Friday, August 05, 2005

Problems with Potter

As one who's already blogged about Harry Potter, I'm intrigued by Conrad Gempf's concerns with the Harry Potter series. Conrad has written the best and most balanced critique I've read so far. The real issue, Conrad points out, is not with the supernatural or magical issues depicted in the series. No, the issues are much more down-to-earth. Take this point, for example:
For a start, Harry is a liar. I'm surprised not to find lots of other people commenting on this. He has no compunctions at all about lying. By coming to Hogwarts he has willingly placed himself under the authority of the teachers, yet when we have a scene with Harry interacting with a teacher, he's as likely to lie as not! And I'm not just talking about Snape, whom he doesn't like and who doesn't like him, though I think that is bad enough -- shut up or do something creative or take the consequences -- but he's just as likely to lie to the characters who are thoroughly on his side like McGonagall. I don't think he lies to Dumbledore in this volume, but I'm pretty sure he has in the past. And he certainly lies to his friends and to Mrs Weasley -- characters who love him and would do anything for him. How thoroughly unnecessary! Nor is any of this portrayed as wrong or even as an annoying bad habit. This is merely, the author seems to be implying, the way one acts.
Conrad's right. I recommend his insights to any serious Harry Potter fan.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think it is a coincidence that so many preachers are very interested in this series of books, do you?

3:35 PM, August 05, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

No, I don't. Most preachers are better than average at recognizing high-quality literature. Peace.

7:47 AM, August 06, 2005  
Blogger ianjmatt said...

Someone made the point in another forum when discussing lying in Harry Potter:

"It takes into account the fact that the intended audience can obviously see the joke, which requires people to already know that it is wrong to tell lies and that people aren't supposed to be rewarded for breaking the rules. If people are looking for a book that shows a morally honourable world to primary schoolkids, don't look to HP because HP is aimed at older people."

Another contributor said, "Much of the rule breaking Harry seems to get away with has longer term, down-the-road consequences. Not all of the consequences suffered are in the same book where the original offense occurs; a delay making the books better suited for young adult than children."

I would also point two instances - one in book 5 and one in the latest book where Harry didn't lie when to lie would have been the easiest path. In Order of the Phoenix Harry refuses to pretend to Umbridge that he didn't see Voldemort despite the torture of having his writing etched into his skin repeatedly night after night. In Half Blood Prince Harry is trying to find out from Slughorn what he really said about Horcrixes to Tom Riddle and is asked by Slughorn directly if Dumbledore had shown him the memory. The text says, '"Yes," said Harry, deciding on the spot not to lie.'

I have to take issue with Conrad's comment, "But an imaginary world of magic should afford one all kinds of alternatives to violence and attitudes of condoning violence. " Rowling is oprtating in a philosophy of necessary violence - an environment very like the violence of World War Two where the 'good guys' sometimes used unpleasant and possibly evil means (e.g. Dresden), but in which good was ultimately achieved.

I would argue that Rowling is attempting an earthier and more contemporary model than Lewis (and I am one of 'ol jack's biggest fans!). Lewis operated very much in the coutly conventions of the earely middle ages. Rowling is attempting to create fantasy using the Paradigm's that exist today. We view these at a much closer range and can see the intricacies and vagaries in a way we see less in Paradigms that are now historical.

12:26 PM, August 09, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks, ianjmatt, for interacting so thoroughly with this post and Conrad's original. Your counter-arguments for Harry's refusing to lie are substantial, and the idea that the books may be better suited to adults than children is correct, I think.

7:25 AM, August 10, 2005  
Blogger ianjmatt said...

It's a pleasure. By the way, I meant to say that Lewis used a 'courtly' convention, not 'coutly'! Hmm - interesting word though - I wonder what it meant ...

10:59 AM, August 10, 2005  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Coutly? Having to do with couts?

2:38 PM, August 10, 2005  

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