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.

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!

Popular.

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.

Taking the red pill

The Matrix starts out with intriguing promise: you know exactly where it’s going–Neo’s world isn’t real–but that’s cool. You want to see what they’ll do with that, especially after Morpheus says to him,

“You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind.”

Then he wakes up in that vat in the “real world” and it’s so chilling!

After that, the movie falls into a familiar ennui-filled post-apocalyptic sci-fi mode that is broken only by action!packed moments of gratuitous violence. The basic premise behind the future world is incredibly lame–machines harvesting people for energy? Puh-lease. There are much more efficient ways to create energy. This was something someone made up at the last minute to have an excuse to keep humans locked up in virtual reality.

The philosophical quandary the movie’s premise turns on is also nothing new. It’s a contemporary spin on an empiricist brain-teaser that’s been around since the 17th century–“just because we can sense things with our five senses, does that make them real?” Philosophers call this “problem of the external world”. Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “Normal Again“, in which Buffy is shown switching disorientingly back and forth between the story world we’ve come to know on the show where she is a small-town superhero, and another life, in which she is institutionalized and only imagines she’s a small-town superhero, did a better job of driving home that philosophical dilemma and its existential horror.

The one genuine truth to come out of this movie is the absurdity of our socially constructed reality. When I was a teenager, I had this fantasy that I suddenly fell and found myself looking back up at my life as if it was a play on a stage. At that moment, I realized that everyone around me, including myself, was an actor playing a role. Suddenly I didn’t know what was real, what was genuine, what was “really me” or “really you,” or if asking for genuineness was even meaningful. You see, unlike The Matrix or “Normal Again”, there is (probably) no conspiracy of machines or demons or other sinister Others creating a false reality for us: we do it to ourselves. We create social rules and mores, roles and constructs for each other, and we create them as individuals for ourselves. And we do it because we’re programmed by nature and nurture to have this deep need for a solid “reality” to live in.

That’s why Normal Again demonstrated the philosophical “problem of the external world” better than The Matrix. Because when Cypher says he wishes he’d taken the blue pill, you know he knows he’s accepting a lie. He wants to live a lie, and it’s made quite clear in the universe of the movie that the world create by the machines is the false world. Buffy is never quite sure which world is the real world. Both worlds–the world of the Sunnydale superhero, and the world of the asylum–are presented by the narrative as in some sense products of her mind and her conflicted needs. Not for Cypher. In the narrative of The Matrix, there is a real world and a fake world in the absolute metaphysical sense, and neither is a product of his needs and wants, he simply chooses one over the other due to his needs and wants.

Buffy, on the other hand, must make a choice between the superhero world and the asylum world without knowing which is “more real” in an absolute metaphysical sense, if either is. Both are presented as “created” out of her differing needs. The demon in the episode merely makes them come alive for her via magic. And in the end, when Buffy makes her choice, it is a choice between which is more real to her as an individual choosing the way she wants to live, as an individual choosing the way she wants to think about herself.

In my teenaged fantasy, I imagined myself superior to those around me because I fell off the stage of life and saw it in all its absurdity. I could see “reality” on a different level than those around me. Unlike them, I didn’t buy into the necessity of the social constructs. I was Neo, choosing the red pill. Yay, me. Now I understand it’s a little more complicated than that. Taking the red pill, seeing the basic non-necessity of our conception of the world, is only the first step. If there is a proper way to conceive the world, who knows if we are even capable of having that conception? We may just have to settle for building a new construct to live in. And that demands choices.

But if, like Morpheus and his gang, we do discover the proper conception world, we still have to live in it, build in it, create it. Cypher was unhappy in the “real world” because it was all fighting, a daily grind of bad food and fear of being caught. Was that “necessary”? Could they have built a better life for themselves in the “real world” than they did?

In so many ways, reality is a choice. So easy to say. But not easy to put into practice. Most of us just end up “taking the blue pill”–accepting the socially constructed world we happen to live in as unavoidably “real.”

This just in…

I just got a video tape in the mail from the ATPo poster gds. Apparently there is this cable channel called “TechTV” and they have a show called “Screen Savers” about internet sites, etc. Anyway, last week’s show featured BtVS websites, and mine was one of them. My website was on TV! Of course, they did not tell me this would happen before hand. I heard about it from people on the board after the fact.

I don’t have techTV so gds sent me a video tape of the show. Now I’ll have to watch it when I get home… I’m all nervous!

Update!

OK, I saw the show “Screen savers” and can I say just how *geeky* that show is? Two total nerd middle-aged guys with pot-bellies standing around drinking coffee and arguing about LINUX and Terminator III. I sit through that for 28 minutes and then they pass the spot light to this woman, Heather, who is a Buffy fan who will show off a couple websites. The first one is mine. Ah!!! My site is so non-photogenic on television! Plus my heart was in my stomach the whole time. She showed off the metaphysics page and the Philosophies Represented page.

They pause briefly to discuss how Buffy is “like religion to some people” (and by implication, *me*), and then Heather starts showing this other site, the Buffy dialogue database, but she doesn’t introduce it by name first the way she did my site, she just says, “this site has blah blah…” so it makes it appear as if *my* site has this dialogue database.

This lasts about two minutes, but my hits on my website doubled the day this show aired and the next day as well, so that’s cool. And now I have it on tape and I can show it to Mommy and Daddy at the next family gathering….