Hermits Rock

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OMG Hedwig!!!


FYI, I’m not reading this thread until I finish it myself.

we are switching off every 30 minutes…

it seems that she is using the hype of death much to her advantage…

is this person? is that person? is the other person dead? are they one of the two?

With that first battle and into the “Fallen Warrior” chapter, especially. I’m 400 pages in now, though, and dude, it’s kinda killing me I have to be at work all day. It’s a harrowing plot. (And—kudos to Rowling—hardly an adverb in sight!)

2: BTW, are you reading aloud every 30 min., or to yourselves? If yourselves, then isn’t it difficult to switch?

to ourselves… and yes, it is… at first, the book was like Regulus’s locket around our neck. but we are over our bickering now… and i’ve sailed past t, since she can’t stay up as late as i.

K tells me I was shooting her dirty looks to get her to finish faster.

I just finished the “Malfoy Mansion” chapter before I left this morning.

You are somewhat ahead of me… I’ve gotten as far as The Silver Doe. I will read some more this afternoon, but I should work on my book.

I finished it at 4:00 this morning, sad and satisfied.

1: I’m such a liar.

8: Could I have stayed home…

That is the beauty of the last few days of summer break. I have one more class to teach tomorrow night. Our traveling is done, and we are settled in to our new place. As you and K budgeted this month for HP, so we consecrate this time very specially in indulge in some luxurious reading. My wife and I started this together in January 2001 and read the first four out loud to each other before the kids came along. Now, we try to read them simultaneously like y’all are doing. She read until midnight last night whilst I ran 5 miles, worked on class, emailed, blogged, etc. to keep occupied, then hunkered down until the bitter end.

I am pleased. Many of my big hunches were validated, but two of the biggest were not. JKR may not be the best writer of fiction literature, but she is a monumental story-teller. She had my heart pounding and my tears rolling throughout the book, so engaged did she enchant us.

Since you have read beyond it, the weakest part of the book, in my opinion, was the second chapter full of exposition and newspaper articles. I complained about the lack of action, then she brutalized me for 600 more pages.

Gah! What a ridiculous epilogue.

yes, the epilogue was utterly ridiculous and rather pathetic.

at the end of the novel, there was the vision of a non-housed hogwarts, a tip of the hat to the tolerance that the book preaches… in the epilogue we get fear of houses again and a perpetuation of the house-system.

but, that’s not what’s really that bad about the epilogue, in the least.

FYI, My irritation at the epilogue is that a good lot of the novel was devoted to making HP into a universal rallying cry for all of the magical races—goblins, elves, giants, and so forth—who then all come together in the end, stabbing at ankles and so forth, when they think he’s dead. But then, what’s the epilogue but a chance to give Harry and his friends an idyllic patriarchal family life (H does name all his children after his family, after all) without the only indication that things in the wizarding world have actually changed (other than fear of LV) being the fact that Ron gets a driver’s license? And how old do you think H’s oldest was? 13? Why Did he & Ginny wait 7 years to have kids? I mean, his parents were 21…

Sigh. As I see it, the conclusion of the book confirms some of the worst of Rowling’s instincts as writer and mythologist. The final showdown duel is rather fun for the fact that the Dark Lord is transformed into a sputtering fool.

That’s not to say, of course, that I myself wasn’t a sputtering fool yesterday as I read; it’s a transfixing story, especially up to and including Dobby’s burial—through those chapters JKR follows the hero’s journey narrative pretty closely…

Oh! I didn’t see you there, 13. I’d forgotten about the vision of the houseless Hogwarts. (I considered it possible that the Slytherins at least have been expelled…)

yeah, the worst part is the vision of life back to normal after after the cataclysm… after the liberation of the house-elves, after the goblins apparently come around to trusting wizards, after the centaurs and all the magical creatures are mobilized…

and, that, at least, Harry could then go on and have normal life (read middle class bourgeois existence), without apparent regrets, or desires to relive any of his quests, or…

of course, unless the next potter book is hp: the midlife crisis.

What is bourgeois existence for a wizard, anyway?

A strong family life has already been firmly established by JKR as the ideal for happiness (read: Weasleys)…Harry’s always wanted a real family, so at the end he gets to be happy in the way other people get to. Having said that, I’ve always been struck by the traditional, patriarchal structure of the families in the wizarding world. (Which was why it was nice that JKR allowed Molly Weasley to come out of the kitchen and kick some serious Death Eater arse at the end.)

The epilogue still seems excessive. Harry still would have had a happy ending without it, and would we have doubted that he & Ginny would get together and have little children who look just like them?

14: Don’t forget little Albus Severus! AH! That rolls off the tongue, no?

Harry still would have had a happy ending without it, and would we have doubted that he & Ginny would get together and have little children who look just like them?

I completely agree. I’m not really disappointed the fact that strong families make for happiness—it suits HP’s character, especially his desires, to believe so—it’s just the revelation of the fulfillment of his desire that I find lacking.

There’s still something about the way that magic works that confuses me. I understand that there were things LV didn’t understand, such as courage and determination and love. I get too that the thing about all of those qualities is that they work magically in unpredictable but very powerful ways. That said, the explanations at the end made it seem like it all made perfect sense, and… it didn’t?

19: I count “Albus” as a father for HP; “Severus” not so much, although he might have been happy to be an upstanding stepfather (in the same way that Claudius was an upstanding stepfather to Hamlet) had things gone differently.

yes, but…

the great savior of the wizarding world can’t, no matter how much he and we would like for him to, go to a normal life, whether or not he bravely does not go and retrieve the stone, whether or not he courageously gives up use of the elder wand.

sure, he can marry; sure, ron and hermione can marry; sure, they can all have kids and name them whatever they want to name them…

but, the keeper of the hallows has now responsibilities, a simple ignoring of those responsibilities and hiding of the objects in his control (patrimony, birth-right, conquer-right) does not suffice.

sure, he wants normalcy more than anything, and we would love him to have it… but his desire and our desire for him to have it do not mean that he should get it, or will get it, or could get it.

if we get another novel it’ll be about someone who has resurrected dumbledore and found the ring and is up to no good… but the return of evil will be just as banal as its vanquishing and as harry’s eschewal of responsibilities.

19: Actually, I had a hard time with Harry’s total acceptance of Snape after all these years of hatred…Sure, we find that Snape has endangered his life for Lily’s memory, but Harry’s dip into the Pensieve also shows that Snape really doesn’t have affection for Harry at all, that he could never forgive him for being James Potter’s son. Ick. Good enough to name a kid after? I dunno about that.

another thing that i did not like… and now it sounds like i am pooh-pooh the book i just spent two days ravenously devouring… and savoring for the most part…

is how albus was still left not very tainted… he should’ve, if only because she decided to go in this direction, either had more skeletons in his closet… or more concrete evidence should’ve been given to make potter distrust albus.

whatever frustration and feeling of abandonment harry felt towards dumbledore could not’ve been enough to make him read the evidence at hand in the way that he did.

this was a moment, it felt like to me, where jk was forcing the issue because she didn’t want to sully old blue-eyes in the way she would’ve had to to make hp’s doubts be what they were. whatever real criticism of albus there was came from his brother or from albus himself. these revelations should’ve come in the narrative in a more twisted way than they were, so that the aberforth and albus confessions were not providing new material but reinterpreting old material.

Well, he’s not entirely normal, because the kids on the train still stare at him, but of course that’s just fame, not power nor responsibility.

I’ve been thinking about BVS a lot this morning in comparison to HP. Buffy’s solution in the end to her responsibility was to make it not only hers. She saddled others with the weight of being a hero with the sense that heroic solidarity (a sort of anti-vampire Justice League?) was more powerful than heroic individuality. With BVS, the sense that something is yet required of the hero after she saves the world is always prevalent.

It would seem that requirement doesn’t exist at all in HP.

I guess the question, then, is whether that’s because HP’s only really a small hero, there to end LV, and when his doppelganger is defeated, then POOF! the end? It’s rather… unsatisfying, no, especially given 14 & 16 above?

25 to 22

all that said, the death of doby was very, very touching…

as was the betrayal by narcissa…

Dobby’s death was most touching because of how it affected the others, especially HP, who turned it into the catalyst for his Choice.

Narcissa’s (which could’ve been Lucius’) betrayal was heavily foreshadowed, and it was in keeping with the family theme. Just desserts too…

You know what’s also missing? Other than Dobby’s, funerals. Which isn’t to say funerals had to be there, but at least, the absence of a moment in which they look back and take stock of where they’ve been makes it seem as if that reflection is unnecessary.

well, that’s what the dubmbledore portrait scene stands in for…

but, it does communicate a real lack of interest in the lives of those around HP, those members of the DA and OP who rallied to him in his time of need.

I suppose that his desire to die for them is supposed to substitute for that funereal reflection, as is his desire to comfort those who are hurt. However, as I see it, action before the fact doesn’t excuse the need to act afterwards; likewise, desire to comfort isn’t the same as providing comfort.

Grousing aside for a moment, some good scenes:

1) Escape from LV 1 (the trap)
2) Luna’s bedroom
3) Dobby’s funeral
4) the sword and the horcrux in the woods
5) neville’s awesome, though he remains only secondary: the implied scenes of his resistance at hogwarts are nice, though not so nice as actual scenes of his resistance might have been
6) neville’s gran
7) molly weasley, though why’d she have to protect ginny in particular so ferociously I don’t quite know (i.e., wasn’t there any way that a woman could protect a man and make it stick in this series?)
8) the graveyard a christmas

I almost forgot!

9) the torture of Hermione

yes, those were all nice…

though potter was quite stupid with ole batty… and he showed a stupidity we would not’ve expected with her given his challenge of remus at the beginning of the book, i thought the image of the snake slithering out of her neck was quite nice.

though, i’d have to go back to the scene to remember why exactly he wasn’t able to get them.


now who’s perving?

yeah, that scene was nice… though i wouldn’t‘ve minded to have been in the room.

Oh, with respect to the graveyard it was actually the graveyard chapter, less so the snake/LV encounter later, that I liked. At that point, LV wasn’t much more than a bogeyman who shows up just in time to be Thwarted Again! Who then rants and raves after.

BTW, why can’t/doesn’t LV apparate? Is flying is so much cooler? Had he ever apparated, he would’ve been there sooner to catch HP…

34: Heh. As for being in the room, I like the choice to use Hermione’s torture to illustrate Ron’s love for her. Although, HP & Ron heard way more than they should’ve been able to from the cellar. Her screams alone, moreso than what anyone says in between them, would’ve sufficed.

TR apparates when he’s “in range,” but would rather fly himself than depend on the broom.

From the graveyard, I was thrilled to see Jesus’ quote from the Sermon on the Mount engraved on the Ignotus headstone, to see James and Lily and other wizards buried in a churchyard in a wizarding town and to see, presumably, wizards singing carols in church at Christmas. This helps confirm one of my theories that some wizards are Christian; they have celebrated Christmas each year.

JKR is a professed member of the Church of Scotland, so I keep looking for Christian, Calvinist themes. I wonder whether, if she is Calvinist, the absence of a great sense of social upheaval that you were looking for manifests itself in some accepting theology of predestination. If so, then perhaps, the preservation and celebration of the nuclear family isn’t precisely her solution.

I’m contempating whether the wizarding world is not an allegory of the Elect, that is, at Calvin would have it, the particular folks chosen with special purpose to live among the worldly.

yes, but… couldn’t christmas be nothing more than the solstice?

and, couldn’t the afterlife that they speak of be valhalla?

though, now that you mention it… the king’s cross chapter is reminiscent of c.s. lewis’s the great divorce.

If they were celebrating the solstice, I don’t think – or want to believe – they would have called it Christmas explicitly. And they were meeting in a church.

The more I think about the King’s Cross chapter, the more I like it, although still not very much. If that really was TR’s soul on the floor gasping while HP and AD chatted, then did Harry’s decision to go back and finish the work not extend yet another mercy to TR? TR was getting up off the ground himself, after all, so had he been unconscious while Harry decided whether they would stay dead? If so, then this might explain why the Dark Lord suddenly seemd flumoxed and silly in the final showdown, that, and the fact that Snape betrayed him, Narcissa betrayed him and his only loyal just got snuffed by Molly?

(I’m irritating myself a little by calling LV TR, but I dug Harry’s impertinence in the end.)

37: Do real, predestination-type Calvinists even exist anymore?

Regardless, I don’t for a second buy the “Christian themes” allegorical reading. Frankly, Rowling’s not a subtle enough writer. If she intended there to be an allegory to take away, she would’ve beat us over the head with it. A more simple—and likely—explanation is that they celebrate Christmas because it’s Christmas, a holiday that everyone celebrates, regardless his or her affiliation. They sing carols because that’s what you do at Christmas. Likewise, the social upheaval: the epilogue says a lot about her unwillingness to follow through with those themes, and, at the same time, it doesn’t really follow through on anything except a fulfillment of her character’s (HP’s) desires.

In general, my sense is that the HP series’ phenomenology of death is a hodgepodge of assertions and rather vague statements about an afterlife.

Also, I had the impression that wizard towns that aren’t Hogsmeade, while indeed places where wizards live, are villages occupied by wizard and muggle alike. Was this wrong?

31: point #7:

Ginny is Molly’s youngest and her only daughter…Probably reason enough for the butt-kicking…Plus they were always trying to protect Ginny since she’s underage, even though she’d demonstrated herself to be quite capable.

Actually, I did hear a reviewer on NPR claim that JKR is hitting us over the head with religious allegory. Is it mostly Harry as Christ-figure, sacrificing himself for the greater good? I guess I’m desensitized after BVS. (I was also thinking about that show as I read the final portion of HP.)

Prestination-type Calvinists do indeed still exist, especially in the Presbyterian PCA denomination, even some very serious ones with whom I used to live and study.

I am not promoting the allegory but am contemplating it, although I certainly do not think it’s anything like 1:1.

Most wizarding communities do share space with Muggle towns but, as she explains in this book, some are on the outskirts and almost fully wizard. Godric’s Hollow, named after Gryffindor, after all, is almost completely wizard, although still secretive.

James and Lily and their forebears are buried in the church-yard which suggests some deeper affliation, I’d say. Also, this wasn’t Christmas in the Great Hall with Exploding Snap, this was a night service on Christmas Eve in a church. That’s not even subtle. Even less subtle is a passage from the Sermon on the Mount engraved on a tombstone.

I’m just suggesting that we should not willfully ignore the fact that JKR professes Christianity and might, just might, have something to say about that in her books.

Since I lost track of entry numbers:

“Likewise, the social upheaval: the epilogue says a lot about her unwillingness to follow through with those themes, and, at the same time, it doesn’t really follow through on anything except a fulfillment of her character’s (HP’s) desires.”

I suggest that the epilogue, while not well executed, is exactly what she means to say in response to the cataclysm. If she intends a social moral, it is that this family community, even patriarchal (anachrononstic thought you may believe it to be), is the means by which the social ills are best addressed.

She may be saying that after conquering the evil, hubris and destructive ends of LV’s ambition and ends, this peaceful (boring?) family life is the antidote and reward. Perhaps she believes in the transformative, redemptive potential of individuals and families living in loving community and communion with each other.

If so, does that not echo the lessons of Acts 2 and of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ surprising absence of social critique as they teaches personal and communal discipleship and submission?

(Do please forgive me for not being jaded enough to be cool.)

You’re obviously not the first to suggest it, JRB, with JKR being prone to say that’s the most important way to take it. If it isn’t clear by now, however, you ought to know that I don’t generally take authors’ words for what they mean as the final or even best authority for a reading.

I agree that the epilogue serves to put Harry firmly within the realm of the domestic and the boring (come on, we all love our boring little lives, admit it!) because it’s where he wants to be. Through the books, he’s never happier than when he’s staying at the Burrow with Ron’s family. Family and friends equal happiness, and that’s what we see fulfilled in the end.

I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking of Buffy (for you Buffy fans out there)…It’s a similar thing…Buffy only ever wanted to be a regular girl with the (supposed lack of) responsibility that comes with ordinary life. As the hero, she was never allowed to have that (as G mentioned above). For Harry, a nice, boring family life is his reward for prevailing over V and saving the wizarding world.

44: Use Firefox or Safari, JRB, and the comments count for you.

46: Not just Buffy, but Heroes (capital H) in general. There’s always a sense in which the jobs they are called to are not what they want, run counter to their desires; that their responsibilities take them away from their loved ones, from their happy lives and into the cold world, where they are called to do Important Things, is what makes them Heroes. Whether their Tasks allow them to find that happiness or forces them to continue their path is always a part of the question.

44: If so, does that not echo the lessons of Acts 2 and of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ surprising absence of social critique as they teaches personal and communal discipleship and submission?

That’s not absence of social critique; it is itself social critique.

B and I just finished watching Buffy. She went through the whole series in about a month. I ignored it at first, but eventually got curious from being in the room while she was watching it, and then started watching it with her over the weekends.

The series finale for Buffy, however, leaves her with a decidedly undomestic situation. Poor girl.

49. It does, however, redefine her burden. She stops being The Slayer and becomes A slayer. Lots of people hated that.

Now you have to watch Angel, you know.

Well, yes. Amen.

I should say that Jesus and the Apostles did not teach social/political activism bu the more patient, useful ideas of salt and light.

Once the acute evil, here V and the promised holocaust, was dispatched, they get on with being good, which as we see at Dobby’s funeral and the Charge of Kreacher, is more effective than S.P.E.W.

Yeah, yeah, Angel! Do it, JH!

I’m not watching that crap. B hates Angel anyway. She adores Spike.

No! It’s so good!

I loved Spike, too. How could you not, really?

He was indisputably cool. And complex.

I’m running Angel by B right now…survey says…“No. He’s ugly.”

51a: You shouldn’t say that; it’s contrary to the actual history of the early church.

51b: Really? That’s how you read the difference between SPEW and Kreacher, and “good works” is what you’re inferring has happened between HP7’s final battle and the epilogue?

55: He got infinitely cooler on his own show. And in the last season, his girlfriend is a hott werewolf. Definitely worth watching.

What? I lost you.

it’s not a question of being jaded and cool… i’m quite happy living my quiet life of oblivion and not being a missionary like my father and grandfather before me and my two consanguineous siblings. (yes, i realize that personal biography hasn’t and shouldn’t necessarily enter this discussion.)

but, it is quite irresponsible… and lazy, even if she does want to continue writing these books, to assume that by willfully forgetting where the stone was dropped and returning the wand to dumbledore’s cold, dead hands is going to stop evil.

even dumbledore, despite what his portrait said, wouldn’t accept this as “courageous” but naive and fool-hardy.

it’s not that he can’t have a blissful home life… it’s that the chosen can’t turn their back on their responsibilities. and the chosen can’t become normal dads, with normal kids.

I just asked whether this—

Once the acute evil, here V and the promised holocaust, was dispatched, they get on with being good, which as we see at Dobby’s funeral and the Charge of Kreacher, is more effective than S.P.E.W.

—is really what you think the domesticity of HP’s life after the big battle means?

In other words, are you saying that JKR’s argument is that the creation of quiet, patriarchal families is tantamount to living Christian lives?

59 doesn’t really fit into where the discussion has gone…


Jesus and the Followers did not march through the streets, demand rights, protest or stage a political revolution. Instead, they lived in radical communities that overturned the status quo, shocked the establishment and grew by leaps and bounds on the basis of people being good, rather loving, each other. The effect was political and social upheaval and transformation, bit by bit, but the means were not activist, they were communal and relational.


The reaction of the others to Dobby at Dobby’s funeral, and Kreacher’s transformation and conversion were the results of goodness and love expressed individually to the oppressed class, not the result of HG’s activism, well intentioned though it was. Ron even got some action for his goodness toward the elves, not for participating in the activism.

We do not know, of course, what happened in 19 years, but I posit that her point is that peace, love and domestic community have quite some power to overcome evil. Good, that is.

59: It’s only lazy if it means that Harry Potter’s expected to remain chosen; if his chosenness is gone, then he can do what he wants. In that case, however, it’s lazy and irresponsible to give him what he always wanted without also allotting him some measure of self-knowledge that extends past the giving up treasure.

“In other words, are you saying that JKR’s argument is that the creation of quiet, patriarchal families is tantamount to living Christian lives?”

No, she clearly is not, because of the pain and self-sacrifice and service demonstrated by 7 books.

Instead, I am suggesting that she is not ignoring the social themes she opened up, as you indict her of doing.

She left his gigantic narrative gap and so many loose ends, that I wish she had not written the epilogue at all. Since she did, however, and if she has a meaning beyond being sentimental, it is that living loving, constant, peaceful, salt-of-the-other lives means something serious and valuable.

She has just spent 7 books celebrating bravery, cleverness, humility, love, self-sacrifice, transformative pain, hope, activism, charity, justice and liberation and redemption. She may just be saying at the very end that the fruit of those pursuits is peace.

can i just say that the list is lame-o

regardless of whether or not you believe that potter is christ figure…

i can buy that… at least the last line seems to imply that… but, wouldn’t‘ve a funeral and a “they set themselves to building a new world” be better.

that is, part of what is so touching about the dobby funeral is that harry found redemption and purpose in work done by hands and not magic. why skip the work done by hands part at the end?

Instead, I am suggesting that she is not ignoring the social themes she opened up, as you indict her of doing.

She left his gigantic narrative gap and so many loose ends, that I wish she had not written the epilogue at all. Since she did, however, and if she has a meaning beyond being sentimental, it is that living loving, constant, peaceful, salt-of-the-other lives means something serious and valuable.

She has just spent 7 books celebrating bravery, cleverness, humility, love, self-sacrifice, transformative pain, hope, activism, charity, justice and liberation and redemption. She may just be saying at the very end that the fruit of those pursuits is peace.

Well, right; that’s quite obvious. Peace for her heroes; the fulfillment of their desires. But that doesn’t mean she’s not ignoring those other themes.

And apparently his redeemed enemy, Draco Malfoy, and his children who not matriculate with Neville.

(Scorpious is worse than Severus, in my book.)

how was draco redeemed? aside from being saved on several occasions?

it would seem that redemption, in the reading you’ve suggested, would include a wholesale integration, without resentment or fear or whatever, into the healing community… not just toleration. the death eaters had always been tolerated… it seems that this is a hallmark of non-fascist wizard communities.

I wondered about Draco, too. Redemption seems a strong word, especially given the scant evidence available.

62: I guess as I see it, the point isn’t to contrast the effectiveness of SPEW and with that of the treatment of Kreacher, it’s rather to see them as the same thing: elves (difference) matter too; they deserve kindness and fairness and loyalty. (The argument that SPEW represents ineffective social action just doesn’t work, especially given all the other effective public resistances that characters, e.g. Neville, “Potterwatch,” put up.) This is all part of Harry’s education, that selflessness is the means of defeating LV. Getting the muggleborns out of the courtroom at the ministry of magic is an act of of justice as is understanding that the well-being of all magical creatures depends upon the defeat of LV, and having compassion enough to do what is necessary to carry through with that defeat. In Rowling’s hands, it works out in complicated and not always logical or coherent ways (to wit: however it is that HP survives after dying) but it’s basically the thesis that to care for others who are not you, for their own sakes, as Dumbledore did, creates bonds of magic that are stronger than evil.

As BG has been saying, though, the novel leaves open the question of what the Hero does once the battle is over. I think that’s an unfortunate thing to leave open, in general, but it doesn’t really make the application of Harry’s education in this particular fight less important.

From that, I’m skeptical of the possibility, much less the appropriateness, of extracting from all that a moral, much less a Christian allegory, that supposes some universal thesis applies. But that’s a general skepticism I hold about reading itself, much less about HP.

Perhaps that it is just my hope that Narcissa’s willingness to betray V for Draco and the Malfoys’ huddled presence in the Great Hall, among the (more) righteous after the battle were predictors of repentance, not just defeat.

I don’t see it as either repentance or defeat; admission that a parent’s love is worth more than the commitment that allegiance to LV demanded, yes of course. (As HP says early, a parent shouldn’t leave his child.) But I don’t see Draco as a real enemy, either. Rather, he’s a foil for HP, indicator of the pain toward which evil leads…

By the way? You’re all nerds.

On another note (regarding 31 and 41): I’d notice it before, but always hesitated to think it a necessarily bad thing because Hermione was always there to take away its sting, but the HP books’ treatment of girls and women is really shallow and pretty unctuous. (And in many ways Hermione symbolizes this, as much as she also kinda bucks it.) For all that women are capable of and valued for, they nevertheless get shoved aside and relegated to very traditional (both socially and narratively) and not even characteristic roles. As soon as Ginny falls in love with HP, for example, her (prodigious, even though underage) skill as a witch disappears in the series narrative; Unmarried women (LeStrange, Umbridge) appear successful, but they’re evil; others (McGonagall, Neville’s Gran) are crones. I’m struggling to remember, but is Tonks the only successful young woman in the series?

Lilly… but, she goes for the jock and dies a very motherly death.

Fleur rocked the casbah, got married and all those skills turned quite domestic

Hermione is the only truly skilled witch of the three, but even she is quite domestic in the cohabitational tent… and she’s been part of the quest to “slow” Harry down.

re:73 uhh, no, i’m just procrastinating on my own book.

Some of the problem with women (and men, too, to an extent) I blame on the severe limitations in the wizard economy. One can what? Be a teacher, work for the government, be a professional athlete, run a shop or push a cart, be an antiquarian, have a trade (wandmaking, tailor), tame dragons, work for the goblins, be rich, steal stuff, or… raise kids. It’s a limited life to be a wizard, all things considered…

Oh! Or be a nurse/doctor at St. Mungo’s.

76: That makes you an even bigger nerd.

There’s no way I’m letting this die at 79, JTB. Reel in your extendable ears, get over here, and whisper sweet interpretations of Voldemort’s posthumanity to us!

So it’s one of the more common complaints about the HP series to lament the fact that the world of the books doesn’t make great sense. It’s inconsistent; the characters’ ethics are shifty, sometimes situational; the fight between good and evil—magic v. the “dark arts”—isn’t well defined because it’s not entirely clear what the border between magic and the “dark arts” is. (Compare with Tolkien: Everyone knows exactly where the border to Mordor is.) It’s an inconsistency in world building, discussed at some length in the comments to this thread.

Given those inconsistencies, the novels are nevertheless engaging to a great number of people (especially those who aren’t put off by the magical world). I’d wager it’s for three reasons: 1) Rowling’s a skilled plotter; 2) she works around fairly archetypal, formulaic narratives that are at once familiar and rewarding; 3) her characters are engaging because they represent a sort of “extraordinariness in normalcy”—i.e., HP not a great student but great soul; Hermione, amazing student know-it-all wracked by love; Ron, loyal yet disgruntled friend—they’re all qualities that make the characters accessible yet also idealized to be just out of reach.

Does that cover it? By which I mean, does that explain why the books are so engaging, so readable, in spite of their quite obvious flaws?

Re: Tolkien… his boundaries are a little more fluid than you give him credit for.

Frodo’s change because of the ring.

Gollum’s struggle and failure to overcome his corruption.

The real temptation that good wizards have when confronted by the power that evil could give them.

I think that part of the appeal, as well, is that the good are good, the bad, bad. The only one that truly is unknown is Snape… but, apparently even he, once he made the decision to be good, was good. His misbehaving was just a ruse—to fool the Dark Lord and to keep readers guessing. But, otherwise, good, good people seem to be beyond the pale of evil, unless possessed. That security, which I realize, your original post was more laudatory, is another possible reason for the love of the books.

but, yes, i think it’s largely that she is a good plotter… and the virtues she extols as true magic are ones that everyone can rally around.

You’re right that mine is an oversimplification of Tolkien, but you can’t sell short the importance of geography to those stories. (Tolkien certainly didn’t, which I actually find to be extraordinarily obnoxious when reading them as novels.) The Ring corrupts Frodo and everyone else in part because of what it is: a way of extending Mordor’s (Sauron’s) evil out of Mordor and into the good realms. I mean, Frodo’s basic task is to take the thing back where it came from so it can’t do its evil anymore. There’s psychological complexity in that task, but it’s really a rather simple problem of getting from point A to point B. Tolkien, I think, mostly understands and writes about lust for power much better than JKR does.

On that line, Russel Arben Fox makes his own comparison in his review of TDH:

Harry is not Frodo, a man who must unknowingly ruin himself for the sake of something larger than himself. Neither is Dumbledore Gandalf, an awesomely powerful agent of those larger things, who is nonetheless himself also in the thick of the battle. No, Dumbledore is the father figure who plans and hopes and risks the best way he knows how, the teacher who must plot and trick and sacrifice so his students can learn what they may and then teach themselves the rest. But also unlike Gandalf, Dumbledore is like an ordinary father and teacher in other ways: a man whose knowledge is limited, who is haunted by his own past, his own failures, his own pre-occupations, who is, at best, only guessing (though his guesses are usually good!). Gandalf could never have a brother like Aberforth, and why would he need one? J.R.R. Tolkien was charting the passing of an age; such stories do not require wizards with existential dimensions. But Rowling has charted the arc of a boy as he grew to become a prophesied hero….

If we were not, in the end, to be led to an epic clash of the best and worst of the wizarding and Muggle worlds and the resulting transformations (and while that door remains open, there is nothing in the final chapter or the epilogue of Deathly Hallows to suggest that much is fundamentally going to change—twenty years later they’re still sorting people into houses and inspiring rivalries at Hogwarts, for heaven’s sake!), but rather, to be led to a concluding series of tests and choices in the life of the Chosen One, and the hard-won victory which follows, then Rowling really could have and should have written shorter (dare I say less “pretentious”?) books!

Fox’s argument, which I tend to agree with, is that, given what actually happens in TDH, HP was always no more nor less than a bildungsroman.

Personally I think the return to the status quo at the end (the Malfoys, though perhaps not evil, certainly not reconciled), the reappearance of House rivalry after the breakdown of boundaries, etc., if reflective of Calvinist Christianity at all, is a statement about universal human depravity.

I can’t say anymore because I have to make the most of naptime. Teaching online SUCKS and no one should do it, ever.

What are you teaching?

Christianity in Culture—not a bad class, really, but the online nature of it is just a lot of dreary work. Daily emails begging people to remember their due dates, troubleshooting Blackboard problems, fielding a lot of excuses for why things aren’t done properly or on time.

No matter.

At least, Draco didn’t name his son Lucius Jr. Given all the namesakes running around I wonder if that’s meant to be significant?

so, i’ve been thinking about this whole allegorist thing, especially in connection to Tolkien, who always said his wasn’t an allegory of anything. and, thought i tend to disbelieve him, i actually think he’s right.

he, like jkrowling, is a mythologist and not allegorist. epic confrontations of good and evil (think star wars), though they may have some of the trappings of allegory, namely types rather than real, rounded characters, tell nothing more than the story of how to defeat evil. but, since these works clearly allude to historical manifestations of evil (in the 20th century fascism is the embodiment of this), allude to the cultural canon (whether religious or not, whether christian or not), and employ recognizable mythic structures (the quest, the guiding light, salvation at the last moment, etc.) that hint towards the telling of a second, hidden story, we tend to latch cry allegory when, in fact, all it is is myth.

not, of course, that there aren’t moments in HP informed by Christianity… but, it is likewise informed by Celtic and Germanic mythologies, some sort of vague, mish-mashy neo-Platonism, and a variety of other systems.

but, really, my real point is that i don’t know if i would characterize this as allegory… and, in fact, i take back my previous belief that Tolkien was an allegorist… unless, of course, we want to say that all epic confrontations of good and evil are perforce allegories.

hate, hate, hate blackboard!!

Blackboard—like most of those courseweb apps—really blows. I never understood how those companies managed to sell stuff that had obviously never been touched by teachers to so many schools.

It’s actually (in part) because of the namesaking I can’t shake the impression that the epilogue’s tripe; “Scorpius” seems to be a name she drew because we never knew enough about the Malfoys for it to matter what he’d be named.

Re: the posthuman (quickly because I have to get back to setting up groups on Blackboard for an upcoming assignment)

It’s interesting to me that Rowling makes a distinction between part-human and posthuman. Part-human is fine: look at all the wonderful characters who are part-human. So blurring of the species boundary is not the problem. I like this, very much.

Voldemort is the only true “posthuman” figure. Voldemort is the posthuman because his goal is the pursuit of immortality, and because he is willing to compromise his humanity in order to achieve it. This critique of the posthuman is ubiquitous, and so not that interesting to me.

Pursuit of immortality as a necessarily evil enterprise is of course nicely complicated by the introduction of the Hallows, another means by which humans may supposedly defeat death—but all the talk at the end re the Hallows I think is self-explanatory in terms of Rowling is trying to rescue there; the Hallows do not require the posthuman move in order to achieve the goal.

88: I think that’s right re: mythology v. allegory. Frankly, it’s all too complex to be allegorical, certainly to be allegorical in the modern sense. Other than in the broadest sweeps imaginable (e.g., those beliefnet articles above) could anyone really mark HP relationally to a particular story or narrative. Mythology, on the other hand, supplies a basic structure for narrative and a typology for character. George Lucas, for example, stole the lot from Joseph Campbell’s studies of myth—to great effect and fortune. I agree that JKR too has done similarly.

91: What I find curious, JTB, is what humanity means that makes Voldemort posthuman. You’re right that his compromise of humanity brings is the basic (and less interesting) part of the mix. But what is humanity that it can be compromised?

For example, it’s possible to remain human and still control or torture others. Harry does both in TDH without any consequence to his extraordinary soul. These are BAD THINGS, yes, but they’re not beyond the pale.

I think it’s pretty clear that immortality is okay to seek. It’s not only the deathly hallows that illustrate this. There’s also the sorceror’s/philosopher’s stone, which isn’t a bad object, nor is it particularly wrong to own and to use, although Dumbledore does talk Nicholas Flamel (if I remember correctly) out of it, presumably because he wanted to preserve the sanctity of death. Seeking immortality isn’t inhuman;

What makes Voldemort posthuman seems to be the combination of the fact that he doesn’t accept death and he causes the series’ most unforgivable sin: to bring about the untimely deaths of others at little expense to self—indeed, for gain.

in a way, also, isn’t HP posthuman…

only he has arrived at the place where he chooses to die for others in a rational, premeditated way. of course, lilly dies, but this is motherly instinct, not premeditated sacrifice. then, because of this acceptance of death, he gets to choose, do i return and defeat voldy or stay with those i love in the afterworld.

yes, i’m somewhat redefining posthumanity here away from the desire to cheat death and towards the taking death into one. being a true death eater, you could say.

it would seem, also, that in the jkr world, once you go post you can’t go back? or no?

not thinking of snape here, but of pettigrew, who gets a metal hand that then kills him… in a scene slightly reminiscent of dr. strangelove.

I guess I saw it as HP being such a complete embodiment of the ethic that Dumbledore has set forth for him that he’s Human (capital-H). I mean, that’s why the spells don’t hurt him at the end… (it’s also a messianic image, Jesus returned from the grave, though there’s no indication that HP is to remain that same Human after the death of V).

Honestly, I think the difference is constituted by the fact that Voldemort wants to achieve immortality through his own effort—I think the violence by which Horcruxes are created is symbolic of this. The immortality that’s okay to seek is more gift than achievement. I know this doesn’t fit all the details of the philosopher’s stone, etc., which are also artifacts of magical achievement, but I do think that is the spirit behind the moral difference. I’m leaning this way because this is the argument against posthuman immortality by a Calvinist theologian I read recently, and I think it fits pretty well here. Immortality must be grace in order to be good is the basic theological position.

you and jrb just might make me think that this calvinistic reading isn’t too horribly off…

though, i still balk at this being “christian” fiction in the way narnia or the space trilogy is.

Okay then: keeping in mind all that’s argued above, Lev Grossman, writing for Time, rejects a Christian reading even more thoroughly than I did:

If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.

Harry Potter lives in a world free of any religion or spirituality of any kind. He lives surrounded by ghosts but has no one to pray to, even if he were so inclined, which he isn’t. Rowling has more in common with celebrity atheists like Christopher Hitchens than she has with Tolkien and Lewis.

What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. This charming notion represents a cultural sea change. In the new millennium, magic comes not from God or nature or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion. In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery, in which psychology and technology have superseded the sacred.

Hmmm. That’s something. Dumbledore’s supersecret plots and benevolent goodwill makes him awfully godlike, in a “God controls every little thing up to but not including your free will” kind of way.

I should clarify, when I say that I might see a Calvinist leaning, it’s the fact Harry is chosen and lives up to his chosenness… he proves he’s chosen by acting as the chosen. he has a magical power well beyond his capabilities that he does not understand, but this power is because he is chosen.

Now, what is the difference between predestination and fate?

So, are you somewhat disagreeing with the good Grossman?

Not disagreeing at all. In fact, I think Grossman is bolstering Russell Arben Fox’s assertion that the series was only ever a bildungsroman. The stuff that would make HP a vehicle for something else, something “more” suitable to its mythologizing, is too incomplete to make it viable. “Where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also” on the Dumbledore plot are indeed Jesus’ words, but so are the epigraphs from Aeschylus and (of all people!) Thomas Penn. The problem is they (and much of the rest of the masterplot) are piecemeal; what we’re supposed to do with all of those citations is too unclear, to me anyway, to be able to make anything but the least complex readings viable. Grossman’s is rather simple—In the broad swath he’s correct in saying that for the HP series, there is no God. There is a godlike figure in Dumbledore, though he’s still very human; there is a mythology of the everlasting soul and of an eternal afterlife, but there’s no analogue to a theistic life in which the believer persists and upholds those beliefs for all time. Certainly not like Tolkien and Lewis, whom Grossman compares HP to (and to whom we’ve been comparing HP, too). The problem may just be, however, that those comparisons don’t work because they are simply the wrong comparisons to make. HP’s primary task in the series isn’t to overcome evil per se; instead, it is to grow up (meanwhile overcoming an evil along the way).

Also: 101!

Here’s Dana Goldstein, laying out pretty thoroughly the inconsistencies between the stated political stances (e.g., racial colorblindness, capability of women) of the novels and the social relations between the novels’ characters. She blames the fantasy genre.

which is why i highly, highly, highly recommend Kalpa Imperial by the Argentine Angelica Gorodischer

BTW: In 101 I mean “piecemeal” not because I mean to suggest that the plot’s not fully realized. It most certainly is.

And you mean William Penn, not Thomas. Just sayin’.

105: Right. the Thomas Penn I actually meant is the one whose name is “William.”

Speaking of, though, the other Thomas Penn (née Thomas) was something of a scoundrel.

103: Alright, already; you’ve mentioned it before. I’m bidding on a copy on eBay.

Thanks for the book recommendation, I’m going to get right on it myself.

I don’t really think HP is Christian fiction in any robust sense—you’re only too right that the unsystematized eclecticism (part of the fun of the whole thing) defeats any attempt to make it any kind of Christian allegory.

But that’s if you’re conceiving of Christianity as a system of belief and looking for doctrines or analogues of doctrines…JRB’s comments on S.P.E.W. versus “living rightly” may be on to something in that perhaps we can legitimately detect an implicit Christian ethic, without the trappings of Christian belief: orthopraxy but not orthodoxy.

Of course no split between praxis and doctrine can be all that clean and so I do think some stuff pops up here and there, unsystematized (thank God).

The diff between fate and predestination…you got me, which would be one good reason I am no Calvinist. Perhaps the difference in the book is that Dumbledore, while in some sense orchestrating Harry’s future, does so as much out of care for Harry as for the eventual outcome?

Re: SPEW. The basic problem I see here (and this is in keeping with the inconsistencies in the novels) is that the series’ general judgment against Hermione’s activism isn’t that the activism itself is wrong, it’s that Hermione misunderstands what’s possible through it. Ron’s and Harry’s judgment through most of the books is that she doesn’t get that the nature of house elves is to be subservient. But their judgment is contrasted by Dumbledore’s: he sees the importance of fairness and the value of combatting wizards’ unjust oppression of other races (because it’s Ron’s and Harry’s assumption that subservience is in their natures that is at the heart of the injustice). It’s complicated, of course, by the fact that by all accounts the elves do want to be subservient. Still, it’s not a criticism of the work of social action outside of good relations with others; rather, it’s a criticism that action is best made in understanding. I can’t deny that the series emphasizes interpersonal good works, and I do very much appreciate it for that; but that emphasis doesn’t translate into a dismissal of social action or demonstration, which was where I think JRB was taking it. There are too many scenes of uprising—Harry turning to the press in his interview with Rita Skeeter (HP5); SPEW itself, misguided as it is; the breakout from the Ministry (HP7)—to allow it to be an either/or proposition.

On further reflection, it’s plausible to argue that SPEW doesn’t work not because of the kind of social action it is, but because of who initiates the protest. That is, Hermione—perhaps because she’s she rather than he—succeeds in achieving her goals only when she backs off and encourages boys/men, Ron and especially Harry, to act. For example, there are good reasons Hermione, the best in her year, wouldn’t be the best to lead Dumbledore’s Army, but at the same time, one could wonder why she empowered Harry instead. Indeed, there’s no lack of fuel to feed a feminist’s frustration in HP…

Well, Hermione’s difference is not just gender, it’s muggle born.

I wonder as well, speaking of such things as natural servitude and servility, if part of the difficulty at hand with house elves and beings of this nature relates to turning obsequiousness and subserviency into an ontological trait of a sentient, willful, language using being.

It’s fine to turn rationality into the defining ontological trait of centaurs, in part because they remain masters of their destiny. It becomes much more tricky, however, when dealing with servants—especially servants who desire both freedom and subordination in equal measures.

Thinking, though, of those who defend the weak and the outcast in these books, they themselves are always on the outside.

Hermione and the house elves
Luna and the gnomes
Hagrid and his magical creatures
Harry and (I forget, but isn’t there an outsider group who Harry champions?)

Oh, and there are tons and tons for the feminists to be bothered by… not the least of which is the fact that Hermione obviously doesn’t know how to conjure up a nice wild mushroom soup or rissotto!

Harry champions the muggle borns and, of course eventually, all outsiders.

On that note, Hermione’s muggle born, yes, but that’s the mark of difference the series takes greatest pains to erase. But gender differences are never made an issue of in HP; for that reason, they carry the added weight of assumption.

You knew that already, of course.

I do think the complication of Hermione’s lack of understanding of the house elves is a nice one…a sort of well-meaning imperialism. But the house-elf nature talk is also all wrong. I like that there are two wrong answers at play in the text. I do of course wish that it were more plain that the nature-talk (shudder! ugh!) is the more ugly mistake to make.

The Methodist church I visited Sunday was preparing for their VBS, which—surprise!—has a Harry Potter theme. Let that VBS be symbolic of the fact that I’m becoming slightly more receptive to the idea that HP is a more Christian-centered christnarrative than I was giving it credit for last week (above). Narrative allusions, especially as they’re reformed into mythology, can be tricky to read, but what you say in 43, JRB, is right: what allusions are there aren’t subtle at all, and I was ignoring them.

I am always a little awed at the ways the church industrial complex aims to appropriate popular culture to its own ends.

And as I also said, I was not promoting, but considering, the possibility of allegory. In any event, I think it’s fair to explore whether JKR, as a professed Christian, may have intended some Christian reflection or lessons.

This conversation has taught me a good deal about discussing and identifying allegory, and, because of it, I think that she has not written one, at least not like Narnia. If it is myth, as in Tolkien, etc., then I do think she intends for it to be a Christian myth, like Tolkein, etc. To that end, I even more believe now after this exercise that HP at least is a Christian story, like the Space Triology, TLOR, A Wind in the Door and others.

I would disagree with the cat your quoted above, Grossman, who does not see God in the narrative. Because God is not named or does not have an analog, does not mean that she is ignoring or rejecting religion or God. In TLOR, JRRT does not name God or provide an analog, yet he explains that his myth is “thoroughly Catholic.”

Also, I last will disclaim that my speculation here on activism, moral life, etc., is not necessarily what I believe, but what I think Rowling may mean, if she is writing from a Christian point of view.

The answer to the epilogue, anyway: It’s sentimentalism!

our methodist church had a Wild West theme for VBS, but all of our best methodist friends have been reading harry potter.

If greg turns into a Methodist, then i will think the world has gone crazy. Where we grew up, i kind of thought of the methodists as the Bourgeois. What if greg, mb, and i are now them? (MB and i did just demote our trash-picked couch and our $15 garage-sale recliner in favor of a $600 couch and a $600 chair. i now realize this means that we are now “the man” and should stick “it” to ourselves.)

Rumors of my looming Methodism are—so far—greatly exaggerated. However, I admit it was a fine service (fine enough that I plan to return to join in their earlier, traditional service) and the fineness of their sanctuary leaves my mouth agape.

That may not be saying much, however, since my jaw also dropped because you spent $1200 on living room furniture.

Is it comfortable? Cloth or leather?


and apart from our own bed and one bed for the three-year-old, it is the only furniture we have purchased since we moved back to the US and bought a house. all that to say, we’re not going completely crazy with furniture buying. but we are probably a bit bourgeois. but comfy.

buying workingclass cred with the “but we don’t buy furniture all the time“ excuse…

meh. it doesn’t really work, but no matter. i don’t figure anyone reading this far down on an obscure blog is anything but bourgeois. why else would i be doing this if it weren’t for my own aspirations toward mediocrity?

is the old sofa the brown plaid one in ur dept website picture? even it looks more comfortable than our giant futon…

the brown thing in the picture is actually a 9+ year old futon we bought at a second hand sale. The sofa we acquired from people who were going to throw it away.

i feel like i put 50+ hours/week in service of aspirations toward mediocrity and adulation, neither of which come from furniture and/or new computers. want to form a company?

As long as you mean a venture capital firm that deals in the humdrum dreams of the everyday and not an acting troupe that deals in same, sure. Can we call it Pedestrian?

i’m in. either way.


To 119: MSNBC’s report of what happens next is way different?

the thing, still, about the epilogue. is that, take one of the GATF (Great All-Time Film) Raising Arizona. it, too, ends with that Rockwellian vision of Thanksgiving meal… but, it looks as if they are in a trailer-house still, and it’s this lazy-hazy dream. granted, lazy-haziness is something that you can achieve in film much more easily.

but, it’s a false promise. simply because voldemort is defeated does not mean that creating a new world is going to be easy… now they have to go up against an entrenched bureaurocracy… and that is a much harder thing to do.

yes, it is sentimentalism, of the worst kind.

Reading this review, particularly this paragraph:

In a powerful sequence that immediately makes up for much of the prior slog, Harry learns that, in order for the world to live, he has to die. He accepts this with genuine stoic heroism, relishes his last moments of life, and, surrounded by the ghosts of his dead family and friends, marches off to get himself nobly slaughtered. My tear ducts initiated their “misty” sequence; when Harry asked his mother’s spirit to stay close to him, I almost shed an actual tear. The Rowling-skeptic in me kept waiting for the impossible bailout, but it never came: Voldemort smote Harry into oblivion. Suddenly, Potter was a legitimate tragedy. The series had grown up.

Unfortunately, the cop-out—which in retrospect seems as inevitable as I once thought Harry’s death was—comes three pages later.

What that book might have gained, even in spite of the resurrection plot, by delay! Shoot, send HP to his grave, then go back and see what Ron and Hermione and all the rest are doing. If you know all along that Harry’s coming back, what’s the harm in building suspense for his return?

the very same impulse that leads you to add an epilogue…
re: the needing to wait… it’s not like people who’ve already read over 3,000 pages of fiction are going to get miffed that they have to wait an entire chapter or two for harry to come back.