Harry Potter and the Implausible Plot Device

by Kieran Healy on August 4, 2003

Our household has just finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the general feeling is one of disappointment. Henry has already written about the claim, made recently by the much-reviled A.S. Byatt,that Harry is derivative and ersatz. The real problem is more that Harry seems to be an idiot.

Spoilers, and a certain amount of ranting, ahead.

J.K. Rowling is not good at plots. She is superb when it comes to the incidental touches that make Harry’s world entertaining—the paper aeroplane memos, the names of Hospital wards, and all the rest of it—but she is constantly painting herself into plot corners where the only way out is for a character to be quite unbelievably stupid. Over and over again, things are made to happen because “Harry felt his anger well up inside him” or “Not caring what happened next, Harry …” Unlike Byatt, I don’t believe that the books have to abide by some Grand Laws of Children’s Fiction, so I was happy to excuse a lot of this on the grounds that Harry is now a hot-headed adolescent and doesn’t always make the right choices. But having it happen for the nth time (with Harry showing absolutely no capacity to learn from previous mistakes) begins to grate in a book that’s 760 pages long.

There are other problems besides the overreliance on the “Angry Young Harry” device.

Grawp. The character of Grawp serves no purpose at all in the story other than to save the day, deus ex machina, a few chapters after he is introduced. (Harry’s inability to figure out what Grawp’s cry of “Haggy!” means is further evidence that he has been licking the lead paint at Number Four Privet Drive.)

The Two-Way Mirror. I will be very happy if anyone can explain to me (1) Why Harry does not use the two-way mirror to communicate with Sirius, but rather puts himself in mortal danger by breaking into Umbridge’s office, (2) Why the first words out of Sirius’s mouth when Harry uses the fireplace to talk to Sirius are not “Why aren’t you using the magic two-way mirror I gave you, idiot boy?”, (3) Why Harry does not even bother to unwrap the package containing the mirror that Sirius gives him when leaving Grimmauld Place, choosing instead to put it at the bottom of his trunk and not unwrap it until it’s far, far too late, even though Sirius hands it to him with the words “If you want to get in touch with me, use this,” and Harry spends most of the book wanting more than anything to talk to Sirius, and (4) Why Sirius even waits as long as he does to give him the mirror in the first place, having already had to put his own neck at risk by trying to talk to Harry earlier, and putting Harry in danger by forcing him to send messages via owl post.

The Order vs the DA. When Harry et al found the DA, they are very careful not to get caught. They do an excellent, well-organized, and wholly successful job of maintaining an illegal secret society of 25 people right under Umbridge’s nose. In contrast, Harry and Ron seem unable to take the Order of the Phoenix seriously, routinely yakking about it over breakfast in the Great Hall, ignoring the requests or demands of its leaders (even if they have repeatedly put their lives on the line to save the worthless boy) and never once, despite four years of repeated attacks on Harry by Voldemort, giving a charitable interpretation for why the order is guarding Harry so fiercely, hiding him so carefully, or asking him not to put himself in danger.

Wot, Magic?! Harry’s been living in the wizard world for more than four years, and has seen a lot of weird stuff. He also knows that the wizard world is hidden from the muggle world. So can we please stop having tedious little scenes where Harry is amazed—amazed—that some innocuous looking side alley or department store window turns out to be the entrance to the Ministry of Magic or St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies, even though he knows he’s being taken to these places. “Harry looked at Mr Weasley blankly… why was he talking into a broken telephone box?” “Harry couldn’t understand why they were whispering into the empty shop window.” Harry needs a smack upside the head.

The Dreams. Harry never once asks himself why he is repeatedly having his dream about the locked door at the end of the corridor, or why he is so curious to see what’s behind it.

Other Members of the Order. “We have to risk our necks because there are no members of the Order left at Hogwarts!” said Harry, his anger welling up inside him. “Um, what about Snape? He’s over there, waving at us,” the normally clever Hermione unaccountably did not reply.

Malfoy Jr. I have no idea why Harry is now even remotely afraid of or even irritated by Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, all garden-variety school bullies who have never displayed much in the way of special magical talents. Harry, meanwhile, is spending his time battling Death-Eaters (including Malfoy’s and Crabbe’s fathers!) not to mention Voldemort himself. But of course when it’s necessary to have something plot-related happen, Malfoy has no trouble goading Harry into one of his now-trademark Terrible Rages.

Some of these issues were evident in the fourth book. (In a move worthy of late-period Dallas, the long-hidden and wholly implausible secret of Scabbers the rat had to be pulled out of a hat in order to make the plot work.) They seem to be getting worse, to the point where all the great little details and ideas are drowned out by the blaring idiocy of the central characters. Despite the reams and reams of dialogue, it’s amazing how many opportunities to have a short, sensible conversation about what’s happening are passed up by children and adults alike. It’s one thing to say that misunderstandings happen and that people make errors of judgment. But Rowling forces her characters into places where they must be stupider than we know they are, because she has no other way of making things happen. It’s just not that satisfying when everything is driven by Harry’s permanent rage or Ron’s ever-deepening stupidity or Hermione’s sudden lapses of judgment.

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1

Jonathan Goldberg 08.04.03 at 3:10 am

About “The Dreams”: another lame point is Harry’s failure to eliminate the dreams by practicing his Oculmency as directed. I would think that being told the he could be taken over by Voldemort if he didn’t would be more than enough motivation, feelings about Snape notwithstanding.
My tastes being as debased as they are, I still enjoyed it.

2

Nick 08.04.03 at 3:17 am

“Harry never once asks himself why he is repeatedly having his dream about the locked door at the end of the corridor, or why he is so curious to see what’s behind it.”

In fairness, the meaning of such a dream invading the sleep of a teenage boy is pretty obvious.

“Malfoy Jr. I have no idea why Harry is now even remotely afraid of or even irritated by Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, all garden-variety school bullies who have never displayed much in the way of special magical talents.”

He’s probably seen what they get up to in the slash fiction on the net.

3

Cobb 08.04.03 at 3:18 am

Good heavens you’re right. I think I’ll never listen to another Harry Potter book on CD. Heaven forbid the next one is as long, I’ll probably not read one either.

I must say that I spent so much time in a fury over the evil Ms. Umbridge that I enjoyed listening (too long) to all 23 odd disks. Nevertheless, I too was quite annoyed by Harry’s ridiculous hatred and distrust of Snape, and Snape’s continuing childish behavior. As well, I found it rather foolish that someone hadn’t bothered to paint several portraits of Sirius and place them all ’round.

For a league of extraordinary wizards, the Order of the Phoenix seem a remarkably inept bunch. What did they do all day besides skulk around secretly guarding His Angry Majesty? And how is it that Black, having outsmarted everyone for a dozen years suddenly finds himself unable to do anything constructive?

Finally, what is up with Elf Liberation? This has gone nowhere for a book and a half. Have Hermione set up an Underground Railroad or something more constructive than knitting hats fer chrissake, or we’re all going to spew.

4

KF 08.04.03 at 3:34 am

I absolutely agree with you on almost all of the above. I do have to admit, however, to really enjoying the fact that the previously angelic Harry P. has in this episode turned into a thoroughgoing hormonal adolescent wanker. He behaves like an idiot throughout, as most fifteen-year-olds would. He sulks. He rages. He acts like a jerk toward girls he likes. And he doesn’t miraculously recover from being a teenage boy by novel’s end. So yeah, improbable plot devices abound (the mirror thing particularly irked me). But this new, dumb, pain in the keister Harry is much more fun to hate.

5

Erik 08.04.03 at 3:57 am

I agree completely. You’re right on the mark about the most painful part of the book (Harry being dumber than a box of rocks), and actually mention several of the times I was forced to put down the book in disgust. In JKR’s defense, however, kids are very stupid. Not Harry stupid, but stupid.

nick: Who knows, that might make him more friendly with Draco.

6

chq 08.04.03 at 7:19 am

I’m ten years old. My mother and my grandma have read them to me. I wanted to have this one so much but now we have it I think it’s boring. Nothing is funny in this one. Nothing happens for a long time. There is too much talking. Harry just sits and sits and doesn’t get to be with Ron or Hermione very much. They keep talking about stuff that happened in the other books that I can’t really remember very much and my grandma can’t too. I wish it was shorter. I keep going to sleep when she reads it to me and I hate to go to sleep.
…(typed by his grandmother)

7

Nick Blesch 08.04.03 at 7:19 am

You’re missing the point: if the characters weren’t stupid, then there wouldn’t be a book. All the time in movies, tv shows, books, you name it, you watch a character choose to do the stupidest thing possible. Rather it’s Harry letting Draco work him up or Romeo being too dumb to check for a pulse, the characters’ stupidity drives the plots forward.

That said, I agree with you wholly – Harry is a complete idiot. Nonetheless, I loved the book. But then, I like Godzilla movies, so don’t trust me too much. :-)

8

Ichikawa 08.04.03 at 3:33 pm

I find most of your complaints generally correct, and half of them are ones I’ve already made… but none of them ruined the book for me. I still find it fun. Some comments:

Grawp

The character of Grawp serves no purpose at all in the story other than to save the day. Presumably, his inclusion in this book also serves the purpose of introducing what will eventually be an important character in future books. The story of Grawp is nothing close to finished.

The Mirror Yeah, this one made me very angry too.

Why does Harry not use the two-way mirror to communicate with Sirius, but rather puts himself in mortal danger by breaking into Umbridge’s office?

Why does Harry not even bother to unwrap the package containing the mirror that Sirius gives him?

I’ve had this argument with a couple of friends. I’ve taken your side. But their answer usually goes something like this: when Sirius offers Harry the mirror, Harry resolves never to use it, for fear of putting Sirius in danger. Having done so, and several months having past, it never occurs to him to consider the gift.

Why does Sirius even wait as long as he does to give him the mirror in the first place?

Umm… he just got it?

*shrug*

I have many of the same reactions you do… I was also furious with Harry’s treatment of Cho, on whom I’ve shared Harry’s crush since her introduction. But I’ll still read the next one. I’m not quite sure why I’m a fan, but I undeniably am. I actually happen to be wearing a Gryffindor Quittich jersey t-shirt today.

9

Dantheman 08.04.03 at 6:10 pm

Additional questions:

1. Why are Malfoy, et al. still allowed to walk the halls of Hogwarts, when it is clear they act as spies for Voldemort and the Death Eaters?

2. Why does everyone have such a great opinion of Harry’s parents? Yes, many of those saying nice things were part of their circle at school, but others who were adults at the time seem to think they were perfection, rather than flawed people who gave their lives on the side of good.

3. Why hasn’t anyone else (especially Dumbledore or McGonigle) told Harry that there is a lot of basis for Snape’s opinion of Harry?

4. And, what about Naomi? (sorry, Electric Company moment)

10

rea 08.04.03 at 10:40 pm

“In a move worthy of late-period Dallas, the long-hidden and wholly implausible secret of Scabbers the rat had to be pulled out of a hat in order to make the plot work.”

You didn’t see that coming? I thought it was forshadowed as long ago as book #1 . . .

11

cp 08.05.03 at 7:34 pm

I agree that Grawp was stuck in this one in order to come into play in one of the couple remaining books. Ditto for that shape-changing wizardess.

My biggest complaint about TOotP was that whereas the previous book ended with Death Eaters unmasked and a war against Voldemort imminent, JKR slammed the brakes on all that and spent a whole book establishing and undoing everyone’s disbelief in Harry’s account. It gave me the sense that JKR looked ahead, saw that she had three more books to write, realized she didn’t have all that many ideas, and decided to tread water for at least one of those three.

That said, I don’t feel like my time or money was wasted.

12

G.DeeDee 08.05.03 at 9:04 pm

Well, nicely put. It is heartening to hear someone else give reasonable analysis on this heinous book. Why is it that I knew what a three toed sloth was at the age of ten and most every major dinosaur speices, but these kids don’t know anything about magical creatures at the age of 15? Wouldn’t tales of horses that pulled the carriages only seen by those that had seen death be exciting enough news to spread around and become common knowledge. No, Rowling it was not melancholy and deep. It was just silly.

In addition to the lousy plot and crontrived plot devices that range from the bomb dropping Mary Sue named Hermione to mysterious creatures that most every kid should have known exsisted, the themes of this novel are also overplayed and uninsightfully drawn.

For all its much touted darkness and depth, Order of the the Phoenix has no real insights or opinions on adolesence except to say that teenagers are often angry and yes developing an understanding of themselves. Hardly the stuff to rival Salinger or Plath or even better children’s authors like Michael Bedard. Yes teenagers need to learn self control. Most have some, others learn to control themsleves eventually. Yes overt officious government control is bad. So what then? What else does the book have to provide beyond this with its charicatures. Rowling gives us nothing more sophisticated than a cartoonish distopia world that could be shared by the Scooby Doo gang.

So no, Phoenix is not a deep sophisticated epic. It is nothing more than a wordy, poorly written novel given to an audience that is happy to drink up garbage and praise it because they aren’t willing to admit what it really going on. The bubble has burst. This is a bad novel. Pure and simple.

Boring, laborous, uninsightful, derivative and just plain badly written. Never once did Rowling make you feel you could taste or smell or touch Potter’s paper thin secondary world.

So bring on Harry Potter, Christ figure. Bring on a Judas named Ron and St. Peter-Hermione. I can’t wait to see Potter enthusiast proclaiming Rowling’s brilliance when Potter dies and rises from the ashes.

But I say, I can do without it. If I wanted that story, I would read the New Testament. It is more exciting and better written.

I’m off to read all those authors long touted to be better than Rowling. And you know what… They are. Shame on me for not being willing to read them earlier. The best thing to come out of HP is that Diana Wynne Jones’ books are now on my shelf and I am reading some Mark Twain after a long delay.

So what to do with OOTP? It will make for nice bonfire kindling. I can’t even stand to give it away. Seems too cruel.

DeeDee

13

G.DeeDee 08.05.03 at 9:04 pm

Well, nicely put. It is heartening to hear someone else give reasonable analysis on this heinous book. Why is it that I knew what a three toed sloth was at the age of ten and most every major dinosaur speices, but these kids don’t know anything about magical creatures at the age of 15? Wouldn’t tales of horses that pulled the carriages only seen by those that had seen death be exciting enough news to spread around and become common knowledge. No, Rowling it was not melancholy and deep. It was just silly.

In addition to the lousy plot and crontrived plot devices that range from the bomb dropping Mary Sue named Hermione to mysterious creatures that most every kid should have known exsisted, the themes of this novel are also overplayed and uninsightfully drawn.

For all its much touted darkness and depth, Order of the the Phoenix has no real insights or opinions on adolesence except to say that teenagers are often angry and yes developing an understanding of themselves. Hardly the stuff to rival Salinger or Plath or even better children’s authors like Michael Bedard. Yes teenagers need to learn self control. Most have some, others learn to control themsleves eventually. Yes overt officious government control is bad. So what then? What else does the book have to provide beyond this with its charicatures. Rowling gives us nothing more sophisticated than a cartoonish distopia world that could be shared by the Scooby Doo gang.

So no, Phoenix is not a deep sophisticated epic. It is nothing more than a wordy, poorly written novel given to an audience that is happy to drink up garbage and praise it because they aren’t willing to admit what it really going on. The bubble has burst. This is a bad novel. Pure and simple.

Boring, laborous, uninsightful, derivative and just plain badly written. Never once did Rowling make you feel you could taste or smell or touch Potter’s paper thin secondary world.

So bring on Harry Potter, Christ figure. Bring on a Judas named Ron and St. Peter-Hermione. I can’t wait to see Potter enthusiast proclaiming Rowling’s brilliance when Potter dies and rises from the ashes.

But I say, I can do without it. If I wanted that story, I would read the New Testament. It is more exciting and better written.

I’m off to read all those authors long touted to be better than Rowling. And you know what… They are. Shame on me for not being willing to read them earlier. The best thing to come out of HP is that Diana Wynne Jones’ books are now on my shelf and I am reading some Mark Twain after a long delay.

So what to do with OOTP? It will make for nice bonfire kindling. I can’t even stand to give it away. Seems too cruel.

DeeDee

14

G.DeeDee 08.05.03 at 9:04 pm

Well, nicely put. It is heartening to hear someone else give reasonable analysis on this heinous book. Why is it that I knew what a three toed sloth was at the age of ten and most every major dinosaur speices, but these kids don’t know anything about magical creatures at the age of 15? Wouldn’t tales of horses that pulled the carriages only seen by those that had seen death be exciting enough news to spread around and become common knowledge. No, Rowling it was not melancholy and deep. It was just silly.

In addition to the lousy plot and crontrived plot devices that range from the bomb dropping Mary Sue named Hermione to mysterious creatures that most every kid should have known exsisted, the themes of this novel are also overplayed and uninsightfully drawn.

For all its much touted darkness and depth, Order of the the Phoenix has no real insights or opinions on adolesence except to say that teenagers are often angry and yes developing an understanding of themselves. Hardly the stuff to rival Salinger or Plath or even better children’s authors like Michael Bedard. Yes teenagers need to learn self control. Most have some, others learn to control themsleves eventually. Yes overt officious government control is bad. So what then? What else does the book have to provide beyond this with its charicatures. Rowling gives us nothing more sophisticated than a cartoonish distopia world that could be shared by the Scooby Doo gang.

So no, Phoenix is not a deep sophisticated epic. It is nothing more than a wordy, poorly written novel given to an audience that is happy to drink up garbage and praise it because they aren’t willing to admit what it really going on. The bubble has burst. This is a bad novel. Pure and simple.

Boring, laborous, uninsightful, derivative and just plain badly written. Never once did Rowling make you feel you could taste or smell or touch Potter’s paper thin secondary world.

So bring on Harry Potter, Christ figure. Bring on a Judas named Ron and St. Peter-Hermione. I can’t wait to see Potter enthusiast proclaiming Rowling’s brilliance when Potter dies and rises from the ashes.

But I say, I can do without it. If I wanted that story, I would read the New Testament. It is more exciting and better written.

I’m off to read all those authors long touted to be better than Rowling. And you know what… They are. Shame on me for not being willing to read them earlier. The best thing to come out of HP is that Diana Wynne Jones’ books are now on my shelf and I am reading some Mark Twain after a long delay.

So what to do with OOTP? It will make for nice bonfire kindling. I can’t even stand to give it away. Seems too cruel.

DeeDee

15

demeter 08.06.03 at 12:50 am

Well, yes. This 5th book sucked but I still liked it. Harry Potter had a lot of temper tantrums but I quote from Sirius ‘a lot of people are idiots at the age of 15’. Anyways, I believe the other books were good and when she was writing this book, I imagine the stress put on her to get her done in a hurry, not letting her write the book as thoroughly. Alsooo, I don’t think Hermione would have said that Snape was in the order because she knows that Ron and Harry never trusted him and Harry trusted him at that one last moment because he was on the verge of bursting from not being able to save his god father.

16

Ruth Feingold 08.06.03 at 3:04 am

“Why does Sirius even wait as long as he does to give him the mirror in the first place?
Umm… he just got it?”

I could be misremembering this, but I’m pretty sure Sirius says that he and James used to use the mirrors, so the “just got it” explanation can’t fly.

My favourite bit of questionable writing is the following:
“Hermione was not the only one eagerly awaiting her Daily Prophet: nearly everyone was eager for more news about the escaped Death Eaters, who, despite the many reported sightings, had still not been caught. She gave the delivery owl a knut and unfolded the newspaper eagerly….”

Hello? Thesaurus, anyone?

I wasn’t expecting great prose. I was, however, disappointed by a thinness of plot and a relative lack of new everyday magic minutiae. I’m not a huge Harry fan, but #4 had convinced me they were getting much better; I thought this was a definite downturn.

17

Vi 08.06.03 at 6:24 pm

Though many have excused Order of the Phoenix and its author because of her stressful life or lack of time, I cannot. Firstly, time is infinite. Rowling had as much as she could desire and the ability to demand more – she’s that powerful! Who could make her do anything? Secondly, millions of dollars ought to reduce the pressures in her life enough to promote an environment where she can write something acceptable. (Money can’t buy happiness but it buys a rather nice desk and whole lot of notebooks and pencils.) If now was not the right time to finish the series, goodness me – stop writing until it is. I doubt that was the case here. Clearly, Rowling is happy with her work. I, however, am not. I may just be one tiny voice and it may be heresy to criticize J.K. Rowling, saviour of the written word and holy saint of single mothers, but I never liked organized mobs anyway.

Many writers never gain the pleasure of having fiction serve as a full time job. Many have to hold other jobs and manage to turn out very good stuff. (And no, I am not one of those struggling masses with a manuscript on my desk. I just like to read.) As paying customer all I ask is that, what I purchase is good, or at least decent. Order of the Phoenix is so far from that I hardly know what to say. I can say I paid 43.00 dollars for the privilege of having it sit on my shelf and gather dust. As a reader, I can only sit in awe of the struggle to create something new and wonderful for me to read, but I don’t see why I should shell out if the writer can’t do her job decently. If you go to a play and your actor passes out in the middle, you may have sympathy on a human level, but you don’t say “WOW. That was dramatic. If I come back I hope she does that again!” In addition, most would hope to get some money back. Do you think the publishers would give my money back? It wasn’t my local bookseller’s fault this novel was bad. Their buyers didn’t get to review it beforehand.

Were she my friend, I would console Rowling for whatever made her incapable of writing a decent novel. As a customer, I don’t presume to speculate on her private life. Besides, I really don’t care how she gets through life, so long as what she puts on the market is a quality product. This book should have never made it past the editor’s desk much less into print. The fact that the public is praising her shallow (and worse – DULL) treatment of teenage life, government power and social ills is truly sad. Maybe Byatt was right. Maybe we have all lost our minds and more importantly our sense of taste.

It is back to adult reading for me. I need a cleansing of my palate. Frankly, I feel ashamed I even liked the series. Maybe I will finally get around to a Discworld book.

I am sorry Ms. Byatt, I’ll try to do better next time. Would reading Virkam Seth’s A Suitable Boy do as penance? (It would be a pleasant penance from what I hear.)

18

whatish 08.07.03 at 12:13 am

3. Why hasn’t anyone else (especially Dumbledore or McGonigle) told Harry that there is a lot of basis for Snape’s opinion of Harry?
Actually, we see no defense of Snape’s hatred of Harry. We see further defense of his hatred of *James* (et al), but hating James’s son, who never met his father, does not logically follow.

We also didn’t mention what I feel were glaring plot holes:

1. Either (a) creating a Patronus is very difficult (and deserves extra points on an OWL) and it is amazing that even Harry can do it or (b) it’s not that hard and Harry can teach a bunch of other students to create them.

2. Either Slytherin (a) is anti-Mudblood, thinking they’re not real witches/wizards (see the Sorting Hat’s newest song) and won’t accept them or (b) accepted Tom Riddle and almost accepted Harry, both Mudbloods (see book 1 and 2, I think).

There’s also the irritating question of why the time machine thing Hermione used earlier to save Sirius and the animal who was killed could not have been used to save Sirius this book (or last book, or Lily and James . . . )

I don’t read the books for the plots, which range from enjoyable to terrible (#4), but rather her descriptions, which are still fun. But consistency on *major* points is rather important, especially since she’s always perfectly happy to bring back perfectly consistent minor plot devices.

19

MDtoMN 08.07.03 at 4:26 am

I agree with some of the analysis, but I have to admit:

While it was OBVIOUS Voldemort was luring Harry out of the castle, I actually didn’t remember Snape was in the Order. He’s not a character they have depended on for help, so he wouldn’t occur to them. In retrospect, he was the obvious choice, but I understand why Harry didn’t think to run to him for help.

20

dantheman 08.07.03 at 9:17 pm

Whatish,
“Actually, we see no defense of Snape’s hatred of Harry.”

Not so. Snape’s view of the matter is that Snape has, from the time Harry first came to Hogwarts, made it clear that Harry should be treated no better than any other student. He feels Harry relies on his fame and his battles with Voldemort to bend the rules in his favor and does not get punished for bending them, and instead Dumbledore and the other professors let him get away with that. He feels that if all the students were like Harry, they would all be in more danger, as the school’s rules protect the students from dangers they are not ready to face, and that while Harry has so far faced the dangers successfully, he has been lucky so far, and cannot rely on his luck.

I will agree that Snape’s view is tinged with some hatred of Harry’s parents, but there is still more than a kernel of truth here.

21

Brian Weatherson 08.08.03 at 2:01 am

There’s also the irritating question of why the time machine thing Hermione used earlier to save Sirius and the animal who was killed could not have been used to save Sirius this book (or last book, or Lily and James . . . )

Most writers on time machines deny that they can be used to change the past. A time machine can only take you somewhere if it is true that you were there, and you can only use it to do something in the past if you did it. So once they know that Sirius has been killed, no time machine will help them.

The plot line concerning the time machine in _Azkaban_ is actually quite well done in that it has a relatively complicated story that (a) adheres to this constraint and (b) is psychologically plausible.

22

Andrea Harris 08.09.03 at 3:03 am

To g.deedee: since when were J.D. Salinger and Sylvia Plath considered children’s book authors?

23

G. DeeDee 08.09.03 at 9:22 pm

My comments are mainly related to the idea that Rowling’s newest is “nourishing” because it takes on themes like political ill and dissallusionment of youth.

I read Plath’s Bell Jar at 15. I read Catcher in the Rye at 14. At the time I approached the books from a particular angle and I got from them what I could take at the time. Since then I have re-read The Bell Jar and Catcher. Catcher I’ve re-read several times. (Love Salinger – but who doesn’t?! That hardly makes me insightful.).

My point was that two things are going on with the all the Potter praising….

Firstly Rowling is being praised as an excellent children’s author. My comment to that is there are better books than OOTP. MUCH better ones. Books with complex characters and insight into the human experience whether that includes sex or racism or just growing up white in the suburbs. In a way writing for kids depends on what you think a kid might experience.

Is Kids a teen movie? – I hope not. But it nonetheless (unfortunately) reflect the behaviour of some teens and thus was watched and enjoyed by them. Teenagers are at a sticky stage where some of the really good material about them, isn’t always seen as appropriate for them.

However, even compared with its own ilk, Order of the Phoenix fails miserably to impress in my opinion. It has nothing to say despite its increasing darkness and emphasis on social themes. It never scratches beneath the surface of any of its presented themes or explores what they mean for the characters. For example, Arthur nearly dies and his children seem rather unchanged by that experience. Rowling doesn’t even bother to address how the children might change after such a confrontation with their parents’ mortality and the growing danger of being Harry Potter’s supporter.

The second part of the Potter trend, is that OOTP is ludicriously being praised as great literature and being lumped with the works of Mark Twain and JD Salinger because their heroes were of a similar age to Harry. And I have seen readers [enough to make me think there are more out there] suggest that OOTP might one day surpass Catcher in the Rye as a commentary on teen angst and growing up.

And there are those readers and critics who are claiming it “isn’t just for kids” anymore. I suggest they try and back up those claims. (Though for me it doesn’t matter. I agree with Eberhart’s article that said whether you are writing for adults or children you owe your reader craft and conscision. Rowling unfortunately feels no need to provide either.)

So yes, Potter is being read by 9 year olds, but each book previous has been aimed at the age Harry is. Rowling is clearly trying to write a book for 14/15 year olds. It was one of the quirks of the series. The reason many kids don’t seem to age in other series is because marrying the growing complexity of the aging characters with the lack of growth in the target reader base is difficult and so many writers didn’t bother to try.

However, 15 remains a problematic age to write for since many of those kids can already read at close to an adult level and are reading adult novels in school and taking on Shakespeare, even if they aren’t fully comprehending the works as an adult. Heck, I’m an adult and still learning how to read.

I think the comparison was apt both because I read Catcher at that age (and got much out of it, however shallow my interpretation at the time was) and because critics are calling Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ‘literature’ and saying it will last an age. This installment most certainly can be filed only under the category of ‘Bad Literature’ child or adult. But they don’t have sections for that in bookstores.

Thanks for reading anything I write. I can’t believe anyone actually read my posted comment!

BTW Kieran Healy – Great blog on Harry. I’ve been showing it to all my friends!

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g. deedee 08.10.03 at 4:19 am

“Hardly the stuff to rival Salinger or Plath or even better children’s authors like Michael Bedard. “

Oh and to make my point perfectly clear – I have a round about way of saying things …

I meant that while Order of the Phoenix is not great literature (like Plath or Salinger’s work), it also doesn’t live up to its rivals’ attempts.

So no… Salinger and Plath are not children’s authors just because I read them both when I was a child.

Sorry for being so wordy…

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Sharon Ferguson 08.10.03 at 4:30 pm

Malfoy Jr. I have no idea why Harry is now even remotely afraid of or even irritated by Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, all garden-variety school bullies who have never displayed much in the way of special magical talents

More to the point, why does Malfoy even CARE what happens to Harry if his Daddy is going to take care of it all? Seems to me Malfoy would have figured out by this time he’d have more success standing back and letting Harry do things to himself. My impatience with Rowlings is that she has excellent characters that, given a bit more developement, might give her more plot. But then, her reliance on adverbs keeps getting in the way.

Im reserving final judgement for when I read the final book. If certain characters have not changed and grown (aside from Harry) from what they were to start out with, and that includes the ‘bullies’, I will probably then write it completely off as pap.

Until then, I rather enjoy reading the books. The afterdinner peppermint to heavy tomes like Lord of the Rings and the Rule of Life as Developed by Saint Benedict.

26

Doug 08.11.03 at 1:33 pm

Another irritation is how little characters apart from Harry – good, bad or otherwise – do when they’re off stage. It’s as if Harry animates the whole world, and the other characters are only interesting in their interactions with HP.

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Ivy 08.29.03 at 5:06 pm

Oh, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. All of your points are exactly what I’ve been saying about Harry Potter since book 1. The “magic” of Rowling’s books is in the details – the names of textbooks, the accidents the students have as they learn their spells, the mysteries of Hogwarts castle. The characters, however, are for the most part one-dimensional and plot-driven. The dialog is clumsy. And there is far too much of what Roger Ebert calls the “idiot plot” – where people have to behave stupidly and studiously avoid common sense in order for the plot – such as it is – to progress.

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Rikuisu 09.12.03 at 1:14 am

I think that JKR has set up a wonderful facade in the first four books, showing the outside and letting us peek into the windows. And we loved them and expected much from this author who claimed to have everything planned out. However, once she led us through the door it was like we had been looking at a palace and walked into the home of a family with too many things to do and not enough time (clothes everywhere, pets running amuck, and the 9-5 Dad defrosting dinner on the stove).

I expected so much from OotP, and I don’t think I overestimated what I thought I would find. I read a lot of fanfiction (and frankly, some of it is a lot better), and I expected a basic adventure tale with a format very similar to the other books. Well, I didn’t get anything like it, except in format. I’ve seen this plot before in beginner fanfics (“She did not just do that! Flashed through my heads a few times.)

As to comment on Harry’s behavior and blatant stupidity, my brother is fifteen and I’ve noticed a marked difference in his behavior from less than a year ago. He’s never read Harry Potter, but the bahvior patterns are strikingly similar. It doesn’t excuse the things that were just plain poorly handled, but it does offer something.

You’ve written a much more detailed explaintion of what went from than my simple “lack of communication” reasoning. Again, some of that is explained by events in other books (living in a cupboard and told to be quiet and not ask questions, anyone?), but he hasn’t learned in five years that if he just *told* somebody things could work out, only focusing on when they didn’t.

She’s made a great facade, but it’s those author’s who can lead you through what lays behind it without tarnishing what came before that deserve to rank among the great authors. She’s got something interesting, but that’s as far as it goes.

Yet there is an audio edition of OotP sitting on my desk. With all it’s problems I’m far too emersed in this world to run screaming now.

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Koen 12.07.03 at 2:11 pm

While I’m prepared to accept that children’s books need simplistic plot devices and 2-dimensional characters to keep the attention of the audience, particularly today’s television-driven kids, I agree that there are too many discrepencies in the books to satisfy the more discerning reader. I have still enjoyed them though and have found many more fans than detractors even among the adults I know who’ve read them. And I’ve certainly read worse, Robert Jordan’s latest ‘Wheel of Time’ novel for instance. At least something happens in OOTP even if is all a bit contrived.

My biggest sticking point with the series doesn’t actually come from OOTP. In ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, it is said that there isn’t a wizard who’s gone bad who wasn’t in Slytherin, and yet at this point it is thought that Sirius Black betrayed Harry’s parents to Voldemort. As it turns out, he didn’t, but another of James Potter’s friends, Peter Pettigrew did. Now, I assume that they were all in the same house as no one seems to make friends outside of their own houses, so does that mean they were in Slytherin? Well, certainly their antics in Snape’s memory are most Slytherin-like, and it could be that is why no one ever seems to mention what house Harry’s parents were in, but Snape was Slytherin so they surely would have been on the same ‘side’ then, so to speak.

And as to Snape hating Harry so much, even to quietly supporting Malfoy’s taunts and bullying. I would have thought that given the treatment he received at school, he would have been dead against Malfoy’s antics even if he has a chip on his shoulder about Harry and all. And since he seems to enjoy bursting Harry’s bubble about his father, why did he try to keep Harry from seeing the memory in which James was acting like a real jerk? I mean, it should have given him a certain pleasure to see him so discomforted about it all, not sent him into a rage.

But I have to say one thing about Harry being so dense. It is a classic adolescent trait to think you know everything. I know I can look back and wince at my own 15 year old antics just as much as at Harry’s (admittedly no one was actively trying to kill me) and I certainly thought my parents were being way too overprotective, so I wouldn’t have, and didn’t, talk to anyone or confide in them if I had a problem. So Harry is only a little bit exaggerated in that respect. And while I remembered Snape was a member of the Order, I certainly didn’t think of Sirius’ package and I wasn’t in a blind panic at the time, unlike Harry.

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tim gueguen 12.09.03 at 12:52 am

I stumbled across this discussion by accident, and I haven’t read any of the Potter books, but I rather enjoyed it nonetheless. I’m especially amused with the quote posted by Ms. Feingold with its overuse of eagerly. I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing lately, and one of the things I keep an eye open for is using the same words too much in a passage. You’d think a professionally released book would have an editor on the lookout for stuff like that.

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anonymous 01.06.04 at 1:55 am

Yes, okay i agree with you in some of what you say. People have their own opinions on novels. Novels aren’t about being critisized by you sour people, but by expanding your imagination. Maybe kids may see something in the books that you people can’t see. HARRY POTTER RULES YOU WEIRDOS

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jesi 01.11.04 at 5:55 am

You are absolutely right. JKR’s Harry Potter in no way compares to Catcher in the Rye or Plath’s Bell Jar. The point being, IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO! I very seriously doubt that at its first inception, Harry Potter was intended to be a metaphor for growing up, nor was it meant to compel audiences with the accuracy of teenaged angst. Frankly, Harry Potter is a cute story with cute characters – let it go at that.

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Lynne 01.18.04 at 2:12 am

I’m no literary scholar. I can only think of one book I’ve really hated in all the books I’ve read over the years. I love the Harry Potter books and I’m unashamed to admit it. I think they’re clever and I refuse to pass judgment on series when it is only slightly more than half finished.

So, what of the plot devices? JK Rowling’s use of polyjuice potion was a mere plot device in Book 2 and it came back to nip us in the behind in Book 4. We can all Monday Morning quarterback from the comfort of an anonymous blog. If her book is fit only for us simpletons, then count me among them!

I guess I think that trying to cut down an author before she’s done is a waste of time. It’s almost as if naysayers are deliberately trying NOT to like it. I’ve never seen such a collective of people who clearly can’t suspend their disbelief. And that’s fine, I guess, but I have to wonder why read fiction at all.

And the argument that because something is wildly popular then it must be garbage is patently offensive.

While, I will agree it’s a bit premature to compare these books to “great children’s literature,” the jury is still out on this one because it isn’t done. The end may justify it.

And please, ENOUGH with the adverb-bashing. Hermione waited for the newspaper eagerly. SO WHAT!? When did the adverb become public enemy No. 1? Of all the complaints to have about a book — she uses too many adverbs? Give me a break. Frankly, I thought it was a breath of fresh air from other authors who insist on cramming laborious adjectives to convey a thought to its nano-detail. Eagerly! Hermione waited eagerly. That works for me.

I, for one, will campaign unceasingly to restore its reputation.

–Lynne

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CheddarTrek 01.20.04 at 6:13 am

Hrmmm… plot devices… hrmmm…. yes….

Are there plot devices in HP? Yes.

Is this a bad thing? It’s a matter of OPINION.

Most of the plot devices in HP don’t bother me much, because there are parts of the actual plot and are a part of almost every story since, well, since the concept of reading fiction was devoloped.

The only plot device that really bothers me is the constant use of coincidence. (JK isn’t TOO bad about this, but it’s still pretty evident in HP). I know that coincidences happen, but sometimes in HP it just seems as if there is coincidence after coincidence, and it just highly unlikely when one really stops to THINK about it.

To me it seems that while a coincidence may ADVANCE the plot, it is rarely PART of the plot. The development in the relationship between Harry and Sirius may have been a plot device, but it was a big part of the plot. The same goes for Grawp. It doesn’t apply to the fact that Harry and co. constantly stumble upon important conversations at just the right moment (overhearing Hagrid & Maxime) and so on.

What’s my point? I’m not sure. I suppose I am trying to say that I wish there were fewer (not none, but fewer) coincidence-related plot devices in works of fiction, and that I know and accept that nearly every work of fiction EVER has plot devices of some sort, and I can accept that and ENJOY it too.

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Kyle 02.09.04 at 7:01 am

You idiots!!!!!!!!!!!
Being adults i`d think some of you at least would understand that if harry had used the mirror there would be no book! Once again I say; you stupid idiots! Harry Potter and reading is my way of escaping from my boring little life into a world full of moving pictures, flying broomsticks spells,curses,hexes,potions &charms!With out J.K Rowling I coudn`t get through the day,and i`d also like to say that if all of ya`ll stupid closed minded adults don`t like the books then i suggest you dont read them and shut up with your complaints!!!!!!!
(written by an eleven year old)

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Bess 02.19.04 at 7:46 pm

“I’ve never seen such a collective of people who clearly can’t suspend their disbelief. And that’s fine, I guess, but I have to wonder why read fiction at all.

And the argument that because something is wildly popular then it must be garbage is patently offensive.”

I so dearly love this argument! It is such a favourite with Harry Potter fans. It never fails to come up. When all else is lost defend yourself against an argument no one has made.

No one here said they disliked popular books. No one here said popularity meant something must be awful.

Please, a five year old can see the ridiculousness of such posturing! But it never stops Harry Potter maniacs from hauling out this old hat routine time and again in an attempt to shame reasonable critics.

That is not what anyone here has said. So why not stick to what people have said?

In my experience Harry Potter fans are the biggest and most stubborn story readin’ snobs I have ever met. If you don’t like their holy lore, you are automatically deemed a stick in the mud that hasn’t any imagination. Even Star Trek fans are nicer. A few experiences with Harry Potter fans and their rabid nature is enough to make any rational thinking person sick to her stomach. It was enough to make my whole experience with the series a very sour one.

Put your arrogance behind you guys. Just because I find Rowling’s heavy handed weilding of cliches too much like being bludgeoned over the head for 800 pages, doesn’t mean I haven’t an imagination. I love books. I love all types of books, even very popular ones. I even enjoyed a couple of the Harry Potter books, inspite of its unpleasant fans.

I hate Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It’s badly written. It is dull. And it is cliched.

Rowling’s lost her way. And she may pick herself back up, but that can’t save this disaster. A good book later on won’t make this book any better.

So go back to a JK Rowling worship site if you need to lick your wounds. I am sure you will find many people to soothe you and tell you how brilliant you are for liking this pathetic derivative attempt at depicting adolecense and war.

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Danny Yee 02.23.04 at 9:51 am

I’ve assembled a collection of serious criticism of the Harry Potter books, which may be of interest.

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