Making Sweden 5% nerdier than it has to be.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Harry Potter Retrospective Part 4

You know, it's actually rather strange. There is so much stuff that happens in Goblet of Fire and yet I've had some major issues coming up with what I want to focus on for this post. One would think that between all the harrowing tasks, the expansion (for the reader) of the magical world, forward momentum in the romance department and first official character death I'd have tons of shit to say.

Actually I do have tons of shit to say about the book, but I've noticed that I prattle on quite a lot when I write so I try to focus on something. So I've decided to go about it like this. I'll give a short rundown of my thoughts about the book and then I'll move on to dicuss something that I really should talk about in one of these reviews.

That said, let's get to it.

Like I said above, Goblet of Fire is absolutely packed with story content and it is all good, like always. The characters, whom readers by now know by heart, are having more complex feelings than before and the stakes gets raised immensely. This is the book where shit hits the fan as Voldemort finally comes back and becomes a real physical threat instead of just being an evil spirit. And what an antagonist he is. Even his own followers aren't entirely pleased that he's returned simply because he's way more hardcore evil than they are. But they still come when he calls because they're too terrified of him. None of this is said out loud, you have to read in-between the lines to see it, especially the first part.

That this book ends with its darkest moments to date are a nice contrast to the beginning of it where Harry is experiencing the greatest summer in his young life. He can exchange letters with his friends, Dudley is more miserable than he is due to a diet and with the threat of a crazed Sirius coming to do unspeakable things to them the Dursely's generally aren't as awful as they'd usually be to Harry. They're still jerks but they could do worse. And there's of course the world cup finale in Quidditch that he can look forward to. It's all a part of that transitional phase I mentioned last time. This summer is Harry's absolutely last chance to enjoy himself like a normal wizard kid. From there on his life is going to go downhill quite a while until it gets any better.

Poor Harry is really put through the wringer this time around. That it has to happen while he's still developing into a full person is quite unfortunate for him. But at the same time it does make for some interesting character development which shall now act as a segway for the main part of this review. I'm gonna take a deeper look into our three main characters, because the lead alone wouldn't as much fun. So let's look into the inner workings of the trio made up of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Herminone Granger.

We'll start with Harry. By this point in the series there are several different and recogniseable characteristic that one can connect with our dear lead. In general he's a cool guy. He's nice to the people that are nice to him, courageous in the face of overwhelming danger, modest despite the fame surrounding him and clever with a fair degree of book-smarts. But that's just the positive stuff. Some less charming, depending on how one sees them, parts of his personality includes a sense of curiosity or nooseyness that has served him well but also gotten him in dangerous situations more than once. Accompanied by this is a certain disregard for rules meant to keep him safe, sometimes he has a fairly good reason for doing it while other times he just forgets about the rules and lets his curiosity steer the way. It can make him look kind of arrogant if you don't know him.

And by this time Harry's been starting to have anger issues. They'll become much more pronounced in the fifth book but I just wanted to point out that they are foreshadowed. But let's get back to the bit about arrogance because I find that to be an interesting piece of his personality.

I said that he was modest, and he is. He's well aware that in he's far from the perfect student and considers his magical abilities as nowhere near enough to get him through the tournament he's forced into here. He considers his prodigdous quidditch skills to be the only thing that he excells with. However, there's one more thing that he's gotten quite good at by now. Doing amazing and dangerous stuff that he's not allowed to and getting away with. He himself isn't entirely aware of it, as we'll see in the fifth book, but it's become sort of common place for him by now. In the previous volumes there were a number of instances when Harry feared that he would get expelled and sent back to the Dursleys because of what he'd done. We see nothing of that in this book. Granted, most of the dangerous stuff he does this time around is actually sanctioned by the school and he's forced into them but still. He's gotten used to it and doesn't consider it special, even if all the things he does are incredible.

One could argue that this makes him arrogant. That he's grown into beliving that he in fact doesn't have anything to fear from the rules because he constantly evades them and therefore he can go off on his adventures without worrying about any reprimand from the school.

Personally I just think that he's gotten so used to it that he forgets the rules. Or rather, he's become a bit desensitized to it after three years and it just happens automatically for him. Even if this book doesn't give him lots of opportunities to break the rules he'll do it quite a lot in the fifth and sixth, there are no rules in the seventh book. The point is that he's used to it all. Both the dangerous stuff he does and the rules he breaks are just part of his life. Which brings up an interesting question about whether it's Harry that's drawn to dangerous and unusal situations or if they just happen to him. But this is getting long so let's finish this off with one last point against Harry being arrogant.

All that fame he has for something he doesn't remember hasn't gone to his head and he doesn't want to be seen as only the boy that survived. Throughout the series Harry has the attitude that if he's going to be recognised for anything it should be for his own achivements. He just wants people to see beyond the fame and stories and see him for who he is. Luckily he finds several people able to do that and the first that truly did that is Ron Weasley.

Following the lead character we have the supportive, most of the time, best friend Ron Weasley. I always found Ron to especially interesting as far as sidekick/companion characters go mainly because he's sort of had the role long before meeting Harry. In many ways he probably sees himself as sort of a footnote in the Weasley history. He lacks Bill and Percy's fine social mannerism, Charlie's physical prowess, the twins inventive genius or Ginny's unique standing as the family's only daughter. Ron wants to stand out from them all but the only thing he is the best at is playing chess and that only becomes an important skill during the first book.

So all that resentment that sidekick type characters can build up during a series is already there in Ron when he meets Harry. It's just aimed at other people. Sadly during his time at Hogwarts Ron will be noted as the guy that was next to the famous Harry Potter and the brilliant Hermione Granger. He'll get a few instances of fame but they'll be fleeting. This inferiority complex will last until the end of the series but this book is the first time it grows into a bigger problem and Ron blames Harry for seeking out the spotlight.

He feels that Harry has increased the distance between them without thinking the least bit about Ron, or worse thinking that Ron's doing good in his place as the sidekick. Or at least that's what he fears, he probably totally knows Harry didn't do anything. But fear is a powerful emotion and Ron acts like a douchebag. The way it's resolved is the way a lot of Ron's problems are solved. He admits that he's in the wrong and that there are more important things than his own feelings of inadequacy, in this case Harry's life being in danger.

This is a constant problem Ron has. He needs to admit when he's wrong and his own feelings. Most of the time he instead opts for doing something stupid, all three times that the trio is split it's because Ron's mad at either Harry or Hermione. Like I said, he overcomes it all in the last book. Until then Ron will continue to struggle with his own emotions and everybody else overshadowing him in so many ways.

But enough of talking down about Ron. I like Ron. Ron for all his flaws and emotional issues is a good guy. He does stand stand in the shadow besides Harry's spotlight but his hand is always on Harry's shoulder, ready to support him when the going gets tough. He's Harry's best friend and this book shows how crappy Harry's situation gets when Ron isn't there to be Ron. Yes, Hermione is still there but Ron is needed for the entire trio to work. He's the support that stands by the side and assures the others that things will be ok. Do you know how important those people are? Ron isn't the star but he doesn't need to be that to be important. We just have to wait three more books for him to figure that out.
Now then, with the two boys out of the way we shall now move on to Hermione Granger. Let's see now. How should I describe Hermione. She is the one that does half the stuff in the books that ends up saving the day. In many ways she is the most awesome member of the trio. Sadly, not everyone can see this.

Before I started re-reading these books I found a few articles that critized Hermione. They said that she was portrayed as the typical book-smart but overly emotional girl that faltered when it was time for action and let the more heroic and less nerdy males save the day. At least it was something along those lines. This is a very common and very shallow reading of Hermione's character and one that I will now crush mercilessly.

Yes, Hermione reads a lot of books and studies very, very much. But the thing is, and a lot of people seem to miss this, is that it is never portrayed as a bad thing really. Hermione reads and studies because she honestly wants to know everything there is to know about this magical world that she's a part of. She is curious about the various facets of it and wants to absorb as much knowledge as possible. Yes, she is teased and mocked by her fellow students quite frequently about it. But that doesn't mean that the author is saying that it's a bad characteristic to have. Remember, this is a school. Children can be cruel, especially to those that stand out by excelling and thereby creating jealousy in their peers, like Hermione and her constant achivements at Hogwarts.

Yes, there is that scene in the first book where Hermione says that there's more to life than just reading books and studying. That's because... well... she's right. Life can't be all about one thing. Whether it's studying, playing a sport, writing, painting, working or anything. Life should be about as many things as possible. That's what Hermione realises and thereby grows as a character and person. She never abandons her love of seeking knowledge or her studious ways. But she does know that there're other things to do in the world. In short, what's being critized is that Hermione goes through that thing. What's it called now again. Oh yeah. Character development!

Next up we have the whole thing about being emotional. The critisim seems to be that she lets her emotions get the best of her but that's just not true. Hermione's a very rational person in most cases and is in control of her emotions most of the time, bullying her will in most cases end with her ignoring you or retorting cleverly rather than getting affected by it. That said, she does have her emotional moments and they tend to big ones. Of course half of them consists of her fighting with Ron because he's an idiot and they have a communications problem so those should be put into their own category. But that's another discussion all together.

The way I see it Hermione gets big emotional, and memorable because when something does get past her rationality and rubs her the wrong way it's usually pretty big. Her weaker moments tend to be about subjects that she's already sensitive about and when she gets angry, and it's not Ron's fault, it usually because somebody's being an asshole towards another person. Of course, the part when she gets pissed can often be her most awesome moments.

In this book alone Hermione out-smarted and out-manuvered Rita Skeeter, an older witch and gossip-columnist. In the end Rita wound up inside a glass jar. Pissing off Hermione Granger is a very bad idea I tell ya.

So yeah, I always thought that Hermione was a well-rounded and enjoyable character and the critics I mentioned should try do more than a shallow reading of her, and the series I bet.

And that's the trio. Harry the hero, Ron the supportive friend and Hermione the awesome. They're a fun group and I'm really enjoying reading their development through the series with a new and more experienced perspective.

Hmm. It feels like I should mention something about Cedric Diggory's death here, it is rather important after all. But nowadays I can't think about Cedric's death without thinking about this bit. Yeah... mocking Hufflepuff is old news. But it's so much fun. Especially since one of my friend is a Hufflepuff member on a Harry Potter website. Teasing him about that is too much fun. So yeah, sorry Cedric but it's time to move on.

Join me next time when I look into the inner workings of the Order of the Phoenix. I'm looking forward to that since it was at that point that I started reading the english books instead of the swedish translations and I haven't reread those three books as many times. Until then, make sure to hug that special hufflepuff person in your life.

...yes that was a very lame last line.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, my compliments for your post above, an interesting reading - and you've given me a couple of things to think about.
    I stumbled across your blog by chance, looking for information on the Sweden edition of Harry Potter books, and stayed.

    If you know it, could you please tell me the name of the swedish illustrator of the books? The covers are beautiful, and I honestly believe him/her to be the only one that got the best atmosphere.