Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The year of behaving badly

I have written over and over again on the subject of how hard I find it to read The Order of the Phoenix. This is a gloomy, claustrophobic novel in which no one... and I mean no one... behaves well.

Of course, the antagonists -- Dolores Umbridge, Draco and Lucius Malfoy, Cornelius Fudge, even Percy Weasley, Voldemort -- are insufferable. That's to be expected.

But even the so-called "good guys" are not at their best.

Mundungus Fletcher leaves his post and permits Harry to be attacked by Dementors.

Sirius Black is childish and moody throughout most of the book. putting his own unhappiness ahead of the interests of his godson, Harry.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley treat the teenagers like toddlers and refuse to let them in on what's going on with the Order of the Phoenix. Further, they fail entirely to prepare Harry adequately for the trial at the Ministry.

Professor McGonagall seems oblivious to Harry's suffering while at Hogwarts, continually chastising him for letting Umbridge upset him rather than helping him, counseling him on why his suffering is necessary and how he can better endure it.

Professor Dumbledore's behaviour is inexplicably abhorrent. He literally abandons Harry in his hour of need and leaves Harry to suffer the horrors of Umbridge without any support whatsoever. Okay, Dumbledore worries that Voldemort will use the connection between his mind and Harry's to try to spy on Dumbledore so the Headmaster doesn't want to interact with Harry face to face... but why not send him a series of letters, explaining the concerns, outlining what's happening and guiding him as to how to proceed?

You would think that, through all this, Ron and Hermione at least would behave appropriately. But Ron spends the book caught up in his own Quidditch-inspired malaise while Hermione... well, Hermione is awe-inspiring in her insipidness.

Every time the young people get a chance to speak to an Order member and obtain much needed reassurance and guidance, Hermione loses focus completely and goes off on Elf-rights tangents. She knows Harry is desperate for counsel from Sirius and yet, when Harry's godfather appears one evening in the common room fire, Hermione makes the whole, time-limited interaction about how Sirius shouldn't be taking risks and how Sirius should be treating Kreacher better.

It doesn't seem to occur to her that Harry really really really needs to talk to his godfather.

Sirius' own petulant pouting during that conversation is also way over the top.

Hermione is at her worst in Umbridge's Defence Against the Dark Arts classes. While Harry must be faulted for his own inability to control his temper in the face of the obnoxious Ministry hag, Hermione is the one who set matches to gasoline by challenging Umbridge in not one but two consecutive classes.

What is she thinking? What can she possibly be thinking? Hermione is smart enough to understand that the only way she, Harry and the rest of the students can possibly survive Umbridge and the Minister's interference is to keep their heads down and stay quiet. Yet, she goes out of her way to create conflict and confrontation and then has the unmitigated gall to admonish Harry for getting caught up in the fire she herself has created.

There are times I wonder if J.K. Rowling went too far in this book, if she let the narratorial imperative of isolating and abusing Harry in the first half of the novel cause her to undermine the consistency of her carefully established central characters.

The fact of the matter is, Dumbledore is not the insensitive clod that he is portrayed as in The Order of the Phoenix; Hermione is smarter and more sensible than the character who appears in this book.

It is possible that, in her understandable campaign to put Harry into a terrible, lonely, vulnerable and suffering situation in his fifth year at Hogwarts, Rowling lost track of who her characters really are?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why does no one blame Harry for Cedric's death?

I hereby apologise to J.K. Rowling for all of the nitpicking in which I indulge in this blog. She has created a remarkably complex, fascinating and consistent world in the seven Harry Potter novels and, considering the intricacy of the many plots and subplots, she leaves surprisingly few holes for detail-oriented people with all the time in the world (like me) to exploit.

That being said, let me ask this:
1) if the official stand of the Ministry of Magic is that Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory were not transported to the graveyard, that Cedric Diggory was not murdered by Peter Pettigrew in that graveyard and that Voldemort did not return to full power at the end of The Goblet of Fire; and
2) if the Ministry wishes to discredit Harry Potter for claiming that Voldemort has, in fact, returned; and
3) if Cedric Diggory died at the end of Tri-Wizard Tournament when the only person, according to the Ministry's version of events, who was near or with him was Harry Potter;


Fleur Delacour had already been removed from the maze. Victor Krum had been stunned and was out of action. It would seem an easy thing for the Ministry to lay the blame for Cedric's death at the feet of Harry, the only other person then inside the maze.

Even if they didn't want to charge him with murder (and face the possibility of being forced to admit they could not prove the charge), at least they could use the power of the press and the power of public opinion to suggest that he was in some way to blame. And to suggest that Harry's insistence that Voldemort has returned is simply an attempt to throw the blame for Cedric's death elsewhere.

I don't recall a single moment in the fifth, sixth or seventh books when anyone (friend, foe or Death Eater) even implies that Harry might be responsible for the death of Cedric Diggory. I wonder why.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The imperfect choice for Prefect

Help me figure something out. I'm re-reading The Order of the Phoenix and I've just come to the part where Ron and Hermione receive their Prefect badges from Hogwarts.

A big deal is made about the fact that Harry was not chosen instead of Ron -- everyone thought he would be -- and, if I recall correctly, Dumbledore will eventually explain to Harry, at the end of the book, that he didn't want to put any more pressure on our hero than he was already facing.

Good enough.

But tell me why Dumbledore would name Draco Malfoy a prefect for Slytherin. The headmaster is well aware that Draco's dad is a confirmed Death Eater. He knows that Draco is Harry's nemesis and that, with the powers of a Prefect, Draco would have a great deal more power to bother, upset and harass Harry throughout the year.

So why, if Dumbledore is worried about putting too much additional pressure on Harry, does he name Draco a Prefect? Why not someone else? Even Crabbe or Goyle would be a better choice, since they are too stupid to be really harmful to Harry. Even if Draco is telling them what to do, their thickness would provide something of a buffer and the fact that Dumbledore refused to recognize Draco as a Prefect should make Harry feel a little bit better about being passed over.

The only think I can think of is that the Ministry intervened in these choices as well. Maybe Lucius paid Fudge to force Dumbledore to name Draco as Prefect. We see Draco's dad and the Minister of Magic together at the start of the book -- perhaps that's when the demand was made and granted.

I simply cannot believe Dumbledore would make this choice on his own.