Thursday, July 26, 2007

we don't need another hero

i am double-dipping in this week's citybeat, with a live review of snow patrol at the greek last weekend, and my rumination on the last of the harry potter novels.

now i am feeling pangs of remorse for reading deathly hallows so quickly. i wish i had been able to savor it more. i guess i can always go back and reread it, but right now i'm a bit burned out on, well, reading!

still, i must pause for a moment to marvel at this truly clueless commentary about the book, which asserts that there's no "real moral struggle" in the story b/c harry is so good he always does the right thing. i don't agree. first of all, harry has often not done the right thing, and it has had terrible consequences. (one example: sirius's death in order of the phoenix; although dumbledore tries to take the blame, it is harry's fault for not listening, for indeed repeatedly refusing to even entertain the notion that the vision he has of voldemort torturing sirius might not be real. his hubris leads to sirius's death.)

she claims that this defect of the potter books -- harry's so good that he really never makes a choice to be good -- points to the alarming way society is "sliding toward moral ambivalence with alarming speed." uhm, ok. i just don't see that in these books. if anything, what's right and what's wrong is as black and white as this writer seems to prefer (despite her protestations to the contrary).

she also claims this:

"A story is about someone who changes, who grows through a moral struggle. What is Harry's struggle? Exactly."

oh, yeah, that's real cute and glib, but just using a rhetorical device to make it seem like the question can't be answered is actually dishonest. i am sure others can define it better, but here's my stab: harry's struggle is to come to terms with the fact that he has to face voldemort -- he's the only one who can -- and in so doing he may fail. and if he does, he will die. and worse than that, if he dies, voldemort might live, which means that not only will harry have failed, but everything he loves will be destroyed. he must find the true courage to face this destiny. this fate has been thrust upon him by voldemort, but harry COULD hide and save himself. in book 6 dumbledore tells draco malfoy that they have ways of hiding people completely, of convincingly making it seem like they're dead. in theory harry could've learned occlumency like an ace and then hidden for the rest of his life. voldemort would still rise to power, but what would harry care? he'd get to live, so fuck the magical world.

but he doesn't do that. and the fact that harry has "no choice" in terms of having to take on voldemort doesn't mean there isn't a moral choice. how you face the task says a lot about you -- as 00soul would say, "it goes to the question of character, counselor" -- as harry realized in the half-blood prince:

It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew - and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents - that there was all the difference in the world.

as far as, like the writer asserts, there being no suspense in knowing whether or not harry will do the right thing, she cites LOTR as a story that does have real moral struggle. hmmmm ... let's see. the protagonist is frodo, right? when does frodo not do the right thing or even be more than momentarily tempted not to? wtf, he volunteers to take the ring to mordor. he leaves his friends at one point to protect them, intending to go on his quest alone. and there is never any doubt that he will throw the ring into the fire, only that he might not get there. (yes, i know that when he gets there he actually doesn't WANT to do it, but that's not his real choice b/c he's being controlled by the ring. he never intends not to destroy the ring. it's just that the ring's power almost overwhelms him. and he himself decided that gandalf was right and that gollum -- whom frodo refused to kill -- still had a role to play. check it out, frodo did the right thing AGAIN!)

anyway, that stuff is grrrrworthy enough, but then she really goes off into lala land and says rowling should have made the story about severus snape. which is just fucking dumb. it's like, has she even read the books? she claims SNAPE is the one who really changes/grows and makes the true moral choices and sacrifices. huh? when all is said and done, snape hardly changes at all -- in fact, what we learn in this book is how consistent he has been. when we meet him in book 1 he is what he is -- and we learn later that his role in this final confrontation has been set for years. he never becomes anything else but what he was when we first met him; it's only that more is revealed about him. his motivations for doing what he does have been the same the whole time. and everything he does throughout the entire series is in fact motivated by the consequences of one terrible choice; he has no more ability to veer from his path than harry does (the only difference is that snape put himself on his path, while harry's path was determined by voldemort). the part where snape changes is not within the scope of the action of this story; it is history. in the course of the story itself, snape does not change at all. if anything, he does exactly what he is expected to do, same as harry.

and i say this as a fan of snape; he's a great character, and in recent books i've had more and more sympathy for him and seen how truly wretched he is. but to suggest that the last book, or even the entire story (it's not clear what the writer means when she says the story should have been about snape), should have been about snape is like saying that buffy the vampire slayer really should have been about xander.

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