Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's not over 'til the Senator sings...

So, the lead singer of one of America's most endearing cult musical groups is on his way to a reunion gig-- their first show together in the better part of a decade. And on the way, he has this little "incident" involving an undercover cop in the men's john at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. It doesn't make the press at the time, and the group goes on to have their not-so-triumphant reunion at a charity benefit the following day. The singer and his compadres are off key, and the group is down one member anyway. If any (deserved) shouts of "Where's Jim?" come from the audience, history does not record the fact.

Anyway, fast forward two months, and the bathroom incident finally makes the papers. Fans are shocked-- they already know that General John is a religious wackadoodle whose forays into songwriting are truly embarrassing, and they've finally realized that Trent is a bigot (but a cuddly bigot! like Archie Bunker!). But the bathroom-stall footsie business is just so sordid. So pathetic. And so, so, wrong for the image of the Singing Senators.

I always liked Yankee Jim best anyway.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More Thoughts on Popular Fiction

Very popular fiction. Specifically, Harry Potter. Again.

Spoilers below. Deal. It's been a week already.

I liked the books, but I admit part of what drives my interest in the series is still "meta"-- that is, I like to read fan theories, and fan fiction, and all the griping and whingeing and hysteria that fans create. There are so many loose ends, contradictions, red herrings, and other oddities that the stuff people come up with to fill in the gaps makes for great entertainment. Likewise, part of the joy of finishing HPVII was logging on LiveJournal to see the fan reactions. And some of it was touching, and insightful, and increased my own satisfaction with the series.

But some of it made me want to pull my hair. As someone banging away on a WIP, with dreams of being a published writer some day, Readership and the relationship between Author and Reader interests me. And Rowling has some pathological readers. Take the following 100% genuine reactions I've read:

1) It was incredibly selfish of Rowling to publish the epilogue, because that was imposing a "canonical" future for Harry and friends on the readership.

OK. The act of writing is selfish. Any act of publication is an imposition on an audience. Maybe JKR should've just not published book Seven and left everyone hanging so people could create their own ending? The epilogue was wretched, and my opinion of it sinks with every extra nugget of info JRK provides, but I'm not gonna call the author selfish for wrapping up the tale in a way that satisfied her. Yes, the writing style jarred and it could've been redone. Yes, the kids' names were icky. Yes, she could've mentioned somewhere in the epilogue that Harry and Ron were Aurors and that Hermione had a career in Magical Law, or given some hint about what H-R-H did to rebuild their world. But people who are mad about "canon" being closed and shutting down their fanfic possibilities... possibly like fanfic too much? Dude, write AUs. It's good for the soul.

[Aside-- Harry being an Auror bothers me, personally. Yes, that was his dream from Book V, but if he should fall in the line of duty, it means some Dark Wizard is now Master of the Elder Wand. That can't be good. I like a 'fic where he ended up working in Honeydukes making sweets and toys for wizarding kiddies.]

Also, I hate Harry/Ginny with a passion. Book VII made me a confirmed Harry/Luna shipper. But I'm not gonna send Rowling hate mail over it.

2) I identify so much with Severus Snape that the message I got out of Book Seven was that I am subhuman and not even worthy of burial.

He's not real. It's a book. You have serious issues and I'm glad not to be one of your co-workers. I <3 Snape as a character, and thought his ending rocked and was much more satisfying than most fan-guesses. But man, entwining your personal worth with some ambiguous dude with a dark past in a kiddie book is probably not a healthy idea.

3) As a Slytherin, I am offended by the characterization of my house in the series, especially in Book VII.

You are not a Slytherin. Hogwarts does not exist, the Sorting Hat has never touched your head, and no online personality tests can change this, nor can your love of green and snakies, nor can your belief that Draco is your woobie. You could say that as, a woman, you have issues with Rowling's treatment of females, or that as a person of colour, you aren't convinced by the colour-blindness of wizarding society. But if you preface opinions with "[a]s a Slytherin," or "[s]peaking as a Ravenclaw," or "[o]n behalf of my fellow Hufflepuffs," you look really silly. Unless it's a joke, and these self-proclaimed Slytherins were not joking. And these are adults. With jobs. Some may have kids. It's frightening.

The way the house unity issue was "resolved" sucked rocks, though. I wanted to see Theo Nott and Blaise Zabini join the ranks against Voldy. Where the hell were they in book VII?

4) The series was offensively heteronormative.



Really, what were these people expecting? And when did celebrations of the nuclear family get to be so offensive to people? This is the weirdest, thorniest, and most complicated issue, because Rowling's treatment of gender roles does push peoples' buttons. It certainly rubs me the wrong way in just about every book. But really-- it's her book, her characters, her ending. If you got upset because no characters were openly gay, or because getting married and having kidlets was presented as a happy and fulfilling destiny for some characters... you were reading the wrong series, methinks.

Besides, HP had some pretty diverse families, IMO. Single father Xeno Lovegood may be a weirdo, but he does love his Luna. Granny Longbottom, raising Neville on behalf of his insane parents, does an alright job in the end. Dean Thomas is a product of a "blended" family and knows very little about his real father. Seamus Finnegan's mum married his dad without mentioning the little detail that she was a witch, and Dad Finnegan seems to have virtually no influence over Seamus compared with Mum. Blaise Zabini's mother is a serial monogamist with at least seven husbands to her credit. And Harry's dream was, at one point, to be a "family" with his godfather Sirius.

Also, Snape's nuclear family doesn't seem to have done much for him. Not to mention the Houses of Black, and Gaunt, and Dumbledore.... Rowling certainly doesn't shrink from portraying nastiness and dysfunction within the nuclear family structure.

I realize that the online, fanfic-writing, theorizing segment of fandom is the minority, and that most of these people are obsessives, or they wouldn't have the blogs and journals and 'fic archives. But these people mostly seem to be intelligent, articulate, and entertaining... and yet also happen to be loons. Vicious, hateful loons, in some cases. Fandom is a scary place sometimes.

BTW, I read the His Dark Materials trilogy this weekend, just to see what all the fuss was about. I can see that they're objectively "better" than Harry Potter I-VII; they're better written, and the alternate worlds are "built" instead of pasted together. For all that people rave about Rowling as a world-builder, it's really just a twisted funhouse reflection of our world, with serious gaps and inconsistencies. HPVII fixed some of my problems with it, but deep analysis of the Potterverse as a world is the kind of thing that drives people mad. HDM, on the other hand, starts off with a fantastically chilling AU, kind of like the one in The Alteration, but with talking polar bears.

Yep. Kingsley Amis with sentient polar bears. How come no one writes fanfic for The Alteration, anyway? The implications of that universe left me giddy and dizzy, though I did read the book while under the weather and that may have been a factor.

Anyway, HDM may be "better" than Harry Potter, but it wasn't nearly as fun. I am going to re-read the Potter books III, IV, VI, and VII repeatedly, for pleasure. I don't feel the urge to sit down and devour HDM again in the immediate future. Part of it is that Rowling has a great sense of humour-- not the silly stuff like vomit-flavoured jelly beans, but the character-based humour that shines through with Ron's interactions with Harry and Hermione, or the Weasley twins' interactions with the rest of the world. Rowling's characters may be more stereotypical than Pullman's, but it's fun to spend time with them. The only characters in HDM who were remotely "fun" were the witch queen and the Texan aeronaut.

And the film for "The Golden Compass" doesn't look that hot. I could be wrong.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter, Again

So, I plowed through Harry Potter and the Crappy Title... er Deathly Hallows in about four hours Saturday morning. I didn't do the ludicrous all-nighter at a bookstore either; Target had a whole pile of the things available around 8:30 AM, when I showed up looking for kitty litter.

And? Well, it was pretty deeply satisying. After the one-two slap of Order of the Phoenix, with Raging Harry and Hermione the War Criminal, and Half-Blood Prince with the sucky teen romance and the inbred, sociopathic Gaunts, I really didn't know what to expect from Deathly Hallows. But Rowling tied up damn near every major plot thread in a way that worked, and resolved many of my lingering doubts about the series.

Spoilers below-- it's all pop culture legend now, like Star Wars. If you didn't read it already, oh well.

Ten Best Things About Harry Potter 7:

Honorable Mention: The goblins. That shoe was going to drop one of these days, and it should've dropped harder than that.

10. Hermione, Harry, and Ron functioning as a real, mature, fantastic team. Even Ron's Betrayal Redux was handled well, as was his return.

9. Kreacher and Regulus' Bogus Journey-- poor, poor little Reggie. Hermione wasn't the only one bawling as I read that scene. And what really happened made so much more sense than the fan-theories.

8. Peter/Wormtail's ignominious end. No showdown with Lupin! Nope, just an undignified and disgusting death. Though, as one of Voldemort's most effective servants, maybe he did deserve better. But the crappy deaths of Wormtail and Lupin, like the crappy death of Sirius, is one in the eye to "Marauder"-obsessed fans who put way too much symbolic emphasis on the elder generation. They weren't the core of the story, and they never were.

7. Drop dead Fred. I shouted for joy when Fred Weasley bit it, not because I hated him (rather liked him, really), but because Rowling had the guts to go for the most satisfying and painful Weasley death imaginable. When George lost an ear, I cringed, thinking the redheads were safe (what with Arthur's brush with death in V, Bill's mauling in VI, and Ron's many escapes with the Reaper). But no, Rowling went for the jugular and cleaved the twins asunder-- leaving George, the more sensitive of the pair, to suffer for the rest of his life. Offscreen, mind you-- the horror is all in what the reader imagines will lay in store for the family. Bravo to Rowling for doing what I'd been wanting her to do since Book V.

6. The Ravenclaws. This, not Book V, was really the Ravenclaw book, what with Luna and her father, the tale of the Grey Lady, and an actual visit to the fabled common room. If only we'd learned old Albus had himself been a Ravenclaw (it certainly fits him best, IMO). Points off for more Slytherin hate, though-- come on, they can't all be bad. Really!

5. Neville's Gran, on the lam. Granny Longbottom making a break for it. And Neville, sweet Neville. I didn't even like him as a character until I saw the Goblet of Fire film, but I have come 'round to Neville. Pity he doesn't marry Luna. Maybe Dean Thomas marries Luna-- I always did like Dean, and he had his turn in the sun as well.

4. The Dark Side of Albus Dumbledore. Dude, that was had elements of the best fan theories, but was put together better than any of them. Manipulative!Dumbledore all the way. I never believed for a second Rowling would actually go there, but she did and I loved it. Nice to finally hear from old Aberforth, too. rOxOr!!!

3. Snape. He was a bastard, but he was Dumbledore's bastard. It was the best explanation-- not "on the side of Light" from day one, not a born murderer. And while I'd lately subscribed to the hypothesis that his change of heart came when the DE's killed his mum (no evidence for that turned up in canon), the Snape-luvs-Lily thing was handled in a way that I could stomach it. OK, it was kind of creepy-- dude, he *was* creepy. And his death scene, while apparently aimed just to piss off the fans who wanted an actively heroic end for their fave character, was brilliant, really. He was the perfect spy, and had the death of a perfect spy-- his "master" never had a clue Snape wasn't loyal. Unsung, dirty, unglamourous heroism, that-- do your job to the letter, and get iced for it. And no one loves you until after you're dead, because it's easier to get saccharine about a dead jerk than to maintain a relationship with a living one. Though the memories leaking out of his eyes was a sick image-- how come we've never seen that before? Does that happen when people get Crucio'd into death or insanity?

2. I was afraid the "deathly hallows" would be very irritating last-second McGuffins. Instead, that part was beautifully handled-- unreliable sources, the use of items we'd seen in previous books but didn't fully understand, a perfect explanation of the "Peverell coat of arms"- well done, Jo.

1. Lee Jordan, host of Potterwatch on pirate radio. I cheered at this-- what a perfect, in-character, subversive return for one of my favorite side characters. Rock on, Lee.

Worst Things About Harry Potter 7:

10. I wanted the "godfather" thing to be better developed. I realize poor little Teddy had a grandmother to raise him, but...

9. Molly killing Bellatrix was not satisfying. Harry's warning sign that Bellatrix was going to be toast was cool, but dammit, I wanted Neville holding the fatal wand. Molly killing... no, I didn't buy it. Even tigress-mother syndrome did not make me believe it. Molly shouting obscenities was not believable, either. I skipped over that bit.

8. Harry ended up with Ginny. Sigh. Inevitable, but I didn't like it and still don't. And that epilogue-- the Malfoy stuff was adorable, but I just had the nagging feeling I'd read that insipid family scene before. Many times. It really did read like fanfiction. And the kids' names suck.

7. Remus and Tonks are so obviously the ones that she changed her mind about killing off. And I bet Hagrid was the one she gave a reprieve to. Not a fair trade, man. And while I was kinda glad that Lupin did not go out facing Wormtail or Greyback (fan theories made me sick of those scenarios), his offscreen death was... eh. I actually missed that he was dead the first time, and did a doubletake and had to read the passage again. Double for Tonks-- she was an Auror, dammit! Couldn't we at least see her doing her damn job before she died?

6. Exposition. Exposition. Exposition. We will now interrupt Armageddon to bring you Snape's entire backstory. Twice.

5. What's up with everyone casting Unforgivables all over the place? Aren't they... unforgivable?

4. Remus is hanging with his bros James and Sirus in the afterlife. Sucks to be Tonks. This is why depictions of the afterlife are invariably unsatisfying.

3. Wait-- the werewolf caper was *before* the Snape's-pants incident? Really? That... makes no sense. I must have been tainted by fandom.

2. I still learned jack-all about Lily Potter. She was adorable as a kid, but what sort of woman was she other than pretty? I wanted to find out more about her talents at Potions and Charms. And weren't we supposed to find out what she and James did for a living, at least before they went into hiding? Also, that letter of hers in at Grimmauld Place-- that was totally like a scene from the third book in the Anne of Green Gables series-- "Roses of Yesterday."

1. I thought we were going to see a villain with a convincing motivation. Grindelwald was ten times more interesting than Tom Riddle. Man, I want a story about Dumbledore and Grindelwald's Not-So-Excellent Adventures now. The moral compass of the story is so screwed up... so screwed up. But I don't read it for the moral lessons, I read it 'cause it's cute and funny and occasionally gripping or tragic.

The fifth film wasn't any great shakes, though. Goblet of Fire was a much, much better film. Oh well-- better luck next time.