Sometimes Evil Settles for Simple Tuesday

 

This has caused a bit of a stir in the literature community. Many people are disappointed that Snow is the character Collins has chosen to focus on in the prequel. However, others are concerned about what the story line will be like. Snow is a cruel fascist in the books; should we be showing fascists in a different light? Should we be “humanizing” them, using the phrase others have used?

I’ve always found this an interesting concern. On the one hand, fascists are objectively terrible people. They in fact dehumanize people for their own goals–whatever those goals may be. However, despite the fears of “humanizing” them, fascists are indeed human. That is scariest thing about them.

At one point, every hated fascist in history was a child. They didn’t become monsters overnight, and even when they were monsters, most of them still retained some semblance of humanity, even if it was a twisted version of humanity. Something caused this change.

We all have a tendency toward evil of some stripe or another. Regardless of how you view this, whether considering religious, psychological, or biological concepts, everyone deals with this. When we hear about soldiers committing war crimes, we often dismiss them as the actions of psychopaths. But many of those same people wouldn’t hurt a fly in other circumstances. It’s called the fog of war; it’s a very real and very scary psychological phenomenon. If you read Enlightenment era writings on science, you start seeing a lot of bizarre biological justification for believing people of darker skin were inferior to Europeans. The people writing these pamphlets weren’t sitting at their mahogany desks, rubbing their hands together and cackling, “Now, how shall I convince the populace that Africans are inferior today?” No, they thought they were being objective. They subconsciously did mental loop-de-loops to prove that people wearing less clothes in a very hot, humid environment must be more animal-like and promiscuous than Europeans wearing five layers because actually it’s kind of cold in Europe. Or, to use an even sillier example, go read some of the posts on https://www.reddit.com/r/AmItheAsshole/ and watch how people try to portray their actions in the best possible light, even if those actions are generally bad things to do. Think, even, of the justifications to label ordinary people as fascists for disagreeing with a certain viewpoint and therefore able to be corrected with violence. 

None of this means that anyone is sympathizing with evil people. To paraphrase my old Psych 101 professor, “understanding doesn’t equal approval”. Because, frankly, the best way to guard ourselves against becoming a monster is to be aware that sometimes the most seemingly innocuous factors can push someone down that road.

I found the ending of Mockingjay fascinating. Collins could have pulled her punches, but she didn’t. Gale partakes in war crimes, and is most likely partially responsible for Prim’s death. Katniss and Haymitch vote to send other innocent children into a death match to prove a point to their enemies. District 13 is an example of the oppressed becoming the oppressors in turn, thinking they are doing the right thing. Our characters proved they were capable of evil.

It’s okay to be concerned that a book may try to make a fascist look more sympathetic or more like a victim. But fearing that it will simply humanize them? That’s the whole, terrifying point.

Book Review: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

kidnapped cover

 

I once tried to listen to Kidnapped in audio form.

Bless you Scotland, but I couldn’t understand half of what I was hearing. I can read languages and dialects decently well, but my ear doesn’t pick up as much. I felt like the voice-activated elevator from the comedy sketch.

So, I set it aside, and then, on impulse, I decided to actually read the book for myself over on Project Gutenberg.

I’m coming to realize that I was never as well-read as I thought. I read a lot of books, but I mainly stuck with what I knew: mysteries (I loved Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Bobbsy Twins, etc.), adventure books (I was obsessed with The Sugar Creek Gang), and the occasional spookfest (we have all been traumatized by Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark).

But a lot of children’s classics were never part of my repertoire. I wasn’t good at sticking to things if I thought they were tedious (something I’ll touch on in my longer Waverly review). Kidnapped is one of those books.

The book follows David Balfour, who is sent out into the world after his father passes to seek his fortune at the House of Shaws, known only as the manor of a wealthy curmudgeon. This curmudgeon turns out to be David’s uncle, Ebenezer Shaw. The old man is miserly (one wonders if Stevenson was drawing from A Christmas Carol) and very eccentric, veering between shooing David from his house and attempting to get him killed. It comes to a head when Ebenezer takes David down to the docks, presumably on business, and next thing David knows, he’s been knocked on the head and taken on board the merchant ship Covenant to be sold as a slave in the Carolinas. But when Captain Hoseason rescues a man that turns out to be none other than the famous Scottish rebel Alan Breck Stewart, David finds an unlikely ally.

This was a fun and sometimes wild book that took a totally unexpected turn. David is such a good person, but also incredibly naive. He often finds himself in uncomfortable situations due to a combination of his own naivete and sense of honor. He learns much of the culture of the Scottish Highlands, or what is left after the failed Jacobite rebellion, and comes to sympathize with their plight even though he doesn’t particularly take sides. (In fact, I’m noticing a lot of similarities between this and Waverley; one also wonders if Stevenson enjoyed Sir Walter Scott’s novels.)

I particularly liked that Stevenson took real life figures and events and worked them into his novel, most notably the murder of Colin Campbell. Even though he tweaks the timeline it grounds the novel a little more into its specific time period.

Overall, it’s a fun read that everyone should try, child or adult.

January Quicklit

I’ve decided to get back into making QuickLit posts along with other fellow book bloggers. Don’t know what QuickLit is? Go check it out on Anne Bogel’s lovely blog!

I’m also participating in the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge, so my two books I’m reading reflect that. So without further ado…

 

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I’m counting this as my re-read for the challenge. I’m going through Tolkien’s works, so of course I started with the very, very, very beginning (and by that I mean, the beginning of the universe).

The Silmarillion describes the creation of Tolkien’s fictional universe, the fall of Melkor (now known as Morgoth) and Sauron, and the problems they cause for the elves of Middle Earth. It also follows the doom of the high elves, the Noldor, as Feanor and his family make every poor life choice they can think of, all for the sake of the three light-filled jewels known as the Silmarils. If you like Scandinavian epics, you’ll like this book. There’s lots of tragedy and woe, but there’s also a lot of Elvish genealogy and geography description. Let’s just say that many of Tolkien’s themes that you see in The Lord of the Rings are also present in this book, which I’ll delve into in a longer review once I’m finished. I’ve left the Elves with Middle Earth fully populated with shaky alliances between different Elvish groups and the Dwarves, all ready for everything to fall apart once Morgoth stops sitting in his chair. (Morgoth and Thanos would get along well.)

 

 

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After reading Kidnapped, I went on a Jacobite Scotland kick, and now I’ve decide to read the Waverley series by Sir Walter Scott. Even though it’s more than three books in the series, this is my “three books by the same author” for the reading challenge. I have no idea if it’s cheating or not, but I don’t care.

Waverley is a coming-of-age novel about Edward Waverley, whose father and uncle are at odds politically regarding the change in monarchy in the U.K. during this time. Edward’s father is a staunch man of business who supports the new monarchy, while his uncle is a not-so-subtle supporter of the Bonnie Prince Charlie. Edward is the heir-apparent of his uncle, who leaves his education mostly to himself (he and the boy’s tutor being too involved in politics to do much). As such, when the naturally dreamy Edward is shunted into the army because his father is afraid the Grand Tour would fill his head with too many unsavory political ideas, he is unprepared for the reality and is far more interested in visiting his uncle’s Jacobite friend. But there, he finds himself, an English soldier, getting mixed up in the growing political turmoil of 1744.

This is a very slow novel at the beginning. Much of it describes Edward’s childhood and loose education, his dreamy and imaginative nature and the background of politics that affects his father and uncle’s relationship, as well as his future. Sir Walter Scott goes into a bit of a curmudgeonly rant on young people reading for entertainment, but also makes good points about structured reading. Scott was also very good at developing interesting supporting characters who stay just on this side of caricature. (No wonder Jane Austen admired his writing.) I’ve just left Edward at the den of some Highlander thieves, so as much as I’ve enjoyed the characters, I’m looking forward to a little more action taking place.

Stranger Things 3: #AlexeiDeservedBetter

Since I’m always at least six months behind everyone else on trends, I want to announce that I finally finished Stranger Things 3. But before I go looking at every single theory out there on the Interwebz, I want to scream my opinion into the void like everyone else.

I liked it. That’s it. Just liked it. Because some parts I loved, some parts I have mixed feelings about, and some parts I absolutely hated.

So let’s go through each one.

Things I loved:

I enjoyed the direction the plot took. I think it was a good way to continue the threat while making it different from the last two and drawing on what happened in Stranger Things 2. I also liked the irony of the Russians actually being involved this time.

One thing I absolutely adored was the continuing character arc for El. Each season, she’s discovered a little more about herself and her identity, and I don’t just mean about her mysterious past, but about her inner identity. She starts expanding her experiences and her friends group. I liked the cliche shopping montage; this was a cliche done well. It gave the eighties flavor that is part of the appeal of the show, but also showed us something about both Max and El. I also thought that in-universe dialogue regarding the use of El’s powers and how responsible she and they should be about them matched up well with fan commentary, and contained a level of meta dialogue. In the past couple seasons her powers seem to be everyone’s go-to fix it for any situation. This season directly addressed that, both with how the characters view them and with what happens when she finally overdoes it.

I also liked how the show addressed what it’s like to have a close knit group grow up. While I’m fairly certain the heavy subtext hinting that Will is gay was done purposefully, the side plot also shows that sometimes, people grow up at different rates, and they don’t always lose their childhood interests. (Mr. Clarke, for example, is still clearly a Grade-A nerd, but he landed a date with a hottie in the last season.) Will watching with exasperation as his friends endlessly discuss their relationships was a little too relatable for me, given how often I sat through the same scenario in my adolescence. Heck, I’m 32 and even now I’d prefer playing D&D to overanalyzing someone’s relationship with them.

 

Things I have mixed feelings about:

In some ways, I enjoyed the increase of humor in this season. Some parts had me laughing out loud. However, sometimes the humor seemed to stretch on way too long. I’m talking about Steve and Robin’s Russian truth serum drug trip; hilarious, but maybe took away time that could have been better spent? Also, as much as I love a good Neverending Story singalong, it completely killed the tension.

I also noticed Joyce’s character has become a bit…one-note. It seems like every season is basically, “Joyce is back on her bullshit again!” She started feeling like a caricature with her rants; also, suddenly she became more bumbling, rambling too much and being grating for the sake of creating some manufactured tension with Hopper.

Also…look, as much as I love the trope where the villain possesses someone and monologues at the main character, I’m not sure it works so well when it’s an eldritch horror you’re dealing with. Once the eldritch monster can start telling you its motivations it stops being so scary. Season 2 Mindflayer had motivations and thoughts only knowable through the vague impressions Will got. Season 3 Mindflayer is a card-carrying villain ranting about how it will kill everyone you love. This might be because it’s being translated through Billy, but it still killed some of the horror.

I’m also mixed on how Billy’s arc played out. On the one hand, I do like it when shows depict the cycle of abuse and how much it can hurt everyone involved. I did appreciate that recalling Billy to a better time of his life, to remind him of good things, helped him save El in the end. However…I found it odd that, suddenly, Max was very concerned about Billy. We were never given the impression in Season 2 that she felt anything but fear toward him, and we weren’t given the impression through most of Season 3 that anything had changed, except he had a healthy fear of her in return and wasn’t actively abusing her anymore. I’m not sure it’s entirely good to depict an abuse victim suddenly sympathizing with and crying for her abuser. It certainly happens in real life, and extraordinary forgiveness can happen in real life, but unfortunately too many abuse victims are told they should “forgive and forget” when it comes to their abusers and criticized if they still feel any kind of resentment years later. In the show we were never shown if Max understood that Billy was mimicking his father’s behavior or that his treatment of her was due to his resentment of being torn away from his home and his mom. This could have been set up to make Max’s sudden emotional investment in Billy more believable and less uncomfortable, but they didn’t do this.

Other things that I’m not so sure about involve some of the characters. For example, as much as I loved the stereotypical “bumbling Russian villains”, it was almost too cartoonish to feel threatening. The straw misogynists at the newspaper were too over the top, and seem to have come straight from the Internet, where people say and do a lot of things they wouldn’t do in real life, in front of other people. This made it harder to believe that Jonathan didn’t notice how utterly awful the situation was for Nancy. I suppose it was supposed to be some kind of commentary on how men don’t notice anything women complain about, but every man I’ve come into contact with would also agree that the level to which these guys took it was too much. Had they made it just a little subtler, it would have been much more uncomfortably real. Also, yes, Duffer Brothers, I did notice you had Nancy kill a misogynist that resembles Donald Trump. Everyone noticed it. The aliens in the Andromeda galaxy noticed it.

Subtlety, y’all.

 

Things I hated:

You know what I said about the manufactured tension between Hopper and Joyce? Hated it. So. Much. It was grating and it did nothing for their character arcs. The fake, over the top misunderstandings between them didn’t fall in line with either of their characters. Yes, Hopper is bad at emotions, but the childish jealousy seemed to come out of nowhere, and served only to give them something to argue about. A more natural character arc with their burgeoning relationship would have dealt with Joyce’s continued trauma over Bob (who deserved better). They had moments that hinted at this, but it was shot all to hell when they brought Murray in to scream about sexual tension. Which is another thing I hate. Murray screaming about sex. Once again, does nothing but make him annoying.

I also don’t like what they’ve done to Steve. Steve’s character arc in the first season showed him transforming from a jerk jock to a decent person. This continued in the second season, where he deals with a break up by helping out the kids. Then, suddenly, this season he is some sort of awkward dork who constantly bumbles around while other people actually get things done. He has one moment near the end where he goes to protect these kids he’s come to care about, but for the most part he’s the one being protected and constantly messing up. He’s been flanderized into being pathetic instead of continuing his character arc.

Also, I will never not be angry about Alexei. Alexei was a brilliant scientist who just wanted to enjoy capitalism for once. He wanted delicious fast food and giant stuffed animals and to entertain children. #AlexeiDeservedBetter, #JusticeForAlexei.

Book Review: Finish by Jon Acuff

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I started this year with Start, and per my plans, have finished this year with Finish.

I love symmetry.

This is Jon Acuff’s follow up to Start, written after a lot of people mentioned they were great at starting things, but really bad at seeing them through. Even as someone who doesn’t get distracted by every shiny idea running through my head (I only get distracted by some of those shiny ideas), this is a difficulty for me.

In fact, distraction by other ideas is only one of a lot of factors that can prevent someone from seeing a project through to the finish. Acuff narrows it all down to the same cause: perfectionism.

Look, we all want advice books, but none of us want to be straight-up called out, but that is exactly what happens here, and should be what happens. Perfectionism manifests in all kinds of ways, and Acuff goes through a lot of those ways, pointing out how they work psychologically speaking. Sometimes it’s those shiny new ideas; sometimes it’s the belief that other things are more important than our goal, or that we need to have certain things done before we can work on our goal.

I hate household chores. I do them because they need to be done at some point. Yet every time I sat down to write, I’m like “no, I should finish the dishes first, I can’t work in a chaotic environment!”

Called. Out.

I’m sure other authors have mentioned these ideas, but Acuff’s writing draws me in. He uses a lot of humorous examples, and his writing is definitely geared toward people with full lives who aren’t that great at organization. Too many advice books, I think, are written by and for organized, Type A people. (In fact, Acuff mentions this in his book; a lot of advice books encourage people to work harder to get everything done, when the issue is that people need to figure out what they can sacrifice to achieve their goal.

This book helped me identify some of the thought processes that have held me back in the past. It’s not going to be easy to overcome them, but knowing how they work is the first step. If you’ve already read Start, I would encourage you to read Finish as a good follow up to the concepts introduced in the first book.

 

Anyways, this will be my last blog post of 2019. Soon it will be the new 20’s! The jazzing! The flapping! The disillusionment with the American Dream, the simultaneous rise of poorly thought out communism coupled with the prevalent fear of communism affecting people’s decision-making skills, the utterly confusing existence of actual Nazis!

The world’s a wacky place.

 

See you on the flip side, Internet.

The Great Harry Potter Re-Read and Re-Watch: Deathly Hallows

We’ve made it! We’ve made it to the end of the very long saga that inspired a generation of children to read and terrified fundamentalists and Catholics with nonsense Latin phrases.

(Vatican exorcists claim that the spells in Harry Potter are real, but let’s be honest, I haven’t been able to lazily summon a single thing with Accio in all these years, so I’m not sure I can trust an Anglican author to properly convey workable magic spells to me.)

It has been a journey, both in-universe as we see Harry and his friends grow up, and IRL as we see J.K. Rowling’s writing evolve from a children’s book to an engaging fantasy for all ages. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the final installment of the Harry Potter series.

We open with a Death Eater meeting, in which there is no cake. The Malfoys are in high disgrace, not only due to Lucius and Draco’s failures, but also because Tonks married Lupin, and apparently Death Eaters are equal opportunity bigots. They’ll hate anyone who isn’t them, and are we sure this isn’t a service at Westboro Baptist?

Anyways, Voldemort murders the Muggle Studies teacher from Hogwarts and feeds her to Nagini, and I’m not judging, look, my girl Nagini probably has few joys in life at this point and a nice filling meal is one of them. Next, they make plans to nab Harry as soon as the blood protection from his mother ends when he turns 17. Imagine having to know and plan a surprise for your enemy’s birthday in order to defeat him.

Meanwhile, the Dursleys prepare to leave their house, somewhat unwillingly. Vernon, paranoid as usual, thinks it’s some weird plot to get the house, but Petunia, despite her inability to be pleasant to her dead sister’s son, still has sense enough to realize that Voldy is Bad Touch and Do Not Want. Dudley finally mans up and tries to be pleasant to Harry. Both in the story and amongst fans, it’s been pointed out that he doesn’t directly thank Harry or apologize for his past actions, but that’s extremely realistic. Both things are very difficult to do, especially for someone who is just beginning to consider their behavior and life in a different light. And some people, uncomfortable with words, convey their thoughts and feelings better through actions. We know that Harry and Dudley later on have a decent relationship when they’re older, so at the very least Dudley breaks away from some of his parents’ toxic behavior and thought processes.

Next, the whole crew arrives with the plan: they will all take Polyjuice Potion to act as decoys as they leave the house. Harry is appalled at the idea of his friends being placed in danger because of him (something that will be echoed at the end), but he is outnumbered, and has to quietly submit to the scheme.

AND THEN EVERYTHING GETS BAD AND HEDWIG DIES AND PEOPLE ARE HURT AND OH GOD GEORGE’S EAR AND NOT MAD-EYE MOODY AND WHY IS VOLDEMORT FLYING LIKE A BAT WAS HE WATCHING NOSFERATU THE NIGHT BEFORE I BET HE WAS WATCHING NOSFERATU

Anyways, this scene is a perfect representation of the coming bloodbath as J.K. Rowling turns full-on author sadist.

It’s okay, every writer has had that moment at least once.

During this mid-flight battle, something strange happens. Despite using Lucius’ wand, the twin core effect still prevents Voldemort from overcoming Harry, even though Harry, per usual, uses Expelliarmus. 

Now that we know exactly what to expect, we get a breather at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley tries her best to stop Harry, Ron, and Hermione from plotting their quest, Bill and Fleur are in the midst of wedding preparations, and Scrimgeour wants to know why Dumbledore left stuff to these three loser kids in his will. One of the things is the sword of Gryffindor. One can understand why an adult would be concerned that another adult is giving sharp objects to teenagers. However, the other ones demonstrate more of the Ministry’s paranoia than anything. No one but the Ministry of Magic could be concerned about a teacher giving his students: a book of fairy tales, a useful magic tool, and an athlete’s first caught Snitch.

I mean, Scrimgeour is totally right, these all have way more significance, but his insistence isn’t…normal.

Harry celebrates a quiet birthday, Ron cockblocks him and Ginny, and the wedding is a smashing success, right up until the literal smashing begins. Of course villains wait until the party to come calling. You think Voldemort, the most extra antagonist in the wizarding world, is content to interrupt a normal Tuesday? Naw, they’re gatecrashing a fancy wedding. It’s the only way.

The book then starts into a pattern: the trio find a quiet hiding place, they plan their next mission, something goes wrong with the mission, and at most they only get another piece of the puzzle. The time at Grimmauld Place is probably the nicest part of it all. Kreacher’s transformation into an utterly loveable muppet all because they said nice things about Regulus is kind of adorable. It also serves to demonstrate, on a smaller scale, of Voldemort’s chief inability to understand positive emotions. He couldn’t possibly think that anyone would care for a House Elf, so he had no idea Regulus would turn against him and all the entire Black family (save for Sirius) believed in, solely because Voldemort abused his House Elf. It also shows how easy it can be to win over someone’s loyalty through kindness and compassion.

In the midst of the very long camping trip, we get some highlights and character development. Hermione keeping cash on hand so she can pay for the food they have to sneak from people’s houses or from stores is extremely in character. Most people would think this is a time to forget about this; just smash down that door and take their Eggos!

But not Hermione. She has a very specific idea of when to break rules and when to follow them.

Ron leaving is often pointed as a sign of how awful he is as a friend. But he was injured, probably not eating enough for an injured person, and having a piece of Voldemort’s soul poke at all his insecurities at once. In fact, his losing faith in Harry is extremely out of character; in the past he has never doubted Harry, even when he was violently jealous of him. Why, I ask, why did they have to actively wear the damn thing? Just stick it in Hermione’s bag of holding and be done with it! Anyways, Ron coming back is also completely in character. Ron can do impulsive things, which he almost instantly regrets. His character development has been his ability to more quickly acknowledge his regrets openly, and swallowing his pride when this happens.

Finally, seeing everyone’s built up vision of Dumbledore as the wise old mentor crumble is utterly fascinating. Part of growing up is recognizing and understanding the faults of the adults around you. It can be disheartening, but in the end, it can also be encouraging. If the nice old guy that fights against bigots once used to be something of a bigot himself but managed to grow out of it and become a better person, that means you also have a chance to be that nice old person. My generation likes to joke about “adulting”, but the biggest part of adulting is recognizing your faults and working to overcome them. Some adults who are good at “adulting”, i.e. keeping their outward lives together, haven’t grasped the important part.

Anyways, once the camping trip is over, the trio make their way to Hogwarts, thanks to the assistance of Aberforth, who really, really likes goats for some reason. I mean, they’re okay. They do useful things, and baby goats are kind of cute, but this is kind of an obsession. Apart from the obvious very adult joke about goats that J.K. Rowling was going for, the only thing I can figure is that Aberforth is so stubborn and goat-like himself that he gets along better with them than other animals or people.

While Hogwarts prepares for a siege, Harry goes searching for Rowena Ravenclaw’s lost diadem, which is exactly where we left it in the last book. Unfortunately, Crabbe sets everything on fire. Fortunately, it’s super extra magical fire that destroys Horcruxes!

Unfortunately, ROCKS FALL AND EVERYONE DIES.

Seriously, these next few chapters are a frigging bloodbath. Fred dies! Tonks and Remus die! Snape dies, and leaves Harry his Sad Incel Memories.

These memories show that Snape’s entire motivation was his rather creepily obsessive love for Lily. It’s a good way to demonstrate that even rather unhealthy love can be a powerful motivator for positive action.

It also reveals that Voldemort accidentally turned Harry into a Horcrux.

Umm…whoops!

This theory started almost as soon as Book 6 came out, and I wouldn’t have any of it, and I was wrong, so very wrong. Harry walks to his death, hangs out with Dumbledore the White, and comes back to life. In a way, he does die, since the love protection settles on everyone at Hogwarts, but he also doesn’t die, as thanks to Voldy using some of Harry’s blood, Lily’s blood protection is still on Harry when he’s around Voldy. Complicated? Wait till we get to the part about the Elder Wand!

The final battle happens. Neville cuts off Nagini’s head (MY POOR NAGINI), Mrs. Weasley murders the crap out of Bellatrix, and Voldemort is just as confused as we are right up until he gets Expelliarmused to death.

So let’s touch on a few things. First, the obvious thread of Hallows versus Horcruxes also demonstrates the fairly obvious point that’s been made since Book 1. The true “master of death” isn’t the one who runs from death or tries to avoid it, but accepts it. Harry uses the Invisibility Cloak to shield his friends; he uses the Resurrection Stone to make his walk to death easier; he uses the Elder Wand only to mend his own wand. Voldemort hadn’t even heard of the Deathly Hallows, but even if he had, he wanted a permanent way to remain alive. He wanted Horcruxes to eternally avoid death. In the end, he experienced both bodily and spiritual death. J.K. Rowling was clearly drawing on Christian beliefs here, so blatantly I was surprised that no one else guessed the ending, and I was also surprised by how many people missed the implications. Western civilization has been shaped by Christianity. Even if one isn’t a Christian, so much of literature has themes of self-sacrifice and acceptance of death. 

Next, the book presents an interesting paradox. Dumbledore and Grindelwald used the concept of “the greater good” to justify tyranny. Yet, in the end, Harry points out that sometimes we really do have to do things for something other than ourselves. But that’s where he differs, once again, from Dumbledore, Grindelwald, and even Voldemort. His “greater good” involves his own actions to achieve it, rather than asking others to do it for him. In the beginning he hated the idea of others being hurt to shield him, and in the end he acts on this repulsion by offering himself as a shield instead. That said, Dumbledore himself came to realize this. He was the shield, not only to protect Harry, but also to protect Draco and Snape from Voldemort’s wrath and suspicion. Dumbledore prefers working behind the scenes to achieve things, but in the end he will step up and put himself in the crossfire if necessary.

Another issue that often comes up is that of the epilogue. I’ve seen a lot of arguments about it, and more and more it has turned into a “generational” thing. Boomers (those icky Boomers!) like the idea of Babies Ever After, whereas us jaded Millenials and Gen-Z don’t like things that wrap up neatly because that’s not how real life works!

Except, quite a few of us have stated we like the epilogue.

Look, we all know that sometimes real life can be, to put it frankly, a bitch. Life doesn’t go according to plan. We don’t always marry our childhood sweethearts, the people we love best don’t always survive, and sometimes the world just seems chaotic.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have a book that ends on a positive, uplifting, optimistic note. Rampant cynicism is no better than unrelenting optimism. Fiction can be unrealistic; or, even scarier, can be more realistic than we realize, because good things happen in real life too.

Is the epilogue a bit cheesy? Yes. Is it nice to see this last dark book reveal that our characters are still friends years later, that they’ve started families of their own and that “All is well”? Absolutely.

Apropos of nothing, why didn’t the trio just tell Griphook they needed to keep the sword of Gryffindor for a bit while they defeated Voldemort, and then he could have it back? How hard would that have been????

 

So let’s get to the movies. Weirdly, these movies did more for character development than any of the others, which is rather sad, because this all could have been built up much better in the past movies.

I liked that it began with Hermione making the choice to remove her parents’ memories and send them off to Australia. Last thing we need is Lady Stark to die and come back as a vengeful revenant again. That never ends well. More seriously, it shows that as much as the Wizarding World is in danger, it’s the regular world, unaware of the danger, that is getting hit the hardest. Voldemort and his Death Eaters may be powerful wizards, but other wizards can fight them. Muggles don’t stand a chance, unless they hire a good sniper to take them out. No, I definitely have not considered writing fanfiction about that.

I’m kind of sad that they completely left out the beginning of Dudley’s change of heart, although it’s understandable given the limitations of the medium, but even worse is that they cut the goodbye scene between Harry and Petunia. At the very least, in the book, Petunia shows that she understands that implications of what is happening. Here, it isn’t even touched on.

Harry letting Hedwig out before they left made me think the movie chose to spare my poor owl. Nope, she came back last minute to do some stupid heroics, which ought to make Harry proud, being good at those himself.

I liked the added hilarious moment of George cockblocking Harry and Ginny. These two can’t get a break around that house, seriously. I’m also kind of glad they left out Harry’s Spider-Man moment from the last movie. Seriously, what makes you think breaking up with her will change anything? She’s a Weasley, she’s already got a target on her back, Harry! 

In fact, looking back, the movie wasn’t as tedious as I thought of it. I think it’s because they can do “worst camping trip” montages better than writing can do. However, it made it hard to show Ron’s slow descent as the situation started to seem more hopeless. His hostility had to start rather early, which made it seem like they were going for more of Ron’s bad characterization that had been set up before. Overall, however, the first movie pretty much followed the book very well without being too by the numbers like the early movies. 

One change that I thought was fitting was that Hermione was the one to pick up on the recurrence of the Deathly Hallows symbol. I know in the books it was written as Harry’s part because he had to make the choice between “hallows and horcruxes”, but it made better sense that Hermione, a scholar and endlessly curious, would be the one to notice this and become intrigued. 

The scene in Godric’s Hollow was less creepy than the books, for the mere fact that Nagini was not straight up wearing a corpse as a meatsuit. 

Ron’s return was done very well, although this starts an abrupt change of characterization which would have been nicer to have as a slow build up. Still, post-return Ron acts more like we wanted him to act in the past movies. He’s trying to be more attentive to Hermione, but his goofiness shines through. 

Overall, there was nothing extremely remarkable or anything I particularly hated in part 1. Part 2, however, gets intense, in a good way.

Everyone has already talked about how amazing it was to see Helena Bonham-Carter acting as Emma Watson acting as Hermione acting as Bellatrix, but let me add how well done it was. It was better than Chris Evans acting as Tom Hiddleston acting as Loki acting as Captain America. (Sci-fi and fantasy universes get complicated, y’all.)

Griphook was presented as much less sympathetic from the get-go than he was in the book, which is fine. I’m actually a bit disappointed that we didn’t get an even more sympathetic characterization given the backstory of how goblins had been mistreated by wizards. But perhaps it was showing us that regardless of how someone had been mistreated, their actions can still be bad.

I think the most disappointing part of this movie is that they left out so much of Dumbledore’s back story. Not one person mentions who Grindelwald is or shows any shock that Dumbledore could have been friends with him. Aberforth never explains why Ariana was a point of contention between him and Dumbledore.

Let me say, though Ciaran Hinds did a great job of showing how much Aberforth was like Dumbledore despite his blunt nature and general crankiness. Dumbledore spewed wisdom gently, in small doses. Aberforth just lays it out there. Also, though we see little of him in the final battle, the very little we see shows he’s actually quite a powerful wizard himself. 

The battle itself is fantastic and epic and that’s really all I can say of it. That’s what we want from a really big battle, and we got it. 

Now let’s move on to the big part: Snape biting it (pun intended) and Harry seeing his memories.

I’ve been harping all along on how much of the sympathetic views of Snape is due to Alan Rickman’s portrayal, and this really hammers that in. Alan Rickman made me feel sorry for Snape, lying there crying out his memories and letting Harry cradle his head. Notably, his memories don’t show Snape being particularly awful in any way. We don’t see him try to injure Petunia when he and Lily are young; we don’t see his and Lily’s final argument after he calls her a Mudblood. All we see are him and Lily becoming close friends, James and the Marauders bullying him, and then suddenly Lily marries James. No wonder people use this as an example of “nice guys finish last” even though in the books that is emphatically not what happens. One could argue this is an unreliable narrator and is how Snape viewed events but not how they actually happened, but I doubt this is what the movie was going for. They just showed us the highlights to explain everything.

Rickman, overall, portrays Snape as a more feeling person than he was in the books. No doubt Snape held Dumbledore in high respect, but in the movies he refers to him by his first name, and shows actual concern for him. In some ways, I sort of like this style of characterization; on the other hand, I think J.K. Rowling’s intended characterization of Snape as a genuinely terrible person who winds up doing some good things is more nuanced, and I think that’s why people struggle to grasp it. Our culture right now really does tend to think of people as divided between good people and “Death Eaters”, forgetting that people are extremely complex. There are calls to completely ignore authors or historical figures that did bad things, even though they also had good things to say, or did some good things in history. In some ways Snape’s movie characterization reflects this eventual trend (and one that was already starting then). Movie Snape can more easily be depicted as merely a victim of society, rather than someone who is still responsible for his choices (as depicted in the books).

Anyways, leaving that rabbit trail, Harry comes to terms with the fact that he is a Horcrux. The scene where he goes to his death is built up very well. The pacing and tension are perfect, as is the Death Eater’s triumphant march on Hogwarts.

Also, let’s spare some sympathy for Draco, who just wants to be with his parents but gets intercepted by the Most Awkward Hug Ever.

The second big battle, the one directly between Harry and Voldemort, is a bit…odd. At one point, Voldemort channels his inner Slenderman (and can I just say that watching this movie right after I discovered the Slenderman mythos in 2011 and was in the middle of the typical Slenderparanoia made for a very uncomfortable experience?), and his and Harry’s mid-air battle was quite possibly the goofiest mid-air battle I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the timing between their fight and Neville killing Nagini (who, may I remind you, deserves better) made for some great tension.

Voldemort literally falling apart is a good way to depict his death, especially since we don’t have Peeves to sing “Voldy’s Gone Moldy” over his corpse. 

They did not take two seconds to show Harry fixing his wand with the Elder Wand, and I have no idea why.

So, overall, the movies were a pretty good end to the series, and even though at the time I ranted about the last one being split in two, I think it made sense (especially since we actually had eight Horcruxes, not seven).

And here we are, at the end of our re-read and re-watch. Did we learn anything?

We learned that Alan Rickman’s acting was phenomenal, all Slytherins except for Slughorn got the shaft (especially as many people have pointed out that there had to be at least one Slytherin in the group that would have really wanted to fistfight their bigoted relatives), and #NaginiDeservedBetter, #JusticeForNagini, #VoldemortPeopleDon’tTurnTheirFriendsIntoHorcruxesWTF

(Look, Fantastic Beasts started this when they gave us Nagini as a poor sad cursed cinnamon roll who apparently has a habit of befriending angsty pale kids who turn to the Dark Side. What do you want me to do?)

nagini is the true master of the elder wand
Besides, this is the only headcanon I will accept now.

 

Anyways, tune in next year for…

 

THE GREAT TOLKIEN RE-READ AND RE-WATCH.

The Great Harry Potter Re-Read and Re-Watch: Half-Blood Prince

Or, The One Where The Wise Old Mentor Bites It

I think Half-Blood Prince is my favorite Harry Potter book and movie, hands down. You can tell J.K. Rowling is writing for an older audience; the pacing is excellent, and everything starts coming together. 

The book opens up with the current Prime Minister of Britain meeting with both Fudge, who’s been given the boot and yet not jailed for allowing children to be tortured in school, and Scrimgeour, the new Minister of Magic, who’s trying to clean up Fudge’s mess. They’ve put Kingsley in charge of keeping an eye on the prime minister and make sure Death Eaters don’t murder or Imperius him.

(I spent far too much time trying to match up the real timeline and the Harry Potter timeline to find out who the actual PM was during this time, and while I really wanted to envision Tony Blair in this role, it turns out John Major would have been PM at this point. The More You Know.)

 Then we move on to the usual stuff. Harry is not so much being abused anymore as just…ignored. Dumbledore shows up to collect Harry and tell the Dursleys how much they suck, completely skipping over how he could have ensured Harry was not actively abused during his time with the Dursleys. Next, we meet Horace Slughorn, who is the Best Slytherin Ever (except for Merlin, we all love Merlin).

sofaPictured above: Slughorn’s inspiration

He’s got people skills, he makes connections with the powerful and the influential, but he draws the line at being involved with those who would hurt others. He’s got some unconscious prejudice (he uses the old line of having good feelings toward one person of a minority group), but he’s not actively hateful and shows the potential for further growth. It may be a selfish impulse that brings him back to Hogwarts, but he makes his stand in the end with everyone else. 

Anyways, enough of Slughorn Appreciation Hour. The wizarding world is now fully aware that Voldemort is in fact not dead. Scrimgeour wants to get Harry on the side of the Ministry, what with the rumors that he is the Chosen One. Harry isn’t having any of it, given the Ministry’s poor decision making skills. Then, while in Diagon Alley, Harry finds out Draco is Up To Something, and rapidly jumps to the conclusion that Draco is a Death Eater.

Now, here’s the thing. That is a bit of a jump, but the fact is Draco actually was acting very suspiciously, and everyone utterly ignoring Harry’s concerns smacks of sheer stupidity. Despite the fact that everyone knows ignoring Harry is the best way to get him to do something stupid, they do it anyways. Dumbledore has some excuse, since he’s aware of the situation. But, he doesn’t even affirm that Harry’s instincts are correct, and sometimes affirmation is all people need to relax a little over the situation. It’s especially weird given that Harry’s instincts are generally correct, even if he goes a little off-base. He and Trelawney could have a vent session about how no one listens to them.

In the midst of Harry stalking keeping an eye on Malfoy, he uses the old Potions textbook of someone called the Half-Blood Prince. He is also learning more about Voldemort’s past. We find out that Voldy has been a violent nutcase since childhood, most likely partly due to a history of inbreeding in his family and his mother’s use of a love potion when he was conceived. While this has been stated to be the reason Voldemort can’t understand or feel love, this doesn’t excuse his actions or place him in a more sympathetic light, no more than sociopathy excuses a serial killer’s murders. I also didn’t like the implications that somehow his mother was a weak person for not having the will to live because she wasn’t “brave”. She had been abused her entire life, and when she finally escapes the only way she knows how and think she’s happy, she gets abandoned and neglected again. The fact that she was brave enough to leave her abusive home in the first place, brave enough to stop relying on a love potion to keep her life together, and brave enough to keep herself going long enough to give birth despite being abandoned, is never really touched on or mentioned. Merope deserves more sympathy than she is given in or out of canon.

Anyways, our trip into backstory-land shows us that Voldemort has been splitting his soul into bits and sticking those bits into objects. They have to play Horcrux Go in order to kill him, so we now have our final quest set up.

The rest of the side plots involve romance. Tonks is in unrequited love with Lupin, Ron and Hermione can’t get their crap together, and Ginny is a Hor for dating an entire two boys in her whole life while Harry’s Chest Monster (i.e. his teenage boy hormones) discovers that Ginny Is Pretty.

J.K. Rowling, FYI, is as bad at writing romance as I am.

Anyways, it all ends in Sadness. Dumbledore unnecessarily weakens himself when he and Harry try to find a Horcrux, Draco reveals he really is just a scared kid, and Snape kills Dumbledore then reveals that he, the only person around that’s really good at Potions, is the Potions genius known as the Half-Blood prince. For the record, Slughorn spends an enormous amount of time in the book implying that Lily’s Potions skills were as good as the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions skills, and none of us caught the implications of that.

Like I said, I think this is the best written out of all the books. It kept the plot tight while keeping the reader engaged. I liked that it did showcase Harry’s intuition well, particularly with the use of Felix Felicis. The potion literally just enhanced his intuition while tweaking circumstances to make it work as well as possible. Everything Harry did while using the Lucky Potion was based on stuff he already knew; he just needed to connect the threads at the right time.

Fleur is shown to be more than just a dumb blonde, although let’s be honest–she was still catty and unpleasant at the beginning, constantly putting down other women. I think a lot of people overlook that part when they’re complaining about how much the other characters dislike Fleur. And, truthfully, sitting around two people sappily in love and feeding each other food and stuff is incredibly uncomfortable.

Finally, Dumbledore still doesn’t leave Harry enough information, and while outright telling Harry that, yeah, he’s got to bite it as well if they’re going to defeat Voldemort might be demoralizing, it might be a good idea to leave that information somewhere other than Snape’s Lily-Addled Brain.

 

The movie, likewise, has pretty good pacing, and focuses on the important parts while adding in the bits from the books that were most popular. Sadly, they continue sticking to the weird flying smoke monster Death Eaters that the last movie started, but I suppose we’ll just have to deal with that. The effects are great as usual, especially in Slughorn’s house. They hit key points without dragging things out or rushing too much, except, sadly, when it comes to Horcrux exposition. The movie doesn’t really go into what the Horcruxes are, which makes very little sense. Dumbledore may not tell Harry that he’s a Horcrux (although I do like that the movie implies Dumbledore just realizes this right before he and Harry go to fetch the locket, which makes him less manipulative than he is in the book), but it would make sense for him to tell Harry what sorts of things to look out for.

Another complaint is an old one most fans dislike; giving almost every moment of value to Hermione. Even at the end, when they’re looking at the fake locket, it’s Harry and Hermione talking together and Ron isn’t anywhere to be seen until the camera pans out. It’s made even weirder by the odd moment where Dumbledore tries to find out if the Harmony ship is sailing. Also, the movie continues the bizarre running gag of Hermione getting angry at Ron for eating too much. Granted, he does eat a bit messily, but the problem is explicitly stated his eating in the first place. This movie gives Hermione the excuse that he should be too worried about Harry to eat; but this has been going on for nearly every movie. Also, when I was a teenager, I wanted to eat all the time too, even when I was stressed (let’s be honest, especially when I was stressed). This weird dynamic also unintentionally plays into the stereotype, and sometimes societal pressure, for girls specifically to not eat a lot, regardless of weight or health, or at least not to be seen eating much in public.

Gambon looked alarmingly like Gandalf the White when they went to get the locket; I suspect that was done on purpose. In fact, the entire cave scene feels like Rowling’s shout out to Lord of the Rings, but that might be my Tolkien-Addled Brain.

And, as usual, Alan Rickman makes Snape a much more sympathetic character just by his acting alone. I also absolutely adore Helena Bonham-Carter’s interpretation of Bellatrix; her kicking around plates and destroying things for no reason is hilarious. (Of course, sadly, we know that canonically Bellatrix is giving birth to a Mary Sue, but we can pretend like Cursed Child doesn’t exist when we watch the movies. We’ll do that.)

So, overall, the book and movie has us pumped and ready for the epic quest to find the Horcruxes, or as it is also known, the Worst Camping Trip Ever.