The Subtle Harry Potter

So I no longer have access to all the groovy webtools I’d accumulated on my otherwise ancient office computer on which I’ve worked (well, sometimes) for six years. So I have little idea where my hits are coming from these days, although I get email updates informing me of the quantity, and I must say I’m touched and astonished at how many people seem to be checking in regularly. And given the impressive lack of quality when it comes to my now rather irregular posts, that’s all the more touching. I must admit, I’m a tiny bit verklempt.

Anyhoo, I was browsing some blogs with which I’ve not kept in touch in two and a half weeks, and one of ’em had that handy-dandy Technorati thang where you can see who links there. So I checked it out and realized I could see who linked to me. And was shocked to discover something like 80 links. I’d have thought a dozen or two. Nice. Several of them I’d never noticed before, at least one of which is because I think she started linking to me whilst I was somewhere in the wilds of Arkansas. She’s got a neat blog with a fantastic name— The Wine Dark Sea—and I don’t just say that because she liked one of my pieces and has defended it rather vociferously.

Because, it seems, at least one of her readers? Yeah, not so much. As in, she thinks I’m bad. Which, of course, is true. But I’m not sure how she picked up on that so quickly. People are sharp these days.

Okay. So the topic is the Harry Potter books, about which I’ve written several times in the past. Specifically, the talk turns to the incident where Harry gets caught breaking the rules, flying when he’s specifically been told not to by a teacher—because one brand-new student had just seriously injured himself by flying when he had no idea what he was doing—and rather than getting punished, Harry gets put on the Quidditch team instead, a particularly bizarre turn of events given that, as a first year student, Harry’s automatically ineligible for the team.

So this is what reader Jane M said:

I had only read your posts and excerpts when I commented. Now, I have read Scott Peterson and think he’s horrid and arrogant. When McGonagle puts Harry on the Quidditch team it is *as the Seeker*, that is the person *who can grab small things out of the air*, so she saw him grab the Remembrall, so Scott missed the subtlety there. 


Well, that hurts.

On the other hand, I didn’t exactly go out of my way to spare Ms. Rowling’s feelings so I reckon I can’t object too much. And, of course, it’s true—I am horrid and arrogant. Actually, I’m mainly horridly arrogant, although I’ve tried being arrogantly horrid and found it just didn’t work for me at all. My singing, on the other foot, is simply plain horrid. Nothing to be arrogant about there a’tall. Nosirreebob.

[What Jane M correctly views as “horrid and arrogant” Top Management prefers to view as “cocky and “sarcastic.” Me? Deep down, I’m just a scared little boy who so wants to be loved.]

I have to admit, however, I’m a bit befuddled by the logic in that there excuse for McGonagall’s inexcusable actions—because Harry was put on the team to be the Seeker, it’s okay that it all came about because he got caught breaking the rules? Is…is being the Seeker some sort of punishment? Because I gotta say, I don’t really think that came through very clearly in any of the books. I mean, I know Rowling’s not as great a writer as some without a decent knowledge of kid lit believe, but even she’s not that bad normally. Or maybe I just missed that subtle subtlety. In future books, when Draco Malfoy becomes Seeker for his house, is he also being punished for something?

I’m very confused by all this.

Okay, just to make sure extra special sure I completely understand how it works:

1) McGonagall catches Harry breaking the rules, albeit in a most impressive way.
2) McGonagall “punishes” Harry by breaking the rules herself and putting him on the Quidditch team so as to take advantage of his newly discovered skills and therefore, hopefully, allow her house to finally win the Cup back from Snape, something she admits she desperately wants.
3) Harry wins much praise as a star Quidditch player.

Hm. Yeah, I’m afraid I’m still missing some of the finer points as to how this is an example of Harry being punished for doing something wrong. Must be too subtle. Much like a Bludger.

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About the other scott peterson

Writer of comics and books and stuff.
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40 Responses to The Subtle Harry Potter

  1. Steve the LLamabutcher says:

    Horrid and arrogant? Hardly.
    We actually did a big thing on this in law & society on rule breaking in Harry Potter—particularly whether the big three should be expelled for cheating and general academic dishonesty. I read an interesting essay on one of the fanzine sites (yes, I read those and the generally humorous fanfic) making a decent argument on the moral progression of Hermione, and how she’s being set up for a horrible fall as her situational ethics become more and more pronounced. (Main theory—her situational ethics are going to have an indirect role in setting up Ron’s seemingly inevitable death in Book 7).
    Thanks for this post as it’s spurring me to write my long-simmering “Why is Issac Newton in the DaVinci Code but not in the Potter books?” essay, on the theme how the wizarding world of Rowling is our world absent the renaissance, the enlightenment, and the capitalism revolution. It’s a world without great works of art, no appreciation for the humanities, it’s technology has not progressed for 5 centuries, and its state is oppressive, intrusive, and stifling of individual liberty as well as human rights, all the while practicing slavery and segregation for “lesser” races. No wonder they hide behind the statute of secrecy—it’s not because the muggles will bother them for love potions or persecute and erradicate them, it’s because we’ll laugh at them. They’ve got quidditch, we have Chartres, the Apollo program, and the internet. Neener.

  2. MelanieB says:

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for saying nice things about my blog. And thanks for sparking such an interesting discussion. Little did I realize what a powder keg I’d opened. Well, ok I realized the potential; but I really didn’t think anyone actually read my blog.
    I think I’ve said about all I have to say about HP for now. I’ll step back and let you and Jane hash it out.
    Steve,
    I look forward to reading that essay.

  3. fish says:

    As I read it, McGonagall is actually one of the more subversive faculty members (truly taking her cue from Dumbledore). She knows Malfoy is a rotten snot, and is a massive quiddich fan (and wants to stick it to Snape). I didn’t see her even considering punishment under those circumstances. She is more than willing to disregard rules she feels are not in the spirit of justice. Another scene that comes to mind is when she instructs Peeves on the best way to loosen the chandeliers when the Ministry takes over Hogwarts…

  4. sam says:

    When you are able to perform magic, your world of ethics and boundaries looks much different from the world of the common muggle. When you can actually claim enemies, and when your enemies posess limitless power and desire to not only kill you but to also completely control/destroy the society you are apart of, you might find that you can circumnavigate certain obstacles that present themselves as rules. The aurors, like our police, find that sometimes they need to break the rules of society and are allowed to in the interest of the common good. So allowing the breaking of rules in time of need is not without precedent.
    Harry was well intentioned when he first flew and was also very new to the concept of the wizarding world and his own powers. Imagine a wizard that age having never once ridden a broom. As far as first years not making the house quidditch teams, I always understood it to mean that they weren’t able to, not that they weren’t allowed. No first year can possibly hope to compete against kids that have that little bit more experience.
    I think in discussion of rules that Harry and Co. break, we must keep in mind that they are fighting the greatest evil known to their world. Harry is force rather blindly and suddenly into a completely new world of the wizarding community involving news of his parents of whom he’s only been told the worst of lies. On top of that, the wizard who killed his parents is now after him. He’s suddenly a celebrity when not so long ago he was a castaway in a closet.
    Of course, that’s almost suggesting that because the ends ended up well, we will justify the means, and I can certainly imagine myself having a different view if the circumstances were a bit different. In the end, I think it’s more of a cost/benefit analysis. In Harry’s case, there’s always enough dust to settle so that everyone is able to understand the situation by the time they catch up with him.
    I haven’t reread the newest yet, and I’m between books right now. Maybe it’s time.

  5. scott says:

    When you are able to perform magic, your world of ethics and boundaries looks much different from the world of the common muggle.
    I believe the Llamabutcher would call this The Rumsfeld Defense.
    When you can actually claim enemies, and when your enemies posess limitless power and desire to not only kill you but to also completely control/destroy the society you are apart of, you might find that you can circumnavigate certain obstacles that present themselves as rules. The aurors, like our police, find that sometimes they need to break the rules of society and are allowed to in the interest of the common good. So allowing the breaking of rules in time of need is not without precedent.
    Ah, but as you say, the aurors (like our police) are allowed to break some of the rules of society—but not their own rules. And that’s a vital difference. Because Harry’s not allowed to break the rules as he does, not technically. He’s not an auror, he’s not a cop, he’s just a student. And he breaks rules that other students aren’t allowed to break and he gets away with it, even when he gets caught. And, as I’ve written before, there’s little or no sign that he ever even thinks for a moment before breaking the rules. Which shows a somewhat shocking lack of basic moral values. Which may not be at all surprising given his horrible upbringing. But which should give us all pause and yet, it seems, so rarely gives anyone pause.
    And—and this is vitally important—we’re not talking about neglecting to wash the dishes or something like that. We’re talking about rules which have been put in place to keep students from having their souls sucked out of their bodies, and other such horrifying results. These rules are there for a reason. A very, very good reason.
    All of this can lead us directly into the ever so murky world of moral relativism. To make things simple, let’s keep our genres fairly consistent: Superman could win every battle, and almost certainly make the world a better place in the short term, were he simply to kill every bad guy he caught red-handed doing something bad. Luke Skywalker could have killed the evil Darth Vader. Gandalf could certainly have killed Gollum, as could Frodo. They did not. Because all of them understood that the Good Guys Play by the Rules. And by doing so, Good wins.
    That’s simplistic, of course. But behind that simple point of view lies (lays?) truths which fiction illustrate again and again. Had Gandalf or Frodo killed Gollum, The Ring would never have been destroyed and, in the end, Sauron would have triumphed. But because they did the right—although far, far more difficult—thing, Good prevailed.
    What’s more, I’ve read the books many, many times and I’ve never gotten the impression that Rowling has thought these things through. She’s simply, as I’ve written before, writing a ripping good tale, and more power to her. The problem comes because her potboiler is full of characters packed to the brim with moral failings, and yet those same characters and novels are held up as an example of moral righteousness. They’re not. They’re really, really fun, the equivalent of Stephen King books for kids—except that in Stephen King’s world, if you do something wrong, you generally have to pay the price. Not so in Harry’s world. In that case you get put on the quidditch team.
    And, as I’ve written previously, I’m a huge fan of the Anti-Hero. I’m a bit leery of it in kid lit, but that’s not germane to this discussion. Because Harry Potter is every bit the anti-hero Dirty Harry was. The difference is, Dirty Harry wasn’t marketed to children. (And it was a brilliant piece of art.)
    Finally, I’d point out that this discussion is mighty similar to Alberto Gonzales’ arguments for signing statements and why in a time of war, even a never-ending war such as The War on Terror, the president actually has the powers of a king and not a president.
    Hey. Maybe that’s why the public reaction to the way the constitution has been stepped on has been so muted. They’ve been prepped for all this by the Harry Potter books.
    Oh, Superman…where are you when we need you?
    Harry was well intentioned when he first flew
    And what is it we all know the road to hell is paved with? 🙂
    And we should always remember that almost everyone is almost always well-intentioned. After all, Voldemort truly believes he’s doing the right thing by ridding the world of muggles. Wrong though he may be, he’s well-intentioned. Darth Vader didn’t want to be evil for evil’s sake. He wanted the universe to run more smoothly, more logically, and believed himself the best man to accomplish that. And if it took killing a few innocent solar systems, well, that’s simply the price one has to pay.
    and was also very new to the concept of the wizarding world and his own powers. Imagine a wizard that age having never once ridden a broom. As far as first years not making the house quidditch teams, I always understood it to mean that they weren’t able to, not that they weren’t allowed. No first year can possibly hope to compete against kids that have that little bit more experience.
    That is not the way I ever read it, and I’ve read the book several times. However, my copy is 2600 miles away, so I can neither confirm nor deny your reading of it. You may well be right, but that was never my take on the material.
    I think in discussion of rules that Harry and Co. break, we must keep in mind that they are fighting the greatest evil known to their world.
    I know. And hence the end justifies the means. I know from reading your blog you don’t believe that applies to real life. I feel it shouldn’t apply in fiction either.
    OR, and this is vital, it can. But only if it’s addressed. There’s tons of great story material there—oodles and boodles, to use the technical term. But the problem with the books is that it’s crystal-clear (to me) that Rowling has no interest or notion of addressing that topic. She doesn’t bring up these fascinating, thorny issues for any reason. She just writes herself into a corner and then BAM, writes herself right back out again, and damn the moral consequences.
    To bring up the unpleasantness of the real world again, this reminds me an awful lot of the recent situation in Iraq where a platoon lost some buddies to an IED. After months of intense combat over there, this caused them to snap and in a desire to seek revenge on those who’d killed their buddies and, of course, had tried to kill them and perhaps to teach folks in the future a lesson, the soldiers then went house to house and killed over twenty civilians. (I may be off slightly on the facts, but that’s essentially the case.)
    I suspect few of us here would have trouble understanding why those soldiers did what they did. But that doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t excuse it. And it doesn’t change the fact that a result was even more civilians who now hate our brave men and women over there and wish to do them harm.
    Doing the right thing is pretty much always harder. And in the long run, it pretty much always leads to a better result.
    Harry is force rather blindly and suddenly into a completely new world of the wizarding community involving news of his parents of whom he’s only been told the worst of lies. On top of that, the wizard who killed his parents is now after him. He’s suddenly a celebrity when not so long ago he was a castaway in a closet.
    Ah, the old Axl Rose/Britney Spears defense. 🙂 And to be honest, it’s a defense for which I have a ton of sympathy. I really and truly do. I just don’t feel it’s one which Rowling herself has ever considered. That’s not why she has Harry do these things. She has Harry do these things because it makes for a fun story. And that’s not a bad reason to write something. But it does make it awfully difficult to defend the resulting moral flaws.
    Look at me: different coast, same soapbox. 🙂

  6. Dennis_Mahon says:

    Based on what you’ve writen, it looks like Harry is the Anakin Skywalker of the Wizards & Witches set; the question that follows is, will he end up as the next Darth Vader?

  7. scott says:

    it looks like Harry is the Anakin Skywalker of the Wizards & Witches set; the question that follows is, will he end up as the next Darth Vader?
    I think that’s a very good question indeed. Imagine how the current perception of the already published novels would change if that were to, in fact, actually happen? Suddenly these marvelous books–I speak specifically of Books 1 through 6, not the as yet unpublished last installment—which are hailed as such outstanding examples of kid lit and moral rectitude would instead be slammed as degenerate propaganda. Or something.
    It would be a fascinating turn of events and would make all the ranting I’ve done about the series up to now instantly moot, as my criticisms would have turned out to be in fact outstanding foreshadowing and characterization. But I ain’t holding my breath that that’s what Rowling’s been up to all this time.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I disagree.
    As for why he wasn’t punished, consider this:
    1. Protecting Harry as a child is so important to the wizarding world, that they MUST allow him to be abused, bullied, neglected and starved from the ages of one through eleven to maintain this protection. Do you really think that expelling him and condemning him to his former life for six and a half more years is really an option?
    2. It’s thought that LV transfered some his powers to Harry. Would it be wise to expell him and let these powers grow unchecked? Would it be wise to let such a child grow up without any sort of guidance? If Harry is supposed to kill LV, can the wizarding community afford to let him miss any sort of opportunity to develop an aptitude (especially in light of book 4)? We know that Mg’s logic would be along these lines (see “Have a biscuit, Potter” book 5).
    3. Mg taught Harry’s father, James, and they were good friends (book 5). Evidence suggests that James may have been one of her best students (he was Head Boy [book 1], a secret Animagi [book 3], and his wand was best suited for transfig. [book 1]), possibly giving them a very close relationship. Harry is the spitting image of James and Mg was deeply and unusually affected James’s death (see book 1). For anyone close to James, watching Harry on the Quidditch team would be akin to having James back (see Sirius’s remarks at the end of book 3). I think it’s fair to say that her heart got ahead of the rules.
    4. The rule was an empty threat. Only the headmaster and heads of houses can expell students (book 2). Madame Hooch had no authoritah. She’s not even a professor, as students don’t refer to her as professor. She is simply the Quidditch coach and may/may not be married to Filch, who also has limited authority to make rules (see Dumbledore’s attitude at start of term feasts). Also there is no rule against 1st years playing Quidditch (book 6), but since 1st years are not allowed to own brooms (book 1), typically they barely know how to fly (book 6 and 1) and they don’t make the team (book 6).
    5. Many of the people in the book who tend to follow the rules religiously are lead astray: Percy Weasley, Delores Umbridge, Filch, Barty Crouch Sr., etc. Also, many of the darker characters in the book use rules to push through darker agendas. This should show most readers that rules within HP’s world are secondary to logic and the more noble human values.

  9. scott says:

    I disagree. 
As for why he wasn’t punished, consider this:
    1. Protecting Harry as a child is so important to the wizarding world, that they MUST allow him to be abused, bullied, neglected and starved from the ages of one through eleven to maintain this protection. Do you really think that expelling him and condemning him to his former life for six and a half more years is really an option?

    And do you really think expulsion is the only way to punish a student? I can tell you from the two and a half years I spent in detention, it certainly didn’t USE to be. Moreover, I distinctly recall a scene in one of the books where either Hermione or Ron spend the entire evening polishing old trophies or something like that as a punishment, whilst Harry’s punishment is, as I recall, to spend the evening helping the smarmy fraud Defense against the Dark Arts Professor Lockhart answer his fan mail.
    So I guess I’ve just answered my own question. He didn’t have to be expelled. He could have been punished another way. Or, alternatively, he could have just been not rewarded. That wouldn’t have been as good as him being punished, but it would have been quite the step up from what did happen.
    Also, the way Hagrid reacts when he first finds how Harry’s been treated, and then later the way Dumbledore treats Harry’s family when he finally comes to visit strongly suggests to me that, far from believing it best that Harry be horribly abused for his own good, the fine wizards at Hogwarts in fact had little to no idea just what was really happening in Harry’s life all those years, neglecting him rather shamefully—but to wonderful comic effect, and isn’t that what’s important?
    3. Mg taught Harry’s father, James, and they were good friends (book 5). Evidence suggests that James may have been one of her best students (he was Head Boy [book 1], a secret Animagi [book 3], and his wand was best suited for transfig. [book 1]), possibly giving them a very close relationship. Harry is the spitting image of James and Mg was deeply and unusually affected James’s death (see book 1). For anyone close to James, watching Harry on the Quidditch team would be akin to having James back (see Sirius’s remarks at the end of book 3). I think it’s fair to say that her heart got ahead of the rules. 

    I don’t see this at all. I see her heart getting ahead of the rules in her desire to put Snape in his place. Nothing more. I have no doubt she’s fond of Harry—later books make that clear, but also make clear that her fondness will not stop her from doing what she thinks right, regardless of her emotional tie to Harry—but I see no evidence of that here.
    4. The rule was an empty threat. Only the headmaster and heads of houses can expell students (book 2). Madame Hooch had no authoritah. She’s not even a professor, as students don’t refer to her as professor. She is simply the Quidditch coach and may/may not be married to Filch, who also has limited authority to make rules (see Dumbledore’s attitude at start of term feasts).
    My copy of the book is 2600 miles away, so I’ll take your word on this one (not that I doubt you’re correct, of course). But as an adult at the school, and the coach, she is ne’ertheless an authority figure. And while she may not have the authority to expel a student—which, again, is far, far from the only way to punish a student—she is an authority figure placed in charge of a group of students and as such, as in any school, it is understood that she is in charge and that what she says goes.
    She gave a direct order.
    Harry disobeyed it for no good reason.
    Harry did not get punished for this.
    Harry instead got rewarded.
    Also there is no rule against 1st years playing Quidditch (book 6), but since 1st years are not allowed to own brooms (book 1), typically they barely know how to fly (book 6 and 1) and they don’t make the team (book 6).
    Ah! So McGonagall wasn’t breaking the rules by putting him on the team! She was merely breaking the rules by allowing him to have a broom. Well, then. All the difference in the world. 🙂
    5. Many of the people in the book who tend to follow the rules religiously are lead astray: Percy Weasley, Delores Umbridge, Filch, Barty Crouch Sr., etc. Also, many of the darker characters in the book use rules to push through darker agendas. This should show most readers that rules within HP’s world are secondary to logic and the more noble human values.
    Wow! And if that is indeed the underlying message, just how twisted a world view is that? Yeah, that’s definitely the sort of books I want my children to immerse themselves in: “remember, kiddies, lying, cheating and stealing will help you get ahead in this life—but you have to be really sure that you’ve got a good excuse for doing all those things. Like, for example, ‘cuz it’s really, really fun!”
    I dig these books more and more all the time. 🙂

  10. Nancy says:

    Hi Scott,
    I’ve been following this discussion, and haven’t posted b/c your readers have already hit the major points I would make, but this last one reminds me of my favorite quote from ‘Howard’s End’ where Margaret says to her brother: “Tibby, you are being remarkably obtuse. Are you doing it on purpose?”
    Harry may have broken the ‘no flying’ rule, but he did it because poor Neville was being tormented by Malfoy. Now, I can’t condone just ‘standing around’ while the geeky kid gets picked on (isn’t that one of the reasons why the Holocaust happened?). Harry always sticks up for the underdog: Hagrid, Neville, Nearly Headless Nick are examples. Mostly, his rule breaking happens because he is courageous enough to risk being right vs. being society’s version of ‘good’. I’m not saying I’d want one of my boys to be a rule breaker just for rule breaking’s sake, but if it means blindly following rules vs. helping someone in need, then I’m all for the latter. Character counts, and Harry has buckets of it.
    I doubt this post will change your mind if all of the previous excellent ones haven’t, but then again, nothing you have posted so far has changed mine. (Which reminds me… you haven’t changed much since college 🙂 )
    Congrats on the big move… I enjoy reading yours and Lissa’s blogs. Glad you have such a beautiful family.

  11. Steve the LLamabutcher says:

    Scott—let me think about this. The “magic makes ethics different” defense non-defense was put forward by Plato in Bk 2 of The Republic (the ring of gyges (sp?)) as the corruption of ethics n’ morals.

  12. fish says:

    I want to underscore point 5 of Jennifer’s (and the support from Nancy) which you are having some problems with. They are making the point much more clearly than I was. I disagree that it is a twisted world view to recognize context when interpreting rules. Jennifer is right that there is an underlying theme of Rowling that strict adherence to the rules regardless of circumstances is not true morality (i.e. Crouch, Umbridge, etc.). This is merely becoming submissive to (arbitrary) athority. The heros of the stories (Dumbledore, Harry, McGonagall, Hagrid, etc. etc.) all are willing to break the rules when they feel a higher priciple is at stake (often displayed as a mischevious side). I don’t find this to be problematic. A real life example is civil disobedience. Anti-war protesters often get arrested standing up for their principles, and I applaud them.
    In reality, I don’t think your arguments suggest you are actually as far away from this argument as you might think. One merely has to concede that rules or laws do not, purely by virtue of existing, embrace justice. The supposition is that while there may be moral absolutes, laws do not equal morals, they are put in place to make societies function and the morality aspect is coincedental. Laws banning gay marriage I would argue are not moral, others would argue the opposite.
    And rising to the Plato bait dangled by someone suspiciously branded a “Llamabutcher”, Plato was a facist who constantly aligned himself with the rule of law and a governing elite, who were presumably pure of soul. He put way too much trust in the governing body which came out much more clearly when he wrote Laws. That said, Plato argues that good that comes from habit (i.e. following rules, trying to behave nicely based on what was taugh to you) is inferior to having knowledge (philosophy) which would allow you to act virtuous in new situations. So even with his totalitarian tendancies, he warned against morality of custom…

  13. scott says:

    I’ve been following this discussion, and haven’t posted b/c your readers have already hit the major points I would make, but this last one reminds me of my favorite quote from ‘Howard’s End’ where Margaret says to her brother: “Tibby, you are being remarkably obtuse. Are you doing it on purpose?”
    That’s not quite what I’ve tended to think whilst reading rebuttals…but it’s not far off. Mainly what I think is that while almost all the replies are extremely well-argued, at their heart they’re an emotional defense of something they’d never, ever allow their own children to get away with. They’re rebuttals of things that if another child at the same school as their own child did, they’d be outraged if the child escaped without punishment, much less rewarded. Either that, or there are far, far more anarchists in this country than I ever would have dreamt. 🙂
    Harry may have broken the ‘no flying’ rule, but he did it because poor Neville was being tormented by Malfoy.
    No, no, no. Poor Neville, if I’m remembering correctly, was nowhere near. Because poor Neville was on his way to the infirmary, having just been injured because he flew when he didn’t know what he was doing. Meaning the admonition not to fly was a serious one—serious injury could result.
    So Harry wasn’t saving Neville from being tormented. Draco the Complete Prat was being a jerk, as always. But in standing up to him, Harry was giving in to his own anger, not doing it to help The Underdog. What was Draco going to do with the Remembral? Sell it on eBay before Neville got out of the hospital? There was no immediate, pressing need for Harry to do what he did. He broke the rules not to protect an innocent life or even stick up for the downtrodden–something which, yes, he does indeed do quite admirably, but which isn’t what he’s been doing in this case–but because he already hated Malfoy (understandably) and wanted to kick his ass. It’s just that easy. All the rest is just smoke and mirrors.
    And, did I mention this part? I may have mentioned this part, but I’m not really sure. Oh, what the hey, I’ll just toss it out there again, just for giggles: It’d have been bad enough if he directly disobeyed an authority figure for no good reason, good caught, and didn’t get punished. But he didn’t. He. Got. Rewarded.
    Translate this into the real world. A kid gets hurt in gym by doing something he’s not supposed to be doing–climbing up on the roof, say. While the gym teacher’s taking the injured kid to the school nurse, the bully takes the kid’s backpack and tosses it up on the roof. Rather than tell the janitor later that he has to go and retrieve the backpack for the injured kid, however, a very nice kid decides he’ll go and retrieve it himself. Another teacher sees this. What does she do? In real life? She punishes the kid, and probably the kid who threw the backpack up there. But not in Harry’s world. In Harry’s world, the bully gets off with no punishment and the kid who ignored the gym’s teacher’s direct order and does the same thing that got the first kid hurt gets rewarded. For no good reason. In real life, we’d be at least befuddled and maybe outraged if we heard about this happening at our local school, as well we should be. But Harry? He’s charming. So it’s okay.
    So. Neville wasn’t around. Meaning it was really Harry who was being tormented by Malfoy. And as usual, Harry gave in to his emotions. Which is understandable. But not laudable.
    Now, I can’t condone just ‘standing around’ while the geeky kid gets picked on (isn’t that one of the reasons why the Holocaust happened?).
    The Jews, Catholics, Gypsies and homosexuals were geeks? I gotta admit, I’ve always thought of those groups as being cooler than the Average Joe. Well…maybe not the Catholics. Although there’s always Scorsese and Springsteen. They’re cool. Oh, but that may be because they’re Italian. Italians are cool. And even though he wasn’t Italian, my boy JPII was pretty groovy. Kissin’ the ground and stuff. Down to earth. Probably got lots of pebbles and grit and stuff on the lips, but kept on doin’ it anyway. Rock on.
    Harry always sticks up for the underdog: Hagrid, Neville, Nearly Headless Nick are examples.
    Yes he does. It’s one of his most admirable and endearing traits. Just one of the many reasons I enjoy reading the books so much. Which, in case you have read all my earlier screeds, I do indeed reading, very, very much. I’ve read all but the last multiple times, and the first at least three and maybe five times. I like these books. A lot.
    Mostly, his rule breaking happens because he is courageous enough to risk being right vs. being society’s version of ‘good’.
    Ah, yes, “society’s version.” Eensy-weensy things like: stealing is wrong. Cheating is wrong. Lying is wrong. Silly society. I’m gonna try that the next time I run a red light. “But, officer, you can’t really expect me to abide by society’s overly rigid and repressive views of right and wrong! Besides, if I don’t get to work on time, they’ll dock my pay and then my enormous brood of children won’t be able to eat! Why don’t you want my children to eat! Why do you hate children?! My God…you’re He Who Cannot Be Named! I must run red lights for the good of the world!”
    Or something like that. 🙂
    Okay, snark off just for the nonce, because I really feel this needs to be emphasized: many of the times Harry breaks the rules–such as this one–it’s not just something stupid like “freshman must always walk on the right side of the hall” or “first years must always stand when a seventh year enters the dining hall” or whatever. Most of the rules at Hogwarts are there to keep the students in this fascinating but deadly place safe–alive, in fact. I mean, just look at this exact instance: a student was seriously injured–that’s why there was no teacher present. And then Harry goes and does the exact same thing that got the kid taken to the hospital! Yes, he didn’t get hurt. And we all know people who’ve driven when they’ve had too much to drink and arrived just fine without hurting anyone or anything. Does that mean that driving drunk is okay as long as you get there without hitting anyone? Of course not. So why doesn’t that principle apply here?
    I’m not saying I’d want one of my boys to be a rule breaker just for rule breaking’s sake
    Ah! So you agree that Harry’s not a good role model. Well, there you go, see? We agree!
    but if it means blindly following rules vs. helping someone in need, then I’m all for the latter. Character counts, and Harry has buckets of it.
    And here’s where I’m not sure we agree. Harry sticks up for the underdog and he’s got oodles and boodles of courage. But even taking that into consideration (and those earn him a powerful lot o’ points) I’m not sure that someone who lies and cheats and steals, often for no good reason–unless you consider “oh, well, boys will be boys” a good reason which I really don’t—can be said to have buckets of character. Maybe so, but I don’t think so.
    I doubt this post will change your mind if all of the previous excellent ones haven’t
    Excellent they have indeed been, and they’ve often gotten me to rethink my position, or look at it from a different point of view. This post of yours, for instance, makes the excellent point that Harry always sticks up for the underdog. Which, of course, having read the books so many times, I already knew, but in focusing on the myriad flaws in his character (and, really, it’s more flaws in Rowling’s plotting, but then plot IS character and character plot, which I guess means it all comes down yet again to her really not being that good a writer, although she spins a hell of a yarn), I had begun to take that noble aspect of his for granted. So thank you.
    but then again, nothing you have posted so far has changed mine.
    Ah, none so blind as those will not see…
    (Which reminds me… you haven’t changed much since college 🙂 )
    Why tamper with perfection? Would you really tinker with Beethoven’s Fifth? Of course not!
    Congrats on the big move… I enjoy reading yours and Lissa’s blogs. Glad you have such a beautiful family.
    That makes two of us. What I suspect you’re too polite to say is that you’re actually amazed I have such a beautiful family. Which, again, makes two of us. I guess obtusity isn’t necessarily a major road block to having good fortune.

  14. scott says:

    I want to underscore point 5 of Jennifer’s (and the support from Nancy) which you are having some problems with. They are making the point much more clearly than I was. I disagree that it is a twisted world view to recognize context when interpreting rules. Jennifer is right that there is an underlying theme of Rowling that strict adherence to the rules regardless of circumstances is not true morality (i.e. Crouch, Umbridge, etc.). This is merely becoming submissive to (arbitrary) athority. The heros of the stories (Dumbledore, Harry, McGonagall, Hagrid, etc. etc.) all are willing to break the rules when they feel a higher priciple is at stake (often displayed as a mischevious side). I don’t find this to be problematic.
    I don’t find that problematic in theory. I find it very much so in principle as it applies to this exact series of books.
    This is a point I’ve been trying to make for a year now with an obvious lack of success: I think that’s a fantastic theme for a book, any book. I think, however, that for a children’s book to put forth that view, it’s imperative that the author actually have thought that point of view through and make it clear that it’s indeed the POV of the heroes of the story, and that it’s motivated. And the way to do that, I think, is to actually address that theme openly at least once in the 3340 pages which have so far been written, I really, truly think an author who’s considered this at some length could have found time for a quick discussion of the issue. Now, I’ve only read Book Six once, and the same might go for Book Five, so perhaps I just missed where any of these issues were ever actually brought to light: “hey, we just lied for no reason at all–why did we do that?” Just as an example. 3300 pages is a lot of space in which to play. It would not have been hard to find a place to work that in unobtrusively somewhere, had she any interest at all in this theme. Its absence is highly significant.
    A real life example is civil disobedience. Anti-war protesters often get arrested standing up for their principles, and I applaud them. 
In reality, I don’t think your arguments suggest you are actually as far away from this argument as you might think.
    But, again, this is a point I’ve made in the past, and what you’re doing here is actually emphasizing it for me. The rules Harry’s breaking are NOT the equivalent of civil disobedience. Look again at the example we’ve been discussing. Serious physical injury was done to a child who flew without adequate training. The other children were warned not to attempt the same thing without supervision. Harry (and Draco) disregarded this warning, despite the consequences they’d just witnessed–and we know from subsequent episodes that it would only have been their own health they were risking, but they could easily have hurt or even killed one of the other children had they lost control of their brooms.
    These rules are not about assembling across from Madison Square Garden or in Central Park to protest an unjust war. These rules are there to keep the children from harm. And we’ve seen that children do indeed get harmed or even killed at this school, so these rules aren’t simply rules for rules’ sake. They’re real. And when they get broken…there’s no consequence. Or, rather, the consequence is that the rule-breaker gets rewarded because the teacher who is generally (with this and one other exception) regarded as the fairest and most by-the-book teacher really, really wants something petty and is willing to toss the rulebook to achieve it. I find that sad. At best.
    But again, again, again. I must emphasize: I like these books. A lot. They’re very enjoyable. They’re simply not good examples of morality. Which is fine. Except that they’re held up as though they were. These books are the Young Adult version of Stephen King, an asskickin’ potboiler, with roughly the same (metaphorically speaking) nutritional content and level of art to the writing, only without King’s consistently strong moral stance.
    One merely has to concede that rules or laws do not, purely by virtue of existing, embrace justice. The supposition is that while there may be moral absolutes, laws do not equal morals, they are put in place to make societies function and the morality aspect is coincedental. Laws banning gay marriage I would argue are not moral, others would argue the opposite.
    And I would be with you. But I find it hard to see how a rule against brand-new students flying their first week (their first day?) without adequate supervision is the equivalent. It’s the equivalent of making sure children don’t hang halfway out a bus window, maybe. Which, I suppose could be argued, is an infringement of civil rights. On the other hand, Hogwarts is a private school. By agreeing to attend, you agree to play by their rules. Or not, as the case may be, and with Harry usually is.
    Off to Chicago. Back Monday. Be good while I’m gone. Make lots of good arguments (as always) which will challenge me no end, so I can spend hours and hours of my time apparently convincing no one. 🙂

  15. Jennifer says:

    Scott, I think you’re awesome, but I’m not buying it. I think you could say the same things about Huck Finn. This is also a kid who lies, cheats, steals, curses, frolics naked with other men, consorts with criminals, ditches school, cross dresses, runs away, robs graves, hurts animals to fake his own death, participates in various scams, attempts to perform magic, pretends to be British, feels little guilt due to his shameful relativistic morality . . . and in the end is rewarded, sort of. But then, a child under 12 would NEVER read (let alone sneak) Huck Finn on account that Mark Twain is such a horrible writer. But I’m sure you were consoled by the fact that Huck’s father whooped him good for his transgressions at the start of the book. Shame that he didn’t live a bit longer.
    Also, on looking at the excerpt you were refering to, I think the author is trying to point out Harry’s, and therefore our, limited theory of mind within the book. Harry, and Ron even more so, are nearly oblivious to what other characters really think. Through out the series, we barely understand the significance of what Dumbledore or LV says to the kids. In book six, Ron says that he thinks that Dumbledore says “mental” things. It stands to reason that other characters may have limited theory of mind as well. MG doesn’t know what Hooch threatened the kids with or the ban on flying. She just sees Harry doing something dangerous, realizes that he does it pretty well and takes advantage of that aptitude. She may even realize that developing any aptitude in Harry is critical (after all, Harry isn’t her child, he’s a hero in training, almost like a puppy chosen to go after drug dealers). But she definately doesn’t know what Hooch has threatened the kids with. How can she?
    I don’t know if your gym example fits. First of all, flying on the school brooms really wasn’t that dangerous. The Weasley twins claimed that the brooms tend to vibrate when they get too high, and Neville’s bones were mended in about two seconds. I’m also pretty sure there were no dementors arround and that the brooms in and of themselves weren’t capable of sucking out children’s souls. Secondly, Neville wasn’t doing anything especially dangerous. Hooch told the kids to mount and kick off. He was nervous and kicked off too hard. Thirdly, Neville was one of the few pure-bred kids who didn’t know how to fly. All of the other pure-bred boys were talking about dodging muggle helicopters on their brooms and what not. So the others were less likely to get hurt. Fourthly, Hermione later points out that the school has certain magical insurance policies (book 6) and the school is expected to be a bit dangerous. Fifthly, if you haven’t noticed it before, there is some huge connection between Hooch and Filch. She is described as looking quite a bit like Mrs. Norris, Filch’s cat and they’re often seen hanging out together. And Filch also makes rules that no one enforces. Sixthly, it’s unclear as to why Hooch left her class unsupervised to take Neville to Pomfrey’s. One of the other kids could have taken him, she could have summoned Pomfrey by magic or she could have followed normal protocol, as per Nosebleed Nougat, Fainting Fancy, Puking Pastil, etc. and allowed Neville to walk to Pomfrey’s his own.
    It’s more like your little league coach taking away your allowance because your shoes are untied. If your parents decide to “reward” you with velcro shoes rather than enforce the coach’s or any other punishment, is that really so wrong?

  16. fish says:

    I think I would also argue that Harry was defending Neville, even in his absence (at least in his mind) because he thought Draco was going to break Neville’s remembrall, which he supposedly valued as a gift. Defying athority for a greater good. We can argue whether that defense was justified but one of the things I think Rowling is actually quite good at is nailing the confusion and misplaced priorities of teenagers. It is also possible that Rowling just never bothers writing about the punishments because nothing important happens there.
    I won’t claim that the Potter series is great literature, I agree with you that it is more akin to an awesome story but fairly fluffy in substance, but I disagree that it is the author’s duty to lay out what s/he is trying to say. Typically I feel that when an author does that, it cheapens the book and fails to produce the valuable discussions like the one in this thread…

  17. Lissa says:

    So Nancy, you’re our old friend Nancy from college? Wow, what a way to reconnect! I guess age hasn’t mellowed you either. 🙂
    Scott isn’t being obtuse. He’s got a point, and he stands by it, whether you agree or not. His point is (and I think he’s been very clear about this since his first post): the HP books are entertaining reads but Harry himself is not the shining role model he is often held up as. His world is a world in which the ends justify the means. Many reviewers have remarked upon this, not just ole Scott. It pretty much smacks you in the face when you read Rowling’s books. The good guys–and they are really likeable folks–can lie, cheat, sneak around, “bend” the rules (which is to say, totally disregard them), and engage in other behaviors which are condemned when the bad guys do them.
    Fun stories, fuzzy morals: that’s Harry Potter.
    Harry seldom suffers any mental pangs over his “justifiable” bad actions, and consequences or accountability are even more rare. The adults in his life actually abet him in circumventing the rules which other students must obey. Harry is *special*, see, and when he bends the rules, it’s for a good reason. Never mind that many of these rules are in place to save kids’ lives–and that sometimes Harry does place himself and his friends in danger by disregarding them. It turns out okay in the end, so no harm done, right? Moral murkiness really isn’t addressed in the books, it just exists. There is no grappling with moral dilemmas; there is just action.
    Now, the broom scene you’re discussing. There seem to be two points under debate: whether Harry was justified in disregarding the no-flying rule, and whether McGonagall was justified in rewarding him for doing just that. Have you looked at the scene closely? The chapter opens with “Harry had never believed he would meet a boy he hated more than Dudley, but that was before he met Draco Malfoy.” Two pages later, when Neville receives the Remembrall and Malfoy snatches it, we read, “Harry and Ron jumped to their feet. They were half hoping for a reason to fight Malfoy, but Professor McGonagall, who could spot trouble quicker than any teacher in the school, was there in a flash.”
    So Rowling is right up front with Harry’s motivation. He hates Malfoy and is half looking for a reason to fight him. Malfoy gives him a reason a few pages later, after Neville has fallen off his broom and broken his wrist. Malfoy finds the Remembrall and holds it up. Harry quietly orders him to “give it here.” Malfoy smiles nastily and threatens to hide it in a tree. Harry yells at him to give it to him. Malfoy jumps on his broom and dares Harry to fly up to treetop level. Harry ignores Hermione’s warning. “Blood was pounding in his ears.” He jumps on his broom and discovers, to his delight, that he can fly. Up high, he threatens Malfoy with bodily harm, provoking Malfoy into throwing the Remembrall at him. Harry catches it, spectacularly.
    OK, Rowling is being unambiguous here. Not once does in this passage does Neville actually come into Harry’s mind. We may ASSUME his motivation is a noble desire to help out the underdog, but Rowling doesn’t say a word about that–she only tells us about his hatred for Malfoy and the blood pounding in Harry’s ears.
    But for the sake of argument, let’s say Harry’s motivation WAS completely virtuous. He’s a hero! He’s protecting poor Neville’s property! He’s willing to risk punishment for the sake of defending the weak! None of that appears in the text, but we’re nice folks who like to give kids the benefit of the doubt. Yay for Harry!!
    So then what happens is that he takes his punishment like a man, right? Nope. Oh, well then, there must be some public acknowledgment by the professors that although Harry disregarded the rules, he was being noble and that’s why we’re going to let it slide. Oh, nope, that isn’t what happens either.
    What happens is: McGonagall shouts his name. McGonagall, who by this point in the book has been clearly described as a stickler for the rules. Harry’s heart sinks.
    I’ll quote the next passage:
    “NEVER–in all my time at Hogwarts–”
    Professor McGonagall was almost speechless with shock, and her glasses flashed furiously, “–how DARE you–might have broken your neck–”
    “It wasn’t his fault, Professor–”
    “Be quiet, Miss Patil–”
    “But Malfoy–”
    “That’s ENOUGH, Mr. Weasley. Potter, follow me, now.”
    ***
    See how Harry’s friends defend him by saying it wasn’t his fault? If you put yourself on the line for the sake of someone else, that IS your “fault”–a good one, one might argue. But all we’re given here is a sense of Harry being somehow a victim.
    The scene continues with Harry following McGonagall inside. He is convinced he’s about to be expelled. Instead, she takes him right to the captain of the Quidditch team because he’s a natural seeker. Captain Wood says “We’ll have to get him a decent broom, Professor.”
    McGonagall’s answer: “I shall speak to Professor Dumbledore and see if we can’t bend the first-year rule. Heaven knows, we need a better team than last year. FLATTENED in that last match by Slytherin, I couldn’t look Severus Snape in the face for weeks…”
    And then–and for me, this is the kicker–she gives Harry a stern look and says, “I want to hear you’re training hard, Potter, or I may change my mind about punishing you.”
    McGonagall, stickler for the rules (especially rules put in place to safeguard students’ lives, because although broken bones can be easily healed, there is no bringing the dead back to life, even at Hogwarts), will abandon them in an instant FOR HER OWN PERSONAL GAIN.
    I don’t see how Scott is being “obtuse” by insisting that there’s some questionable morality at play there.
    Harry’s friends are shocked by this turn of events–it seems so out of character for McGonagall. I agree with them.
    Later McG sends him the fanciest broom going, with a note warning him not to open the package in front of the other students. “I don’t want everybody knowing you’ve got a broomstick or they’ll all want one.”
    Hermione is disgusted at this turn of events. “I suppose you think that’s a reward for breaking the rules,” she says angrily. Harry’s response? “I thought you weren’t speaking to us.” “Yes,” adds Ron. “Don’t stop now. It’s doing us so much good.”
    Pretty cold, considering they’re all only just getting to know each other. This isn’t after years of bonding. What the reader gets is a sense that the only person who is troubled by the moral issues here is an unbearable prig.
    And Nancy, I just don’t buy that these very same events wouldn’t bother you if they occurred in real life, especially involving your children. I always thought of you as having a very strong sense of ethics, back in the day.

  18. I would never call my buddy Scott over at Left of the Dial “obtuse”

    …because then I’d have to go, and, like, look it up or something. But then again I’m annoyingly insensitive and slow to understand that way. Plus, he’d create a new villain for Aquaman called “The LLamabutcher” who’d, well, get his…

  19. scott says:

    Scott, I think you’re awesome
    Hey! Thank you! That makes exactly one person on this thread. I’ve got old friends from college joining in and even they don’t think that (to put it mildly).
    but I’m not buying it.
    Aww…
    I think you could say the same things about Huck Finn. This is also a kid who lies, cheats, steals, curses, frolics naked with other men, consorts with criminals, ditches school, cross dresses, runs away, robs graves, hurts animals to fake his own death, participates in various scams, attempts to perform magic, pretends to be British, feels little guilt due to his shameful relativistic morality . . . and in the end is rewarded, sort of.
    I think, again, this is a fine example, actually. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may be the single finest work of art ever produced in the United States. It’s also a book which is virtually never taught to children younger than high school, and even then it tends to be taught in the upper grades. There are many reasons for that, including the language which understandably makes some folks uncomfortable, as well as the necessity of understanding the historical background. And then there’s the moral underpinnings to the book. And every time someone brings up Huck Finn as a rebuttal to my arguments about morality or the lack thereof in Harry Potter, I feel like youse mugs are simply making my arguments for me.
    And so again I ask: do you really think a teacher telling a young student who has never flown before not to fly is the moral equivalent of enslaving another human being? Truly?
    Somewhere in this discussion someone asked me if I see the world in black and white without any shades of gray. Just the opposite, actually–I feel there are very, very few instances of black and white in the real world, that virtually everything is in shades of gray. Some are a really, really light gray, damn near white, whilst others are an incredibly dark gray that’s so close to black that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference without a microscope. Most shades, of course, are in the middle.
    Which brings me back to my problem with these books: there is, in fact, an absence of black and white in them: regardless of his actions, Harry is always White and Voldemort is always Black. And these books are held up as shining examples of morality, when their morality is (at best) muddied and unclear. Because that’s not what Rowling said out to write originally, nor what she has subsequently decided to write.
    Meanwhile, my myriad critics don’t seem (to me) to be acknowledging that there’s gray in the way these books can be viewed. No matter how often I point out that I find them very enjoyable, or how much the actual material is excerpted and quoted, it seems (to me) that no criticisms of these books are ever seen as valid, a situation which puzzles me no end. The problem never seems to be what I’m criticizing but that I’m criticizing.
    But then, a child under 12 would NEVER read (let alone sneak) Huck Finn on account that Mark Twain is such a horrible writer.
    Ha! You know, I actually thought you were serious for a split-second. Mea culpa. 🙂
    But I’m sure you were consoled by the fact that Huck’s father whooped him good for his transgressions at the start of the book. Shame that he didn’t live a bit longer.
    Ooh, snarky! That’s the Left of the Dial style! You go, babycakes!
    Also, on looking at the excerpt you were refering to, I think the author is trying to point out Harry’s, and therefore our, limited theory of mind within the book. Harry, and Ron even more so, are nearly oblivious to what other characters really think. Through out the series, we barely understand the significance of what Dumbledore or LV says to the kids. In book six, Ron says that he thinks that Dumbledore says “mental” things. It stands to reason that other characters may have limited theory of mind as well. MG doesn’t know what Hooch threatened the kids with or the ban on flying. She just sees Harry doing something dangerous, realizes that he does it pretty well and takes advantage of that aptitude. She may even realize that developing any aptitude in Harry is critical (after all, Harry isn’t her child, he’s a hero in training, almost like a puppy chosen to go after drug dealers). But she definately doesn’t know what Hooch has threatened the kids with. How can she?
    Top Management has already quoted extensively from the book in a previous comment–she has my copy and I’m most grateful indeed for her hard work–and it proves conclusively and beyond a shadow of a doubt that McGonagall knew that Harry should be punished and that she wasn’t punishing him because of her own desire to kick Snape’s ass.
    McGonagall knew what she was doing was wrong. She didn’t care. She did it anyway.
    I don’t know if your gym example fits. First of all, flying on the school brooms really wasn’t that dangerous.
    !
    The Weasley twins claimed that the brooms tend to vibrate when they get too high
    I’m afraid I don’t understand without context. This means what? That the vibration caused Neville to fall? Or that it’s a warning sign?
    and Neville’s bones were mended in about two seconds.
    Yes, but Neville might have been killed. And as we all know from reading the books, the doctors/healers at Hogwarts are mighty good at what they do, but even they cannot bring someone back from death. So Neville’s broom started to vibrate when he got too high–so what? If he didn’t know how to fly, what difference would that have made? He still could have fallen to his death.
    I’m also pretty sure there were no dementors arround and that the brooms in and of themselves weren’t capable of sucking out children’s souls.
    ?
    Secondly, Neville wasn’t doing anything especially dangerous. Hooch told the kids to mount and kick off. He was nervous and kicked off too hard.
    Exactly. And even with adult supervision, you can see that even a pure-bred wizard can get injured by flying when he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Making it all the more imperative that it not be done by complete neophytes without supervision. Especially when they’ve been specifically told not to.
    Thirdly, Neville was one of the few pure-bred kids who didn’t know how to fly. All of the other pure-bred boys were talking about dodging muggle helicopters on their brooms and what not. So the others were less likely to get hurt. Fourthly, Hermione later points out that the school has certain magical insurance policies (book 6) and the school is expected to be a bit dangerous.
    Of course it is–why, look: even with adult supervision, Neville got hurt. Just imagine how bad things could be if there weren’t supervision…or kids didn’t follow the rules.
    Fifthly, if you haven’t noticed it before, there is some huge connection between Hooch and Filch. She is described as looking quite a bit like Mrs. Norris, Filch’s cat and they’re often seen hanging out together.
    So students only have to follow the rules of people in authority if those authority figures are pleasant.
    And Filch also makes rules that no one enforces.
    Oh, I see. So running a stop sign when you’ve never seen a cop at that corner’s okay. 🙂
    Sixthly, it’s unclear as to why Hooch left her class unsupervised to take Neville to Pomfrey’s. One of the other kids could have taken him, she could have summoned Pomfrey by magic or she could have followed normal protocol, as per Nosebleed Nougat, Fainting Fancy, Puking Pastil, etc. and allowed Neville to walk to Pomfrey’s his own.
    So the teacher was negligent by tending to an injured student herself and therefore it’s okay for Harry to disobey.
    It’s more like your little league coach taking away your allowance because your shoes are untied. If your parents decide to “reward” you with velcro shoes rather than enforce the coach’s or any other punishment, is that really so wrong?
    Your Little League coach used to give you an allowance?! Wow! Mine just gave us oranges. Damn. I got ripped off.
    None of your numbered explanations actually address the issue:
    Harry gave into his anger and broke the rules without any reason, disobeying a direct order from an authority figure.
    He was not punished for this.
    Rather, he was rewarded by a teacher who, in doing so, was also breaking the rules, and quite clear in her motivation for doing so.
    I find that disturbing.
    I think I would also argue that Harry was defending Neville, even in his absence (at least in his mind) because he thought Draco was going to break Neville’s remembrall, which he supposedly valued as a gift.
    So we think they can heal a bone in two seconds but a Remembrall is irreplaceable?
    And, again, I point to the actual quoted text, which points out that Neville was never actually mentioned. Harry literally never thought about him once. What he did think about was how much he hated Malfoy and how much fun flying was.
    Defying athority for a greater good. We can argue whether that defense was justified
    I feel the need to reiterate once again that of course it very often is. Just not here.
    but one of the things I think Rowling is actually quite good at is nailing the confusion and misplaced priorities of teenagers.
    Yes! I agree with that. But this isn’t an example of that. This is merely an example of “and then it’d be cool if this happened…”
    It is also possible that Rowling just never bothers writing about the punishments because nothing important happens there.
    Well, no, because she has written about punishments. You don’t think they can dream up fascinating punishments are Hogwarts? She didn’t actually have to write about Harry’s punishment–one or two sentences could easily have covered it. But she didn’t. Because he didn’t get punished. [I may have mentioned that at some point.]
    I won’t claim that the Potter series is great literature, I agree with you that it is more akin to an awesome story but fairly fluffy in substance, but I disagree that it is the author’s duty to lay out what s/he is trying to say. Typically I feel that when an author does that, it cheapens the book and fails to produce the valuable discussions like the one in this thread…
    I could be wrong–I guess I’d have to give it a tiny bit more thought–but I think that I could not possibly disagree more.
    I believe we can look at the much, much shorter and vastly superior Huck Finn to find a fine example of an author who manages to be both incredibly subtle and crystal-clear in his themes and how he lays them out. It’s unfair to compare Rowling to Twain but then I wasn’t the first to do so.
    These are fun, fluffy books. They are not good examples of morality, yet that is how they are presented by and to the general public. They are also not great literature, yet that is also how they are presented by and to the general public. These are my main points.
    I like pulp. Hell, I love pulp. And it doesn’t have to be Great Art for me to love it–but pulp can be great art. This is not. Not because it’s pulp. Just because it’s a fun if massively overrated potboiler. And that’s okay. Trying to make it something it’s not is the problem.

  20. Lissa says:

    >Scott, I think you’re awesome
    >Hey! Thank you! That makes exactly one person on this thread.
    Ahem. I beg to differ!

  21. Lissa says:

    It’s more like your little league coach taking away your allowance because your shoes are untied. If your parents decide to “reward” you with velcro shoes rather than enforce the coach’s or any other punishment, is that really so wrong?
    Jennifer, I don’t think this example really fits. McGonigall doesn’t think the no-flying rule is unreasonable (whereas the parents in your example are circumventing the no-untied-shoes rule with a practical solution, suggesting they think the rule is unworkable). McG’s first reaction to the sight of Harry’s broomstick dive is fear (see quoted text above) and anger. “Angrily” is Rowling’s word, not mine. She has the furious reaction of a terrified parent whose heart has stopped for a moment at the sight of the grave danger she saw her child in. “How dare you!”–THAT is her gut reaction.
    You could argue that her “never in all my years at Hogwarts” means “I’ve never seen flying that impressive,” but since Rowling tells us she is angry and worried that he might have broken his neck, there is no ambiguity about the genuineness of her initial fear and shock. A moment later, once she is reassured that he is safe, she seizes upon the advantageous possibilities of his skill, but there’s no suggestion that she thinks the no-flying rule is stupid or unreasonable. Later, she doesn’t say “I’ll speak to Prof. Dumbledore about revoking that policy”–she speaks only of having an exception made in Harry’s case.
    Also, in your example you’d need to have it be another teacher giving the student the velcro shoes, not his parents or guardians–because that is a pertinent point. And that teacher would have to get some personal gain out of the gift. McG secretly gives a single student a very expensive object. And not because he’s a poor orphan (at least, if this contributes to her motivation, Rowling does not hint at it, and I am going by what is actually in the text), but because her quidditch captain said he’d need a really good broom to be an effective Seeker. The standard-issue school broom won’t do. This student is given (by a supposedly neutral teacher) top-of-the-line Air Jordans which actually make you a faster runner.

  22. fish says:

    Are they being presented as good examples of morality? Just askin’, I don’t follow the public commentary on the books. I actually appreciate that good characters in these books occasionally behave selfishly, pettily, stupidly etc. It makes the characters more real. I won’t argue against the notion that these books are bad examples of morality (even though I still don’t have a particular issue with the scene being discussed here), mostly because I don’t think the book really addresses moral issues in any substanitive way. Bad guys are bad and good guys are good in these books, as you say, regardless of actual behaviors. A work of fiction that was seriously dealing with the nature of right and wrong would explore the relationships between action, intent and circumstances in terms of the characters and their beliefs.
    The punishments comment I withdraw after Lissa’s comment demonstrates that MG says she suspended punishment so it wasn’t Rowling not bothering to follow up (although I meant Rowling ignored writing about the specific punishment coming from the remembrall event, not any other punishment, there are obviously many scenes where interesting and important things happen during punishments).
    The only other thing I wanted to return to is the issue of authors being responsible for clarifying their intensions. Twain is a bad example because as you said his intensions are almost always crystal clear even though he doesn’t beat you over the head with them. The other end of the spectrum is for example Nabokov’s Lolita where many trees have been killed trying to really discern whether Humbert was villian or victim, or whether Humbert’s version of events should be trusted. Or Joyce’s Ulysses where it isn’t clear any critic has a complete grasp on the book. Both are considered great novels precisely because of the ambiguities they embrace. Again, not claiming Rowling is in that class, just saying ambiguity can be an element in good literature.

  23. Nancy says:

    Hi Lissa,
    Wow. WOW. That is quite an impressive post. Kudos!
    Re: obtuse. Truly, I had no idea you guys would take so much offense to what I thought was a charming quote (one of my faves, actually). Margaret KNOWS Tibby isn’t obtuse (he’s about to head off to Oxford, or Cambridge, or one of those ‘cap and gown’ universities), and her ‘Are you doing it on purpose?’ turns it into a good-natured chuffing. Still, in retrospect I see that it was clearly too nuanced of a reference, and I should have made my point clearer. I apologize, and I would like to go on record that Scott is a very smart fellow indeed.
    As for this one Harry Potter instance, I focused on it because that’s what the other posts were zeroing in on. I have read the books several times, although sadly I am traveling now and do not have them at my disposal. But, my overall impression of Harry Potter has been exactly the opposite of yours and Scott’s. In fact, you are the first people I’ve ever heard refer to Harry as morally suspect. Perhaps I don’t get around enough. At any rate, I prefer to judge the books as a whole. We’re only discussing one of the first scenes of the first book. (NOT that I want to discuss the whole shebang scene by scene. I’m already trying to extract myself from this thread. Other readers have made far better points than I anyway.)
    >Hermione is disgusted at this turn of events. “I suppose you think that’s a reward for breaking the rules,” she says angrily. Harry’s response? “I thought you weren’t speaking to us.” “Yes,” adds Ron. “Don’t stop now. It’s doing us so much good.”
    >Pretty cold, considering they’re all only just getting to know each other. This isn’t after years of bonding. What the reader gets is a sense that the only person who is troubled by the moral issues here is an unbearable prig.
    A perfect example of Hermione as the conscience! I also love how even though she comes off as an ‘unbearable prig’, in the not too distant future of Book 1 she becomes a beloved and cherished character. (Oh, and JKR has Ron and Harry chase off to rescue Hermione even though, at the time, they can’t stand her. Why? They’re concerned about her safety. Dumb, evil kid. He’s going to turn to the dark side, I just know it!)
    >And Nancy, I just don’t buy that these very same events wouldn’t bother you if they occurred in real life, especially involving your children.
    Here’s what I wrote: “I’m not saying I’d want one of my boys to be a rule breaker just for rule breaking’s sake, but if it means blindly following rules vs. helping someone in need, then I’m all for the latter.”
    I stand by that. Among the many things I want for my kids, it’s for them to be compassionate, and to think for themselves. Question authority, etc., and not just act like a couple of lemmings.
    >I always thought of you as having a very strong sense of ethics, back in the day.
    Thanks! I still do.
    Best wishes on your move, Lissa! My husband and I were out there a few years ago and it was such a nice city. The Chuck Jones Gallery in Old Town is lots of fun, and there’s a restaurant a few blocks down where fantastic homemade tortillas are made right on the front patio.
    Cheers!

  24. scott says:

    Are they being presented as good examples of morality? Just askin’, I don’t follow the public commentary on the books.
    They are indeed, which is the crux (or at least a crux) of my problem with the books. Were they simply viewed as the pleasant fluff they are, that’d be entirely different. Genormously different, in fact.
    I actually appreciate that good characters in these books occasionally behave selfishly, pettily, stupidly etc. It makes the characters more real. I won’t argue against the notion that these books are bad examples of morality (even though I still don’t have a particular issue with the scene being discussed here), mostly because I don’t think the book really addresses moral issues in any substanitive way.
    They don’t, I agree. And yet they are often claimed to.
    Bad guys are bad and good guys are good in these books, as you say, regardless of actual behaviors. A work of fiction that was seriously dealing with the nature of right and wrong would explore the relationships between action, intent and circumstances in terms of the characters and their beliefs. 

    Right.
    The only other thing I wanted to return to is the issue of authors being responsible for clarifying their intensions. Twain is a bad example because as you said his intensions are almost always crystal clear even though he doesn’t beat you over the head with them.
    Right. And as I said, it’s somewhat unfair to compare almost any author to Twain as he’s one of the true giants of all-time. But then I wasn’t the first to bring him up.
    The other end of the spectrum is for example Nabokov’s Lolita where many trees have been killed trying to really discern whether Humbert was villian or victim, or whether Humbert’s version of events should be trusted. Or Joyce’s Ulysses where it isn’t clear any critic has a complete grasp on the book. Both are considered great novels precisely because of the ambiguities they embrace. Again, not claiming Rowling is in that class, just saying ambiguity can be an element in good literature.
    Indeed it can. But I suspect only when the author chooses that route deliberately, rather than the work being confusing and muddled because the author simply didn’t bother to think things through.
    I have long suspected that much of the praise heaped upon these books come from people who’ve either read very little KidLit or very little fantasy/sci-fi (sometimes lumped together under the heading of Speculative Fiction, which also encompasses the related genre of Alternate History). Were these folks to read a truly outstanding writer of KidLit like Philip Pullman (with whom I disagree vehemently when it comes to philosophy, incidentally, but when it comes to sheer chops as a writer, he’s fantastic), or a great sci-fi and fantasy writer like (the sometimes-uneven) Orson Scott Card (try Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus or Ender’s Game—but don’t read the Ender sequels), or just about anything by the impossibly brilliant Alan Moore, I am quite confident they’d still enjoy the Harry Potter books tremendously…but Rowling’s serious limitations as a writer would be as glaring to them as they are to folks who traffic in this stuff more often.

  25. Lissa says:

    A perfect example of Hermione as the conscience! I also love how even though she comes off as an ‘unbearable prig’, in the not too distant future of Book 1 she becomes a beloved and cherished character. (Oh, and JKR has Ron and Harry chase off to rescue Hermione even though, at the time, they can’t stand her. Why? They’re concerned about her safety. Dumb, evil kid. He’s going to turn to the dark side, I just know it!)
    But what we see over the course of the series is the degradation of Hermione’s conscience. Steve mentions this up at the top of the comments thread: her slide into situational ethics. And actually, the rescue scene you mention is both the turning point in the Harry-Ron/Hermione relationship AND the moment at which Hermione first compromises her integrity. You’re talking about when Harry & Ron go to save her from the troll, right? As you say, they do a noble thing in endangering themselves to rescue her. McGonigall discovers them afterward and there’s no reason they couldn’t just tell her what really happened–they really did have a good reason for doing what they did. But instead Hermione tells an outright lie. She says SHE was trying to defeat the troll and H & R knew she’d be in danger, so they went to save her. If you read the scene, you see there’s no reason she needed a cover story to protect the boys. It’s a gratuitous lie, but from that moment on, Harry and Ron are her friends. She’s no longer a prig–she can fib with the best of them, and lying to authority figures makes you cool.
    Dumb, evil kid. He’s going to turn to the dark side, I just know it!)
    LOL, you know I’m a big fan of sarcasm (would have to be, having married the man I did), but to address the grain of seriousness inside the snark, that’s not what we’re arguing. I mean, someone up there in the comments did pose the very interesting question “what if Harry is the Anakin Skywalker of this series,” and I think that could be a cool discussion. But just to be really really clear here, if you think Scott or I are suggesting that Harry’s ethically questionable actions are an indicator that he’ll turn out evil, you’re misunderstanding. Our point (and not ours alone–I’m surprised we’re the first people you’ve heard raise this issue, because it’s been much discussed) is that since Harry IS such a good guy, a hero, a kids’ role model, his ends-justify-the-means approach to life is kind of a surprising characterization. As Scott has pointed out, it really makes him an anti-hero (an established literary identity), and that’s very unusual to see in a series aimed at children–and the fact that many otherwise bright people seem not to notice the moral relativism at play in these books suggests that moral relativism (or situational ethics) has become something of a cultural norm. Which is disturbing, don’t you think?
    Here’s what I wrote: “I’m not saying I’d want one of my boys to be a rule breaker just for rule breaking’s sake, but if it means blindly following rules vs. helping someone in need, then I’m all for the latter.”
    I stand by that. Among the many things I want for my kids, it’s for them to be compassionate, and to think for themselves. Question authority, etc., and not just act like a couple of lemmings.

    Yup, I agree. But if in regard to this scene, you’re saying Harry acted heroically by springing to Neville’s defense, I think you’re reading a great deal into the text. Which is certainly your right. But I’m still thinking that if your kid jumped in his car on the first day of driver’s ed to chase down a bully, you’d not be totally pleased with that choice. If he did it to save someone’s life, maybe, or prevent a rape. But to get back a gadget that the bully would have been forced to give back anyway, as soon as the teachers showed up? You’d really have no problem with your kid gunning his engine–don’t forget this is his first time ever behind the wheel–and tearing off down the winding road after the bully’s car?
    And if you WERE okay with that, would you then consider it appropriate for a teacher to give your kid (or any kid, let’s say it was a poor orphan lad who screeched off after the bully) a fancy sports car afterward? And NOT as a reward–but because she’s psyched to finally have a good racecar driver to put on her team.
    What I think is that Rowling is so good at presenting likable, sympathetic characters, people just plain don’t notice the wobbly ethics.
    At any rate, I prefer to judge the books as a whole. We’re only discussing one of the first scenes of the first book.
    Yup, we have certainly parsed this scene to death. It’s just one of many, many like examples in the series. But it cracks me up that even with the enough-already scrutiny, line by line even!, anyone is still arguing that Harry’s actions in that instance were completely noble or McGonigall’s actions ethical. Rowling didn’t WRITE the scene that way–she described Harry’s anger and hatred with relish, and she used McG’s trophy greed to great comic effect. Comes right back to Scott’s original point, the point that seems to be such a hot button for other HP fans (because he IS a fan, as he’s made abundantly clear): these books are entertaining stories but Harry’s no role model, and there’s a pervasive moral relativism in them that unfortunately seems perfectly normal and acceptable to a vast number of readers, including adults.
    Fish, re I won’t argue against the notion that these books are bad examples of morality (even though I still don’t have a particular issue with the scene being discussed here), mostly because I don’t think the book really addresses moral issues in any substanitive way. Bad guys are bad and good guys are good in these books, as you say, regardless of actual behaviors.
    Yup, exactly.

  26. scott says:

    Re: obtuse. Truly, I had no idea you guys would take so much offense to what I thought was a charming quote (one of my faves, actually). Margaret KNOWS Tibby isn’t obtuse (he’s about to head off to Oxford, or Cambridge, or one of those ‘cap and gown’ universities), and her ‘Are you doing it on purpose?’ turns it into a good-natured chuffing.
    ?

    1 chuff (chŭf)
    n.
    A rude, insensitive person; a boor.
    [Middle English chuffe.]

    2 chuff (chŭf)
    intr.v., chuffed, chuf·fing, chuffs.
    To produce or move with noisy puffing or explosive sounds: “Switch engines chuffed impatiently in busy rail yards” (Robert Paul Jordan).
    n.
    A noisy puffing or explosive sound, such as one made by a locomotive.

    Still, in retrospect I see that it was clearly too nuanced of a reference, and I should have made my point clearer.
    Ha! Zing! And two with one shot! Well played indeed! Yes, that was the problem was that insult. It was too nuanced. Much like a Bludger is subtle. 🙂
    I apologize, and I would like to go on record that Scott is a very smart fellow indeed.
    And as proof of that, I present into evidence the fact that I managed to trick Top Management into marrying me. Heh heh. My finest hour.
    As for this one Harry Potter instance, I focused on it because that’s what the other posts were zeroing in on. I have read the books several times, although sadly I am traveling now and do not have them at my disposal. But, my overall impression of Harry Potter has been exactly the opposite of yours and Scott’s. In fact, you are the first people I’ve ever heard refer to Harry as morally suspect.
    Which is the problem. Then again, Shakespeare was considered a common hack in his day, Bach impossibly old-fashioned and Robert Johnson a dime-a-dozen player of a disreputable music. Sometimes it takes a while until the obvious becomes obvious.
    But it’s odd, because this is actually a not-terribly-uncommon question in many circles, although I didn’t realize that when I began posting on the topic. But by now it’s not exactly rare, although it’s obviously almost unheard-of in the mainstream media or amongst the hardcore fans.
    Perhaps I don’t get around enough. At any rate, I prefer to judge the books as a whole.
    Agreed.

    Hermione is disgusted at this turn of events. “I suppose you think that’s a reward for breaking the rules,” she says angrily. Harry’s response? “I thought you weren’t speaking to us.” “Yes,” adds Ron. “Don’t stop now. It’s doing us so much good.”
    Pretty cold, considering they’re all only just getting to know each other. This isn’t after years of bonding. What the reader gets is a sense that the only person who is troubled by the moral issues here is an unbearable prig.

    A perfect example of Hermione as the conscience! I also love how even though she comes off as an ‘unbearable prig’, in the not too distant future of Book 1 she becomes a beloved and cherished character.
    Yes! Excellent point to bring up. And how exactly does that happen, anyway? I mean, it’s really quite the turnaround. Huh. What could have precipitated such a reversal?
    You’re traveling right now, so you probably don’t have the evidence handy. Fortunately for you, I’ve read the first book three or four times myself, along with all the others, so I can help. (And, besides, I’ve already pointed this exact thing out before, so most of the work was already done for me, by me, in fact, or at least an earlier me–ooh, time-travel!) You’re welcome. Dayamn but I’m nice.
    Here’s the answer:
    It happens when Ron and Harry go to save Hermione from the troll. Remember that? Hermione’s all upset, so she goes off to the bathroom to cry. Then all the kids get evacuated from the dining hall because it’s discovered that there’s a rampaging troll. Ron and Harry realize, however, that the troll is where Hermione is and as all the teachers are occupied elsewhere and can’t help her, they go to save Hermione themselves.
    All’s good so far, right? No one’s done anything wrong and, in fact, Harry and Ron have acted absolutely unambiguously as heroes. In fact, to make sure that point is crystal-clear, let’s repeat that again for emphasis: Harry and Ron have acted absolutely unambiguously as heroes. Then the three youngsters courageously team up to do the impossible and defeat a full-grown troll, a task which, it’s made clear, is truly amazing. Rock on, my young friends! Rock on.
    But wait! Professor McGonagall enters at that exact moment and immediately freaks out, realizing they could have been killed—in fact, that was the almost certain outcome. But no sweat, right? I mean, all they need to do is explain what happened. Not only did none of the three do a single thing wrong, they all acted in a most exemplary way. So they’ll just explain that to her. Right?
    Not a chance. Not in a Harry Potter book.
    No, what happens instead is that Hermione lies. For absolutely no reason.
    Once again, let’s repeat that for emphasis: Hermione lies for absolutely no reason.
    The truth would have set them free quite nicely. But no. Instead good-little-girl, by-the-book Hermione lies and says she went to take on the troll by herself, and Harry and Ron, knowing that must be what she’d done, had to come and save her bacon. Hermione is reprimanded, and Harry and Ron grudgingly praised and warned never to do it again. And ever after that, she’s in like Flynn with the boys. Because she too is now one of those kids who lies to a teacher. For no reason. She gives the finger to The Man, so she can now be part of The Club.
    You see, lying in the world of Harry Potter is not a bad thing. Ever. It’s just what you do. Whether you’re Harry or Hermione or Draco or Voldemort. Fortunately, we can always tell the Good Guys from the Bad: the bad ones live in Slytherin (or once did). Whew! That was easy. I thought I’d have to judge folks on, you know, their behavior. Much easier to judge by zip code.
    So I don’t know about you but in our house we think lying’s a bad thing. It’s sometimes–sometimes—an acceptable thing. When you’re hiding someone in your attic and the Nazis come to the door, for instance. That’s a really, really good reason to lie–in fact, in that case, it’s an imperative. But just to be cool? Yeah, not so much. We’re old-fashioned that way. Why, we even think cheating on taxes is a bad thing! Can you imagine? And yet there ‘tis.

    And Nancy, I just don’t buy that these very same events wouldn’t bother you if they occurred in real life, especially involving your children.

    

Here’s what I wrote: “I’m not saying I’d want one of my boys to be a rule breaker just for rule breaking’s sake, but if it means blindly following rules vs. helping someone in need, then I’m all for the latter.”
    I stand by that. Among the many things I want for my kids, it’s for them to be compassionate

    Yes, Harry and Ron were acting with a notable lack of compassion towards Hermione (pre-lying, that is) and continue to for several books whenever she annoys them by pointing out that they should really be doing their homework or whatever. They’re compassionate towards Neville and Hagrid and other outcasts, but whenever their best female friend annoys them by reminding them of the responsibilities they’re shirking, they have little compunction about making that obvious.
    and to think for themselves.
    But that’s the point of the flying scene: as has been proved conclusively by quoting the actual text, Harry wasn’t thinking, he was simply acting. Out of anger. And in the bathroom scene, Hermione wasn’t thinking either, or else she was thinking, in which case her decision to lie was premeditated, and she did something she knew was wrong simply for social gain. Not really so noble, is that? In fact, that’s exactly the kind of kid I very much hope my own children don’t want to hang around, much less grow up to be like.
    Question authority, etc., and not just act like a couple of lemmings.
    Ha! So those are the only choices? Either lie, cheat and steal or act like lemmings? Wow! Talk about having a view of the world that’s black and white! Jeez, that’s about the most un-nuanced thing I’ve read in a long, long time. I’ve been the recipient of obscene phone calls that were more subtle. But that’s a story for another time.
    As for lemmings, if Hermione did indeed think for herself in the bathroom and she decided to lie anyway, she took the rather unusual step of actually choosing to act like a lemming. Sorta the worst of all worlds. Impressive, really, in a twisted way.

    I always thought of you as having a very strong sense of ethics, back in the day.

    Thanks! I still do.
    You just prefer your fictional characters not to. 🙂

  27. scott says:

    Damn! I spend an hour writing a response and Top Management gets her (far superior) post out first. I can’t win.
    Oh, wait. She’s mine.
    I win!

  28. Lissa says:

    Then I guess that makes it a win-win situation here, honey. 🙂
    Thought of something else I wanted to say about the whole broom scene. I’m not saying Rowling *shouldn’t* have had it play out the way it did. Conflict makes story, and if Harry DOES calmly and rationally think “Oh, I’ll just ignore Draco and he’ll get bored and give back the Remembrall,” well, that’s going to make for a boring read. Harry acts impulsively, spurred by emotion, and that’s where the good storytelling comes in. Fiction is always more fun when the heroes make mistakes or go off half-cocked.
    What I find troubling about this particular and many other episodes is that the consequences of the hero’s impulsive actions aren’t informed by basic ethics. One gets no sense that anyone in Harry’s world has any notion of natural law. Tell me a ripping good story, by all means, but let there be some sense of basic decency. (Unless the point of story is the FAILING of basic decency, which is NOT the point of HP–Rowling seems always to be saying that the “decent” folks will prevail in the end against all odds, but her decent folks don’t hold themselves to a standard of behavior different from the bad guys. We must simply understand that their hearts are in the right place, so it doesn’t matter what they do.)
    The whole broomstick scene could have been easily tweaked to solve the moral problems. I just don’t get any sense that the author noticed they were there.

  29. Nancy says:

    See? I told you in my very first post that we wouldn’t change each other’s minds. Nice to have spent the time debating the topic with you just to come back to that, though.
    From Lissa:
    >>But I’m still thinking that if your kid jumped in his car on the first day of driver’s ed to chase down a bully, you’d not be totally pleased with that choice. If he did it to save someone’s life, maybe, or prevent a rape. But to get back a gadget that the bully would have been forced to give back anyway, as soon as the teachers showed up? You’d really have no problem with your kid gunning his engine–don’t forget this is his first time ever behind the wheel–and tearing off down the winding road after the bully’s car?
    >>And if you WERE okay with that, would you then consider it appropriate for a teacher to give your kid (or any kid, let’s say it was a poor orphan lad who screeched off after the bully) a fancy sports car afterward? And NOT as a reward–but because she’s psyched to finally have a good racecar driver to put on her team.
    Your schools have racecar teams? How much are your taxes?? And no, I wouldn’t be okay with that. I was thinking more along the lines of: the people who hid Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, the folks involved with the Underground Railroad, Boston Tea Party, Continental Congress, WWII French Underground. Ghandi. This is what I mean by ‘breaking the rules to help others.’
    Of course on the flip side, let’s examine some of the rule followers who did nothing while others suffered (harder b/c history is usually written by the victors): anyone who ever wore a Nazi uniform, those involved in assisting the McCarthy hearings, everyone who upheld the entire concept of Apartheid, and on a personal level: my husband’s grandmother’s neighbors, who turned her in not once, but TWICE after she escaped one of Stalin’s gulags in Siberia. Yes, they were the rule followers.
    However, I wasn’t trying to draw an analogy between this scene specifically and how it would literally pertain to my kid. But, if the concept isn’t introduced to kids when they’re young (say, when they read Book 1 of HP at age 11 which is the intended audience), how will they ever rise to the occasion should they face the Big Challenge one day?
    From Scott:
    >>Then again, Shakespeare was considered a common hack in his day, Bach impossibly old-fashioned and Robert Johnson a dime-a-dozen player of a disreputable music. Sometimes it takes a while until the obvious becomes obvious.
    So history does determine greatness? Glad to see you agree with me on SOMETHING (this refers to a couple of e-mail discussions Scott and I have had…)
    >>The truth would have set them free quite nicely. But no. Instead good-little-girl, by-the-book Hermione lies and says she went to take on the troll by herself, and Harry and Ron, knowing that must be what she’d done, had to come and save her bacon. Hermione is reprimanded, and Harry and Ron grudgingly praised and warned never to do it again. And ever after that, she’s in like Flynn with the boys. Because she too is now one of those kids who lies to a teacher. For no reason. She gives the finger to The Man, so she can now be part of The Club.
    When you were 11, did you never tell a lie? Have you never lied? Sure, maybe Hermione lied for “no reason”, but since when does an 11 year old’s synapses fire on cue all the time? Especially when she’s still freaked out over having escaped a dangerous situation? Yes, there are extraordinary kids out there, I know. But few kids are that perfect, especially when they’re trying to make their way in a new environment filled with new people, even if they have the perfect parents to guide them. They’re human.
    But, let’s stop for a moment so I can try on your perspective: the Harry Potter series sends moral mixed-messages. Isn’t it great then, that kids and parents alike enjoy these books? Think of all the kids who are reading instead of playing video games. Think of the dinner conversations! When an example of compromised morality presents itself, isn’t it better to have the parents around to explain, and talk it over with their kids? I refer you to my ‘facing the Big Challenge’ paragraph earlier.
    >>Fortunately, we can always tell the Good Guys from the Bad: the bad ones live in Slytherin (or once did). Whew! That was easy. I thought I’d have to judge folks on, you know, their behavior. Much easier to judge by zip code.
    I see your point about the early books, but not about the later ones. By the end of Book 3, Harry realizes that Sirius was framed, and is really his friend. He watches Lupin suffer even though he’s a marvelous teacher, because he’s a werewolf and folks are afraid and/or prejudiced. By Book 4, he starts to see how authority figures aren’t always honorable when Madame Maxime and Karkaroff give their champions an unfair advantage (of course, Snape is always the authority figure we love to hate). Book 5, he learns that his beloved father was really a jerk to Snape, and he empathizes with the teacher he’s hated for years. AND, he sees that one of the suspect teachers from the previous year (Maxime) is actually trying to help defeat Voldemort! Book 6, we meet Slughorn, who’s from Slytherin (zip codes no longer helpful here), and he’s working for the Order of the Phoenix. And by the end of that book, he trusts Dumbledore (his authority figure) so much that he obeys him and feeds him the disgusting potion as he was ordered. Even though he doesn’t want to. HP at age 11 would have surely given up.
    What I like about these books is that no one is perfect. They’re all flawed. I even felt sorry for Draco in Book 6, because he’s just a kid and is thrown into a horrible, no win situation, and nasty as he can be, he’s JUST A KID!
    >>So I don’t know about you but in our house we think lying’s a bad thing. It’s sometimes–sometimes—an acceptable thing. When you’re hiding someone in your attic and the Nazis come to the door, for instance. That’s a really, really good reason to lie–in fact, in that case, it’s an imperative. But just to be cool? Yeah, not so much. We’re old-fashioned that way. Why, we even think cheating on taxes is a bad thing! Can you imagine? And yet there ‘tis.
    Say it ain’t so! And here I was thinking you were perfect… BTW, glad to see we agree on the Anne Frank thing.
    >>Question authority, etc., and not just act like a couple of lemmings.
    >>Ha! So those are the only choices? Either lie, cheat and steal or act like lemmings? Wow! Talk about having a view of the world that’s black and white! Jeez, that’s about the most un-nuanced thing I’ve read in a long, long time.
    No, Scott, those aren’t the only choices. But, if I were to detail every possible choice imaginable, we’d be here a very long time. Obtuse, anyone?
    From Lissa:
    >>(Unless the point of story is the FAILING of basic decency, which is NOT the point of HP–Rowling seems always to be saying that the “decent” folks will prevail in the end against all odds, but her decent folks don’t hold themselves to a standard of behavior different from the bad guys. We must simply understand that their hearts are in the right place, so it doesn’t matter what they do.)
    Actually Lissa, I think that is the point of the story, sort of (there are only, what 36 unique plots anyway, right?). LV reigns, but is reduced by a Mother’s Love in protecting her child. But is he really gone? No. He still resurfaces 11 years later to wreak havoc once again. The Order of the Phoenix rises again, and Harry Potter is the only one who can “save the world”. But can he? (Here comes the ‘sort of’ part…) JKR has said that she wants her audience (kids) to realize that the world is harsh, and people do die unjustly. We won’t find out until Book 7 for sure. (I feel like I just described an upcoming soap opera episode.)
    So perhaps we’re not that far apart. Good thing too, because it’s clearly not a good idea to disagree with the Peterson Truth. Let’s see, since my first post it’s been insinuated that I’m an anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, a homophobe, a bad parent, and an all around idiot. None of which is true (feel I must type the obvious lest I be misconstrued AGAIN). SO glad we reconnected!
    At any rate, I’ve said my peace. I’m sure one or both of you will want to respond, and you are welcome to The Last Word.
    Adios!

  30. Steve the LLamabutcher says:

    Sorry, Nancy, I get the last words on this thread:
    Defenestrate. Extemporaneous. Ziplock. Mole people. Spring-locked. Spongiform. Chewy. Expunge. Cucumber.

  31. Lissa says:

    Whoa, Nancy, hold the phone! (And Steve, sorry to hijack your last word, but then I’m hoping mine is not the last word either.)
    (And yet: cucumber. Excellent last word to be had.)
    So perhaps we’re not that far apart. Good thing too, because it’s clearly not a good idea to disagree with the Peterson Truth. Let’s see, since my first post it’s been insinuated that I’m an anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, a homophobe, a bad parent, and an all around idiot. None of which is true (feel I must type the obvious lest I be misconstrued AGAIN). SO glad we reconnected!
    Okay, I can see we’ve offended you but I’m genuinely confused. I thought this was a spirited debate, and you certainly came in pulling no punches. 🙂 I thought that was a style of discourse you embraced and were enthusiastically pursuing here.
    No one has insinuated you were any of the above awful things. Just to be clear. You used examples yourself (you were the first to compare rule-followers to Nazis, for example) but examples (even offered sarcastically, which you and Scott both seem to enjoy doing) do not equal ad hominem attacks.
    Now, you yourself launched right into ad hominem statements, albeit with good humor. “Are you being obtuse on purpose?” even meant humorously/ironically still packs a punch. LOL. And I see you’re not backing off the statement. (“Obtuse, anyone?” you ask.)
    I have no problem with people who disagree with me. That’s what comments debates are for! There’s certainly no such thing as the Peterson Truth–we disagree as much as we agree.
    Scott put forth an argument, you put forth a counterargument, I countered that, etc. You came into it certain no one could change your mind, which: fine. But what’s the point of discourse if not to exchange ideas? I really don’t understand what went awry here.
    And no, I wouldn’t be okay with that. I was thinking more along the lines of: the people who hid Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, the folks involved with the Underground Railroad, Boston Tea Party, Continental Congress, WWII French Underground. Ghandi. This is what I mean by ‘breaking the rules to help others.’
    Right, and my point was that I didn’t think that particular scene was an example of the above. All that big long discussion about that one silly scene was about precisely that point.
    When you were 11, did you never tell a lie? Have you never lied? Sure, maybe Hermione lied for “no reason”, but since when does an 11 year old’s synapses fire on cue all the time? Especially when she’s still freaked out over having escaped a dangerous situation? Yes, there are extraordinary kids out there, I know. But few kids are that perfect, especially when they’re trying to make their way in a new environment filled with new people, even if they have the perfect parents to guide them. They’re human.
    But, let’s stop for a moment so I can try on your perspective: the Harry Potter series sends moral mixed-messages. Isn’t it great then, that kids and parents alike enjoy these books? Think of all the kids who are reading instead of playing video games. Think of the dinner conversations! When an example of compromised morality presents itself, isn’t it better to have the parents around to explain, and talk it over with their kids? I refer you to my ‘facing the Big Challenge’ paragraph earlier.

    I *love* books that have realistic characters, kids that screw up and make bad choices. I think I already wrote here about how I’m not looking for perfect role models–only making the point (to death) that HP & Co are not the perfect role models they are often lauded as.
    To be honest, Nancy, it seems sort of like you’re having a different argument than the one we’ve been discussing here. I’m not saying, and haven’t ever said, the characters should never make mistakes. I’m saying, when they do, let’s call them mistakes.
    About am I happy parents & kids are reading the books together and talking these issues over? YES, yes!!! Which is why I’ve said (& Scott too) umpteen times how fun they are, what a ripping good storyteller Rowling is, etc. YES these are great conversations to be having, and important ones to make sure you DO have w/ your kids. (Generic you, not implying that you don’t.) We really do agree on a lot here, you know.
    My question with the racecar analogy was whether you as a parent would have a problem w/ the kid’s or teacher’s behavior in that instance. And you agreed you would but wanted to focus on the larger rule-breaking issue. I think you’re more interested in the larger questions than the nitpicky ones, which is perfectly valid. But what I’d been responding to were your statements regarding that specific scene, so that’s where I was coming from.
    I in no way meant to imply I think you’re a bad parent. Actually I thought I was implying the opposite, saying ‘in this instance I don’t think you, as a good parent, would be pleased.’
    So I’m mulling over your last response wondering where things went awry, and whether you maybe weren’t as much into lively debate as I took you to be from your guns-ablazing posts.
    Oy.

  32. scott says:

    See? I told you in my very first post that we wouldn’t change each other’s minds. Nice to have spent the time debating the topic with you just to come back to that, though.
    Well, I’m at least very grateful you stopped by, as you gave me several things to think about, and reminded me of one vital point I’d forgotten. So thank you for that.
    Of course on the flip side, let’s examine some of the rule followers who did nothing while others suffered (harder b/c history is usually written by the victors): anyone who ever wore a Nazi uniform, those involved in assisting the McCarthy hearings, everyone who upheld the entire concept of Apartheid, and on a personal level: my husband’s grandmother’s neighbors, who turned her in not once, but TWICE after she escaped one of Stalin’s gulags in Siberia. Yes, they were the rule followers.
    So were kids who did their homework on time. I wasn’t one of them. I’m a hero!
    I assume, then, that whenever your underlings or co-workers or children follow the rules you feel derision towards them? “Dammit! Who keeps flushing the toilet after they pee?!”
    But, let’s stop for a moment so I can try on your perspective: the Harry Potter series sends moral mixed-messages. Isn’t it great then, that kids and parents alike enjoy these books? Think of all the kids who are reading instead of playing video games. Think of the dinner conversations! When an example of compromised morality presents itself, isn’t it better to have the parents around to explain, and talk it over with their kids?
    Yes, and I’ve known several families who’ve done just that. In my own personal experience, however, I’ve run across at least twice as many families who haven’t, because the parents never read the books. They never felt the need to, because these books are such shining examples of morality. Or that’s how they’re presented in our society. Which has been one of my two main points all along.
    What I like about these books is that no one is perfect. They’re all flawed. I even felt sorry for Draco in Book 6, because he’s just a kid and is thrown into a horrible, no win situation, and nasty as he can be, he’s JUST A KID!
    Yes, one of Rowling’s best feats. Couldn’t agree more.
    Obtuse, anyone?
    So I guess that very first slam wasn’t such the mistake after all. 🙂
    So perhaps we’re not that far apart. Good thing too, because it’s clearly not a good idea to disagree with the Peterson Truth.
    There is only one Peterson Truth of which I’m aware and I’ve never posted it online.
    Let’s see, since my first post it’s been insinuated that I’m an anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, a homophobe, a bad parent, and an all around idiot.
    Wha-!? Wow! I’m so sorry you feel that way. You’re completely mistaken. No such thing has been insinuated—you’re inferring that which was never even remotely implied. But I’m very, very sorry that anything I or anyone else said on here could give you that impression.
    SO glad we reconnected!
    As am I. I just can’t believe you lurked for a year before joining the fray! How on earth did you ever manage to resist?

  33. scott says:

    you are welcome to The Last Word.
    Sorry, Nancy, I get the last words on this thread:
    Defenestrate. Extemporaneous. Ziplock. Mole people.

    “Mole people” is two words! I call foul!

  34. Nancy says:

    LOL! Steve, you have Dumbledore’s soul!

  35. Nancy says:

    From Lissa:
    >>Whoa, Nancy, hold the phone! (And Steve, sorry to hijack your last word, but then I’m hoping mine is not the last word either.)
    I’m taking this as an open invite to keep responding (otherwise, you know me. I’m just stubborn enough to go away and leave a bad vibe out there, especially since I threw out the ‘You have the last word’ proclamation. Anyhoo…)
    >>No one has insinuated you were any of the above awful things. Just to be clear. You used examples yourself (you were the first to compare rule-followers to Nazis, for example) but examples (even offered sarcastically, which you and Scott both seem to enjoy doing) do not equal ad hominem attacks.
    The example I used in my first post essentially said that one of the reasons the Holocaust happened was because no one stood up for the persecuted (a la the “geeky kid” getting picked on). Scott responded to that comment with “The Jews, Catholics, Gypsies and homosexuals were geeks?” Etc. And that’s not what I said. Them’s fightin’ words, IMO. But, I couldn’t respond right away, and against my better judgment when I could respond, I didn’t respond to THAT. Big mistake on my part, for it festered. That, coupled with the (and I’m paraphrasing now) “I don’t know about you, but in our house lying is a bad thing…” HELLO! Lying is a bad thing! Usually. But, I don’t believe that these issues are all black and white, which is what has been produced as an explanation about HP and JKR from Left of the Dial.
    >>I in no way meant to imply I think you’re a bad parent. Actually I thought I was implying the opposite, saying ‘in this instance I don’t think you, as a good parent, would be pleased.’
    Thanks, I appreciate the clarification! 🙂
    >>So I’m mulling over your last response wondering where things went awry, and whether you maybe weren’t as much into lively debate as I took you to be from your guns-ablazing posts.
    I am definitely into lively debate. I don’t consider my posts to be ‘guns-ablazing’, but then I suppose that needs to be reserved for the recipient to decide. I did warn Scott I could be blunt.
    Now for Scott’s comments:
    >>Of course on the flip side, let’s examine some of the rule followers who did nothing while others suffered (harder b/c history is usually written by the victors): anyone who ever wore a Nazi uniform, those involved in assisting the McCarthy hearings, everyone who upheld the entire concept of Apartheid, and on a personal level: my husband’s grandmother’s neighbors, who turned her in not once, but TWICE after she escaped one of Stalin’s gulags in Siberia. Yes, they were the rule followers.
    >>So were kids who did their homework on time. I wasn’t one of them. I’m a hero!
    Um, okay. (Good example of black vs. white, although I’m assuming your intention is humorous and that you don’t really think that people who turn their neighbors in to Stalin are the same as kids who do their homework on time.)
    >>I assume, then, that whenever your underlings or co-workers or children follow the rules you feel derision towards them? “Dammit! Who keeps flushing the toilet after they pee?!”
    Sigh… more o’ the same.
    >>Yes, and I’ve known several families who’ve done just that. In my own personal experience, however, I’ve run across at least twice as many families who haven’t, because the parents never read the books. They never felt the need to, because these books are such shining examples of morality. Or that’s how they’re presented in our society. Which has been one of my two main points all along.
    And back to the topic that brought me here!
    I’ve never thought of the HP books as shining examples of immorality either. They’re just great stories, and I can’t wait for my kids to be old enough to enjoy them.
    >>Let’s see, since my first post it’s been insinuated that I’m an anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, a homophobe, a bad parent, and an all around idiot.
    >>Wha-!? Wow! I’m so sorry you feel that way. You’re completely mistaken. No such thing has been insinuated-you’re inferring that which was never even remotely implied. But I’m very, very sorry that anything I or anyone else said on here could give you that impression.
    Okay, so I’m mistaken. But if I’m mistaken, then we have to agree that my posts haven’t been ‘guns ablazing’ because that’s not how I intended them, either.
    >>SO glad we reconnected!
    >>As am I. I just can’t believe you lurked for a year before joining the fray! How on earth did you ever manage to resist?
    And, I AM glad that we reconnected too!
    From Lissa:
    >>Oy!
    Shalom! 🙂
    p.s. How do you get your references to italicize? I’m jealous!

  36. scott says:

    I’m taking this as an open invite to keep responding
    But of course. There’s always an open invitation to respond. That’s why the comments are open.
    The example I used in my first post essentially said that one of the reasons the Holocaust happened was because no one stood up for the persecuted (a la the “geeky kid” getting picked on). Scott responded to that comment with “The Jews, Catholics, Gypsies and homosexuals were geeks?” Etc. And that’s not what I said.
    I thought that was exactly what your analogy was.
    Here it is again:
    Now, I can’t condone just ‘standing around’ while the geeky kid gets picked on (isn’t that one of the reasons why the Holocaust happened?).
    I’m looking at it and I don’t quite see how it’s not what it is. I understand that it’s not what you meant. [And maybe Rowling MEANT to write something about Harry thinking of poor Neville when he challenged Malfoy—but she didn’t actually write it.]
    So, no, of course I didn’t really think you meant they were geeks. Just that you were calling them that. But if I’d really thought you meant it, I wouldn’t have replied with (what was supposed to be) a humorous response. I would have come at you with both barrels. I didn’t because I was entirely confident that’s not what you meant. And I was right. And for once, we can both agree on something whole-heartedly.
    HELLO!
    Hiya.
    Lying is a bad thing! Usually.
    Nancy, it really seems to me you keep trying to have it both ways. You say “of course lying’s a bad thing,” which is exactly what I’ve been saying. And then you add “USUALLY.” Which is also exactly what I’ve been saying.
    There are, of course, exceptions. The really obvious one that gets bandied about—by me, in fact, amongst others in this very discussion—is Anne Frank. Another one, literary again but this time fictional, is Huck Finn.
    So. It seems we agree on the Big Picture, at least theoretically, at least in this case. Now let’s focus on the details.
    This’ll bring us back to an already visited topic, but for clarity’s sake, let me pose the question straight out: do you equate Hermione lying in the bathroom for absolutely no reason to hiding a child from the Nazis? Or with helping a runaway slave to freedom? Are those equivalent to Hermione lying to a teacher for no reason other than to become Part of the Crowd? Or was Hermione simply wrong for lying in that situation?
    But, I don’t believe that these issues are all black and white, which is what has been produced as an explanation about HP and JKR from Left of the Dial.
    No, no, no and no. By whom? Where? Can you give me an example? Hand me that thar ocular proof, por favor.
    Completely and totally to the contrary, as I’ve said roughly seventeen trillion times, my point yet again is that the world of Harry Potter is written by Rowling in shades of gray. But it is viewed in our society as being one of black and white. It is that perplexing juxtaposition I’ve been writing about for over a year now. If one were to plant one’s tongue firmly in cheek, one might say that mayhap that point is just a hair too subtle for the more obtuse amongst Left of the Dial’s normally quite astute readers. One might make this observation secure in the knowledge that Left of the Dial readers now know that to be called obtuse is not, in fact, an insult but is in actuality a loving gibe.
    But back to the topic at hand.
    These books are rarely if ever discussed in our society as being fascinating examples of questionable morality, wonderful novels with which you and your kids can grapple. They’re viewed merely as sublime examples of Good versus Evil. With not the slightest hint of gray to be found.
    I agree these books aren’t black and white. I’ve said that all along. I keep pointing out that Harry, the hero, doesn’t always act like a hero. And I keep giving examples of less than shining behavior. And yet some keep explaining that even though he and his fellow heroes do things like lie and cheat and steal for no good reason, that he and they are always and forever heroes anyway because, well, because the other guys are really, really bad. I’m not the one who’s trying to cram it all into a black and white framework. Just the opposite.
    Um, okay. (Good example of black vs. white, although I’m assuming your intention is humorous and that you don’t really think that people who turn their neighbors in to Stalin are the same as kids who do their homework on time.)
    You are correct. Just like I don’t think that getting pissed at the school bully and disobeying a teacher in a rush of anger is the same as helping a runaway slave to freedom.
    Sigh… more o’ the same.
    I’m used to it by now. It took me a while to get back in the groove after a very long hiatus but I think I’ve got it again.
    I’ve never thought of the HP books as shining examples of immorality either.
    I’m not sure anyone has every thought of them that way, other than those who automatically object to any story with witchcraft. Well, it’s a big ol’ world. I’m sure there’s someone. But I’ve never heard of any such person. Certainly I don’t think of them that way. Machiavellian? You bet.
    They’re just great stories
    That they are. Not always all that well written. But very, very fun stories.
    and I can’t wait for my kids to be old enough to enjoy them.
    It’s a very fun thing to be able to share these with a kid. Especially a kid who laughs hysterically at the funny parts, cuddles up next to you during the scary parts, begs for more at the end of a chapter with a cliffhanger, and doesn’t understand why Harry gets rewarded for breaking the rules or why Hermione lies for absolutely no reason. I think maybe one reason is because I waited to read them with her (not simply give them to her) until she was old enough to understand that just because the cowboy’s got the white hat on doesn’t automatically make him a hero (nor does it automatically make him not) and that the hero doesn’t get to act however he likes just because he’s the hero and get a free pass.
    p.s. How do you get your references to italicize? I’m jealous!
    Put a Lesser Than symbol and then an “I” and then a Greater Than symbol at the beginning of whatever you want to italicize. At the end of whatever you want to italicize, put a Lesser Than symbol and then a Slash (the one under the question mark on the keyboard) and then an “I” and then a Greater Than symbol.
    It’s all confusing spelled out like that, but it’s really simple once you see it—the problem is, I can’t just do it, because then it’ll disappear and turns my words into italics.
    So you do one of these:
    before whatever you want to italicize. There shouldn’t be any spaces between the marks.
    At the end of whatever you want to italicize, you do one of these:
    And that oughta do it. You can hit “preview” before you post your response to see if the formatting worked out the way you wanted.

  37. Lissa says:

    Nancy wrote: The example I used in my first post essentially said that one of the reasons the Holocaust happened was because no one stood up for the persecuted (a la the “geeky kid” getting picked on). Scott responded to that comment with “The Jews, Catholics, Gypsies and homosexuals were geeks?” Etc. And that’s not what I said.
    Scott wrote: I thought that was exactly what your analogy was.
    Here it is again:
    Now, I can’t condone just ‘standing around’ while the geeky kid gets picked on (isn’t that one of the reasons why the Holocaust happened?).
    I’m looking at it and I don’t quite see how it’s not what it is. I understand that it’s not what you meant. [And maybe Rowling MEANT to write something about Harry thinking of poor Neville when he challenged Malfoy—but she didn’t actually write it.]
    So, no, of course I didn’t really think you meant they were geeks. Just that you were calling them that. But if I’d really thought you meant it, I wouldn’t have replied with (what was supposed to be) a humorous response. I would have come at you with both barrels. I didn’t because I was entirely confident that’s not what you meant. And I was right. And for once, we can both agree on something whole-heartedly.

    This just seems like one of those cases where someone didn’t get one of Scott’s jokes. LOL. I think it took my own mother years to fully grasp his sense of humor. (Am I right, Mama?) 🙂 And HIS mother still takes his jokes as serious statements sometimes. (Am I right, Mom?)
    Nancy, just to offer my own two cents of clarification on this point–he didn’t mean you were calling those folks geeks. He was poking a stick at your analogy, in which sticking up for the geeky kid = sticking up for the persecuted = sticking up for Jews, Catholics, etc. He was making a joke about that seeming to imply that Jews, etc = geeks. Which, as he says above, no one thought you MEANT. Your point, that sticking up for the persecuted is vitally important, came through quite clearly, and I think everyone here is in agreement on that point. He was just teasing you about the way you expressed the point.
    I could be mistaken–since we’re on opposite coasts right now with a monster of a time difference between us and we haven’t had a chance to talk about this stuff in person–in fact, it strikes me as downright hilarious to be having this conversation on a blog, waking up in the mornings to find out what he said last night, etc–but I think his tongue-in-cheek tone here was an indication of his assumption that you enjoyed sarcastic banter, as evidenced by your introductory post.
    Looking those quotes over again, one could argue that you were suggesting HE was anti-Semitic (“one of the reasons the Holocaust happened was because no one stood up for the persecuted” in response to Scott’s criticism of the broom scene), but I don’t think anyone took it that way, including Scott. His response was addressing how the HP example wasn’t as black & white as a “standing by while someone is persecuted” scenario, but rather was a muddy shade of gray because of other circumstances coloring the scene.
    As for my saying “guns a-blazing”–what I meant by that was that when you first wrote, you didn’t bother with the usual sort of “hi, it’s me Nancy, how’ve you been the past fifteen years?” kind of reintroduction–you sort of picked up right where things left off, with spirited jabs. By “guns a-blazing” I meant “dispensing with formalities like small talk and diving right into blunt debate.” Which is fine! And funny! It was hard to tell if you were serious or not.
    But I think it’s one of those interesting things about blogs: you can read a blog for a long time and have a sense that you’re all caught up with the person, while (unless you make contact) the blog writer has no idea you’re there. The other day I was speaking on a panel about alternative education, and afterward a member of the audience–a very nice woman I’d never met before–came up to me and asked all sorts of friendly questions about the kids, the move, etc. It was so funny–we were both laughing over the bizarreness of it–that she knew all about us and felt like we’d just talked that morning, because she reads my blog. But to me she was a stranger. I’m glad to have met her now, though–she was delightful. Anyway, my point here is that I’m guessing you’ve had a sense of being reacquainted for some time, since you’ve been reading his blog. But for me, at least, it was startling to be reading this really frank post in which someone asks Scott if he’s being obtuse on purpose and then she says “you haven’t changed much since college” (quite the barbed comment, there! LOL) and I’m like, “Since college? Hey! Is that OUR Nancy?” 🙂

  38. scott says:

    You know, some guys might feel a bit weird having their wife defend them in public like this.
    But then some guys aren’t married to someone who’s so much smarter.
    Actually, that’s not just true. Pretty much any wife is smarter’n her husband. That’s just the way the whole gender thing breaks down. I simply happen to be oh so painfully aware of how very much Top Management outclasses me.
    And now I’m going to block her from responding to this comment. Ha! I may not be as smart or talented or cute or nice—and indeed I’m not—but I’ve got moderator privileges.

  39. Lissa says:

    Yeah, but I know your password. Ha!

  40. Julie says:

    As Scott has pointed out, it really makes him an anti-hero (an established literary identity), and that’s very unusual to see in a series aimed at children–and the fact that many otherwise bright people seem not to notice the moral relativism at play in these books suggests that moral relativism (or situational ethics) has become something of a cultural norm. Which is disturbing, don’t you think?
    Glad to see all the hoopla has died down. Now I want to ask a quick question about this comment…
    I was one of the first ones way back when on Scott’s blog defending Harry’s broom ride to retrieve the remembral. Scott made points similar to yours, Lissa, that used the direct quotes from the book.
    What has been intriguing to me since is to think about why more of us aren’t easily swayed by “the mountain of evidence” that the two of you are so capable of producing for your perspective. (Reminds me a bit of the failed OJ trial wherein jurors disregarded Marsha Clark’s case and found him innocent… but, but, how could they do that?)
    You ask if perhaps the cultural climate is moral relativism and I think actually, you’ve pegged it. It isn’t that moral relativism has somehow snuck up on us or that it is so clearly wrong or dangerous either (hold on for a minute while I develop this point). It’s that we are confronted with it every day in layers upon layers.
    Who any more leads an integrous, unblemished life? What we look at are the big swatches of what a person achieves over time more than their daily decisions or habits. Think of the obsession with reality TV where we really do see moral relativity at work all the time and have to decide who to root for. We actually have to make decisions about how much lying or cheating we’ll tolerate in our own willingness to back someone.
    We do it with politicians (current administration or the last one – take your pick of moral relativists leading our nation), with celebrities (Bono or Mel Gibson?), with our churches (will you align with a church known for avarice and womanizing or one known for pedophilia), or sports stars (Kobe or OJ), or causes (PETA or Operation Rescue)?
    We have been bombarded (in recent times) with complex, morally disappointing leaders, stars and what we wanted to believe were vanguards of integrity and have become adept at sorting through the “superficial” errors they make or even the intentional bad choices that we don’t approve of but will tolerate while judging the larger picture of what that person or group of people is about and overlooking the things that really don’t detract (for us) from that larger picture.
    So when we read HP, we already have developed the skills to say what we think is worth being offended by and what is not. We really aren’t trying to determine whether Harry is moral, has a conscience or not. We are trying to discover whether on the whole, this boy’s life’s trajectory is one we admire and root for. We have been training for this moment since the dawn of postmodernism…
    We earthlings seem to feel we’ve been left on our own to outwit, outplay and outlast the bad stuff that wants to come for us.
    No further comment on what I think of it all. But I hope that description may shed a smidge of light on the topic you raised. 🙂
    Julie

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