Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thursentary: The Reader Grows Up

I always know what my favorite series is because I think about it every day. Seriously. It’s kind of like mental fan fiction; I lock myself in that story realm and I work with it until the story becomes as much my own as it is the author’s. More than that, it’s often a way for me to examine the emotions and situations in my own life with a greater degree of separation. And more explosions.

My life does not have a lot of explosions.

via Goodreads
Anyway, from about third grade to sixth grade I was completely in love with Harry Potter (the series, not the character). I really liked Lupin’s predicament, so I borrowed it. But instead of becoming a werewolf, she suffered a different affliction that forced her to become a different creature every night with no ability to predict what would happen to her. The most problematic transformation, of course, was a t-rex.

Also, I was very inspired by The Addams Family movie and Wednesday laying on a coffin, so my character was knocked out in moonlit quite often.

Now, I say this not just to showcase how weird I was a child, but to emphasize the difference from myself now. There was not a day I did not think about Harry Potter when it was my favorite, because I was caught up in my insertion-fantasy. I couldn’t possibly understand why you WOULDN’T want to think about Harry Potter daily. It was the best series ever, and I plugged through every book again and again and again, to the point I read book one about eighteen times.

By comparison, I have read Deathly Hallows three times.

I changed.

Sometimes I find Harry Potter discussions now, and I’ve befuddled myself without realizing: I am surprised that others haven’t.

via Goodreads
Take Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, which I have just finished. I initially disliked it, but somewhere along the way I fell in love with it, and the heroine’s charming, albeit evil, husband besides.

Ignifax, as he’s called,  makes deals with people. He’s fair, but he never tells the whole truth and people suffer because of the trust they put in him and their own righteousness. He’s cold and cruel, and yet childlike and kind at the same time. He’s a beast. Actually, it’s a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," and what we sometimes like to forget is that the beast never really stops being a monster—he just becomes a monster with a heart.

And I adore that. Have I talked about how I love moral ambiguity? I love moral ambiguity. I can’t even write it myself, I just love it.

So much moral ambiguity.

And you know what else I know?

There isn’t any in Harry Potter.

Okay, okay. I’m being a Sith again. SORRY, not sorry. But I think about it, and it is something that genuinely bothers me these days. Never once was Harry tempted to join Voldemort—and shut up for a moment and listen to me because I’m serious.

We’ve talked about Voldemort’s WBI before, and he’s a purely evil character with little to no redemption. He’s incapable of love, actually. But, he also has a pretty good deal for him, and Harry would not be crazy to join him or even agree with him (let’s ignore the one-cannot-live prophecy right now).

  • Harry was raised by abusive muggles who hated him and despised him
  • Harry sees that muggle-borns aren’t less talented or skilled, but they also exist as outcasts, to a degree, in the wizarding world as it was “meant to be”
  • Part of his own legacy is belonging to a magical family, which might even be enhanced by joining an intensely skilled wizard such as Voldemort
  • If Harry were to join, the amount of power and knowledge he might receive would make him capable of creating a better world, just like Voldemort

I mean, if Harry was truly useful to Voldemort, then Neville easily could have been exchanged. Yes, Voldemort chose Harry, but if Harry was special enough I doubt Voldemort would have qualms about changing his mind.

via Goodreads
In essence, Harry could have been tempted. Not by the best reasons, but if he were morally ambiguous it isn’t completely out there. But the rules Harry broke were justified to the reader. Voldemort never had any redeeming qualities. Bellatrix Lestrange was barbaric. Evil was intense. I mean, sure, Sirius was put in jail, but he was truly innocent. Lupin was a werewolf, which are traditionally evil, but he functioned in a position of good.

The closest thing I can think of is Severus Snape, who you never good tell was good or bad, and I’ve concluded more of the latter, in a heartless way.

Brett Michael Orr recently wrote a brilliant review for the Percy Jackson series, and I admired it quite a bit, but I was also confused at first, as to the Harry Potter references.

I guess I had forgotten that other people still consider it a benchmark, when I no longer do.

My standards changed, and my ideas about good and evil changed. There are no people like Harry Potter. And there are no people like Voldemort.

But there are people like Ignifiex. People like Loki. People like Mal Reynolds and Saffron, and Alina and the Darkling, and Black Widow, and so on and so forth. We’re not all good and we’re not all bad.

That’s what I’ve come to love in my books, and that’s what I’ve come to expect. Suddenly Harry Potter isn’t in the running anymore. Funny, what happens to you when you grow up.

How have your expectations changed for books as you have gotten older?

(Also, you should read this completely amazing-awesome-lovely post about fan fiction written by Topaz Winters because it is everything I have wanted to say but couldn't say and now I find I couldn't have said it better.)



    That is all.


      I guess that's all too.

  2. This is a really good article - and you're absolutely right. And yet, with all Harry Potters innate perfectness, when given the choice to turn back time and possibly right thirty years of wrongs, he just ignores that chance. Bugged me so bad I threw the book across the room.

    I don't think my expectations of books have changed, as much as my viewpoint has. As I've grown and gained experience, I suddenly see more sides of what is happening and what could happen in the plot. Which is good if you're a writer, you've got more sides than one to draw from for your own characters/plots! One of the perks of getting old... :)

    1. That's definitely a plot hole that has been plaguing more readers than you, I know. It could have happened, but it didn't, and the out of time travel was definitely not executed perfectly.

      That's definitely another way to look at it, though, and probably better. We still want our books to be awesome, we just get a different perspective of what awesome is in relation to the things that pertain to us. Aging is cool like that. :D

  3. Snape is the best character in Harry Potter! (just saying)

    But I agree, as you get older, your standards change. I think that we stop reading children's books not just because our reading level is above it, but because the characters in them aren't developed to how we now understand other humans to be.

    Humans are complicated creatures, and none of us are close to perfect, we are all tempted by power- something that is shown in some YA and adult books, but not in picture books or chapter books.


    1. I... I dunno. I always thought he was kind of abusive to Lily. Well, not always, but then I was shown an image and I changed my mind. But it is still okay that you like him as he is the lonely moral ambiguity. And as I said, I love moral ambiguity.

      *nods* I didn't think of it like that, but you're right—the dimensions of characters change to suit the audience they are intended for. There's definitely not the same kind of depth in Magic Tree House books as there is in books intended for YA readers and older.

      I think The Grisha Trilogy does a great job showing that temptation for power, and you're right again... Picture books show people who resist temptation. And, let's face it, you're trying to show those kids that the power to steal cookies is not theirs. But all the same... Hm. I like my train of thought. THANK YOU FOR IT.

      And I am glad you enjoyed it!

  4. On mental fan fiction - oh my goodness you do that too? I always thought it was just me. And I do agree with your view; HP does contain less moral ambiguity than many other works. Harry isn't perfect by any means, but he is wholly good.

    And Topaz's post was all levels of awesome and I'm so happy you read and liked it because it deserves to be glorified across the interwebs.

    1. :O I THOUGHT I WAS ALONE TOO. Seriously I stopped talking about it because my family thought maybe I was having brain problems and I thought I was alone BUT I AM NOT. HAHAHAHAHA. That pleases me greatly.

      But yes, I think in that regard Harry Potter never really grew up beyond the MG narrative, even though the darkness also indicated YA. Harry is supposed to be a Christ figure, and he surrounds himself with those who are holy, and after getting exposed to so many more powerful circumstances that kind of thing is difficult for me to comprehend anymore.

      And yeah, I loved it. So I glorified it in ALL THE PLACES. Because it was amazing. :D

  5. THIS THOUGH. THIS IS PERFECTION. I love moral ambiguity. I actually write it so much that, if I want to be honest, all my characters are villainous. They do monstrous things to get where they want to go. I never read Harry Potter as a kid (I'm reading it now! Up to book 4) but I think this is maybe true with a lot of kids books? Like Narnia. Same deal. Except Edmund did betray, so I guess there's a LITTLE evil stuff happening. x)

    I love Ignifex...and Shade. I loved that whole book! I wasn't sure I would, but, yup, I'm with you...the more I read, the more I loved. XD

    1. Moral ambiguity is great! I wish that I had the heart to be villainous but I get the sneaking suspicion I am not nearly as evil in writing as I wish I was. I'll have to work on that. Monstrosities are good, though, and I appreciate it. I know Harry Potter does, but I think someone else mentioned is that kids are always supposed to be taught not to be morally ambiguous and they cannot simply seize cookies as they please, etcetera. So they have to have good characters to follow. Narnia is another issue, though, so I can't say.

      :D Yay! It was surprising to me. But good.

  6. Great article! Moral ambiguity makes a story so much more complex and interesting. I definitely agree that my expectations for books have changed. There are books I would have 'given a try' when I was at school that I wouldn't look twice at now. there are books I've come to love more, and books I used to love that (to my own surprise) I've grown out of. It makes me feel... weird. =/ Thanks for sharing, Heather.

    1. Doesn't it? I mean, I think you can always give a character a few negative traits, but that doesn't always cut it. I think of James Bond, and yeah, maybe he shouldn't sleep with a different girl every week, but he's still a mostly good guy, and all his enemies are mostly bad guys. There's not a ton of variety. And I think that's okay—but as you said, we get into our own cubby sooner or later, and some books we don't care about and others fascinate us. :) Thanks for reading!


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