A Harry Potter question

current book: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Since I started reading the HP books, I’ve told friends about them, suggesting that they read them. And quite a few of them have said to me, “Oh yeah, I read a little of that, but I couldn’t get into it. I would have loved it when I was ten, though!”

This puzzles me. Am I so weird to like Harry Potter when I’m pushing 40? These are books about a group of kids in school, granted, but the books have a lot of adult subject matter–murders, emotional depths, moral quandaries, adult characters ensconced in rivalries, politics, and ambition.

This is not Walt Disney cartoon stuff. Or am I wrong? It’s been a long time since I watched any Disney cartoons. Maybe I’m reliving my childhood through the books, but it doesn’t feel that way. And I seriously doubt a ten-year old would get half of what is going on in these books, much less make it through the two-inch “Goblet of Fire”. The Harry Potter world is complex, both in its metaphysics and in the plot; even I have to go back and reread things a few times before I get what’s going on, if I do.

The books remind me a lot of BtVS and what I found appealing in that show–which is a show that drew in adults by the hoard, including some of the people who “never got into” HP because it’s too “juvenile”. And more than a few adults got that same reaction about watching BtVS: “Oh, I don’t like shows about teenagers.”

Just another one of life’s trivial puzzles I’m trying to sort through.

Deep thoughts on “Prisoner of Azkaban” coming soon.

My demon

Taking inspiration from the always inspirational aliera9916, I have my own quotage to share:

“Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”  ~ George Orwell

I have long thought of the main character of my novel as my muse, and probably it is the case that I have multiple muses, and they are always my characters. But to think of the urge to write as a demon is an interesting stroke of insight. For what could “possess” me to sit at my computer for hours a day, pounding on they keyboard like my little icon demonstrates? I always thought it was my characters, begging to have their stories told, giving me no peace until their voices were heard.

But what but a demon could force you to work for not months but years, neglecting the rest of life’s other pains and pleasures?

This demon is an incessant need to put words on a page, on a screen, spewing them out like a scream, like vomit, like one of those really, really long urinations you have after you’ve been forced to “hold it” for hours after drinking way too much coffee.

Oh, ho, get your metaphors and similes here.

The Metaphysics of Harry Potter

OK, I’m half way through “Chamber of Secrets” and, yes, I’ll admit it: I am now a fan.

But is this a surprise? Not to me. The books are better than the movies, charming and entertaining and almost a perfect fit for the kind of fiction I look for: sci-fi or fantasy that takes place in our world, but reveals a secret segment of our world no ordinary person knows about (BtVS/Angel and Highlander are both like this). And it’s a series, so that when I get that “so what happened next?” bug I can just pick up the next book. Or wait for the next book. And of course, I like books with complicated teen-aged protagonists/heroes. Don’t ask me why. Connor Angel, John Connor, Luke Skywalker, Buffy Summers, Richie Ryan, Harry Potter.

Rowling has created a rich complex sub-culture/universe that, only half-way into the second book, rivals a full 11 seasons of BtVS and Angel. To crawl around in this woman’s mind! I knew I was merrily in fandom land when I found myself looking for Harry Potter websites that resembled the Metaphysics section of my own ATPoBtVS. If I hadn’t come across a clever and decent little reference site on my first search, I would have had to wrestle my inner metaphysician to the ground to keep her from starting a new website, All Things Philosophical in… well, you know.

I came to Harry Potter through the movies, so that might make me sympathetic to the movies, but I actually find it fascinating to compare the books and the movies. I’m the sort of person who enjoys the writer’s and director’s commentaries on movie and television show DVDs almost more than the original piece. It’s interesting to see where the movie-makers cut corners, what they decide to chop out, what they decide to keep, and where they decide to make events go completely differently than the books in order to save time and resources.

But this is why the written word will never be replaced by film. The written word can go more places, and people are willing to give it more time than they’ll sit through a film.

Rowling has given a fresh face to classic fantasy themes: the unwanted child, discovering a magical new world right under your nose, good versus evil, the mundane/poor/outsider kids vs. the popular/rich/insider kids, secret passageways, mystical animals, bubbling potions, spells, rituals, monsters, super powers, and the panged, panged pains of childhood/adolescence.

Now I will just have to find a way to deal with the fact that I like something that is immensely…. dare I use the word? Ugh!


shudders Instead of people staring oddly at the front cover of the book I am reading on the bus, they smile nostalgically. I am not used to this. I’m so used to doing what comes naturally to me and finding myself the odd girl out.

My writing personality

Ganked from bohemianspirit

You’re a PANTSER! A pantser writes without forethought to where the plot is going–sort of by the seat of her pants method. Youre a free spirited, creative person. You write with passion about what inspires you at the moment, and you probably have a strong voice. Dont worry about writers block–youve a different story. Youve got more story seeds than a hive has bees. When you write, its in disjointed segments. You may write sequentially or in flashes of inspiration, where you connect all your flashes later. People might say you ramble a bit in your work. Your revision process might take several passes, because you really have to whip that first draft into a more marketable shape. Youre novels either hit it big or miss. Theres no in between. Readers either love you, or hate you. Learn to channel that creative energy into a masterpiece and well be seeing your name on the NYT Lists!

Find Your Writing Personality!!
brought to you by Quizilla

Why is it that whenever I take one of these quizzes, I always get the exact same results as who ever I ganked it from? I don’t even post half my quiz results, because I get suspicious that the quizzes are rigged to give one result more often than others.

At any rate, this result seems true. I can’t outline a story before hand. And most of my stories write themselves in moments of inspiration (usually in the shower, where I can’t write them down). Actually no–my characters are the ones who write my stories. It’s like a dozen crazed elves in my head all speaking at once. The main character is the one who shouts the loudest.

I am a creature of habit about where I write most of the time (my blue recliner) and when I write (every moment that isn’t taken with work or friends or sleep). And I usually have ideas for other stories in the back of my head, but I get pretty intensely into the one I’m writing and don’t come up for air until it’s done.

I haven’t come up for air in seven years. ; )

On the border


Had my writing class today. The class is a 2 1/2 hour free-writing session designed to unblock your writing, to have fun, explore. It rarely ever works for me. More often than not, I can’t even string two words together in that class. I think it’s because we’re supposed to “share” our writing afterwards. Nothing blocks my muse more than the knowledge that I’ll have to read it aloud immediately after writing it.

And then when they do go around the room, I am amazed at everyone else’s ability to write rich images and fluid words off the top of their heads. It’s all vivid description and instant similes and metaphors popping off the page:

“The smell of the tarmac glistened in her throat.”
“She thinks about how many bodies have sweated and salted these sheets.”
“The tree was angular and gnarled like the bones of the woman leaning against it.”

And I just think, “Why can’t I write like that, even when I don’t have to read it aloud?”

So I go to that class to socialize with other writers, not to write. And to hope that some of their descriptive power rubs off on me.

Not that my writing’s so bad. I spent a couple of hours yesterday when I was supposed to be writing database programs writing a short scene that captured the experience of the split seconds of a near car accident.

She set her hand on the steering wheel and flipped her eyes back on traffic. Red break lights loomed ahead, coming up fast.

She stood on the brake. Her cigarette flew out of her mouth. Her tires squealed. The car swerved. Her hands wrestled with the jittery steering wheel. A green mini-van filled with kids and camping gear was dead ahead of her on the road. There was no shoulder to the left, just the another lane, filled with creeping cars. On the right, the same thing. And to the right of that, a ravine.

She couldn’t go around the cars. She couldn’t slip between them.

And she wasn’t going to stop in time, she knew that.

Shit, shit shit.

Her car skidded forward.

Her foot crushed the brake pedal to the floor.

It was all over in a second. The car jolted to a halt right behind the van. She jerked forward. The seat belt snapped her back. Her foot trembled, paralyzed on the brake. A couple of the kids in the van stared down at her. She gaped at them in a fog, her heart racing.

So my writing style is less flowery, less fluid, more gritty and mundane and literalistic. It’s writing at the pace of the novelist, designed to be accessible to the reader, not to wear them out after one paragraph. It’s fiction writing tempered by philosophy essays and journaling.

And it’s writing in the voice of my characters, all my inner selves. It’s a writing style I’ve developed over many, many years. It’s not really an imitation of anybody, it’s just me, writing.

“You have to play a long time to play like yourself.” –Miles Davis

All Things Philosophical on Harry Potter

current film: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I’ve been reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and it is a really charming read. Delightful prose, interesting characters, and a magical world that should guarantee that any Buffyverse fan also become a Harry Potter fan (alas, if only the reverse were true as well!)

So as I’m reading the book and walking down the sidewalk simultaneously, I find myself veering over to the video store to rent the movie. The US version of the movie, of course, with its repeated references to the “Sorcerer’s Stone”, because we are woefully ignorant and have never heard of the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone. After all, if it aint practical, it’s just worthless nonsense. And why do philosopher’s need stones, anyway? They’re up there in their ivory towers sucking up student tuition and the working man’s taxes contributing nothing to the economy.

Anyway, I digress. This is only the third time I’ve seen the movie, and I rented the VHS tape from the corner video store instead of netflix ’cause you can’t video tape the feed from a DVD. Ssssh! Don’t tell anyone. It’s not like I’m going to sell copies or anything. I want it for my private collection.

I’m still digressing. OK, so towards the end of the movie, Harry is confronted by Professor Quirrell/Voldemort, who is looking for the aforementioned stone. He is trying to persuade Harry to help him get it, and he thinks Harry is warming up to doing just that. Pleased, he says,

“There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

This pricks up my ears. Now, I’m only on page 126 of the book, but I sneak ahead to the end and check to see how the scene goes there. Sure enough, these are Rowling’s words as well. Well, words she puts in the mouth of Quirrell/Voldemort.

And it’s interesting. Any Buffyverse fan worth two shakes of philosopher’s salt would recognize that statement. It’s almost word for word what the First Evil says to a trembling, half-crazed souled Spike in “Lessons”:

“It’s not about right. Not about wrong. It’s about power.”

But this isn’t the first time Mutant Enemy has put such words in the mouth of their Big Bads. Jasmine-in-Cordelia or “The Beast’s Master” says the same thing in Season 4 of Angel:

“What does that mean, really? Being good? Doing the right thing? By who’s judgment? Good, evil–they’re just words, Connor. Concepts of morality they forced around your neck to yank you wherever they please. You’re with me now. You don’t have to live by their rules. You remember why?”

Connor: “‘Cause we’re special.”

It was behind Faith’s infamous words in Season 3 of BtVS:

“Want, take, have.”

And her belief that Slayers could do whatever they want by virtue of being stronger than others and saving them from unspeakable demons.

Holland Manners of Wolfram and Hart has a similar philosophy in Season 1 of Angel:

“I’m talking about that sharp, clear sense of self a man gains once he’s truly found his place in the world. It’s no mean feat, since most men are cowards and just move with the crowd. Very few make their own destinies. They have the courage of their convictions, and they know how to behave in a crisis.”

Observing the actions of Wolfram and Hart over the years and the rationalizations they give for them, this is indeed the governing philosophy of the “evil” law firm:

The world is designed for those who know how to use it, those who can control themselves and others. You must find your role in the scheme of things–you are either the user or the used. “Good” and “evil” are mere constructs invented by the losers to feel better about their lot in life. But the weak deserve their lot because they lack of courage to do what they want and take what they want.

One of the reasons Mutant Enemy and Joss provide us with such intelligent shows is because their “evil” characters aren’t running around hurting people for no apparent reason. This is the problem with a lot of books/shows/movies. Trying to figure out the motivations of the bad guy. A lot of two-dimensional bad guys have to be finally just called “megalomaniac evil over-lords” because their actions lack the courage of any convictions.

But this philosophy I’ve been quoting is so compelling as a way of demarcating “bad guys” because it has a certain rational ring to it. Ultimately, this philosophy comes down to self-interest, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to serve your own. Indeed, many would not call this a “philosophy” at all, they’d call it “Reality. That’s just the way things are.”

Who says there’s any “Good” or “Evil”? These are social constructs that every society defines differently, by the way. Look around at nature and at human life, and all you see are plants, animals and people pursuing their self-interest, even these so-called “heroes” who believe in “Good”.

If you want to use such an outlook on life as a way of demarcating the bad guys from the good guys, it becomes a very rational way to tempt the morally upright, law-abiding hero into doing things s/he’s been taught are wrong. Especially if they use “any means necessary” to accomplish ends they think are “good”.

And so Faith tempts Buffy.
Voldemort tempts Harry (you were wondering when I’d get back to Harry Potter, right?)

And the fact that both Rowling and Mutant Enemy have seized on this philosophy as a way of explaining their “bad guys” outlook makes me think their Hero’s struggle is also the struggle of western society at large.