Re: More Harry Potter Curmudgeonliness

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How can Homer Simpson afford that house?


Posted by: Frank Grimes | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 5:58 PM
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if that were the determinant, Hermione Granger would be a better wizard than Harry.

It's clear in the books that she's a much better wizard than Harry.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:03 PM
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Why are the Weasleys poor?

Again, this is addressed in the books. Short: Wizards can move stuff around; they don't make them out of thin air.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:05 PM
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Michael, are you sure that a point-by-point rebuttal is the right angle?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:07 PM
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I'm not going to read this post or the comments, you wet blanket, but the sentiment seems strange to me. I think it would make more sense to try to figure out what the books do well that makes people enjoy them so much.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:08 PM
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I'd be interested in that, but I can't post on it other than as a request that someone explain it to me, because I've got no idea.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:09 PM
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I'm not doing a point-by-point; I think the reviewer got pretty much everything wrong.

Anyway, the general problem is that if you've read the Potter books and can come away and say that you have no idea what's required to work magic spells in Rowling's world, then you're either obtuse of you have a bad memory.

Which isn't to say that there's a well laid-out description of how magic works. There's not. But how could there be? I'm tempted to say that, by definition, explaining magic takes the magic out of it.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:11 PM
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5: presumably they're made of Heroin.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:11 PM
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I think it would make more sense to try to figure out what the books do well that makes people enjoy them so much.

Ogged's not reading (this), but this seems obviously correct.

I assume that somewhere out there, the fans have articulated this with some kind of clarity beyond mere fandom.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:13 PM
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I think the plan is that if enough people list in minute detail all the things they don't like about HP, by paying close attention finally someone will be able to write the perfect book, and everyone in the whole world will be happy happy happy!
Yay!


Posted by: Nakku | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:14 PM
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2, 3, 7: I'm at a disadvantage here, because while I read 4, maybe 5 of the books a couple years back, I don't remember the details well enough to do a point by point. But McArdle's criticisms are exactly the sorts of things that I was thinking at the time.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:15 PM
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Isn't the explanation that the Weasley's are poor people and are, therefore, poor? It's who they are; it's their character. Seriously, mark this one up to a plot requiring certain character dynamics more than it requires a complete internal logic.


Posted by: Alfi G | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:24 PM
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But seriously, the Weasleys are poor because magic can't create stuff? There's no way for magic to discreetly be used to earn real-world money? They can't buy cheap stuff and change it magically into luxury goods -- buy rice and eat caviar? It doesn't make sense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:27 PM
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13 crossed with 12. To 12, I'd say that a book where you have to explain something (lots of things) in terms of what the author needed to make it work, rather than in terms of the internal logic of the book, is a badly written book.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:29 PM
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Ot, but do people still listen to the first It's a Beautiful Day record. Because that White Bird - Hot Summer Day - Wasted Union Blues - Girl With No Eyes run is awfully darn good.

Ok, you can return to question of internal consistency in the fantasy book.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:30 PM
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Shit. I can't agree with McArdle. Harry Potter is wonderful, really.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:36 PM
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Could it be that there's a taboo against using magic for personal, material gain?


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:38 PM
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14: Mmmmaybe. But it may be poorly written in ways that make it more interesting. Also, I think that both you and Megan are over-estimating the internal consistency of fantasy novels not specifically written for adult libertarians -- like Orson Scott Card or Neal Stephenson. For realz! What are these hypothetical books that create a new world without just solving questions by ducking them -- like setting the story in a magical world but assigning magic a tertiary role.


Posted by: Alfi G | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:42 PM
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Not big HP fan, but I think the uses in 13 can be forbidden because they would attract undue Muggle attention if everybody did them. Mr. Weasley is always getting into trouble over unlicensed uses of magic, and a main characteristic of the HP world (HP world! Carly Fiorina and the Board of Directors' Stone!) is the bureaucratic regulation of magic.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:45 PM
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I haven't read any Potter (except Beatrix), but had similar complaints about Perdido Street Station.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:46 PM
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Any really serious HP fan could take apart all these points. All add one to the point by point rebuttal- the Patronus thing is actually extremely well thought out. Conjuring a Patronus requires you to think of one of the happiest things that's ever happened in your life. In a class, this is pretty simple to do, so the students learn how to. The trick is that you need to conjure it when facing dementors, whose nature is that they make all happiness disappear from the world and make you relive your worst moments. That's why people are surprised Harry can do it against dementors- anyone can conjure a Patronus to fetch the mail, but few can do it when there's creature who creates exactly the opposite of the necessary conditions.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:55 PM
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Wow, that's a typo I've never made before- All s/b I'll.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:55 PM
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I enjoy the books, but Megan is right and Michael is wrong. I'm rereading Book Five now and characters regularly create inanimate objects (esp. chairs) out of the blue. Furthermore, it's actually emphasized that Dumbledore created more comfortable chairs than McGonagall did, thought it's unclear if that's a difference in abilities or temperament. If chairs can be conjured, it's pretty unclear why e.g. robes would be a problem (but plausible reasons could be imagined or are provided for why other goods need to be traded for, incl. food). The other thing there clearly is isn't scarcity of is indoor space, since both tents and cars are enchanted to fit as many people as are needed.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:56 PM
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Oh, and another thing, why do wizards and witches where testimony is given for the purpose of fact finding about past events. Why not just look directly at witnesses's memories, since they can do that. The answer that people can distort their memories isn't one at all, since it's clearly harder to distort your memory than it is to just give false testimony.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 6:59 PM
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I've also heard that magic isn't real. Also, how did Don Quixote travel 500 miles overnight? Whatever happened to Fedallah in Moby Dick? How could Madame Bovary repeatedly sneak through the village to visit the suave continental aristocrat at his home, without there being gossip?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:01 PM
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How could Madame Bovary repeatedly sneak through the village to visit the suave continental aristocrat at his home, without there being gossip?

She had a cloak woven of night itself. It's in Flaubert's notebooks.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:03 PM
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Not big HP fan, but I think the uses in 13 can be forbidden because they would attract undue Muggle attention if everybody did them.

I'm imagining a situation like money-laundering here.

"Neighbors said the Dursleys had recently been living above their means, buying two new cars and renting out the local Quiddich stadium for Neville's 14th birthday party".


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:03 PM
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Why do Mme. Bovary's eyes change color?


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:03 PM
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15: It's a Beautiful day I have that album - tho' I haven't played it in ages. Nostalgia moment: Whilst my ex was interviewing the band, I got to sit and talk to the most earnest groupie I'd ever met.

As I recall, my first impression of the band [live] was that LaFlamme's violin playing was so much a cut above the rest of the band's work that it was noticeable.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:04 PM
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25 gets it right. Also, it is not actually inevitable but it certainly seems likely that a libertarian would come up with an article bemoaning this sort of thing. She'd probably have a similar response to a book about the US in the 1950s.

"Right, a society in which multinational corporations paid workers far more than the market would bear out of some sort of attachment to arbitrary physical "communities". And this was supposedly the most free-market capitalist system in the Western World?"


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:06 PM
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Oops I shouldn't have posted that, since she comments here sometimes. I did not put much thought into that comment.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:06 PM
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Yikes. I'm not a regular, which you will be able to tell by the fact that I am responding with sincerity. However, I wrote the stuff below, so I may as well post it.

First, I think ogged's point at #5 is true of reading any literature -- before picking on what it doesn't do well (because there will *always* be such things), first find out what it does that readers love and value. Think of Thomas Hardy -- surely one of the most godawful writers ever to create great literature. There are qualities which make the novels worthwhile. Somewhere in there.

But I'll go further and contend that this critique doesn't fly. Not entirely. And maybe I can explain why enought to tell non-fans what I think makes HP good.

Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" says that a fantasy world can't be pure wish-fulfillment. Its rules may be different from reality (so fulfilling some wishes, like communion with nature or escape from death) but the rules have to be consistent. There has to be an internal logic that, once set, is not cheated with. (So, for instance, in the HP world there is no real escape from death.)

The internal logic of the magic in Rowling's world is that it comes from one's soul, from one's deepest character. Nearly all the symbolism is from alchemy. Alchemical symbolism is about making the material world align with the spiritual -- as above, so below. The "deep" magic, the important stuff, always demands a genuine personal commitment.

Then there a lot of spells which are clearly play magic, not serious, little tricks. Technological spells for cleaning house, washing dishes, remembering things.

The technological spells are not powerful enough to make one "rich." They are the wizards' substitute for machines. The deep magic is not about getting material things.

So, yes, the economy of the wizarding world is a little fuzzy, but not really that fuzzy. They never make anything. They move it around. The meals which wonderfully appear on the tables turn out to be made in kitchens by slaves. You can't conjure gold, so you can't make money. Anything you want to do takes effort, just like the real world. Michael is right; these questions are answered in the books.

And when it comes to "deep" magic, the difficulty of the "expecto patronum" spell isn't the amount of study or smarts it takes, it's that the spell calls on personal faith. You say "I expect my father/guardian/savior" and you have to have joy in your heart while you say it. It makes some narrative sense that the group of students in book 5 are able to do this as they secretly defy a hated school authority.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:08 PM
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Good comment, rm.

I'm not a regular, which you will be able to tell by the fact that I am responding with sincerity.

Ouch.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:12 PM
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There's a lesson here about taking for granted the author's donnée. If you vulgarians had read your James, you'd know.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:13 PM
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25. 30: My mistake, it turns out that I was wrong and unexplained internal consistencies don't detract at all from my or anyone else's enjoyment.

32 is right that meals are addressed, but, as I said in 23, I think wrong that they never create material objects.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:13 PM
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In other words, neither a point by point critique and rebuttal nor a general observation that there are global inconsistencies in the Potter books serves to demystify them.

Cripe, what's the big deal? In this case, what's at stake in seeking to articulate an objection to them? That they fail to serve a larger purpose?

Semi-serious question.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:14 PM
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In order to answer your question, since it is semi-serious, we need to know what "them" means.

Not that I'll answer it of course, because I haven't read the books.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:15 PM
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Madame Bovary would have been a lot better without the spaceship at the end. That part seemed tacked on, like someone had inserted extra pages into my copy in a different font and text size.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:15 PM
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My 36 obviously written before reading anything before 32.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:16 PM
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Obviously eb is not a careful reader.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:17 PM
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Okay, so they do seem to make chairs. And Snape conjures stretchers. But . . . but . . . but like the meals at Hogwarts, there always turns out to be more to it than meets the eye. You can't expect *every* spell to be explained.

In Burnett's _A Little Princess_, furniture also reflects the personality of its owner, even though it's delivered in horse-drawn vans. I'm not sure Dumbledore and McG *made* those chairs. I think they brought them from storage. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:18 PM
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Sorry for the tone of my preceeding comment. I blame my (very bad) headache.

W/d in 23: I won't bet my life on this, but somtime later I really think it's explained that those chairs are summoned, not created.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:18 PM
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Post through 43+: Curious... Social, hyperactive cerebral cortices syndrome.

It's called suspension of belief, guys. Try it. All the cool kids are doing it.


Posted by: froz gobo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:22 PM
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15,29:I like the 2nd side a little better, and the 2nd album is a typical-for-the-time softening with some good songs and shorter jams. Maybe Curved Air and String Driven Thing had better violinists, among obscurities. SDT's "River of Sleep" off "Machine That Cried" is worth hunting out, the album is decent, the song a marvel. Rap lyrics, ending with an off key vocal that works.

Umm.

I have read enough SF & F adolescent power fantasies from early Van Vogt thru 1960+ Marion Zimmer Bradley to Thomas Covenant that the flaws in Rowling were obvious at first glance. She really isn't even a genre writer. I am convinced that her success lies partly in the fact that she violates many of the rules the genre writers established decades ago.

Consequences and consistency being two.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:26 PM
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Try it. All the cool kids are doing it.

Last time I heard this, Fontana was pushing some pills into my hand. Next thing I knew, it was dawn, my ass hurt, and I had the sudden and undeniable sensation of knowing that my soul was damned to hell.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:27 PM
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Curved Air! Thanks, bob, I've been trying to remember their name for the past few days.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:27 PM
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flaws in Rowling were obvious at first glance

Her writing gets progressively better from books one through three, then kind of plateaus.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:27 PM
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I like the books, mostly, but increasingly I think that they're not good fantasy in the way that LB and McArdle define the genre. I mean, they're big sprawling messes, and that's okay because they've managed to channel some communal desire. I actually agree with pretty much everything people are saying both pro and con, but rm's comment, about the characterological meaning of magic, is to me the most important new point. There's just enough of the realist-style world-building going on in HP that we expect the books to adhere to something more substantial than "Harry grows up and realises his potential," but, in the end, the details really are ornamentation and the focus is character.

Which is, I would argue, the opposite of Jonathan Strange and why that book ended up pissing me off.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:33 PM
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washerdreyer, I wrote my long rant before I'd read your point about the chairs. You can see that in response to the chairs, I am reduced to sputtering and rationalizing. I will now put my fingers in my ears and hum.

To be clear, I am not one who is telling you to like what you don't like. I'm happy with people not liking Harry. I think the unexplained internal inconsistencies are relatively few, so I can overlook them, just talking about my own self.

Okay, *now* I'm going to hum.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:37 PM
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I liked JS&MN a lot, punk. Back off.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:39 PM
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I seem to have had a disappearing comment, in which I said that my 39 misspoke.

32 is interesting:

The internal logic of the magic in Rowling's world is that it comes from one's soul, from one's deepest character. Nearly all the symbolism is from alchemy. Alchemical symbolism is about making the material world align with the spiritual -- as above, so below. The "deep" magic, the important stuff, always demands a genuine personal commitment.

I understand this language, though I haven't read the Potter books (= "them").

What's not clear to me is that the Potter books have any sort of notable insight into these themes that other fantasy/magic books don't have, and haven't executed in better fashion.

That's not an objection in and of itself, of course; in fact, it's rather petty.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:42 PM
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mmmmmmmmmm . . . then comes comment #47 -- wd, I bet we can agree that Rowling is not a very good crafter of sentences. -- whoops -- mmmmmmmmmmmmm


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:44 PM
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50.---I need to reread it. Its slow, 19th-c, detailed style was making me expect a payoff in characterological complexity that I didn't feel as though I got on the first read. I was disappointed, and maybe I was wrong either to have such inflated hopes or to have let that feeling of disappointment prevent me from looking again and more closely.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:45 PM
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its so fucking easy to craft good sentences, i don't see the point of reading a book jsut to get some.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:52 PM
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Oh, y'all are talking about Harry Potter. How unexpected!

I am bothered by the specifically fannish discourse that emerges sometimes here and more often elsewhere about Harry Potter--like, there's this absolute alliance demanded. You can't enjoy the books a lot in some respects but have problems in others, or think that the politics are well-intentioned but actually terrible, or think that the pacing is good but the characterization is poor...no, any attack on Harry Potter is motivated by either by naivete ("you expect someone to write the perfect book!" or evil ("You just want to censor anything that doesn't adhere to your leftist, communist, crazy-talking anti-racist PC-thuggery!") And it doesn't really apply--or at least not nearly so generally--to big-but-still-genre fictions; I can tell my friends that I find Perdido Street Station really sententious and also annoyingly plotted and I don't like the cover either, but that doesn't produce the sort of weirdly Oedipal rage that a sustained criticism of HP does--like any criticism of Harry Potter threatens to destroy it.

I wonder whether it's because a lot of people who read the Harry Potter books don't read much fantasy and perhaps even feel that fantasy is a junk genre, so any fantasy that they do read has to be totally sans reproche.

My expectations for Strange & Norell were pretty low, so I liked it well enough. And actually even in retrospect I liked the landscapes in the book. The characters and the plot, meh.

I do feel that the dimension of the economic is really repressed or disavowed or something in Harry Potter. (I've been reading A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Analysis all evening! It's actually great! I am becoming reconciled to Lacan, something I thought could never happen! And as a result I feel that I must talk about symptoms and repression regardless of whether it's what I mean!) It's not just that it doesn't make sense that the Weasleys are poor; it's that there's no consistant rules about how magic may be used to obtain things and also an almost-total repression of class. I think that the Knight Bus is an incredibly telling thing, though, where we see the Comic Proletarians with their Comic Accents. Magic is also used to soften labor--like, being a round-the-clock busdriver must suck, right? Well, it doesn't suck so much if you're driving the magical Knight Bus! Being an unpaid servant with no time off must also suck! But it doesn't suck if you "naturally" enjoy it! And of course there are no sweatshops or anything in the Wizarding world.

Anyone read The Iron Dragon's Daughter? The plot ends up being kind of sexist but the parts where we see the industrial underside of magic and the brutal professional training for magic are rather good. For that matter, what about Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland? It's a bit of a one-joke wonder, but the book she derived from it, Dark Lord of Derkholm, is hilarious.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 7:58 PM
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"My expectations for Strange & Norell were pretty low, so I liked it well enough. And actually even in retrospect I liked the landscapes in the book. The characters and the plot, meh."

yeah


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:03 PM
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mmmmmm phaghachoo . . . Okay. Parsimon -- can I call you parsimony? -- I don't know that the HP books have a new insight into the theme, or into the "adolescent power fantasy" genre as bob mcmanus puts it. I would not defend them on that ground. I also think other authors "execute better" in certain respects, like parsimony (HP books can be redundant) or wordcraft.

But I'll say they do an incredibly good job at some things they do. The authors I constantly hear compared as better choices are doing *other* things, maybe even more original things, but they serve a different dish. (Pullman is preaching atheism where Rowling's themes are Christian, for instance; Lowry is far more young-adult-didactic and less fun; Snicket's mythos is 19thC literature rather than Arthurian enchantment). Bottom line, I think Rowling is packaging old themes really well, and I am okay with that.

What I suppose she does really well:
--- Genre mixing: yes, they are fantasies and adolescent power trips, but they combine it with the British school story genre and with brilliant, angry satire.
--- Plot: these are some wickedly convoluted rollicking plots. Azkaban is the best. Each book follows a formula, and yet they mostly trick the reader into being surprised. I know a lot about the end of book 7 because of the formula (Harry will, before he's ready, be thrust into a confrontation with the Bad Guy; it will take place in a tomb-like place; he will suffer a symbolic death; love or a christ-symbol will intervene to save him; he will symbolically rise from death) but on the other hand I know almost nothing about it (where; will the death be real; will the return be real; what will be the emotional payoff).
--- Symbolism: I already said something about the alchemy.

So, putting old themes into a package which, somehow, hit all the right buttons for readers -- that's not everything, but it's something.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:08 PM
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Where do you see the brilliant angry satire? Book Five, with what's-her-face from the Ministry as Defense teacher? (That one is probably my favorite, even though it's a shaggy beast of a plot.)


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:25 PM
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who was 57??????


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:25 PM
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Oh, and naming. "Dolores Umbridge" is one of the best names in literary satire since Dickens.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:27 PM
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57 has to be rm.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:30 PM
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By the way, rm, you'd better pick a more memorable nick before LB gets back.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:31 PM
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Whoops -- I was 57, the nerdily sincere fannish ranter who hijacked the thread at 32. Sorry about that.

Jackmormon -- yes, book 5 is where I see the satire done well. And book 1 where the muggle world represents everything the author hates about a conservative, complacent, conformist mindset.

Frowner, I definitely agree that the class signifiers are a major, structural, ineradicable problem with the HP books (never mind the Knight Bus guys, look at Hagrid!). So much of her satire is aimed at class pretensions, but she deals in class stereotypes too.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:33 PM
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the industrial underside of magic and the brutal professional training for magic are rather good.

Fantasy has to be realist fantasy? If I want to read William Dean Howells or Sinclair Lewis I know where to find them.

Life is earnest and everything, but come on.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:35 PM
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rm, I assume that's you in 57, since you began by humming.

I'd prefer that you call me parsimon, or Parsimon.

I'm a little surprised by the authors you compare Rowling to. Snicket is Lemony Snicket?

I think people more often compare the Potter books to Ursula Leguin or Lloyd Alexander. Not to be obnoxious, but maybe that's why Rowling seems to fall on her face. Maybe it's a failed, or unfair, comparison.

This:

Bottom line, I think Rowling is packaging old themes really well, and I am okay with that.

Is fair enough. I don't (can't) have an objection to them in terms of content, because I haven't read them. They are what they are, which to me, in my clueless state, is a marketing bonanza.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:36 PM
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"Fannish"...you know, as much as it gets used as a pejorative (on some of the sites I hang around; we're too cool to raise the matter here at Unfogged) , where would we be without "fannish" readings? Well, we wouldn't have any slash fic, that's for sure....(Slash fic! The abject remnant!) But seriously, people who don't like to read "fannishly" are kidding themselves if they think they'd be performing Serious Important Readings of genre fiction without the social and writerly structures of fannishness.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:38 PM
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By the way, rm, you'd better pick a more memorable nick before LB gets back.

"Spacial Bear" is still up for grabs.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:39 PM
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I'd prefer that you call me parsimon, or Parsimon.

Howabout "parse"? "Parsley" as a term of endearment?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:40 PM
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65 -- I've wondered how parsimon is pronounced. With a Balmer accent? Is the i long?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:40 PM
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I thought it was just like "parsimony" without the Y.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:41 PM
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Now that it's occurred to me, parsimon, there's a kinda high probability that I'm going to think of you as "parsley", however I address you.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:41 PM
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On the other hand, I keep imagining "snarkout" pronounced as if it was French, so don't trust me.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:42 PM
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I've wondered how parsimon is pronounced.

I pronounce it in my head like it's misspelled "persimmon."


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:42 PM
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I thought it was just like "parsimony" without the Y.

I've been think-saying "PAR" + "Simone".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:42 PM
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64: No, the point isn't that "realist fantasy" is realist about the world we live in; it's a commentary on the underlying assumptions of fantastic fantasy, and it exists to point out what's missing from fantastic fantasy.

Of course, you can turn it around--for example, it's almost impossible to imagine most China Mieville characters doing anything besides brooding darkly or sneering at the profiteering capitalist class (this is especially true of The Scar). You can't imagine the Brucolac, for example, having a good laugh with a friend, or feeling sleepy and hence not getting up to prowl the decks of the moonship and lower over Dry Fell until much later than usual. The thing is, genre fiction is a genre, a collection of variations and commentaries on some shared ideas and themes. It wouldn't make sense to write The Iron Dragon's Daughter unless someone else had already written, say, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:43 PM
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I should have chosen a name that was open to different pronunciations. My only hope is that any Welsh readers are imagining the Y pronounced in their wacky way.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:45 PM
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73 -- And it just occured to me that one could give a German sound to g'swift. Was hast du denn geswifft?


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:46 PM
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Say, you should all read Frederic Jameson's excellent Archaeologies of the Future. I'm sure that once you've read it you'll all come 'round to exactly my way of seeing things (which will pretty much mean the end of Unfogged, so maybe you shouldn't all read it), plus it's a very pretty paperback.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:47 PM
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ok i'll admit it i think people who think they are reading SERIOUSLY are wankers and pretentious


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:47 PM
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i also closed that other thread halfway through.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:47 PM
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occured to me that one could give a German sound to g'swift.

Really it's just a lazy form of G. Swift. G Swift is also my rap name.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:49 PM
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As I recall, Fredric Jameson is one of those writers whose incomprehensible yet boring writing style is always being complained about by the likes of Arts & Letters Daily. The concept intimidates me.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:49 PM
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55: you like Iron Dragon's "parts where we see the industrial underside of magic and the brutal professional training for magic " but you don't like Mieville? What about the kids in PSS who play in alchemy lab runoff-tainted mud and start preaching in dead languages? Are you sure that didn't rock just a little bit?

Re: JS&Mr.N: As LB said, fantasy as a genre is about world constructing, and that is JSMN's biggest strength. Clarke builds her world subtly, as she incorporates a lot of it through tone,e.g. she conveys the class hierarchy of her world through the pseudo-Austeny bits. The plot is almost beside the point, and if you're looking for characterization, what the hell are you doing reading fantasy?


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:51 PM
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I've been think-saying "PAR" + "Simone".

Close. Phone me and I'll pronounce it for you.

"Parsley" is, despite the highly unjust suggestion of a wilted sprig of decoration on the plate, not entirely beyond redemption. Flat-leaf.

gwift in 73 is completely wrong.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:58 PM
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parsimon, I was trying to think of authors who are big at the moment who get mentioned in articles by librarians or literature professors as better alternatives for young readers. Sometimes they mention older authors, and sometimes they wonder why these great, current series are not getting as much attention as HP.

Ursula Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, George Macdonald, C. S. Lewis, E. B. White, and so on. I would tell kids to pick up all of these, and I agree they are superior writers in most ways. Nevertheless, great as all these authors are, there is something Rowling offers. At least, she repackages their themes to allow new readers entry. Perhaps she does more, like re-writing Lewis to allow the characters to grow up and discover sex without being sent to Hell for it.

Among contemporary writers, I'd certainly recommend Kevin Crossley-Holland or Terry Pratchett as dealing with some similar material in a far more contolled, masterful style. But each gives you different content, so I am a pluralist.


Posted by: rm | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 8:58 PM
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82: Seriously, people who think Jameson is "incomprehensible" or a bad writer or whatever just haven't bothered to familiarize themselves with any of the major terminology he's using, terminology which derives, for pete's sake, from Plato. (Among others). Now, it took me quite a bit of reading before I could really enjoy the portentously-titled Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, but now that I'm relatively familiar with some of the building block ideas it's really pretty lucid. When people talk about how Jameson (or any one of the usual suspects) is a bad writer, I tend to feel that it's like saying that Spinoza is a bad writer because you don't understand what he means by "monad". (I haven't read much of any Spinoza). It's funny, too--they never say that any seriously continental philosophers are incomprehensible, even though Jameson is a pane of clear glass compared to, say, Deleuze.

Actually, if you were to read one thing by Jameson, the chapter in Archaelogies on fantasy is really awesome. Very lucidly-written, generous and much smarter than much of what's written on the topic. Or you could also read Michael Moorcock's Wizardry and Wild Romance, also about fantasy and much funner.

83: I just don't like Perdido Street Station. I don't even really know why. It bores me, I find the city poorly planned and the constant telling-not-showing of how important the station is to be very annoying, and I just totally hate both crisis energy and the lame-ola "different cultures have different moral frameworks and female autonomy Must Be Respected" bird-creature plot. None the less, I am fannishly devoted to Mieville (he's a socialist, you know!) and can recite passages (all right, short passages) from The Scar.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:00 PM
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Close. Phone me and I'll pronounce it for you.

Send me your number and I'll be sure to. w-lfs-n at unfogged dot com.

"Parsley" is, despite the highly unjust suggestion of a wilted sprig of decoration on the plate

If that's what you think of parsley, I weep for you.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:01 PM
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Hey Frowner, what do you mean by "fantastic fantasy"?

(I did my MA and a fair bit of teaching on the fantastic---with props to but disagreements with Todorov and Castex. I mention this not to be all credentialist but because I'm genuinely curious about your formulation and wondering whether academic language would help or hurt our understanding each other better.)


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:02 PM
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terminology which derives, for pete's sake, from Plato. (Among others).

I submit that calques are typically not the most translucent terms oen can employ.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:02 PM
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86: Points conceded. btw, Moorcock can't write actual fantasy for shit. His chief utility is that his existence allows you to go into a bookstore and tell an employee "I'm looking for some Moorcock." Then you get to feel clever. On the other hand, I really really like Dick.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:06 PM
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The Scar is my favorite Mieville book. PSS is an interesting genre book. IC is a political allegory---but an interesting one!---run amok.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:08 PM
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88: Oh, I was just faking. I was responding to this:

Fantasy has to be realist fantasy? If I want to read William Dean Howells or Sinclair Lewis I know where to find them.

Life is earnest and everything, but come on.

So all I meant was "fantasy that doesn't emphasize the material basis for the society it depicts" or maybe "fantasy where they pretend that you can have an aristocracy with knights and silk brocade (or similar) and still have no exploitation".

I suppose it depends on what one means by "academic language"...the only theory about the fantastic that I've read has either been non-academic (Moorcock, for example) or kind of fantastic-in-relation-to-science-fiction (Jameson, Darko Suvin).

89: Actually, I only theorized from reading Samuel Delany about lit crit that some of Jameson's terminology is derived from Plato. But it's not so much about the opacity as about "opacity=bad writing". Just because something isn't written for the layperson doesn't mean it's bad. If you're writing for the layperson, or with a goal in mind that can't be achieved without reaching the common reader, then you're a bad writer if you persist in opacity.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:08 PM
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Frowner's using "fantastic fantasy" to refer to OG stuff like Elric and LOTR. Realist fantasy would be Iron Dragon and Mieville. Maybe even the first in George R.R. Martin's current series.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:10 PM
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Being opaque and being written for specialists need have nothing to do with each other. If the opacity is merely relative, and the work is opaque to the lay but clear to the clergy, that's fine, I suppose (though I persist in thinking it would be more fine if it were clear absolutely), but if it's just plain opaque to all audiences, but the specialists are presumed to have cause to invest more energy in the thing, or something, I don't see why that's not bad writing.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:12 PM
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85:

At least, she repackages their themes to allow new readers entry.

Again: do their themes need repackaging in order to be accessible to young readers?

I'll readily grant you problems with C.S. Lewis. E.B. White I didn't read closely enough to notice whether there's anything problematic there. I'm not seeing how LeGuin or Alexander are problematic. Is it just that they're not NEW enough?

You referred to librarians and lit professors (?) who discuss .. worthwhile juvenile literature (as it's called). The library trade is a bit enslaved to popular tastes. The literature professors (?), I don't know who you're talking about.

As for Pratchett and Kevin Crossley-Holland, who I've never heard of, you could talk to some others here about that. I haven't been in the youth lit business for a while.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:12 PM
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90: Hey, these are all my favorite topics! Yeah, much of Moorcock is really schlocky, although there are some people I really respect who are interested in it. (Angela Carter, frex.) But have you read Mother London? It's amazing. It's amazing as a plain old novel, never mind as fantasy. It's so weird and interesting and beautifully written that it's almost impossible to describe. It's also very funny.

Gloriana, although it's basically an extended dirty joke, is kind of neat too. Very Peake-y.

91: I can't really get a fix on Iron Council. Somehow I can't bring myself to really read it with concentration. It bores and offends me. It makes me mad. I hate the ending. It seems flat and grey and unreal, which is so disappointing compared to the incredible vividness of the sea and Armada (and when we hear the description of them going over the edge of the sea! I could swear that I've seen it, the description is that real.) I feel like I could get more out of the politics if I could bear to read it again. That ending is so theory-stupid, it just makes me want to scream. The whole thing bugs me more than it might because Mieville is a socialist and his politics (in as far as I can grasp them from his books and other writing) aren't too different in feeling and priorities from my own. It's a personal disappointment. Rowling's political failings are just a symptom, but Mieville is one of us. (One of us! One of us!)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:15 PM
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its a tossup between beer and cslewis what i love most in the whole wide world.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:16 PM
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94: But the thing is, when I was just starting to Read Difficult Books, I found, like, Madness and Civilization opaque. If someone is saying complicated, dense things and dealing with a particular body of theory, there is no reason that she/he has to write a primer for noobs at the beginning of every book. If you're serious about learning something, you build up the ability to read the hard stuff. (It's so difficult to avoid analogies here.) And if you're serious about helping people to read a body of theory, you don't just say to them, "Hey, I understand you want to read some continental philosophy. Why don't you start with all of Difference and Repetition? Once you can read that, you can read anything!"


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:19 PM
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or maybe http://youtube.com/watch?v=HYzCU_cmFHo&mode=related&search= is the best thing evar.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:21 PM
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Frowner,

would you recommend the entire Gormenghast trilogy? I've read and enjoyed Titus Groan, but have heard that the final novel is not very good. Worthwhile?

Yours,
ben


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:22 PM
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97: I'd really like to work in some kind of "the bottle let me down" joke here, but I can't think of one.

I do love the part of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader where they're caught up into the picture frame. And the island of the magician! But I always ended up wanting to live in Tashban, which is not what you're supposed to do.

I guess it would be cheesey of me to admit that I really like the Narnia chronicles' concept of heaven, with the sort of sublime outdoors.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:23 PM
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i drept of dawn treader not a week ago

it haunts me

tashban is only nice to visit in

hellish place, overall

i can't think of a world that is so much BIGGER than the books that describe it. most bang/buck type thing.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:25 PM
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i let the bottle down gently.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:26 PM
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its a tossup between beer and cslewis what i love most in the whole wide world.

Lewis is bad fantasy. Tolkien was the guy's friend, and even he was disgusted.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:26 PM
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Mr. w-lfs-n:

In regards to your latest, dated July 20: I confess that I have only read the first one and part of the second. I think the first one is great, though, and so influential. I am going to use an analogy now, though: I feel about the books as if they were some kind of strange, pungent food that was so intense that I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. I like having read them, but I don't know if I like them. Worth it, though.

With best wishes,

Frowner


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:27 PM
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HE MEANS GABOR CSLEWIS THE HUNGARIAN MARXIST

OPEN YOUR MIND


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:27 PM
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he's bad at whatever X you're tyring to fit him into

i still love those books and can smell them on any old book


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:31 PM
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CS Lewis blows. This view I will take to my grave.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:34 PM
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102/104:

Nah, there's something in CS Lewis. I don't think it's plot, and it's certainly not politics, and it isn't the style...but there are certain images in both the Narnia books and the space trilogy that are unbelievably sharp and vivid. Of course, the stated politics are popular with some annoying people, and of course the books are racist as hell. (Consider, all, that I am letting that snotty dork CS Lewis off the hook for sexism, mostly because he seems like such a geek that it's difficult to take his views on women with any seriousness.)

But the walk along the frozen river! Or when the snow melts and the sledge won't run. Or the spooky table at the end of the world, or when Lucy looks down and sees the mer girl. Or the speech by the gnome when all the gnomes are running to get back to the Deep Land before it's closed off forever, about the salamanders and the living gems. Or when the stars all fall at the end of the world.

But it's really the Space Trilogy that does it for me...when Ransom is living with the hrossa, or when he's talking to the narrator in Perelandra and says with such longing that there are people there who would welcome him back, and when he talks about the smell of the air on Malacandra--it's purest longing, and I can hardly stand to read it now because it makes me want so badly to go back to China.

And what about the whole sequence where he's chasing the Unman through the water and then through the caves? It's not beautifully-written--I don't remember any of the sentences--but I remember the images.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:35 PM
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cs lewis, ugh. I read the Narnia stuff when I was 12 or 13, shortly after reading LOTR. The Christian apologetics content gradually dawned on me over the first few books and of course by The Last Battle it was so ham-fisted I just wanted to puke. All in all, I'd say Lewis gave me a good old shove down the hill to unbelievership. I've never been able to take any of the rest of his stuff seriously, and find his cultish following in America to be pretty ridiculous.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:36 PM
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every fantasy is racist. or most are, all that iv'e read anyway.

but 109 is pretty much what i want to say. Except that lewis' sentences are my second favorite, after Wilde's.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:41 PM
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I also think it helps to have read the Narnia books when a tiny tot, so that you sort of imprint on them as stories before the apologetics really sink in. (Although even as a kid I found Aslan rather embarassing in most of the books.)

But it's the pastoral elements that attract me to the books, the sort of serene, restful, specifically unfallen natural world. (Perelandra is maybe the best example.)

What I find weird is how deep peope think the books are. (There was a whole course on them at St. Mediocre, where I went to school.) Now, I think that the novels appeal very strongly to nostalgia and to a sort of utopian desire for a particular experience of the natural world, and that strength of appeal is very powerful. But that's not the same as complexity. And the stated politics are almost all absolutely demoralizingly priggish and masochistic. Actually, yeah, all the books are rather masochistic.

Tolkien is one to talk, though, jeez.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:43 PM
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China Mieville & Norrell?

I think if you want to understand the conventions of a genre you read not the crossover work or the best or most literary but the representative work in a genre. Piers Anthony has sold millions of books, as has Marion Zimmer Bradley. CJ Cherryh and Tanith Lee are better than average. Glen Cook & Raymond Feist. Sprague de Camp and Hambly. Much of the better stuff used to called "High Fantasy" but it is certainly not directed at the lit fan crowd, but at intelligent teens or a certain kind of adult.

I listen to less-than-best music and art, and used to read mediocre books, in addition to good ones, by the shelf.

Fantasy Authors

Or you could compare what Rowling does with the many manga and anime involving magic power teens in school.

Where are the Making Light crowd? I guess you don't need to read hundreds of fantasy books to write a fantasy book, although most of the people I have read did so. But I was instantly aware when I picked up Rowling that she had not done so.

Is she better for it? Would a mystery writer who had never read Chandler or Hammett or Christie or Marsh be improved by her ignorance?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:47 PM
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Yoyo: I actually think you're right and that racism is kind of constituting of fantasy, and I just realized as I type this that I am too sleepy to explain. But it's kind of in the Jameson chapter on fantasy, which really everyone should read and which isn't too difficult. That's not to say that all fantasy novels are racist but that racism is a key part of the main ideas of the genre. By which I don't mean that I dislike fantasy, or that I want to let racist fantasy novels off the hook, either.

Good night, all. (I'm picking up my copy of Harry Potter in the morning because I hate waiting in line almost as much as yoyo loves beer.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:48 PM
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On the other hand, I keep imagining "snarkout" pronounced as if it was French, so don't trust me.

Oh, sure, rhymes with "ragout".

Much as it pains me to agree with Jane Galt on this, it's certainly true that JKR does a very poor job of world-building. Something that's bothered me for several books now is the disassociation between magical talent and academic effort; not only does this mean that Hermione gets to be the butt of priggish jokes without the recourse of everyone into a bunch of newts, it makes Harry Potter into basically a paean to jockhood without even the thin role-reversal veneer of Slan or your average X-Men fanfic written by a 15-year-old who wishes he could see through girls' blouses.

Strange & Norell is utterly fantastic, but you have to be willing to simply will away the lacunae. If the parts that Clarke is really wonderful at aren't the parts that you find valuable, I can see how it falls down.

(While we're in this thread, let me give a shoutout to Hope Mirrlees' Lud in the Mist. It represents a more sophisticated Dunsany-ish vein of fantasy novel which basically got bludgeoned to death by Tolkien, which is a shame, because it's a quietly barbed little book. I wish Mirrlees had gotten to write the Great Imperalist Zulu-phile Lesbian Fantasy Novel for Woolf to scoff at.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:50 PM
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The only Narnia book I've ever found even the slightest wish to reread is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I've met people who've said the same to me, but I'd have to reread the entire series to figure out why TTOFDT is an exception. "Reread" isn't the right word, though, since even as a child I sensed that some of the later books weren't worth the effort.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:51 PM
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Re:43 Suspension of DISbelief. Duh.


Posted by: froz gobo | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:52 PM
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I'm convinced that people who don't like Harry Potter take as much pleasure in publicly not liking it (daring! different!) as people who love it take in publicly declaring their love (daring! kids book!). Both are annoying, although I'm guilty of the latter.

I try not to be one of those people who lays into anyone who criticizes the books -- not liking them doesn't make you a soulless bad person -- which, for parity, is why I guess I find the "here's why Harry Potter sucks as literature" stuff so annoying. Quit telling me that something I love is stupid! Meanies!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:58 PM
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Interesting. I wonder if y'all would consider Piers Anthony "dreck" despite his having sold millions of books, but cut Rowling some slack because she has sold millions of books.

I don't know if Making Light has posted much on Rowling. I don't remember anything this week. She just isn't that interesting, although anything that sells book, you know. But that community I think understands that these crossover blockbusters really don't have coattails.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 9:59 PM
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Interesting. I wonder if y'all would consider Piers Anthony "dreck" despite his having sold millions of books, but cut Rowling some slack because she has sold millions of books.

Piers Anthony is a Dan Brown-level author, although his website is the most hysterical dirty-old-man thing I've ever read.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:04 PM
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I re-read a couple of the Narnia books recently. The narrative voice is quite annoying--third person omniscient but way too chatty & way too much about telling you exactly what you're supposed to think about everything.

Also, deus ex machina Jesus-figure saving the day every single time is not actually great for suspense. I think there's less of that in the third book, but I haven't read most of them in a while. And Aslan doesn't really have so much of a personality; he's mainly defined by the narrator & characters telling you how amazing he is. Dumbledore, OTOH, is a real character, and about 10x more appealing.

"Something that's bothered me for several books now is the disassociation between magical talent and academic effort"

Wha? Hermione works the hardest & is best at every subject except Defense of the Dark Arts, which seems to be more about love & emotion & less about sheer smarts.

As far as conjuring chairs etc. I thought you could do this but it doesn't last? I don't know where I got that one.

McArdle's review is shot through with bad examples. That said, Rowling is not that great at world building. But that's not necessarily a fantasy book's primary concern.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:12 PM
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Seriously people, click on the link 120 to read the description of Piers Anthony's erotic fantasy novel:

[Pornucopia] concerns Prior Gross, a young man whose penis is only 3.97 inches long erect, ashamed to put it into play with a real woman lest she die of laughter. Then a succubus seduces him, no difficult task, and discovers that his smegma cures all venereal disease. As a result, a lady doctor, Tantamount Emdee, drugs him and amputates his penis, setting it up in her laboratory to manufacture this marvelous smegma so she can discover its secret. She sends him to her sister Oubliette Emdee, who fits him with a socket to which can be attached a marvelous range of artificial members that nevertheless have full sensation. For example, now he can don and wield a twelve inch monster, or one with multiple shafts and heads. After that it gets pretty wild...

Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:14 PM
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There's no reason to read _Titus Alone_ instead of, say, rereading the second novel.

Moorcock's _The War Hound and the World's Pain_ is about as good as high fantasy gets as far as I'm concerned.

We just reread the Prydain novels - the second and fourth are superb. Rowlings at her best (say, the scene where Dumbledore makes Harry make him drink something unbearable, or the Snape stuff, if it turns out to make sense somehow) manages to be that good for only for a few pages after 500 of setup. I kinda like and certainly understand the appeal of the Potter books but there's just so much dross and flailing - Hermione and the house elves, most of the female characters, Dumbledore withholding the plot for no reason, whatever happened in the first pound of book five, the wild fluctuations in talent required to make the non-Voldemort bad guys fit the plot, the deus ex time machine behind the only otherwise coherent book. Diana Wynne Jones manages to write contemporary fantasy books for kids without dross - but also without spoon-feeding or comforting heroic plots with reassuringly recurrent Quidditch matches.


Posted by: rilkefan | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:35 PM
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Piers Anthony is a Dan Brown-level author, although his website is the most hysterical dirty-old-man thing I've ever read.

One of Piers Anthony's hobbies


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:42 PM
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Lecture, lecture, hector. Y'all enjoy your weekend. I really have nothing against Rowling and the people who love her.

120:BS, not comparable. Is Dan Brown the only bad blockbusting writer you could come up? Piers Anthony, writes fart jokes and puns for 12-14-yr-olds or whomever. He is absolutely great at it. Could compare him to Dumb & Dumberer movies.

My theory of literature and reading. If you can't enjoy Piers Anthony you can't enjoy James Joyce.
Fart jokes and puns. Course he is varied, and wrote in styles other than the Xanth series.

My goal when reading was to move my mind wherever it needed to be to appreciate the author. Taste and standards were my problem, and anti-humanist.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:44 PM
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Piers Anthony puns are barely worthy of the name.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:48 PM
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This is anti-snob week!!!

Let's be serious about it. Not just great vs good books, but really really bad books. :)

There are no bad books. Only bad readers.

Good night.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:51 PM
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126: I suppose "Piers" is somewhat noble, but really, I feel like it attaches pretty handily to unfunny puns.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:53 PM
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Amen. McManus, your appreciation of Piers Anthony is seriously endangering the revolution. If the proletariat learned that their leader reads Anthony, they would denounce you, and return to work for half wages. I know I would.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 10:54 PM
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116: The only Narnia book I've ever found even the slightest wish to reread is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

It may be because Dawn Treader is a more open-ended adventure. They're supposed to find the missing counselors, but mostly it's just a great big voyage to the end of the world. They don't have a specific task with moral implications to accomplish. They don't need to destroy a witch or reinstate a good king etc.

How did you feel about The Silver Chair? I've always thought that people who hated Lewis might like that one.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 11:04 PM
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The actual conundrum of the prince in the silver chair really haunted me when I was a kid.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 11:34 PM
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The problem with the HP series is not that it fails to occupy a consistent economic or practical universe, but that it fails to occupy a consistent moral universe.

If Dahl or C.S. Lewis or Tolkien had written HP, there would be a reason that Hogwarts tolerates the plainly evil Syltherin. As it is - and as with many things in Rowling's plot - Slytherin exists for no reason other than to provide foils for Harry.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 07-20-07 11:40 PM
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130.---I think I tried to read The Silver Chair when I was around ten, but I have a distinct memory of having been unimpressed and giving up. That said, I also remember all kinds of things that turn out in fact to have been dreams.

In re: Piers Anthony.
I got a kick out of his "Myth..." series when I was about ten. What killed my interest was his misogyny: there was this one book where all the characters arrived in our world, and the two-dimensional buxom nymph character was going on about how weird women's "stilt shoes" were.

Man, I haven't thought about those books in forever.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 12:02 AM
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Isle of View, Ben.

Not an example -- a message from my heart to you.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 12:48 AM
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127 is just wrong.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 1:34 AM
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I am pretty sleepy and a little drugged...prescription, asthma stuff, sleeping pill...but I just watched the Nolan Prestige. Goof movie. I get them on cable a year after the theatres, so went into Unfogged archives because I remembered a thread. Pledge, Turn, Prestige. Science & illusion. Chris Priest was a good writer thirty years ago, I am wondering about reading that book.

See, I relate to other parts of my obsession with the Late Victorian/Edwardian age. Sorel was very open about the "Myth of the General Strike" being a myth. How are we to take Freud's Oedipus and Electra complex? As usefiul fictions? Can myth work ironically, self-consciously?

Michael Caine's ending narration says people want to be fooled. The Prestige is the part of the trick that turns confusion and mystery into magic.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:07 AM
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113: Or you could compare what Rowling does with the many manga and anime involving magic power teens in school.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:08 AM
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However, The Illusionist thoroughly pwns The Prestige.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:09 AM
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135: I think not. With possible exceptions of patently immoral works.

To be honest, I liked Anthony's earliest woth, an some later series about a society organized around games and competition. Not so much the Xanth. And he is a very famous jerk in many ways, but that is I think partly an act, ike Nugent's. I chose him to be outrageous, and as the test case. I have read worse fantasy.

But every novel requires a change of mind, of really apprehending it on it's own terms. Criticize afterwards, you cannot communicate and critique at the same time. Clive Cussler or Judith Krantz or Dan Brown are "difficult, boring, alienating" because of what you bring to them.

James Joyce disappointed Ezra Pound when Ulysses turned into a book about a mediocre Dublin Jew. I read a secondary work written in the 70s that claimed Modernism took the noble, heroic and positive exemplars from literature. The indiscriminate humanism was one of Joyce's main purposes and messages. He drank with waiters, he married Nora, he loved both his kids.

Any and every book can reveal a loving and lovable human, the author, to a reader willing to suspend prejudices and subsume identity. I judge books no more than I judge people.

This contradicts things said in a previous thread.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:35 AM
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every fantasy is racist. or most are, all that iv'e read anyway.

Earthsea is not racist. Et praeteria, Rilkefan @123 is right about Titus Alone and about "The Warhound and the World's Pain". Much of Moorcock's output was, by his own admission, quick and dirty to finance other projects, but the Jerry Cornelius books retain a certain period charm (must be read in order).

C S Lewis was an embarrassing writer of fiction, but if you want an intro to conservative Anglican theology (why??), read Screwtape.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:29 AM
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Clive Cussler or Judith Krantz or Dan Brown are "difficult, boring, alienating" because of what you bring to them.

You're kidding, right? Don't be a sap, McManus.

140: Earthsea is not racist. It is sexist however, so I guess you can't win. I loved the Earthsea trilogy in spite of that, and the corrective stories Leguin has published lately have been boring buzzkill.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 6:28 AM
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Screwtape and Chesterton were my pastor's last-ditch weapons in the fight to save me. Both really wrote well but I thought they were gimmicky. They seemed to presume that you wanted to believe, and just needed a way to sidestep the question of whether any of that shit was actually true.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 7:14 AM
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some later series about a society organized around games and competition

The Out of Phase series? Yeeeeah. I tried to re-read this recently. Terrible.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 8:35 AM
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Ursula LeGuin is an *-ist, possibly a double *-ist?

Say it ain't so, Ursie!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 8:42 AM
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I'm sure all this has moved on to other threads, but I have More! To! Say!

I do not like the formulation "there are no bad books, only bad readers, given above. Not because I like to say negative things about books, which I obviously do, but because the emphasis is wrong and because it suggests that if you criticize a book you need to get with the program. What else would we ever say this about? There are no bad diets, only bad eaters? There are no bad clothes, only bad wearers? There are no bad conversational approaches, only bad listeners? Nothing at all is bad but thinking makes it so? Uh-uh.

We could usefully reformulate the statement as "there is no book that is worthless". That is, you can get something, should you be so inclined, out of any book you read--whether that's amusement, practice on giving things a Spinozaist reading (seriously, I know someone who really liked The Amber Spyglass because he felt it was Spinozaist), constructing an argument about liberalism, examining how we see, say, Harry Potter's actions through many lenses, or whatever. Interesting arguments can be constructed about any book. That's the point, to open up readings, not to foreclose readings by saying "but remember to be positive, otherwise you've failed as a human being."

About racism as constituative of fantasy: this doesn't mean that all fantasy novels are racist in the sense of having a racially problematic political agenda--racist, you might say, in political form. For example, one of Ursula Le Guin's goals with the Earthsea books is to--indirectly, at an angle--challenge and rework the racist assumptions that underly many classics of fantasy.

But the genre of fantasy is kind of built on racializing discourse, whether it's simple and obviously bad (Swarthy Others are Attacking Us! Because They're Dark! But our Light will Defeat Them!) or more subtle. Difference in classics of fantasy is racialized--either literally, where the hobbits all have strong "inbred" characteristics, and there are the dwarves, and the different "races" of men, or metaphorically, where there's a constant emphasis on "blood" and and a very strong "natural", inbred (or "racialized") set of characteristics attributed to peasants versus the aristocracy. And there's a lot of fantasy that works these tropes, plays with them, revises them--but still is founded on them. (By which you can see that I don't mean "fantasy is constituted along lines of racism" to read "fantasy is bad")

And consider the classic fantasy emphasis on racialized categories: you go to this other country where there's almost a checklist of indicationg of difference: they wear silk instead of wool, have curved swords instead of straight, are dark instead of pale, etc--in fantasy there's this fallback trope of checklist culture. Consider (as an extreme case) Archenland versus Calormen in the Narnia books. Now, I know they're separated by a huge (convenient) desert, but for real, how is it that they are so different, except for the racialized checklist-culture thing? Hasn't trade influenced them? And how does this convenienct desert create the Calormenes as a fake-Arab, desert people but leave the Archenlanders as Little Britishers?

Consider too the naturalness of how fantasy can talk about race and nationality in metaphor--Strange & Norell for example.

Ideology about race is really basic to fantasy, that's what I'm saying. I could also construct a historical arguement to this effect, but I've typed so much this past day that my hands hurt.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 9:07 AM
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141:In principle, if not in practice, and with internal conflicts and contradictions, no, I am not kidding. This should not be a revelation.

Here, and elsewhere, I have sometimes said I understood how Joyce could marry Nora, in those threads where the crew says they could never have an intimate relationship with someone of vastly different IQ's and interests. Sometimes I get a response of "Well, Nora wasn't dumb, just ignorant." Nora read the equivalent of Harlequins.

I grew up blue & pink collar, lived a chunk of my life below that, and have never lived in an intellectual or academic environment. I have avoided it. I consider it a tool and a method, not a judgement. I will tell y'all a secret:almost everyone is a bit of a snob.

My partner keeps telling me:"Bob, you are a human, not a dog. You have to be alpha." The dogs know I want to roll in dead things. It is inexplicable how comfortable kids are with me. I avoid them, because until they know me, the parents aren't.

"Taste" may be our most valuable possession. Everyone is proud of their knowledge and judgement. Viewed as an achievement, it is just a vice. Taking pride in my tastelessness is just another vice.

I am also completely full of shit. :)


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 9:09 AM
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145:"That is, you can get something, should you be so inclined, out of any book you read"

Intellectuals like to intellectualize the instinctive, to read fantasy for the racist feudal subtexts, to put "Uncle Tom's Cabin" into its time and place and so forgive its trespasses against them.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 9:14 AM
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And what exactly is the "instinctive" reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin? While we're at it, how did you find your unusual relation to the "instinctive" anyway? Does one listen to one's heart?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 9:22 AM
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It is simple. Treat every book as a conversation with it's author. How should we treat those people less intelligent, talented, privileged, educated, lucky than ourselves? We should reach out with humility, generosity, a lack of condescension, a genuine unqualified interest. We should not exploit them, or use them to confirm our prejudices.

Etc.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 9:28 AM
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148:One shuts off the brain, try to make the ego disappear. Try not to fight with the author, not tell Dan Brown with every sentence read that he is a mendacious commercial no-talent hack.

Or maybe it's the superego that gets in the way, fastidiousness as toilet-training. I have the gift of sociopathy. :)


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 9:33 AM
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I read the last two chapters of someone else's copy. Don't y'all think this whole narrative is just a tad...umm...priapic? Wands, wands wands! Wands up the wazoo!

If the titles were in line with the utter reductive Freudianness of it all, they would be:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Bollocks
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Sin
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Desire
Harry Potter and the Gobbet of Flesh
Harry Potter and the Order of the Dominatrix
Harry Potter and the Ass-Less Chaps
Harry Potter and the Breathy Hellos

Also, Clarke's book shall hereafter be referred to as Doctor Strange and Bernie Worrell


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 9:57 AM
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Perhaps a sign of too much time spent in couple's counseling, but what bugs me about the "Why I Hate Harry" bits isn't that some people have the audacity to dislike the books, but that there is the compulsion to frame their dislike in terms of "This is why Rowling is unsuccessful" rahter than a nice "I statement" like, "I was put off by X."
This includes statements in this thread that Rowling "is a very poor world-builder." Really? Walk around any of the big bashes last night and it seems a good many people have utterly lost themselves in the world Rowling built.

It comes off as this compulsion to make literature something for which there are right and wrong answers. And as has been amply pointed out in the comments, a large part of what fans find annoying is that the justifications for why it is Right to dislike HP seem to reveal that the critic really hasn't read the book.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:12 AM
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Incidentally, Le Guin used to frequent the restaurant where I worked years ago. She's a very lovely person.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:15 AM
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Well, I have not read the books, but the fact that many people like HP does not necessarily indicate that Rowling is a good world-builder. "World-building" has a specific meaning in the context of fantasy: it is the author's ability to construct a complex, novel, and seemingly complete environment. Tolkien exemplifies this: he wrote extensive histories of middle earth that are only occasionally referred to in the actual text. He invented one language and co-opted another to better flesh out his world.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:27 AM
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Making Tolkein the standard for world-building isn't fair. Rowling's world isn't as well though out, and it has internal inconsistencies, but it's imaginative and rich.

She's not as good a world-builder as other fantasy novelists, no question. But she's not that bad.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:29 AM
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I liked Anthony's earliest woth

Woth will set you free.

Criticisms of plot holes and inconsistencies and "why doesn't X just Y?" are perfectly valid in fantasy and SF stories, incidentally -- it's a standard feature of the genre for readers to ask these questions, because every SF and fantasy story is an exercise in "what if" in the first place. The author has a duty to anticipate and address some of these questions (with the help of draft-readers and editors if necessary). Ideally, when the author finds such a plot hole during writing, she or he fixes it quickly and deftly in such a way that it makes the story better. The author isn't required to think through every angle that the most obsessive reader will come to in a year of study, but the author should give the impression that she or he could have solved every logical problem that Obsessive Reader could have come up with. JKR doesn't do enough of this -- fixing the obvious holes and answering the obvious questions would take too much time away from counting her piles of money.

(Not that I begrudge her her piles of money! The purity of JKR's rags-to-riches story is one of the best things about the whole Harry Potter phenomenon.)


Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:29 AM
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This includes statements in this thread that Rowling "is a very poor world-builder." Really? Walk around any of the big bashes last night and it seems a good many people have utterly lost themselves in the world Rowling built.

The part things people enjoy (or at least that I enjoy) about the Harry Potter books are distinct from Rowling's ability to create an internally consistent and surprising setting. It's a skill that seems largely unrelated to the ability to create memorable characters or a ripping yarn of a plot or what have you. (You'll note that people were lambasting Susanna Clarke for having the inverse skill set.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:30 AM
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JKR doesn't do enough of this -- fixing the obvious holes and answering the obvious questions would take too much time away from counting her piles of money.

What a completely charitable explanation!


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:30 AM
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Pwned by foolishmortal.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:31 AM
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151. Surely someone's linked the wands to wangs thing by now?

"You have your mother's eyes. It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wang. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wang for charm work. Your father, on the other hand, favored a mahogany wang. Eleven inches."

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 10:34 AM
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158:I am a little interested in the ways modern readers "fill the gaps" in the narratives they read.
I think I have more trouble with graphic novels or comic books than those a generation or two younger, because younger readers are more accustomed to using their imaginations to move from frame to frame based on shared conventions.

Romance readers add the actions to the adjective-ridden prose; readers of hard-boiled detective novels add much of the description and environment to a verb-filled genre; SF & fantasy readers add the emotions and character.

What is left-out or inadequately expressed or described insufficiently is not always a flaw of a style or genre but what makes it work. The tight prose of lit-fic will not work for mass-market romance.

That Rowling's "world" is underdeveloped or inconsistent might be what made it more accessible to the non-geeks that appreciate it. She left room for imaginations to play within a universe of shared conventions. HP became a social phenomenon.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 11:18 AM
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Perhaps world-building is a completely worthless activity for an author to engage in, and that fantasy would be the dominant literary mode if only its authors would abandon their world-building vice?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 11:27 AM
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162: Most of its authors don't have much of a world-building vice. That's part of why most of it is crap.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 11:48 AM
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Other than Lord of the Rings, has any book been improved by its world building?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 11:53 AM
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Other than Lord of the Rings, has any book been improved by its world building?

A great deal of classic SF, hard (e.g. Foundation) and soft (e.g. LeGuin's main adult sequence). Also much good historical fiction, in the sense that the implications of data driven research literature are riffed on to produce plausible motivations for characters living in an alien technological and ideological environment. Outside which, what would be the point?


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 12:11 PM
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I am arguing solely about fantasy.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 12:31 PM
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(I guess I should have said "fantasy book" rather than "book".)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 12:32 PM
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Oh, in that case you're probably right. Although the boundary between fantasy and "soft" SF isn't one I'd want to draw with any confidence.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 12:37 PM
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Over the course of the conversation, I will draw it to exclude any inconvenient counterexamples.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 1:18 PM
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164: I'd say that consistent worldbuilding is necessary to make a fantasy that works at all. It doesn't have to be excitingly original -- half the fantasy out there uses the same basic European-fairy-tales-(sometimes-by-way-of-Tolkien-and-D&D) world, and some of those are good books, but it has to function. You have to have some consistent sense of what's easy, what's hard, and what would be surprising in the world of the book as opposed to normal in the book but new to the reader.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 1:30 PM
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164: Yes. The good ones. Duh.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:04 PM
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I'd say that consistent worldbuilding is necessary to make a fantasy that works at all.

See, this is what's bugging me -- and maybe it's just that I'm misreading what you mean to say. But I'm reading this as an assertion that Rowling failed at consistent worldbuilding and that, therefore, the HP novels don't work at all. Which is, expressed so absolutely, quite clearly false. Obviously, the books work very well for a fair number of people.

HP may not work for a certain set of readers -- apprently, as I am gathering from this conversation, a set of readers with a deep knowledge and background in fantasy as genre. And if I'm understanding that at all, that's fantasy as a genre distinct from children's fantasy.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:06 PM
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This is a thought in progress, but since fictioneering is a part of my livelihood it's a professional thought in progress.

By definition, all fiction is less dense in solid detail than the real world. Anyone needing clarification of this starting point needs to get Umberto Eco's How to Travel With a Salmon and read "On the Impossibility of a 1:1 Scale Map of the Empire", which explains it in fall-on-the-floor funny style. In the meantime, I'll just take it as a given: the apparent weight of a fictional world comes from the details actually given and from the author's use of evocation, getting the reader to fill in the gaps, often without the reader's realizing how much of the lifting they're doing.

My feeling about Rowling is that a big part of her success comes from not being deeply or fundamentally alienated from the world. She's known poverty, and knows that it sucks, but she's not a radical or a revolutionary looking to rebuild social democracy from the ground up. Her wizard society exists as a secret haven of specialness within a world that is often banal and frequently dull, but seldom actually evil or destructive. She is...well, let's do a few comparisons.

For starters, Rowling is less alienated from the world than Megan McArdle, who's stuck disliking much of every other nation on earth and a lot of her own, on a really deep structural level. The society that would most satisfy her is very far from what any majority anywhere wants, and she's alert enough to know that, and to be aware that she's locked in an ongoing struggle against the wishes of most people of most kinds. Rowling doesn't have that. She is basically at ease in the world, dealing with problems that are individual rather than structural.

Likewise, Rowling is at ease in the modernity of the early 21st century in a way that Tolkien or Lewis could never be. Whatever spirituality she may have, it's nothing like their demanding creeds. Nor does she have their constant sense of superior value lost in the past, and of course she's not a blatant misogynist, either. (If anyone's wondering, I dig both Lewis and Tolkien and have no plans to kick either off my shelves. I just see weaknesses in them as well as strengths.)

Rowling's imagined world is, precisely, a sort of frosting on top of reality. It shouldn't be surprising that it works really well for a lot of readers who really aren't that aleinated from reality, but - like all of us - are capable of wishing for more because, well, we can always wish for more. (I'm reminded of Stephen King's great bit in Danse Macabre about why it's wroth effort to avoid showing horror readers and viewers the monster. Whatever you can possibly show them can't match imagination. Give them a 10-foot bug and they'll say, well, that was pretty bad, but at least it wasn't a 100-foot bug. Give them a 100-foot bug and they'll say, well, that was really pretty bad, but at least it was a 1000-foot bug. No shown or described thing will ever catch up with a sufficiently energized imagination.) But there's a big difference between wishing for more in addition to what's real and wishing for something to replace what's real.

A friend of a friend - I know, it sounds like a punchline, but bear with me - is himself transgendered and works with abused poor children of various kind. Every time I get to hear from him about what those kids daydream and fantasize about, and how they express their imaginations, it's fascinating. These are kids cut loose from any real social foundation in ways that are hard for most of us to imagine. Certainly I, seriously disabled and otherwise marginalized but nonetheless culturally bourgeois, computer literate, etc., have a daily paradise compared to their routine. And yet among their other recurring anchors for imaginary worlds, a lot of those kids really dig Rowling's work. Frosted mundanity appeals to them as a place to escape into, too. So it's not just the fact of being alienated from significant parts of the social mainstream that counts, but the reasons for it and the nature of it.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:07 PM
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Wow. Bruce, that was so nicely expressed.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:12 PM
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By making it a question of "good", I think I've made it too easy, though I would be interested in a specific example of a "good" one where consistent world-building is important. Harry Potter is a mass phenomenon, while almost all other fantasy is not. Maybe attention to world-building is what has doomed most other fantasy to a niche market.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:13 PM
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172: LB's point seems pretty reasonable, though. A novel (fantasy or not) is at its most immersive when the setting or underlying background / set of assumptions is well-realized. This is one of the things that tends to make the difference between bestselling books and enduring literature.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:19 PM
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Regarding the value of worldbuilding in fantasy novels:

The book that I find myself musing about is Nameless Magery which is quite good, not great, and is a book that I've use as an example of the virtues of a first novel.

It has moments when it feels like she's working hard to keep all of the plot elements moving at the proper pace, but it's obvious how much she cares about the characters and the world building. Reading it I imagine that she has little dozens of pieces of paper (or probably computer files) with notes about various aspects of the world.

I haven't read the Harry Potter books, but what's striking is those are precisely the sort of virtues that people talked about with the first couple of books -- that JKR had a lot of detail and investment in the world.

At the same time it doesn't surprise me at all to hear that the world is not internally consistent (and, in fact, it would surprise me if the contrary was true) because my experience from Role Playing Games is that it's really, really, hard to make a world that is internally consistant behind the stage set. It's one thing to create a world that is sufficiently believeable to tell stories in, but a whole different thing to create a world that stands up to people asking, "if X why not Y?" or "what is the exchange rate between A and B and who is taking advantage of arbitrage?"

I'm talking in generalities here, because I haven't read the Harry Potter books, but I believe that, in the same way that people's intuitions about probability are terrible, that people's intuitions about world building and economics do not, in general, stand up to scruitiny.

So it makes me wonder, what is the distinction between something that provides convincing versimilitude and one that doesn't?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:27 PM
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HP may not work for a certain set of readers -- apprently, as I am gathering from this conversation, a set of readers with a deep knowledge and background in fantasy as genre. And if I'm understanding that at all, that's fantasy as a genre distinct from children's fantasy.

Absolutely no to the last sentence -- children's fantasy is something I'm very fond of, and is basically (IMO) continuous with the adult stuff.

On the rest, we're colliding over the word 'work', I think. I don't mean 'doesn't work' in the sense of 'couldn't possibly appeal to anyone' -- obviously the books do. I mean 'doesn't work' in the sense that the books don't function mechanically; if you pay attention to any of the details, you start hitting something that doesn't make sense -- an area that Rowling isn't staying away from because it's not interesting to her, but because given what she's said already she can't go there and say anything that would be consistent and reasonable.

I'd really have to reread the books to do the sort of picking I'd have to in order to back this up, but it was a strong reaction when I read them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:29 PM
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177: So it makes me wonder, what is the distinction between something that provides convincing versimilitude and one that doesn't?

This is a good question, and I'd say it's close attention to consistency on the parts of the story you need to focus on, and an effective handwaving techinque for the parts of the world you don't -- a knack for letting your loose threads trail off in a manner that the reader can't see where they're going to tangle.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:33 PM
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175 - If you're drawing the level of "mass phenomenon" at "the best-selling works of children's fiction of all time", then obviously nobody else is operating at Rowling's level. We'll skip Tolkien (and the question of, say, "world-building" in the Little House books) and restrict ourselves to children's fantasy; I can think of a half-dozen major works still in print — some, like the "Dark is Rising" sequence, a good thirty years after they were published — that do a better job of it than Rowling. Brian Jacques' Redwall series, which I'm actually not that familiar with, strikes me as an example of a popular series where attention to world-building is genuinely important, given that it's about a bunch of talking mice. I'll grant that there's a certain SF-ish idea of exploring the affordances of one's premise that I think children's books can largely get away with ignoring, but I think the sense that the author has a well-defined idea of how his or her rules work still remains an important one. (It may well be less important to younger readers than grumpy ol' Unfogged folks, but I'm not entirely sure that I'd concede that point.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:38 PM
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177, 179: I suspect it's going to vary for different classes of readers. I'm sure the vast majority of details that need to be tracked and tied off need to be tied off for all classes of readers, and I assume Rowling hits those. Then there are those types of details that will bother specific sorts of people. Galt (I gather) was bothered by the economic underpinnings of the world; well, she's interested in the field. Others might be bothered by a different set of untied details.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:41 PM
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That Rowling's "world" is underdeveloped or inconsistent might be what made it more accessible to the non-geeks that appreciate it. She left room for imaginations to play within a universe of shared conventions.

To the point, Tolkien's books could've done with a lot less world building and much more concern for his characters. When reading a novel, it's thoroughly useless to know know that Frodo had to walk twenty-five steps south then turn left to get to the pass that took him to the giant spider. LotR in Tolkien's hands is as much a novel of moving little dolls over a scale model of Middle Earth in some weird daydream about geography as it is a mythological tale of good v. evil.


Posted by: hermit greg | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:44 PM
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close attention to consistency on the parts of the story you need to focus on, and an effective handwaving techinque for the parts of the world you don't -- a knack for letting your loose threads trail off in a manner that the reader can't see where they're going to tangle.

That's a great answer because it makes clear why people can have such differing reactions. Everybody had different things that they pay close attention to, and no matter how gracefully an author lets those loose threads trail off you will still notice the inconsistencies.

(on preview pwned by 181).


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:45 PM
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You know, the "incompletely built world" complaint is a fair one. One of the problems is that the series reads like Rowling's own vision of what the Harry Potter world changed as the books went on. I'm re-reading them now, in reverse order, and the amount of detail provided in the earlier books doesn't compare at all to the later ones. In fact, the whole tone of books 1 and 2 is such that it seems strange to apply that criticism. 1 and 2 are unapologetic about waving away questions about how it all works behind whimsy and humor, but as the tone darkens and the stakes get raised in later books, that kind of waving away seems less appropriate.

There are all kinds of inconsistencies (why couldn't Harry see the thestrals in Book 3, given that his parents died in front o him? how come Percy can take points from Gryffindor in book 2 when in book 5 its made explicit that prefects can't? how in the world does money work; what needs to be bought, and what can be magicked? why is Voldemort in Britain anyway, when he could have been wreaking havoc on the continent, away from Dumbledore?) that I can either fanwank away or ignore, but somehow they don't detract from my enjoyment of the series. Greg is right on in that too much world-building is stultifying; too-little can be distracting. Rowling's world is probably under-specified, but it's delightful enough that it doesn't bother me.

And that seems to be the difference between my experience of Harry Potter and, say, LB's. I'm reading them to find something to enjoy; she's reading and finding them implausible. I think we're reading for very different purposes.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:54 PM
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That last part came out bitchier than I intended. I don't mean to denigrate LB's approach to the books. I just think I'm having more fun.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:55 PM
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Oh, and I'd rather be enjoying them -- clearly, of the two reactions, yours is the one that leaves you better off. I just can't swing it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 2:59 PM
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That Rowling's "world" is underdeveloped or inconsistent might be what made it more accessible to the non-geeks that appreciate it.

Incidentally, the implication here that the choice is between consistency or accessibility is false. A well-done consistent backdrop isn't something the reader should notice... except when it's not there.

Of course a book can get by for a while on other virtues. (I really do think Bob is on the money with his comparison of Potter to school-magic manga -- another great mass phenomenon -- in 115. Potter really is the Anglospheric answer to that phenomenon, IMO.) But internal consistency is one of the factors that gives a book longevity. The Potter series has generated a great burst of commercial activity over its run, but ultimately I have doubt about whether it's destined for canonical status for that reason.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:01 PM
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Incidentally, the implication here that the choice is between consistency or accessibility is false. A well-done consistent backdrop isn't something the reader should notice... except when it's not there.

This, I agree with completely. When I say 'world-building' is necessary, I don't mean that I read fantasy with conscious attention to the world it's set in, grading it on scope, complexity, and consistency. I mean that if I keep on noticing things that don't work, I get jolted out of the book every time and stop having fun.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:04 PM
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I think that part of what's being argued about is the nature of the contract between the author and the reader.

Harry Potter defenders are saying that in providing a strong plot, interesting characters, emotional impact, and memorable detailes and scenes that JKR is providing more than enough to make the books pleasurable.

LB is saying that yes, this may be true, but that it's harder for her to give her trust and suspension of disbelief to story when she feels like the author is willing to play fast and loose with consistency for the sake of the story.

I may be misrepresenting LB here, but the debate makes me aware of the fact that as a reader I sometimes fall into the first group, willing to enjoy a story on it's own terms, and sometimes into the second category getting rapidly frustrated when a book feels like it's just "made up" and that I have yet to find any pattern to explain why I react the way that I do to one book or not another.

It frustrates me sometimes that I'm conscious of reading a book and thinking, "I know that, to enjoy this book, I am forgiving it a lot, but in this case I feel forgiving." I never know whether I should recommend those books or not. Does it mean that the author was good enough at other things to win me over, or did it just catch me at a good time?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:09 PM
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At some point when I'm done reading the book so that I can take part in the discussion, I think it would be interesting to consider fan fiction, both in general and in terms of Harry Potter. (Yes, yes, fan fiction, embarassing, often pornographic, wish-fulfilling, badly-written...and yet it's kind of an interesting phenomenon.) Some how I think fan fiction can be discussed in relation to worldbuilding. (In a nutshell, I think incomplete worlds with inconsistencies and half-drawn characters are better for fan fiction--it would seem almost impossible to write fan fiction about, say, The Folk of the Air, and fairly unlikely to write it about The Scar, even though both those books have some themes in common with Harry Potter. Also, books with certain themes are better for fan fiction--there has to be a certain kind of romanticism. And the book has to have a lot invested in repression. I was just thinking today how careful (consciously or not) Rowling has been to make sure that there are almost no characters who aren't formally designated as heterosexual by the end of the series, even though I would argue that there's a constant slippage ("and then their wands touched!" "He would never be pierced by Dumbledore's blue eyes again"...er, pardon me, vicar.) into language that has, er, other meanings, and even though at least a few of the characters are "queerly" written. (There's a fantastic article that I have that I can't find about how "queerness" was conveyed in late Victorian popular fiction, and certainly Snape and Lupin fit the bill.) So there's a kind of writing where people develop this desire to supply the "other", the repressed...and I think that in a sense this debate about the Missing Economic Dimension is the same thing.

People aren't heavily invested in the Harry Potter books just because they're stupid or naive, or just because the books are good fun; there are a lot of stupid books and stupid people out there, and a lot of books are good fun. The Harry Potter books cathect (See? A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Analysis is doing me a world of good!) the desires of a lot of people and it isn't just random, and it isn't even comparable to too many other school stories.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:42 PM
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Frowner, have you seen the third movie? Lupin is gay gay gay.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:44 PM
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191: Not in the book book book, alas. Particularly not the last one. But certainly in the fan fic.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:51 PM
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"cathect", "cathexis", etc, originate in translations of Freud. (The german term is Besetzung.) IIRC your usage doesn't jibe with the Freudian (objects don't cathect).


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:53 PM
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193: Yes, I realized it after I'd posted. (I know it's from Freud, but I am hostile to Freud and hence did not use the term until I'd started on the Clinical Introduction, which is I think destined to become to me as Hogwarts, A History is to Hermione. Except Hermione's never wrong; wish I could master that part.) I'm going to get Fink's new translation of the Ecrits, too...he's a writer I find very congenial and I'm eager to see how he's handled the translation.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 3:57 PM
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fan fiction about, say, The Folk of the Air,

This is genius.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:05 PM
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But when you think about it, The Folk of the Air could almost be a natural for fan fiction--there are a lot of minor characters who do interesting things, there's a lot of witchcraft, there's a suggestion that a lot more is happening than is described in the story...but I think that the kind of romantic projection/blankness neccessary for fan fic (and certainly for slash fic) just isn't there...we know Farrell and Ben and Julie too well, and the others aren't written as intensely. I think you need characters to whom people have intense, flat reactions, but who none the less aren't depicted with much complexity. And no matter how much a certain, rather funny piece of fan fic I read(for example) may go on about Snape's sad childhood, it's a romantic depiction, not a geniunely complex one.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:12 PM
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Although thinking about it has caused me to develop an annoying tic in my left eyelid.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:12 PM
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190 kind of loses me. I don't see how the desire for consistency in storytelling is analogous to the desire for fanfic; surely the fanfic impulse in relation to Harry Potter is much better expressed by people who have been demanding that Rowling continue the series indefinitely -- those IOW for whom the inconsistencies don't present a barrier to the setting. (Rowling shows good instincts in resisting that, I think; it's wrong to use the desirability of "gaps" as an excuse for inconsistency, since they're different things, but right to argue that fiction benefits from gaps and that series that fill in too many of their gaps tend to lose their appeal.)

Who said people are invested in the books because they're stupid or naive?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:18 PM
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But when you think about it, The Folk of the Air could almost be a natural for fan fiction

No, that's why it's a genuinely illuminating example. Also a really funny thing to imagine, even if it's giving LB the shakes.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:18 PM
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198: What I was thinking about with the worldbuilding: certain kinds of authorial worldbuilding call out/leave room for fan fic. People want more world, and they often want a particular kind of world. I think the desire to supply "how the wizarding world works", the desire to prove that the economics of the wizarding world don't make sense while also talking about how they could/should make sense, and the desire to write a story where You! Yes You! (or whatever fan fic) go to Hogwarts come from similar types of investment in the story, similar desires about the story. Actually, I think that's neat.

A lot of the stupider sort of anti-HP discourse (not here) is on the lines of that essay that was posted here earlier in the week: "Ooooh, people don't understand Good Literature, how can they Bear to read Inadequate Harry Potter when there's so much Proper Literature out there, what's Wrong with people?" Like people read Harry Potter out of false consciousness rather than because the books have any good qualities.

As far as The Folk of the Air fan fic goes, of course you can't envision it, and it wouldn't really get written--it's just that some of the formal structure of the book has elements that might appear to be fan fic-generating.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:29 PM
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Who said people are invested in the books because they're stupid or naive?

I think that's been an undertone of some of the reactions to my anti-HP diatribes; a not-unreasonable (although I assure you inaccurate), belief that if I think the books are badly written I think ill of the people who like them. Which I really don't -- I'm probably one of the less well educated and literarily sophisticated people on this site, and almost everyone else loves them, so it can't possibly say anything bad about you. I still don't get the appeal (and would like Frowner to talk more about cathexis -- while I recognize the concept, why HP specifically?), but I'm not sneering at anyone for enjoying the books. Just arguing about them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:30 PM
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Maybe my first KidLit post could be "Cathecting the Sorceror's Stone: Emotional Investment, Fan fic and Harry Potter". I had been leaning towards "If the UN Had Wands: Diana Wynne Jones and the Politics of Intervention", though.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:33 PM
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What I was thinking about with the worldbuilding: certain kinds of authorial worldbuilding call out/leave room for fan fic. People want more world, and they often want a particular kind of world.

Does this model explain the huge and long-lived appeal of Austen fanfic (and Georgette Heyer, which strikes me as much the same thing)?


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 4:52 PM
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You could say that Georgette Heyer's works themselves are fanfic based on the popular and well-known (albeit nonfictional) "Regency" setting and characters.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 5:02 PM
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201: I feel sort of mixed about them. I don't think they are horrible, on the other hand I don't think they are particularly well written, even for what they are (there are much better childrens fantasy books about wizards, even).

But the first time I saw a little girl (7ish) reading one of the thick ones on a pillow because she wasn't strong enough to hold it up on her lap, I was sold --- this is not a girl who is ever going to be scared off merely by pagecount. I remember kids in my grade school groaning because they would have to work all the way through a 200 page novel.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 5:08 PM
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I think a key fanfic prereq is strongly defined social roles--consider how much fanfic exists for military/science fiction-military stories, for retro ones that emphasize clearly defined class-relations and for school stories (and surely everyone here has read Orwell on boys' school stories--he was wrong about the authorship, but very smart about the attraction of the plots, I think). "A place for everyone and everyone in their place"...partly this allows fanfic writers to generate characters easily--characters are sort of pre-generated by their class/rank/etc. Partly this allows for just enough structure to hold the thing together--you can't really have fanfic for The Folk of the Air because the world isn't rigid enough. Partly it allows for a fantasy of belonging. But then a lot of fanfic (I think) is about not fitting into class roles--a lot of cross-class romances, for one thing, or just identities that class can't contain. I think it's about both security and freedom in one package...

...I'm interested in fanfic (which is not neccessarily sexual/romantic but which contains, I think, a lot of the same drives that produce slash and erotic fan fic) because of the sort of utopian longing for a society where everyone "belongs". Also the longing (not utopian) for a society that can be satisfactorily mapped and understood from a sort of eye-of-god standpoint. The desire for a rigid, timeless society is sort of problematic and sort of utopian, is what I'm saying.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 5:16 PM
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By the way, I forgot to add that I think it's much easier to understand an aesthetic/emotional response than to control it, and that it's seldom worth the effort to go ahead and beat it down and slog through something one just plain isn't enjoying. I hope nobody who isn't going for Harry Potter feels like I'm hectoring - I haven't actually read any of them myself yet, not because I despise them but becaue other stuff keeps competing for my attention. I plan to do them via audio book when I have a trip coming up.

I also think that any really popular work will end up being found to work for divergent and indeed flat-out contradictory reasons for different readers. People are like that.


Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Link to this comment | 07-21-07 5:26 PM
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Apropos of nothing: I was thinking about Harry Potter and fan fic again, and it occurs to me that HP is so successful a fanfic-generator because it's so concerned with what is "normal" and so repressive of what is not. In HP-land, everyone is either normal or deeply-traumatized or crazy; there's no "alternative" society, and oddity is made either cozy or insane. There's also nothing queer about our George, so to speak--everyone is not only heterosexualed up (which one would expect in a mainstream children's book) but anything which doesn't immediately suggest heterosexuality is explained away. And things are even "heteronormative" to the extent of a sort of opposites-attract cliche, like Ron getting together with Hermione.

And yet, because so much conscious emphasis is placed on heteronormativity (or maybe the causality is reversed) there's also something very, very queer about relations within Harry Potter--the intensity of relations between men (and really, there just aren't any comparable relations between women, and the ones between men and women fall under the heading of romance). Consider....well, let's start with a bunker-buster of an example: Fred and George. Fred and George are described as together disappearing with a couple of French girls; they're constantly paired/rivalrous. If there isn't anything non-heteronormative about going off with your twin brother to make out with chicks, well...plus the James/Lupin/Ratguy/Sirius friendship--so very intense that they all alter their very bodies to take part in shared adventures. Plus all the "then their wands touched" and the constant emphasis on bodily fluids, usually transmitted between men. (I won't spoiler-ize, but seriously--Snape at the end of the last book).

I'm not saying this to "accuse" or to say that fictional characters are "really" this or that. If anything, the unacknowledged and weirdly bodily relations in the book give a lot more power and dimension to the story--I think that although the story does not--on a literal "as told" level--express the kinds of complexity that pervade real human relationships, the perpetually-returning repressed of the body manages to suggest them, probably better than Rowling could herself even if she decided to try.

(Although I cherish a fantasy about how Rowling really writes slash fiction and consciously has a great deal of subtext for the stories.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 12:25 PM
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156

"... JKR doesn't do enough of this -- fixing the obvious holes and answering the obvious questions would take too much time away from counting her piles of money. "

I sort of agree with this. If JKR had tried to build a totally consistent world she would probably still be writing her first book and would not have piles of money. As the saying goes perfection is the enemy of good.

No book will appeal to everybody. I am not bothered by the sort of inconsistencies mentioned in the post in JKR's books. LB is, maybe this means fantasy isn't really the genre for her.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 2:49 PM
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Damn. I'll have to clear out the bookshelves, then.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 2:50 PM
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Can I have them, LB? My slovely attitude towards world-building means I am the most worthy recipient.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 3:19 PM
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210

So what fantasy do you like? Have you said somewhere?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 4:00 PM
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I've probably mentioned things here and there. For the Harry Potter niche of children's fantasy, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series, and Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea are both favorites -- I wasn't crazy about the Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy, but not crazy about it in a manner that doesn't tempt me to say 'it sucked'. And I grew up on Narnia, and still have a soft spot for it despite the fact that I'll agree with pretty much anything bad anyone else says about it. I haven't read as much Diana Wynne Jones as I'd like to have, but what I have (Howl's Moving Castle, Dogsbody), has been great.

Grownup stuff? I'm idiotically fond of Peter S. Beagle; Frowner and I have talked about The Folk of The Air, but I like his other books as much in their own different ways. I tend to read Lois McMaster Bujold's latest when it comes out, and lately that's all fantasy. And I grew up on older, silly fantasy -- things like L. Sprague DeCamp's Incompleat Enchanter, or Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stuff.

I'm not bitching about the HP books because I don't like fantasy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 4:15 PM
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L. Sprague DeCamp's Incompleat Enchanter

There's a series I haven't thought about for a while, and which I quite liked.

It's also an interesting example, because it isn't interested in world building per se, but it obviously values consistency of a certain sort. All sorts of things are introduced just because they are necessary for the plot, but it's very careful about making sure that any rabits pulled out of a hat have a clear precedent either earlier in the story or in the appropriate mythology.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 4:23 PM
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Yeah. World-building isn't really the right word for what's missing (IMO) from HP -- it's world-functioning. I don't care where you get your worlds from, or if they're complexly or shallowly drawn, as long as I'm not hearing the gears grind so loudly that they get in the way of the story.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 4:32 PM
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Further speculation, is LB attuned to the style of logical/plot consistency that occurs in mystery/detective fiction?

As stated before, I have no opinion on Harry Potter one way or the other, but I am interested in what triggers the reaction, "I just don't feel like the author is playing fair, and I can't invest myself in the story."

Completely OT that single strongest negative reaction I've had to a work for it's lack of world-building was to Memento which I can't stand. Again, I can only wonder at why I am able to enjoy other movies with even more gaping plot holes, but feel actively annoyed when I think about Memento.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 4:34 PM
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Further thought, I care about authors who are consistant about what counts as a "reason" for something to happen in the story -- even if the reason itself is essentially arbitrary.

I have now tried to write four different versions of what I mean by that, and haven't come up with an elegent definition so I will leave it at that for now, along with a quote from A Mysterious Manifesto (part 7).

Learn to use the word Weird correctly and as a compliment. This is actually a way of changing the word-map of the worlds through remanifestation. It is hard to shift a paradigm, because it requires subtle continuing work. Weird in the language of our ancestors' ancestors meant a mysterious Becoming -- something happening in accordance with a hidden pattern. Nowadays we use the word merely to indicate something odd as in "Man that was weird!" One guy killing another guy with a sword is not weird. One guy happening to find his heroic grandfather's sword on the battlefield and killing twenty guys is weird. That pattern of the hidden becoming manifest was the source of wonder in ancient tales, it still powers modern folklore

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 5:00 PM
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213

Ok, I have read most if not all of Bujold's books and would agree that by adult standards they are superior to JKR's. So I guess I am applying a different standard to JKR, children's books readable by adults or something like that. I doubt consistency problems of the sort McArdle is complaining about bother children much, children tend to be pretty shaky on economics and the like.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-22-07 10:59 PM
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Learning that McArdle whinges about the Potter series is further proof of its excellence, if any were needed.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-23-07 9:39 AM
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Very late to the thread, but in fantasy worlds, having all the details explained is often a detriment. Did you like the Force better when it was a nebulous unexplained power possessed by the Jedi or when it could be discovered by a blood test?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 07-23-07 12:24 PM
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219: This has been torture for me. I've chosen the "revolutionary defeatist" stance: perhaps both sides will lose.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 07-23-07 5:33 PM
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