She first quotes a magazine article by Philip Ball, titled "Why We Need Magic":
Magic in fiction needs to be more than hocus pocus spells: it must be difficult, rare, and perilous. It's why - forgive me - I personally don't buy the magic of Harry Potter, which is attained too easily and lacks consequences.and then adds her own thoughts:
I can't help but see his point. The magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense, and teaches us nothing about how to approach this "embodiment of the sublime virtue of hope", with all it's dangers, pitfalls, and beautiful potentialities. More often than not, the magic of Harry Potter is mere 'hocus-pocus spells' - not fairy at all. But then, there are at times that real sense of 'ritualized optimism' that makes the magic real. What do you think, my fellow readers - easy and mundane, or delightful possibilities??
Art by Jill Johansen
So, Masha and I are agreed that "the magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense." I'll also agree that if magic in literature is presented as an attained art, if it’s presented as belonging to faerie and wildwood and not the proper right of humans, then yes, it should be “difficult, rare, and perilous.” I think very highly of Masha's respect for the magical in literature. I'm not prepared to ask a superhero story to submit to the laws of the fairy tale, however; that sounds like an exercise in frustration. The virtues of Harry Potter, its moments of "embodiment of the sublime virtue of hope" are in things like phoenix song and the silver doe and the locked room in the Department of Mysteries and the whispers behind the veil.
In other words: give me till books five and seven to play the full rhapsody. ;)
[redacted: excursus challenging complaints about Edward Cullen not being a "real vampire"]
Christie summed up the last few chapters of the story beautifully, and she, too, gave me a little something to debate:
This is one of the instances I wrote on previously, in which Harry asserts himself—as a character, as a personality, as the subject of his novels, rather than just an object to be acted upon and blown about by every wind. In which he lays down the title earned for him by his mother, the Boy Who Lived, and fits out a reputation of his own making. He gets angry. And it is that very human anger and its source in love for his near and dear that brings me closest to him thus far. It's when I really believe him and feel I know him as a person. I just love it when he gets angry!I love her differentiation between the reputation Lily gave Harry and the one he makes for himself. And I won't challenge her delight in Harry's anger, nor her appreciation for characters asserting themselves and making their own choices. Most people do appreciate that... but that point nudges a long-standing frustration I have with the world in general and with the books-and-writing blogosphere in particular.
[redacted: ten-thousand-word essay in passionate defense of protagonist passivity, mostly centered around Isabella Swan]
|Art by Pevansy|
A handful of outspoken folk (never Christie, who is far too generous) have boldly stated in my hearing that quiet, reserved, diffident, or otherwise unassertive people are "anti-social" or "have no personality" or "aren't interesting or likable". The reasons I sometimes get annoyed at said outspoken folk and the aforementioned blogosphere may perhaps be obvious.
Anyhow, back to Harry! Riddle's and Lockhart's memories have both been destroyed—I failed to notice that last week. Rowling loves her doppelgängers. Meanwhile, my overtired brain feels like it's firing as feebly as the erstwhile D.A.D.A. professor's, but we're going to blaze ahead.
* * *
Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 1
Introduction to Prisoner of Azkaban
Whereas Chamber of Secrets was dark and watery, Prisoner of Azkaban takes us out of the dungeons and into the sky. The air element is everywhere—floating Aunt Marge, flying hippogriffs, Quidditch and broomsticks, dementors, souls. This is also a book of light and shadow. I've always sensed that contrast more sharply in this Potter story than in any of the others.
|Hippogriff art by Gustav Dore|
Longtime blog-friend Mr. Pond claimed, leading up to this Halloween, that PoA is the scariest Harry Potter book (SPOILERS at the link). I suspect he has a somewhat different base fear set than I do (I argued for Chamber of Secrets), but he makes an excellent point about the book being about fear:
Prisoner of Azkaban is a book about fear, and learning to deal with it.... Rowling crams the book full of people trying to deal with fear.... Harry fears fear itself. It’s the deep, primordial fear—the ancient, quivering fear of a weak, wily species fighting for survival—not the fear of the dark, but the fear that the dark needs to be feared...That's mostly yet to come, however. Rowling spends the first chapter re-introducing us to the Wizarding World, primarily through humor. Harry, being unusual, is happily doing his homework by flashlight in the dead of night, under his bedclothes. His homework is inarguably more interesting than the average, since it includes Wendelin the Weird getting herself burned at the stake forty-seven times and the Monster Book of Monsters scuttling around under the desk.
|Wendelin the Weird|
Art by Kiraya00
There's not a total dearth of discussion points in the first chapter. Rowling is surely well-read enough not to assume that the entire medieval period involved hatred and fear of witches and magic, and she was kind enough not to hard-link the comments about Wendelin the Weird to Christianity, but modern popular culture is neither so educated nor so generous. Here I recommend the fantastic Kelly Orazi's "Evolution of Witchcraft in Art and Literature: Part One, Late Medieval" and its sequel, "Part Two: Early Renaissance." I also recommend traveling to the thirteenth-century duomo in Siena during the few weeks per year when the floors are uncovered, for the purpose of seeing Hermes Trismegistus and the Sibyls carved thereon alongside Biblical scenes and the Rota Fortunae. But that takes a little more doing.
Beyond medieval studies and the first chapter of this book, another trip to Hogwarts awaits. For this one, hang onto your souls and pack lots of chocolate.