it? He’s just an everyman, after all, the most relatable archetype out there, that of the well-meaning but gormless youth. However he might protest, however, he really has little to no say in it—he has to go on the adventure and defeat this evil, because destiny dictates he’s the only one who can.
What am I talking about here? Star Wars? The Arthurian legends? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? It doesn’t matter. The idea of the fated hero is older than print, present in everything from Greek theatre to modern sitcoms. But the question that I pose to you is thus: is the concept a bit worn out?
After all, the thing about destiny is that you know what’s going to happen. As if the definition wasn’t enough, we have the added bonus that a lot of these plots march along a certain previously laid-out path, that of The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell was the first to nut this out in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and if you follow your nose you’ll see it guiding adventurers all across the spectrum of literature.
It starts with our ordinary hero, our relatable everydude, in their ordinary home town, somewhat dissatisfied with their predictable life. Suddenly, in crashes some sort of bizarre happenstance that ignites the plot. Maybe a mysterious girl falls from the sky, or maybe they find a hidden treasure, or maybe some sort of mystical, pun-making wizard appears and calls them to adventure.
The Hero can’t just rush off into the story, however—for whatever reason, be it their loyalty to home or their honour or their wobbly knees, they must refuse the call. In spite of this, they’re going to get roped into the fray anyway, like in the aforementioned and formula-perfect Star Wars, where Obi Wan points out that Luke’s really got nothing better to do than come with him and face the adventure he was born for since his house and family are now on fire.
Does destiny really say I have to carry your Muppet ass around?
Continue reading →
Filed under Archetypes and Genre
Tagged as A Song of Ice and Fire, Brave, destiny, Fate franchise, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Joseph Campbell, Pixar, Star Wars, The Hero's Journey, The Three Doors