Wednesday, July 25, 2007

C.S. Lewis phoned; he wants his plot back.


FOR FUCK'S SAKE!!!! Did she have to turn it into a another fucking Christian allegory???

(And Herebe don't bother telling me that if it's a Chrisian allegory she didn't steal CS Lewis's plot, she got it from the Bible because that's where Lewis got it. I know that.)

I knew it was getting a bit Messianic with that whole prophecy thing in book 5, and of course it wouldn't be an interesting prophecy if there was no doubt as to whom the prophecy referred, so Rowling made sure to throw a bit of confusion in for good measure.

(Oh, and speaking of plot rip-offs, when he puts the locket horcrux around his neck and it starts describing how heavy the burden is and it begins to turn him evil i about spit. i was just waiting for him to whisper the word "prescious" in the night, at which point i would have burnt the book. thank god that didn't happen.)

Then Harry walks into the Room of Reqirement and greets all his apostles, erm, friends, who cheer "yay! he's come to fight for us and set us free!" and he has to tell them that no, actually he didn't come to fight for them. he's going to set them free another way.

then he has to march off willingly to his death in the forest.

but lo! he doesn't die! he takes a killing curse from Voldemort right between the eyes, has an afterlife conversation with Dumbledore, and rises from the dead! what a fucking surprise!

(at least it didn't take three days.)

then he explains to Voldemort, in front of everyone, how he cannot kill anyone because he, Harry, was willing to die to save them, and that is a magid deeper and older than anything Voldemort understands. He died to save everyone, out of love, and now they cannot suffer death! He has conquered it for them! Gaaaaaagh!

As if this wasn't nauseating enough, Harry commits the cardinal plot sin of explaining to his victim exaclty how he, Voldemort, is going to die and why. It was like a bad spy movie. I half expected Big V to get away just because Harry couldn't shut his yap.

I didn't object to the "19 years later" ending on principle, but given that it contained not One Single Surprise, there was no point. A "X years later" ending is supposed to make you go "Aaaaaah! No way!!!!", not confirm everything you've suspected since book 2 for the love of all that's holy. What a waste of paper.

Oh, and to everyone who tried to convince me that Snape really was evil and working for the Dark Lord, I have but this to say: nyah nyah nyah nyah booboo, stick your head in doodoo! I was right, I was right! You people really don't understand the concept of a double-agent, do you?

The one good thing that comes of all this is finally the Religious Wrong will have to shut up about Harry Potter and the occult and how the books corrupt Christian values, since it's as much an allegory of Christ as The LW&W ever was. And anything that proves the Jesus Nutters wrong and puts a sock in their collective, hypocrital pie-hole is OK by me.

And hands up everyone who agrees with me that Harry should have boned Luna instead of Ginny.

ps. new post over at Question Everything (finally).


First Nations said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
First Nations said...

I read the first two and stopped, while it was still a better than average childrens fantasy story. I'm so glad I did.

I had no idea it was headed in this direction, though. how flaky.
and I never had a clue what the religious dips were complaining about...the potter books were so clearly about right overcoming wrong, virtue overcoming corruption, fair play and honor being their own reward and all that good ol' wholesome stuff.

anne rice made the same messianic mistake with lestat. odd to think of them in the same boat! (but rather hot to think of lestat all up in young harry's business...)

Chaucer's Bitch said...

hot hot lestat on potter action? NO.

hot hot Lestat on Luscious Malfoy action YES YES YES. That badass can point his wand at me any day of the week.

llewtrah said...

Now I don't need to read it. In truth, I'm waiting till it turns up in paperback. In Oxfam. By which time I'll know what happens anyway.

Somewhere on the web is some Malfoy/Potter slash fiction, one being underwater in a big bath and the other involving a broomstick (and not used for Quidditch!)

Geosomin said...

Um...yeah I totally didn't get that at all. But once you pointed it out I can't believe I didn't notice it before...
Good to know I wasn't alone in figuring Snape was still good...

Michael said...

Like First Nations, I stopped after Volume 2. Any thoughts I'd harbored of taking up the task again have been snuffed by your review. Viele dank, liebchen.

Pi said...

Oh yes...Actually this topic was dissected before on mugglenet:

First Nations said...

...the kid with the greasy hair?

*considering new and considerably more louche scene involving Malfoy, Iggy Pop and a dank, rodent infested corner of Diagon Alley*

First Nations said...

oh hell, throw in Potter, Lestat and a gallon can of lard and call it a smorgasbord.

ZB said...

Ceebs, I love you very much and this is not going to be a hectoring post (although parts of it may feel like it). But for as long as I've known you, I've told you that Harry Botter has been a shite second-rate plagiaristic effort from the first word and the reasons behind Rowling's success (but not her phenomenon which, like all phenomena is by definition unexplainable and beyond control. If it was controllable, we'd all be able to do it)(the reasons behind her success for those who missed it the first time are: the most bankable and successful children's stories are essentially stories about children's stories, referencing elements that have gone before. The most successful of modern children's stories since the first golden age of children's literature in the Victorian period are: the boarding school story (archetype: Tom Brown's Schooldays, see also Stalky and Co, Edwin, Malory Towers, Twins at St. Claires etc etc); Orphans (water babies, Peter Pan etc etc) magic, magical secondary worlds with and without relation to the ordinary world, lands and fantasical elements (Water Babies, Alice stories, Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, The Hobbit, Narnia) and the transportation from the ordinary to the fantastic (the wardrobe device in Narnia, straight on til morning for Neverland). You can insert your own modern takes on these themes here but the key one is Dahl. From the sixties to his death, Dahl dominated children's literature, selling more than all the other contemporary children's lit author put together. A decade after his death, there was a gap in the market and a new generation needing their own author. Up steps J.K with her pastiche containing all the right elements: the boarding school story with magical elements, a secondary world fantasy juxtaposed against the ordinary world and an orphan hero (with a nike swoosh on his head for merchandising purposes), throw in a dark lord for good measure (because there's always a baddie in kiddie lit whether it's flashman in Tom Brown, Hook in Pan or Smaug in TH) and the rest is hysteria. J.K had the right book at the right time with the right not very original (or indeed very well marshalled) elements. (Sorry, but she can't write for toffee. She really can't. At least Tom Brown's Schooldays is readable. At least Tolkien had some idea of pacing a narrative without resorting to 'and it was all dream eighteen years later tricks' at least Carroll brought the elegance of his mathematical mind to Alice's clauses and Milne his professional discipline to Pooh...) Good for her. I have no sour grapes about her success but I've refused to join the trend of lauding her simply because it's de rigeur because I just don't think she's very good. I've tried to see what all the fuss is about. I really have. I've tried reading the books and I've always given up because I've always spotted where she's got it from and preferred the original. Sorry. I'm happy and willing to have my disbelief suspended but the author has to do it off their own bat without the help of their marketing department. I won't be told that I should read something because it's great if it doesn't do the job it's supposed to on me. She had her chance with me and frankly I think that other people handled the same themes much better and far more originally.

The ending is a case in point. It's not a surprise - as you note, Lewis did a riff on it but as a woman who did J.A's Arthur course with me you should also see it in The Sword in the Stone (now, there is a truly magical account of a truly magical education). Why does Arthur die? Because as Merlyn notes, Arthur dying for others and the ideal he embodies is far more powerful than Arthur twatting Mordred (another baddie. Well, well...) and the knights of the round table ruling with peace and discretion for another 1,000 years. A once and future king (wow, that's applicable to the late J.C ain't it?) is more powerful than the dude who lives on the hill. Similarly, Lewis uses the same device in Narnia (more than once actually)(again, rather better) but then he got it from Tolks. His 'borrowing' of T's themes was one of the reasons why they fell out. Why do you think Frodo leaves Middle Earth? What do you think the opening of The Silmarillion is if not Tolkien's take on the opening of the King James Bible? 'In the beginning was Ainur and he was the One...' It's Genesis. He's writing a mythology for England (not of England, important distinction) and mythologies (J.A again) are legends of origin and stories of rebirth (which Harry Potter essentially is. Note the concern with origins. Note the ending). Frodo redeems middle-earth by sacrificing his self - the self we meet in the first chapter - to a higher, nobler cause. He can no longer remain in the shire and transcends to the West. Even Pullman, who for two thirds of Northern Lights produced a brilliant narrative before losing it, succumbs to the kiddie lit syndrome of quasi christian sacrifice.

So, J.K's ending isn't a surprise because given the rest of the work's pastiching and reworking of established archetypes, it's the only way that it could ahve ended. The ending is a pastiche of other endings that have gone before in other children's books just as her books were pastiches and patchworks of themes and elements that have gone before in kiddie lit. That's the name of the children's lit game. New original books are rarely written, what is published are variations on the established themes.

So, I know that HP has brought you and others a lot of pleasure over the years and I don't deny your enjoyment of it. I also congratulate J.K on writing seven increasingly long books in ten years just because writing any long piece of work is a trial of strength (hell, tolks took essentially thirty years to produce the LOTR's but I guess he was worried about it working as a cohesive piece rather than the next movie production deadline) and on her success.

But while I know (as well as anyone) that Children's Literature and indeed all literature and art is essentially derivative, it doesn't have to be done so badly you can see the wires. And because of that, I feel justified in saying:


Dave said...

I don't read childrens' books. there's enough adult stuff out there to keep me occupied.

Miss Melville said...

Alright... so I was all prepared to drcry you as being unfair, but I've thought better of it. I deeply respect your opinions and those of the other individuals who have commented so far. To add to this esteemed brotherhood, here are my two cents-- I would ask that you not take offense to my thoughts, but rather simply consider:

I understand that the elements were not particularly novel, but the "innocent victim saves the day" theme is far older than anything we can credit to a particular author, be it the Abraham story or a Chinese fable or sub-Saharran tribal legend. In order to write without referencing the wealth of literature which eddy about anyone who picks up a pen would be to compose in a vaccuum. One can hardly speak of death without harkening back to the previously enumerated themes of our greatest minds-- Shakespeare and Henry V when discussing the rightness of war, Keats on the briefness of life, Frost on autumn anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line. Frankly, I don't see the harm in employing it once again. Particularly now; oh, for the love of mercy, certainly now.

I prefer to think of it more as social commentary rather than religious jargon. Yes, that's a choice, and I've made it. What could we need more, as a people saddled with unjust war, unmerited deaths and rampant misinformation, need more than a thinly-veiled popular story which decries the power of propoganda, the dangers of ambition and power, the immutability of death, and the ultimate triumph of the tolerant, merciful minority? Now, when Afgan children are met with violent ends, bombed out of their homes by foes they cannot see. Now, when we live in a vague fear of speaking out against an establishment which has effectively detained individuals indefinitely as "enemy combatants" and used intimidation and fear as pointed weapons. Now, when an entire nation stands in a lackluster haze and no one believes that the next election will make one damn bit of difference. There is no one left here to stand for mercy or unaltered truth or unfettered disclosure or equality among races and creeds. What we lack in dark lords and magic wands we more than make up for in suppressed minorities, sallow politicians, war-mongers and machine guns.

We as a people need the story of the little guy who triumphs. We need him not to die. Perhaps this makes me far less jaded than I had previously thought, but I was unbelievably happy when Harry did not, in fact, die. Even if it is only in the pages of this overwhelmingly popular book, one last corner of a page does not end in dispair, in unyeilding sacrafice. He recieve his reprieve-- perhaps the leap from paper to personhood would not be too great.

With so much else to weigh one down, why dismantle this poor book? Can't we have a story where the boy-who-doesn't-know-he-can really defeats the evil-guy-who's-sure-he-can? It doesn't have to be religion-- it could simply go to the Brotherhood of Man. I, for one, am happy to leave it at that.

Frobisher said...

Jeezus! it's getting very high-brow in here.

ZB, has said everything I was going to - and far more eloquently - JK has pinched bits from all over the place!

Still, respect due for getting a whole generation of children to read a book, which can only be a positive thing.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

Llewtrah: ew! that's even worse than my best friend who wrote a 1,200 page fanfic novel that turns into a romance bewtween herself and Snape!

geosomin: my flatmates didn't pick up on it, either, but they were both raised in very non-religious homes, whereas I was brought up catholic, went to catholic school and church twice a week for 18 years. i couldn't miss it if i tried, and believe me, i tried.

Michael (and FN): you might want to consider reading Book 3, Prisoner of Azkaban. It's the best of the lot, whereas book 2 is generally agreed to be the worst.

Pi: i wouldn't know, i don't read mugglenet. but thanks.

FN: ew ew ew ew ew ew! if we're going to concoct HP orgies, can we at least do it with the adult characters? give me Malfoy (senior), snape, serious black, and bill weasley. especially bill weasley. that'll do.

Herebe: everything you say about sources of children's lit and their construction is true. and those devices aren't limited to kids' stories. (How do you create a sympatheic protagonist with whom readers will relate and identify? capitalize on universal conditions of the human experience -- for example a feeling of isolation which everyone experiences at some point in their life -- by creating a character who is totally isolated or alone in some way. Examples: Ender Wiggin in Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love by Rober Heinlein, even Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. None of them orphans, but all isolated from the rest of society by some means (exceptional genius, lived longer than anyone else in human history, and too smart to be accepted by current society, respectively).

So it's not just kids' books: all authors use tried and true methods to create characters and tell stories. Lord knows Shakespeare didn't write an original thing in his life! And I've always known that Rowling was doing the same thing, picking bits from here and there and mashing them together to create something entertaining and fun. And that's the point, to be entertaining and fun, and the HP stories are. Snape is a great character, as are Remus Lupin and Molly Weasley. The setting is cool (who wouldn't want to go to school in a castle with staircases that move and paintings that talk?). It's just fun.

I don't mind that she's drawn her sources from all over literature; that's what authors do. so you're right, i shouldn't have been surprised that she used the Bible to create her climax, but for some reason I was. I guess because i've spent so much time and energy railing against the christian church lately that i was annoyed when it finally invaded my harry potter books as well. i mean for fuck's sake, why does it always come back to that???

so you're not wrong about Rowling's methods, i just don't think that automatically makes her books crap. if it did, all books would be crap. sure she's got some problems (can't write and action sequence for shit, for one), but some things she does really well (silly details providing comic relief, for example).

so it wasn't that she employed a re-cycled plot for her grand finale, it was that the plot she chose happened to be the one from the christian bible. i'm bored to tears with constnatly being bludgeoned over the head with it by every aspect of western society.

dave: so you're into adult literature, are you? ok then.

miss M: yes, the social commentary of the propoganda war waged by the ministry of magic (ie the government) is awesome, and i really loved it. and there were other social commentaries as well. that's all well and good and is usually a device employed by sci-fi rather than fantasy, but i've no problem with trans-genre construction tools. like i said, it's just that one particular plot line that raises my hackles. oh well. i never really should have expected otherwise i suppose.

Frobi: yeah, ZB and Miss M here are proper academics, but we love them anyway. and you're right, way to go anyone who manages to peel the sprogs off their nintendos and get them reading! right on!

ZB said...

Miss Melville: We as a people need the story of the little guy who triumphs. We need him not to die...

Why? This need says more about the human inability to accept death than it does the reality that everything dies.

Can't we have a story where the boy-who-doesn't-know-he-can really defeats the evil-guy-who's-sure-he-can?

Yes. Did you think Frodo knew when he left Rivendell that he was going to actually destroy the ring? Did you think (and I'm using my previously cited sources here) that Tom Brown knew that he'd defeat Flashman? Or that Pan knew that he had the measure of Hook? Where do you think modern treatments of eucatastrophe come from? What you're asking for arguing for exists in most stories whether it's John Self getting out with his soul just about intact or Wart going into battle not knowing whether or not he can win.

CB: the social commentary of the propoganda war waged by the ministry of magic

(coughs loudly) 1984! (Coughs again) Brave New World...

The setting is cool (who wouldn't want to go to school in a castle with staircases that move and paintings that talk?)

You're right. That setting is cool. I enjoyed it the first time I read it in The Hurlyburly, The Worst Witch and the last chapter of Stalky & Co.

you're not wrong about Rowling's methods, i just don't think that automatically makes her books crap. if it did, all books would be crap.

No, I'm not wrong about her method's. I am, however, right on my own terms about the relation of Rowling's creativity to her methodology and sources. I think that you and Miss M are missing my point quite badly. I'm not saying that she's a bad author because she 'borrows' (and we'll leave it at that rather than the P word) the elements of what has gone before. All art does that. I'm saying that her handling and deployment of those elements simply do not and have not succeeded for me personally. I find they've been done better by other authors. It's not that I don't get it. I get it perfectly well. It just doesn't work for me on any level.

Please don't call me a proper academic. There's no need to sink to such terms of abuse.

ZB said...

Sidebar (forgot to add this): Can't we have a story where the boy-who-doesn't-know-he-can really defeats the evil-guy-who's-sure-he-can?

Puhleeeze!!! There was a moment when T toyed with idea of Frodo dying and Sam taking up the ring (if you read the manuscripts then it was a closer call than the published work) to prove his theory of northern courage (backs to the wall, though we fall, we fall to the last man...). However, eucatastrophe demands differently. Seriously, your point doesn't work. Was there ever any doubt that HP would pull through? Ever? Ever? Seriously, let's look at this. Okay, he's an orphan. But he's not a kingsley orphan soot blackened from the chimneys or a barrie orphan forgotten on the streets of London. He's an orphan living in a middle class suburban world whose parents were middle class academically educated people. He's going to boarding school - public school we call it in England and the fees at a public school in England (like Eton) will set you back thousands a term (20k a year springs to mind. As much as a middle class secondary school teacher earns for a salary) - he's not a marginalised member of society. At all. He's got pots of cash in the goblin bank. His wand and broomstick (from what I remember) seem in pretty good nick to me. He's got friends and the patronage of Dumbledore. (incidentally, the scar that aches...isn't that Frodo's wound on Weathertop? Just a thought...) He was about as likely to fail as Steve Redgrave in an Olympic final. Sorry.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

I don't dispute that Rowling hasn't done anything that hasn't been done before, and probably done better, by other people. But it's fun. That's all it needs to be for me. Sometimes you go watch an art film to see great film making and cinematography, and sometimes you go see a Dukes of Hazard or Diehard movie for some entertainment and a few laughs. Not everything needs to be great literature to be worth reading, and I never said otherwise.

And since you brought it up, yes, despite being an orphan Harry was far more priveledged than most, what with his vault of gold and posh boarding school and high-powered friends. But the point of the books is that without love, none of that matters. The money didn't protect him, the privlege didn't help him, in the end the only thing that separated him from Voldemort was his capacity for love.

Jesus christ you've got me defending the little prick! how the fuck did you do that? Stop that.

Geosomin said...

Call me morbid, but I was actually pleased when I thought he would die...then he didn't. I was looking forward to some interesting stuff, hoping the other characters would have to piece it together and it would become more than Harry...oh well. I wasn't expecting LOTR quality fiction so I wasn't terribly let down.
I *am* pissed they killed off Tonks tho...

Chaucer's Bitch said...

i'm more pissed off about Fred, but I know what you mean.

which brings me back to my point about the epilogue. i'm glad she thought to include one, but it was woefully incomplete. she only mentioned what everyone knew was going to happen anyway. if she'd mentioned, say, that in lieu of Fred's death and Percy's return to sanity and humor, that George and Percy continued on with the Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes business, that would have been interesting. Or that Neville finally got some tail, maybe Ginny's (since Harry really should have ended up with Luna, and I will not be moved on this point). Or that Percy came out of the Closet and married Seamus. Anything unexpected!

*sigh* I wish people would check with me first.

ZB said...

Jesus christ you've got me defending the little prick! how the fuck did you do that? Stop that.

I'm good. I really really am.

But when I'm bad, I'm better.

The 'proper academic' jibe was still a low blow though.

Chaucer's Bitch said...

yeah well, i'm good at low blows.

JolietJake said...

i watched one of the movies and ignored everything else, the good guy / bad guy thing with snape did it for me. It's pure pantomime, anyone over the age of thingy should be ashamed if they didn't see that coming.

what's all this garbage about poor orphan underdog? It's the middle class boarding school wannabees who identify most with Potter, that's what he is.

the things that riles me most is the "adults" who harp on about how adults can enjoy this as much as children, horseshit! it's the same people who like Ice Age and Captain Nemo. For me it's a sign of people "growing up" in middle class decadence, their biggest challenge in life is to decide which colour iPod to get. Hence they don't grow up, so of course they claim this children's book is great literature.

bah humbug!

Anonymous said...

I read the first page of the first book when the fuss erupted, put it down and haven't picked it up again. I've a mild interest in how JKR handles her characters' puberty - if she does (Harry boned Luna,in a book for 10-year-olds?)- but can't be bothered to wade through it all to find out.

Everything zb wrote of HP would also apply to Robert Jordan's magnum opus 'The Wheel of Time' (if he lives to complete it) but being written for adults it is vastly more complex,intricate, sophisticated, challenging, entertaining, readable and enjoyable.