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andave's place

Am I back? Maybe. This is mostly about Harry Potter, btw.

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I turned twenty a little over a month ago. I think twenty DOES feel different from the teenage years, although that's probably psychological. However, I do think I turned into an adult somewhere in the past school year. The change isn't really earth-shattering or radical or anything, but I like it.

Heh. I was praying and thinking this morning and realized I wanted to blog but somehow fell out of the mood. I wanted to talk about how I've changed, what I've learned about myself over the past year at college, how the first week of my summer job went, what I've been reading, etc., but everything I've written so far has sounded incredibly self-centered. I suppose that's the prerogative of blogging, but I don't want to write something that I'll read in twenty years and think, "Goodness, what an obnoxious brat I was!" Or at least, I don't want to make myself sound any brattier than I already am :P.

So where to begin? Well, the quiet Don is still flowing, although at a much softer speed than it had been during school. Everyone freshman year warned me that sophomore year will probably be my hardest year. That's probably true, but not in the way I thought it would be. Every semester has indeed been increasingly more academically difficult but less emotionally so. Last semester was crazy - seventeen credits (two of which were separate internship credits), 10+ hours of work a week, and a couple extracurriculars. I got an average of six hours sleep a night.
Aaaaaaaaaand, I learned that loads of pressure does wonders for my GPA. Isn't that obnoxious? I suppose if I ever want a 4.0 again I shall have to kill myself :P

So here I sit on June 4, 2011, at 1:13 PM, in Virginia at school, eating a sandwich of very crumbly and very delicious cheese and roast beef on stale bread, listening to whatever my ipod shuffles, and feeling rather expansive. I am very blessed. I have a full-time summer job and, although I'm clear over on the other side of the country, I get to see my family on Skype. Amazing thing, Skype. Last night my sister and I watched an episode of Doctor Who, one of our favorite shows, together through it. We muted Skype, put up chat and video, and would chat comments back and forth to each other. We've called each other on it every night since the day after I got here to start my job at HSLDA.

Anyways. I went to the library after work yesterday to chat with Mrs. Pensgard and get some books to read, and they're lurking in the back of my mind calling my name. I started one last night that I suppose I shall have to finish, although I don't really want to. It's the last Harry Potter. I started reading the series summer before last, I think, and I'm finally down to the last one. Boring, mediocre series -- I don't see what all the fuss is about.

There is a clear enough demarcation between good and bad; Christians don't have to be worried about that. I forget where I read it, but someone had said that what was bad about it is that it taught kids that matter can be changed by magic. So what? What're the philosophical implications of that? In fact, I think that can even be a good perception to have - depending on one's understanding of magic. Three or four hundred years ago, the breakthroughs science has reached today would seem to be magic - would CHANGE MATTER. If people didn't think that matter could serve a purpose to create something different or something previous generations hadn't imagined, isn't that a bad thing? Take it a step further: what about creation ex nihilo? Or even make it personal: when we cook or bake, aren't we changing the molecular structure of food? That's one of my favorite things about baking - that grainy-looking goop turns into delicious things with totally different color, texture, smell, taste, etc.

Haha, I was supposed to be explaining why it's mediocre. I think it fails as good fantasy because it doesn't have something transcendent it is fighting for. Let me explain. Harry is fighting Voldemort not primarily because Voldemort is bad, but because Voldemort killed his parents and wants to kill him. Perhaps that's a minor quibble, but I'm not convinced that, had Harry's parents not died, Harry would still have gone on the quest for the Horcruxes (which Rowling took an unforgivably long time to get to, anyway) with the same sort of passion. That is, if anyone can call his bratty tragic-hero-with-an-inflated-ego-bigger-than-God's-complex a proper drive to pursue the good. Granted, that could still change before I finish book 7 (I'm 450 pages in) but considering how massive the series is, it'd be incredibly difficult to do without pulling some incredible miracle out of Voldemort's nonexistent nose.

When I think of fantasy, I think of pursuing a transcendent good. That's why I love Lord of the Rings so very much - there are men of high values like courage, integrity, honor, loyalty and love, who have an appreciation for the old fading or forgotten beauty - who have saudade; who fight for the sake of conquering evil, for the sake of gaining freedom, for the sake of being free from fear, free to love, free to live life with joy and happiness. Stories like that inspire people to pursue transcendent things. Harry Potter, despite the magic, is mundane. It doesn't have overarching themes that pull the reader in and make him part of the story (well, I guess I shouldn't generalize like that. It certainly does not pull me in, at any rate.) I don't see virtues I want to emulate in Harry Potter; in fact, reading Harry Potter makes me very happy I have a mother who is blunt in telling me what's wrong with me (basically, being willing to slap me upside the head when I start pulling out angsty-ness like dear old Harry's.) It's a book written for the modern conception of teenagers, the ones who want excitement without being challenged to shape up.

That's not to say Rowling doesn't try - she pulls that whole love thing from Dumbledore in book 5 or 6, I can't remember which. There's the whole fairness to the Muggles thing as well. But how well are these pulled off? Harry the Hero is so thickheaded he doesn't understand the overwhelming love and loyalty Ron and Hermione show him in coming with him, AND he's stupid enough to push them away when he needs them the most? (cf: Ron leaving in book 7.) How could Harry allow Ron and Hermione to walk into danger with him but let Ginny stay? (Though of course she, like a good little Potterling, carries on the resistance at the home front.) Harry is so wrapped up in his own heroism and his own sufferings it IS a wonder he manages to get that far. I'm with Snape on Harry's character. And certainly, without Ron and Hermione Harry would've failed a long time ago. And about the Muggles - Hermione wipes her own parents minds, "out of love." In my humble opinion, that makes Muggles look as stupid as Voldemort thinks they are. Are there any Muggles in the story arc that are given the spotlight as good people worth saving?? Not even the woman Harry and the others save, in Book 7, looks worth saving. Rowling gives readers no reason to really pity the Muggles and want Harry to save them.

Final opinion: mediocre. Three stars. Would have been four stars if the series had been three books instead of seven. Humph.

Lolz. This post makes me laugh. It's right on the edge of ranting and raving :P. I think next time I shall have to talk about Ayn Rand.

P.S. If my opinion about HP changes between now and the end of the book, I shall be sure to let you know.


  1. mtpspur's Avatar
    I think I made it through book five and quit --something about every time Harry used a pen it would scratch his hand--was where I left off. Never saw the movies--every now and then a desire pops up but the Drama Queen sniffs and reminds me the world didn't end when you didn't get to see Iron man 2 at the theater. As to be being self-centered blogger--pretty sure I can take that honor any day of the week. Still a favorite. Keep writing.
    Updated 06-13-2011 at 11:55 PM by mtpspur
  2. Dark Muse's Avatar
    I never really had an interest in the books but my sister started reading the books when they were first becoming popular and so she wanted me to read them so she could talked to me about them, so I tried and stopped in the middle of book 3 or 4. Though it was not really intentional, but I just got caught up in other things that I never got around to finishing the book and well I wasn't that motivated to make the attempt to continue to read them again after having been distracted from doing so.

    In regards to the Christian issue and the books, one of the things I heard is that Christians were worried that the books would corrupt children into becoming Wiccan's.
  3. qimissung's Avatar
    I adore the Harry Potter books. And to my delight, I've met a number of other people who do, too. I still remember my son recounting the plot to me in great detail after he got it for Christmas one year. He and I have read them all. I read the first five to he and his younger brother. I enjoyed discussing the various plot points with a friend of mine at work, a librarian, and also with another friend's young adult offspring.

    I thought Rowling, while not deeply skilled in the literary sense (the books are notorious for being cliche-ridden), has written a deeply creative set of books, much along the lines of the Narnia books, the Phillip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy, and of course, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    She created a deeply imaginative world at Hogwarts and filled it with characters who, with hearts filled with fear and brio, fight the never-ending battle of good and evil, filled all the while with the goodness and wonder of people who never tire of seeking answers to the questions life asks of all of us. Why are we born? Why do terrible things happen to good people? How do we fight the darkness we find in ourselves and the evil we find in the world.

    The books may not be to your taste, but that doesn't necessarily mean they don't have any worth.
    Updated 06-06-2011 at 04:40 PM by qimissung
  4. Virgil's Avatar
    This is it? They send you to college and all you write about is Harry Potter. How disappointing. I get a huge surprise and see a blog by Andy and I'm anticipating some profound novel that she's reading from her English lit classes. I was hoping I could get into a discussion on Melville or Henry James or Faulkner and all I get is Harry Potter. Never read it.

    I'm teasing, don't take me seriously.
  5. andave_ya's Avatar
    Muse: I suppose they could convince kids to become Wiccan, but honestly it seems like a bit of a stretch. They aren't dogmatic books. It could be that my perspective is different since I'm reading them at twenty, but I think if a kid is at all well-adjusted he should have no problem separating fiction from reality.
    Qimi: Hmmm, I'm not quite sure how to respond. Honestly, I'm with Snape on Harry's character (incidentally, Snape and Neville Chamberlain were, imo, the best characters in the book.) I don't like the books. I don't think they're worthless, necessarily, but I think their worth is more in what they reveal about modern culture, not in the attitudes the characters portray. Does that make sense? I don't want to downplay the creativity but I don't think Rowling's characters are really helping her books achieve lasting excellence.
    Virg, I always knew you're a smart man :P. I posted a paper I wrote for my Russian Lit class, but I think it's too academic-y for a blog. Would you be interested in an entry on Ayn Rand??
    Updated 06-08-2011 at 09:52 PM by andave_ya (too rude!)
  6. Dark Muse's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by andave_ya
    Muse: I suppose they could convince kids to become Wiccan, but honestly it seems like a bit of a stretch. They aren't dogmatic books. It could be that my perspective is different since I'm reading them at twenty, but I think if a kid is at all well-adjusted he should have no problem separating fiction from reality.
    LOL as I like to say, reading the Narnia books as a child didn't corrupt me into becoming Christian. So they probably don't have to worry about Harry Potter turning children into Wiccans.
  7. Virgil's Avatar
    I could never get into Ayn Rand. I'm familiar with her philosophy. The bit I've read didn't impress me as a novelist. I'll check your paper.
  8. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    I'm with Qimi on this one. I think you've missed something essential about Harry Potter and it's his very ordinariness his very reliance on others which makes him a compelling character. Rowling doesn't set Harry up as some kind of superhero, he's just a kid and an unfortunate kid at that. His parents were killed. Someone tried to kill him when he was just a baby. He grew up in a house where he was hated and despised and treated terribly. Even in the magical world, he isn't treated especially well. He isn't even especially nice or talented - though the inference is that some of his character flaws, and talents, are due to his 'link' with Voldemort, though some of them are his own. He can be arrogant, stupid and grouchy. He can be wrong, very wrong. But what he does have is friends who care about him, protection given to him by his mother and those around him wiser and more powerful than him. He is thrust into a terrible situation, entirely outside his control, and he rises to it. Badly, reluctantly, perhaps, but he rises to it all the same, despite his flaws. Unlike you, Potter doesn't have a parent to put him straight.

    If Rowling has a message through the Potter books it's that we're alway reliant upon others. Without the others, Harry couldn't succeed. Even those he thinks of as his enemies turn out to be crucial to his survival. You only have to read the last few pages to know how much Harry realised it. You might not like the books, but to consider them as entirely without values you would want to emulate seems a bit extreme. I, for one, am more than happy to be reminded how much I need to be grateful to my friends and family for the support and care they give to me. I'd like to be able to step up and try and do the 'right' thing, however hard that might be, whatever personal sacrifice that may involve. Are you saying that these are ideals you wouldn't want to emulate, or are you saying you didn't see them in the books?

    I have to cry foul on this comment:
    Quote Originally Posted by Andave_ya
    That's why I love Lord of the Rings so very much - there are men of high values like courage, integrity, honor, loyalty and love, who have an appreciation for the old fading or forgotten beauty - who have saudade; who fight for the sake of conquering evil, for the sake of gaining freedom, for the sake of being free from fear, free to love, free to live life with joy and happiness.
    if there's transcendence on LoTR it's because you choose to see it there and equally you choose not to see it in HP. But essentially they're not really very much different. In LoTR they're fighting for their entire existence, are they not? The sanctity of the Shire, preventing the destruction of men by the armies of Mordor, saving their own skins? Because their lives wouldn't be worth much in a world in which Sauron had control. They're not doing it because they want to, but because they have to. How is this different to HP other than, perhaps, in HP that is laid more bare, it's more honest? Don't the Elves pretty much run away and leave the men to it? Lots of honour there then? And do you really not see courage, honour, loyalty and love in HP? What about Ron, Hermione? What about Mrs Weasley, Neville Longbottom (last time I checked there were no pre-war British prime ministers in the HP books )? Rowling lays Harry's flaws bare and says despite this, in the end he can still do the right thing, he is still willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to make safe the world for everyone else. He may not be a great person, but you don't have to be a great person to do great things. You just have to make the right choice at the right time. That, ultimately, is what Harry leads to. Even in the climax, Harry's last act, the act that ends it, is one which is benign, rather than destructive.

    I fully accept that HP is much more simplistic than LoTR, but then it is a children's book (target age group is 8 - 11 year olds) which LoTR is not. Perhaps your expectations are too high, but if you were reading them to a small child, as I am at the moment, you might see things a little differently. As an adult reader HP is purely entertaining (and not in some cases - book 5 and 6 were quite boring) but not challenging. But without merit? That seems a little extreme.
  9. andave_ya's Avatar
    bahahaha Neville Chamberlain. That's funny.

    You are right in saying that perhaps I expect too much of Harry Potter, especially of his motives. In the end, he did the "right thing," right? Right. But I think the means is just as important as the ends (granted, that's a worldview thing) and in that light, all of Harry's sacrifices grate on my nerves; the kid can't forget that he's Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, even though he wishes everyone else would.

    Also, now that I'm thinking about it, I wonder if I'm not wrong in saying that I don't see why Christians make such a fuss about it. I suppose, in a sense, Harry Potter is radically opposed to Christianity. In Harry Potter, the hero of the world is an arrogant little kid with a hero complex and a lot of issues. He's extremely human, in the vulnerable imperfect sense of the word. And as a Christian, I'm used to thinking
    of humankind in that sense. Not that we're irredeemable, but it took a proper hero - a perfect one - to save the world. Jesus was perfect; a perfect sacrifice to offer salvation. I AM used to superhuman superheroes. As you said, Harry is very ordinary with all sorts of faults. Actually, I think that IS his weakness! Why should he save the world when there are so many better qualified than he? (Ahem, for example, Hermione! The Weasely twins! Professor McGonagall! :P)

    Hmmm ok, I'd better stop. I'm rambling.

    About Lord of the Rings - no, it is different. Again, though, it's going back to motivation. Aragorn and Halbarad, as Rangers, didn't begrudge the Shire the protection of the Rangers because the Shire was intrinsically good. That's all the motivation they needed, and THAT is transcendent. On top of that, the Rangers were looked down on in the Shire; the Hobbits didn't like them. Aragorn was willing to go with Frodo to the very end, even at the risk of his life, although he could have pulled the "I'm going to be king" card and justifiably have gotten out of the journey. He did it for a transcendent purpose - to destroy evil BECAUSE it's evil, not because his great great grandaddy ages ago had fallen to the ring and Aragorn had to prove he could rise above it.

    Does that make sense? I think there's a lot of worldview clashing between me and HP, and that's why I dislike it so much.
    Updated 06-13-2011 at 07:58 PM by andave_ya
  10. andave_ya's Avatar
    I will say, however, that the deathly hallows myth was absolutely brilliant. Best story bit in the whole series.
  11. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    I can kind of see where you're coming from. I just think it seems a little harsh. My question to you would be: why not Harry as the hero? Is he not transcendent? Do you not need to have flaws in order to transcend them, to overcome them, to become something better than what you are? Does Harry's ordinariness encourage other ordinary people to try and do extraordinary things - to do the 'right' thing, make the ultimate sacrifice when it comes to it? Harry's involvement and role in this is always shown as random - it was a random act by someone else that got him into it and it was a sacrifice by someone else (Dumbledore) coupled with his own willingness to sacrifice himself that, in the end, saved him. So if you're walking by a river and someone is drowning do you walk away - it's nothing to do with you, you just happen to be passing - or do you save them? And the message through Harry is that you don't need to be a great person in order to save someone, you just need to prepared to act, be prepared to risk yourself at the right time, when called upon, and do it. On that basis, I find it hard to see how HP creates a poor world message, or a message that Christians may need to be, or ought to be, threatened by. That being said, I didn't see Harry as particularly arrogant either, but perhaps more self-reliant or less able to, or used to, having to and needing to rely upon people. I can see how that might be perceived as arrogance, but I think it's subtly different. And contrasting Harry and Voldemort you get a picture of how circumstances don't necessarily turn you into the person you are, but how you choose to behave in the context of your circumstances do. Like Aragorn, he could have walked away but he didn't. Is there really any difference?

    Anyway, it has it's merits and demerits. Like Qimi, I found the world Rowling created quite imaginitive and there is a wide cast of characters each with their own foibles, strengths and flaws. Kind of like the world. And for an 8 - 11 year old reader, I think it gives them quite a lot to think about. As to Aragorn, well I always got the impression that he did what he felt like and ignored or tried to avoid his role and responsibility as king. And he chose to look after the little 'pet' hobbits that didn't want or need looking after rather than step up to his role, and in a sense the entire role of ranger is an extremely arrogant one - let's look after these people even though they don't like it or trust us because in our judgement they need protection. So I don't find him particularly a laudible character, but that doesn't preclude, in my mind, his ability to be a hero and do heroic acts. I think if we expect perfection in each other we will always be disappointed, but if we learn to love and forgive each other our flaws, whilst striving to be better, then that is what love is and that is where heroes are to be found. Real ones, not imaginary ones.

    Interesting, though. This discussion made me think about which series of fantasy books I would like my children to read and if they were only to read one it would be neither HP nor LoTR nor The Chronicles of Narnia, but rather The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. I'm pretty sure there'll be elements of that which might run close to rubbing up against your Christian views (it's heavily steeped in pagan lore and legend), but it's a worthwhile read all the same. An underrated series. Hopefully when we've finished reading HP, my daughter might let me read it to her.

    Didn't say it before, but it's nice to see you around Andy. Hope all is well with college