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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Chapter Six

Been a while, hasn’t it?

The chapter illustration purports to show a mandrake. We’re going to be talking about those later. For now let’s jump into what turned out to be a pretty tedious chapter that was almost entirely padding. Try not to step in the foreshadowing.

Chapter Six: Gilderoy Lockhart

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Posted by on January 14, 2018 in loten, mitchell

 

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What do you get if a bot tries to write Harry Potter?

You get this absolutely amazing literary masterwork.

http://cheezburger.com/4252677/a-bot-just-wrote-a-chapter-of-harry-potter-and-its-an-absolute-masterpiece

Words can’t do this justice, you really have to read it for yourselves. I’m actually crying.

“I’m Harry Potter,” Harry began yelling. “The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!”

Oh boy.

[Loten, you tagged this ‘poetry’? Really? On second thought, sure, I can’t argue it. I can’t stop laughing. Seriously, readers, just go read it. I promise it’s better than Cursed Child.]

Of course I tagged it as poetry. It’s fucking poetic.

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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Harry Potter – Death Count so far

One of the (myriad) reasons for the Harry Potter coverage being delayed was my decision based on your feedback from the last update to start a count of all the times the characters really should have died had various scenarios been written realistically. After some thought and discussion we decided not to include a lot of the more obvious ones simply because the narrative does provide a way for the problem to be dealt with – for instance, fighting the troll would probably have killed three first-years, but the book acknowledged the danger and showed an actual solution so it gets a pass. Likewise, Harry fighting Quirrell should have killed him but there was an explicit in-universe reason why it didn’t. (And Harry being alive at all, of course, but let’s not completely invalidate the entire series. At least not yet.)

[Basically, if the narrative acknowledges the danger and provides an in-story explanation for why the characters survived and/or weren’t badly injured, we’re probably not going to count it. We’re focusing on evidence of authorial neglect (and, in-story, things like supervisory neglect at Hogwarts), the dangers that should be there if the setting adheres to any level of realism but are elided or glossed over by the narrative.]

I finally found a coherent way of explaining this – we’re explicitly counting things that Rowling didn’t realise would have killed her characters, not things she explained away.

So let’s see the body count so far. Lots of head injuries, as you might expect…


Philosopher’s Stone:

  • Harry dies of exposure after being abandoned overnight on a doorstep in Britain in November at the age of one.
  • (Edit: Neville dies the first time from being thrown off a pier in Blackpool as a toddler. This could have been an honourable mention but there’s nothing in seven books to support the idea that his family care enough to fish him out before he drowns.)
  • Neville dies again from a broken neck after being dropped out of a window by his uncle as a child – he may well have bounced but he still explicitly hit the ground head first.
  • Neville dies a third time in the present day after falling twenty feet off an out of control broom during his first flying lesson.
  • Katie Bell and Marcus Flint both take cannonballs to the head during a Quidditch match.
  • Harry, Ron and Hermione fall an unknown distance of at least four stories down the trap door.
  • Ron dies again shortly afterwards when a giant stone statue bashes him in the head.

Honourable mentions: Vernon, Petunia and Dudley probably drowned trying to swim back to the mainland after Hagrid stole their boat, but it is theoretically possible that the old guy who owns the boat realised they hadn’t come back and sent help, or that there was a lifeboat patrolling nearby after the storm. [Or they could have died of thirst or starvation if they were stranded there long enough without rescue. But there’s enough ambiguity around how to count this that we’ve decided to let it slide.]

Harry nearly swallowing the Snitch likewise gets an honourable mention, since although it would have sliced his face up nicely and caused some damage through choking it wouldn’t have killed him per se. Nor would the resulting fall, since he’s probably the only student anyone would bother trying to save instead of the usual Hogwarts method of letting them splatter.

Scabbers gets an honourable mention for being thrown into a window after biting Goyle. We decided not to include animals because the counts would be sky high, nobody feeds their pets or gives them anywhere safe to sleep and all owl owners constantly make them fly way too far in unsafe conditions, but this one stood out. [Loten didn’t want to include this one, but I argued for it and this was our compromise. I think it’s relevant because Scabbers will later turn out to be (or be retconned as) a human character who is important to the plot, and instances in which he should really have died or sustained brain damage are relevant to assessing how stupid his plan is (and/or how sloppy the retcon was).]

Possible honourable mention, this might be moved to the main count later – any of the kids could have tripped over and broken their necks or fallen on broken branches in the Forbidden Forest detention. The narrative insists the monsters are no threat, and Quirrellmort were too incompetent to be a danger to anyone, but wandering around proper ancient woodland in total darkness isn’t safe regardless of external hazards.

Final count: Neville: 3. Ron: 2. Harry: 2. Minor characters: 2 (Katie and Marcus are unlikely to feature here again). Hermione: 1.

[It’s worth keeping Katie in mind though, for when we eventually get to Half-Blood Prince in something like a decade’s time. She barely exists as a character but might still have more than one entry on the death tally. Though the second one might be better counted for a different tally, “would have been a death if not for Snape’s intervention.”]

I think that tally would be a little redundant since by the end of the series it would comprise literally every character still alive…

Interesting that Neville racks up the highest count despite not being a major character and – according to the narrative – not having the angstiest backstory to ever angst. Yet another argument in favour of his being the superior protagonist.


Chamber of Secrets:

  • Harry and Ron die of dehydration and heatstroke in the flying car that the book insists is more of a flying oven, or alternatively die of dehydration and hypothermia in a more realistically written one.
  • Harry and Ron die again almost immediately when the car crashes.
  • Ron then dies a third time from complications caused by his untreated serious head injury. He’s not doing well.

Count so far: Ron: 3. Harry: 2.

Honourable mentions: Hedwig and Scabbers were both in the car, though Hedwig’s already died from malnutrition and again from exhaustion.

Overall total so far: Ron: 5. Harry: 4. Neville: 2. Minor characters: 2. Hermione: 1.

Feel free to jump into the comments if we forgot something, or if you think something should/should not be included – our criteria were pretty arbitrary and I’m happy to tweak this before we return to the main series.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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Fantastic Beasts 2 title and other details

I spotted Tor’s coverage of this recently. Mitchell and I talked it over a bit, and then I cobbled together a post about it.

https://www.tor.com/2017/11/16/title-and-cast-of-fantastic-beasts-2-revealed/

Spoilers under the cut, obviously. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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A Very Harry Potter Miscellany

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


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

This is the post that triggered this conversation:
https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2017/09/21/there-must-be-a-word-for-making-a-fool-of-yourself-to-get-attention/
(Someone on Twitter arguing that yes, the KKK are awful, but their titles are pretty cool-sounding e.g. Grand Wizard.)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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Epilogue Day has come and gone

Last Friday came and went and I nearly didn’t notice. I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that I was missing something – I’d noticed that it was September 1 and something seemed significant about that, but didn’t quite put my finger on what it was until afterward. September 1, 2017 was, in fact, the date on which the awful ‘Nineteen Years Later’ epilogue would have taken place and I almost let it pass by without noticing (and without comment). I may well be less attuned to Potterverse things than I used to be, but then on top of that it’s also the bloody awful epilogue we’re talking about so it may not be as surprising it didn’t immediately come to mind, but even so, you’d think I’d have thought about this and prepared a post in advance. I feel rather guilty about not having done so.

Here’s a link to a relevant Twitter thread, the sentiments expressed amused me greatly.

Also, Tor.com had an article.

Apparently this was a big deal to some people. Loten tells me it was all over the news and people actually gathered at King’s Cross, among other things. I’ll admit a part of me likes that idea, and almost wishes I’d been able to go and/or had the inclination to do cosplay of some kind (in the back of my mind there are fantasies of mocking the epilogue via live-action subversive fanfic – I could probably pass for Harry, unfortunately – but I know I would never actually do something like that). Or, I don’t know, call in a satirical tip to the British police about Ron Weasley’s fraudulently obtained driver’s licence.

Then, too, on some level I wonder if it will change how people think about the series to realise that even the distant-future epilogue is now in the past (or if they will even notice that; thinking about it, I’m not actually sure any explicit dates are actually mentioned in the text). There’s always that hint of surreality when reading a text like Nineteen Eighty-Four or 2001: A Space Odyssey or the like which is clearly written as if set in the future, but given a date that we have now passed. And maybe it will aid the books’ fade into eventual cultural irrelevance, though that does not necessarily excite me as someone who is invested in criticising them.

So in ‘honour’ of this ‘significant’ moment, shall we utterly pick apart a bit of the text?

‘He’ll be all right,’ murmured Ginny.
As Harry looked at her, he lowered his hand absent-mindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.
‘I know he will.’
The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.

“All was well” is the part that most people poke fun at here, and rightly so. I remember Rowling saying for years in interviews (before the final book) that she’d had the ending written from the beginning and the last word was going to be ‘scar’, but in the end she did this instead. Looking at it now, I actually think changing that was a mistake: I assume that means the final sentence was originally some reworked variant of the previous one (e.g. ‘It had been nineteen years since Harry last felt any pain in his scar’), which is a functional enough way of implying ‘Voldemort was gone for good and the core conflict on which these books focused has been resolved; rest easy, reader’. It becomes problematic when the next sentence comes along and says ‘all was well’, which even when charitably read falsely implies ‘all of the societal problems in these books have been fixed’ and that’s laughably not in evidence (and, frankly, factually contradicted) even just taking the epilogue in a vacuum. For fuck’s sake, the epilogue includes Ron confessing to having used illegal magic on a Muggle driving instructor, and nobody present notices or cares beyond a vague ‘ha ha isn’t he silly’.

What I also notice is that Harry’s behaviour here is bizarrely superstitious. He’s worried about his child, so he reassures himself that nothing bad could possibly happen to him because there’s no Voldemort? This really does not follow, Harry. There are lots of other things that can go wrong for a child at school; even plenty of Harry’s schoolboy misfortunes had nothing to do with Voldemort! (This is also pretty hilarious in light of Cursed Child being a thing, admittedly. We know quite well that all was not, in fact, well, even in the fictional universe of Harry Potter and ignoring how everything’s been going to shit in the actual 2017.)

In a way, I suppose it could be argued that all of this is ridiculously uncharitable and obviously ‘all was well’ is only being used as shorthand for ‘the story is over now’, much like ‘they lived happily ever after’ and such. But as I said earlier, the previous sentence already accomplished that, so I think we have to conclude it’s doing additional work. ‘All was well’ is not merely saying ‘the conflict has been resolved’, it is also saying ‘and what remains is a good and proper state of affairs’. The deviation from Status Quo has been corrected, Our Side Won, and everything is now the way it should be, there’s no more work to do! Oh wait, I’m not talking about Harry Potter any more, now am I? That sounds a lot like something else that’s awfully relevant in this year of 2017. (And in case you think I’m talking only about Twitler and his zombies, I’m not, though that does describe them: some of the responsibility for their movement’s virulent rise has to go back to leftist complacency after Obama was elected, and our failure to recognise the extent of the racist backlash and take it as seriously as we needed.)

It’s kind of interesting how that dovetails, isn’t it? Especially since I’ve barely begun to address the hilarity of the ‘all was well’ scene occurring in 2017 of all years. And that is because the problem is an underlying attitude and mode of thinking, moreso than any particular sequence of events (never mind that, again, 2016-2017 is especially egregious, that’s not the point). The epilogue’s attempt at a pat ending just lays bare the fact that, in reality, ‘all was well’ is a statement that can probably never be true and there will always be more issues that need addressing. What the person saying it inevitably means is ‘I’ve decided this is good enough’, or, more bluntly, ‘I’ve got mine so fuck you’: it is fundamentally a statement of willful ignorance or complacency.

And to be complacent in the face of systemic oppression and societal inequality is to be complicit in the harm it does.

I’m not always the best about this myself, I have to admit – if nothing else I have a tendency to just observe and try to be well-informed (and to call out bad behaviour when I see it around me), I’m not great at actually taking action on anything, and I’ve been overwhelmed enough that I’ve not managed to do much by way of writing either – but that’s something I’m aware of and something I’m trying to work on.

I’m not sure if I have a greater point here, but this is where my thoughts on that scene took me. Happy belated Epilogue Day.

[Loten here. I have no input. As far as I’m concerned the epilogue doesn’t exist, after all.]

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2017 in mitchell

 

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Chapter Five

We’ve slightly changed the way we go about creating these posts. You guys shouldn’t notice a difference but it’ll be easier for us behind the scenes. I’d like to say faster, but clearly we’re completely unreliable in that regard.

Let’s press on. No interesting picture this time, just a spoilery scribble of a car in a tree.

Chapter Five: The Whomping Willow

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Posted by on August 3, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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