Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Harry Potter

So I finally managed to get through the last book. Looking back on the HP journey and really it has been mostly fun. Mostly we have a cast of great characters on all sides. And some great stories to boot. However it is not all a bed of roses and the later books too seem to suffer a bit form lack of editing. The biggest points being that The Half Blood Prince doesn't seem to have much in the way of a major plot. Its just a several subplots merged together, so much so that it feels like a one year filler in the story. And the last book has long periods of extreme drudgery between, interspersed with some truly awesome scenes.

My view on the overarching plot would be as follows :

* It was disappointing how little time in the spotlight Ginny got, especially once the Harry - Ginny romance was established. I would really have expected her to tag along on the final mission, by accident or design.

* More hints about Dumbuldore's dark side should have appeared earlier. In the end he turns out to be rather a Machiavellian character who even managed to shock Snape at one point. The whole limbo scene was rather annoying in this regard, and the and I had a hunch that you might survive anyway line seemed rather shallow and annoying. In my opinion the Christian allegory here feels like something Rowling stuck in to mute some of her critics, rather than something that was intended all along.

* By the same token as the above Snape should have become the Headmaster at
least one book earlier, so that Harry would then have to deal with Principal
Snape for a while. Actually seeing how Snape, who navigates the waters
between appearing to be on Voldamort's side and at the same time trying to
protect the students of Hogwarts from him at the same time. A who killed
Dumoldore mystery where Harry suspects Drace would have been a better story
than the one we actually got in the Halfblood Prince.

But really the plot is not the thing that threw me out of the story the most. What really made suspension of disbelief difficult was the world building. Building a plausable society is hard, building a plausible shadow society that somehow exists in parallel to the very day is even harder. So far the following points have bugged me:

Didn't do the maths
Having just one teacher per subject puts a real limit on how many students could be at Hogwarts. And claiming it's the only magic school in Britain buts a major limit on magical population. Really having 600 students at Hogwarts would have been pushing it.


Having established a small magical population the Ministry of Magic seems unbelievable large. there just does not seem to be enough witches and wizards to warrant such a huge and sprawling public service, especially considering how little they actually provide. For instance the only public utility is the floo network.

Gringots, the wizards Bank also seem kind of large for the amount of Economic activity that actually takes place. Ditto for extreme specialists such as Olivander. Wands don't seem to wear out. A careful wizard might buy 1 wand in their entire lifetime. 99% of Olivander's business would then be the before school rush of first year students.

Modes of transport

At the start of the series we have wizards riding broomsticks and using Owls to deliver things. Under those circumstances using a train for longer journeys, when you have a lot of baggage, kind of makes sense.

Then we get the floo network and all of that breaks. Why go to Kings Cross station to catch a train that then has to get to the Scottish Highlands, when you could use floo powder to take your kids directly to their common room?

Indeed considering that floo powder can get you for place to place near instantly, why bother with a boarding school at all? Children could just as well live at home and commute to school. The floo network is a telephone and rapid transport system all in one.
Why give your letter to an owl that could be intercepted, or killed by accident, when you could just pop through the floo network and drop your letter or parcel off in a couple of minutes.

And then we get teleportation. At first it seems like a dangerous and difficult trick that only the most experienced wizards attempt, which is not so bad. Then we learn that it is as common in the Wizarding world as driving is in ours. Really Young witches and wizards going for their Teleportation test is kind of cheezy. But the big problem is that it completely breaks everything that went before it, suddenly the night bus and the floo network, not to mention owl post nolonger make sense. Even the broom becomes something that no one would really use for anything other than recreation.

In my opinion teleportation should not have been added to the Story. At least not for the ordinary wizard. It should have been a feature of the Dark mark, something that Voldamort developed. By virtue of having some of Voldamorts Soul, let Harry pull it off in an emergency. But that's it. And to prevent House Elves replacing the Owl post, make it so that they explicitly cannot take anything with them. Picture the added mirth of Harry first seeing Dobbie wearing one of Aunt Petunias best tea towels as a toga.

Portkeys on the other hand are a neat idea, and in the absence of teleportation
do seem to make sense when large numbers of wizards need to travel. The one
plot element I did not like was the ease with which Dumboldore could make one.
In any case you'd think that the only magical Hospital in Britain would be on
the Floo network.

Restictions on Underage Magic

Well, you could set up enchantments to monitor every child between 11 and 17, 24 hours per day to make sure that they don't do any unothorised magic outside of school. Or you could just put their wants in a magically sealed locker. Really why are young wizards allowed to run arround with wands if they arn't allowed to use them?

As others sites have pointed out the sheer amount of magical surveillance involved in policing these restrictions is very Orwellian. And once you've established that there exist spells that can achieve infalable survalance the idea that anyone can hide from the ministry becomes rather implausible.

A registry of Wands and the ability to forensically determin who's wand cast
what spell in a given location, much like real world police can match a bullet
to a particular gun, would have been much better. The trick to avoiding capture
is then to avoid using magic. Forcing our heroes to use muggle forms of
transport during book seven would have been rather interesting, especially for
Ron.


Armed and Dangerous

I don't think there is any real way to fix most of this bit, as it does seem to
be an integral part of a magic school. But I'll note them anyway.

Every high school kid is running around with a loaded weapon, that can fire an
unblockable death curse if you get them angry enough. Sure most injuries can be
fixed in the hospital wing fairly quickly, accept for the instantly fatal ones
that is. Note that sport of choice does not seem to have anything in the way of
safety precautions at all. You'd think the helmets might be used, and perhaps
some enchantment to catch any player unfortunate enough to fall off their
broomstick.

And then we have potions which for some reason are not regulated anywhere near
as heavily as wand usage. Mind control, pain and death spells are unforgivable
curses. Yet you can legally buy mind control potions at the local joke shop. And
as for the rest, there's probably a recipe for them in your text book, or
failing that in the school library. This includes the infamous polyjuice
potion which can be misused in so many ways.

1 comment:

E.J. Wesley said...

Very compelling arguments! I especially think you're right on about the dual sides of Dumbledore not being presented early enough and the transportation issues.

I'm sure JK could explain it away (she's quite good at that), but to the reader it doesn't make a lot of sense. Teleportation is difficult to pull off in any story structure though. Just leaves too many holes to fill.

With regards to the wands, I'm sure the wizarding world could come up with some kind of restrictor device to limit a wands usage in the muggle world. So I'm not sure they'd even have to go so far as to confiscate them. Agree that it seems silly to let children have them if it's highly illegal to use them.