Commentary on Harry Potter: Book 3

Book One and Introduction; Book Two; Book Three; Book Four; Book Five; Book Six; Book Seven

 

Listening to Harry Potter #3. Snape reminds me of a law professor I had. This woman told a girl on the first day that she should drop out. Most students were terrified of her. A few of the girls thought she was amazing because “Have you seen her credentials?”, which is such a woman thing to say.

I of course saw this as a challenge to screw with her any way I could. Chewing tobacco in class, unapologetically telling her I didn’t do the reading (it sounds dumb, but that’s almost a capital offense), and refusing extra credit she assumed she was generously giving me. My only regret in dropping out was not being able to find more ways to wage vendetta on her.

*****

More thoughts on Harry Potter 3. One of the problems of attracting the reader solely through suspense and mystery is that eventually you lose your dread credit. Like, I know by this point that Harry Potter is never going to be expelled from school, so by the dozenth time Rowling implies that’s just around the corner, I’ve quit caring. And there’s an evil murderer on the loose who wants to kill him, but we’ve got another four books to go and there’s no way someone else could possibly be our hero because that’s just how special our little boy is. And you have the demonic prison guards, but I know they aren’t more than a mere annoyance. And of course the rules of wizard soccer are set up so that only Harry can win the game for the team.

I have so far avoided complaining that the book is predictable or that the main character gets all the wins because those aren’t inherently bad things and ancient literature followed those lines, but this isn’t high literature. It’s cheap pulp to read on the playground because none of the other kids want to play with you.

It’s self-esteem porn. What I’ve learned about good and evil is that good people are naturally good and evil people are naturally evil, and of course I the reader live vicariously through the hero and therefore I myself am entirely good and intelligent even if I often break the rules like Harry, and what this school really needs to do is round up all the bullies/Jews/Trump supporters and expel/gas/assassinate them (respectively). No matter what trouble I get into, things will always right themselves in the end just because.

Another thing. We love it when an underdog wins. That’s not Harry Potter. He’s whisked off to this magical world where he’s super rich and popular and talented and confident. That’s the opposite of Luke Skywalker or Rocky Balboa. Harry plateaus in the third chapter of the first book. Any narrow escape from Voldemort is either luck or fate, but there’s never a lesson he learns from it.

Griffindor’s stealing the house cup from Slytherin in the first book was such a bad plot hack that it wasn’t worth commenting on. It’s like a mole on your wife’s face. You know it’s going to be there and you can’t avoid it so you might as well just accept it and pretend it isn’t a glaring flaw.

*****

I got to the part where Snape takes over the Defense Against the Dark Arts class and acts more psychotic than my third grade teacher could ever dream of.

1) I knew Lupin was a secret werewolf since they introduced him because of his name. Rowling is too try hard with foreshadowing, which is an unnecessary plot device anyway.

2) Maybe the reason the third year students don’t know anything about werewolves is because they didn’t learn anything in the first two years. And why was that Colin kid allowed to advance to the second year when he was in a coma for most of his first year? How much does this waste of tuition cost?

3) Snape would have been fired long ago, especially in today’s climate of self esteem. He only exists to make the plot move.

4) I get that he’s the secret good guy who is protecting the school from a werewolf, but this isn’t a nuanced antihero. His secret heroism isn’t the good side to his horrible temper. He’s just a weirdly put together character that doesn’t reflect real life at all. This isn’t a twist or a character development. It’s a contradiction. His character feels really dissonant. He’s not just a grouch. He is both extremely unapologetically unjust and a noble protector.

5) I’m so tired of him and Malfoy and Peeves interrupting the plot all the time. They contribute nothing. They aren’t evil so much as just the character equivalent of speed bumps.

*****

I’m halfway through Harry Potter 3. There’s a few glaring issues.

1) Nothing has happened yet. This book doesn’t have a plot.

2) Hagrid went to wizard jail for two months without trial in the last book, which would be fine if it were just a holding cell. But instead it’s guarded by supernatural creatures that feed on your bad memories and rob you of all joy. Rowling even says that most people lose all hope after a few weeks. So how would Hagrid be just the same as always after two months with no PTSD of any kind? He never even talks about it. I keep waiting for Rowling to explain this, but I have a feeling it isn’t going to happen.

3) Harry sneaks into the the wizard village without even questioning if he would get caught, and then when he enters the shop, Rowling actually says that no one at all noticed the one kid not allowed there — and also the one kid ultra famous — because the place was just too busy (and then he wanders through town). It is at this point that the story is irredeemable. The plot holes and character inconsistencies have cumulated to the point where the suspension of disbelief can no longer be maintained. No matter what happens after this, the book is a failure. It’s clear that the characters are only doing whatever is necessary for the plot, and the plot only exists to create neat scenery.

*****

Harry Potter 3 was actually worse than the first one. Nothing happened at all. It’s only purpose was to provide exposition, which was done in the most clumsy ways possible. Really, you could skip the first three books and miss very little, but at least #2 was interesting. Most of this post I wrote several chapters before the end of the book, because it was that boring. It wasn’t until the expository dialogue​ scene in the haunted house that it finally got interesting, and literally everything else in the book was just filler.

The dementors are one of those ideas Rowling has that seem really clever on the surface but doesn’t hold up the more you think of it (c.f. quidditch, though I still like it). That these creatures are an extension of the law — like, the good guys — and that you can be subject to them without trial is horrifying, and it makes the wizarding community much less charming, though I suppose that’s just Britain for you. I realize the Weasleys and gay Gandalf don’t like them, but it’s not like anyone is calling this a crime against humanity. Rowling actually put in a worse-than-death steal-your-soul demon creature for law and justice into this children’s book. The fundamentalists might have been right.

The wizard government is more cruel and calloused than any of the series’s fans think Trump is. They locked Sirius Black into the gulag without even letting him explain himself for five minutes, which in fairness is what liberals want to do to all Trump supporters. At least before I thought the world Rowling created had an endearing quality, but now it just looks like a fascist nightmare.

The hospital scene made me realize just how much I hate every character. If they would just give people five minutes to speak, the book would be half the length. All the tension in the book is just miscommunication from incompetent psychotic adults. Snape needs a kick to the balls. And I’ve waited three books for Harry to punch Malfoy in the throat, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

The closest thing to emotional tension before the haunted house scene was when Ron and Hernia almost had a falling out over nothing. And it was resolved in the most forced, inorganic, briefest way possible where the reader barely notices it. And no, I don’t care that Harry won the soccer championship or that Hagrid’s pet #74 was saved from the chopping block (which I figured would happen even after he was executed).

And of course the moralizing at the end about how the dead live on in memory and inside us or some other post-Christian sentimentalism that doesn’t really mean anything.

An interesting point that came to me (and a recent Davis Aurini podcast pointed this out) is just how much I’ve learned about the plot through people around me over the years. The name Sirius Black reminded me that Harry had some distant cousin that he eventually has to get rid of for some greater good. But Black is said to be a murderer, so I figured I remembered the name wrong until we got to the pub conversation, where it’s revealed that the British will torture a man worse than Stalin could ever dream of based on mere conjecture.

I also know one of the loser characters is thought to be the chosen one and it turns out to be Harry anyway, killing any valuable lesson about humility. And Harry dies at the end and resurrects, because having a virgin birth wouldn’t fit the plot.

Gay Gandalf dies in the next book, because you always have to kill off the mentor. This is supposed to be devastating, but we’ve barely seen anything from his character, so it will be as uneventful as when Harry hooks up with Ginny.

 

Book One and Introduction; Book Two; Book Three; Book Four; Book Five; Book Six; Book Seven

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