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On Nagini apparently secretly being a human

27 Sep

Apologies for the dearth of content recently. I don’t have much excuse except that I just haven’t had the energy to write; hopefully this will change soon, but I can’t make any promises.

[I’ve had some stuff going on recently that drains my free time and energy. Chamber of Secrets has not been abandoned but it could be a while yet.]

I have to admit that we haven’t had our ears to the ground in Harry Potter fandom as much lately, so we’d missed hearing about this one until All-I-need brought it to our attention in the comments. Here’s the article she linked us to.

So. Um. That’s a thing, apparently. Nagini is now a “Maledictus”, a “blood curse that only affects women, and one that Nagini has no control over”. Charming. So it’s like a werewolf but not because reasons, like an animagus but not because reasons, and it only affects women because why not have more sexism? [There’s been no mention of a male equivalent. Unless werewolves are the equivalent, since it’s just occurred to me that we’ve never heard of a female werewolf in this universe, but I didn’t see Greyback being turned into Voldy’s pet/food source/soul vessel and deprived of all agency and freedom.]

There is also apparently a fair amount of discussion about racism happening, because the actor is Asian and this may have been an attempt to use something from Southeast Asian culture (and no doubt badly, given Rowling’s track record; that said, I don’t know enough to comment on that). [All I know for sure is that Nagini is the name of the female cobra in Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and given Kipling’s usual naming conventions it probably just means ‘female cobra’. Potterverse Nagini is not a cobra. Beyond that, I have nothing.] What I can say is that “maledictus” is far too Latinate a name, which comes off as rather colonialist: if it really is based on something Asian, why not use the actual name, or come up with a variant on that?

Rowling claims she’s been waiting to reveal this for 20 years. I categorically do not believe this, because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and it is very typical of her tendency to retcon things that didn’t need changing for the sake of shock value. I would be utterly shocked if there was any evidence of this being a thing before the last year or two at best; it seems obvious to me that it’s an attempt to link the Fantastic Beasts films more closely to the original series in an effort to increase fans’ investment in them. [Yeah, it’s obviously a total ass-pull that came to her while putting together this clusterfuck of a script.] Also, the maths just don’t work (as per usual) – 20 years ago would have been 1998. The year Chamber of Secrets came out. It would be two more years before Nagini the character existed in canon.

So let’s get this straight. Rowling’s best idea for adding a female character of colour to the story is for her to have nonconsensual transformations into a snake form, previously only seen being used to obtain potion ingredients via milking venom, fed human flesh, made a vessel for Voldemort’s soul (again, presumably without her consent?), possessed and controlled (even just saying that feels gross in this context) as a weapon, and eventually killed. Killed only in order to make Voldemort vulnerable, for the exact same reasons as various inanimate objects: she has the same level of narrative agency as a goblet. [It’s particularly troubling since we now have a woman of colour being turned into a literal possession owned by a white supremacist. These people really do have no awareness whatsoever.]

This also raises the question of why Nagini’s venom would have been an effective restorative for Voldy if she wasn’t (as we previously thought) some product of his own power or a unique magical species. [And this also becomes yet another thing Dumbledore supposedly knew about all along – since he’s in this film – and just never bothered to mention.]

(On the human flesh thing, Loten’s complained about this to me before. Rowling doesn’t know how snakes work, a snake eating something as large as a human corpse would go into a near-hibernation state while digesting and that might well take over a month. I also seem to recall that snakes tend to prefer live prey to corpses?) [Yes, most snakes prefer live food. I suppose this stupid handwave would somewhat explain why Nagini doesn’t act like a snake; in addition to this, she never seems to shed her skin and seems unbothered by the temperature.]

I don’t have much else to add. If this Nagini character was a willing participant in everything Nagini did in HP canon, then it’s basically just another Bellatrix, another hate-sink character who is evil for evil’s sake and doesn’t serve much of a useful narrative purpose. If she wasn’t, then this is yet another female character being created solely for the purpose of her exploitation. Neither is a good look, really. (Also, is she older than Tom Riddle then? I’m not entirely clear on the timeline, but that also seems weird to me. Why would Rowling do this?)

[Presumably there will be a reason why Nagini is in human form in Fantastic Beasts 2 but only ever exists as a snake in the main canon timeline. Presumably this reason will be terrible.]

Before reading the article, my first thought was that Nagini being human was a (bad) attempt to patch the Cursed Child timeline problems – if Bellatrix didn’t have time to be pregnant, why not shoehorn in another female character who could be Dolphin Sue’s mother instead? (The mental image of her hatching from an egg or something and later being told Bella was her mother is something I have to admit I did find amusing.) This doesn’t appear to have been the motivation at all, but if anything there seems to be even less purpose behind it, so I figured I might as well share that for a laugh.

I really can’t see any way this could have been a good idea. I guess Rowling wanted more attention or something. Honestly, it’s all so stupid I’m having a hard time remembering it’s also problematic and offensive.

[Of course Rowling’s latest shock reveal is tiresomely racist and misogynist as well as making no sense whatsoever. Why wouldn’t it be, most of the others have been.]

Edited to add this – in case you wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, don’t.

 
27 Comments

Posted by on September 27, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

27 responses to “On Nagini apparently secretly being a human

  1. All-I-need

    September 27, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    You’re welcome – or not, depending on your point of view on having received this information.

    I knew you’d put it much more succinctly than I ever could and I thought this was just the sort of thing you’d want to have a good shout about.

    In short, I’m horrified.

    Mostly for all the reasons you and the article already mentioned, but also because now Neville has gone from “a hero who killed a Snake and finally got his own revenge for his parents” to “a boy who unknowingly killed another person without his knowledge or consent to killing said person”. It’s made even worse by the fact that this person is also an Asian (is that even correct to say? Should it be East Asian?) woman who may or may not be Voldemort’s slave and is quite definitely being kept as a PET.

    There are so many terrible things in here I don’t even know which I find most alarming. I do love how Rowling tries to act like this isn’t blatant racism, though. Obviously she’d know all about racism, being a white woman and all. And we all know that if you hurt someone and you say you didn’t, the hurt person then completely agrees with you and is totally fine going forward.

    In happier news, I’ve been seen an increasing number of people on tumblr (my main social media sphere) publicly divorcing JKR and embracing the “Death of the Author” trope by drawing a clear line between the books and every other bullshit (including the play and these retcons). It looks like more and more people are becoming aware of just how problematic her comments are.

     
    • Loten

      September 27, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      Ugh, yes, poor Neville. As if he doesn’t get screwed over enough already. It’s definitely good to hear that more of the fandom are waking up – I suppose it was to be expected, the vast majority of her fans are millennials and issues like this are becoming more and more important to us every day. While sadly not becoming more important to her.

       
    • mcbender

      September 27, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      Yeah. Speaking of tumblr, we just saw this: http://symmetraismygf.tumblr.com/post/138723871094/most-fans-please-creators-tell-us-more-canon

      “most fans: please creators tell us more canon information please
      harry potter fans: we will pay you to Stop.”

       
  2. Sam

    September 27, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    (Apologies if this double-posts, I can’t tell if the first was submitted or not.)

    Honestly, this prequel series is so exhausting. If it were being treated as a standalone series it would be tolerable, but it’s being used as an excuse to meddle retroactively with canon in ways nobody wants, and it is just insufferable.

    As someone on Tumblr said, “the Nagini reveal is really emblematic of the problem [the prequel series has]. Namely, does it really matter? And the answer is truly no. How does Nagini formally being a woman impact the later events of the Harry Potter universe? … At the end of the day, this new information was not necessary, and therefore not worth the time to include in the original seven books.”

    It doesn’t answer a lingering question. (Even if it had, I believe that would have been a failure of the original series to satisfactorily wrap up its loose ends, but a minor failure, and this would at least pass muster as “something fans were wondering about.”)

    It doesn’t dig into the backstory of any characters to explain their actions or shed light on their motivations. (Nagini is such a non-entity in the books that there are no actions to explain or motivations to shed light on–she does as Voldemort commands, or acts like an evil snake. Nothing complicated about that.)

    It doesn’t even appear to serve a purpose linking the Fantastic Beasts series to the original series. (They were already more closely linked via Dumbledore anyway, and if we don’t see Nagini meeting Tom Riddle because he’s either not at Hogwarts yet or not even born, what’s the point?)

    The only argument in its favor I can see is that it contributes to worldbuilding, in both the introduction of the Maledictus curse and in the exploration of wizarding Asia, but Fantastic Beasts could have done both of those much, much better without this little reveal. This is just once again taking what could have been a good thing (Asian wizards!) and weakening it by attempting to tie it back to Harry Potter in the most dramatic way possible.

     
    • Loten

      September 27, 2018 at 6:56 pm

      The spam filter ate your first comment for some reason. Should be sorted now. Yes, that’s exactly the issue – this is completely unnecessary. If she wants to fill in gaps, there are dozens if not hundreds left unexplored without resorting to this sort of nonsense, and if she doesn’t want to fill in gaps then she should stop doing it.

      The stupid part is that Asian wizards are now canon and nothing is stopping her from telling stories about the Asian wizarding schools if she truly cares about improving representation. Instead she does… this.

      We said when discussing the first Fantastic Beasts that it would have worked far better without any attempt to tie it to the Harry Potter canon and would have been a great standalone set in the same universe but not the same timeline, and nobody was looking forward to the later films.

      I think Rowling is aware that she’s not capable of hooking the fans without the Harry Potter name slapped on everything – as evidenced by the lack of success of any of her other writing – so she’s taken the original idea and started generating as many ways as possible to pull it back to the security of her cash cow. I expect Newt will turn out to be Dumbles’ bastard son at some point (they’re already determined to erase that pesky mention of homosexuality, after all). Or else it’ll be ‘revealed’ he’s actually a Bowtruckle or something.

       
    • mcbender

      September 27, 2018 at 6:58 pm

      It looks like the first went to the spam filter for some reason, but this got through? I don’t know what happened.

      This is a really good point, though. I think I was hinting around this somewhat but didn’t quite get there… to some extent, this problem could be extended to all prequels, but I think there’s something qualitatively different here (especially because it’s not actually answering anything or changing how we see something in a meaningful way). It’s similar to the issue I had with Cursed Child, I think – does this have anything to say? If it doesn’t, why is it being written? (Oh, right, because the Potterverse prints money.)

       
    • All-I-need

      September 27, 2018 at 7:57 pm

      Fully agreed – it was completely unnecessary.

      It makes me quite sad, too, because there are SO MANY things I would absolutely love to know about other parts of the Wizarding World. I just don’t trust JKR to deliver them in a satisfactory manner.

      Let’s look at the American Wizarding schools again – one of them is famous for its Herbology classes. There is no one on this planet who can look me in the eye and tell me that Neville Longbottom would not have talked about this nonstop. There is no one here wo can tell me he wouldn’t have asked McGonagall – or, if she scared him, at least Professor Sprout – about maybe doing an exchange year or continuing his education there post Hogwarts. There’s no way he wouldn’t have discussed it with Hermione, who would probably already know all about these schools and be green with envy at the very idea of him going there.

      So – now we’re presented with an entire movie series that is PERFECT for introducing us to other parts of the HP universe and still maintains ties to the original movies. It would have been so easy. Remove JKR and any input she may have from the script-writing team, get some actual Potterheads on the team instead who know the canon (or the parts that make sense) and then let them write a fantastic series about young Newt Scamander, traveling the world either in search of rare magical creatures or as some sort of expert who helps others with issues they’re having with these creatures – or both.

      Add some poaching rings that need to be defeated, perhaps even tied to Grindelwald’s efforts to raise an army, and let Newt deal with that. He could throw a wench in Grindelwald’s attempts to supply his side with dangerous creatures and thus help move the overarching plot along without dragging him into the middle of the actual action. Because let’s be honest – an expert in magical creatues who is barely out of Hogwarts doesn’t seem suited for a war, somehow. (Neither does a bunch of kids but let’s not get into that here.)

      This would also have given them a fantastic opportunity to show how different magical communities around the world live and practice magic. I read a post on tumblr where someone complained about how in the books Wandless Magic was supposed to be really hard to do but then when she was infodumping about the schools, JKR said the whites had to teach the indigenous peoples on the American continent how to use wands. Makes perfect sense to me – clearly the Native Americans used magic differently and didn’t need wands, which was unfathomable to Europeans. How do African wizards use magic? We already have Shamans, how hard can it be to expand on those in a respectful manner? How about Norsk wizards and Inuit and Aztecs, Maori and Aborigines? There’s so much I’d love to hear.

      Let him travel to the Asian continent and meet a mysterious snake-woman shapeshifter there. Make a point of saying that the sort-of-latin name is a result of colonialism and that the actual name is *insert correct Chinese or Japanese or Korean or Vietnamese or whatever culture she comes from term here*. Let him visit the dragon breeding sites, including the one Charlie Weasley will one day work at. Let someone there mention how much they’d love a Hungarian Horntail one day because they heard those were FIERCE.

      Would people watch this? I damn well would. I love proper Worldbuilding. I adored “Avatar” simply for the worldbuilding and hated the entire plot beyond getting to know the planet and native culture. Would people watch this who aren’t into worldbuilding? Probably at least once because it’s part of the HP universe. Add some easter eggs. Make Newt meet James Potter’s parents in passing or something. Start a rumour about basilisks being known to live on *this* specific island that can reach an age of 50+ without issue. Heck, have him run into that same vampire Slughorn invited to the Christmas party in book 6.

      There are endless possibilities to make this series not suck. And they’re continuously ruining them.

       
      • mcbender

        September 27, 2018 at 8:27 pm

        I’d watch this too. You’re right, it wouldn’t be too hard to do something with the general idea, if they were just willing to tell an actually new story. Weirdly, once again it’s exactly the same problem as Cursed Child had (see e.g. the inability to think of an antagonist unconnected to Voldemort) – it’s trying to be too close to the source material for some reason, and ends up just being hollow and forced.

        Incidentally, I should thank you for the well-timed distraction from all things political, however brief.

         
      • All-I-need

        September 27, 2018 at 8:43 pm

        Ha – at this point, I’m not sure if I’m not just distracting myself from that!

        You’re right that they don’t seem able to remove themselves from the idea of the main villain although he wasn’t even born yet. It would be easy to drop hints instead of going for the full story but no, they had to try and take the easy way out with the next best villaint and inevitably messed it up.

        Personally, I’d also love a TV format about the first war against Voldemort, perhaps in a sort of police procedure style with the Aurors/Order members as the main characters. Seeing the real Moody – before he became paranoid – would probably be fantastic.But only if JKR doesn’t get a say in it.

         
      • Rae The Nerd

        September 29, 2018 at 12:53 am

        I call the idea of Newt going on animal adventures Magical Planet and I would watch the heck out of it. Done right I think they could get a decent number of animal / mythical creature fans to see it. If they explained enough of the world in movie that people could follow along.

         
  3. mcbender

    September 28, 2018 at 12:02 am

     
    • All-I-need

      September 28, 2018 at 10:43 am

      This was an utterly riveting and informative read – both the essay and twitter thread – thank you!

       
  4. liminal fruitbat

    September 28, 2018 at 8:44 am

    It may get even better/worse (delete as applicable): iirc, the “maledictus” thing was the explanation for why Draco’s wife is absent from Cursed Child. Smarter people than me can no doubt find something in how this pointless plot device makes a white woman frail and delicate and die of Victorian Novel Disease while making an East Asian woman turn into an evil snake. Nagini’s appearance in the prequel is pointless, the plot device she suffers from was pointless to begin with (if Astoria had to be absent she didn’t need some fancy gender-specific curse to kill her), and basically everything about this is such a terrible pointless idea I’d have thought even Rowling would have avoided it. And claiming she’d had it in mind for 20 years is just the icing on the cake; does she really expect anyone to believe that?

    (And they cast a Korean woman as a character named after a variety of Indian deity; Rowling may or may not be correct that nagas and naginis may also exist in Indonesian mythology and that Indonesia may have a Korean population, but something about everything Rowling and Hollywood have ever done tells me that this wasn’t a thoughtful, considered depiction of the cultural and ethnic diversity of Asia.)

     
    • mcbender

      September 28, 2018 at 1:29 pm

      Interesting. I hadn’t thought about the Astoria connection. They didn’t use quite the same phrasing in the play: Astoria “had a blood malediction” while Nagini “is a Maledictus”, but it’s definitely the same word. Or should be if any consistent linguistic rules applied, but this is Potterverse magic so who knows? It’s also a very general word, I’m not sure of the precise Latin translation but as far as I can tell shouldn’t it just be “curse” or “cursed one”? It has nothing to do with snakes, or gender-specificity, or anything else they’re using it for. Still, if they don’t want us to wonder why Astoria never turned into a snake they should definitely have used a different word.

      You have a very good point about the conflation of South Asia and East/Southeast Asia also. There really isn’t any way this could be culturally sensitive.

      This just keeps getting stupider and stupider. I don’t understand Rowling any more, if I ever did.

       
  5. Rose

    September 28, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    I wonder whether Rowling suffered a brain injury. Normally, one would expect an author to become somewhat better at avoiding misogyny in her works, but Rowling seems to progressively get worse. (Although Cursed Child apparently isn’t by her, so I entirely ignore it when it comes to writing fanfic)

    It can’t be a need for money, not really. She has enough of it to last her a lifetime.

    The failure at writing for adults is to be expected – many great authors of children’s books utterly fail if they write for adults and suddenly are allowed to write about sex and romance and use swearwords. Perhaps some people just do better if they have to adhere to stricter rules.

    The first Fantastic Beasts movie featured an adult woman with an actual job (still not a married adult women who still had a job, though) in a prominent role, and some work on the problem of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff being completely unimportant in the Harry Potter books.
    So, progress.

    But Rowling also agreed to put her name on Cursed Child, and now this. I can’t understand why.

    Or perhaps Rowling is the same as ever, but has the unique ability to soak up everyone else’s feelings and attitudes like a sponge, and that’s why Harry Potter was so successful?

    We now live in a time that’s in some ways much more misogynist than ever – people seem to consider it normal that women be exploited as “surrogate mothers” so that infertile heterosexual and male homosexual couples can have shiny, new, genetically own babies instead of being limited to adopting older children.

    And we have Voldemort’s daughter, whose mother is so exchangeable that the author might consider replacing her? (Seriously, the only way Voldemort having a child ever made sense in the first place was as a reward to Bellatrix. He wanted to be immortal, he didn’t need a heir and wouldn’t like competition.)

    Gender stereotyping is more popular than ever, too – women who didn’t shave their legs and put on make up have been considered “not real women” for a long time, but now is the first time ever (if we don’t consider the sworn virgins of Albania) women who don’t conform to gender stereotypes are literally considered men and told they suffer from “internalised transphobia” if they dare to maintain that they are actually, obviously, really women and that women are born without make-up and actually naturally grow leg hair.

    In that light, perhaps it was inevitable that Rowling would come up with a blood curse that only affects women.

    After all, Twilight, which was a megabestseller a couple of years ago, but significantly later than Harry Potter, already had sexism woven into the very rules of its universe – with fertile male vampires and infertile female vampires, and female werewolves who were infertile for some stupid made-up reason …

    Stephenie Meyer made it so that the non-human women in her universe could never have babies, which reflects the modern sexist idea that women ought to have to choose between being awesome (at their job, in real life) and having children, while men of course get to have both without a question.

    Harry Potter was better than Twilight, but if Twilight was better than Fantastic Beasts II is going to be, then is that a problem with the author, or is it just that those bestselling authors are so very much in tune with all of society that, as society gets worse, so do their novels?

    Oh, by the way, female werewolves exist in the Potterverse, even though we never seen them in the novels. As Pottermore informed us, if two werewolves mate during full moon (isn’t that rape?), then the woman gives birth to a litter of ordinary wolf cubs. Body horror at its finest.
    I just hope the magical world has a safe and legal means of abortion.

     
    • liminal fruitbat

      September 28, 2018 at 5:37 pm

      Gender stereotyping is more popular than ever, too – women who didn’t shave their legs and put on make up have been considered “not real women” for a long time, but now is the first time ever (if we don’t consider the sworn virgins of Albania) women who don’t conform to gender stereotypes are literally considered men and told they suffer from “internalised transphobia” if they dare to maintain that they are actually, obviously, really women and that women are born without make-up and actually naturally grow leg hair.

      Is this really a thing? I mean, it sounds a lot like a terfy dogwhistle.

       
      • Sam

        October 1, 2018 at 5:52 pm

        Yeah, I am giving that major side-eye. Generally I think gender roles have gotten more permissive, not less, over the last 10-15 years. It is now both easier to be a woman with visible leg hair in public than it used to be (speaking from my own experiences, and the dramatically negative reactions I got as a teenager vs. the non-reaction I get now) and easier to decide, hey, you know what, despite appearances, I’m actually not a woman. Both of those becoming more socially acceptable is a very good thing!

        But this is off-topic, so, to bring it back around: even assuming public consciousness of gender roles has backslid recently, I don’t see how it follows that Rowling chose now to come up with the Maledictus curse and inflict it on Nagini. Judging by her public comments, she strikes me as, at most, indecisively feminist with some very conservative leanings. This isn’t exactly out of character.

         
    • Lewis

      October 9, 2018 at 9:32 am

      I can think of another reason for Voldemort deciding to have children, sheer frustration at how ineffective his Death Eaters are at dealing with a handful of children. Imagine having to spend eternity cleaning up after a bunch of generally incompetent plonkers, he might have decided the only way he was going to get competent followers was if they were his kids and he wouldn’t be the first immortal villain in fantasy to go down that route.

      That’s assuming he was capable of having children at all after his resurrection in a magically constructed body. It could have been quite interesting if that character in the play was actually an experiment of his in artificially creating life (and competent followers) with Bellatrix as the enthusiastic volunteer.

       
  6. janach

    September 28, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    If it’s a curse that effects only women, shouldn’t it be “Maledicta”? My Latin dictionary tells me the word itself is actually “maledictum,” and is neuter, so giving it a masculine ending is a grammatical error in any case. If you’re going to make an error in grammatical gender, you could at least make it accurate as regards physical sex.

    I have decided that, for me, Potter Canon is whatever is written in the seven books, as published in the UK editions. Period. Nothing else counts unless I choose to include it, on a case-by-case basis. That means I’m fine with gay Dumbledore and Hufflepuff Newt, but not much else. I don’t even like Draco’s wife being named Astoria (a city in Oregon) instead of Asteria (a Greek nymph, like her sister Daphne).

     
    • Loten

      September 29, 2018 at 7:38 am

      Yes, it should be Maledicta, but Rowling’s Latin grammar has always been extremely questionable. I agree with your view of canon, though – every word she’s ever written about it after the last chapter of DH (including the epilogue here even though she actually wrote it long before the end of the series, because I can) has just made everything worse.

       
      • Andrensath

        September 29, 2018 at 8:17 am

        This is actually the one instance where I’m glad Rowling has no understanding of Latin grammar, because it distances this idiocy that little bit further from one of my favourite Discworld characters.

         
      • Loten

        September 29, 2018 at 8:49 am

        Excellent point, although said character and friends could have a lot of fun with this universe…

         
  7. Loten

    September 29, 2018 at 11:45 am

    It occurs to me that the character is also being objectified in the sense that she doesn’t get a real name, unless that’s going to be revealed in the film. ‘Nagini’ is not a name, it’s a description. The female snake shifter is named ‘female snake shifter’. Does her human identity have a name, and if so do any of the cast care about it? I suspect not.

     
    • liminal fruitbat

      September 29, 2018 at 9:14 pm

      Not really – she’s named “snake goddess”, which, if her condition is a curse, is like someone who’s doomed to turn into wood being named “Dryad”. So either Nagini’s parents subscribed to the same school of child-naming as Remus Lupin’s, or Rowling’s saying that a variety of Asian deity is actually a kind of cursed human. (Kind of like the opposite of what she did with skinwalkers, actually.)

       
    • All-I-need

      October 6, 2018 at 6:46 pm

      Someone on tumblr also recently pointed out that, in Deathly Hollows, Nagini is disguised as Batilda Bagshot – as a snake dressed up in a human corpse. Now, why would someone who is human and able to shift between being a snake and being human stay a snake and then dress up in another person’s corpse instead of simply becoming human and using polyjuice potion? But, as we all know, JKR had all of this planned out for the past twenty years. It all makes sense (somewhere, to someone).

       
  8. Done With Rowling

    November 19, 2018 at 6:29 pm

    Nope, I am not in denial. There simply were no books after the first seven.

     

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