Hasta la vista, Harry

A few final, spoiler-free thoughts on Harry Potter from the members of Salon's reader community, Table Talk.



Harry Potter Predictions

mmv Hamilton – 05:19 pm Pacific Time – Jul 16, 2007 – #3706 of 4104

Whew! Finally at the end. (Why can’t you people write when I’m home from work. god I love you all and don’t ever change)

… It’s the community of readers that has benefitted from the explosion of Potter. It’s no longer shameful to be reading in public. It’s no longer shameful to be excited by an author, a book, a series.

I was just talking with a young reader the other day about a series I’ve become entranced by. He says it’s too slow for him. I say, try the audio version. Meanwhile, he’s reading a series I haven’t taken up yet.

For me, the value of the series and our fanaticism about it is that we can refer to it later, when things get dry. We can say to our children, when confronted by a Potterless teacher and curriculum-demanded reading material, “Remember when we talked about how —? This is not really any different.” We’ve all got more skills at beating the ubiquitous boring book report. We’ve all got experience for ourselves at how exciting the investigation of an author’s intent can be.

Yes, we don’t have the same material to work with, but how would a Muggle do it? It brings me close to tears to think of how empty of enthusiasm I was for my assignments when I was the age that the Potter books are intended for. This is not infantilism. This is longing satisfied. This is joyful, joyful! This is celebration that we are finally recognized and spoken to directly. With love. With respect.

Anglophile - 07:27 pm Pacific Time – Jul 16, 2007 – #3710 of 4105

Okay, I have to disagree somewhat about the comments regarding the way Rowling writes female characters.

I can see the gripe about Tonks, fer instance, losing it a bit over Remus, but I really think comments in that vein go over the top.

First, she’s young. She didn’t live through the first war. But she is, quite literally, a soldier in her first war, and like any young combatant, she’s dealing with a shitload of stuff she probably never truly appreciated until it hit her in the face. Her first taste of true combat leaves her with a cousin she cared about dead. Then the guy she loves rejects her, NOT because he doesn’t love her (ergo, there is no “unrequited” love here), but because he pulls that stupid stoic shit that I seem to recall a lot of us here gave Harry grief about when he dumped Ginny. ;) …

As for Hermione, I can’t find any fault with how Jo has written her. I’ve argued at other fansites that Hermione is a great feminist creation not because she’s the Brains of the group (when usually the paradigm is the Boy Genius), but because she is the Brains, the conscience AND is allowed to act hormonal, lose her head in scary situations, and not deal with messy emotions all that well. In other words, she’s a fully realized, well-rounded young woman who’s allowed to be HERSELF, totally herself, around the people who love her, instead of having to conform to some idealized version of herself.

I feel the same way about the other female characters; Jo created Luna, who is loopy and endearing but has a depth and wisdom underneath. I like what she’s done with Ginny, letting her become a spitfire and even a bitch at times, because a girl who went through what she went through AND going through the Terrible Fifteens isn’t going to be sugar and spice all the time. I love McGonagall to pieces–how can anyone fault the writing for her? She’s a tough old broad who kicks ass but is a bit of a softie underneath, but she has total command of her skills and a rock-solid set of principles. I even love Fleur.

Even the bad chicks are great: Bellatrix is like some crazy cultist with an itchy trigger finger; Narcissa is a cold bitch but adores her precious son; and Umbridge, hell, Umbridge is proof positive that women are not the gentler sex or necessarily do better with authority.

Jo even let Parvati do a wee bit of ass kicking in OotP (I once hoped Harry would date her, but … oh well). Yes, there are a lot of stereotypical behaviors to be found in the books, but those stereotypes have some basis in truth.

Surlygirl – 07:03 am Pacific Time – Jul 17, 2007 – #3722 of 4105

OK, move over, I’m jumping on board . . .

There really isn’t a single charachter that isn’t deeply flawed in some way. Even Dumbledore — and he’s like what, 105 years old? He’s had a few more years than the rest of them to get his shit together but, um, no.

I like McGonagall best when she gets all worked up about her Quidditch team, like when she first spotted Harry’s flying abilities and practically enlisted him as seeker right there on the spot. She’s protective and fierce and empathetic — in many ways I find her the most balanced adult, never going to extremes but not being overly pedantic either. She’s tough and gentle and wise and yet imperfect.

And let’s not forget Mrs. Weasley. She’s quite the grab bag of odditites and bright spots. And Arthur — who in some ways is most true-to-himself of all the male characters yet seems soft and ineffectual in some ways too.

But I think Jo is at her brilliant feminist (for lack of a better word) best when she writes about Quidditch. The boys and girls play together — on the same team. Name one sport (besides equestrian events) where men and women compete together on the same team? And the girls are as tough as and take as many falls and hard hits as the boys. There was even a girl captain (whose name I can’t recall — Angela Ward perhaps?) who was tough as nails. Yet I’ve never heard anyone remark that this is an unusual and/or strictly feminist point. Why is the fact that Quidditch is co-ed is so unremarkable? Yet I think in some ways it’s things like co-ed Quidditch — fantastical and imaginary not only because it involves, um, well flying brooms for one, but because the boys and girls play together as equals — that is one of Jo’s greatest gift to her female readers. Ditto for OotP. Men and women fighting togther on the front lines. Where does that happen in real life? And for every Trewlaney there’s a Prof. Sprout and a Mdme. Pomfrey, and an Olympe Maxime (sp?). I think it’s a remarkably balanced world of good and bad, weak and strong, right and wrong, wise and foolish, intellectual and emotional, dispassionate and hysterical, masculine and feminine, beautiful and ugly, magical and mundane. Yet still, oddly, (as others have mentioned), I too feel that it’s story told by a woman; by a mother. Which may say more about me and how I view the world of men and woman than the actual story or the characters.

Best of Table Talk is an ongoing feature of Salon’s vibrant community forum. Older posts of the week may be found in TT. Want to join the discussion? Sign up here.

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