Sympathy for the Devil

Just before the holidays, I turned on the Fellowship of the Ring movie in a fit of nostalgia and passively watched as I cleaned the apartment. And somewhere between vacuuming at Rivendell and swiffering at Lothlorien, I realized something I’d never realized before: Sauron is a terrible villain.

I mean, once you get past the admittedly terrifying lidless-eye Panopticon thing, Sauron is pretty simplistic as a villain. He’s evil–that’s about it. Why did he secretly forge the One Ring in the first place? To rule all the other Rings of Power. Why would he want to rule the elves, the dwarves, and mankind? Duh–evil! Why did he send his Host against the army of the Alliance on the plains of Dagorlad? Evil! Why is he obsessed with getting the One Ring back from Frodo and taking over Middle-earth? Evil, evil, evil!

Now I get it.

Now I get it.

As a writer, you hear a lot of the same advice over and over again. And when it comes to villains and antagonistic forces, the advice is always the same: one-dimensional villains just don’t cut it. Your villain must be more than just evil–he or she must be as well-rounded and complex as your other characters. The villain must have a backstory that explains his actions and lends his motivations depth and flavor. Furthermore, the villain’s actions must arise from a place of logic; even if it is a flawed, unsound logic, his actions must be comprehensible, if not sympathetic, to the reader. The villain’s role is to challenge the hero to reach great heights. He must act as both a catalyst for heroism and a foil for the hero’s own complex motivations.

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Harry Potter and the Illiterate Wizards: Part III

*Warning: Spoilers for all seven Harry Potter books and movies follow. If you haven’t read the complete series, step away from the computer. Also, what rock have you been hiding underneath?

If you haven’t read Part I and Part II of this blog series, I highly recommend you toddle on over and catch up before continuing with this one. Also, lest any of you read too deeply into my criticism and get all steamed up, let me remind you that I love these books and this is meant to be a humorous take on the Harry Potter universe, not serious literary criticism.

So, now that’s over with, I present to you the third (and final) absurdity in the Harry Potter books that I only considered as an adult…

3. Deus Ex Machina

At least I'm good at Quidditch, right? Amirite? Anybody?

At least I’m good at Quidditch,
right? Amirite? Anybody?

Harry Potter is nominally the hero of all seven Harry Potter books. Obviously. But when you really take a long hard look at each and every triumphant moment in the books, it quickly becomes clear that Harry isn’t much of a hero at all. Not to say that he doesn’t have heroic intentions,  but from a purely literary perspective, Harry isn’t even much of a protagonist. He is a generally passive character whose fate frequently gathers him up and sweeps him along at a brisk and dangerous pace. And Harry is absolutely a survivor, but a hero? I’m not so sure. Because nearly all of Harry’s successes in the books come down to one of two things: “other people” or “by accident.”

In the first few books–which solidly fall into the children’s lit genre–Harry’s characterization works. He is lost, confused, and ineffectual, bobbing along in a swift current made up of the history and politics of a world he doesn’t fully understand. He’s also eleven. And these sorts of “everyman” characteristics made it easy for child readers to relate to Harry, to put themselves in his shoes. He wasn’t supposed to be a hero yet–just the Boy-Who-Lived, someone whose destiny has big plans for them. But then the third book came along, and the fourth, and still an adolescent Harry lurked in mediocrity, relying on his friends and elders to support him through the trials thrown at him again and again.

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Harry Potter and the Illiterate Wizards: Part I

*Warning: Spoilers for all seven Harry Potter books and movies follow. If you haven’t read the complete series, step away from the computer. Also, shame on you.



Let me preface this post with this statement: I love Harry Potter. My granny gave me The Sorceror’s Stone as a Christmas present when I was eleven, and I was hooked. Harry and friends aged at almost the exact same rate as I did. When I turned twelve having never received a Hogwarts acceptance letter, I was secretly devastated. I was nearly fourteen when Harry, also aged fourteen, entered the Triwizard Tournament, and fifteen when Harry suffered the great loss of his godfather and battled Voldemort at the Ministry of Magic. I have reread most of the books countless times, attended midnight book releases, gone to midnight film screenings and read Harry Potter fan-fiction. I am, for better or for worse, a fangirl.

But while my love for Harry Potter has not lessened as I’ve matured, my ability to be more realistic about certain aspects of J. K. Rowling’s beloved series has grown. Now, when I look back on the series or rewatch the films I find myself bothered by certain facets of Harry’s world. So, with no further ado, I present to you: the first of three absurdities in Harry Potter’s world that I only considered when I was an adult.

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