So yesterday (21 January 2017), for anyone who doesn’t already know, the day after the tragic inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the (not-so-) United States (I will not give him the dignity of the office and refer to him as President Trump, he’s a loathsome despotic buffoon #notmypresident), was also the day of the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches in major (and not-so-major!) cities throughout the US and beyond.
Tag Archives: angry
I have been struggling with writer’s block for quite some time, so it may not be surprising I’ve not had much to say recently. That said, I think the recent version is something a bit different: I keep feeling like I need to say something about politics (what I have called and will continue to call the US national disaster) but can’t get through the shock and horror and disbelief well enough to actually say something coherent. Lots of people have already been saying the things I want to say better than I could say them, which doesn’t help either (I’m not sure if anyone has noticed my continued linkspam in the comments over here but that’s the best I’ve been able to manage thus far).
At the same time, I haven’t been able to look away. I keep reading news stories in horror as they come out. It certainly isn’t good for my mental health, but I can’t stop doing it, and at the same time I can’t imagine it would be better to stop paying attention and bury my head in the sand. I’ve been wrestling with that since 11/9, as I’d been fully expecting the horrorshow to be over (or at least to change forms; I’ve said before that prior to the election I’d naively thought the worst case scenarios involved disappointed deplorables lashing out). (As an aside, I do love that people are referring to this as 11/9; while slower acting, I really do think this is a catastrophe of similar scale to 9/11.)
I can pretty safely say that I do not think I have ever felt such hatred and contempt for anyone as I do now for Donald Trump, his stooges, and the Republican party for abetting them. These people are fucking terrifying. These feelings make me very uncomfortable, but I think in the end they are rational feelings to have, and they’ve more than earned it by this point.
I should say again that while I currently exist in a constant state of anxiety and terror, it’s not really for myself; it may be my depression talking, but I honestly don’t particularly care what happens to me (and at the same time, I belong to enough privileged demographics that the worst consequences aren’t going to fall on me; a lot of my fear is fear for what is going to happen to other people and groups of people). This is bigger than any one person. Rather, I’m concerned about the drastic consequences that will inevitably ensue from having such an incompetent, foolish, narcissistic arsehole in power and from the destructive cabinet appointments he is making. And that’s even disregarding the Russian interference, and the Trump campaign’s possibly-treasonous collusion with it; between this emboldening of Russia and what is looking something like a resumption of the Cold War, and Trump’s irresponsible actions with respect to China and the Middle East, I am beginning to seriously think this might be leading up to a World War Three. The odds of humanity surviving such an event do not seem favourable.
In a time where everyone should be seriously concerned with trying to curtail climate change in any way possible (if it is not already too late) instead Trump and stooges seem to be threatening to remove anyone who agrees with the scientific consensus from their positions in the EPA, promoting climate-change deniers and oil executives to high positions and encouraging more environmentally destructive drilling and reliance on fossil fuels. There are multiple ways in which the worldwide consequences of a Trump presidency might be irrecoverable. This is not histrionics; it is brute fact. We cannot afford to play games.
And that is disregarding the smaller effects that a Trump (and Pence) administration will have on the everyday lives of people, especially people with marginalised identities. I am not the biggest fan of ‘Obamacare’, but it is undeniable that many people will suffer and die if it is repealed.
To frame things a bit flippantly: I do not ever want to see another fiction story about time-travellers trying to prevent the rise of Hitler, when people in our time couldn’t even do anything to prevent Trump and at best looked the other way while it happened. Let’s note the parallels in how journalists downplayed that threat too. While I don’t want to make excuses for ignorance, in the case of Hitler it could at least be argued that such a thing had not happened before; today we have the benefit of history, the benefit of hindsight, and the parallels are all too obvious. Americans like to think that our national ideals and supposed values make us immune to facism, but it has become all too clear over the past two years that if anything it makes us more vulnerable, because that very tendency to think ourselves immune caused us to stop looking for the warning signs. We elected (for some definition of that word at least) a candidate whose only noteworthy newspaper endorsement came from the Ku Klux Klan. We cannot afford to minimise that either.
I could go on. I could try to list off every single thing Trump, his children (who thanks to nepotism and corruption will have outsized influence in his administration), and his cabinet appointees have said which makes it utterly obvious what a disaster they will be for America and the world, but if you are reading this post you probably already know.
The Electoral College meet tomorrow to cast their votes. This may well be the last opportunity we have as a nation to legally put the brakes on this tragedy, though I’m afraid I don’t think the odds of the electors miraculously opting to spare us are very high. Nevertheless, I can’t help hoping they will do something (even without the intelligence briefing they’ve requested and been denied). It’s unfortunate that many of them have received harassment and threats (and from both sides of the issue; so much for the moral high ground. I really do not envy the electors their position, as they may well feel unsafe no matter what they do), but I hope some of them will find their consciences in spite of that. It may sound melodramatic, but our future really is in their hands right now. If I were a praying person (or even thought there were the slightest possibility of benevolent supernatural entities), I would fucking pray. But that won’t help us, so instead let us pray to the potential better nature of the electors.
I should add, because I’ve just been reminded: this is not about “poor sportsmanship” and Democrats being “sore losers”. This is not about “sour grapes”. Donald Trump is the single most unqualified person ever “elected” to the presidency (in point of fact negatively qualified, nearly everything about him should have been disqualifying), and beyond that the election was “won” by suspiciously slim margins in a few “swing states” while having the largest gap between popular and (projected) electoral vote we have ever had. When we consider this is also in the context of interference by a hostile foreign power (via propaganda there is no doubt; whether voting machines and vote counts were actually meddled with seems an open question but is unproven at best), it becomes even more troubling (and I find it troubling even to discuss), because so much of this sounds like conspiracist nonsense. I should like to think that Democrats would be equally troubled if it was our own favoured candidate who “won” an election under such circumstances (I am not sure this is true, sadly, but at the very least I think they/we would be more troubled than the gloating deplorable Republican “sore winners”). This is about an international crisis and preventing catastrophe. Don’t be blindsided by accusations of partisanship. This is a crisis that should transcend party affiliation.
Honestly, we don’t even know how long it will take us to find out if they’ve done anything, and I suspect that will cause a great deal of anxiety for quite some time.
I don’t expect it to accomplish much, but there will be protests outside every state capitol tomorrow and I will be participating. It took me a long time to make up my mind, but I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t go; I’m not at all optimistic that it will make a difference (especially in Pennsylvania) but I feel like I have to do something more than just signing petitions…
I don’t know that I’ve made any coherent point here, but I’ve been quiet for too long and I needed to say something.
This is the last post you’re going to see about any of the Cormoran Strike books. This part finally pushed me over the limit. You’ll understand why in a moment – it only took half a chapter.
Content notes: physical assault, victim blaming, transphobia, rape jokes, ableist slurs, misogynistic slurs, racism, fat hatred and anything else disgusting Rowling felt like throwing into the mix. Also my excessive language, I’ve been trying to tone down my swearing but… not this time.
As expected, chapter 37 opens with Strike whining about his knee and about being poor and how he’s spent too much money on eating in a restaurant. He almost has a plot-relevant thought, about how strange it is that everyone familiar with the book is looking to blame anyone except Owen and maybe someone else did write at least some of it, but is distracted by once again encountering the woman who’s been stalking him and fulfilled happy fantasies of most of the readers by trying to stab him.
We’re treated to a nauseating paragraph about how utterly amazing Strike is, which you all have to suffer through too. I know I’m meant to be speed-running through this now, but just look at this crap.
“Strike’s pace did not falter, nor did he turn to look at her. He was not playing games this time; there would be no stopping to test her amateurish stalking style, no letting her know that he had spotted her. On he walked without looking over his shoulder, and only a man or woman similarly expert in counter-surveillance would have noticed his casual glances into helpfully positioned windows and reflective brass door plates; only they could have spotted the hyper-alertness disguised as inattentiveness.”
Excuse me while I throw up.
And it keeps going. There are two full pages of Strike walking along telling us how awesome he is and how stupid people messing with him are – interspersed with comments about his knee, and how even though it just hurts soooo badly it’s not enough to stop him being awesome. Then finally he turns into an alleyway, hears running footsteps behind him, spins around and assaults the person.
Fortunately for him it actually is the woman who was following him and not some random person running for the bus, but I don’t think that justifies a full page of him hitting her with his walking stick, getting ‘a ferocious grip that made her scream‘, putting her in a headlock or forcibly dragging her up the stairs to his office while she screams bloody murder. Of course, there are no witnesses until he actually gets to the office, when someone looks out of the room next door. Oh how I hope they call the police.
Robin lets him into the office and is understandably horrified, especially since the book informs us this woman is very young – maybe 20 – and has scratch marks on her neck where Strike grabbed her. (The book feels the need to specify her ‘white‘ neck several times. I don’t know why.)
Strike tells Robin she tried to knife him again, and orders her to call the police; as Robin picks the phone up, the woman starts crying and begging and pointing out that Strike’s just hurt her quite badly. Robin ignores this in favour of slut-shaming her.
I’m not kidding.
” ‘Why have you been following me?’ Strike said, panting as he stood over her, his tone threatening.
She cowered into the squeaking cushions yet Robin, whose fingers had not left the phone, detected a note of relish in the woman’s fear, a whisper of voluptuousness in the way she twisted away from him. “
Fuck. This. Book. (This was the start of the meltdown.)
And it gets SO MUCH WORSE.
After a lot of yelling, some more assault and battery on Strike’s part and a fucking stupid attempt at good-cop-bad-cop, it turns out this woman is the mysterious Pippa.
Although at the moment she’s actually Philip, and won’t be legally Pippa for a little while yet.
Hence Epicoene the hermaphrodite in Owen’s book, which has just become a hundred times more awful and insensitive.
Strike’s reaction to this is to stare at her Adam’s apple, which under the scratches and bruises he’s left is ‘still prominent‘.
Robin’s reaction is to try not to laugh.
My reaction was to start yelling at Mitchell.
Pippa starts crying, understandably, and these two terrible people continue their ghastly good-cop-bad-cop interrogation routine to try to work out what the fuck is going on and why she wants to kill Strike (apart from the fact that he exists, which would honestly be good enough for any jury). The single bright point is that the book is still using female pronouns.
And then somehow the book manages to become even worse, thanks to Strike.
” ‘If you go for that door one more fucking time I’m calling the police and I’ll testify and be glad to watch you go down for attempted murder. And it won’t be fun for you inside, Pippa,’ he added. ‘Not pre-op.’ “
Fucking hell, Rowling. Even for you, this is low. The yelling got worse.
Skipping past the rest of the scene, which is just filled with insults and stereotypical hysteria and a lot of bullshit I don’t want to deal with. It boils down to Pippa thinking Leonora hired Strike to frame her and Kathryn, and she’s been following Strike because she wanted him to lead her to Owen so she could kill him for the terrible way he wrote about her in his book. Owen apparently lied to the two of them and said he was writing something much different that was really lovely about them both, and then wrote Bombyx and sent it to them.
I was initially extremely sympathetic, but later in the scene Pippa calls Orlando a retard.
I’m not kidding. I’m done. That was the straw that broke the camel’s fucking back.
I’m going to very quickly skim through the remaining chapters, and give you a brief summary of whodunit and so on. And then I am going to give this book to my father and tell him to throw it on the bonfire next time he burns some garden waste.
There is nothing this book can say or do now that would justify my continuing to read it. Rowling has literally checked every possible box of awfulness and I’m not willing to deal with it any more.
Pippa eventually escapes, and afterwards Strike calls her a ‘self-dramatising twat‘. Full fucking house, Rowling.
Highlights of the rest of the book, speed-read in about twenty minutes while ranting.
In a later chapter we learn one of Strike’s oldest friends has yet another nickname for him, this one derived from a Cornish slur for travellers/Romanies. Because it’s fine to be racist if it’s an obscure regional slur that other people won’t recognise. Their conversation involves endless misogynistic sex jokes and calling Charlotte crazy.
Brief glimpse of plot – Leonora is arrested. Kathryn had a credit card receipt, given to her by Orlando, showing that someone bought overalls, ropes, tarpaulins and a burqa shortly before Owen’s disappearance, and after Strike attacked Pippa the two of them handed it to the police. Leonora insists it was Owen’s card and she never had access to it.
Charlotte texts Strike out of the blue. ‘It was yours.‘ Don’t care, book. Later there’s a lot more bullshit attempting to once again vilify a character who has never appeared onscreen, and I still. Don’t. Care.
Turns out Strike’s daddy knows Fancourt and is in talks with Chard about publishing his biography. Look at all the fucks I don’t give. This never turns out to be relevant and I wouldn’t give a shit if it did.
Emotional blackmail of Orlando in the hope that she happened to steal some evidence.
We finally meet Fancourt. He is true fat-shaming MRA scum who says things about Liz Tassel that make me want to do something very painful to Rowling’s nervous system. If I hadn’t already quit earlier I would have done here. And we’re still not done.
The actual plot resolution would be unbelievably annoying if I still cared. Several chapters of Strike mysteriously telling people to do things that we’re not told about, telling people his theories that we’re not told about, and generally abusing the already long-dead flogged horse.
Turns out all the shit with the Cutter was because Jerry’s daughter might not actually be his, but might be Fancourt’s. This absolutely does not justify all the shit with Charlotte.
Nina finally tells Strike to fuck off. Best bit of the book.
Lots of crap about how clever Strike is.
The final solution to the plot: there were two versions of Bombyx Mori. The version Owen wrote, and the version everyone saw, which Liz Tassel wrote. In a better book this would actually have been a decent twist.
It turns out that it was actually Liz who wrote the parody that caused Fancourt’s wife to kill herself and started this whole feud. And Owen knew and had been blackmailing her ever since.
It was Liz’s idea that Owen should stage his disappearance, and then she met him at Talgarth Road, talked him into posing for a ‘publicity photograph’ and killed him.
The whole thing is summarised in unbelievably poisonous terms. Liz’s entire motivation for all of this is because, being fat and ugly, she wasn’t laid enough. I’m not even kidding – she apparently orchestrated this whole thing out of sexual frustration and depression and a decades-long crush on Fancourt that ended badly. That is the only motivation the narrative gives her and all the depth her character gets – a sick stereotype straight from the depths of dudebro culture and modern fat hatred.
As if that wasn’t enough, over the space of two pages she breaks down and turns into a frothing lunatic talking to herself in weirdly Bellatrix terms (though not the baby-talk) and ends up a stereotypical TV ‘crazy person’.
The book ends with Liz, having been set up, getting into a ‘taxi’ driven by Robin. There’s a big dramatic car chase, and they crash. Sadly they’re both fine. Robin gets a media concussion, i.e. there are no consequences whatsoever.
Liz is on suicide watch pending trial.
She kept the original Bombyx Mori manuscript. In the freezer with Owen’s guts. It’s going to be published.
For reasons surpassing all understanding, Robin and Matthew are still together, though the very last page of the book is her and Strike flirting.
Now if you’ll excuse me I need a very stiff drink and preferably brain surgery to remove any memory of this book.
Do not read it under any circumstances.
I’m not touching anything else Rowling ever produces – unless it’s Harry Potter related, because in children’s books she can’t show her true colours and I don’t have to think about what a terrible person wrote the books that are still a big part of my life and how much she despises me and other people who look like me.
That said, there won’t be a HP post for a week or two. I need time to forget this before I can look at anything else she’s written without screaming. She has forfeited all right to ever be given the benefit of the doubt ever again and it’s going to take a conscious effort to stop my current anger with her bleeding through into our coverage of HP.
I have no idea why she decided to do this.
Here we go again. A belated Season’s Greetings of whatever flavour you desire to you all. This was mostly typed up while I was in a food coma, so let’s blame any mistakes on that.
A note about last chapter’s flying lessons; on the subject of Meaningful Names. Hooch means moonshine liquor. I am completely at a loss to suggest what this has to do with anything; almost all the other teachers have a vague attempt at an aptonym.
Content warnings this time: minor bullying, major sports-related rants, McGonagall is a terrible person.
Chapter Ten: Hallowe’en
(there’s no apostrophe in the US version, and we tend not to use it in the UK any more either)
Today’s illustration that I’m too lazy to show you is the artist’s impression of a troll. It seems
to have spikes for some odd reason, and the perspective is a little wonky, but can’t complain.
To Draco’s apparent astonishment the next morning, Harry and Ron have not in fact been expelled. I don’t think that was the point, book. There’s no reason he would think they’d be expelled just for breaking curfew. He just wanted to hopefully get them into trouble, and if not at least make them miss sleep and get cold and bored and feel silly sitting around waiting for him. Admittedly we’re never actually told what the school rules are – possibly because there aren’t any beyond the few we’ve already seen, and each member of staff makes them up according to their mood at the time or the house affinity and level of plot-importance of each student. Certainly the main rule seems to be ‘do whatever the hell you want, just don’t get caught’. In any case, although Draco’s obviously ignorant of the power of protagonist-hood, he’s not an idiot.
It’s interesting that Harry and Ron never confront Draco about what happened. It seems entirely in character for them to go and laugh at him for not showing up, to mock him for being too scared (even though that was obviously not why he wasn’t there) or even to try to reschedule the duel since they both seem to be labouring under the delusion that they can do any magic at all. Nor does Draco mock them for actually falling for his scheme and going to sit in an empty room half the night. In fact, this whole scene will never be mentioned again by anyone. It’s almost as if there was no point to it whatsoever except to tell us that there’s a three-headed dog behind the secret door.
Harry and Ron seem totally unaffected by their encounter with Fluffy, and are described as ‘tired but perfectly cheerful’. We’re told that by morning they ‘thought that meeting the three-headed dog had been an excellent adventure and they were quite keen to have another one’. I can see them feeling this way a few weeks after the fact – your brain reacts oddly to adrenaline, and after a while you’d remember the excitement but would have forgotten the fear, since a single encounter with no injuries or other negative consequences wouldn’t have caused any trauma – but a few hours later? No. Particularly not for Harry, who was Muggle-raised and has never seen or heard of real monsters before; you can perhaps slightly handwave Ron, who has at least encountered enough weird magical creatures to be more able to accept the idea that there’s a monster in the school, but Harry should be wetting himself and too scared to go anywhere for a week or two yet. (Also, considering they enjoyed it so much and are so keen to repeat the experience, neither of them ever suggest going back for another look.)
Harry also tells Ron about the mysterious package from Gringotts, and they spend a long time wondering what it is. Since all they know about it is that it’s about two inches long, and presumably valuable, dangerous or both, they don’t get anywhere.
Far more sensibly, Neville and Hermione don’t give a fuck what the dog is guarding and just want to stay away from it. Additionally Harry also tells us that Hermione’s not speaking to them; as we’ll see throughout this chapter, nobody seems to have told Hermione that, since actually she’s interacting with them exactly the same way she always has – i.e. as little as possible except when they’re doing something stupid. Given how rarely she speaks to them anyway, I don’t know what Harry’s even basing this on. He does add that since she’s ‘such a bossy know-it-all’ he and Ron are pretty happy that she’s ignoring them; again, Harry, she usually ignores you, because you’re dicks to her and her actual friend Neville. She doesn’t like either of you, why would she speak to you unless she has to?
Anyway, all Harry and Ron really want now is ‘a way of getting back at Malfoy’. Why? His trick didn’t work, and he has no idea they fell for it, and they inexplicably enjoyed the consequences; what is there to get back at him for? Ignoring this lack of logic, Harry’s plot-controlling powers duly provide, a week later. (Let us observe that ‘getting back at Malfoy’ involves a phallic symbol. I will go down with this ship.) Six large owls bring him a long thin parcel at breakfast in the Great Hall one morning, attracting the attention of literally everyone and utterly amazing him, even though he was present for the stupid conversation between McGonagall and Wood last chapter and should be able to guess what this is. Another owl follows with a letter, and in defiance of all human behaviour Harry opens that first, which is lucky because it tells him not to open the parcel at the table (let’s note that they were brought by separate owls and he has no reason to believe them connected, so it’s really quite stupid of the sender to have relied on Harry opening them in any particular order).
Incidentally, although ‘post‘ was changed to ‘mail‘ for the US version, they didn’t change ‘parcel‘ to ‘package‘. Maybe they don’t want to make the Draco/Harry ship any more obvious than it already is.
The letter is from McGonagall.
DO NOT OPEN THE PARCEL AT THE TABLE.
It contains your new Nimbus Two Thousand, but I don’t want everybody knowing you’ve got a broomstick or they’ll all want one. Oliver Wood will meet you tonight on the Quidditch pitch at seven o’clock for your first training session.
Professor M. McGonagall
If you don’t want everyone knowing he’s been sent a broom, maybe don’t send him something broom-shaped at breakfast time in front of everyone? Just saying. There’s no reason why she couldn’t have given the broom to Wood to give to Harry at this training session later, except then Harry wouldn’t get to look special enough. I’m assuming most of the other students can tell from the shape that this parcel is a broom; if any of them attempt to protest this blatant rule-breaking, we never hear about it, though I expect most of the older students are cynical enough not to bother.
Once again, I ask why the school buys this broom for him. Harry is stinking rich and has a vault full of gold. He can afford a dozen most-bestest-awesomest-specialist-ever broomsticks if he wants. Hell, the way this universe works, the manufacturers would give him one for free and put a sign up in the shop telling everyone that this is the broom Harry Potter uses.
Also, by 7 p.m. it’s probably going to be dark, and this is either during the dinner break or immediately after it. I really wish we had any idea of the actual school hours, but I’m sure there’s a more sensible time to schedule this. Like, say, the weekend.
A gleeful Harry and envious Ron leave the Great Hall to go and drool over the new toy privately. Draco, Crabbe and Goyle follow them out and Draco does nothing to deny the ship: ‘Malfoy seized the package from Harry and felt it.’ Okay, okay, I’ll stop. I’ll try to, anyway, but the book seems determined to make this canon.
Draco very astutely points out that this is a broom, and that first years aren’t allowed them. This rule actually makes no sense anyway – not letting first years try out for the team is very arbitrary, any sport-focused school would let a blind three-legged dog play on their team if it was good enough, but even assuming that’s age restricted, why can’t the first years bring their own brooms just to fly for fun? It seems the other year groups are allowed to, despite that being its own flavour of stupid, and the fact that they don’t seem to bother is just authorial laziness.
I’m told that a lot of schools actually do have a policy like this that forbids new students to bring their own stuff, for whatever reason. I can’t really comment personally, since I don’t play an instrument and the school system made damned sure that I never enjoyed any sport enough to want to play it outside lessons, but we had to supply our own tennis rackets and hockey sticks, so I’m still going to call bullshit and say that the only reason for this rule to exist is so it can be broken for Harry.
[Mitchell adds: I did think of an interesting parallel, in that in my experience a lot of American universities don’t allow resident freshmen to keep cars on campus, but that’s usually done for space considerations because parking is at a premium. While brooms are a personal vehicle, they’re much easier to store than cars, so there isn’t a similar justification available here. And Hogwarts students don’t actually seem to get any opportunities to leave the school unless it’s on chaperoned trips to Hogsmeade in later books, so unless they play Quidditch (or, I suppose, engage in recreational flying, which despite seeming like a thing Potterverse wizards would do isn’t ever something we see…), they have no need for them either.]
Narratively, this is just stupid. Imagine that instead, first years are allowed their own brooms and are allowed to try out for the Quidditch team, although they usually don’t bother because naturally the older and more experienced students tend to get onto the squad. Imagine that after McGonagall sees Harry magically being really good at flying, she gives him a telling-off and takes points from him – and Draco – for the whole incident, and then suggests as he’s leaving that he seems pretty good at this, Quidditch tryouts are this weekend and maybe he should go. Imagine that he has a fair audition along with a bunch of other interested students, and his smaller size makes him fast and agile enough for him to be legitimately picked for the team, and afterwards Wood has a talk with him and suggests various models of broom he might want to buy for himself. (As an added bonus, this could even preserve McGonagall’s motivation of wanting him for the team if so desired, while making her significantly less obnoxious about it.)
Compare this version with the book. In both of them, Harry is special and awesome and gets an opportunity first years don’t get. In one of them, he actually earns it on his own merit; in the other, he gets it handed to him on a silver platter. Which version makes Harry a) look like an underdog fighting to achieve cool things and more likeable as a character, and b) look like a spoiled entitled brat who never has to try because most of the adults in charge are unfairly biased towards him? I don’t want to read about a child sitting and waiting for the universe to arbitrarily give him things. I want to read about a child learning to do cool shit for himself and proving that he actually is better than the others and deserves rewards for his efforts.
We’ll be discussing this again at the end of the book, when any reader with any sense should decide ‘fuck Harry’ and be firmly on the side of the actual underdogs. Children don’t like unfair situations. Witness every sibling fight ever – if a parent doesn’t know the situation and sides with the wrong child by mistake, it usually triggers a massive tantrum, because that’s not fair and children know from a very early age that it’s not how things are supposed to go. Conversely if the parent picks the right child, the loser will cry a bit but generally won’t make anywhere near as much fuss, because they know they screwed up.
The reason so many fans don’t react like that is hard to explain. There is something about Rowling’s writing – though it’s hardly exclusive to her – some quality or phrasing that encourages you to read in a way that skims the surface of the story and accept what the narrative tells you. It took both Mitchell and me several readthroughs to say ‘Hey, hang on a minute…’ in the earlier books. Later books were much more blatant, and frankly the writing was lazier, and it was easier to see – though we were also growing disillusioned with the series anyway and less willing to believe it. We’ve wanted to do an essay on this for quite some time, but it’s really hard to put into words, and even after many hours of discussion we’re still not sure how Rowling did it. Part of it is just that this is what happens when you spend a series inside the head of only one character; we all know unreliable-narrator exists, but it’s not always easy to remember that. But the sheer strength of the world’s response to Harry Potter is a lot harder to explain – we’ll be trying to talk about some of the factors we’ve picked out as this spork continues, but we won’t get everything.
Moving on, then. In isolation, I don’t have a problem with Harry getting the occasional bit of favouritism. Children don’t object to unfairly winning those fights, after all. And he is the hero, and he’s had a fairly rubbish life so far, and he can have a bit of good luck. But it shouldn’t be on this scale, for a start, and it certainly shouldn’t happen all the damned time. There’s nothing fun in reading about a child who gets everything handed to him for nothing, but over and over again in every book the universe will bend around Harry, and Dumbles and co. will break every rule to make sure he gets ALL THE THINGS. It’s both extremely boring and might well make readers sympathise with the people who get screwed over to make it possible, rather than with him.
It also kills all suspense, because by now everyone’s already guessed the end of this book, and after next book you can confidently guess that this is how every book of the series is going to end. Harry isn’t an underdog, he’s an arsehole who leaves a lot of bewildered victims in his wake (victims who are expected to cheer for him and not allowed to be upset by it, no less), and gets dozens of victories handed to him all the time at everyone else’s expense (and often in ridiculously contrived ways just to make sure he never has to put any actual effort in), and who wants to read about that?
Anyway, back to the plot. Ron has already forgotten his envy to wallow in status by proxy, and sneers at Draco for not having a super-special Nimbus Two Thousand, only a Comet Two Sixty, whatever the difference is. Ron, sweetie, you clearly don’t understand how wealth works. This broom only came out at the end of the summer, and Draco’s not going to be able to access his own broom until the Christmas holidays at the earliest because he doesn’t have super protagonist powers; if he’s as keen on flying as he seems, he’s absolutely going to get a Nimbus for Christmas, especially because his daddy (who is very cool) loves him.
Also, we know that next book the aforementioned cool daddy is not only going to buy his son the newer, better super-special broom, but he’s also going to buy one for every person on his son’s house team. Because Lucius Malfoy, one of the (supposed) villains of the series, is less of an arsehole than Dumbledore and McGonagall. Go figure. Not only that, but Harry and co. are going to be utterly outraged about it. Because favouritism is only okay when Harry benefits. See also IOIAGDI, It’s Okay If A Gryffindor Does It.
Honestly, a Comet sounds like it would be better than a Nimbus anyway. Which is going to be faster and more awesome, a shooting star or a cloud? Considering all the effort Rowling went to in order to give almost everything Meaningful Names, it seems odd she didn’t bother here.
Presumably getting annoyed with constantly being insulted when he hasn’t actually done anything, Draco snaps back that Ron doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he couldn’t afford half the handle, and his family must have to save up twig by twig. In case you hadn’t guessed by now, brooms are analogous to cars and this is car porn and all that matters is how much it costs and how shiny and phallic it is. I assume that’s one reason why I find it so boring. We also noted certain unpleasant parallels to Twilight… yet another series which loves to go on and on about how wonderful its protagonists are for owning expensive vehicles. It’s not necessarily an uncommon cultural assumption, but we’ve always found it stupid.
Flitwick randomly shows up at this point, materialising at Draco’s elbow. If we take this literally as him being as tall as an eleven year old’s elbow… wow, he really is insanely short. And described as squeaking, which doesn’t help. Anyway, you may be wondering why Flitwick, instead of the supposedly super-observant McGonagall who’s actually invested in this stupid scenario? So we can show just how deep the rot goes. Draco protests to the Charms teacher – also Head of Ravenclaw, therefore supposedly neutral and also not going to like another house being obscenely favoured – that hey, Harry’s got an illegal broom…
” ‘Yes, yes, that’s right,’ said Professor Flitwick, beaming at Harry. ‘Professor McGonagall told me all about the special circumstances, Potter. And what model is it?’
‘A Nimbus Two Thousand, sir,’ said Harry, fighting not to laugh at the look of horror on Malfoy’s face. “
So, the deputy headmistress (who as I’ve said many times in fics should not also be a head of house anyway; never mind that Rowling also doesn’t seem to realise that school administrators do actual work, and would be very unlikely to also teach, let alone full-time) has persuaded the Headmaster to break school rules for one student, and only one student. And the other teachers know about this blatant favouritism, and are totally okay with another house getting an advantage that their own house isn’t allowed? There is absolutely no other explanation for this except that Dumbles brainwashes all his staff. There’s no other reason they’d be not only fine with this but actively happy about it.
And what ‘special circumstances’? The fact that McGonagall likes him? Fuck off. The only thing I can think of is that ‘special circumstances’ means McGonagall’s/the Gryffindor team’s desperation to fill the seeker position, which… no. Just no.
As an aside, imagine if Snape were the teacher in question here. We already know he’s immune to the Dumbledore Kool-Aid. Imagine Draco appealing to his own head of house for something approaching justice (as I imagine he does offscreen about ten minutes after this scene) and getting a weary look in response and a sour, ‘Yes, I know. The Headmaster is a bastard and he hates us. You’re going to have to get used to it, I’m afraid; there’s nothing I can do.’
Gosh, I wonder why the Slytherins don’t like Harry. Especially since he now rubs salt into the wound by saying it’s actually thanks to Draco that he’s been given this shiny new toy at the expense of the other houses. Possibly literally, since although there’s no mention of it there must be some form of taxation in the wizarding world because there’s nowhere else they could get money from, and the lack of school fees means Hogwarts must be government-funded. The parents of the other students are probably paying for Harry to be given advantages over their own children.
Harry and Ron walk off laughing like the little arseholes they are, and Harry gloats that it’s true because if Draco hadn’t grabbed the Remembrall none of this would ever have happened. Oh, trust me, Draco knows that – I don’t believe he ever pulls a stunt like that again, actually, and sticks to verbal insults. Because he’s intelligent and learns from his mistakes.
” ‘So I suppose you think that’s a reward for breaking rules?’ came an angry voice from just behind them.”
See, Hermione knows this is unfair bullshit. Of course Harry thinks this is a reward for breaking rules, because that’s exactly what it is. Naturally, despite his supposedly deprived upbringing, he doesn’t appreciate what’s being done for him here and just sneers that he thought she wasn’t speaking to them, echoed by his lackey Ron who says for her not to stop now because it’s doing them good. Again, Harry, she clearly is speaking to you as often as she ever did, I’m not sure why you think she isn’t. She doesn’t even bother replying to this, just walks off, and Harry and Ron spend the rest of the day drooling over the shiny thing.
[Mitchell adds: I honestly think the book’s constantly pointing out that ‘Hermione isn’t speaking to them’ despite the fact that she is clearly speaking to them is a bit of narrative cheating. Rowling knows that Hermione is one of the main characters and will become their friend later, even if the characters don’t, so it’s important that the reader know who she is and be kept up-to-date on what she’s doing to some degree. And she’s trying to set up an arc where they don’t get along until a certain moment later… but she’s not good at managing these things simultaneously.]
Sadly at this point we’re going to have to talk about Quidditch, as Harry frolics off to his training session with his new stick. To start us off, does anyone know why it’s capitalised? You don’t capitalise the names of sports. It’s not Football, it’s football. I know literally everything in this series is written with Unnecessary Capitals, but even so. (Mitchell’s just pointed out it really ought to be called ‘broomball’ or something like that, which is just… yeah. No.)
And my second question is, why is there only one sport in the wizarding world? It really is Quidditch or nothing. They also have exactly one card game – Exploding Snap – and two board games, chess and Gobstones. And we know they also have exactly one solo singer and exactly one pop group, and apparently no fiction beyond one book of children’s stories and no art at all except creepy sentient portraits and a few ugly statues. This is a very, very stagnant culture. No wonder most people are such idiots; there’s nothing for their brains to do once they leave school.
Harry skips down to the Quidditch pitch, which is actually a complete stadium containing hundreds of seats in raised tiers, because reasons. Going by what we see later, it’s pretty much compulsory for every student to go and watch every match, and apparently for the staff as well, but even then there can’t be enough people to justify a stadium. I suppose there would need to be some sort of structure for the seats since you’d have to be high up to be at eye level with the gameplay, but it’s a castle full of wizards, I’m sure they can levitate some benches for the few who actually want to watch. Obviously the pitch has no markings, but there are three golden posts at either end with vertical hoops on top.
Harry spends half a page flying around, just to remind us all that he’s awesome at flying. We’re still not told how he’s controlling the broom, of course. Fuck it, it’s magic. Wood shows up and calls him down, and he’s somehow carrying a large wooden crate under one arm, which would be impressive if it weren’t physically impossible. This is the first time Wood’s actually seen his new team member fly, so he’s probably quite relieved to find out he actually is good at it and didn’t just get in based on his name.
Wood starts explaining the batshit rules of this batshit game. There are four different-sized balls in the crate; ball number one is red and about the size of a football (soccer ball to some of you). There are seven players on a Quidditch team; three of them are called Chasers for no discernible reason, and they play with this ball (which is called the Quaffle; the wonky capitals are painful) and throw it through the golden hoops to score. Each goal is worth ten points. Each team has a Keeper – Wood, in Gryffindor’s case – who defends the goals and tries to stop them scoring. All pretty reasonable so far, and Harry helpfully describes it to the readers as ‘basketball on broomsticks with six hoops‘. Wood doesn’t understand this, though we’ll see later in this scene that he’s not ignorant of Muggle sports.
Then Wood hands Harry a club, described as a rounders bat in the UK version and a small baseball bat in the US version, and indicates two of the other balls in the crate. They’re black, a bit smaller than the Quaffle, and are chained down inside the box and appear to be struggling.
Okay, you know what, I hereby refuse to keep capitalising this shit. I will grudgingly keep Quidditch in case it’s named after someone, but I’m not doing the rest, it’s stupid.
(According to Quidditch Through the Ages the name is a corruption of the place it was invented, ‘Queerditch Marsh’… but I don’t think that’s really a valid excuse for the capitalisation, and while fantasy authors love to do this sort of fake etymology it isn’t really how languages work most of the time. She obviously backfilled that name afterwards, anyway.)
Unaccountably, Wood lets one of these balls loose. Why would you do this. It turns out these balls are basically cannonballs – we’re not told what they’re actually made of, but they fly very fast and they’re not much smaller than a football and somehow they’re enchanted to attack the players. They’re aptly called bludgers (one of the rare silly names of Rowling’s that works well; credit where credit’s due), and the one that’s been released now flies at Harry and tries to smack him in the face, forcing him to hit it with the bat ‘to stop it breaking his nose’. It flies off, comes back for another go, and Wood jumps on it and wrestles it into submission before chaining it back inside the crate. He blithely explains that these two balls fly around all match, and two of the other players – known as beaters – chase them with bats and try to smash them into members of the other team, or at least keep them away from their own team.
This is such an issue that even Harry is actually concerned. He asks if the bludgers have ever killed anyone, and Wood says cheerfully, ‘Never at Hogwarts. We’ve had a couple of broken jaws but nothing worse than that.’ Okay, one, I don’t believe that. If a cannonball smacks you in the mouth, it’s going to kill you. Two, broken jaws are actually serious, and almost never heal properly. Three, how would Wood know? I can’t imagine anyone tells new students that this fun new sport might be fatal. Also this implies that outside Hogwarts people are killed by these things, probably quite often. Probably not always players, either, there’s nothing to ensure these things won’t fly into the crowd and attack spectators. Or fly off into the sunset and attack random people a long way away. There’s also no safety gear. In the films, the keepers get ugly helmets, but the books don’t even have that and nobody gets any sort of protection.
This is yet another example of the books’/the wizarding world’s careless attitude toward danger and horrifying disregard for violent personal injury (we’ve already seen Neville injured twice, and more in his backstory…), but here it’s almost as if there’s a kind of culture shock for Harry. In the future he’ll forget about this and become as inured to it as the rest of them. I really can’t tell whether it’s a consequence of magical healing existing in the setting (although that seems to have very arbitrary limitations based on the whim of the plot), or Rowling just really loves slapstick and hasn’t realised she isn’t writing cartoons and/or has no conception of how fragile human bodies can actually be.
You know what could have saved this? Having them not be actual solid balls. As far back as ancient Rome, they used inflated sheep’s bladders to make a kind of football. (They also used them for condoms, but that’s another story.) Something like a beach ball or pillow flying around, with just enough weight to be a distraction, would be funny and would add challenge to the gameplay. At least, it would if there were responsible adults around whose only job was to catch anyone who falls off their broom (or some kind of magical levitation field to function as safety net), but in fact this never happens and if you fall you’re fucked. This must happen a lot, since most of the players are having to fly hands-free and are busy catching balls or waving clubs around and there’s no way you can hang on to a stick with just your legs. Instead, we have dangerous missiles flying around with enough force to shatter bones, and the only reason to implement something like this is to kill people. Particularly since they don’t have an off switch and stay active when the game is over, as we see here.
Wood attempts to change the subject from the deathballs, saying that Harry doesn’t have to worry about them, to which Harry adds, ‘unless they crack my head open’. It’s a shame he’s so rarely capable of normal reactions, I enjoy reading him much more when he acts like a sane person. Wood reminds us that the Gryffindor beaters are the Weasley twins, who are so good at it that ‘they’re like a pair of human Bludgers themselves’. This is perfectly true; the twins are indeed like sentient sadistic cannonballs who exist to cause chaos and hurt people.
No, we are never going to let the malicious sentient cannonballs go. They are absolutely horrifying, and nobody else seems to notice or care. Even most of the fandom who complain about the sport don’t seem to have a problem with the bludgers.
Moving on, Wood explains what Harry’s going to do. Namely, break the game. He’s the last member of the seven, known as the seeker, and his job is to chase the last ball around and catch it before the other team’s seeker does. This last ball is gold and about the size of a walnut. It’s called the snitch, and it has little silver wings. No, we’re never going to get an explanation for why the quaffle can’t fly when the other three can, or why the snitch has wings but the bludgers don’t.
Quidditch Through the Ages does actually explain that last point. Instead of a ball they originally used a live bird called a snidget, and the seeker’s job was to catch it and kill it, so now the snitch has wings to remind everyone of how terrible this game used to be. I quite like this as an explanation, though it’s yet another instance of gratuitous animal cruelty from Rowling (this one’s not as bad as some of the others because, sadly, it does seem like the kind of thing people would actually have done; see the existence of things like cockfighting or bear-baiting or whatever. Humans are horrible sometimes).
Incidentally, as we know, snitches were retconned in the final book to be one-use only. There’s no sign of that here, and won’t be in any of the other books until then. Because that’s really stupid.
And the reason that the seeker breaks the game is that although ordinary goals are only worth ten points, catching the snitch is worth one hundred and fifty points and immediately ends the match. So if the seeker catches it, their team win. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the team do. They might as well not be there. The seeker is the only one that matters – so, naturally, that’s the position Harry gets.
To be fair, the fans didn’t like this either. I assume Rowling got a lot of complaints, and rather than attempt to change the rules and add any sort of balance to the game she instead buggered around in Goblet of Fire creating a ridiculously contrived situation to demonstrate that see, it’s totally possible for the other team to win really, honest it is!!!
This did not fool anyone.
More than that, we see so little of flying and are given no idea of what’s actually involved in it. Harry can just do it. There’s no mention of aching muscles afterwards, for example, or anything else that would indicate some sort of genuine effort. Going by what the narrative tells us, you just sit there and the stick does all the work and all you have to do is hold your hand out at the right moment – it seems to be very rare for a seeker to miss. So not only is the seeker the only position that matters, it actually boils down to which seeker has the most expensive stick. If your seeker has a better broom than the other team’s seeker and doesn’t get maimed by a cannonball, then your team will win and the rest of the players can sit around with their thumbs up their arses. (It really is blatantly obvious that Rowling wanted to give Harry a special role to shine in, but didn’t want him to actually have to do anything… and that’s pathetic. There’s a reason we call him various permuations of Harry Sue.)
As with so many of the issues in this series, this too has an easy fix. If the seeker catches the snitch, their team gets ten points and possession of the quaffle. The snitch is released again, and the game continues. Make it last for a fixed period of time, like every sport ever that’s run by sane people. (Quidditch games have no end point except someone catching the snitch. It’s technically possible for one to literally last forever. Wood tells us in this scene that the record is three months, because nobody was bright enough to say ‘fuck it, this is stupid, let’s call it a draw’.)
[Mitchell adds: In fairness, real sports exist with this problem also, so I may reluctantly award a point for realism despite the stupidity. Growing up in the States I’ve been dragged to several baseball games in my lifetime, and I distinctly remember the misery of games that Just. Would. Not. End. My family used to make a habit of going to a game on July 4 because they’d have a fireworks show afterward, but when the game went into twenty-three innings or something like that, as it did on more than one occasion… let’s just say that I despise baseball, and while that is not the only reason it’s definitely a significant one.]
There are alternative fixes, too, though that one might be the best if we want to keep the game as similar as possible to Rowling’s; the obvious one, naturally, is just to eliminate seekers and snitches and use a clock. Thinking about it now, another interesting idea would be to then split it into two different games, so the wizarding world doesn’t have just a single sport – just make the snitch-hunting thing a separate game altogether. Without obnoxiously overshadowing everybody else who’s playing, it wouldn’t be nearly as objectionable.
Rowling apparently claims she designed Quidditch to piss off men who like sports. I can certainly believe she’d say something so stereotypical and dumb, but I’m pretty sure she only said this after so many fans complained about it, because we know she’s not anti-sport – witness all the Pottermore stuff we covered involving the wizarding world’s inexplicable interest in rugby, and the Quidditch World Cup. Besides, almost all her characters either play the sport or are at least screaming rabid fans of it. I believe Hermione’s the only one to explicitly say at any point that she doesn’t care about it, and she’s still at almost every match and still goes to the World Cup with the boys in book four. And there’s at least one match in every book, usually more than one, all described in considerable (tedious) detail.
Mitchell pointed out something interesting [I don’t think I’m the first to comment on this; I probably read about it somewhere like deathtocapslock at some point, but if I have I can’t remember the specifics]: in many ways Harry is a stereotypical sports jock personality-wise, yet physically he’s a stereotypical nerd. It’s also worth noting that, typically, wizards are a sort of nerd archetype, despite Harry not actually embodying any of those aspects (or really any Potterverse wizards except Hermione and some of the faculty: typically ‘wizard’ connotes magical power that comes from knowledge, which is bizarrely not how it works at all in the Potterverse, which is all genetics and pointed sticks). This ties in to what I was saying earlier about the popularity of these books; because Harry’s a complete blank slate, with no discernible personality and only a few vague traits from all across the spectrum, it’s extremely easy for the reader to map themselves onto him and read the series almost as a self-insert fanfic (it’s the Barnum effect – there’s something for everybody!). That very neatly discourages your brain from noticing anything wrong with him, because nobody’s good at picking up on their own flaws.
The scene continues, but we’ve covered everything important. Wood’s explained the broken game to Harry and told him what a special snowflake he’ll be, and Harry is for once not being a dick and is more concerned about the cannonballs. Wood says they won’t practice with the snitch now because it’s getting dark and they’d lose it, and produces a bag of golf balls from his pocket to use instead. I have no idea where the hell he found golf balls. Maybe Hogwarts is near St Andrews. Also, Wood didn’t know what basketball was a couple of pages ago, but he knows about golf? Why not use almost anything else – maybe walnuts, since we’ve already been told that’s how big the snitch is anyway. Why not transfigure something? Show us some goddamned magic already! We really don’t see many spells throughout the series.
Anyway, Wood starts throwing golf balls around for Harry to chase. This really sounds more like a guy playing with his dog than two people practising a sport. Naturally, Harry catches every single one. They head back to the castle once it’s too dark to see – with no mention of Wood using his wand to light the way, incidentally, and Harry doesn’t know how to do that yet – and Wood says he thinks Harry will be better than Charlie Weasley, ‘and he could have played for England if he hadn’t gone off chasing dragons.’ We’re going to meet Charlie fairly soon, and he’s stocky and muscled and pretty much the exact opposite of Harry who is apparently physically the perfect seeker. I’m going to say that being a better seeker than Charlie probably wasn’t that hard, especially since his family are too poor to afford good brooms to win games for them, and also that England’s team apparently has very low standards. (Given that Rowling’s Scottish, don’t even try to tell me that’s not what she really meant.)
Hopefully, now that we’ve ranted at such length about this stupid sport, we won’t have to cover it in too much detail again. Apart from anything else, all this crap has really spoiled the flow of this post.
The next scene jumps forward a month or so and takes us to Halloween. Harry tells us he can’t believe how fast time is passing because he’s so busy, with Quidditch practice three evenings a week as well as all his homework (which we learn later mostly consists of very long essays). This is an insanely brutal schedule for an eleven year old, for a start, and actually probably the reason they stopped letting first years join the team – particularly since he has that stupid Astronomy class one night a week as well. I’m also questioning the logistics – we see in the next book that for some reason the teams can only practice on the single pitch, and there are often scheduling issues because all four teams need to use it. If Gryffindor are monopolising the pitch three nights a week, either this is further evidence that the school is spiteful and biased, or it’s evidence that Wood is completely bug-nuts and the other teams do perfectly well on just one night a week. (We don’t see such crazy schedules in later books, do we? She’s really hammering the gung-ho drill sergeant coach stereotypes for Wood right now, but she seems to forget about this frequency in practices in later books even while Wood’s still in the picture. Granted, she never seems to think about the scheduling if she can help it…)
As an aside he also tells us that his classes have grown a lot more interesting. It sure would have been nice to see that.
On Halloween morning they all wake to the smell of baking pumpkin. I honestly don’t know what that smells like, I’ve only ever eaten it in soup or curry, and then very rarely. I’m also not sure how the children in Gryffindor Tower can possibly smell it – the entrance to the tower is on the seventh floor, remember. Pumpkin pie is not a thing in Britain, and while we make jack-o-lanterns on Halloween very few people eat the leftover parts, though I think the seeds are semi-popular as a snack. I was never able to work out what the ‘pumpkin juice’ is that the wizarding world seem to drink so much, either, because pumpkins don’t really have juice. I imagine it’s some kind of pumpkin puree thinned down with water or fruit juice, but that just sounds gross.
Shockingly, we actually get to see a lesson. This is already so rare that it’s fairly obviously just foreshadowing a later scene, but first-time readers aren’t going to care because holy shit actual magic lesson in a book about magic school it’s about fucking time.
“Professor Flitwick announced in Charms that he thought they were ready to start making objects fly, something they had all been dying to try since they’d seen him make Neville’s toad zoom around the classroom.”
Why does Neville take his pet to classes? Flitwick is not the only teacher to abuse the poor thing. Depressingly, it might well be because he’d rather they hurt the toad than hurt him. Even so, you’d think this was against the rules. And again with the random animal cruelty; I’m guessing (hoping) that Rowling doesn’t have any pets. This could so easily have been changed to ‘textbook’ or ‘quill’ or other inanimate object. Why does she have Flitwick do this?
The students are put into pairs. Seamus gets to exist again to save Harry from having to work with Neville, but this really shouldn’t matter since frankly Neville’s got a stronger work ethic than most of the rest of his year put together and there’s no dangerous equipment or substances around for him to damage in Charms. And Ron and Hermione are working together – I assume Hermione must have somehow accidentally pissed Flitwick off, because clearly the children aren’t choosing their own partners or Harry and Ron would be together, and I doubt Hermione sits anywhere near them, nor are they close alphabetically. Either that or Flitwick’s hoping Ron might actually learn something, in which case good job I suppose. Harry says they’re both angry about this, and adds that Hermione hasn’t spoken to the boys for the last two months, which Hermione will once again contradict on the next page because nobody’s told her she’s meant to be ignoring them. I really don’t know why Harry cares since he apparently hates her. I assume it’s because in his mind literally everyone else in Gryffindor talks to him all the time and he’s sulking because she doesn’t worship him.
Flitwick tells them to be sure to remember the swish and flick wrist movement they’ve been practising. This is nice, a magic system based around wands really ought to incorporate specific movements as well as words. Shame we never see it again. He adds some further words of wisdom:
” ‘And saying the magic words properly is very important, too – never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said ‘s’ instead of ‘f’ and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest.’ “
I remember on my first few readthroughs spending ages staring at this paragraph, trying to figure out the joke. There’s clearly some sort of joke or linguistic pun in this line, but I still don’t get it. Also, ‘Wizard Baruffio’ sounds like an official title, unless his parents had a sick sense of humour and literally named him Wizard.
Levitating a feather is apparently very difficult. Seamus gets impatient and starts poking it, which somehow makes it catch fire; this is far less annoying than the movie version since it doesn’t explode, he doesn’t keep doing it constantly, and Harry puts the fire out himself. With his hat, which is interesting because they never seem to wear them.
At the next table, Ron is yelling the words loudly – Wingardium Leviosa, of course – and ‘waving his long arms like a windmill’. This is stupid. Ron is a pureblood with two magical parents and five older magical siblings. As with the attempt to turn Scabbers yellow on the train, he should know this is not going to work. He’s seen magic being done literally every day of his life. It’s not written as if he’s getting frustrated, or anything like that; he’s just being a moron. Which admittedly is perfectly in character, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.
Hermione tells him he’s pronouncing it wrongly, in defiance of Harry’s insistence that no she’s totally ignoring both of them really, and explains the correct pronounciation. Kindly not adding ‘you idiot’ to the end of the sentence, since it’s been about ten minutes since Flitwick told them this. Ron snarls that if she’s so clever, let’s see her do it, then.
Naturally, she does.
She doesn’t make any fuss about it, just rolls up her sleeves – of her ‘gown‘, inexplicably. This is not a synonym for robe. I assume we’re meant to picture the academic gowns most people only ever wear to graduate? – and casts the spell with the proper pronounciation and wrist movement, and lifts the feather a few feet above their heads.
We’ve now seen a grand total of two specific spells in the last ten chapters, and Hermione’s done them both. Once again, why is Harry the protagonist?
Flitwick is clearly a very poor teacher, since having ignored the students starting fires in the classroom he now pays attention to what’s going on and singles Hermione out and tells everyone to look at how awesome she is. While I approve of this on general principles, he might as well have painted a target on her back. Don’t do this with a group of children, seriously. He even applauds her.
Proving that this was a very bad idea, we move to the end of the class, and Ron bitching to Harry as they leave the room. ‘It’s no wonder no one can stand her… She’s a nightmare, honestly.’
Of course, Hermione hears him, and pushes past in tears and runs off. Harry points out very astutely that she must have heard this – as if that’s the problem. Being nasty to people isn’t okay as long as they can’t hear it, you horrible child – and Ron replies with, ‘So? She must’ve noticed she’s got no friends.’ We’re told he looks a bit uncomfortable, which just makes me wonder how spiteful he’d be without this token gesture towards guilt.
Leaving aside the question of how Ron knows this – at this age boys and girls really don’t pay each other much attention and he’s not likely to know about friendships among the girls of the house – and leaving aside my own headcanon of her actually being friends with Neville and thus just upset that her attempt to help backfired, of course she’s noticed. Your nasty comment on its own would not actually make anyone cry, Ron. But on the heels of two months of trying to make friends in the most terrifying school on the planet, clearly Hermione’s just reached her limit here, especially since there’s literally nobody she can talk to since at this point the female prefect simply doesn’t exist and their head of house is a heartless monster. I imagine she’s extremely homesick and wants to get out of here. I also imagine every Muggleborn student ends up in this state sooner or later.
Because she’s a girl, Hermione can’t just have a bit of a cry and pull herself together and get back to work but must instead have a complete breakdown for several hours, and isn’t seen for the rest of the day. None of the teachers seem to care that she misses the rest of their classes, or lunch, supporting my theory of just how isolated she is. Everyone in this building is terrible. As the boys go to the Great Hall for the Halloween feast that they apparently have here (Halloween really isn’t a big deal in Britain), they hear Parvati telling her friend Lavender – egad, another female student! That takes us up to, gosh, four? Though Lavender doesn’t get a last name yet – that Hermione’s crying in the toilets and wants to be left alone.
Okay, no, if she’s been crying for that long, something’s really wrong. She’s turned twelve by this point, I suppose it’s possible she’s started puberty? That certainly wouldn’t help matters – particularly since we don’t know how witches deal with this. Muggle schools have emergency vending machines in the girls’ toilets (for sanitary items, I should clarify, not emergency chocolate. Though that would also be a good idea), and generally a sympathetic female staff member willing to share painkillers. Either that, or Hermione’s just decided ‘fuck everyone’ and has locked herself in with a book for some peace and quiet.
Also, the girls have noticed her absence, have found out where she is, and are talking about it, which if it weren’t a literary device to let the boys know what’s happened (because God forbid they show any actual concern and either try to find her or ask someone) would indicate they don’t hate her. How else could they have found out she didn’t want to be disturbed unless they’d reached out to her and tried to help?
Ron looks uncomfortable again for about 0.4 seconds, and then they reach the hall and ‘the Hallowe’en decorations put Hermione out of their minds.’ She is literally less important to them than some paper streamers. Clearly the bonds of friendship between the Golden Trio are wondrous. Also, the decorations mostly seem to consist of two thousand live bats, who are probably panicking at being trapped in a room full of noise and smoke and lit candles and are also probably less hygienic than owls. Bats carry lots of diseases that can be transmitted to humans. Have fun, kids.
The feast is interrupted by Quirrell running in with his turban askew. One, this isn’t how turbans work, they’re not just hats. Two, doesn’t this mean the back of his head is showing? Three, why a turban? Quirrell has specifically been described as pale in previous scenes, so we know he’s not a person of colour. Wear a wig, you dumbass. Anyway, he looks terrified, he shouts that there’s a troll in the dungeons, and he collapses face down on the floor. Brilliant behaviour from the Defence teacher, isn’t it.
Hogwarts School of Sadism and Misery lives up to this name. Nobody bothers to check why on earth Quirrell passed out; maybe he’s hurt? They just leave him there. And dear old Saint Dumbles gives orders that all students are to return to their dormitories, at which point I really, really, really wish Snape had stood up and yelled, ‘Slytherin’s dormitory is in the bloody dungeons, you senile old goat.’ Unfortunately he’s busy with the plot at this point, and I assume the Slytherin prefects are far too jaded to bother objecting that the Headmaster’s telling them to go play with the dangerous monster. The Hufflepuffs are probably a bit worried too, their dormitory is near the kitchens which means either at ground level or a level below and they must be quite close to the dungeons as well.
Incidentally, on subsequent readthroughs it’s obvious that at this point Snape is still the villain and Rowling hadn’t impulsively decided to make it Quirrell instead (lol spoiler alert). Because Quirrell just stays ‘unconscious’ on the floor until some of the other teachers round him up to go hunting for the troll. He let it in as a distraction and then didn’t do anything. A halfway competent author would have had him disappear somewhere, but we know Rowling has never understood that you can go back and edit things once you’ve written them. A halfway competent editor would have noticed this, too, but clearly publishers dealing with children’s books don’t give their audience credit for intelligence and don’t care about continuity errors.
As they head back to Gryffindor’s nice safe monster-free tower, Harry realises that Hermione doesn’t know about the troll. Based on everything we’ve seen of his character to date, namely his total sociopathic lack of empathy, there is absolutely zero reason why he’d have remembered this. Hey, Harry, how did your family get off that island you and Hagrid marooned them on? How’s your traumatised and mutilated cousin doing? Anyway, he mentions this to Ron, and for some reason neither of them even discuss the possibility of letting someone else know. Admittedly they believe the troll is down in the dungeons and that they just need to warn Hermione so the three of them can all scamper off to their nice safe monster-free tower, but even so. Also you’d think Percy might notice that his little brother is missing, or that someone might have noticed Harry Snowflake Potter isn’t there. And the other girls are far more likely to have remembered that Hermione won’t know what’s going on.
Harry and Ron wander off towards the girls’ toilets. This is being written about as if it’s the only one in the building (how do they know which toilet she’s in?). I really hope this is not the case. I’m also not sure why there’s such an emphasis on it being the girls’ toilets, specifically, that they’re looking for; anywhere with binary-gendered toilets generally puts them next to one another (or they do in newer buildings at least; some older buildings have issues, if they were built with gendered expectations in mind… but as far as we’re given to understand Hogwarts has always been coeducational), which is presumably how Harry and Ron know where they are. They hear footsteps and assume it’s Percy coming after them, so rather than wait and tell him why they’re here they hide behind a convenient statue, which is lucky since it’s actually Snape – presumably having realised he can’t both serve the plot and guard his students from the troll, and no doubt rather annoyed about it.
They follow Snape’s footsteps for a bit, forgetting what they’re actually meant to be doing. Severus, I understand you’re annoyed and that you’re overworked and trying to do a thousand things at once, but we know you can walk without making noise, and also there are secret passages. Honestly, the only way to make any sense of any of this – once you finish the book and learn that in fact he’s not the most incompetent villain ever – is to assume that he’s been ordered to take the blame for some weird reason, and frankly the only reason that makes sense is that Dumbles hates him.
Harry realises Snape is heading for the third floor, which would mean Hogwarts has an astoundingly simple layout for a castle except that he’s clearly using his plot powers again, but then he and Ron smell something terrible and hide again to watch the troll inevitably appear. The troll that was originally in the dungeons, but has somehow managed to sneak past most of the staff and a lot of terrified Slytherin and Hufflepuff students and get all the way up here without being seen. And also it’s twelve feet tall and would have serious trouble fitting through doorways, and doesn’t seem to move very fast, and smells so bad you can pick up on it long before you hear or see the actual troll.
The troll pauses by a door, then goes inside. Harry suggests they lock it in, because neither he nor Ron know where the fuck they are, nor is this door marked in any way, and why the hell is there a key in the outside anyway? Or at all? As we know, this door is actually the girls’ toilets they were originally aiming for, and I can’t think of a single acceptable reason for that door to ever be locked and many, many, many reasons why you would not leave the key in it. Not to mention that hey, this is a magic castle, lock spells are a thing, why do you even have regular locks and keys?
It’s also interesting to note that while at this point wizards know about Muggle stuff and it makes sense they’d have modern plumbing, this makes no sense at all for the rest of the series when they suddenly regress to complete ignorance. Particularly next book, when apparently at least one of the Founders knew about plumbing that didn’t even exist in his lifetime.
Anyway, they lock the door, and trot off feeling very proud of themselves, and then hear a scream and realise they really really fucked up. No, seriously, why do you not know where you are? Are the boys’ toilets in fact not next to the girls’? Where the hell were you going if this wasn’t the toilet you were planning to get to? Why did the troll even go in here? Do trolls eat children? Did it just hear something and wonder what the noise was? We’re never told.
“It was the last thing they wanted to do, but what choice did they have?”
This could have been phrased better. ‘Going back to face the troll was the last thing they wanted to do’, for example. Because this just sounds like they don’t want to help Hermione, which while totally in character isn’t really the impression you want to give of your protagonist and his Plucky Sidekick (TM).
They run back and flail at the door, and manage to unlock it and run in. The troll is smashing stuff for no real reason, and Hermione’s cowering against the wall and looks about to faint, whatever that’s meant to look like. Pale, presumably. At this point I’m assuming Fluffy caused some latent trauma, because she didn’t go to pieces then and I would say three sets of giant fangs is a lot scarier than one giant stick. I much prefer PTSD to the actual explanation, which is almost certainly that Girls Need Rescuing. Even when said girl is demonstrably far more competent than the boys nobly accidentally nearly killing her, and is the only character in the series to have used actual spells onscreen at this point.
This scene also marks the first instance of a very frequently recurring theme throughout the series. If you allow yourself to be upset by something, you’ll be attacked, especially if you’re a girl. Here, Hermione is crying in the toilets over being bullied, and gets attacked by a troll. Next book, Myrtle tells us she was crying in the toilets over being bullied, and got attacked by a basilisk. In book six, Draco is crying in the toilets because of sheer stress and fear, and gets attacked by Harry. There are other examples, but these all take place in toilets for some reason. Basically tears are weak and if you dare to get upset over anything you’ll regret it, because it’s your fault if you’re a victim of something. These books are downright damaging for younger readers; they’re going to absorb some pretty toxic messages without realising.
All that aside, Harry reacts reasonably here. Probably too reasonably for an eleven year old child, but whatever, it’s rare enough that he actually does something useful, I’ll take it. He and Ron don’t try to attack the troll directly; instead they start throwing bits of wreckage and yelling, distracting it and confusing it by giving it a choice of targets. While Ron’s got its attention, Harry gets to Hermione and tries to get her to run, but the plot demands that she now be completely frozen and unable to move.
It is possible to be paralysed with fear, but almost always in situations involving a fear of the unknown, or a phobia or other trigger, or when you have multiple options and can’t decide which one to take. When something is literally attacking you, you’re usually more than capable of running as long as you have a clear way to run, because that’s what you’ve evolved to do. Your brain isn’t even involved, your glands dump adrenaline into your blood to kick up your heart rate and your breathing to power your muscles to get the fuck away without any actual thought required (there’s a reason they call that reflex ‘fight or flight’). If Hermione can see the open door, she’s going to run, so for my own sanity I’m going to assume she can’t and that she thinks she’s trapped.
The troll tries to attack Ron.
“Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid: he took a great running jump and managed to fasten his arms around the troll’s neck from behind. The troll couldn’t feel Harry hanging there, but even a troll will notice if you stick a long bit of wood up its nose, and Harry’s wand had still been in his hand when he’d jumped – it had gone straight up one of the troll’s nostrils.”
I like that the narrative acknowledges that sometimes bravery is stupid. This won’t happen again. I’m questioning how Harry managed to jump twelve feet up, though. And Harry’s wand is not in his hand, he’s never mentioned drawing it at any point and he’s been throwing taps and pipes around. Also, it’s entirely possible – given that despite wands just being sticks, they’re apparently almost always unbreakable – that this might actually have killed the troll, rather than just hurt it a bit. If you stab someone up their nose with something long enough, it’ll go straight through some very thin cartilage and into their brain.
The troll howls and flails, though doesn’t seem to be bleeding even though the wand’s apparently gone deep enough to get stuck. Then we get a really random single sentence from Ron’s point of view, telling us that he doesn’t know what to do but hears himself cast the first spell he can think of.
Chapter One was partly from Vernon Dursley’s point of view, and partly omniscient-narrator. Everything else in the book apart from this single sentence is Harry’s point of view. And there’s no reason to be in Ron’s head here, since Harry could very easily hear him cast the spell.
Inevitably, it’s Wingardium Leviosa, and despite there being no way he’s going to manage precise wand movements in these circumstances it seems Hermione teaching him how to pronounce it earlier was enough to let him cast it perfectly now despite having been unable to at the time. The troll’s club lifts out of its hand, hovers, then drops and smacks it on the head with enough force to stun it. Okay, this is horribly contrived, but I like it anyway and it’s a good way of letting three first years survive a fight with a monster despite not really knowing any useful spells. I always really enjoy books that use magic more creatively, taking a spell for Thing X and making it do Thing Y instead.
That said, the movie did this scene much better. Hermione wasn’t useless and helped Ron cast the spell, and he then moved his wand to slam the club down on the troll.
Current spell count: Hermione, 2. Ron, 1. Harry, 0. Worst. Protagonist. Ever.
Hermione suddenly unfreezes now, despite that not really being how this sort of shock works, and asks if it’s dead. Harry says he doesn’t think so – it’s twelve feet tall, I think you’d be able to tell if it was breathing, but fair enough, he’s a kid in the aftermath of a terrifying situation – and retrieves his wand from the troll’s nose. It’s covered in slime, which is ‘bogies‘ in the UK version but changed to ‘boogers‘ for the Americans – incidentally it rarely if ever is after this point (or before for that matter), so I really have no idea what on earth the Bat Bogey Hex etc. actually means. There’s also no reason for this detail to be included, really, particularly since copious amounts of blood would be far more likely.
At this point three of the teachers burst in. McGonagall, Snape, and Quirrell. Well, Snape was off on the third floor chasing plot coupons and fighting monsters of his own, and I’m not sure he’d have had time to do that and get back to the other teachers and then backtrack to here again. Let’s be nice and assume he heard the noises and abandoned the idiot-ball plot to come and help. Quirrell was on the floor in the Great Hall, so apparently McGonagall went back to get him and then went looking for the troll again? And where the fuck are Dumbledore and the other teachers?
Quirrell whimpers and nearly faints. Snape ignores them and starts looking at the troll; I don’t know what for, but it amuses me that he’s apparently more concerned for it than he is for the children. Maybe it’s an endangered species. And McGonagall… well.
“Harry had never seen her look so angry… ‘What on earth were you thinking of?’ said Professor McGonagall, with cold fury in her voice.”
Yes. She’s furious with them. There’s no concern whatsoever. She’s really angry that they were attacked by a monster. Remember, kids, if you’re a victim of anything, it’s your fault! What the fuck is this woman’s problem? People do react with anger after they’ve been really frightened, as anyone who’s accidentally made their partner or parents extremely worried can testify, but it doesn’t look like this. You cry, you make sure the person you were worried about is okay, and then you’re angry at them afterwards. McGonagall storms into the room already furious, and yells at three presumably fairly traumatised children without bothering to see if they’re hurt or not first.
She demands to know why they weren’t in their dormitory – Snape glances at Harry, who looks at the floor; this tells me Snape knew Harry and Ron were following him earlier, frankly – and the boys stare at each other. Hermione speaks up and says truthfully that they were looking for her. And she should have added that they were doing so because she wasn’t at the feast and didn’t know about the troll, and that’s where this conversation should have ended, because that’s all completely reasonable and honest and she doesn’t need to add that it’s partly their fault she wasn’t there given that they did come after her and help. But for some reason Rowling then has Hermione tell a very unconvincing lie and claim that she had read about trolls, thought she could handle it and went looking for it. In a toilet several floors away from where it was supposed to be. I have no idea why – this isn’t in character, and there’s no way any of the teachers should have believed it, and it’s not remotely necessary given that the first part of her statement was enough to stop any of them getting into trouble and all Hermione’s done is put herself back in hot water with the inexplicably furious teacher. (Clearly Rowling wanted a scene where Hermione lies to get the boys out of trouble, for some reason, because that is a sort of school story trope… but this makes no fucking sense because she doesn’t need to lie to do that.)
Hermione goes on to describe the fight and that Harry and Ron saved her life, while the boys try to pretend that yes, this is totally what happened. This part at least is more believable; we’ve already seen that Hermione talks too much when she’s nervous, and she’s just realised she’s accidentally screwed herself here.
And McGonagall’s reaction to all this is to call Hermione a fool, say she’s really disappointed in her, take five house points from her and tell her to fuck off on her own back to Gryffindor Tower.
Why is this bitch allowed near children? (I generally don’t like using that word, but sometimes nothing else will fit.) This is just plain cruel. Even if you hate Hermione, you’ve got to feel for the poor girl at this point. She doesn’t get to see the end of this conversation; as far as she’s concerned, she cost her house points by being attacked by a monster, and nobody gives a shit whether she got hurt or not or how scared and upset she is.
This school is fucking horrible.
Anyway, McGonagall then gives Harry and Ron five points each, tells them they were lucky and that she’ll tell Dumbles how great they are, and sends them on their way too. I like to think that as soon as they’re out of earshot Snape tells her she’s a dreadful head of house and walks off in disgust while she’s asking what he means.
Harry and Ron discuss how they should have got more points on their way back to the tower. Ron actually admits it was good of Hermione to lie for them, though he adds that they did save her and needs Harry to remind him that he’s the reason she was there to need saving in the first place. I don’t see why Harry would be more aware of this than Ron, they’re both equally sociopathic most of the time, but at least someone said it.
The three of them reunite in the tower (conspicuously devoid of concerned prefects/brothers; Percy, I am very disappointed in you), stare around awkwardly, mutter ‘thanks’ and scurry off in different directions. It’s kind of cute actually.
“But from that moment on, Hermione Granger became their friend. There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them.”
This is also kind of cute. Even though I still maintain that Hermione isn’t really their friend at all. And really she ought to be afraid to go anywhere near them, given that she gets attacked by monsters whenever she’s alone with them. And going through a scary experience together wouldn’t magically change their personalities, and we’ll see throughout the rest of the series that they still have nothing in common and still don’t honestly like one another very much. But cute nonetheless.
Also, the school as a whole for some reason never finds out about this incident. Unlike literally everything else that happens. Go figure.
Holy crap, this was a long one this time.
Something that came up in the comments on the last post, the ‘how to fix this chapter’ section that used to be at the end of these posts isn’t there any more. I’ll be honest, there was such a gap between chapter 7 and 8 that I just forgot; I did consider going back to add it once I realised, but by this point in the story the chapters can’t really be fixed except by making it a completely different book. I’ll attempt to do some sort of summary post at the end suggesting an overall rewrite of the whole thing, maybe, and continue to suggest rewrites of individual scenes as I did here.
We’d like to end by wishing you all a Happy New Year. Here’s to 2016.