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.

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