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Harry Potter and the God in the Machine

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Previous Entry Harry Potter and the God in the Machine Feb. 10th, 2005 @ 06:27 pm Next Entry
It all started with those crazy Greeks. They would write themselves a play and the plot would spiral out of control until they needed a god to step in and save the day in the final act. It is known as Deus ex Machina, the god in the machine. In other words if the god isn’t in the machine the machine isn’t going to work! Since Katie left to go back to her life among the Americans, I have diligently torn through the Potter series. I want to start upfront by saying I am excited for the next book and I will be getting it when it comes out, probably via pre-order. I must also say that as child’s literature the Potter series is very well done, I think it fits better with the young adult group due to the progressively darker overtones of the series and the mounting body count. But I find very frustrating the constant use of dues ex machina by Rowling present, in varying degrees, in all the books.

The first two books were, for all practical purposes, the same book with minor differences. I found the first two were not bad books, certainly fine young adult fiction, but not what I was suspecting given the constant talk of how Potter “transcends all age groups.” The second book was much better, from almost every standpoint than the first. My main fault was that the second book really just was the first book all over again only instead of a Philosopher’s (in America Sorcerer’s) Stone we had a Chamber of Secrets. We had two massive uses of dues ex machina to wrap the stories up.

I was pleased by the third book in the series. I liked its shift from mystery in the castle to include more of the outside world. It was the first time I could see the magic (har har) of the series. This is where Rowling finally starts to get into a stride. I enjoyed the third book a great deal but had had the ending spoiled for me by walking in on the last bits of the movie. The book was not so good, unfortunately, to completely overcome the fact that I knew the ending. Though, in fairness, that is a hard cup to fill. Rowling flirted with the dues ex a few times here, but managed to sufficiently lay the ground work for the time traveling prior, so the job was done well. Though she used it for many smaller points throughout the text.

The fourth book was very well done, except the ending. I really loved the book until the last two chapters or so. Rowling really dug deep into the machine and produced quite a god to end this one. The “clues” that she had given as to the villain’s true identity were very weak and I did not find the build up was right. It felt like she wrote herself into a corner and couldn’t pull another Philosopher stone teacher incident, so she had to really reach. I could almost hear the thunderheads as her literary Zeus descended and Moody’s last lock was thrown and then it “all made sense.” I was very disappointed with the end to this book. Other than that it really was fantastic!

The fifth book was also fantastic. Rowling’s world started to show some minor inconsistencies, but they were major enough to have made a difference. But nothing so glaring that I doubt I would have caught had I not read them all right in a row. I was also pleased that she finally drifted away from the “who done it?” type narrative of the first books and got more into the, in my opinion, more interesting “how was it done?” I also think this played more to her strength as a narrator. The reason she had to keep going to the dues ex machina well is because she is not a good “who done it?” narrator, she is much stronger at justifying the whys and the hows of her characters. It showed. The fifth was a bit repetitive, Harry is mad at his friends will they ever speak again, now Ron is mad at everyone, rinse, repeat, but on the whole the fifth was the best installment. I am really looking forward to the next book. I strongly suggest you read the Potter series if you have not already. Just keep plugging away at the early books because they get much better.

Let’s go to the score board now and see who I like and who I don’t:
Harry: I don’t like Harry. I am a bit anti-primary character to begin with, but Harry just ircs me. I hope he dies in the next book and the last book is called Mad Eye Moody and the Destruction of the Dark Lord! THAT would be a great book!

Mad Eye Moody: simply put he is the man. He is one of my favorite characters and a far better hero than Dumble-duffus. Mad Eye is awesome. Let's put it this way, Mad Eye for Minister of Magic!

Lupin: I liked the anime Lupin the Third, so how can you go wrong with another Lupin, even if he is a werewolf (no with a name like Lupin how could that be?) You can’t go wrong with Lupin.

Dumble-duffus: Two words – retirement home. I think the only reason the Dark Lord fears him is because Dumbledor is so senile he may turn the Dark Lord’s head into jello and eat it. I don’t much care for him, as one might suspect. I don't think he is at all as powerful as Lupin and not in the same League as Mad Eye! Moody is so much better. He was on the front lines while Dumbledor was in his ivory tower thinking about going to the park and feeding the ducks and talking to Agnus about the state of the neighbor’s bushes and eating jello.

Snape: I really like Snape, I have for the beginning. In large part because he is Harry’s foil, but also because he is the only character in Rowling’s world that seems to show a bit of depth - until certain things are revealed in Book 5. Snape is not a nice man, but he is aliened with good. He is really the only character who is like that. Rowling’s world tends to be black and white. If you are not a nice person you are also evil, if you are a nice person you are also good. Snape breaks that mold by being not nice but also good. He has consistently added a third dimension to an otherwise plane universe.

Dobby: should save the world because Dobby is great! Go Dobby Go!

Hermione, Ron, Neville (my man), Ginny (needs to hook up with Harry, though he doesn't deserve her) the Twins, Luna, Cho (Harry needs to stop jerking her around!): I like them all.

Hagrid, Malfoy, Trelawny, the Centaurs, Percy: Can only hope they kill each other in book 6.

What is really good about Harry Potter is that there is a very eccentric caste of secondary characters which you know a great deal about without the books actually being about them (shame as it is that it is not about Mad Eye). This makes it more fun to read for me in particular due to the fact that I don’t particularly care for Harry and I can only take so much of Ron and Hermione. So when there is a Neville or Lupin reference I can go “YEAH!” and get back into the series.

And, unlike Rowling, I don’t need a god to wrap this up, so here it is: go read these books. They are worth your time. I don't go as far as some people in my praise, but I still say they are a pretty great way to pass the time.
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Date:February 10th, 2005 04:38 pm (UTC)
You're right: the first 2 books in the series are nowhere near as good as the other (current) 3. At points, you can definitely tell they were written for children. I think this is because, year by year (story time, not real time) you grow with the characters. Harry starts at around 10 or 11 and is rather silly. Each year he grows, and his problems grow with him. That was why the dark blue color for the jacket of Order of the Phoenix was so appropriate: the books are getting darker. Look at each of the cover colors (BWAH!) as just one subtle indication of this.

Your opinion of Goblet of Fire's ending is pretty much right on, not only according to me and many other fans, but to Rowling herself. In her opinion, book 4 was the "sloppiest" of the books in terms of how she wrote it. I don't remember exactly, but I don't believe she outlined the book much, if at all. If you compare the writing style of 4 with 1-3 and 5, you'll notice this. In fact you probably already have, since you read them back to back to back to back... to back. :)

I agree with you about Snape. He is a fantastic foil for Harry. He does break the "nice = good, jerky jerk = bad" mold and is quite refreshing. He's so fun to read because he inspires those feelings that a good pseudo-villain should--mother ducker, I wanna kill you!--but usually does a little something to redeem himself at some point. For example, even though he disliked Lupin for arguably the wrong reasons, his reasoning for protecting the children was a sound one: Lupin, no matter how nice he is, is quite dangerous under the correct circumstances.

Now whereas you have always been anti-protagonist, I have always been pro. :) And yes I do like Harry, but not for my "MAIN CHARACTERS ROXORZ MY BOXORZ" reasoning. I like him because of how he is written. He starts out as a child who is put in a terrible situation. He overcomes this with some help, and he learns from his mistakes. As the books progress, he seems to grow with them. Yet like many humans, he does not always learn from his mistakes as he should. He sometimes repeats his errors, and the consequences are a bit more dire than the previous time(s).

Probably my favorite part of Harry as a character is he is written to act like the age he is supposed to be. In books' 4 and 5, he is sometimes very hormone driven (whether he's horny or pissed off) and it seems very realistically written to me. Not infallible, but more than good enough.

Another one of my reasons Harry is my favorite character: I belive Rowling's writing to be able to suck you into the book so that you can essentially see the scenes play in your head. You and I have always been pro-Printed Word, and one of my favorite parts of a good story is the ability to accurately see what the author is describing. It's the mark of a good author, and Rowling has it. What does this do to Harry? I personally have not read a single Harry-oriented scene where I wasn't "in tune" with what Harry was feeling. Whether it's sadness, anger, joy, relief, what have you, I've always been able to relate with the character near 100%. This happens to me with some of the other characters, but Harry is the one I connect with the most. Rowling is one of my favorite writers all around, but the way she writes Harry--at least in my opinion--is fantastic.
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Date:February 12th, 2005 08:50 am (UTC)
Harry is a looser. I hate how he all moody. There is only one MOODY and that is MAD-EYE MOODY HIMSELF!
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Date:February 10th, 2005 08:12 pm (UTC)
I am extremely confused as to how you think "Dumble-duffus" deserves to be put in a retirement home when he is the deus in the deus ex machina at the end of every book! Harry would be dead five times over if it weren't for him.

I agree that book four is the sloppiest, but book five was my least favourite. I guess I agree that the 'how was it done' plot was a good change, but I absolutely can't stand the way she is evolving the magical world. It's more of the same "bureaucracies are inherently evil" crap, that children probably won't pick up on, and "most people are stupid," which they probably will. First of all, it feels completely unoriginal. Second of all, an "Office Space" problem like that gets in the way of my escapism, thankyouverymuch. Thirdly, the dangers of thinking of "the masses" as stupid and evil are many, and have been dilineated by many people other than me so I won't go into it. I liked David Brin's explanation of it in the Winter 2000 issue of Extrapolation, p. 7, "Our Favorite Cliché: A World Filled with Idiots...or Why Fiction Routinely Depicts Society and Its Citizens as Fools". Anyway, that's why the fifth book sucks.

I love Snape.
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Date:February 12th, 2005 08:47 am (UTC)
That is a good point. I didn't like that bit one bit, but I was so tired of the Scooby Doo moment where Dumbledor comes in rips off the mask and he says "I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those darn kids and that mysterious shaggy black dog!" Also recall, I don't like Harry so if Dumble-duffus was in a home Harry would be dead, clearing away for the break out hit, Mad-Eye Moode's and His CONSTANT VIGILIANCE!

I am hoping now that the war has started the "world" will not be so stupid and the Ministry will start to rock. And then Snape will be made Minister of Magic and Dumbledor will die, and Hagard will hang himself using Malfoy as a rope... What a fine story that would be!
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Date:February 11th, 2005 05:03 am (UTC)
Your right on about Snape. I kinda think Lupin could be a kind of reverse Snape, he means well, and is a nice guy, but he can be somewhat dangerous.

Although I do kinda like Hagrid and Dumbledore, Dumbledore is pretty much a replacement father-figure for Harry, even when Sirius showed up for a bit, he was more of an uncle, Dumbledore is the real one raising Harry. Although it is somewhat frustrating the way he manages it.

The Twins are probably my favorite secondary characters, followed by Neville (whom I had as you in my head) and Mad-Eye, Even pseudo-Mad-Eye was awesome. He is truely a great character. Although again, I think you overestimate him.

I didn't hate Harry, now did I have any special love for him. He's simply the eyes through which the story is told, that's all. Ron to me is a worthy best friend for Harry, however I never really respected him much as a character. Hermionie however is damn close to my ideal girl (See ROD's The Paper for more details) so she is not worthy for anyone. Cho seems to be a nice touch, she added another deminsion to Harry and was a pretty well developed (if archtypical) character.
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Date:February 12th, 2005 08:50 am (UTC)
Yeah I like Hermionie too. I am thinking she is going to start dating Ron soon. I thought the fifth ended with Luna next up on Harry's chopping block. He will probably end up eventually with Ginny (which I like Ginny, so I don't want that to happen) I go from hating Cho to feeling sorry for her to hating her again. We will see what happens...
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