Harry Potter: Utterly Perfect?

I’m the first hit on Google for Harry Potter civil disobedience. I like that. It wasn’t my intent. But I like it.

I’m also the first hit for lyrics schmyrics and I like that too. But that’s neither here nor there. Actually, it’s right here. Whoops, now it’s right there. Either way, it’s not what I want to talk about just now.

No, what I’d like to talk about is this: I wrote my first post on Harry Potter over a year ago now, and have been trying and failing to make my points understood ever since. But I think it’s remotely possible I’ve come up with a solution.

Rather than attempt over and over to explain that I like the books—I find them very enjoyable, they’re simply massively overrated and morally ambiguous while often held up (by not only Left of the Dial readers but also the public at large and many professional critics) as being morally lucid—I just find them terrifically flawed, and then having to justify that opinion time and again, I’m going to turn it around and ask my awesome Left of the Dial readers a question. Well, two actually.

Do you find the Harry Potter books flawless?
And if not, in what way are they less than perfect?

That’s all. Consider this a poll. If you’ve responded to any of the four posts I’ve previously posted on my boy Harry—or even if you haven’t—please respond so I can get a better idea of where you’re coming from. Take as much space as you want, although you won’t be docked points for brevity either, since participation is really what I’m after. And, of course, if the answer to the first question is “yes,” well, I guess there’s not really a need for a big ol’ post explaining, although it’s still certainly more than welcome.

The polls are now open.

Advertisements

About the other scott peterson

Writer of comics and books and stuff.
This entry was posted in Harry Potter. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Harry Potter: Utterly Perfect?

  1. Steve the LLamabutcher says:

    I find him practically perfect in every way.
    The only improvement to the stories would be more of the budding romance between Hagrid and the giant squid.

  2. Karen E. says:

    “Do you find the Harry Potter books flawless?”
    No.
    “And if not, in what way are they less than perfect?”
    Disclaimer, before I criticize: I LOVE ’em. They’re loads of fun. They’re “rattling good stories” as C.S. Lewis called such plot-driven fiction. But they’re not flawless.
    They have provided many hours of delightful read-aloud time with my kids, but I initially read them aloud because I wanted to be able to discuss things as we read … they have been nice catechism, because they give me the opportunity to talk to my kids about the fact that “in real life” (i.e., in our life as Catholics who do not believe that the end justifies the means) *we* would not do some of the things that Harry and co. do. We *would* do other things that Harry and co. do, but we don’t blanketly (is that a word? And that’s my other criticism of Rowling … too many adverbs ….) accept that everything Harry does is good, even if he does often have his heart in the right place.
    There are overarching themes of self-sacrifice that I like a lot, but no, the books are not morally perfect. They’re also rather too long … I’d venture to guess that Rowling is at that stage of being such a wildly popular writer that editors don’t dare edit her. Wish I could find the blog that posted an example from one of the books, then the blogger’s edited version of the passage, which was cleaner, more pointed, and about 400 fewer words.
    Anyway, I started to read all the other pertinent entries and comments, but I haven’t finished all of them … and would love to get back to this when I have more time.

  3. Lissa says:

    Karen, is this what you’re thinking of? Harry Potter and the Order of Recycled Paper
    Very funny indeed.
    Looking forward to your thoughts on the rest of the discussion! Your take on the series, above, is exactly mine.

  4. Karen E. says:

    That’s it! Thanks, Lissa. I should’ve known you’d point me right to it.

  5. Julie says:

    My main criticism of HP is that Rowling needed a more active editor. JK gets pretty long winded in the later books and it seems no one had the heart to tell her to stop repeating words within two paragraphs of each other. Also, she could trim down the writing and still pack a punch.
    Morally ambiguous? Your points hold water. I just wasn’t all that bothered. I guess I’d put it this way. Seems her take on how things work include both moral clarity and moral flexibility which makes the books relatively realistic to me… well, except for magic wands and pumpkin juice.
    Julie

  6. Anonymous says:

    I respectfully wonder:
    Is it fair to judge this series ‘morally ambiguous’ before the last book in the series is published?
    See, I for one, believe that Snape is ultimately going to be seen as the hero of the series (stay with me here, it’s not just a weakness for Alan Rickman talking…). I think that JK is going to kill Severus off in book 7 as he makes some noble and selfless sacrifice at which point Harry will realize that his ideas of right and wrong were flawed…and that, because of a certain amount of hubris (the greatest tragic flaw, eh?) on his part, he unwittingly contributed to the death of someone who cared deeply for his mother and was more heroic than Harry, himself.
    Mebbe I’m wrong. We’ll know in about a year’s time. 🙂
    Additionally, I *like* the moral ambiguity. It has lent itself to some heartfelt debate between my kids and myself. And I find it endearingly human. I *loved* for instance that McGonigal, who is generally straight as an arrow morally, has a weakness: winning the house cup. What’s more, it seemed…true to me. A character without weaknesses and ambiguities tends, for me, to be two-dimensional, less engaging. And I adore the belly laugh this kind of behavior elicits from my children…
    Last year, after Katrina, my older child asked me how a kind God could allow such sorrow to occur. We spoke of free will, shades of grey, the human condition…it’s not an easily answered question, right? To me, Voldemort is like Katrina or 9/11–an unspeakable sorrow. The beauty of the human condition is that as weak, fallible beings we face these seemingly insurmountable obstacles and find moments of grace and heroism.
    Sure, these books are not perfect. A tad long-ish. The last time I read the LOTR trilogy I remember thinking ‘dear God, save me from another Norse-inspired three-page ballad…’. That doesn’t make Tolkien any less brillliant for me, though. And, finally, for the record, Dickens isn’t remembered for his brevity, either (yes, I do own the mid-80’s, 9 hour Nicholas Nickleby production, btw…).
    Call me an optimist but I believe that JK’s scope is wider than you at this time give her credit for, that’s all.
    I shall resume lurking again now.

  7. Lissa says:

    Actually, I totally agree w/ you about Snape. I think he is sacrificing himself to save Malfoy from having to carry out V’s will. I’m eager to see it play out.
    LOL about the Norse ballads…

  8. Steve the LLamabutcher says:

    SNAPE WAS FRAMED!
    The key is the last thing he does in Book Six before fleeing with Malfoy is to instruct Harry that he’ll never be able to win the sort of duel he needs to fight until he can master himself and do his hexes silently. As much as I hate to say it, Snape is a teacher—on the side of the Order—until the end.
    I agree that we’ll not be able to answer the question until we can digest book 7, but my hunch is the theme that she’s going for—the power of redemptive love conquering all—is going to answer the question decisively in the affirmative. For all the small transgressions and rule-breaking for various motivations on the part of the “good guys” is going to be overwhelmed by the larger final consequences both for the tragic (the things which will lead to the death of at least Ron) as well as for the triumphant.
    If the last chapters of Bk 7 are Omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori, then all will be forgiven.

  9. Samantha says:

    Before I say anything, I LOVE the Harry Potter books, and I have had a mild to moderate obsession with them since they came out. However, it is definitely not a flawless series.
    Jo is a fabulous writer, but I agree that she might need a more severe editor. And she put too much emphasis on the sixth book. Most of the fifth book was just preparing you for the sixth book — except, of course, Luna, who is the best-written character in the series.
    I think that Jo hit the high point with the third and fourth books, and she’s let us down a bit from there. Not much, mind, but a little bit.
    I agree about the moral ambiguity. It’s what makes a world on paper come to life.
    And Snape has definitely been framed. Also, although Harry may have to die to get rid of Voldemort, he isn’t a horcrux.
    And Ron won’t die. We’ve waited too long for him and Hermione to get together.
    V. LOL about the norse ballads

  10. Katie says:

    We are also a family of Potter fans. We read the books as soon as they are released. We listen to them on tape as we traipse up and down the East Coast visiting family and friends. They are a LOT OF FUN!
    And they are filled with moral flaws and ambiguity.
    We use these moral ambiguities as a jumping off point for conversations with our children. I actually find the flaws refreshing. So many of my childhood heroines and heroes of literature were either set up as flawless or though not completely perfect, were aware of their problems and fixed them or worked on them in front of you. Harry and company, like so many of us (especially during the teen years), seem to be quite unaware of our own flaws as we stumble through this world. Just look at the low number of people going to confession!

  11. scott says:

    The key is the last thing he does in Book Six before fleeing with Malfoy is to instruct Harry that he’ll never be able to win the sort of duel he needs to fight until he can master himself and do his hexes silently. As much as I hate to say it, Snape is a teacher—on the side of the Order—until the end.
    I agree that it certainly looks like Snape is on the side of the angels, as they say. Top Management and I have discussed this quite a bit and there’s lot of evidence that would indicate that either he didn’t really kill Dumbledore or he did but only because 1) Dumbledore told him to or B) he did it to save Draco’s soul. Or maybe both.
    But I think there’s an even simpler reason: if Snape really is a Death Eater, then that means Dumbledore has been an idiot for six books in a row. He’s been a dupe. A schmuck. Worse still, he’ll have been an enabler. It’ll have meant he not only caused his own death through what will have turned out to be remarkable stupidity, but that he aided Voldemort in his plans.
    And I can’t see that happening. So Dumbledore may indeed be dead. But Snape cannot possibly turn out to be a true Death Eater. Because that’ll retroactively change Dumbledore forever. And that’s just not possible.
    I don’t think.

  12. Karen E. says:

    “But I think there’s an even simpler reason: if Snape really is a Death Eater, then that means Dumbledore has been an idiot for six books in a row.”
    Or, that his *one* fatal flaw was trusting Snape. Rowling likes flawed characters, and I could see her choosing to go this way, but I reeeeallly hope she doesn’t.
    I actually agree with everyone about Snape. At the end of Book Six, I thought it was pretty clear that he killed Dumbledore because they had agreed it might have to come to that — he had to do so to keep the unbreakable vow (as well as his cover and to prevent Malfoy from becoming a murderer.) I think Dumbledore was dying anyway (the blackened hand that never healed, the passing of the torch to Harry, esp. when he told Harry that he wasn’t afraid, “because I’m with you,” which was a reversal of all that Harry had ever felt about Dumbledore) and he was willing to be sacrificed to the cause.
    Also, Snape’s reaction when Harry called him a coward indicates that there’s a lot going on that Harry doesn’t see.
    And, I think Snape was in love with Lily, and explanations of that will play out in Book 7. It also partially explains his hatred of James and his love/hate attachment to Harry.

  13. fish says:

    I (quite shockingly) agree with Steve (the actual Steve, not the Scott/Steve hybrid). The true underlying theme by JKR could quite possibly be “Love conquers all”. This would give a certain moral unity to all the books. One could argue that many of the flaws that each character has can be ignored and the unifying theme of the good guys is their capacity for love (and perhaps the ability to forgive?). An idea that bubbled up when I read Steve’s comment.

  14. scott says:

    ME: “But I think there’s an even simpler reason: if Snape really is a Death Eater, then that means Dumbledore has been an idiot for six books in a row.”
    KAREN: Or, that his *one* fatal flaw was trusting Snape. Rowling likes flawed characters, and I could see her choosing to go this way, but I reeeeallly hope she doesn’t.
    Mm. That would work if it were just one book. But Dumbledore has gone to the mat again and again and again for Snape; I don’t have the books currently, but it seems like it’s been at least once every single volume, and sometimes multiple times in the same book. To have hired the guy who later turned out to kill you would be a flaw in judgment. To hire the guy and then defend him over and over, to students you trust and even other faculty members who’d give their lives for you and yet who are unsure about him? That’s a bridge too far. That’s several bridges several miles too far.
    Letting someone spend the night and later realizing as you die that your guest
    was a serial killer? That’s a lapse in judgment. Letting Charles Manson spend the night knowing full well who he is and what he’s done? That’s not a lapse. That makes you a big (dead) dummy.
    Hm. I wish I could figure out a better way to quote two different people in a row to keep the two different voices distinct and clear and yet aesthetically appealing.

  15. Steve the LLamabutcher says:

    Shawn—I’ll definitely file that away in further signs of the apocalypse. I think you are right about the evolution of the characters and their capacity to love, which is what she was setting up in 6 with Draco.

  16. Karen E. says:

    Scott said: “Letting someone spend the night and later realizing as you die that your guest
    was a serial killer? That’s a lapse in judgment. Letting Charles Manson spend the night knowing full well who he is and what he’s done? That’s not a lapse. That makes you a big (dead) dummy.”
    No, no, I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t mean that Dumbledore could be flawed in the sense that he would let Snape continue on, even though he knew what he was. I meant that Dumbledore’s self-admitted (in Book 6, I think?) flaw is that he always wants to think the best of people, and he sometimes gives them too many chances, as he did with Tom Riddle, and that Snape could have duped him.
    Book 6 never gave the reason that Dumbledore so implicitly trusted Snape … Snape’s remorse wasn’t reason enough — anyone could lie about that — so I think Book 7 will have to address the real reason, which I think has something to do with Lily.
    And I agree that the theme is “redemptive love conquers all” … and, btw, I’m not arguing in favor of the Snape-as-Death Eater scenario … just wanted to point out that she could possibly go that way, given the set-up (Dumbledore is clearly less-than-perfect in his judgment in Book 6.) But I don’t think she will. Snape could even end up fighting Voldemort himself, on Harry’s behalf ….

  17. scott says:

    No, no, I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t mean that Dumbledore could be flawed in the sense that he would let Snape continue on, even though he knew what he was. I meant that Dumbledore’s self-admitted (in Book 6, I think?) flaw is that he always wants to think the best of people, and he sometimes gives them too many chances, as he did with Tom Riddle, and that Snape could have duped him.
    Yeah, no, I got that. My point is that if Snape indeed turns out to truly be a Death Eater after all the times Dumbledore went to bat for him, that Dumbledore will have turned out to be an idiot. That all those times we thought Dumbledore was loyal and wise and insightful he was, in fact, simply stupid. One might even say obtuse. [If one wanted to be lovingly complimentary.]
    It’d be one thing if Professor McGonagall, say, or Mister Weasley turned out to be a Death Eater. You couldn’t blame Dumbledore for being trusting in a case like that. Or even if he’d just said once, “I believe in Professor Snape,” and that was that. But he didn’t. He vouched for Snape again and again and again, so many times that if Snape turns out to truly be a follower of Voldemort, Dumbledore will not have been flawed by being too loyal. He’ll have been flawed by being utterly blind and tragically foolish (and perhaps simply stubborn). Because the repercussions will not only be his own death, as horrible as that would be, but a likely-fatal blow to those who would stand against Voldemort.
    And I can’t believe Rowling would do that to such an integral part of the Good Guys. It’d be a massive mistake from a storytelling point of view. And I don’t believe she’d ever make a mistake that huge. Ergo, Snape cannot possibly truly be a Death Eater. Why, it’s almost mathematical!
    I wonder if we should start posting spoiler warnings. Ah well. Barn door, horses, all that.

  18. Lissa says:

    Ooh, I just thought of something! If it does turn out the way we’re all speculating, that Snape sacrificed himself (and Dumbledore) to save Malfoy–it’s just like in LOST: the first flashback about Mr. Eko (sp?), when the soldiers come into his village and order a little boy to shoot an old man. And the boy is crying, doesn’t want to. If he doesn’t, they’ll kill HIM. And suddenly an older boy, his big brother, rushes forward and grabs the gun and shoots the old man. To save his little brother from having to do it (or die).
    But in LOST, Eko then–for a long time–turns himself wholly over to the bad guys, letting himself become truly evil. Until years later, a string of events leads to his gradual (we assume–it is still incomplete) redemption. It’ll be interesting in HP book 7 to see which direction Snape goes.

  19. Lissa says:

    Ooh, I just thought of something! If it does turn out the way we’re all speculating, that Snape sacrificed himself (and Dumbledore) to save Malfoy–it’s just like in LOST: the first flashback about Mr. Eko (sp?), when the soldiers come into his village and order a little boy to shoot an old man. And the boy is crying, doesn’t want to. If he doesn’t, they’ll kill HIM. And suddenly an older boy, his big brother, rushes forward and grabs the gun and shoots the old man. To save his little brother from having to do it (or die).
    But in LOST, Eko then–for a long time–turns himself wholly over to the bad guys, letting himself become truly evil. Until years later, a string of events leads to his gradual (we assume–it is still incomplete) redemption. It’ll be interesting in HP book 7 to see which direction Snape goes.

  20. Karen E. says:

    Scott said: “And I can’t believe Rowling would do that to such an integral part of the Good Guys. It’d be a massive mistake from a storytelling point of view. And I don’t believe she’d ever make a mistake that huge. Ergo, Snape cannot possibly truly be a Death Eater. Why, it’s almost mathematical!”
    Well, almost. But not quite. Your points are well taken, and again, I’m not arguing for the inevitability of Snape being truly evil … just pointing out that:
    a. Rowling loves to surprise readers
    b. She has repeatedly made us trust Snape against all appearances, *only* because Dumbledore trusts him, so the ultimate surprise would be that Dumbledore was capable of such an enormous mistake
    c. She sets Dumbledore up as imperfect in Book 6
    d. She makes it clear that Dumbledore is emotionally attached to Snape, for whatever reasons (which we don’t know yet)
    e. And, from an interview with Rowling at Mugglenet.com:
    ***
    ES: I know Dumbledore likes to see the good in people but he seems trusting almost to the point of recklessness sometimes.
    [Laughter]
    JKR: Yes, I would agree. I would agree.
    ES: How can someone so –
    JKR: Intelligent –
    ES: – be so blind with regard to certain things?
    JKR: Well, there is information on that to come, in seven. But I would say that I think it has been demonstrated, particularly in Books 5 and 6 that immense brainpower does not protect you from emotional mistakes, and I think Dumbledore really exemplifies that. In fact, I would tend to think that being very, very intelligent might create some problems and it has done for Dumbledore, because his wisdom has isolated him, and I think you can see that in the books, because where is his equal; where is his confidante; where is his partner? He has none of those things. He’s always the one who gives; he’s always the one who has the insight and has the knowledge. So I think that, while I ask the reader to accept that McGonagall is a very worthy second-in-command, she is not an equal. You have a slightly circuitous answer, but I can’t get much closer than that.”
    ***
    So. All’s I’m sayin’ is that she *could*, given her penchant for surprising people, go that way (the Oh-no-Snape-really-is-evil-after-all way) … but I really, really hope not or I’ll have to have Atticus rough her up.

  21. Karen E. says:

    Lissa said: “But in LOST, Eko then–for a long time–turns himself wholly over to the bad guys, letting himself become truly evil. Until years later, a string of events leads to his gradual (we assume–it is still incomplete) redemption.”
    Interesting … will Malfoy become more evil before he’s redeemed? I do think he’ll be redeemed … he was clearly being humanized in Book 6 ….

  22. scott says:

    All’s I’m sayin’ is that she *could*, given her penchant for surprising people, go that way (the Oh-no-Snape-really-is-evil-after-all way)
    Excellent points all and unrebuttable (I think I just invented that word—oh, no, Google informs me there are 773 uses, many of them apparently in legal documents) as far as I can see at this point. I guess mine, to repeat myself for a moment, comes down to: if she makes Snape a Death Eater she will have turned Dumbledore from loyal to stupid.
    And so, perhaps somewhat ironically given that I’m the guy who’s written something like 14000 words decrying Rowling’s lapses in judgment and/or shoddy writing, I’ve been placing my faith in Rowling knowing better than to inflict a massive gaping chest wound in her own series.
    Is my faith misplaced? I reckon we’ll all find out.

  23. Julia S. says:

    Ok, well as long as we’re jumping around making guesses and a few of us are coming out of lurkdom (sp?-this is why we stay in lurkdom/lurkdumb). Well is Harry really James’ son or is he Snape’s. Who said Lily was oh so faithful. When Harry found Snape’s book of spells in this last book was he afraid that his son would follow in his footsteps down the dark path? Just thought I’d throw that out there.
    Back to the original question about do I find the Potter books flawless? Having characters with flaws does not necessarily imply a flawed book. I think a problem with the books is marketing them for young children. The characters are morally ambiguous and requires at least an argumentitive mind (there you go Scott) to not be lulled into a hero worship.
    Also, and even more problematic for me as a Catholic is when Rowlings had Voldemort seven his soul this is more morally corrupt than most would have it. I’d have to back track a little — I was at a Scott Hahn talk and he was giving the historical/biblical relevance of the mass and one of the things he talked about was how when he was still protestant he asked on of his catholic professors why there wasn’t a mention of the word sacrement in the old testement. The professor said that the word in the old testement ‘covenant’ when translated from it’s original is the word sacrement. Then he went on to explain how a sacrement/covenant was formed was by sevening something. The rainbow, days of creation,…there is a whole long list which is completely escaping me right now. Whenever you “seven” something you join God into your bond (and Mr. Hahn did use the word seven as a verb). That would make what Voldemort did not just horrible, but explicitly evil. And not just a fictional moral dilemna, but an outright affont to the soul. Now I should say Scott Hahn made no mention of the Potter books, it just happened to be on my mind while listening to him because I was reading them at the time. And perhaps I’m “reading” too much into it.
    As for the books I like them — I’m really conflicted because they are a great fun story and I enjoy the treat of well fleshed out characters doing adventurous things. But they’ve gotten so dark lately that I’m not certain I’d let my sons read them — not until they were much older knew their faith better and could debate it. Or just older if all efforts elswhere fail.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Julia S. — that is really interesting about the derivation of covenant/sacrament! These kind of discussions really get me jazzed b/c I just LOVE the speculation. Plus, I admire the way JKR has found funky little obscure historical/spiritual references and incorporated them in large and small ways in her series. And I absolutely agree with you and everyone else that the books are getting much darker. Although I really can’t wait to read these with my kids, I will probably have to wait until they’re much older than I had originally anticipated, simply because I won’t want to stop reading them (and the later books are much too dark for a single digit critter).
    Back to Scott’s original questions: I don’t think they’re flawless (regardless of my past posts on the last thread). But then, that doesn’t bother me because I can’t recollect any book that’s flawless. How are they less than perfect? First, there’s too much time between publishings :)! Seriously though, I’d primarily agree that they are getting too long, especially for a children’s audience. Personally (and as an adult), I could read her stories forever, so the longer the better. Bring it on!
    SP — Obtusely posted by me (ha!), N

  25. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t this one of the hallmarks of good art? That it inspires all of this debate?
    I wish there were more poorly written books out there that articulate individs such as yourselves could think upon for days–nay, weeks at this point–and discuss. History has been brought into this debate…law…literary analysis…Plato/philosophy…a bit of Latin from Mr. Butcher. Feelings have been hurt defending this book and ideas held about it: that is how passionately involved in these books we all are. And we are all adults. Not even the intended audience (though, as the books have gotten darker in tone, I’ve wondered whether JK believes that she is actually writing a children’s series.)
    Just sayin. Not to get all meta on everyone…
    Regarding themes of the series: I do think that “the power of love” is one of the big themes of the books. Dumbledore tells Harry that his capacity for love is what stops him from being like Voldemort. He also, at some point that I cannot exactly remember, says that obsessive love can be the most dangerous motivator of all.
    I always thought that Dumbledore was referring to Snape’s love of Lily when he mentioned obsessive love. I think that Lily is why Snape turned to the dark side and that her death at Voldemort’s hands was the event that brought him back…Lily defended Snape against the cool kids when no one else would, was gifted in potions class like Snape, was a dish…but she broke his heart and married James Potter.
    Okay, that’s all conjecture. But Snape is good. He is good. Dumbledore was not a fool to trust him. Snape killed Dumbledore because Dumbledore wanted him to do it. That potion that Dumbledore drank…I thought there was some mention of another potion that Voldemort had used that kept the imbiber horribly, painfully alive until Voldemort could interrogate the person in question personally, find out who was after a piece of his soul and how they’d gotten as far as they had. And the only wizard strong enough to kill Dumbledore, to use the avada kedavra curse with the requisite strength and determination and who could overpower Voldemort’s curse on that potion, was Snape–who, as it happens, had also made a vow to protect Draco at all costs. Killing Dumbledore fulfilled the vow Snape made to Narcissa. *And* it was what Dumbledore wanted–that’s why Dumbledore paralyzed Harry. But because Harry sees this all through the lens of *his* reality (1. a very human thing to do. 2. a very age-appropriate and concrete reaction), he believes that Snape has killed Dumbledore out of malice.
    That is a vitally important moment in understanding the moral scope of these books. We all make decisions via the lens of our own perceptions–it’s just a matter of how true our lens is.
    The world is full of uncontrollable elements. That is part of the bargain we make by possessing free will. For the day to day, rules are good, safe. But every once in a while, a Hitler comes along. An Al Quaeda. Some force that is pure evil or pure tragedy. That doesn’t follow the rules–that consumes you or destroys you if the rules are all you have to protect yourself.
    Then what do you do? That, I think, is the space that JK is exploring. And if I’m right, that is a very positive, rich space to explore. And very worthy of my children’s time.
    Okay, back to anonymity.

  26. Jennifer says:

    Flawless? Is that a fair question? Every book has flaws. There are missing chunks of time in Anne of Green Gables. She went from goofy, funny little kid to somber young lady in a matter of pages. What happened? As Davy would say: I want to know. And they had soooooo much room at GG, why didn’t they just adopt a boy too? What of Anne’s past? She was beaten, starved, neglected and who knows what else. How does none of that really impact her?
    The Little House kids didn’t eat. Seriously, a hunk of bread and a slice of bacon for supper? I had a friend with anorexia in the 6th grade and she used Laura and Mary’s diet to justify her behavior.
    And I still want to know why someone as powerful as Sauron was dumb enough to put all of his power in a dinky, stealable material object like ring. I’d also like to know why the LOR book series didn’t expound more on Frodo’s motivation for being the ring bearer because he’s really sort of a wimp. Why would such an obvious wimp attempt to save the world? Big fans of LOR say that the biggest wimp in the world would be the best ring bearer because only they could bear it without the temptation to use it. Uh . . . what? Actually, I think Frodo was such a wimp because JRRT liked Sam better. If Frodo wasn’t a wimp, Sam would serve no purpose.
    Oz has about as much conflict as the Nutcracker Ballet. You get kicked out of Narnia for getting too old. What’s that about? Huck, Tom, Hayden, Rhett, Phineas and Gatsby aren’t morally perfect either. Even Robin Hood steals from the rich. If you want a moral novel aimed at young readers, read Charlotte Temple. (Horrible, horrible, horrible)
    And there’s the diabetic stories about perfect little chidren: Heidi, Polyanna, A Little Princess, etc. I often wonder why none of these stories are ever written in first person. Does it have to do with children being seen and not heard? Isn’t anyone curious as to how these types of characters think?
    I think instead of asking whether HP novels are perfect or flawless, the question you really want to ask is whether they deserve the hype. My answer is yes. Here’s why. I’ve known perfectly bright 9 and 10 year olds who can’t recognize letters of the alphabet. These kids have been medicated and labeled and alienated by all of their adult advocates. I watch them cry, act out, come down with mysterious physical symptoms and then go apathetic. But then they meet Harry, a boy a bit like them, and not only do they become bookworms, but they can be friends with their parents again. Even with the books’ flaws and length and what not, that is worth so much. Also, most kids I know now are about McDonald’s every night, breaking things, first person shooter games on Xbox all weekend long, and hitting each other with sticks and dirtclods. In short, most kids I know are Dudley. If Jo can get people to laugh at that kind of thing and identify with the one Dudley picks on, then–awesome.

  27. scott says:

    A Nonny Mouse asked:
    Flawless? Is that a fair question?
    I think so. As I explained right before asking the question:

    I like the books—I find them very enjoyable, they’re simply massively overrated and morally ambiguous while often held up (by not only Left of the Dial readers but also the public at large and many professional critics) as being morally lucid—I just find them terrifically flawed, and then [have] to justify that opinion time and again

    Hence my question. Every time I bring up a (glaringly obvious and indisputable) flaw in the book, someone comes back and explains why said flaw is not, in fact, a flaw. So it seemed reasonable to me to turn it around and ask those who find the flaws not to be flaws if the book is flawless.
    Frankly, I expected that those who disagreed with me would either sit out or admit the books were flawed. I just wanted to see how many would do the former and how many would do the latter. And I was curious about what they would cite as flaws.
    So, sure, I think it was certainly a fair question, given the history of this debate over the past year. And I’m very glad I posted this most recent survey, if for no other reason than because I received this comment:
    Is it fair to judge this series ‘morally ambiguous’ before the last book in the series is published?
    which is an outstanding point. I still think it’s certainly fair to judge individual books or scenes on their merits (or lack thereof) but the larger picture should indeed be kept in mind.
    I also find it interesting that, as the series has progressed, more and more fans are beginning to question whether these books are really children’s books.

  28. fish says:

    Scott:
    As I have thought about this, I think you have unfairly tilted the rhetorical playing field. You have made the case that there are moral ambiguities in the characters or their behavior, and these constitute flaws in the book. That is true if (and only if) one makes the argument that the point of the books is an exploration of morality. I and others have argued that the moral abiguities are a feature not a bug in our enjoyment of the books, and I personally look for heavy moral ponderings in different genres of literature. I agree that the Hermione lying scene is a flaw, not because of the moral ambiguity of the scene, but because the lying (as you correctly pointed out) makes no sense and was purely a plot mechanism to create a bond between Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
    The failure in my eyes is the individuals who read the books and then claim they are shining examples of morality. I don’t follow JKR’s public pronouncements so I don’t know if she is claiming these books are explorations of morality, I suspect no. Thus you have created a situation of false failure, much like criticizing JKR for playing the oboe badly when she is competing in downhill racing. I think you can still argue that the books would be better if there was an underlying exploration of morality, and I might agree (although I am not sure of that), certainly the books do not fall into the heavyweight literature category. On the other hand, if JKR has claimed that these books are an exploration of morality then I retract this argument and agree that the points you have made could be considered flaws.

  29. MelanieB says:

    fish,
    My only objection (but it’s a big one)to the moral ambiguity in the books is that they are marketed and sold as books for children. I don’t think this kind of moral ambiguity is appropriate for children who do not yet have a clear understanding of right and wrong, whose consciences are in fact still in formation. The only excuse for such ambiguities in childrens books is if the books are an exploration of morality. But if there are ambiguities that are unquestioned, unexplored, that are simply there, then it is very problematic.
    And that’s related to the problem I have with what some people have been saying about Snape. Does it really make his actions better if Dumbledore wanted to be killed by Snape? What about “Thou shalt not kill?” Your argument implies that somehow the end (of malfoy’s redemption?) justifies the means. But even if Dumbledore is complicit in his death, that doesn’t make the killing right. A human life is not a pawn to be used in a game.

  30. scott says:

    As I have thought about this, I think you have unfairly tilted the rhetorical playing field. You have made the case that there are moral ambiguities in the characters or their behavior, and these constitute flaws in the book. That is true if (and only if) one makes the argument that the point of the books is an exploration of morality.
    Or, as I’ve said and Melanie reiterated far more coherently, if the books are written for and/or marketed to children. Which they are. Or at least they’re marketed to children—whether they’re still really written for children is debatable.
    But even barring that, having children who lie, cheat and steal and are constantly lauded in the books themselves as well as in our culture in general makes it a legitimate question, I think.
    I agree that the Hermione lying scene is a flaw, not because of the moral ambiguity of the scene, but because the lying (as you correctly pointed out) makes no sense and was purely a plot mechanism to create a bond between Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
    I mostly agree. I don’t think Rowling gave it a moment of thought, which is how I think she writes most of her stuff. She’s such a natural storyteller that most of the times she can pull it off. And when she isn’t able, she’s so beloved that it doesn’t matter.
    But what’s really a shame is that this scene didn’t need to go that way to have had the same effect. Hermione tells the truth and then later drops her snooty pose and simply gives them a heartfelt thanks. The boys, being young boys, are embarrassed and stoked as all get-out to be thought of as heroes by Hermione—as they unquestionably were in this case—and bing! You get the same result without the pointless flaw. [And that’s just one of the dozens or scores or hundreds of ways the scene could have gone, and that’s with literally fifteen seconds’ worth of thought.]
    The failure in my eyes is the individuals who read the books and then claim they are shining examples of morality. I don’t follow JKR’s public pronouncements so I don’t know if she is claiming these books are explorations of morality, I suspect no.
    To the best of my knowledge, I have only seen one interview with Rowling, on 60 Minutes, I think, a few years back. The reviewer commented on these books being outstanding examples of morality and Rowling assented. If I can find the actual quote, I’ll post it.
    So, no, I don’t think she went out there and started the discussion. But once it began taking off, I haven’t seen any evidence that she ever said, hey, hold on a second, these are just fun books. Or these are books which explore morality or whatever. She seems to have instead simply let it grow and the only time I actually saw her speak she tacitly agreed. But I’m not an expert on her, so perhaps I simply missed it. Very possible.
    Thus you have created a situation of false failure, much like criticizing JKR for playing the oboe badly when she is competing in downhill racing.
    If a downhill racer were being lauded in Time and Sports Illustrated for excellent oboe playing, I’d think a handful of blog pieces pointing out the substandard oboe playing (“why, that guy has no idea how to even shape cane—his reeds are totally for shit!”) wouldn’t be out of line.
    I think you can still argue that the books would be better if there was an underlying exploration of morality, and I might agree (although I am not sure of that),
    Nor I. Mainly I think they’d be better if she didn’t have flaws like the Pointless Lie in the Bathroom scene.
    certainly the books do not fall into the heavyweight literature category.
    Ah. And yet it seems that every time I say that I get several responses from folks who either think they do or say that they don’t care because they just love them so very much. And I think by dint of their phenomenal popularity discussing them critically is not only legit but a fine idea.
    On the other hand, if JKR has claimed that these books are an exploration of morality then I retract this argument and agree that the points you have made could be considered flaws.
    It seems like you’ve taken my two main arguments and sorta squished them together and then pulled them back apart, and that’s why they don’t make sense. I hope my explanation here provides at least a small measure of elucidation. More likely, Melanie’s will have.

  31. Andrea says:

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/13/my-take-why-were-drawn-to-harry-potters-theology/
    Was wondering if you still found the Potter books so flawed?
    signed,
    anonymous

  32. scott says:

    Was wondering if you still found the Potter books so flawed?


    Troublemaker.
    I haven’t re-read the last few books in many years, and only ever read the final volume once, so I’m not prepared to say definitely at this point in time. (How’s that for weasely?)
    But I will say this: I recently re-read the first two books and found they did not hold up nearly as well as I expected. Since for all her flaws as a writer—and she’s got plenty–I’ve always praised her storytelling abilities, this surprised me a bit. Then again, perhaps it’s because I’ve now read the first one at least 7 or 8 times and perhaps even more. (I made a habit out of re-reading the series each time a new volume was released, and then also read the first few aloud to various chillens.)
    But the moral flaws are just as present as ever: the rewarded rule-breaking, the pointless lying, and so on. And the books themselves are not aging as well as one might expect, and with each passing year the wizarding world which was so enchanting at first (and I was every bit as besmitten initially as most everyone else) seems less and less so: sure, some of the things are wicked cool, absolutely—who wouldln’t have loved to have attended a magickal school when a kid, rather than the dull humdrum one most of us did attend?
    But wizards, for all their impressive hocus-pocus, don’t even have teh google. When they try to find out who Nicolas Flamel is, it takes, what, dozens? scores? hundreds? of hours of searching through ancient tomes. Whereas one of us mere muggles could have solved the problem in a fraction of a second with even one of the less impressive web search tools at a decrepit old public library computer.
    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Rowling for not being able to predict what was to happen with computers in just a few years. I don’t. But just a few years down the round, it’s a serious stumbling block when reading. What’s more, it’s actually indicative, I think, of another problem with the wizarding world, as pointed out by my pal Steve. Hundreds of years of famous wizards, and not a Shakespeare or a Beethoven among them. Too lofty? After all, we’ve nae had another one of them in a few hundred years since neither. Okay then. Not a Dickens or a Twain or a Sibelius or a Dylan neither. No Hemingway, no Hitchcock, no Scorsese, no Frost, no Arrested Development or Firefly. What do they have? Quidditch players. What a sad, sad world such a place would be.
    And, yes, the lazy moral flaws from the first few books are still there and still just as troubling. I assume the last few books have them as well, but they’d become too bloated and turgid by the end (a clear sign that Stephen King Disease is not reserved for him and him alone) that I haven’t been able to face re-reading them yet. I shall one day, I suspect.
    And, yeah, Harry fights evil. Evil that’s trying to kill him. Self-defense doesn’t impress me, generally speaking, as being terrifically noble. Now, the fact that his friends risk their lives to fight that evil, when they don’t have to? That’s more impressive. Hermione FTW!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s