Splash From The Past

So J.K. Rowling is officially writing more Harry Potter books despite her previous insistence that she had no plans to continue on in that vein. Except that “vein” is a “vein” of gold in a massive goldmine, and her adult fiction novel kind of sputtered off to nowhere. Anyway, Rowling is writing Harry Potter books again because reasons, one of which is the lure of mo’ money.

Certain people in the fantasy publishing industry are less than enthusiastic at the prospect. That’s nothing new. Way back in the day I attended a fantasy writers convention in 1999 and spent three days listening as an influential bloc of SF/Fantasy writers of that era took turns expressing amazement over the unexpected rise of the Potter series, coupled with bemusement that anyone would dare be successful in that field without having been properly vetted by the editorial elite who sat atop Fantasy publishing back then (keep in mind this was only after the THIRD BOOK, before the series became a juggernaut and everything got crazy). If you listened in the hotel bar during that Con, that topic was a large part of what was being discussed— that, along with the dogged insistence that vampire fiction was OVER and people needed to stop submitting it because it was “a joke that would never make any real money anyway” (another less-than-stellar prediction, as things turned out).

It’s odd to consider that even after Rowling’s incredible success, the near trillion dollars her work has earned in assorted media, and the role it played in reinvigorating the readership of fantasy fiction— that writers and editors in that genre might STILL dolefully wish she would simply “go away and leave them alone.” But then, it’s often the fate of the successful to come under siege.

I think Rowling’s books are fairly well written, and huge fun. One minor problem I have with the Harry Potter series, though, is that they repeatedly teach the same lesson: children should never alert adult authorities about danger in the vicinity, and kids can rely upon being rewarded for handling dangerous situations themselves.

I mean— think about it:

If Harry just told Dumbledore that a weak and defenseless discorporated Voldemort was lurking in the woods right outside the school in Book One, Dumbledore would have vaporized the dude or kept him from getting a new body, and that would have been that, horcruxes or no. Yet in every book, Harry keeps not warning anyone about the awful crap going on, and look where it gets everyone. At least Hermione should know better. My willing suspension of disbelief only stretches so far.

“Hey, Hagrid! That centaur told me Voldemort was the one who killed the unicorn. Should we tell anyone ELSE that the most dangerous dark wizard in history has come back and is hanging out in a posted School Zone, do ya think?”

“Hey, Ron! There’s a deadly troll loose in the school! Hermione is still in the bathroom… should we tell the teachers, or just sneak over there for no good reason and try to save her ourselves?”

“We have every reason to believe Voldemort’s minion will try for the stone tonight, meaning we could catch that traitor in the act and get to the bottom of this before someone gets killed… should we maybe INSIST that McGonagall check it out? Or Ron, can’t you say something to your dad who works for the Ministry of Magic?”

“Hmmm… so I’m a parselmouth and keep hearing snakey threats against the student body… should I warn someone, maybe? Or keep my mouth shut so I won’t look bad, or whatever?”

If you pay close attention, the actual through-line of the story seems to be “valuing your own rep over the well being of others can get people killed and allow bad things to happen.”

Seriously. Happens in every book. It has to work that way so Rowling’s plots can play out… but it’s a screwed up message for kids. I personally enjoy the books, but they’re like watching a slasher flick: the only way the plot works is if the heroes keep doing dumb shit. Like in comic books. I love them, but they tend to rely on seriously improbable plot twists (though to be fair, Y/A books aren’t famous for their airtight plot-lines).

But the Harry Potter books don’t offer the best advice to kids in trouble, apart from “don’t warn others of potential danger by informing the authorities, because if you handle it yourself and manage to pull it off, after you wake up in the hospital they’ll bend the rules so you win the house cup.”