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.