Saturday, July 25, 2015

That Harry Potter Post About Morality Some People Voted On

Don’t think I hate Harry Potter, because I don’t. It was my favorite series between third and sixth grade, and it rocked. Harry Potter is NOT a bad series, and I DO like it… it’s just that I’m older now, and Harry’s story is beginning to feel stale.

One of the reasons I read is to examine different styles of morality. In many ways, the series’ morality is cookie-cutter black-and-white, and doesn’t intrigue me as before. Even the construct of Hogwarts is build upon obvious good vs. obvious evil.

via Music Education for the 21st Century Classroom
Take the house model. Each house represents an important value to the series—bravery, kindness, wisdom, and EVIL. Wow. Very comparable. Admittedly, the sorting hat tends to divide people according to their values, not their actions (which is why Wormtail’s in Gryffindor), and Brett recently explained why Slytherin’s values aren’t “just evil.” But the concept of Slytherin that Harry interprets separates “bad people” from “good” at the very start. Does Harry ever befriend any of his Slytherin peers? Do we sympathize with someone like Draco Malfoy, not because he’s a victim, but for his own merits and personal charm? Tolerable people come from Slytherin, like Severus Snape and Horace Slughorn, but you’ll notice Harry only trusts them because Dumbledore does—not because he necessarily likes or trusts them himself.

Students are divided into spheres of morality from the beginning, and there’s little to no overlap. We isolate Slytherin, detest it, and friendship or teamwork becomes impossible. You aren’t supposed to admire a Slytherin’s character. They’re banned from Dumbledore’s army and the Battle of Hogwarts (though they’d just fight their own parents, which isn’t even fair)—there are no heroic deeds to admire from them.

I face moral conundrums. They aren’t so clear cut. There’s sympathy on the other side of the matter and people who are different from me aren’t just “wrong” the way I am “right.” Most of my favorite stories understand this, too. Will from Ranger’s Apprentice and A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet find people to admire among their captors; though King Galbatorix is cruel and unfair, he’s also a dreamer. Cops and robbers doesn’t cut it.

There’s no such thing as a completely evil man—so I take issue with characters like Voldemort and Dolores Umbridge.

via greenmachine987
The goal isn’t to romanticize evil, but Voldemort and Umbridge were so dehumanized there was little to them BUT evil. Tom Marvolo Riddle was born INCAPABLE of love. I don’t know Umbridge’s backstory, but no one’s gone out of their way to explain why she hurts others the way she does. That’s sad to me—we can’t just assume villains are “just evil.” There always has to be an “evil and.”

Take H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden (yes, it is my favorite), Wing shows Otto half of the yin yang necklace. He explains that it is meant to remind him that the seed of evil can exist within good things, but even in the blackest heart, there’s still the potential for good.

Here are Voldemort and Umbridge lacking. They are unkind, brutal, inhuman. I have to feel like they’re missing their other halves—the Darkling’s romance, Dr. Kananga’s charm, Darth Vader’s family, Ignifex’s passion, Zira’s motherhood, James and Victoria’s partnership, Loki’s brokenness, Rasputin’s humor, Davy Jones’ loss, Ursula’s injustice, Hades’ leadership, Javert’s honor. They’re missing that part of them that makes the hero think, “maybe I could join them.”

Harry never once considers joining Voldemort. 

(If Harry had been more useful to Voldemort alive, who’s to say he couldn’t change his mind and pick Neville?)

Granted, characters like Snape and Dumbledore and Wormtail show moral ambiguity, and we must recalculate their roles. But overall, evil characters are evil, nothing less.

I don’t go for it. It’s nice when things are black and white, and certainly some things are, but sometimes the choices are between two evils or a good with unfortunate consequences. Then again, sometimes I step back and realize that what I used to think was good, evil, or irrelevant isn’t that thing at all!

The story still works. Good and evil are clear cut, the heroes aren’t tempted by the bad guys. In reality, it’s probably good small children aren’t taught to be morally ambiguous murderers and pillagers and haters of people, nor should we become that way as we age. I’ve heard that Harry Potter fans are more likely to be more tolerant and loving than other people, and that’s good.

At the same time, as I’m living out the end of my teenage years I reach for—long for—the stories that give me questions to think about, and pick up Harry Potter, with all its definite answers, less and less.

Note: This post was written wearing a Slytherin t-shirt, and has no bearing on whether or not I will continue to wear it as a pajama shirt, because it is my right, and I shall.

How do you feel about the morality in Harry Potter? Does it give enough ambiguity for your tastes, or would you rather read something where there are no right answers?


23 comments :

  1. Okay, I see your point here. Still, I'm a diehard Harry Potter fan. I do wish that things hadn't been as black and white, and I totally agree with you on this, but I also think Harry Potter is very well written and confronts some interesting issues, and Harry struggles with doing the right thing, and isn't a perfect role model either. Great post (but you didn't change my mind, although I totally accept your point about morality)

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    1. Well, you don't have to stop being a diehard Harry Potter fan... this is just a defense as to why I'm not. XD Harry Potter does confront some interesting issues, but yes, Harry is a flawed protagonist, and that helps. Anyway, it's fine if you didn't change your mind—these are just my thoughts!

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  2. These were pretty much my thoughts as well when I was watching the movies (I'll admit, I haven't read the books yet, but I do want to read them soon). I always wondered why Hogwarts bothered to have a Slytherin house if all it stood for was evil. Like, isn't that just asking for trouble. I do think stories with clear-cut morals are good for teaching children the difference between good and evil, however, I don't think that's all they should be exposed to. I was really naive growing up, because it took me a litttle while to recognize how evil people have good traits in the same way that good people have evil traits. Being trusting is nice, but I was often too trusting, and find myself wishing my parents had taken me through a novel with morally ambiguous characters and then explained to me how to recognize people as a collection of traits, rather than as something simple and easy to understand.

    As for Umbridge, she may have been less "evil" in terms of body count, but I feel she was worse because she isn't just violent--she's sadistic. And I liked her better because she was supposed to beone of the good guys. Actually, I liked the whole of the Ministry of Magic becaus they were in a position of authority, but it was difficult to tell who was corrupt and who wasn't.

    Although I'm not sure I can weigh in too much on this because movies do deviate. Anyway, I really liked this post! Thanks for sharing. :)

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    1. The books have a lot more details that didn't make it into the movies, so I'd be interested to see if your opinion changes at all. Anyway, I don't think Slytherin was intended to be evil, that's just what it evolved into, at least in the storyworld. I don't really understand J.K. Rowling's rationale. Anyway, I agree that while clear-cut morals can be good for kids, they don't necessarily explain how the world actually is, and as someone who can remember being naive as well, I wish I had been exposed to more when I was younger, too.

      I agree that Umbridge was worse. Her evil was intense, as you said. Voldemort just wanted power—she enjoyed doling out pain. It took me a while to realize that the Harry Potter government system is kind of communist, and not in a good way. It turned out sort of alarming.

      I'd agree that you should read the books before you make any final judgments, but I still think there was merit in your words. Thanks for reading!

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  3. Completely agree with you there. I can understand why Harry didn't want to join Voldemort, though, and it makes sense that he wasn't the least bit tempted. But I agree about Voldy and Umbridge. While we did get to see Voldemort's backstory, it's not like we pitied him or even remotely felt something towards him that wasn't negative. And Umbridge - why is she so lawful? Why does she crave Harry's demise so badly? I liked your mention to Darth Vader, he's such a morally ambiguous character who I loved in the prequels. His love was destructive, but Voldy No-nose had no love to begin with. Psychopaths are hard to relate to. :)

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    1. Yeah, in that regard, it wasn't Harry's fault, just a bone I have to pick with Voldemort. He could have been more enticing. I don't feel like we got a very good understanding of Umbridge, other than she's evil because she likes it, but it doesn't explain much. Darth Vader is definitely much more morally ambiguous, especially because of the prequels, but destructive love was definitely more interesting to explore. Very true. Thanks, Jo!

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  4. I love how you always sound so dubious about our choices. "I think you picked this because you liked it, and I do too, but you might not like this post, because you liked it." I LOVE THIS. NEVER STOP.

    And as a fellow Slytherin although without a T-shirt, I am 100% behind this post. I love the re-evaluation of Slytherin the fandom's been going through, and especially love all the Slytherin Muggleborn headcanons and all the Slytherin headcanons in general. This is one of my favourite AU ideas about Slytherins, and it gave me so many chills I shall place a link here: http://alyssacarlier.tumblr.com/post/124172420567/69shadesofgray-crazybutperfectlysane-so-i-was

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    1. XD Well, that seems to be the trend around here, but I'm not overflowing with endless praise. Still, I hope to do more, because I like that attitude of mine.

      *hives fellow Slytherin despite lack of t-shirt* I've really liked it, too. It's like the fandom is reevaluating something that wasn't well-addressed in the books, and I also love the Slytherin Muggleborn headcanons. Although mostly I like all the muggleborn headcanons because they would do the craziest things and if the teachers weren't well-versed in muggleness they would quickly be outpaced. That would be hilarious. XD

      Geez, how did I never notice that your Tumblr page is gorgeous? I am going to read it now! Agggghhh thank you for sharing that with me because now I feel like that would have been a totally justified subplot and exactly what I'm talking about: we don't get to like any Slytherins because of their own merits, and they're never really in positions where we can see that they aren't anything but bad guys. So, yes. Thank you.

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  6. I wholeheartedly agree with your points about Slytherins. I myself am a Slytherin, and I actually do not believe they are all bad. True, they 'produced the most Dark wizards', but surely you can't base every individual off of one fact?
    And most people forget that Nymphadora Tonks, an Auror who helped protect Harry and died in the Battle of Hogwarts, was a Slytherin also.
    Oh, and I totally agree with Alyssa about all the Slytherin headcanons: I read one recently about a Muggleborn Slytherin recieving a Howler from their sibling that shouts 'WHAT TEAM?' and then all of the Muggleborns shout 'WILDCATS!' and all of the wizards are shaking their heads and wondering what in the name of Merlin they're on about.
    Ah, headcanons. <3
    (p.s- I really hope you don't mind me asking, but I have recently started a Writing Competition on my blog. It would mean the world to me if you could maybe give it a little look? All feedback is welcome, as it will only help me improve. Thank you!)

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    1. *hives fellow Slytherin* Yes, the perspective shared in the books was pretty limited. You're totally right, in that regard.

      I thought it was Andromeda Tonks who was a Slytherin, but perhaps my facts are wrong. And that was bigger because her husband was a Hufflepuff. Anyway. Yes to the WILDCATS because we need to do that always. XD Thank you.

      Sure, I can take a look. :)

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    2. It WAS Andromeda Tones who was a Slytherin. Sorry, got the names mixed up as my memory is as good as Harry is at potions (and if you know what I'm on about, I love you for it :))

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    3. Ah, well, an honest mistake! XD That's just fine. Still, we know she raised someone as cool as Tonks, so she still gets points. :)

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  7. This this this. This is just one of the many issues I had with Harry Potter. I'm Slytherin myself, I guess, more than anything else, and I've always been annoyed with how black-and-white the houses are. Gryffindor is good. Slytherin is stupid and bad. And I don't really understand that, because there was SO MUCH POTENTIAL for exploring things there. I would have loved to see a Slytherin Harry, too, because that just sounds awesome.
    *flips table*

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    1. Heh heh heh. *hives another Slytherin* But yeah, there isn't really enough gray area between the houses. It did have a lot of potential that was never realized, and that is a sadness. :( Although, Harry is kind of a symbolic Slytherin, just like Hermione is a symbolic Ravenclaw and Ron is a symbolic Hufflepuff; that's how I've heard it explained, anyway. It would have been interesting for the story being of someone of Slytherin house saving the world, though!

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  8. I've seen a few discussions about Harry Potter and Slytherin recently, and it's so interesting to think about it and appreciate that there is more to the houses and the story than we were necessarily given. I adore the books, for what they gave me as I grew up and also for how much genuine enjoyment and love I get/have for them, and if there are parts that don't really align with what I want these days I don't know- I perhaps shouldn't, but I don't seem to mind too much. I'd have loved some sexual diversity in there, apart from Dumbledore who it was only vaugely insinuated in print, although perhaps if the series ever gets expanded we'll get that. Aimee makes a really good and interesting point, and I appreciate in hindsight that I just went along with the story and didn't think about Slytherin as anything other than the bad pupils, which is so not correct for me now; it would have been amazing if the books had showcased some pupils being separated from their family by their houses, but that not making them bad, ect. Or Harry making a point to give other houses a try- he mostly only stayed within the Gryffindor group, as it was.
    x

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    1. Absolutely! The books were definitely good for me when I was younger and they'll have a special place in my heart, but things do change as you get older. I'm not sure how much sexual diversity would have been advisable twenty years ago when the books first came out, but maybe now it would be possible to include more things not included before. I totally agree with you, though. Showcasing the impact of the war on Slytherins would have been fantastic, but no. Just Gryffindor. *sigh*

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  9. I see your point and it's definitely a good one, but I'd disagree on one thing: I think there is such a thing as a completely evil person. I'm not gonna say they're all born that way, but sometimes circumstances do come in that completely strip the good out of a human being, and then they /become/ completely evil.
    That said, I think it depends on the story. Sometimes the moral ambiguity is fascinating, and I love the questions with no right answers. Other times, I just want a bad guy who is evil to the core and I can despise with all of my being. I guess it just depends on what fits the story and what I feel like reading at the time. :)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. Huh, I definitely don't agree with you on that point. I've never heard of a completely evil person, so if you ever feel the need to elaborate on any examples, I'd be interested to hear your argument.

      I actually really dislike villains I can hate with all of my being. I feel like if the author hasn't made me fall in love with the villain, they haven't done their job. But, it's really a matter of preference, so I can't blame you for that one.

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    2. Do you mean completely evil in real life or in literature? I'm assuming real life, since you mentioned the Harry Potter villains who are completely evil and besides them, there are quite a few: the Emperor, President Snow, Opal from Artemis Fowl... They may have been good once (who knows, right?), but they allowed their desire for power to corrupt them until they were willing to do anything to get/keep it. They eventually became completely evil (and in Opal's case, completely insane. :p)

      If you mean people in real life, that's a harder one to answer. Since I'm not in anyone's head but my own, I cannot say beyond the shadow of a doubt that anyone is completely evil (except me, and I'm reasonably certain I'm not. ;) . For that, I think it becomes about whether or not you're willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe that there is still some good left in everyone. However, having seen/heard of certain people's actions, I'm just not inclined to give that trust to everyone.


      Alexa
      thessalexa.blogspot.com
      verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    3. I mean in real life. Because yes, there are completely evil people in books, like President Snow, Opal—although Opal still has her good side, I think—and... I don't know which emperor. But yes. They have become evil.

      At least for me, I understand where you're coming from in that we can't judge others for them, but I will say that I have still never heard of a completely evil person in my life. Even Hitler had his virtues, and limiting people like that is impossible for me. *nods*

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    4. The Emperor in Star Wars. Should've clarified. :)

      Well, like I said it just becomes about whether or not you're willing to give people the benefit of the doubt; you are, I'm not. Not to say that they could never change--the love of Jesus can do anything--only that, at some point, the heart can become completely evil.

      But again, that is just an opinion since I can't actually judge anyone. :)

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    5. OH YEAH. Now that I think about it that kinda should have been my first guess. But again, even though they are truly evil they all have their virtues. *nods*

      Well OF COURSE Jesus can do anything. He's Jesus, lucky Him. But yeah... I cannot possibly imagine anyone who has no virtues to their name, which is I guess where we'll just have to agree to disagree!

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