Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Harry Potter Effects

Warning: This post may contain spoilers, though I'm assuming that anyone with kids already knows what happens in the end, and anyone without doesn't care (although I just got castigated on FaceBook for suggesting that it was weird for movie theaters to hold adults-only screenings of Harry Potter, so apparently there are a lot of people w/o kids out there who care a whole very lot that no 10-year-olds who have read all the books more times than they have don't share the same movie-viewing experience with them).

Harry Potter Effect #1
After M closed the thick tome that is the seventh and final book in the HP series, he declared that he would now need to find a book as long, if not longer to read next. Moby Dick was his first consideration (no doubt the New York City phone book would be his next). I can't really say anything against Moby Dick, having never read it (it is very, very far down on my list), but it does seem a bit too "macho guy against nature" for my taste (though I loved The Old Man and the Sea, which is very much along the same lines, so perhaps I should give ol' Melville a chance). And I of course would never discourage anyone, let alone my children, from reading classic literature (or much of anything else, other than The Wall St. Journal or The Davinci Code), so if he wants to read Moby Dick, more power to him. But it does seem a bit limiting to judge literature on number of pages alone. One would miss out on quite a few very fine short stories, novellas and just plain non-tome-like novels. I didn't need to worry long, though. M's quickly overcame his long-book prejudice and commenced re-reading the entire Percy Jackson series (followed by the first of many, no-doubt re-read of the HP's)

Harry Potter Effect #2
Ever since we hastily watched the first seven of the HP movies in preparation for going to see the eighth one (I must say it was a brilliant move to somehow turn seven books into eight movies--I hope that when my bestselling books become blockbuster hits I will be equally savvy), I find myself assigning people Harry Potter characters (or caricatures). For instance, the person who had been appointed to my agency much to everyone's dismay and then got fired for backing up staff is Draco Malfoy--a reluctant (and no doubt temporary) turncoat. All the Kool-Aid drinkers around here are definitely death-eaters. I'm waiting for a Snape to turn up--someone who seems really evil but turns out to be really good (for the record, Snape was my favorite character--I love his deadpan delivery--and I knew all along that he was really a good guy). And me? I'm Harry Potter in Movie #6 (no I don't know the names and I have not read the books, either--when I have time for a four-digit-page-long book, Anna Karenina is first on my list) when he says, "I'm just so angry all the time." Which brings me to the third Harry Potter Effect.

Harry Potter Effect #3
OK, I can't really blame Harry for this one, since it dates back through all of Western (and possibly Eastern?) literature to Gilgamesh and Homer...that is the concept that life is a battle between good and evil and goodness always prevails. I adore Jane Austen, and I regularly go back and reread Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion when I want to restore my belief that people who are honest and well-meaning and without guile will overcome those who are deceitful and manipulative. But truly? Real life is much more Tess Darbyfield than Elizabeth Bennett.

Look at what's happening in the world right now--most people are suffering, without enough to eat, without healthcare, without jobs, without homes. And a very few people who engineered the collapse of the world economy are busy buying yachts (tax-free) and $800 pairs of shoes, and, of course, politicians who will do their bidding.

Yes, it's true, many things have gotten better over the centuries--we eliminated slavery, women are no longer their husband's property (in this country), we've achieved great reductions in infant and maternal mortality (in industrialized countries). BUT, but change is slow, incremental, generational. And many, many people suffer and die waiting for it to happen. Does our story of the hero journey, the individual's triumph over adversity do us a disservice, make us believe in a narrative that's just not true, not applicable to real life? Is it as much a pacifier to the masses as religion? Just wait, it tells us, a champion, a Knight in Shining Armor will come and save you. Or, worse, if you were worthy, if you were good, and strong and brave enough, you would be able to slay this dragon.

After the last HP movie ended, with Voldemort finally defeated, and Hogwarts in shambles, my friend AA turned to me and said, "Now we just have to get rid of LePage." Because that's what it feels like, here in Maine, in Washington, around the world, like something very evil has taken over the halls of power. But we're severely lacking in magic wands; instead all we have is online petitions. What hero ever mouse-clicked the bad guys away? So, like Harry, I am just so angry all the time, but unlike Harry, there's not much I can do about it.


  1. I'm guessing that the castigated comment was aimed at me. I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to sound harsh, I hope I didn't hurt your feelings or make you angry. One thing I didn't point out is that my local theater that was mentioned in that article as not allowing kids under 6 (they also do not allow unaccompanied minors), serves beer and wine at the seats. It is really set up as an adult establishment. They play pre-show entertainment that contains adult language sometimes as well. I went to see Toy Story 3 in a regular theater that was packed with kids. They made a bunch of noise, kicked my seat and ran up and down the aisle, but I didn't mind at all because I was expecting that at a kid's movie. I actually found it delightful to hear and see their reaction to the movie. I think it can be really hard for a child to have to sit still and be quiet for a few hours, and I wouldn't expect them to have to do that. On the flip side, I think it is nice that there is a theater geared towards adults where you can expect a quiet movie watching experience (they also have a zero tolerance policy for talking or texting during the movie- I've seen a lot of adults making more noise in a theater than children).

  2. We can do things about it. It's just a lot more work than magic, a lot slower.


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