Monday, August 8, 2011

7 Things That Bothered Me About "Harry Potter"

I think we're far removed enough from the final "Harry Potter" film that I can get a few issues I've had with the franchise off my chest. These are mostly nitpicks, but the series has been around long enough and discussed and dissected to such an extent that I think it can stand a little more good-natured needling.

What's With the Labels? - Hogwarts divides up students into four houses, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin, according to their most prominent traits. All the cool kids are in Gryffindor because they have alpha personalities, while all the bullies are in Slytherin, the smarties are in Ravenclaw, and the losers are in Hufflepuff. Good grief, I thought the cliques in high school were bad. I know houses are a real feature of boarding schools, but putting such obvious labels on kids is always iffy, especially as they get older, and creating this obvious hierarchy within the wizard school just seems to be asking for trouble. It also puts too much value on qualities like being brave and headstrong, and discounts other positive traits like loyalty, constance, intelligence, and cunning. So much of children's fiction is about breaking down arbitrary categories like this, it's a little disturbing to find one that reinforces so many stereotypes.

What Happened to Banding Together To Defeat Evil? - Since the four Hogwarts houses have relatively even numbers, apparently the quarter of the wizard population that gets sorted into Slytherin is comprised of irredeemable evil folks, conspirators, and cowards. At least in the book JK Rowling had a few major Slytherin characters turn against Voldemort in the end, but in the film, the entire Slytherin population of Hogwarts gets sent to the dungeons for the duration of the big battle, or sneak out the back when no one is looking. Gee, that's a great message to send to the kids with totally understandable negative emotions that might get the better of them sometimes. Once a baddie, always a baddie, huh? Maybe I'm just bitter because I think I'd be sorted as a Slytherin at Hogwarts, due to my penchant for schadenfreude. Or Ravenclaw for being an incurable know-it-all.

Is Part of My Soul Stuck in That Portrait? - The existence of the living portraits always creeped me out. The people in the paintings don't have full lives, but we've seen that they do have their own wills and emotions and memories. So it's a jolt to realize that they're trapped forever within their frames, stuck living with whoever happens to inherit them with no hope of escape. In other stories, that's considered a fate worse than death. Sure, there are the lucky ones like the Pink Lady, who watches over the Gryffindor dorm and gets to interact with people on a daily basis, but then you have the covered-up, hidden-away portraits like the nasty Mrs. Black. Wouldn't you be grumpy after spending decades stuck in an abandoned house, with only Kreacher to talk to? Who would ever want to get their picture painted and risk having their portrait end up like that?

Better Education Through Child Endangerment? - I think Dumbledore is great and all, but I'm not sure I'd want to send my wizardly kid to a remote boarding school like Hogwarts, especially when the place constantly seems to be a magnet for danger and peril. What are the alternatives if you'd rather not subject your little spellcaster to mortal danger every year? There are other schools in the "Potter" universe like Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, but Hogwarts seems to be the only choice if you want to stay in the United Kingdom. The wizarding population is notably smaller than the human one, so maybe they don't really need all that many schools, but Hogwarts still feels like it has a skeevy monopoly on the educational destinies of too many kids. It's the kind of thing that might make you want to consider homeschooling.

Doubting Dumbledore Continued - I can understand Harry and friends being so loyal to Dumbledore in the early books, when they were kids and the readers were still expected to trust in the obvious authority figures. However, when Harry reached his adolescent years and was due for some teenage rebellion, he rarely questioned Dumbledore or tried to fight against his destiny to defeat Voldemort. One reason why I never empathized much with Harry was because he was too willing to go along with Dumbledore's plans, even after the headmaster kicked the bucket and we learned he wasn't a saint. Then again, we never saw Harry being given any alternate paths to take, or other choices about how to fight Voldemort. That made Harry's loyalty to Dumbledore too easy, I suppose, because Dumbledore was always the only game in town.

Ever Hear of College? - One thing totally missing from the "Harry Potter" universe is universities, colleges, and any kind of higher education. So much of the Potter series mirrors the typical school life of British kids, complete with testing for the equivalent of O Levels and A levels, so this means that the majority of the wizarding population only has a secondary or high school education. Apparently some of the kids from the series continued to study specialized subjects with specific professors or got further job-specific training, but the details are awfully sketchy. Then again the heroes spend their last year of school, when they would have been talking up their future plans, running around in the woods trying not to be killed by evil megalomaniacs. I guess priorities were going to end up a little skewed.

Little Wizards - The epilogue was fine in a kind of classical, reaffirmation of the nuclear family and life is cyclical kind of way. On the other hand, it does suggest that Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and even Draco all got themselves married and had kids in their early-to-mid-twenties. Of course we don't know what else they've been doing - if they had other adventures along the way or active careers or whatnot - but everyone having kids by twenty-five just doesn't seem plausible in this day and age, when the average marriage age in the UK is well above that. Eh, maybe it's just a wizard thing.

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