Saturday, August 20, 2005

Harry Potter and the Seventh Book: A Guess or Two


Here at the start of this column, I should warn the reader that if you are that particular individual who is reading the “Harry Potter” series (or plans to), but have not gotten through Book 6 yet, this may be a little bit of a spoiler for you, so keep that in mind. As it happens, though, I read a number of “spoiler” essays and articles before I read even the first of the “Harry Potter” stories, and for me there was no disappointment. I’m writing this particular column, for those readers who believe their taste in literature and discussion is a bit like my own. As a result, I am amusing myself with a few guesses about what we will see happen in the last book of the “Harry Potter” saga.

There’s always a risk in predicting what will happen in a book that has yet to be written; it could even be, that if a certain thought becomes popular, Ms. Rowling might decide to avoid precisely that, simply because she wants a surprise or four in the last book. But I believe the claim that Ms. Rowling has already planned out the framework of her story, and there are certain basic presumptions which have been established in the first six books/years.

Obviously, a lot of readers are doing the same thing I am; looking at the story as it has come to its present position, and trying to chart the course to come. The reasons that I think my guess might be closer, is because of two points I have observed. First, Rowling is not perfect, not describing a real place with real events which can be corroborated. She has made some mistakes in consistency and veracity, as often happens when an author creates a complex world for a story, and must maintain it for a long time. This is, actually, to Rowling’s credit, as this is one of the qualities which makes her stories compelling. But it also provides a clue to Rowling’s own priorities, because Rowling will naturally have made sure to keep the story consistent on those points and details that she considers essential to the plot. The second point, is simply that sometimes people see what they expect to see, whether or not it’s really there. I will try to avoid that mistake here, but it’s important to recognize that this happens.

So, what are these priorities to Ms. Rowling? A look through the six books already done shows the following elements:

1. Harry is always in danger, but is never critically or permanently injured, although he does get hurt.
2. Voldemort is successful in his plots, except for any of them which involve Potter.
3. Voldemort trusts no one, and has no friends. In contrast, Harry has several close friends, is close to them and depends on them. Harry also considers his friends’ feelings, and is even open to considering the feelings of his enemies, at times even feeling pity for enemies like Snape and Malfoy.
4. The significant action always takes place at or in relation to Hogwarts.
5. Harry has done a number of actions which, Dumbledore has reminded Harry, create a kind of power for which Voldemort has no answer, such as mercy for Wormtail.
6. Voldemort is acting out of his own lust for power. Harry is acting as he feels he is required to do, and has no desire for personal glory or power (again, as Dumbledore reminded Harry when discussing the Sorceror’s Stone)
7. There are other players in this conflict, of whom Voldemort may well have no knowledge. The mysterious “R.A.B.” who appears in book 6, the question of whether the people killed by Voldemort might not come back in some form (remember in the duel between Voldemort and Potter, Voldemort’s victims come back to help Harry escape), and of course the question of what role people like Neville Longbottom, Ron Weasley, and of course Severus Snape may play. And I have a hunch we may see Fleur and Viktor come into play, as well.

So, let’s put this together and see what looks like the direction. First off, we will see Bill and Fleur’s wedding in the first part of the book. I notice that Rowling likes to mix happy and sad events in the early story of each book. Since Harry is not at all happy at the end of ‘Half-Blood Prince’, that tells me Rowling will try to brighten the mood a bit. I will honestly say that I cannot be sure that Hogwarts will open again that year; on the one hand, Hogwarts has always been a center of action and focus in the story, but with Dumbledore’s death (and Snape’s exit) it becomes a bit difficult to see who would be the face of Hogwarts. The fact that book 6 ends without a House Cup awarded suggests that major changes are happening.

I think I will ponder things a bit further before making the whole prediction, but two things strike me about the conflict between Voldemort and Potter, which actually bode well for Harry’s victory and survival. First is the fact that Voldemort fared rather badly the first time he and Harry crossed paths, and the tearing of his own soul into 7 parts seems representative that he can never be whole, itself an apparent reason to say Voldemort cannot win. Harry, in contrast, has been growing end developing, at the end of each year stronger in character and ability. Voldemort has enjoyed some successes, but always at a cost he has not truly seen in effect, while Harry is setting up a condition which indicates he is owed a moral debt by a great many people.

Then there is the simple fact, that Chapter 1 of the first book may have said it plainly: Harry Potter is described by Rowling herself as “The Boy Who Lived”. It would only be consistent that Harry also gets to live as a man.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Professor Snape, SIR


To begin with, anyone who wants a well-done analysis of Severus Snape, needs to go read Dave Kopel's essay, "Severus Snape: the Unlikely Hero of Harry Potter Book 7". It was this essay that convinced me to buy the series and read it, and I must confess it shaped my early thoughts.

Reading in so compact a fashion has a certain effect, and I have some definite ideas about what to expect for Book 7. Now, about Snape, one thing I think is obvious about Snape, is that he definitely is not 100% with Voldemoldy. Early in the book, he pretends to Narcissa, that he is privy to the plan involving Draco, yet later Draco's words make it clear that Severus did not know the plan. Also, there is the matter of his confrontation with Potter at the school. Despite his shout to the Death Eaters that Voldemort has commanded that Potter be left to him, there is no reason why they could not have attempted to capture or at least wound Potter - this is a strong indicator that Snape does not want Potter attacked. See also how Snape pulls his punches, not even using spells which could easily and quickly have frozen Potter and put him in immense pain. This is consistent with the whole 6-year history; Snape insulted and demeaned Potter, yet his specific actions were never personally attacking. Consider, for example, the difference between Snape's idea of detention (filling out index cards by hand) and that of Professor Umbridge, who tortured Harry by forcing him to write lines into his own hand, with his own blood, leaving scars visible a year later. And Snape never took advantage of many opportunities to interrogate Potter at length, or physically hurt him at all. I can only surmise that this means there was a force compelling Snape to not only not hurt Potter physically, but even to protect him. It is also obvious to me, that Snape despised this compulsion, whatever it is.

Before going further, it is important to also recognize that Severus Snape truly loathes Potter; it is not at all an act, especially since Snape mocks and belittles Potter at every chance, far more than would be necessary just to play the part of Volemoron's minion.So, it is very unlikely that Snape is totally on one side or the other.

So, with these opposing points in mind, what to make of Severus Snape? I would say, return to the constant elements of Snape, which are the following:

, and

We see these elements over and over again. It's not hard to see how Snape became a Death Eater in the first place. VoldeOopsy would have noted how Snape was an outsider, and played that to his advantage. It also bears noting, that Snape's early talents and interests were to the Dark Arts, plainly in hopes of exacting revenge on all the people who were better-looking and more popular than him, who always had friends and money at hand, and who looked at Snape as an object, not a person. I would go so far as to say MoldyWart trusted Snape a bit more than other Death Eaters, because he saw some of the same emotions in Snape that he had experienced when he was that age, and believed he would know if Snape changed his mind and heart.I take Dumbledore at his word, when he said (repeatedly) that he trusted Snape, and despite appearances, I believe there was a solid reason underneath it all, but Dumbledore never shared it with anyone, because he knew that the secret reason was what kept Snape alive; if Dumbledore told anyone why he knew he could trust Snape, that knowledge would eventually make its way back to the Dark Lord, and that would be the very gruesome end of Severus Snape.I think what happened, was that Snape's relationship with James and Lily Potter changed after school. Snape never came to like Potter, but as time passed his rage faded somewhat, and the effect of Lily on James was to change the man for the better, and soften Snape's mind, not to the point of forgiveness, but to the point of withholding deliberate harm. That was one of Snape's secrets, you see, he knew how to really hurt someone, even kill them, yet he never did so, always holding back his worst weapons so he could tell himself he did the noble thing, he the 'Half-Blood Prince'. But when he told VoMo the bit of the prophecy he heard, thinking to ingratiate himself with the Dark Lord, he unwittingly sent James and Lily Potter to their deaths, and in Snape's mind that created a debt, one which could only be repaid by protecting Harry. Also, Snape came to realize that VultureMortis had no intention of rewarding him for his loyalty, indeed that his half-breed lineage would forever keep him out of the inner circle, and that VoicedeMonkey would never allow anyone to share his power to any degree, that tore it; in Snape's mind VoMo had violated a point of honor, one which changed Snape's course forever.

So, I would suggest that in book 7, Snape will betray Voldemort, picking his time for the best opportunity. It will likely be near the end of the story, but will include protection for Harry, and likely even provide him a weapon of some sort to use against VoMo. Given Harry's mistrust of Snape, he will not realize the gift for some time after it's offered to him, which may likely cost Snape his life. It would be fair turnabout for Snape to give Harry a gift in repayment for letting his parents be killed, and Harry use it in repayment for Snape dying to get it to him.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Magic in the World of Harry Potter


I believe in Magic.

Not the stuff we see on television, and certainly not as it's depicted in movies and most fiction, but it's real, and terribly tricky stuff. There's a lot of Magic in the Bible (and yes, I believe the Bible tells the truth), and it shows up in both good and bad hands. Yet Magic has gone away, for the most part, to be replaced by Technology. I would guess, if I had to, that there is a balnce of some sort, with Magic on one end and Technology on the other. Note that there are always people who seem to be able to use the tools available, and those people who are unable to use what's there.

I've been picking a bit on J.K. Rowling this week, and today is no exception. This is because her work is very good at times, which makes the flaws stand out a bit more. I understand it's tricky, but in the stories, it becomes very difficult to understand how Magic ability is developed. From age 11, young Harry Potter seems able to do amazing, by luck in some places, but by a process undefined in many others, as in his ability to create a Patronus. I find some of this a bit hard to accept; on the one hand, we're always hearing how much study and practice goes into working Magic, whether it's conjuring, drawing up a potion, or recognizing the tools available for a process. The stories make clear that Herry Potter does not study much more than any ordinary student, which (among other things) makes him the object of scorn from Professor Snape. Yet every so often - poof! - Potter is able to get or do what he needs or really wants, whether it's mastering broom flying well enough to play on the Gryffindor Quidditch team his first year, or discovering secrets about the school unknown to students in their last year, and even some of the teachers. How ... convenient. I don't like convenient in a story, when it pops up too often, and it certainly shows up too often in the 'Potter' stories.

Just because I have thought about it some (having played my share of D&D in the old days), I divide Magic into three sorts:

Magic which is contained in an object - and therefore can be used up or worn out, and only does a very limited number of things, and only to a certain degree

Magic which resides in a person - this can be developed, but only with practice, and only up to the limit of a person's ability to control the force and direct it

Magic granted by a patron - This showed up a lot in the Bible, God granting powers when He so desired, to His prophets and seers and leaders.

The more I think about the 'Potter' world, and see the special exceptions made to make Harry Potter succeed with less effort than other people, the more I understand Severus Snape.

'Fifty points from Gryffindor, I think, for playing about with the order of things.'

Snape would have made a fair literary critic, I think.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Brief Critique of Harry Potter's World

I am still thinking over the world created by Ms. Rowling for her “Harry Potter” series, and I have noticed a troubling aspect; Justice does not seem to play a prominent role in it.

Consider, as an example, poor Harry’s run-ins with the Ministry of Magic. In one of the books, Dobby the house-elf comes to visit Harry and levitates a plate of food, for which the Ministry blames Harry and issues a stern warning. In a later book, when Harry loses his temper and inflates a relative like a balloon, he is clearly in the wrong, but this time receives no punishment at all from the Minister of Magic, who personally smooths things over for Harry. Still later, Harry is forced to use magic in self-defense against Dementors (which were, he later learns, sent after him by an employee of the Ministry of Magic), and for that the Ministry attempts to expel him from Hogwarts and destroy his wand.

The same thing exists with the legal system. The Ministry acts with no sort of due process, only a sham ritual which allows for no serious chance at a defense. For instance, when Hagrid’s Hippogriff attacks a student who insults it (after being warned that such an attack would happen if provoked), the Ministry decides to kill the animal even before the appeal is heard. Similarly, we find that Sirius Black was sentenced to Azkaban Prison with little in the way of a trial, and no legal defense for him at all. And later, even though Harry is honest about what he has seen or heard, the Death Eaters sent to Azkaban are also sentenced with no province for their defense. It is chilling to consider the scope of a governmental power with no respect for any sort of dissent, even a fair review of its own actions.

Hogwarts is much the same. Teachers are allowed to give or take points to or from the Houses for any success or foul, or even on a whim, as they please. Accordingly, it is difficult to believe that the much-vaunted House Cup has any true value, as it depends a great deal more on whom the staff likes, than on what the actual students do. The same thing for detention, which may be applied with no restrictions or standards of any kind.

In the course of the book, Harry Potter and his friends do a great many things which may be described as reckless and irresponsible. It appears that the world in which they live would have it no other way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Thoughts on the "Harry Potter" Stories


I am in the process of reading the Harry Potter series, and have finally found my way to book 6, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". I admit it took me a while to give J.K. Rowling a try, and I would say that I was both wrong and right in my initial reluctance.

I was right to some degree. Rowling introduces a lot of characters in her stories, and she has had a bit of trouble making all of them believable, or creating the sort of depth of character one likes to see in novels. A good example is Voldemort; for such an important character he's paper-thin in personal depth, and annoyingly predictable. It's also difficult to believe he is some kind of Mastermind, given how badly he seems to blunder a lot more than someone of his ability should suffer. His victories are always heard about only in passing, and never seem to rank up with his defeats. Rowling seems to have drawn up Voldemort only as a foil for Potter, and this is a distinct disappointment in the stories.

That said, Rowling has done an exceptional job with many of the other characters. Since she is an Inkblot, I would say that she did more with Dumbledore, than Tolkien did with Gandalf, and that's saying something. I especially liked the way that Harry Potter has developed, making mistakes and going through doubt and worry like any boy his age. I like the Weasley family, particularly the sibling rivalry between Ron and his brothers. I also thought it especially good, how Rowling not only makes some of the outcasts appealing, like Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom, but makes them integral to certain elements of the story. To that point, Rowling has a nice touch about telling the lesson of how things may come back around - Harry's basic decency to Dobby early on, pays a lot of dividends later, and the same thing shows up in other places. Everything counts, though you don't always see it on the surface.

And then there is Snape. Obviously, everyone interested in the story is trying to sort him out. I am beginning to suspect that Snape is one of those 'hiding in plain sight' guys, the kind who turns out to be rather like he appeared, but you lost him in all the talk and action. What I mean is, I think that in the end, Snape will turn out to be the sort of fellow who is driven by his emotions, even as he keeps them concealed. Snape hates Potter, but he hates the Dark Lord more. Why? Because if you think about it, the nemesis of Snape is not Harry Potter but James Potter, the arrogant powerful type who can do exactly as he pleases. Harry Potter looks enough liek Snape to set off Snape, but in the end, it's Voldemort whose character is the most like James Potter's cruel nature. So, in the end Snape will turn on his former Master, to Potter's benefit - but these two will never be friends. I like that; in real life there's many times you have to cooperate with someone you despise, yet need.

To those who think the 'Potter' series is somehow anti-Christian or supports witchcraft, let me set your mind at ease. There's a good deal of symbolism in the stories, and more than a few lessons one could apply to Bible Study (and I might do just that, if there is any interest). I do not, however, see anything that is designed to lead people away from Christ, or oppose Christian teaching. Yes, it's true that there are no obviously Christian symbols in the story, but then C.S. Lewis' 'Perelandra' and 'Narnia' series held none of that either, yet they are well-affirmed as Christian literature. Subtlety sometimes is the better way...

Most of all, the 'Potter' series is an engrossing tale, with a lot of good lessons and worthwhile characters. If you have not read the books, you might want to give them a try.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A Monday Break


Hard Day at Work.

Catching up on Harry Potter.

Post tomorrw, but not now.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Reason to the Wind


Back when I was certified as an official in several sports, I learned a lot about the games, and about human nature. An official has three basic responsibilities in any sport; Safety, consistent and objective application of the Rules, and to encourage Sportsmanship. Usually, the aspect of Sportsmanship was the easiest to enforce, because most school districts and sports associations also pursue this ideal with great energy. There were two occasions however, when Sportsmanship was tested and sometimes gave way to bitterness; on very close contests of importance, and when the game was a blow-out.

In fact, the worst offenses of poor sportsmanship happened in the blow-outs. In close contests, the comptetitors were aware that the penalty for a foul could be the deciding factor in the game, so there was a natural deterrent to avoid commiting a personal foul. When a game was clearly out of reach, however, the losing team often felt they had nothing to lose by "sending a message", even if that foul was serious enough to merit expulsion from the game and a heavy penalty on the team. That seems to be what is going on right now with the Democratic Party.

I have been trying to sort out the logic behind many of the words and actions taken by leading Democrats. It occurs to me now, that the Democrats consider the present race out of their control, and they have resorted to trying to get in any shot they can, even if it means living by the cheap shot.