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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Pottermania, a Few Years Late

This post is pretty much only for fans of the series. You've been warned.

Pottermania hit the U.S. back around 1999; when we returned from Germany that summer, everyone in Melissa's book group was talking about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, and soon we owned the first three volumes. I only paged through them enough to catch the gist of the story; Melissa, by contrast, read them all the way through. She enjoyed them enough that I got caught up in her excitement; when the fourth and fifth books came out I bought a copy as soon as they were available, and even managed to read them before she did. (She let me; I'm a faster reader.) And then there were the movies; we both thought the first was a crummy, by-the-numbers bit of storytelling, but when we finally saw the second on cable we were pleasantly surprised. And then came the third this summer...but I need to back up a bit here.

Last May, I was casting about for something to read to Megan, our (now!) eight-year-old in the evenings. We've done a lot of classics over the years: The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Pippi Longstocking, etc., and I wanted to continue in that vein. Megan has many cousins, however, that are huge Harry Potter fans--dressing up like characters from the books at Halloween, and so forth. She knew a little bit about the books and movies, having overheard Melissa and I talking and having seen clips at friends' homes over the years. But when she heard what some of her cousins were planning for the opening day of Prisoner of Azkaban (going to the movie in full costume, after having transformed Grandma's house into Hogwarts for the weekend, complete with classrooms and books of spells), her desire to learn what the phenomenon was all about reached new heights, and Melissa agreed that she was probably ready for Harry Potter. So we started with Sorcerer's Stone...and very quickly, things got completely out of control.

Megan has a wonderful imagination, so much so that she has a hard time keeping herself separate from the story. When poor Sara Crewe in A Little Princess was locked up in the attic, Megan just bawled; she said it "hurt her" to think about such things. Well, increase that by a factor of fifty. Sorcerer's Stone, and then Chamber of Secrets, and finally Prisoner of Azkaban, made her laugh, scream, cry, hide under the bed and in the closet, bury her face in her pillow and dance around the room, all while desperately urging me to keep reading, however scared or embarrassed or worried she may have been. She found herself captivated by and craving these characters like no other fiction she'd ever before encountered. I was amazed. She stayed up all hours reading (after finishing each book we let her buy herself a paperback copy of the completed volume, to keep her from tearing apart our own), she recited lines from memory, she taught the books to her little sister Caitlyn (who was only too happy to share yet another make-believe realm with her sister), she obsessively pestered us with searching questions. I suppose it isn't anything particularly unusual, but still: as a father, I was so heartened and surprised to see my child discover in herself, over a period of months, such an emotional range, such a mature sense of storytelling, and such imaginative resources. She guessed plot points, traced character arcs, engaged in the creative recreation of favorite scenes, cross-checked stray comments from the books, ranked the books (Chamber of Secrets is her least favorite, though all her copies are already thoroughly trashed), bought fan magazines and put up posters all over her room, and in the meantime came up with her own side adventures. Overall, this summer she grew into a much older girl, and Harry Potter's adventures and loves and failures and fears were a part of that growing. She became a passionate fan, and an experience with passion at that age is wonderful thing to have and behold.

Though Megan begs me to continue on with Goblet of Fire, Melissa and I have agreed to forbid that one, at least for the time being; as everyone familiar with the series know, once you read that one you have to read Order of the Phoenix, and the increasing darkness and death in those books is something we think Megan will better be able to handle when she's 10 or 11 or so. (Most of those cousins which inspire her are also older than her, in the 11-14 range.) We agreed to take her to see Prisoner of Azkaban (a much better film than either of two earlier ones, by the way), and she did manage to watch it, though she was hiding under a blanket she brought about half the time. A nice benefit of this wonderful, Potter-crazy summer of 2004 is that I finally managed to read the first three books all the way through...which led me to re-read the fourth and fifth, which inspired Melissa to do the same, and then there was a matter of re-watching the first two movies in preparation for the third (also: Megan received a dvd of Sorcerer's Stone for her birthday last week)...so, to make a long story short, Melissa and I have frequently found ourselves arguing over the minutiae of Harry Potter's world this summer. Which finally leads to the fan-boy portion of this post (warning--spoilers ahead!): what on earth is Rowling going to do with Slytherin House?

Ever since I read Order of the Phoenix, which ends with Voldemort publicly revealed and numerous Death Eaters imprisoned or at least identified, I've been convinced that the next book simply must be some kind of "Battle for Hogwarts"-type story. Lucius Malfoy is a known follower of Voldemort, and Draco has made it clear he favors Voldemort's agenda, which he now has no reason to hide: how can Hogwarts function when one of its houses is the home base for a bunch aspiring (if not already actual) servants of the Dark Lord? Exactly how could Rowling make us believe that another year could go by, with Draco and Co. occasionally attempting to kill Harry, or at least being suspected of such, without everything coming to some sort of crisis? I can't see how she could do it; for Rowling to put off some sort of internal Gryffindor/Potter/Slytherin/Malfoy showdown (with Snape playing a fascinating, unclear role) until the seventh volume would be untrue to her overall story, to say the least. Since I'm hoping the quality of this series continues, I was nervous about what Rowling was planning.

Thankfully, I think my hopes for Rowling are going to be fulfilled. She's given several intriguing clues about the future direction of the series; she's given us the title of the sixth book (The Half Blood Prince), assured us that the title character is neither Harry nor Voldemort, and told us that the story in that book springs from events described back in Chamber of Secrets. Now this getting us somewhere. In Chamber of Secrets we learned about Salazar Slytherin, his obsession with pureblood wizardry, and his "heir." So obviously Half Blood Prince is going to, in some manner or another, address some aspect of (perhaps the destiny of!) Slytherin's line, the house he founded, and perhaps Voldemort's relationship to such. The memory/magical imprint of Tom Riddle is relevant here; Rowling has implied that the youthful Voldemort had/has something or some quality of great significance. Moreover, given that Snape is Head of Slytherin House, Half Blood Prince will give Rowling the perfect opportunity to make his standing clear once and for all. (He's obviously engaged in some serious behind-the-scenes magic; on the one hand, he is presumably the rebellious Death Eater which Voldemort at the end of book four said must be destroyed; on the other hand, he apparently still, as of book five, is held in high esteem by current Death Eater Lucius Malfoy. Curious...) And of course, it will allow Rowling the opportunity to explore how and why Dumbledore continues to tolerate dangerous Slytherins like Draco and his ilk. A further clue in his regard can be found in some comments Rowling made here (a transcript of comments she made at the Edinburgh Book Festival; read the whole thing, as there are many more hints there besides the one below):

"If you want to speculate on anything, you should speculate on these two things, which will point you in the right direction. The first question that I have never been asked--it has probably been asked in a chatroom but no one has ever asked me--is, 'Why didn't Voldemort die?' Not, 'Why did Harry live?' but, 'Why didn't Voldemort die?' The killing curse rebounded, so he should have died. Why didn't he? At the end of Goblet of Fire he says that one or more of the steps that he took enabled him to survive. You should be wondering what he did to make sure that he did not die--I will put it that way. I don't think that it is guessable. It may be--someone could guess it--but you should be asking yourself that question, particularly now that you know about the prophesy. I'd better stop there or I will really incriminate myself. The other question that I am surprised no one has asked me since Phoenix came out--I thought that people would--is why Dumbledore did not kill or try to kill Voldemort in the scene in the ministry."

My guess? I think Voldemort has magically tied his life to the survival on a particular person, family, or line; as long as they or it survives, he cannot die, though his body be completely destroyed. Similarly, if Voldemort should die, the other person/family/line would also, instantly. That's why Dumbledore doesn't want to kill his former student: because if he did so, someone or several someones would also die, and he doesn't want that to happen (yet?). Of course, this fits in with my belief that there must be something big regarding Slytherin House coming down the pike; to go completely out on a limb, I think the "half blood prince" will be turn out to be the person which Voldemort (himself Muggle-born!) has linked his life to. Could it be Snape? We know nothing of his background? Draco Malfoy? As Melissa reminded me yesterday, we only actually know that his mother's family are purebloods; we don't know about Lucius. And what about Salazer Slytherin himself? Could Voldemort have locked himself into the survival of a historical figure, the death of whom would result in the deaths of thousands of others over the generations? The mind boggles.

Anyway, Pottermania indeed. And why not? I mean, the only thing a true Tolkien geek like myself has left is to wait for the the release of The Return of the King Extended Edition dvd. Something has to fill the vacuum, right?

[Update 7/15/05: see a follow-up to this post here.]


Anonymous said...

Come on man! Think Christian theology. Or rather a close variant of it. Dumbledore sought to make himself truly good by expelling his evil self, unfortunately that led to the creation of Voldemort who is really Dumbledore's evil self incarnate. Dumbledore can't kill V. without killing himself. And vice versa. Further, since in some sense Dumbledore has led the Slytherin's astray, he can't punish them but only wait for them to see the light (a la Snape). Worse yet, it was the Slytherin founder who probably came up with the idea of creating a perfect world by expelling evil from our selves. Anyway the snake is sort of gnostic gospel hero/villain. Moral (as it always is in these stories and one I quite agree with): Answers lie within (resolve, skill, brains, trusting one's friends, doing the right thing), not without(magic) and that to overcome evil one must overcome it within oneself.

David Watkins said...

Well, I've been operating under the assumption that one of the following two scenarios is the case.

1) Dumbledore simply doesn't have the power to do what needs to be done re: Slytherin. There are too many powerful and influential figures in the wizarding community that are either appeasers, in denial, or in league with Voldemort, and as powerful as Dumbledore appears to the children, his power has limits in the smoke-filled rooms or wizardry politics.

2) Dumbledore has a plan to purge Slytherin, but some details of that plan require timing at a later date, or full cooperation from parties who haven't given it yet. Snape would obviously be central to this.

You are a great deal closer to the nuts and bolts of story than I am, but that's my idol speculation.

Anonymous said...

That first comment was posted by David Salmanson

Anonymous said...

Maybe Voldemort linked his life to Harry! That's why Dumbledore won't kill Voldemort, because he knows that it will kill Harry. The prophecy said "neither can live while the other survives" To me, that suggests that BOTH Harry and Voldemort will have to die. Why not link yourself to Harry? After all he is the "one to vanquish the dark lord" right? The only person who can defeat him, will be the one who saved him. But then that leaves the problem of why would Voldemort try to kill the person he had linked his life to. So say it did work out and we have Voldemort gone, and the wizarding world at peace.... but our hero is dead.  

Posted by anonymous

Anonymous said...

re: top comment

You forget that Voldemort was born, not created. He existed in a form before that of 'Dark Lord' as Tom Riddle- so how could Dumbledore turn something existing into his 'evil self incarnate'? 

Posted by Anonymous