Saturday, June 4, 2011

Well, I've caught up with the times?

I went to the library after work yesterday to chat with Mrs. Pensgard and get some books to read, and they're lurking in the back of my mind calling my name. I started one last night that I suppose I shall have to finish, although I don't really want to. It's the last Harry Potter. I started reading the series summer before last, I think, and I'm finally down to the last one. Boring, mediocre series -- I don't see what all the fuss is about.

There is a clear enough demarcation between good and bad; Christians don't have to be worried about that. I forget where I read it, but someone had said that what was bad about it is that it taught kids that matter can be changed by magic. So what? What're the philosophical implications of that? In fact, I think that can even be a good perception to have - depending on one's understanding of magic. Three or four hundred years ago, the breakthroughs science has reached today would seem to be magic - would CHANGE MATTER. If people didn't think that matter could serve a purpose to create something different or something previous generations hadn't imagined, isn't that a bad thing? Take it a step further: what about creation ex nihilo? Or even make it personal: when we cook or bake, aren't we changing the molecular structure of food? That's one of my favorite things about baking - that grainy-looking goop turns into delicious things with totally different color, texture, smell, taste, etc.

Haha, I was supposed to be explaining why it's mediocre. I think it fails as good fantasy because it doesn't have something transcendent it is fighting for. Let me explain. Harry is fighting Voldemort not primarily because Voldemort is bad, but because Voldemort killed his parents and wants to kill him. Perhaps that's a minor quibble, but I'm not convinced that, had Harry's parents not died, Harry would still have gone on the quest for the Horcruxes (which Rowling took an unforgivably long time to get to, anyway) with the same sort of passion. That is, if anyone can call his bratty tragic-hero-with-an-inflated-ego-bigger-than-God's-complex a proper drive to pursue the good. Granted, that could still change before I finish book 7 (I'm 450 pages in) but considering how massive the series is, it'd be incredibly difficult to do without pulling some incredible miracle out of Voldemort's nonexistent nose.

When I think of fantasy, I think of pursuing a transcendent good. That's why I love Lord of the Rings so very much - there are men of high values like courage, integrity, honor, loyalty and love, who have an appreciation for the old fading or forgotten beauty - who have saudade; who fight for the sake of conquering evil, for the sake of gaining freedom, for the sake of being free from fear, free to love, free to live life with joy and happiness. Stories like that inspire people to pursue transcendent things. Harry Potter, despite the magic, is mundane. It doesn't have overarching themes that pull the reader in and make him part of the story (well, I guess I shouldn't generalize like that. It certainly does not pull me in, at any rate.) I don't see virtues I want to emulate in Harry Potter; in fact, reading Harry Potter makes me very happy I have a mother who is blunt in telling me what's wrong with me (basically, being willing to slap me upside the head when I start pulling out angsty-ness like dear old Harry's.) It's a book written for the modern conception of teenagers, the ones who want excitement without being challenged to shape up.

That's not to say Rowling doesn't try - she pulls that whole love thing from Dumbledore in book 5 or 6, I can't remember which. There's the whole fairness to the Muggles thing as well. But how well are these pulled off? Harry the Hero is so thickheaded he doesn't understand the overwhelming love and loyalty Ron and Hermione show him in coming with him, AND he's stupid enough to push them away when he needs them the most? (cf: Ron leaving in book 7.) How could Harry allow Ron and Hermione to walk into danger with him but let Ginny stay? (Though of course she, like a good little Potterling, carries on the resistance at the home front.) Harry is so wrapped up in his own heroism and his own sufferings it IS a wonder he manages to get that far. I'm with Snape on Harry's character. And certainly, without Ron and Hermione Harry would've failed a long time ago. And about the Muggles - Hermione wipes her own parents minds, "out of love." In my humble opinion, that makes Muggles look as stupid as Voldemort thinks they are. Are there any Muggles in the story arc that are given the spotlight as good people worth saving?? Not even the woman Harry and the others save, in Book 7, looks worth saving. Rowling gives readers no reason to really pity the Muggles and want Harry to save them.

Final opinion: mediocre. Three stars. Would have been four stars if the series had been three books instead of seven. Humph.

ADDENDUM: Also, now that I'm thinking about it, I wonder if I'm not wrong in saying that I don't see why Christians make such a fuss about it. I suppose, in a sense, Harry Potter is radically opposed to Christianity. In Harry Potter, the hero of the world is an arrogant little kid with a hero complex and a lot of issues. He's extremely human, in the vulnerable imperfect sense of the word. And as a Christian, I'm used to thinking of humankind in that sense. Not that we're irredeemable, but it took a proper hero - a perfect one - to save the world. Jesus was perfect; a perfect sacrifice to offer salvation. I AM used to superhuman superheroes. Harry is very ordinary with all sorts of faults. Actually, I think that IS his weakness! Why should he save the world when there are so many better qualified than he? (Ahem, for example, Hermione! The Weasely twins! Professor McGonagall!)

This post makes me laugh. It's right on the edge of ranting and raving :P. I think next time I shall have to talk about Ayn Rand.