A Flaw in Harry Potter, and the LOOK Challenge

Virtual Surrey Writers' Conference is in full swing!

This morning we've got a workshop on genre and voice, and later there'll be one on surviving NaNo! More on that in a bit.

Meanwhile, you know what's sad? I've come across a flaw in the Harry Potter world.

"How it happened is easy to see. Rowling is just translating the everyday world into wizarding terminology. Hogwarts is just like any other school +MAGIC. The Ministry of Magic is just any other government +MAGIC. Everyone's job is just some normal boring bureaucratic job +MAGIC. Rowling doesn't see poetry as making a difference in the world, so it doesn't even have to be translated. The world forgets poetry, so Rowling forgets it as well. ...

Real magic – the opening out into the terrible beauty of faerie-land that we see in, say, Tolkien – is intimately bound up with art and music and poetry. One might say that magic's enchantment just is the enchantment of art and music and poetry. (This is why it sometimes seems like The Lord of the Rings has a poem every ten pages.) The Potterverse, by contrast, doesn't have magic, it just has +MAGIC: an amusing shiny glowing meaningless property Rowling can tack onto things to make us not look away. It replaces the enchantment with enslavement. If +MAGIC didn't pretend to be magic, I wouldn't care. If Rowling had written a book that was just about childhood and rebellion and courage and the evils of discrimination, and set it in the real world, I wouldn't care. ...

But by being about magic, you can't avoid being about poetry. The Potter books make pretty clear, I think, that Rowling sees poetry as a tool for social improvement, and nothing more. If that way of thinking bothers you, the Potter books should too."

I hadn't thought of this at all before. While it explains why I love Tolkien's world and writing so much, it does make me sad about the Potterverse. Not that I think that poetry was entirely missing from Rowling's creation; it was simply more on the order of the kind found in The Chronicles of Narnia. The way they celebrate Christmas at Hogwarts always kinda reminded me of Father Christmas showing up as the snow melts in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And I already know what Tolkien thought of that series: "It is sad that 'Narnia' and all that part of C.S. Lewis's work should remain outside the range of my sympathy, as much of my work was outside his."

Would you try reading a book a day for a year, and blogging about it? Maerwydd Mcfarland, writing as booklolly, has done just that! I might be able to do the reading, maybe, but to blog about it with any kind of coherence? Maybe if I could live on about four hours of sleep a night, I might try it.

As an aside, thanks to Maerwydd, I've found out about an amazing secret bookstore in New York City: "if you are dedicated to the acquisition of delicious books and happen to be in the vicinity of the St. Agnes Library on Amsterdam between 81-82nd, check out the flyer on the door to find the next shop-op in the basement. ... There are no overstuffed chairs and bookstore cats to add atmosphere but you could always repair to a nearby pub to peruse your intemperate purchases and use some of the money you saved for a pint or two. Literary New York, paradise for savvy book junkies."

Not to mention, if I speed read books like that, my own writing would suffer! I haven't typed up anything on Druid's Moon this week, as I was busy planning for and then hosting Virtual Surrey. I do think about my characters, though! I've been trying to think of Santiago, as I'm meant to start his story for NaNo.

Yes, I've signed up for NaNo! Have you?

Meanwhile, I've got a wee snip to share from Druid's Moon, thanks to Marcia Richards and Raelyn Barclay, who posted about the LOOK challenge:

"Here's the way it works: You take your current manuscript and find the first instance of the word 'look'. Then you post the surrounding paragraphs as an excerpt of the book on your blog. Lastly, you tag five more blogging authors who you think might be a good choice for the game."

Here's Lyne, talking to her landlord, soon after she's uncovered the Curse of the Octopus:

"Mrs. Glick, do you know any local legends?"

Lyne accepted a mug of milky tea and followed her landlady out into the sitting room. She'd offered to do the washing up after their meal, which she called dinner and Mrs. Glick called tea, but the older woman had waved her off. "I've a girl comes in for that. No need to wear ourselves out." With another laugh, she added, "Tha's too wise an' I'm too old."

It was easier to understand Mrs. Glick's Yorkshire accent, Lyne found, once you'd spent a couple of hours in her company. But when she took Lyne's question as a launching point for a long folktale, complete with twists and turns and a slew of characters all with the same name, she became as hard to follow as ever. Lyne put on an awe-filled expression and laughed in what she hoped were the right places.

As the tale wound down, she ventured to ask what was really on her mind. "Are there any tales about an octopus?"

"A what?" Mrs. Glick looked like she was about to let off a cackle of laughter, then stopped short. The change that came over her features was frighteningly quick. "Why do you ask?" she whispered, her brows coming down over eyes that darted quickly from left to right.

"Professor Ronald found -" 

"You lot are meddling far too much. The Council will have to hear about this."

"But we've already got the permits -"

"Not that Council." Mrs. Glick grabbed Lyne's arms so quickly, tea sloshed over the rim of the cup. Her bony hands were warm, hot even on Lyne's skin, as if she was generating electricity with her grip. A drop of tea rolled down Lyne's arm and she itched with the urge to wipe it away, but Mrs. Glick pushed her face up close. Her pupils were wide in her cloudy green eyes, like a cat's in darkness. "Listen," she hissed. "Keep on with the old coins and the bits of pottery." She'd lost her accent entirely. "Forget about legends - and don't disturb any old bones. The waters are rising."

Tagging anyone who's got a snip they'd like to share!


Raelyn Barclay said…
You conference sounds great...enjoy :)

I'm not going to weigh in on your Tolkien vs. Rowling vs. Lewis -- I love them all -- other than to say I think the authors were writing for different audiences. I view Rowling and Lewis' Narnia as more middle grade and below, whereas Tolkien more middle grade and up. Perhaps that is part of the difference in poetry magic you've noted.

Great snip! Thanks for playing along with the Look Challenge :)
Reading a book and blogging for 365 days in a row? That's a huge undertaking.

I'm getting ready for NaNoWriMo, too. :)

Great excerpt!
alberta ross said…
Ah Tolkien the love of my life's reading - I read him first about a year after the fellowship was published and have been reading every year or two since:) I have to confess I only read one Potter book - it didn't hold me I think you are right on the poetry being the gateway to the magic- it was however the least interesting part of his writing - for me that is - I am not so much a poetry person. Tolkeins magic seemed to me to be very ancient- natural - primival almost - whereas Potter's always seemed to me magican type magic.

anyway good post - could poss read the books but write a coherent review - nah - couldn't do that:)
Gwen Gardner said…
I never noticed the lack of poetry in Harry Potter. I'm kind of glad, though, because I'm not a poetry buff and it takes me several read-throughs before I get it. That would have definitely slowed down my reading in HP. I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings, though. I guess it just depends on what kind of read you're in the mood for.
Nas said…
Your conference sounds awesome!

Even I'm in awe of a person who can read one book a day AND blog about it! A voracious reader that I am!
Deniz Bevan said…
Thanks, Raelyn and Gwen. And that's a good point about audiences and readers' moods - I shouldn't necessarily try to lump the authors together.

I'm already friends with you on NaNo, right, Eagle?

That's an interesting way of looking at it, alberta, primeval magic vs learned magic.

Me too, Nas - I doubt I could ever do that! Unless maybe I didn't have a day job...
Lara said…
Yes, I signed up for NaNo. Now I'm off to find you...
S.P. Bowers said…
No, at this point in my life I could never read a book a day and blog about it. Unless it was picture books. I'm impressed by what they did.
Sarah McCabe said…
I think that the problem with magic in Harry Potter is that it is more like to technology than traditional ideas of magic. It is, essentially, just a tool used by wizards the way muggles' devices are the tools they use. There are some moments when it seems to go deeper, but they are never adequately explored in the books. I suspect that Rowling was never a real fan of fantasy and that writing about wizards and witches and magic was largely incidental.

Whereas Tolkien's magic is an entirely different kind of thing. Tolkien's magic is artistry. Tolkien's writing reflects the true ancient soul of fantasy in a way Rowling's never could.
I did NaNoWriMo two years ago and was pleased with what came out of it.

Not only the process, but the actual book that I went on to complete, refine, etc.

It should be out soon.

I have another book I'm editing/tweaking, so I think I'll wait for another year to do NaNo.

Zan Marie said…
I think you've figured out why, dare I say it, I don't like the Harry Potter universe. ; )

You're snip is delicious!
Anonymous said…
Interesting take on the Potterverse. And of course I'll be doing NaNo again this year. Why not, right?
Deniz Bevan said…
Thanks, Lara!

I definitely couldn't, Sara.

I agree, Sarah.

Congratulations on your NaNo book, Laurel!

I'd forgotten you don't like it, Zan Marie. I really enjoy Rowling's writing style but yea, it definitely doesn't have the "true ancient soul" that Sarah mentioned.

Sure, Joshua, why not do NaNo? We always need more on our plates!
Deniz Bevan said…
I do have one note to add to this.
I just reread the first book for the nth time, this time in the Scots translation.
When Harry first arrives at Hogwarts, after they sing the school song, Dumbledore remarks, "ah, music, a magic beyond any we achieve here" (paraphrasing from memory).
So there is some acknowledgement, there...

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