Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Posted: November 20, 2010 in Braak
Tags: , ,

This movie was okay.  There’s a lot of stuff going on it, definitely.  Also, there’s a long boring part in the middle/end, which corresponds to the long boring part in the book.  So, at least it’s accurate.

The more I watch Harry Potter, though, the more frustrated I get that he isn’t any good at anything.  For instance:  there’s a part where Hermione is putting a spell up around their campsite, right?  And Harry Potter walks up to her and says, “What are you doing?”

Seriously?  Seriously, Harry god-damn Potter?  You just spent SIX YEARS at fucking WIZARD SCHOOL and you don’t recognize a magical protection spell when you see one?  Hell, I could tell that’s what she’s doing, and you know how much time I spent at wizard school?  NONE.  Zero time.

Now, listen, I can buy that he isn’t very good at doing protective magic, but he really just doesn’t recognize it?  He went to WIZARD SCHOOL.  All they did was learn spells!  That would be like if I went to auto-mechanic school for six years and didn’t recognize a Toyota when someone parked it on my lawn.

This is part of a whole running problem I have with the Harry Potter series and the way it treats magic, which is that it’s a series about a boy who goes to wizard school that’s written by someone who just doesn’t seem that interested in magic.

Remember when Harry Potter started a dueling club, to teach people how to defend themselves against wizards?  And his advice is basically, “Yeah, uh, you know.  Get lucky.  It’ll help if your enemy keeps screwing up really horribly, so maybe hope for that to happen, too.”

The kid uses, what, four spells?  When you watch the movie the idea is really driven home that, for as much as people are “wizards” with “wands”, really the only thing anyone ever does with their “magic” is shoot beams at each other.

“Expelliarmus!”  Pew pew pew!

“I’ll use my stupefy charm!”  Pew pew pew!

“Avada Kedavra!”  Pew pew!

Sometimes, they use a spell that causes the wand to glow, making the magic wand a combination Star Trek phaser and flashlight.

I don’t think I’d be so bothered if we got the impression that magic was just really hard – that nobody could do all the spells, and that basically every wizard knew a handful of little things (light, levitate, pew pew pew) and one or two big ones.  It’d be interesting, because then you’d have the challenge of figuring out how to use your one big spell in a variety of situations for which it’s not always suited.

I do think it’s funny that one of the spells that Harry Potter knows is the Patronus Charm.  There’s a really interesting irony here that I think goes criminally under-explored in the series:  namely, Harry Potter is basically good at nothing except this one spell, but the spell is designed specifically to FIGHT EVIL.  It is an actual straight-up anti-evil spell.  Except, it’s actually got really limited utility, because for as cruel, or petty, or mean, or selfish as all the sapient beings in the Harry Potter world can be, only one or two of them are actually Evil.  Even Voldemort isn’t Evil, he’s just a horrible bastard.  So, Harry Potter’s got a sort of traditional fantasy weapon, only he’s found himself living in a non-traditional fantasy, and so has to rely on other methods to solve his problems.

This never really comes up, though.

The thing is, there’s not really any sense from the books that magic is altogether that hard.  You really just say some words and twitch your wand, and then magic happens.  It doesn’t even make you tired.  Hermione does all kinds of different spells.  Fred and George are probably the two most brilliant wizards Hogwarts has produced for years (they’re actual inventors, and when does Hermione ever do anything new?).  Albus Dumbledore was practically omnipotent.  Hell, Harry’s dad figured out how to turn himself into a stag, and that was while he spent his entire education fucking around with his werewolf buddy.

You know what Harry never does in the entire series?  TRY TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THAT.  He doesn’t even attempt to learn it.  Remember when Dolores Umbridge is using her Patronus to float little hearts up at the dementors to keep them at bay?  Remember when Snape uses his Patronus to lead Harry to the sword of Godric Griffindor?  And who is it who doesn’t even THINK to do anything like that, ever?  Who spent all that time learning to create this magical Patronus, and never does anything with it except SHOOT IT AT MONSTERS?  Yeah, that’s right.  Harry fucking Potter.

He spends his entire time relying on his magic cloak (that his dad gave him, but oh! also was made by Death Himself, and I’ll bet you never saw THAT one coming), or the one magic potion that he knows about (which Hermione made, obviously), or the lucky accident that he’s got the same kind of magic wand as Voldemort (really, the whole plot of the series hinges on Voldemort ruining himself; Harry is basically a bystander).

It’s not even really like he’s spent his whole education getting chased by monsters, and so didn’t have time to learn anything.  In the first books, Rowling’s always talking about what classes the kids are taking, and what kinds of spells they’re practicing.  Each book takes an entire year, and there’s frankly not more than a week of monster-fighting going on, if you add it all up.

What the hell was he doing for six years?  What, was he in remedial magic the whole time?  Did he only take classes on getting chased by giant snakes?  He definitely wasn’t spending all of his time at Quidditch, because they only play four games of it a year and I don’t think he practiced more than twice.  And what kind of kid—what kind of eleven year old kid goes to WIZARD SCHOOL and doesn’t immediately start trying to learn every spell he can get his hands on?

There’s only one kind of kid:  the very, very stupid kind.

I enjoy Harry Potter the story; it’s a fine story, fairly entertaining, and the boring parts are pretty easy to skim past.  What I don’t like is Harry Potter as a character—both in the sense that I don’t think I would like him if I knew him personally, and in the sense that I think he’s a poor character to be the main subject of a children’s series, and all for the same reason:  he has no curiosity.

I keep comparing him to the main characters in two other kids’ movies I saw recently:  How to Train Your Dragon and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and both of those movies made me wish that every hero of every kids’ book was Flint Lockwood or Hiccup.

Hiccup especially—because Cloudy’s interest in science is centered entirely on what it can be used to accomplish, and while that’s admirable, it overlooks some key elements.  Hiccup though, in How to Train Your Dragon, is a kid who, when faced with a problem, investigates it.  His society has spent generations fighting dragons, and here’s this kid who comes along and says, “Well, but what’s the deal with dragons, really?  I mean, what’s going on here?”  He learns about them, he learns how to fly on them, what kinds of things they like.  He sets up a tether for his dragon so that he can experiment with the dragon harness.  He learns from his mistakes, and from observing the natural world, and all of that learning is what lets him win the movie at the end.

Harry Potter never learns anything.  At best, school is a place where he hangs out with his friends; at worst, it’s actually a distraction and a hindrance to his overarching destiny of Destroying That Evil Guy.  Consequently, despite the fact that Harry lives in a world that is full of magical wonders, he never, EVER asks a single pertinent question about them.

“Oh, this is a Patronus Charm, huh?  Where does it come from?  Why is mine a stag?  Is it a spirit that I summon, or is it somehow made out of my soul?  Is it conscious?  Is its mind a reflection of part of my mind?  Which part?”

“Hey, why are so many of these charms in Latin?  Could I make my own spells, if I knew enough Latin words? Are there spells in Greek, too?  What did people do for magic before Latin?”

I was so excited when Harry found that special potions textbook, thinking that Rowling was finally setting Harry up to be an expert in something, but it turned out—as usual—to just be a way for Harry to not have to learn anything in school.

He’s just not interested, in any way, in his own world.  He doesn’t even care about the history of the magical world, despite its vital importance to his Destiny—the only times he learns about it are when he absolutely has to, and usually this consists of someone else learning it for him and then telling him the important parts—because it’d be too much trouble for Harry Potter to, you know, pick up a fucking book.

Of course, this could all be explained away by the traditional excuse an author makes for a disinterest in their own setting:  Harry doesn’t care about magic because J. K. Rowling doesn’t care about magic, and J. K. Rowling doesn’t care about it because the story isn’t about magic, it’s about the characters.  Which would be fine, if Harry Potter ever showed any interest in anything else.

It’s not like Harry was failing school because he spent all of his time playing Quidditch (Rowling, apparently, isn’t really interested in Quidditch, either).  Or because he’d spent all of his potions lessons secretly reading  The Mighty Thor, or was always ditching class to go see a movie.  I mean, sure, a lot of people didn’t learn anything in school because they just cared about their shitty bands, but Harry doesn’t even have a shitty band.

He doesn’t have aspirations to be a rockstar, or a mechanic, or a comic book writer, or an accountant or a banker or a graphic artist or an actor or a doctor or a teacher.  What he wants to do when he gets out of school is to join the Aurors, who are the Ministry of Magic’s version of the secret police—presumably because the only demonstrable skill he possesses is the ability to occasionally succeed at zapping someone with his wand.  He’s like some hillbilly who flunked out of school and decided to join the state troopers because he figured since he was big, he’d probably be okay at subduing suspects.

(I guess this isn’t completely true; Harry is also decent at flying on a broomstick—a skill he just happens to have been born with so he never has to practice, lucky him—which makes the beginning of Deathly Hallows even more ridiculous; why is it that all of the fake Harrys ride on brooms, while the real Harry is stuck in the sidecar of Hagrid’s magic motorcycle?  Riding a fucking broomstick is the only thing Harry’s any damn good at.)

It’s hard for me to buy that the story is really about Harry’s character, because his only defining character trait is this vague, touched-by-destiny “specialness”.  He saves the day because he’s special, he gets through his classes because he’s special, he’s special by virtue of the fact that he’s special.  Harry’s really got no character at all—like the much maligned Bella Swan, he’s just an empty space into which readers can cram themselves.

Just like Bella, he’s got all these friends because he’s special and, come on,  he’s a pretty shitty friend.  How many Christmases have gone by on which Harry has gotten loads of presents from his friends?  And in all that time, how many Christmas presents has he GIVEN?

Well, it’s an economically good strategy, anyway, to make your hero a cipher.  I know that you can defend the choice by saying that Harry’s appeal is that he’s “universal”; the problem with that is that “universal” means the same thing as “generic.”


(All of this, by the way, is incidental to my OTHER huge problem with the “Potterverse”, which is basically:  why didn’t this conversation happen?

“Hagrid, why do we have to hide our magic from the muggles?”

“Well, Harry, if muggles knew about sorcery, why, they’d be wanting magic to solve all of their problems!”

“Yeah…uhm.  So?”)

  1. Drew L. says:

    harry is my least favorite character. actually, i kinda hate him, and you hit it right on. (still better than fucking twilight though…)

  2. wench says:

    !) You need to read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality if you have not already done so.

    2) Harry Potter is apparently taking the role of the Princess in most female-oriented traditional fairy tales. He’s Special and people must take care of him and rescue him because he is Precious!

    3) I still like the books. Mostly. Except the one he whines through. That one pisses me off.

  3. I think the important thing to remember is that J.K. Rowling is just not a geek. No offense to the lady, she’s a great storyteller and I think pretty much all novelists have to acknowledge a certain baseline envy of what she accomplished with her hugely popular series. But…she’s not a geek. Not a nerd. Some people are wired that way, and some aren’t, which is why these books relied so heavily on the idea that these few tried-and-true spells were really going to make the difference between good and evil. She was never really deeply invested in the technical details of the magic as far as world-building went, and there are huge gaping holes throughout the series that all represent places she could have gone – could have elaborated – and didn’t.

    But that’s okay. Because let’s face it, most of us loved these books. Maybe because we recognized ourselves in one or more characters, maybe because we just couldn’t wait to see what happened next…maybe because they were just good old-fashioned fantasy tales. And they were geared not toward adults who would pick at this stuff, but kids. Pre-teens, to start with. And kids don’t actually adore reading about kids like them, is the thing. They like reading about Mary Sue. That is why teenage fanfic authors so often write about Mary Sue. They like the fantasy. And most of them are not geeks about the magic. Ms. Rowling is due major props. I’m a novelist and I am here to say I totally wish I’d thought of it first.

  4. Elaine says:

    I love you. After I watched it, I posted to twitter ‘Harry Potter why are you so dumb.’

  5. braak says:

    @Delphine: Well, I don’t think she’s due any props. I think her reward for writing Harry Potter is all of that money.

    Also, J. K. Rowling not being a geek doesn’t explain why Harry never gives anyone Christmas presents.

  6. richie says:

    I hated at the end of the first book how they took away the end-of-the-year award from the “bad kids” and gave it to Potter’s “good kids” group by awarding them a bajillion points at the last minute. And they wonder why the “bad kids” turn into resentful assholes who help Voldemort? Come on! They were pidgeonholed into a life of evil by that stupid hat from the start. The entire institution was set up to create enemies for Harry to accidentally beat.

  7. John says:


    Have you played 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. WoTC basically gave up on the idea of using a variety of spells and let wizards cast magic missile over and over again. There are other spells, but the idea of a bread-and-butter spell is not unusual. And Harry is not entirely a cipher. His character is based on the tension between his friendships and his go-it-alone attitude. He’s also an angry jerk all the time. Which explains why he’s such a terrible friend, I would think.

  8. deb says:

    And about those Christmas presents — also, how come Harry’s best friend has hand-me-down robes that everyone laughs at because the family is huge and they can’t afford new stuff and Harry, who has a gazillion dollars in Gringott’s, doesn’t ever help him out, but instead lets him be embarrassed all the time? He’s really not a good friend at all, come to think of it.

  9. braak says:

    @John: Well, in the first place, the mechanics of a role-playing game are necessarily different from those of a novel. Like in a novel, there’s no character that would have just a flat five percent chance of accidentally stabbing himself in the face every time he swung a sword. But in the second place, I know it’s not unprecedented; I just think it’s boring. I mean, consider how much more interesting your game would be if, instead of casting “magic missile” whenever you wanted, your wizard only knew how to, I don’t know, summon giant poisonous snakes? 80% of the time, hurling giant poisonous snakes at your enemies is going to have basically the same effect as shooting them with beams–but then there’s that other 20% of the time where your wizard is actually manifestly different from all the other wizards that have ever been.

    @deb: A lot of this stuff is just stuff that’s been building up over the series, but the Christmas thing always got to me. Every time Christmas rolled around, and Harry got some new present–like from Mrs. Weasley, who is already poor and has a huge family to provide for, but she still finds time to knit Harry something for Christmas–I’d think to myself, “Oh, this is it! This is the part where he realizes that you have to give as much as you are given! He’s finally going to hook Ron up with some new robes!”

    But nope. He never really gets around to giving a crap about his friends.

  10. Lord Wackadoo says:

    Harry spends most of the series as a teenager. And the vast vast VAST majority of teenagers are stupid assholes. I kind of like that he is not unrealistically noble.

  11. braak says:

    Yeah, but none of Harry’s friends are assholes. NONE of them are. Clearly, Rowling is not trying to reflect the actual reality of how most teenagers are shitheads. And I’m not saying I want him to be unrealistically noble. I don’t even need him to be especially noble; I just want the guy to have a fucking hobby. To just be interested in something.

    Also, here’s what I’m trying to say: Harry’s just a crappy magician, so obviously the story isn’t about magic; he’s also a crappy friend, so obviously the story isn’t about friendship; and he’s kind of a fuckup as a hero, too, so it’s not really a story about heroism. So…what are these damn books about?

    It looks to me like they’re about some loser kid who grows up thinking he’s a loser goes to a place where he can still be a loser, but now everyone thinks he’s great. And then he stumbles around — still stupid, still incompetent — while the greatest evil the world has ever known trips over his own robes and accidentally brings his empire crashing down.

  12. Moff says:

    I think you’re just looking for a level of, you know, granularity that isn’t present in this type of story, and I think you probably know this.

    I mean, Luke Skywalker doesn’t have any hobbies either, and doesn’t inquire too deeply into the nature of the Force, and also just happens to be naturally good at flying things.

    I’m also pretty sure he does give his friends presents. I believe he gets Ron new dress robes and a replacement wand, I know he funds the founding of the joke shop, and if each Christmas there isn’t a rundown of everything he gives everyone else, that’s because that would be really boring to read about. I mean, I assume he clips his toenails, too.

    And he does, you know, risk his life for his friends and other people repeatedly. And they risk theirs for him—the ultimate point of the books being that Being a Good Person is about ascribing to and adhering to an immaterial ideal that outweighs even the ultimate material concern. They’re not supposed to be a finely detailed examination of what being a wizard in 20th-century England would really be like. Which, again, you know.

  13. braak says:

    Listen, wait a minute.

    First of all, Luke Skywalker totally doesn’t have time to worry about that stuff. In all of Star Wars, literally no time is available for people to have hobbies. They are all about what has to be done, because that is all there is in…uh…I guess 5.5 hours worth of movies.

    Harry Potter is going on for seven years. Would it be boring to hear about what Harry Potter gave his friends for Christmas? I don’t know, but we sure as hell hear about what he GOT for Christmas, every time. EVERY TIME.

    Yeah, he funds the joke shop–but he does it with the prize money, not with his own, regular old money of which he has a pile. So, net effect after Goblet of Fire, where is Harry in terms of resources? Where is Harry in terms of risk? Same place that he started. He’s given up exactly as much as he’s gotten for free.

    And let’s actually…you know, yeah, I am looking for a level of granularity and detail that isn’t there. Which is to say, I want it to exist, and it doesn’t, and the fact of its nonexistence is the thing that bothers me.

    But what, precisely, IS the immaterial ideal to which adherence outweighs material concern? What is it, exactly, that Harry risks his life for?

    Stopping Voldemort, of course, is the basic thing, but that’s hardly immaterial, is it? That’s actually a regular old material, practical concern. There’s no moral, no virtue, no anything beyond straight-up, “Voldemort wants to do some bad stuff, and I aim to stop him.” No consideration is given to that badness, to the goodness to which it exists in antipathy. There is, in fact, no immaterial virtue at all to which Harry pledges himself. He just does basically whatever dumb thing is in front of him, and the extant of his evaluation of Voldemort’s evil begins and ends with “Man, that dude killed my parents.”

    And you can compare it to Star Wars if you want, but the fact of the matter is I never said I didn’t ENJOY Harry Potter–my argument is just that the main character is stupid, and that the author is disinterested in anything beyond that main character’s stupidity. For as much as I might ENJOY Star Wars, those same criticisms apply.

  14. Moff says:

    Well, sure. As we have discussed, David Eddings’s Garion is stupid, too. That’s because we’re old now, and have heard the story a lot, and are intelligent enough to want more thoughtful material. It’s not the stories’ fault. And of course the passage of time is immaterial. Obviously, more time passes in Star Wars than we see on-screen, but the purpose of a story is to cut out the extraneous stuff.

    And of course we hear what Harry gets. These books are an exercise in wish fulfillment.

    Anyway, stopping Voldemort is the practical aim of the plot, but it’s not the point of the series; it’s the physical manifestation, as it were, of the point. The point is that you’ve got Voldemort, who wants to extend his own life (and power) at the expense of anything and everyone else. And then you’ve got Harry, who has every good reason to give up and run away, or hide, or join forces with Voldemort, or stay dead — but who hews to the belief there’s something more important at stake than his own personal comfort. And then drives the point home by saving Draco’s life (the same way Snape drives it home by saving Harry).

    They’re two competing worldviews: One says, “My material comfort is supreme above all other concerns.” The other says, “Material comfort, my own or anyone else’s, is never the most important concern.” It doesn’t really matter how you define the immaterial concern — “love” is a handy shorthand way of doing it for children’s story purposes; but the point is just that it’s not material. This is a myth we keep retelling ourselves, that I would imagine is rooted in the impact of civilization (the taking of private property) on our cultural psyche. Anyway, again, the saving of Draco is really the crucial moment, not the defeat of Voldemort.

    As for Harry not buying tons of shit for Ron — well, thematically, it fits perfectly: The point is that having more money and nicer things isn’t actually going to make Ron’s life better in a way that matters. I mean, it does suck to wear old dress robes! But doing things that suck really does build character, in stories and in real life. And from a storytelling perspective: Dude, Mrs. Weasley would fly off the fucking handle if Harry gave Ron a bunch of money. (I vaguely recall that she actually does stop Harry once when he tries.)

  15. braak says:

    The literal passage of time isn’t material, but the relative density of the medium is pertinent; a movie–even three movies–demands a different structure than a novel. In a movie, you wouldn’t expect a lot of time devoted to non-plot-related scenarios, just because everything that has to happen is condensed into a comparatively shot period of time. But in the novel, there’s more room to explore that kind of thing and Rowling absolutely indulges in that space, setting a standard that makes the absence of any kind of character on Harry’s part relatively noticeable (I mean: Ron likes to play chess; that other kid, what’s-his-name, Colin, someone, he’s a huge Quidditch fan).

    And the material fact of Harry’s gift giving is, as Christmas always teaches us, radically less important than the willingness to consider his friend’s needs. I mean, I’ve been a teenager, I know what it’s like to be a self-absorbed shithead–but seven Christmases go by, and Harry never once even so much as thinks, “Hey, maybe I should get someone a Christmas present.” His wealth isn’t pertinent except insofar as to drive home the point that giving someone a present would be easy–and yet, despite how easy a such a consideration for his friends would be, he never indulges in it.

    I’m not talking about Harry showering wealth on his poor buddy. I’m talking about Harry remembering that Albus Dumbeldore always wished someone would give him a pair of nice, warm socks for Christmas. Hell, man, that came up so clearly that I couldn’t help but think that it was supposed to be a part of the narrative. Harry didn’t even feel guilty, after Dumbeldore died, for never remembering to get him some socks!

    I think you’re not wrong to say that, principally, the books illustrate a value of the immaterial above the material, but what I’m saying is that, the way they are written, there’s no particular consideration of the immaterial among the characters themselves. Even when he thinks about joining the Aurors, it’s not because Harry has figured, “You know, there are selfish and cruel people out there, and it would be worthwhile for me to devote my life to the defense of justice and virtue.” Harry himself is never concerned with the good beyond the specific manifestation that is Voldemort. He doesn’t even know, and hasn’t even thought about, what good IS. He only really knows that Voldemort is evil because Voldemort killed his parents, and because people keep telling him that Voldemort is evil.

    There’s very little actual consideration of the moral implications of Voldemort’s life-wish, of the implications of his moral choices, of the nature of power and magic and of why “evil” needs to be opposed. In the epilogue, the only thing we get is, “Yep. Great big evil has been destroyed. Everything is copacetic, now,” which is the absolutely worst way to examine the nature of evil.

    And finally: yes, Garion was also dumb. A lot of heroes are dumb. That was the point I was trying to illustrate: Harry Potter is dumb. Not the series–the series is a fine series. He’s actually a dumb person, and that pisses me off.

    What, am I not allowed to be pissed off about the fact that he’s an idiot?

  16. Jeff Holland says:

    Also I believe Luke Skywalker used his precious non-moisture-farming time on building model toy spaceships. And then looking at them forlornly.

    Christ, Skywalker, you were such a dork.

  17. Moff says:

    Well, he also knows that Voldemort is evil because every time he encounters him, Voldemart acts thoroughly and unmistakably, you know, evil.

    Regarding Christmas, I’m not entirely sure Harry never thinks about anyone else. I don’t have time to go through the books today, but I feel like there are in fact some explicit mentions of him as gift-giver. At some point, I will check.

    Anyway: You are not allowed to be pissed off about the fact that Harry is an idiot, and in fact I am working to pass a law to that effect. And then you will have to join forces with LIBERTARIANS to stop me — which means that even if you succeed, I WIN.

  18. Moff says:

    @Holland: I will maintain till my dying day that “But I want to go to Tashi Station to pick up some power converters!” is the most genuine bit of dialogue in science-fiction film history.

  19. Lord Wackadoo says:

    Harry Potter does have a hobby, he’s on the quiddich team. Do I want to hear more about Harry’s interest in quiddich? No, not one bit more then I gave a crap about my high school baseball team. Another thing, is that plenty of the other teenage characters act like shit heads from time to time. In the fourth book Ron is a shithead to Harry after Harry is picked by the Goblet of Fire. Hermione is frequently being a bitch to Ron. The Hufflepuff’s also resent Harry for being picked by the Goblet. Slytherin House is peopled entirely by little douche bags. Frankly it seems like there isn’t a book in which the entire school doesn’t intentionally shun Harry for some reason or another.

    One thing thats worth considering is that for the most part the series is told entirely from Harry’s perspective. I think like three total chapters are events that Harry was not privy to. Also (And I’d have to double check to see if this is correct) I believe that the narrative spends a reasonable amount of time articulating Harry’s private unspoken thoughts. It’s not that he is the only one who is an teenage asshole. It’s just we get by far the most intimate insight as to precisely how he is an asshole. Asking a question like, “How come Harry is the only asshole teenager at Hogwarts, would be like how come we only see quiddich games played by the Griffindor team?

  20. braak says:

    All right, well, what does he do that’s so interesting, then? If you don’t want to read about him playing Quidditch–and fine, I don’t give a crap about Quidditch either, and neither does J. K. Rowling, apparently (all of which begs the question as to what exactly Quidditch is doing in the novel in the first place–aside from being a sport explicitly designed to let Harry be both the most important and the best player on the field despite having done absolutely NOTHING to be even halfway competent at it)–what DO you want to read about him doing?


  21. braak says:

    @Moff: well, yes, Voldemort does act pretty evil. But it seems to me that there’s a pretty big difference between being philosophically opposed to evil, and just opposing this specific guy who is evil. And it’s totally fine for the answer to turn out to be, “No, actually, it’s BETTER to oppose specific guys who are evil, because you court tyranny otherwise,” whatever, that’s cool.

    I just wish he’d asked. I think there’s an irony about kids books in that they often reinforce bad behaviors (in this case, incuriosity); the irony is that the people who are least likely to be affected by that sort of writing are also the people who are least likely to be interested in reading it in the first place.

  22. Moff says:

    @braak: Sure, sure. But I think you’re conflating Harry’s specific lack of explicit curiosity in this one area into a total lack of curiosity, which isn’t fair. What Rowling was pretty good at was the proverbial showing rather than telling, and certainly, even though Harry isn’t mounting a full-blown investigation into Kant’s oeuvre, he spends most of the books sticking his nose into places he’s not supposed to be. Clearly, he’s motivated by curiosity (and by a disdain for authority for the sake of the status quo, which is one of my favorite things about him and the books).

  23. braak says:

    I don’t think it’s right to call that curiosity; I think most of the time he spends sticking his nose into places it doesn’t belong has to do with his preoccupation with Voldemort. He’s not curious; he’s paranoid and suspicious.

    And I don’t need him to study impenetrable German philosophy; I’m just disappointed that he spends all the books at a school and never seems to learn anything.

  24. Moff says:

    I dunno, man. I think most of the explorations in the first book are un-Voldemort-related, since he doesn’t reveal himself until the end. And I’m not sure there’s a clear way to work a lot of un-Voldemort-related curiosity into the rest of the narrative without it seeming extraneous. The trick of Hogwarts is that it’s actually, I think, supposed to come off as almost as boring as real, Muggle school, in its own way. Because a lot of the kids who read the books are certainly bored in school themselves.

  25. Lolly says:

    I think Harry can be forgiven for being an asshole (not that I necessarily think that he is) because he is dealing with shit that is insanely heavy for most adults, let alone kids. From the very start of the narrative, he is dealing with 1) being an orphan; 2) his mother having died sacrificing herself to save his life against the most evil wizard who ever lived; 3) not having friends; 4) being hated and abused by his only remaining family; and 5) being the weird kid who can talk to snakes. As the books go on, he not only has to keep avoiding being destroyed by his very real enemy, but also come to grips with the stark realization that he will most likely, eventually, have to sacrifice his own life to defeat that enemy. Oh, and he also sees friends and loved ones die or almost die. Doesn’t seem like an ideal environment for developing hobbies. I mean, he actually has the fate of the world riding on his very young shoulders. Being a savior sucks.

    As for him not being good at or that interested in magic, that’s not surprising either. He has some natural gifts and he is a kid. It makes a hell of a lot of sense that he gets by on whatever natural talent for magic he has and tries to cheat when he can (and gets punished for it – witness The Half-Blood Prince and the book of spells). I myself found things just came to me easier than to most, I do very well in standardized tests, etc. So I never tried that hard in school and still did well. And when things like math didn’t come easy, I cheated. I’m not sure if that makes me an asshole, but it certainly made me a pretty typical kid.

  26. Lord Wackadoo says:

    According to this website:


    these are Harry’s OWL scores. Also not the key indicating what each grade means.

    Pass Grades:
    Outstanding (O)
    Exceeds Expectations (E)
    Acceptable (A)
    Fail Grades:
    Poor (P)
    Dreadful (D)
    Troll (T)

    Harry’s grades were:
    Astronomy: A
    Care of Magical Creatures: E
    Charms: E
    Defense Against the Dark Arts: O
    Divination: P
    Herbology: E
    History of Magic: D
    Potions: E
    Transfiguration: E

    So according to his test scores he’s a pretty competent magician. And I don’t think this is like taking the SAT. Hogwarts is not an American high school that will give a high school diploma to a bunch of stupid farts who can barely read. But of course this is not about test taking. He is a naturally superior flyer. He teaches the other students in Dumbledor’s Army how to duel and he does so effectivly enough to hold off the Death Eaters at the Department of Mysteries.

  27. deb says:

    I think somebody just made those up.

  28. braak says:

    @Adam: Oh, well, never mind then.

    Sure, I’ve only ever seen Harry Potter use the same five spells in basically as boring and mundane a way as possible, but if he Exceeded Expectations at Transfiguration, then that proves it.

    And so what if he’s only ever used one potion, that he didn’t even figure out how to make himself? If he did well on his test scores, he must know how to make a dozen other ones!

    I mean, he does walk right up to Hermione and asks her what she’s doing, even though it’s completely obvious what it is that she’s doing even to someone that DIDN’T get an E on the Charms section of his OWLS, but far be it from me to argue with the impeccable reliability of Hogwarts test scores.

    I recant everything, I understand your position completely. What could be MORE EXCITING than knowing that Harry Potter did well on his exams?

  29. jge says:

    It seems rather obvious to me that while the Harry character is not a very interesting one the main flaw is that JK Rowling is not a very good storyteller. This led my friends and me to HPs First Law: Smaller incoherences in storytelling must be overlooked. Your example of HP asking what Hermione does is proof of that. It’s not that Harry is dumb — it’s just that JK Rowling does not know how to advance the story in the right direction without Harry explicitly giving the cue.

    It’s true: Harry is giving christmas presents. But you fail to see that this is something new to him — he never had friends until he came to Hogwarts. he has to learn to be friends. That he is naturally friendly is shown in the easy way he makes Hagrid his friend. And it’s often mentioned how he cares about Hagrid.

    I share the opinion that the storyline lacks some evolvement in the field of magic. The first book and the first film do succeed in showing the wonder of the magic world (and Harry with shiny eyes goggling at Broomsticks etc.). But it get’s lost. Harry gets used to it and the reader too. And Rowling mostly fails to invent things not needed for the main storyline.

  30. Moff says:

    It seems rather obvious to me that while the Harry character is not a very interesting one the main flaw is that JK Rowling is not a very good storyteller.

    As is the case with many rather obvious things, there’s a pretty substantial amount of evidence to contravene that.

  31. Creative and thoughtful. Love it.

  32. Yeah, watching the film after reading all of Discworld in one month, and then reading this…

    Most characters are incredibly dumb. At least when the Discworld characters are dumb Pratchett explicitly says this 9 year old is just dumb, isn’t she?

  33. braak says:

    Why do I get the feeling, Kristen Stewart Fan, that you’re only here because someone said “Bella Swan”?

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