A Very Harry Potter Miscellany

05 Nov

The delay in the existing Chamber of Secrets coverage is almost 100% due to me procrastinating about getting the new death counter sorted out. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer. In the meantime, here are some random little Harry Potter related asides and conversations – none of them justify posts to themselves.

Point the first: Dumbledore is actually the head of the Klan.

This is the post that triggered this conversation:
(Someone on Twitter arguing that yes, the KKK are awful, but their titles are pretty cool-sounding e.g. Grand Wizard.)

[Strictly speaking this isn’t just a random someone, it’s James Damore, better known as the former Google employee who wrote the awful manifesto claiming race and gender imbalances in hiring are justified by the facts because women and nonwhites are just so stupid, and how oppressed he felt for not being allowed to say so. He’s not exactly a neutral party here, and one questions how genuine his ‘yes the KKK are awful but’ is. Nevertheless.]

And from there it proceeded in an entirely logical and sane fashion, as one would naturally expect from your favourite bloggers…

Loten: Also, Grand Wizard = Chief Warlock?
Mitchell: Oh god
Loten: And of course they already have the pointy hats
Mitchell: Didn’t his bio also include ‘Grand Sorceror’
Mitchell: I remember checking to see if it had become Philosopher ;P
Loten: Yes, yes it did
Mitchell: …And his name is literally White
Mitchell: Oh my god
Loten: Also his backstory is that he is a racist.

Compelling evidence, I’m sure you’ll agree.

[More concisely: he is White Bumblebee, the Chief Warlock and Grand Sorceror and Supreme Mugwump (it’s like someone threw Grand Wizard into a thesaurus program!) and his backstory is that his ex-boyfriend was literally Wizard Hitler.]

Point the second: Rowling is probably a fan of Ayn Rand.

A brave soul named Adam Lee has been sporking Ayn Rand’s more notable works on his blog over at Patheos. He’s currently working through The Fountainhead, and a paragraph of this post jumped out at me.

But while Rand could make her protagonists either loved or hated, she couldn’t stand to depict them as unimportant. Whether for good or for ill, she just had to script a world where everyone’s got an opinion about what the heroes are doing.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Everyone either worships or despises Harry. Nobody sees him as unimportant and he is deeply relevant to everyone’s lives, to the point where he is almost the only celebrity in a world that doesn’t have a celebrity culture.

[In fairness, this is a criticism that could be made of a lot of fictional characters, and might be a good test for identifying when using the term ‘Mary Sue’ is appropriate; it’s not isolated to either of these particular authors by any means. Still, it’s a fantastic way of articulating this problem and you cannot argue that it doesn’t apply. (Also, Adam Lee’s Rand series comes strongly recommended by me, go look it up if you enjoy that sort of thing.)]

Point the third: Rowling may be a bigger Roald Dahl fan than we previously thought.

A little while ago Amazon had a number of Roald Dahl Kindle editions on sale, so I picked up a few. And while I was enjoying revisiting my childhood, I happened to notice the plot synopsis for James and the Giant Peach:

James Henry Trotter lives with two ghastly hags. Aunt Sponge is enormously fat with a face that looks boiled and Aunt Spiker is bony and screeching. He’s very lonely until one day something peculiar happens…

I’m sure everyone can see my point immediately, but allow me to change four words and slightly adjust the protagonist’s name anyway.

Harry James Potter lives with two ghastly people. Uncle Vernon is enormously fat with a face that looks boiled and Aunt Petunia is bony and screeching. He’s very lonely until one day something peculiar happens…

(Yes, I know his name isn’t a perfect match. But Harry’s been a legitimate nickname for Henry for centuries, so nyeh.)

Obviously, it isn’t deliberate. Plagiarism is important and people pay attention to it, and something this blatant would never be overlooked. [We hope.] But it’s a hell of a coincidence, isn’t it? We’ve been drawing parallels with Dahl’s work for a while without realising just how strong the link is. I wonder if Rowling herself knows…

[Honestly, I would suspect that she doesn’t. There’s an extent to which this is just a Stock Children’s Book Plot, so it may not be that surprising that the parallels are there (if you elide enough details in a summary you can make most stories sound vaguely similar; people like Joseph Campbell have based entire careers on doing so). But regardless, we still found it striking.]

Point the fourth: in which we are disappointed by a fandom thing, quelle surprise

[A little while ago, we came across a few discussions of a fan-made Harry Potter Cards Against Humanity set, ‘creatively’ titled Cards Against Muggles. The card combinations shown in that article could be interpreted as critical of the series, so we thought it might have been something that would interest us and make for amusing jokes at the expense of the books, and looked into it enough to acquire and read through the list of cards. We were wrong.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’d forgotten how stupid and unfunny the vast majority of Cards Against Humanity itself is, or if adding Harry Potter content just highlights the worst flaws of the original game, but at best it doesn’t work well and at worst it’s even stupider than the original. Far too many of the cards are just copies of things from the original with a Potterverse word stuck in, or just take the format $HPCharacterName’s $SexOrgan, etc etc. There isn’t even much opportunity to use it to make subversive commentary at the expense of the game’s intent, like there is with the original (I’m not going to defend CAH or encourage anyone to play it, it’s honestly vile garbage, but it’s theoretically possible to make it a decent experience if the people you’re playing with aren’t arseholes. I don’t think that’s true of the HP version).

Needless to say, the best I can say of this effort is that it’s a bit of a damp squib. And at its worst it’s just stupidly offensive and vulgar for the sake of being so, just like the original.

That said, it amused me that they couldn’t even get the parts of speech right between the two types of cards, such that “There’s no need to call me ‘There’s no need to call me sir, Professor’, Professor” is a completely valid play.]

Mitchell wrote this last one because I’d honestly forgotten this even existed, we found it a while ago. Oops.

Yes, this is more or less how our thought processes actually work. It explains a lot, doesn’t it. Hopefully regular content will resume at some point relatively soon. I might also be starting a new thing in the New Year. We’ll see.


Posted by on November 5, 2017 in loten, mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

5 responses to “A Very Harry Potter Miscellany

  1. liminal fruitbat

    November 7, 2017 at 9:27 am

    [More concisely: he is White Bumblebee, the Chief Warlock and Grand Sorceror and Supreme Mugwump (it’s like someone threw Grand Wizard into a thesaurus program!) and his backstory is that his ex-boyfriend was literally Wizard Hitler.]

    I remember reading once someone who claimed that the design of Harry’s scar was a reference to Nazi lightning-bolt insignia. These are some unfortunate coincidences given the anti-Semitic coding of Snape and the goblins, aren’t they?

    Speaking of disappointing fandom, it turns out that if you ask “why did James and Sirius keep bullying Snape when he was keeping Lupin’s secret?”, people respond “but Snape fought back and was an asshole!” Ah, fandom, never change…

    • janach

      November 8, 2017 at 3:14 am

      In other words, if the uppity Half-Blood Prince had groveled properly to his racial superiors, they might have contented themselves with contemptuous comments instead of four-on-one attacks.

      I don’t think Harry’s lightning bolt scar was *intended* to be a explicit reference to the British Fascist Party. JKR doesn’t seem to have enough historical awareness for that, despite her admiration for Jessica Mitford, whose sister married the head of the British Fascists. But, unfortunately, it *is* a fascist symbol. She probably didn’t intend her descriptions of Snape and the goblins to evoke anti-semitic stereotypes either, but they do.

      • liminal fruitbat

        November 8, 2017 at 10:14 am

        Oh, it almost certainly wasn’t intended; I’m just amused at how it coincides with the “Nazis are bad (but Jewish-coded people really are terrible” themes.

      • mcbender

        November 8, 2017 at 8:38 pm

        I don’t think any of these parallels were intended, unless there’s something going on subconsciously. That said, I’ve seen it pointed out that there are a lot of aesthetic dimensions to fascism and, whether consciously or unconsciously, Rowling does often seem to play into them (I certainly think she wants to be progressive and wants to think of herself as such, it’s the subconscious and internalised views and the way they often come out in her writing that get her into trouble). Some of that is also that fascists tend to take symbols that people already like for other reasons and appropriate them, to piggyback on existing appeal; depending on which symbol we’re talking about, and how successfully fascists overtook it, it’s not hard to see people using them in ignorance just because they think it’s cool (certainly lightning bolts fall in there).

        That said, it’s hard not to notice the Jewish coding of the goblins (admittedly, that doesn’t say much for me since I didn’t notice as a child!); Snape I think is a bit more subtle and potentially arguable, not that he isn’t demonised in other ways. It’s… definitely weirder in this context, I’m going to have to think about it. (And when you factor in the Nazi-coding of the Death Eaters it gets even weirder, to the point of utter incoherency.)

        re: the Snape thing, it’s disappointing but not surprising (a phrase I find myself using more and more often these days, and I’m sure Loten will attest to that). I’ve seen views like this expressed far too often by people I otherwise respect, too. I’m not entirely sure how to process it; sometimes I think it’s a reluctance to acknowledge unreliable narration, or casual readers who just aren’t as familiar with the text, but that doesn’t cover all the cases either. Is the problem that these people are reading the text wrong and therefore not realising what they’re saying, or are they reading it correctly and asserting this kind of view intentionally?

  2. Loten

    November 8, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    This discussion reminded me of something I saw the other day – Rowling claims the Deathly Hallows symbol was unconsciously based on a Masonic symbol she saw in a film years before she wrote the first book, and she didn’t realise until she saw the film again recently.

    (Personally I don’t see it. They both involve triangles. It’s not exactly compelling.)


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