The Sunday Salon: Five Things I Learned Rereading Harry Potter

Well! After the four months it actually took back in the late summer and fall of last year and the seven months it took to post the whole thing, I’ve finally publicly finished the Harry Potter series via audiobook. Naturally, there were some elements of the books that I couldn’t discuss thoroughly in reviewing (kind of) the audiobooks. (I only listen to books I’ve read because I’m not an aural learner at all; I need the text, so my audiobook reviews can’t be as thorough as my regular book reviews.) So I thought I’d take today to take a look at some of the things I discovered on this particular journey through Harry Potter.

Severus Snape

1. Severus Snape can go straight to hell.

As a kid, I never loved Severus Snape, but I didn’t hate him. To me, as to much of the world, he was Alan Rickman, and therefore eligible for being dreamy. I didn’t find him so, but then, I didn’t turn away from fanfiction featuring him. He was Snape—a good guy forced to masquerade as a bad guy, whose only sin was love.

As an adult, I hate Severus Snape. I can’t quite call to mind any other character I hate as much, even considering all of A Song of Ice and Fire, including Joffrey. (At least Joffrey is never presented as a good person.) I understand why Snape doesn’t like Harry, but what I don’t understand is how much. This is a man who, long before Lord Voldemort returns to power, hates Harry so much that he wants to get the kid expelled or worse.

But I think it’s his hatred for Hermione that really seals the deal; the way he deals with an obnoxiously smart student is just wrong. There’s a way to deal with her appropriately. (And his teaching style seems to speak volumes about how much he doesn’t even want to be a teacher.) It also speaks to me of issues with women, which naturally informs how I read his fixation on Lily, who, as we see in the series, seems to be a completely functioning human being who moved past her jerk of a childhood friend, while he pines away for her for years. (Seriously?)

Anyway, he can go straight to hell.

2. Harry is selfish—and that’s a good thing.

I find Harry’s selfishness fascinating. Perhaps selfishness isn’t the right word; he’s self-centered, as neglected children can be. He’s simply never had to care for anyone besides himself until the age of eleven, which is late to start developing empathy. And then he’s quite a typical teenage boy; empathy isn’t their greatest trait.

But it works, and it makes him unique to me. Because of this self-centered nature, he relates to the world differently—he sees it in terms of filial relationships instead of friendships or romantic attachments. (This is why Ron, Harry, and Hermione all end up related by marriage at the end of the series.) It sets him apart from other teenage boys, and gives him a good reason not to understand the things that he doesn’t. It might sound like it’s hard to make a character like that sympathetic, but Rowling does this very well.

3. Bellatrix is not Helena Bonham Carter.

I was so disappointed to hear that Helena Bonham Carter had been cast as Bellatrix in the film. My Bellatrix had been inspired by the fanartist Makani’s Bellatrix, which was an insane but elegant older woman. Carter’s Bellatrix, with her bizarre hair, wild antics, and bugging eyes turned me off of the character so vehemently that I didn’t care for Bellatrix for years.

But Jim Dale’s Bellatrix, with her French accent, breathed new life into the character. Gone was the specter of Carter’s Bellatrix, and here was a desperately glamorous Frenchwoman who covered her insanity well—most of the time. It was even a Bellatrix who—gasp!—might have loved her husband (despite her love for the Dark Lord). In short, she was no longer the only main female Death Eater because she lusted after the Dark Lord, but because she believed in the movement herself. This was a Bellatrix who would be doing this in Voldemort’s absence, and I think that was the turning point for me.

ginny_postit_2

4. Ginny Weasley is awesome.

I think it just really hit me this time that Ginny is not only Ron’s little sister, but she’s Fred and George’s. As in, she’s just as clever and mischievous as they are, but in her own way, and she’s been going toe to toe with the twins since a young age. Book!Ron is sharper than Movie!Ron (by a long shot), and Ginny is sharper still. She’s also got a quicker temper and a keener sense of justice; she snarks at Harry when he won’t ask anyone else if they’ve been possessed by Voldemort about her own horrific experience with it, and she will not let Ron slutshame her. There’s also a sense, although Rowling isn’t the best at this, that she has her own life outside of Harry. Her friendship with Luna, in particular, occurs mostly off screen, but you feel that it does happen. In short, Ginny is pretty awesome.

I do wish she ended up with someone who loved her passionately instead of marrying her because he liked her and loved her family, but we can’t have everything.

5. Horror is a beautiful thing.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince surprised me this go round with their veins of chilling horror leavened and brought into higher contrast by two very different kinds of school novels—the former a more traditional and rosy-cheeked variety, and the later a teenage comedy. I think I think of horror as gore so much that I often forget that the most terrifying things don’t have to be violent or novel to be horrifying. It can be just as clarifying as it is chilling, and while I don’t think I’m quite ready to brave the shores of horror proper just yet, I’m thinking more fondly of it than ever.

It’s been a regular week for me—work, class, rehearsal, rinse, repeat. I did go to the Georgia Renaissance Festival yesterday with my friend Andrea, which was an absolute delight. Check out your local Renaissance Festivals, they’re tons of fun and get you outdoors! We also capped it with a small Game of Thrones marathon, since I got the DVDs for my twenty-first birthday, which was on Monday! I did finish Out of the Silent Planet this week, and I’ve started on Whipping Girl.

The folks at the Kitchn are giving away a cooking surprise package (including a cookbook!) until the 24th. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

Have you revisited the Harry Potter series, especially if you read them as a child? What’d you think?

19 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Five Things I Learned Rereading Harry Potter

  1. I (mostly) agree with you about Snape. I think he’s an interesting character and has some redeeming qualities, but overall he is not a nice man. He’s petty and immature and unnecessarily cruel. But I think it’s dramatically interesting that despite being a jerk, he’s on the side of good. It makes a nice change from books in which being mean equals being evil.

    • (Disclaimer: I always rather liked Snape when I was reading the books, and now I write Snape/Harry fan fiction.)

      I’m a little late to the discussion, but I was reading your (excellent) stuff on fan fiction and stumbled onto this and just wanted to play a bit. I hope you don’t mind?

      To my mind, JKR’s Snape seemed a good example of a character getting away from the author; she seemed to want to have it both ways with him.

      On the one hand, he is deeply horrible – all the examples you give above attest to this – and almost irredeemably ugly (she comes back time and again to his sheet of greasy hair; the teeth, the sallow skin, the nose can all be chalked up to bad genes, but this hair – and his (apparent) disinterest in washing it – is a moral failing in her hands).

      On the other hand, she sets him up repeatedly as not only almost wholly misunderstood (particularly by Harry and, thus, the reader who identifies with him), but also as (arguably) the only person of the entire series with whom Harry can actually identify. In this sense, I think she sets up a paradox of sorts that can ONLY be resolved by an event (Snape’s death – which involves an entirely out-of-character decision to let things play out until past the last possible minute, despite his unique knowledge of what Harry must do, made all the more improbable for the assumption that Snape [someone who has, as a legendarily mistrustful double-agent, attained right-hand-man status at Voldemort’s side] would ever be taken completely by surprise by either Voldemort or Nagini) and an explanation (he loved Lily all along!) that, while in character to the extent that neither he nor the Marauders seem ever to have matured past Hogwarts (which is also belied again by his abilities as a spy), is otherwise implausible, given some of the other memories Harry sees (Snape’s dry humor when Dumbledore tells him he must kill him comes to mind).

      (long sentence there – sorry)

      This is where your notion of fan fiction as literary criticism makes so much sense to me. As you say about Ginny, Harry marries her essentially because she makes him feel a bit warm and fuzzy, and he wants her family – there is no grand passion there, but a shadow of the James/Lily dynamic that Harry aspires to. But there *is* grand passion – however fraught – between Harry and Snape, and it’s that bizarre chemistry that gets played out in fan fiction, at least partly in response to JKR’s inability or unwillingness to see characters and circumstances that she has set in motion to their logical, if not entirely acceptable, conclusion.

      Anyway, I’m loving the blog. Keep up the good work.🙂

      • By all means! That’s the wonderful thing about the Internet; it’s all in present tense.

        Thanks for sharing your take on Snape and his relationship with Harry! I love seeing other people’s readings of material, because that’s the best part of literary criticism, really.

        Thanks so much!

  2. Well, I loved Helena’s Bellatrix, they wouldn’t have cast her if they didn’t think she was right for the part! And her ‘bizarre hair, wild antics and bugging eyes’ is exactly how Bellatrix was supposed to be. She was locked in azkaban for 14 years, which explains her hair and her wild antics! As for her eyes, she’s supposed to be mad, they are mean’t to look mental! ok!

    • Helen McCrory was originally cast in the part, but had to pull out due to a pregnancy, after which she was cast as Narcissa.

      In the books, Bellatrix, prior to Azkaban, is described as “a woman with thick, shining dark hair, long eyelashes and heavily hooded eyes” who sits “in the chained chair as though it were a throne” (Goblet of Fire). Afterwards, the only change to her appearance is emaciation from Azkaban. She’s not wild, but sadistic—the way she treats the kids proves that over and over, especially her torture of Hermione. And I find that intentional sadism far more interesting and threatening than her simply being mad. It gives her more depth.

      I don’t say this to denigrate your enjoyment of the character and Carter’s portrayal of her, but rather to point out that film!Bellatrix and book!Bellatrix are wildly different. Film!Bellatrix is written as mad, leering at first-years and howling as she dances over the table in the Great Hall, smashing dishes right and left. She seems to enjoy destruction for destruction’s sake, while book!Bellatrix enjoys sadism as a means to break her enemies. The two are very different, and I personally don’t care for film!Bellatrix. But to each their own.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I enjoyed the series as they came out (and even was a big enough fan to ditch out on a grad class to finish the last book the day I started…) but I ended up betraying that fandom when the movies came out. I still haven’t seen the last one. I think it grew into something TOO BIG for me to continue to enjoy.

      • Both because I think they kinda go hand in hand. When the second to the last book came out, I remember driving through a terrible storm that night just to get it. And like I said when the last came out I ditched class. But by the time the movies came it seemed EVERYONE was on the HP train and EVERYONE was talking about it and I quickly grew bored with the over-saturation. Interestingly enough, I think the films helped keep the momentum rolling for new readers. I teach 7th grade and the books are very popular even still. THIS makes me happy.

        And yes, Snape is an arse, but man is Rickman dreamy.

  4. I think what you say about Snape is fair. I don’t hate him, I just think that he is a very broken man. Broken by abuse, broken by unrequited love, broken by teasing, broken by Voldemort, broken again by Dumbledore, broken by the death of Lily, by having to protect the son of her marriage with James, by, well, just everything. You’re right: the way he treats his students is awful and painful to watch or listen to. I don’t think anyone forgives him for that, but Harry’s idolization of him after his death fits Harry’s character. Was Snape brave? That’s highly debatable. I think, rather, he had nothing to lose. If he had, would he have done as much to protect Harry or fight Voldemort? I’m not sure his love for Lily would have been enough.

  5. Snape really is the absolute worst. He gets no sympathy from me. He chose Voldemort, and he chose to stay fixated on Lily while not changing his evil ways instead of a) turning himself into the kind of person she could love or b) moving on with his life when it became apparent that she was in love with somebody else. He came from an unhappy family? Boohoo. So did Harry, and Harry didn’t grow up into a spiteful shitbag.

    (Hahahaha, I love bitching about Snape on your blog! I have bitched about him here so many times!)

    • Seriously, move on, man! You’re not going to change her mind! Spiteful is just the right word. Life stopped at high school for him, and that’s just terrible. You know that Lily, had she lived, would have gone on fantastic adventures and done amazing things and generally left her high school days in the dust.

      (If you can’t bitch about Snape on my blog, where can we do it?)

  6. I reread all seven books last year and was surprised by how much the movies ad affected the way I viewed some of the characters. Like Ron, he’s so much better in the books! Ginny is too and Dumbledore too!

  7. I can’t agree on the French accent for Dale’s interpretation of her. It drives me up the wall while listening. In characters like Fleur and Madame Maxime who are French, Rowling makes it super clear phonetically that they have an accent. Just because her last name is Lestrange doesn’t mean that she isn’t British. Not to say that your commentary on the differences between Film!Bellatrix and Book!Bellatrix isn’t astute, but the portrayal of her by Dale makes me want to scratch things. But I’ve found he tends to exaggerate things a bit in his readings, and I drift more towards the Stephen Fry reading with a few exceptions in voicings (McGonagall and Umbridge were better by Dale).

    • Fair enough! I think, canonically, it’s her husband with the French heritage, so it doesn’t actually make sense for her to have one (unless Dale settled on it before he knew that). But it gives me the variety that I want, so it works for me.

      I haven’t listened to Fry’s readings yet! I take it you recommend them over Dale?

      • Yeah, I think he gets in a nice rhythm and really can portray some of the scarier moments of HP well. Dale’s version is almost cartoonish in comparison. His Hermione is something else especially when she’s like “hehreeeeeee”

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