Monday, November 22, 2010

Harry Potter #'s 1-6

A battered Ron Weasley card and a magic wand.

I am not really a Harry Potter fan. I'm not sure why, but it never meshed with me. It really has all of the markings of something that I should like, I mean, wizards, magic and mythical creatures. The early books and movies are geared towards kids, and I usually don't have a problem with kid's movies. But for some reason it never meshed with me.

There are some things that I admire about the whole Harry Potter phenomenon. For example, it got a generation of kids incredibly eager to read. That is amazing and I have  a lot of respect for it. However, with that, came an older generation of adults who started to co-opt the books and stories for themselves. That may be where the main rub I have with the Potter stuff is: adults took it over.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I likes me some childish geeky stuff, but I have perspective about it. The geeky adults who dress up like Star Wars characters are a sort of peer in some of my hobbies and interests. And I'm fine with that... until said "adult" snatches away the last limited edition Boba Fett action figure with the artificially rare limited edition blaster pistol from a seven year old who was reaching for it who really only wanted to play with it.

That's what happened with Harry Potter. You have these great kid's books that became an adult hobby and interest. Adults storm the bookstores and push little kids aside to get the book first. Merchandise becomes artificially geared towards adults instead of being marketed for the children who should be reading the books. You have adults who claim the stories and interest for themselves and somehow the children who it was originally designed for are left behind. Just a few weeks ago as of this writing, the fourth World Quidditch Cup was held in New York City. It is a two-day event in which a bunch of Quidditch teams from around the world gather to play for the championship. Quidditch. That game that makes no fucking sense. But anyhow, the teams are made up of adults. They come from 42 different colleges and universities. Adults. These aren't kids pretending to play Quidditch. They are college students running around with brooms between their legs playing a sport that makes no sense even when the brooms can fly. But that just shows the culture of how much adults have co-opted Harry Potter. These are adults who are so engaged in this who take it serious and take them like they are written for adults, but have forgotten that the stories also have jelly beans that taste like throw-up in them.

That isn't to say that I don't think that adults should enjoy the stories. I'm fine with that. They don't really work for me for whatever reason, but I have no problem with anyone who likes them liking them. But remember that they are kids stories. I feel the same way about every schlub who spent $5000 on their Stormtrooper uniform that they wear out at any chance they can. I'm perfectly fine with that. And most of them will play along with children as well when they see them. Hell, I dress up in Renaissance clothing and go to the faire. But, when I'm there, I engage the kids that I see because I understand that even though I enjoy all of this, the faire is there for them. So when I'm at the faire, I engage the kids I see. I cannot even count the number of times I've taught kids that I don't know how to run around and play on the maypole or any of the other activities that are set up there.

Having an interest and liking for stuff for kids is perfectly fine. So long as you remember that is what your hobby or interest was designed for.

But anyhow, the movies. We've caught up and watched all of the movies with Molly so that we can see the newest release. Molly has really enjoyed them and has become obsessed with Ron Weasley and he is currently her biggest crush.

The movies themselves, as I said, never did it for me. But they take place in the hidden world of wizards and witches, but focusing primarily on the teaching at Hogwarts. When someone first arrives at Hogwarts to be a student, they are "sorted" into one of four different magical houses: House Obviously Good, or House Vaguely Evil, or House Never Mentioned Again, or House Afterthought. Obviously most of the protagonists are sorted into House Obviously Good, while the character foils and antagonists are sorted into House Vaguely Evil. I think the movie actually has different names for the Houses, but these are rough estimations.

This sets up one of the problems that I have with the stories: They introduce us into such a large world, then limit what they show us of it. Really, it's not until the fifth movie before they introduce a character who is not a part of House Obviously Good or House Vaguely Evil who has more than one line. We never get to see or explore this grand world from more than a singular point of view, which is a shame.

This is further reinforced by how Harry Potter-centric Hogwarts is. Yes, yes, I know the stories are called Harry Potter and the Object du Jour, but still. I kind of agree with the other students who in the stories had felt some Harry Potter backlash. I mean, it just would make each of them feel so much more insignificant to see every aspect of their school year revolve around one student.

Now part of the reason why the school is so Harry Potter-centric is because he is the student who has been marked for death by the greatest villain the wizard-world has ever known. That seems to be a rather lofty risk to place on the other students at the school whenever these attempts on Harry's life take place, and other students are routinely injured or killed as the bad guys move against Harry. I just think that it would have been a much smarter and much less dangerous idea to have someone decide to privately tutor Harry in magic instead of risking the lives of every student at Hogwarts. But maybe that's just me. But if Molly's preschool classmate Jovaughn had magickal jihadists gunning for him and her preschool classmates were routinely being blown up by magical attacks or bitten by giant basilisks with poisonous bites, I might either move Molly to a different school or ask if Jovaughn could be privately watched elsewhere.

Part of the problem that Harry and everyone else is in is due to the fact that no one in the movies communicates with one another.  Seriously, I think that a good 90% of every problem or issue in each of the stories would be resolved if people would just talk to one another. Instead, no one trusts anyone. Harry knows what is going and knows that someone is after the Sorcerer's Stone, but does he tell Dumbledore? No. Pity that, because Dumbledore might have been able to ferret out the baddie earlier and save sending the 10 year olds down into a horribly trapped secret basement. The same works the other way as well. Everyone knows that Voldemort is gunning for Harry, but no one tells him about his parents or background or Voldemort. They decide to let the information trickle to him a little bit each year, which is rather ghastly, considering that the greatest evil known to wizard kind is out to kill Harry, but there's no need to fill him in on all the details.

But perhaps my biggest problem with the wizard world is the gross inconsistencies in their rules and law. Everything is both rigid and arbitrary. Take the Goblet of Fire, for example. Harry Potter's name is offered as one of the contestants at the TriWizard's Tournament (a tournament which is so dangerous that kids routinely die as a part of it, and yet, they continue to hold it), however, Harry is too young to be eligible in the tournament. The judges determine that obviously powerful dark magicks were used to get Harry chosen, but decide that despite the tampering, the rules forbid him from turning down the role as champion. This, by the way, hurts Harry's reputation, as all of the students think he cheated to get his named chosen, causing problems for him this year. This, as mentioned earlier, could have been solved by communication and the judges pointing out that dark magic was used to tamper with the goblet and it wasn't Harry's doing, but instead, they keep that to themselves and Harry is picked on all year. Anyhow, the rules are so strict that they cannot have the 14 year old Harry refuse to compete. Yet, the rules are so lax that when Harry saves two people in the second challenge, Dumbledore just arbitrarily gives Harry second place in the competition, despite him technically coming in third. Another sort of recurring arbitrary theme in the stories are the points being assigned to or taken from each house in a decidedly haphazard and random manner.

Perhaps most of all, there is the magic and schooling. I would imagine that the books cover this better and some of it is lost in the movies. For example, I would assume from what I saw in Goblet of Fire that the TriWizard Tournament was such a big deal that there were no classes at all that year because they were not shown or focused on at all in the movie.

But the one thing that really always baffled me about the schooling was the students learning how to transform animals into goblets in the Chamber of Secrets. That seems like such a fucking random and useless spell, but they learn it nonetheless, and (this is important) Ron practices turning his rat, Scabbers, into a goblet. Now in the movie, I assumed that something that random would have to have a pay off, such as Harry having to collect the Basilisk venom at the end and having to transform Hedwig into a goblet to collect or some shit like that. You know, to give a payoff for an otherwise absolutely useless spell. But, ultimately, no. There is no pay off. They all just learned a pointless spell that seems to serve no purpose...

Until the Prisoner of Azkaban. There, we learn that Ron's rat, Scabbers is really Peter Pettigrew who has been masquerading as a rat for the last 12 years and is really a terrible bad guy and horribly wicked. They try to catch him, but he turns into his rat form and runs and is too quick for them. Now, this is perhaps the one fucking useful time to cast a transform animal into a goblet spell! Ron used it on Scabbers before, so we know it will work on him. He could not fucking run away if he was a goblet. But do they actually put the worthless spell to its one practical use? No. They let him get away.

When it comes down to other spells and such, there are inconsistencies in their uses. For example, no one believes that Harry saw Voldemort and everyone thinks he is lying. However, we later learn that Snape is teaching Harry how to protect himself from a spell that can be used to see another person's memories (not to mention Dumbledore also has a way of extracting memories from his mind and placing them into a pool that other people can view). Now, considering threat that Voldemort poses, don't you think it would have made sense for them to employ these methods to have a physical demonstrable means of showing and proving that Voldemort exists to everyone else? No. They would rather just fall back on the whole lack of communication motif.

Oh, and lastly, Quidditch makes no fucking sense. Okay, first of all scoring. Goals are worth ten points each. Fair enough. However, whichever team's seeker catches the Golden Snitch scores 150 points and ends the game. That's worth fifteen times a goal. That would be like in American football, teams are trying to get touchdowns worth 7 points each, but at the same time there is a sub-game going on and whichever team's special teams gets a field goal first scores 105 points for their team and the game is over. Yeah, whoever triggers the game's end condition is likely to cause a blow-out and win for their team. I haven't read the books, but have been told by people who do that you do not actually rank teams by wins or losses, but rather by (non-Snitch) points scored in the game. This makes the Golden Snitch part of the game even more pointless, or at the very least, the fact that it gives points. To add to this, the Golden Snitch end-game trigger means that games are of no set length. A Seeker could catch a Snitch in 5 minutes, or, according to the books, last for several months with no Seeker being able to get the Snitch. Now, in the case of games lasting several months, I would imagine that a 150 point swing wouldn't be that big of a deal, but I do think that this is the exception and not the rule. Oh, and all of this is further confounded by the fact that spectators are routinely casting spells, hexes and enchantments on the play on the field. However, this is the sport that adults are now emulating as they run around with broomsticks between their legs.

But other than that, the movies are fine.

Molly: (As usual, I'll be transcribing as much as I can from what she says. We're at my computer and I'll be typing up what we are saying as we talk and I'll go back and format it afterward. Her review will be in Q&A form due to her age. She's sitting next to my computer as we do this.) 

Chuckie: What did you think about all of the Harry Potter movies, Pixie?
Molly: I liked one of them.

Chuckie: Which one?
Molly: The one where he drinked the poison.

Chuckie: Oh, where Ron drank it?
Molly: Mm-hm. Besides I know his whole name: Ron Weasley.

Chuckie: That's right.
Molly: Why didn't Ron know that there was poison in it, Daddy?

Chuckie: Well, no one knew. Malfoy poisoned it to try to poison Dumbledore, but Ron drank it by mistake.
Molly: Oh yeah. And Ron drank it all so Dumbledore didn't drink it and so him wouldn't get poisoned from it.

Chuckie: Uh, yeah. I guess Ron really was the hero there, huh?
Molly: Yup.

Chuckie: Did you like any of the other movies?
Molly: The cup one. And the one where the things came out and scared Harry Potter and were pulling him apart.

Chuckie: The Dementors?
Molly: Yeah. Them.

Chuckie: So, tell me what the Harry Potter movies were about?
Molly: Hey Daddy, you know what I'm going to name my magic wand?

Chuckie: What, Pixie?
Molly: "Magic Sting". That way I can use it to sting out the spider's eye that Ron is afraid of and then I'd save him. (Molly giggles)

Chuckie: Okay.
Molly: You know what's kind of silly about the spider one?

Chuckie: What's that, Pixie?
Molly: Ron was scared of the spider then it was on roller-skates and it couldn't stand.

Chuckie: Who is your favorite character in the Harry Potter movies?
Molly: Ron.

Chuckie: Why?
Molly: Because he looks cute.
Chuckie: Why do you think he looks cute?
Molly: Because of him orange hair and because of the card when he smiled.
Chuckie: The trading card that you got?
Molly: Mm-hm.

Chuckie: Okay. What does Ron do in the movies?
Molly: He's afraid of spiders in one of the movies. He made Hermione cry because her liked him and the girl ghost said, "Someone threw a book at me" and Ron said, "But it would go right through you" and Ron got caught by the monsters and I don't know why, but Harry saved him under the water and the bad girls under the water said, "You can only take one" and he broke him wand...

Chuckie: Slow down.
Molly: Okay, then the dog bit Ron's leg and it hurt him and the woomping tree wouldn't let them get to Ron, but then it swinged them down and they ended up near Ron and Ron played Cabbage--

Chuckie: Quidditch.
Molly: Twiddidge.


Chuckie: Close enough.
Molly: Um, well, Ron, that game and he won at it and was the best because I cheered for him.

Chuckie: Which was your favorite Harry Potter movie?
Molly: When Ron was real sad when his wand broke, because that was kind of funny.

Chuckie: Some people think that the movies get too dark and scary for kids. What did you think about that?
Molly: Um, I think for some kids.

Chuckie: How about you?
Molly: No.

Chuckie: They weren't scary for you?
Molly: Not at all.

Chuckie: So, who does Ron like in the movies?
Molly: Hermione. And he was jealous and then he got friends again, but he thought he liked that other girl, but him got tired of her and she wrote a heart on the window for Ron Weasley, but he didn't like her anymore because she was getting on him nerves.

Chuckie: Was there anything that you didn't like about the movies?
Molly: Um. Yes.

Chuckie: What?
Molly: Well, when she said something and the book said, "Raaar!"

Chuckie: The Monstrous Book of Monsters?
Molly: Mm-hm.  Daddy, you know what?
Chuckie: What, Sweetie?
Molly: This is really funny.
Chuckie: Okay, what is it?
Molly: Do you know what Ron really likes to eat?
Chuckie: What's that?
Molly: Pie! (She covers her mouth and laughs.) Daddy, maybe if I see Ron we can eat apple pie and cheesecake together.

Chuckie: How would you rate the movies?
Molly: You mean moons and stars? I don't want to do suns anymore, Daddy.
Chuckie: Okay, why not?
Molly: Because I'm getting too old to give suns now, Daddy.

Chuckie: Oh. Okay. So how many stars would you give the movie?
Molly: One hundred and thirteen and one hundred stars.

Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Africa.
Chuckie: (laughs)
Molly: Daddy, I'm serious. Out of Africa.

Chuckie: Okay. Out of Africa. How many moons do you give the movies?
Molly: Sixteen and one moon.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Out of July 14.  And Daddy, that's for Harry Potter. Want to know how many stars and moons I give Ron Weasley?

Chuckie: Okay, how many stars?
Molly: One hundred and thirteen and one hundred and one hundred and ten and one hundred.

Chuckie: And how many moons?
Molly: One hundred and one and seven hundred.
Chuckie: Out of how many?
Molly: Both of them are from my place.

Chuckie: Okay. Do you think people would like the Harry Potter movies?
Molly: Yes.

Chuckie:  So, who do you think would like the Harry Potter movies?
Molly: Me.

Chuckie: Well, yeah, but besides you?
Molly: I think Edison and Mason, but I think Mason will be a little scared, but him would laugh at the spider part. But, Daddy, why was Ron scared of spiders?

Chuckie: I don't know.
Molly: Then we'll have to read the book about Ron.

Chuckie: Is there anything else you want to say about the movies, Pixie?
Molly: Yeah. Ron Weasley is going to be at my school today, Daddy?

Chuckie: Really?
Molly: Yup. At 8:30.

So that's our review. This really was an undertaking over the course of a little over a week. I figured that she would like the first couple of the movies, but I'm actually rather surprised that Molly was able to follow the plot and story as well as she did in the later ones. She still didn't quite get everything, but she got enough of it to get the jist of the stories, even though the later ones were over her head.

I really can understand the appeal of Harry Potter, but it just doesn't work for me. The books get more and more dark and more and more adult as they go, which was great for the generation who were Harry's age when the books came out, but it makes it odd for 10 year old children to read all of the books now and get lost in the later ones, or for more adult readers to have to trudge through the simplicity of the earlier stories. Still, I have a lot of respect for what the books did to encourage a generation of readers. The movies, well, Molly liked them. And ultimately, that's what matters.

Molly really enjoyed watching the movies as well. She gives the movies one hundred and thirteen and one hundred stars out of Africa and sixteen and one moon out of July 14th. However, she gives Ron Weasley one hundred and thirteen and one hundred and one hundred and ten and one hundred stars and one hundred and one and seven hundred moons both out of her place. She was able to follow the main story (what happened to Ron) really well, and was able to follow most of the secondary storylines (you know, that stuff that happened to Ron's friend Harry). I was afraid that the later movies would be too over her head, but apparently her love for Ron knows no bounds and she followed through the movies.