I never saw Oliver and Company when I was a kid but I remember seeing the trailer for it whenever we watched a Disney film on VHS. Every time I saw it I wanted to watch it but it never happened. Probably because I’d get too distracted by whatever Disney film I was going to watch. It always looked really fun and, as someone who loved dogs, I was obviously into the idea of Oliver Twist being remade with animals. I mean if The Lion King has taught us anything it’s that taking a piece of great literature and retelling it with animals is a great strategy for storytelling. I mean who’d even heard of Hamlet before Disney introduced us to Simba, right? Plus, there is a whole host of Disney films that prove that dogs and/or cats having adventures together is an instant winner. I’m not a big fan of Dickens anyway so I couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse by involving household pets.
I have to say, I’m quite enjoying this journey back to the year I was born. I mean, politically it was a pretty shitty time in the UK but there are plenty of cool films that I’m yet to discover. I’m not suggesting that all films from this year are going to be stellar or even completely watchable but I’d say, on a whole, I’m not ashamed of my birth year. I discovered the other day that a lot of the films in my TBT jar are currently on Netflix UK. I guess its possible 1988 films are popular because of the big 3-0 anniversary but maybe it’s just cheaper. I don’t know and, really, I don’t care. If it’s as simple to get through my Throwback Thirty list as turning on Netflix and relaxing then I’m happy. Still, it does mean I’m taking the whole ‘randomly pick a film out of the jar’ thing a little less seriously. I genuinely picked a Netflix film this week but, after finding so many on there, I’m tempted to change the rules. The problem is, there are a lot of films in the jar that I love or am super keen to watch but a fair few that I think it will be tougher to get myself to watch. The more serious and filmy films. If I don’t stick to the “rules” then I’ll only watch the ridiculous films like Killer Klowns From Outer Space or Who Framed Roger Rabbit and not the films like Cinema Paradiso. Basically, I’d just watch films that meant I didn’t need to think. I wasn’t sure how I’d fair with today’s prompt but I sat down anyway. After all, I’m a big fan of Alec Baldwin’s face in the 80s and, even though he’s only in this film briefly, it was enough of an incentive.
Last week I forgot to write a preamble before my post and I’m sorely tempted to leave it blank again. I always fail to come up with anything interesting to say here but feel that I need to lead into this rundown. Today my family and I celebrated Burns night a few days late so I’m exhausted and full of food. I don’t think this food coma is going to make reading before bed any easier. We do something most years because, no matter how much we appreciate ole Rabbie, we just bloody love haggis. I can’t believe that it’s still January. This month has been going on forever. Seriously, Christmas feels like it was years ago. Yet, I’ve still on managed to get up to my 4th book of 2018. That initial speed I experienced has seriously disappeared. I’m going to have to do better in February or I’ll do what I always do and slow to a snail’s pace. I’ve got so many books to get through. And as my book buying ban is having super questionable results it’s even more important that I get through some.
This January marked the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s masterpiece of science-fiction and horror has, quite rightly, become something of a classic since she anonymously published the book in 1818. The book went through several different editions over the years but the 1818 is still, in my mind, the definitive version of the story. If only because it so closely resembles the story as it was first ever told. We all know the story of how Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein and it is, in all probability, part of the reason the story has endured for so long. One Summer in 1816, Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, and John Polidori all gathered at Byron’s villa Lake Geneva in Switzerland. They propose a writing competition to create horror stories to tell each other the next night. The idea for Frankenstein came to Mary Shelley in a waking dream:
I saw with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life …
After some work and editing, the idea that Mary came up with that Summer in 1816 became one of the most important novels to come out of the Romantic period. After all, it has spurned a monstrous number of film and television adaptations and has inspired many more writers. Shelley is praised for her vivid imagination and modern thinking. She went far beyond the science of her day to imagine something that has withstood the test of time and changed the landscape of gothic horror. It’s a book that I have countless times now and have enjoyed more and more with every read. It featured in my both my Undergraduate coursework and my final Postgraduate dissertation. I bloody love this book and am happy to commemorate it’s 200th anniversary.
There is something so wonderfully British about The Borrowers by Mary Norton. A small family who survive by, let’s be honest, stealing bits and bobs from the humans whose house they inhabit. Norton wrote a beloved series of books about thieves and managed to make it seem perfectly reasonable. It might have something to do with the fact that she finally answers the question regarding all of those random objects that go missing without a trace in your house. Ever put down a paperclip or something and gone back to find it not there anymore? It’s alright, a Borrower probably just used it to make some sort of climbing device. I don’t remember reading the books as a child but I do remember the BBC television series starring Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton. That was definitely a British classic and something I was reminded of in my third year of university whilst studying a children’s literature course. That series was the second of two television adaptions of Mary Norton’s works but it wasn’t until 1997 that these tiny people made their way onto the big screen. Whilst writing my review of The Sense of an Ending I was trying to think back to the first time I would probably have seen Jim Broadbent acting in anything. I can’t remember for sure but I’d bet The Borrowers would definitely be one of them.
In December this year, The Borrowers will celebrate it’s 20th anniversary. This makes me feel old. I’m not sure that I remember going to the cinema to see it but I do know that I watched it when I was young. It’s also the kind of film that is shown regularly during holidays on the BBC so children would have something to distract themselves with. I tend to look back on it with the same fondness that I nostalgically have for anything from my youth but, really, I don’t know how much I really liked this film. I mean, there was never anything wrong with it but it was certainly a stark contrast to the calm and gentle television series I remembered from 1992. The Borrowers took the characters from Mary Norton’s popular series of books and gave them the Hollywood treatment. Well, kind of. We don’t actually have to sit through a film where the Clock family speak with American accents and everything has been transported to an apartment in New York or anything. But, this is a big, brash and action-packed adventure.
It follows a similar enough structure to the novel but places the Clock family in far more perilous situations. In Mr and Mrs Lenders’ minds, things going missing is an everyday occurrence but their son, Peter, believes there is something in their house taking their stuff. We know he’s right, of course, because there is a family of Borrowers living under his floorboards. Head of the family, Pod (Jim Broadbent) is keen to teach his young children Arriety (Flora Newbigin) and Peagreen (Tom Felton) about the ways of borrowing and how to avoid being seen by humans; the dreaded Borrower squishing Beans. Their mother, Homily (Celia Imrie) has doubts about whether they are ready, which seem to be well-founded after Arriety manages to get herself locked in a freezer. Unwilling to live a life hiding under the floorboard, Arriety yearns for adventure and, on a nighttime stroll, manages to be spotted by Peter. Instead of squishing the tiny being, Peter befriends Arriety against her father’s wishes. When an evil lawyer (John Goodman) attempts to steal their home, Peter and the Clock family must work together to see the rightful owners get their property back.
The Borrowers is your basic good vs evil plot where both sides are trying to get their hands on something: in this case a will. There isn’t a great deal going on in terms of narrative but there is certainly enough action squeezed in to make it feel worthwhile. Whilst searching for the document, evil lawyer, Ocious Potter, discovers Arriety and Peagreen and swiftly calls in an exterminator. This leads to a frantic cat and mouse chase where the two humans seek to destroy the tiny children. There’s a lot of children’s movie violence on display here where nobody really gets hurt but the threat is clear. There’s potential gassing, electrocution, drowning, burning, falling and much more besides. Watching it now, it seems quite vicious for a kid’s movie but, I guess, 90s children like myself must have been made of sturdier stuff. The film keeps quite a good pace and is always moving from one big set piece to another. It is constantly entertaining.
I can’t necessarily say the film has aged well over 20 years but, for the most part, the special effects hold up. It’s one of those films that has a lot in there but it never really dominates. It is the overly CGI’d stuff that ages the worst and, thankfully, most of this is worked around using camera trickery. What is really wonderful about this film, though, is how charming it is. It may have been amped up for cinema but there is still a great sense of Britishness here. The films location is, when you really look into it, kind of confusing but, thanks to the set design, it doesn’t matter. This all just exists in a weird reality where Americans and English people live without any question as to where or when they are. This is just a storybook town where logic doesn’t matter at all. It also boasts an incredible, if truly 90s, cast. Broadbent and Imrie are wonderful as the Clock parents and, I must say, it never gets old seeing a very young Draco Malfoy get trapped in a milk bottle. Then you have cameos from the likes of Mark Williams, Hugh Laurie and Ruby Wax. There’s just something so lovely about this film that stays true to the original source whilst also giving a new generation of children the loud noises and danger they expected.
So we’ve reached the end of my Harry Potter themed week on my blog and the final ramblings about the series. I’ve offered you an overly emotional review of my history with the books on Monday, a rant about Harry himself on Tuesday, a rant about Dumbledore on Wednesday, and a hard-hitting investigation into the terrible conditions at Hogwarts yesterday. What do we have in store for today? Well I don’t know. I could easily offer up another rant about how awful Snape is (really why do people respect him so much? Bravest wizard I know? For fuck’s sake!) but this week was supposed to be about a celebration of the books that changed so many people’s lives. These books have been so great in helping us all grow up and will continue to help youngsters for a long time yet. So I want to take another moment to look at the fandom as a whole. Just think back to just over 20 years ago; what was the world like? We didn’t know what Quidditch was. We didn’t have a handy way to divide ourselves up by random personality traits. We didn’t know about the sheer badassery of Professor Minerva McGonagall. These books were a magical and changed literary history. Yes, JK Rowling may have been incredibly lucky to get published (let’s be honest, these books shouldn’t have been the hit they were) but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve her success. I just wish she’d know when to stop.
Okay, before you start, I promise that this won’t turn into another rant about the author but, it’s got to be said, she’s publicly changed her tune more than Theresa May at this point. Now, I think JK Rowling is a wonderful human being and has done many fantastic things in her life. She lived a difficult life and managed to turn her life around thanks to her idea for a series of children’s books. She’s done a great deal to help a lot of people and has given more than her fair share of money to help people in need. She’s an absolute hero and I salute her. However, I stand by my continued assertion that she isn’t a great writer. It’s something I’ve seen more than ever recently in rereading the first novel. It’s painful to read it now I’m 20 years older. I’ve always said it but I’ve also always said that she improved. If you don’t count the epilogue anyway.
However, she is beginning to suffer from something I want to call “George Lucas syndrome”. Rowling just doesn’t know when to stop. Way back in 2012 I was ranting about Rowling’s continued confirmations that she was done with the series. And now we find ourselves faced with a play that half the fans love and the rest hate. Then we have another series of 5 movies in the same universe but set decades before. This is all fine except for two reasons: number one, the majority of us had already said goodbye to the books; and number two, Rowling was so adamant it wasn’t going to happen. For me, personally, I’ve never been able to forgive Rowling for being so shady when it comes to the continuation of the series. It’s been painfully obvious from the start but she always said it would only happen if she had the right story. Then Pottermore comes along and every other week she’s posting new information about characters or places in the wizarding world. It just feels as though any old shit is good enough for her these days. But what about the fans?
Now, I’m worried about sounding like a hypocrite here because in January 2016 I wrote a defence for George Lucas by saying the fans didn’t own Star Wars so their feelings don’t matter. I stand by that. Star Wars was Lucas’ child so he could adjust the films as he saw fit. Just because we are fans we can’t dictate how things are. I understand that JK Rowling can add to her universe as much as she wants and that is okay. I wish she’d be honest about it but that’s just me. However, I also think she has to understand that the Harry Potter fandom is a different thing altogether. It was the first major fandom that grew up with the internet. It was the fandom that changed fandoms as a whole. Star Wars fans made up their own stories and had their own conventions, yes, but Harry Potter fans had a convenient place to do it all: online. The Harry Potter fandom was a community in a much more immediate way: geography was no longer an obstacle.
The Harry Potter fandom is a fantastic thing to be a part of and has always been a celebration of something magical. It was a fandom that, when waiting for the stories to come out, came together to create our own universe. We finished the stories ourselves and created some very divisive ideas. There were major gaps in the original novels, particularly in terms of diversity, that many wanted to fill themselves. Yes, I might not be a Drarry shipper but I can see why it would fill a hole that is missing from the series. The only LGBTQ representative within the novels is Dumbledore but that was a half-arsed inclusion post-publication. I always felt this was a pathetic attempt by Rowling to show diversity and believe that if it’s important that Dumbledore was gay it should have been addressed in the books. Of course, with the continuation of the Fantastic Beasts films, it looks set to become a theme.
The great thing about Harry Potter fans is that they felt so comfortable to think outside of the written word. There was so much scope within the pages to see things you wanted to be true. It’s the thing that means some people see the fact that Remus and Sirius “embraced like brothers” to mean they’re good friends whilst others see them as mega-hot lovers. When there is so little canon to work from it leaves room for these things to be true to every individual that wants them. If JK keeps releasing new material it limits this. It would be fine if the new material was all of the same quality as the books but, it has to be said, that it isn’t. I’ve ranted enough about The Cursed Child but it’s a story that is mostly about its staging. It is also a story that places Bellatrix and Voldermort’s child into the canon. I know people make cases for this based on flimsy Deathly Hallows evidence but I can’t get on board with it. Not in that time frame, anyway.
Harry Potter is one of those things that is uniquely personal to everyone involved. JK Rowling, herself, has admitted to wishing she’d done things differently but felt she had to go with her original plan. That’s what was so wonderful about the end as it was: everyone could see the future as they wanted. There were so many unanswered questions that you could answer as you wanted. Every additional piece of material released, film or book takes the control away from the individual. It seems quite un-Potter like. Still, the other great thing about being a Potter fan is that it doesn’t mean anything. We’re a resilient bunch after all. We’ve spent 10 years pretending that the epilogue doesn’t exist so I can go my whole life ignoring the fact that Voldermort has a child.
Okay, so this was a little more ranty than I’d intended but that’s another thing about Harry Potter fans: we’re all incredibly passionate and stubborn. It’s been a great 20 years all in all.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan then I’m sure you, like me, grew up dreaming of going to Hogwarts. As a kid there was nothing that seemed as exciting as being packed off to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn how to perform magic. Being stuck in school being taught how to do maths or learning about geography was nothing compared to being in a transfiguration or potions lesson. The teachers all seemed so much more interesting than my own and the headteacher was a sparkly blue-eyed old man with a love of traditional sweets. It sounded perfect for a child of 10. I’m kind of a grown adult now and can see that the whole school is just a joke. Every single year the headteacher cancels final exams. How the hell do the students get their qualifications? What kind of school system just gives students a free pass every year? In my first year of uni, my friend collapsed and had a fit on the way to our English Literature exam. I had to stop her from hurting herself while my other friends ran around campus to find a porter to ring an ambulance (because, stupidly, that’s how you had to do it). Did we get let off the exam and given a passing grade? Did we fuck? We sat that exam despite having no idea how our friend was. Because that’s life. If you go to Hogwarts and break a nail before an exam Albus would probably have let you skip it on emotional grounds.
I know it’s a children’s book but the education system of the wizarding world is a bit of shoddy. At the age of 11, all magical children in the UK are packed off, on a steam train, to the Highlands of Scotland to live in an old castle potentially full of terrible things. Then they are expected to follow a curriculum of solely magical learning, which, considering it’s a school of magic, is fine but surely it misses out some essential points. I mean, muggle children will no doubt have a background in the basics of Maths, Science and English but what of the wizarding kids? And do we really think that, at 11, they have got a good enough grasp of these subjects to survive? It means your only education is learning spells or potions and nothing else unless Muggle Studies covers literally everything outside of the wizarding world. Of course, that seems both unlikely and really stupid considering you can’t take it until your third year. Where are the basics of every person’s education? History of magic is fine but surely it’s still useful to know about the history of the muggle world. Wouldn’t they both be linked? Or are we expected to believe that those pesky World Wars just didn’t affect any magical person?
So, take a moment and imagine you’re a muggle who finds out their son/daughter is being accepted into Hogwarts. Currently, they’re in a primary school that you’ve handpicked to offer them the best start in life. You’ve gone over Ofsted reports and considered exam results. Then you find out they’re going to a school where they ignore that side of their education to focus on something extremely specific that holds no place in your world. Wouldn’t you be a bit worried? I mean you wouldn’t know anything of the wizarding world or the potential career path your child could follow. All you would know is that they wouldn’t be prepared for any kind of job you’d secretly been hoping they’d enter. It just seems like education at Hogwarts isn’t really taking the practicalities into account. Even specialist schools in the real world offer a subsequent education in the key subject matter alongside. It’s super important to give a well-rounded education; shame Hogwarts doesn’t support this.
What it does support though? Taking new kids and dividing them into houses based on certain personality traits and then promoting competition between the students. For a while now I’ve had a massive problem with the way JK Rowling uses the house system in Hogwarts. Throughout my education, we were split into groups to streamline the whole system but it was random chance or based on skill level. It certainly wasn’t based on who was the bravest, the kindest or the most suspicious. The books are terrible when it comes to describing the different houses and, thanks to the perspective of the narrative, completely biased towards Gryffindor. It’s no wonder that, as a kid, I would have been desperate to be in Gryffindor. As I grew up I saw that, really, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Gryffindors may be brave but they have no respect for rules or putting people in harms way. They’re basically the jocks in every teen movie. You know the ones that get by on their popularity but are eventually overthrown by the geeks.
Also, what is this opposition to Slytherin? There’s a girl I work with who always throws around the “Slytherin’ remark as an insult and it’s just stupid. Slytherins, as we are told, are loyal, ambitious, cunning and adventurous. If I wasn’t a Ravenclaw I’d rather be a Slytherin that a fucking Gryffindor. The books tell us that “there’s not a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” but what kind of message is this? Not only is it not true (Peter Pettigrew) but what about the members of Slytherin that didn’t go bad? Unless, they actually all do but that prompts further questions. If you have a house that you know is full of future evil doers then either don’t allow them in the school or educate them into being good instead. This is a flawed system that should have been removed from the school once the founders had snuffed it. It’s a crazy system.
Still, it might just seem that way because the books don’t go too deep into it. I guess they are for kids. Although, even then the school doesn’t seem like the best place to live. For one thing, you have to get to grips with the fucking moving staircases so you’ll never be able to find your way around. How many first-year students get lost in that place every year? And, I can’t remember if this is just a movie thing or a book thing but teachers see to be getting pissed off when they’re late. How the hell is it their fault when the stairs have a mind of their own? Then there are the ghosts just hanging around and flying through kids. The talking portraits who just shout shit at the children walking past just seem like a weird addition to the mix. And Peeves? Heck, I love the guy but you’d have got rid of him centuries ago. He’s a menace to the teaching process.
Then you have the fact that there are plenty of ways for the students to get killed. For one thing, your school bullies have access to magic that can maim or, potentially, kill you. Then there’s the fact that Dumbledore hides philosopher’s stone in the castle by employing the services of a vicious three-headed dog and his only warning is exactly the kind of thing that would make children want to explore the third-floor corridor. Tell someone not to do something and that’s exactly what they’re going to want to do. Finally, there’s the Forbidden Forest, which is full of crazy killer spiders and god knows what else. Of course, this also doubles up as a potential place for detention. What kind of headteacher forces students to keep out of the forest only to allow Filch to send people in there as a cruel and unnecessary punishment?
Actually, why does Hogwarts even employ Filch anyway? The guy is clearly just an embittered and angry Squibb who hates the magical kids whose vomit he has to mop up. Filch is always on the verge of a mental breakdown that would very clearly include the death of most of the student body and probably some of the staff too. And it’s not the first weird hiring mistake that Dumbledore has made. He hired Quirrell as DADA teacher despite the fact that Voldemort was living in his fucking head. The following year he went and hired the most incompetent man in the world. Plus, let’s not forget that he was completely fooled by, or at least didn’t seem to care that Mad-Eye was actually Barty Crouch Jr. in disguise. How did he not realise that? The man’s supposed to be super intelligent and, it’s always suggested, that he can read people’s thoughts. I highly doubt that the insane Crouch was good enough at occlumency to stop the most powerful wizard of all time from hearing his desire to kill Harry Potter. Then you have the fact that Snape straight-up bullies like 3/4 of the school without repercussion.
And let’s talk about teachers for a moment; JK Rowling has said there are about 1000 students in the school and, from what we are told, there is one teacher for each subject. One teacher? 1000 students. How the hell do they get their marking done? How the hell do they work out the fucking schedule? My family contains a lot of teachers so I know how hard they have to work but this is a ridiculous situation. Even if they all had a time turner they’d be working nearly ever hour of the day. And yes, they probably have an enchanted quill to mark things and take notes and shit. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t loads to do still. When they aren’t teaching they’d be setting lesson plans, organising homework tasks and holding office hours in case 1 of their 1000 students needed help. It’s crazy. Hogwarts teachers need a fucking union. Also, before I forget, 1000 students and 1 medical professional? What the fuck?!?!
Now, it’s got to the point where I’ve ranted for far too long but you get the idea. Hogwarts is a fucked up school that expects parents to be happy sending their kids there. I wouldn’t be happy. Want your kid to get into Quidditch? Good luck. They only hold trials when one of the existing team leaves so, even if your kid if the best player around, they might never get a chance to play. Seems fair. And, on a final note, imagine being in the same year as Harry but not being one his friends. Wouldn’t you get tired of being overlooked because of the boy wizard? Wouldn’t it piss you off that you were slaving away in the library whilst he was copying off Hermione and getting away with it? Harry ignores the rules regularly and is rarely punished because he’s Dumbledore’s favourite. He’s not that great a wizard and actually learns very little but he’s always winning house points. There’s so much bias in that school that it’s ridiculous. Hogwarts always seemed like the most respected wizarding school but, now I’m older, I’m assuming that’s mainly due to the fact that it’s one of the few that exist in Europe.
As someone who spends a lot of time internet window shopping for geeky goods, it seems to me that you can’t really go anywhere without seeing Albus Dumbledore being quoted on something. After “Always”, which is something I’ve discussed briefly in my rant about Severus Snape, Dumbledore quotations are the most commercially viable of the Harry Potter franchise. People wishing to seem deep love nothing more than plastering his words of “wisdom” all over their houses. However, I’ve always felt that Dumbledore’s soundbites are just trite and overly simplified adages. People just eat that shit up. They love the guy. Dumbledore always reminds me of the Tim Minchin song ‘The Fence’. Readers are so quick to want Dumbledore to be good because they need someone to be the opposite of Voldemort. They need the world to be that binary but it doesn’t exist. There’s a part of the song about the Dalai Lama that goes:
He’s a lovely, funny fella,
He gives soundbites galore
But let’s not forget that back in Tibet,
Those funky monks used to dick the poor, yeah
It just reminds me of Dumbledore. For all his talk of socks and sherbet lemons, there is darkness hiding beneath Albus Dumbledore that comes out when it needs to. He has so many secrets throughout the book that show just how far away from a perfect hero he was. Just because the guy manages to say something that sounds deep once in a while people just seem to ignore all of the shitty decisions he makes. Well, not any more, my friends.
As I’ve already suggested, the Harry Potter books have one fatal flaw and that is that they are from Harry’s perspective. This means we all see things as Harry does and his opinions are the ones that run strongest throughout the narrative. We are encouraged to hate the characters that he hates and love the characters that he loves. Most importantly being Albus Dumbledore himself. Through Harry’s eyes, we see the Headmaster as a bright-eyed, kindly old man who cares about Harry deeply. And not, you know, a reckless old man who left a young baby on the doorstep of his abusive family. Most importantly is the discovery that Albus has been secretly leading Harry down a path that would eventually lead to his death. He basically grooms an 11-year-old boy to become the kind of person who would happily lay down his life for the greater good. He forces Harry to become a hero whilst taking no responsibility for putting the boy in harm’s way.
Dumbledore has always known that Harry will probably have to die to destroy Voldemort. After all, he’s always known that there is a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul within the Boy Who Lived. He has suspected as much from the moment he first heard the prophecy and has only had it confirmed as time went on. Did he tell Harry this? Did he fuck! He, instead, decided to protect the boy’s innocence and keep it a secret. I guess this is a noble thing to try but you’d think anyone who saw that Harry wasn’t going to back down easily would say “now is the time to confess”. Dumbledore should probably have told Harry about the prophecy from the start but he definitely should have told him after the events of the first book. Harry needed to know why Voldemort was after him and what that could entail. It would have saved lives.
Dumbledore acts as though he cares about people but, when it comes to the fight against Voldemort, everyone is just a pawn in his war. He’s the perfect General. He sees that Snape is afflicted by his love for Lily and manipulates him into changing sides and acting as a spy. He also doesn’t bother to convince Harry that Snape is a good guy even though Harry straight-up hates him. Because he doesn’t actually care if Harry and Snape like each other. Dumbledore only cares that they play their parts. And, talking of Snape, he totally lets the Potions Master get away with bullying his students and being completely unfair towards his own house. Snape is, when it comes down to it, a psychopath who hates children. The worst person to be a teacher. Plus, I know he was supposedly worried about Voldemort and shit but anyone in their right mind would realise Harry and Snape were not the best occlumency buddies. If you need Harry to learn the skill it doesn’t matter how good Snape is if they never get through the fucking lessons. This fuck up caused Sirius’ death, you dick!
… Anyway, Harry sees Dumbledore as a hero up until the final book when he finally discovers the truth about his past but even then it makes very little difference. Nothing Dumbledore does is ever questioned by Harry and his loyalty is so unflinching that Fawkes comes down to the Chamber of Secrets to help Harry. It’s crazy to me. Dumbledore was always a fairly suspect character even before we found out that he wanted to help wipe-out muggles solely because he wanted to fuck Gellert Grindelwald. (Hey, I know we’ve all done stupid things for love but that really takes the cake.) I mean almost every single school year he cancels final exams and awards random House Points when students have blatantly disregarded the rules. He shows a clear bias towards Harry and his friends and has an obvious loyalty to his own house. So much so that, after years of Slytherin winning, Gryffindor ends up with the house cup basically every year. Dumbledore is basically like your racist grandfather: he’s ultimately quite funny and generally harmless but you don’t want to give him any real responsibility.
Now I get it, I get it. Dumbledore isn’t bad; he’s just human. Well, that would be okay if he wasn’t aware that he was doing the wrong thing. He admits that he knew a lot of the decisions he was making were harmful but he did them anyway. Human beings make mistakes for noble reasons or because they don’t realise. Dumbledore is the guy who always talks about making the choice between “what is right and what is easy” but can’t live by his own words. When he lies to Harry it’s not the right thing to do and he knows it. He wants people to stand up to Voldemort but he is unwilling to make the right sacrifices. His quotes, far from being deep and meaningful, are just further proof of his manipulation. As he says himself:
Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.
With his words, he has the ability to get the whole of his students, heck the whole of the wizarding world, to stand up and fight for him. He doesn’t even have to live by them himself. He doesn’t have to do anything but spout trite nonsense at people. He’s got the whole wizarding world fooled that he’s a great man but he’s actually an evil genius. Words are powerful magic that can manipulate people and, let’s not forget, Dumbledore is the greatest wizard that has ever lived.
Continuing with my celebration of all thing Harry Potter this week we have a welcome return to my traditional rants. Hooray! It is a truth universally acknowledged that Harry Potter is one of the most annoying characters in the whole series. Well, maybe not universally acknowledged. I thought it was pretty much accepted that, as characters go, Harry Potter is a fucking dick but it seems that there are some people out there who still stick up for him. In the comments section of a recent Guardian post about the anniversary of The Philosopher’s Stone there was a beautiful comment talking about how annoying Harry is. I agreed with it 100% but then it was just criticised by everyone else in the comments. Now it’s time to get serious: Harry is a straight up wanker and we all know it. Just because his name is in the fucking title doesn’t mean we should all just let him get away with that.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Oh but he had such a hard life when his parents dies and he had to live with the Dursleys. Plus, you know the most evil wizard ever wants him dead.” Well, I call bullshit! Let’s look at some other people in the books who have had hard lives. Most importantly, Neville Longbottom. Neville’s parents may not be dead but, if you ask me, their fate is actually worse. To be a young boy whose parents are alive but not alive must be really fucking painful. To be able to visit them but never have them recognise you? I can’t think of anything that awful. I know losing your parents would be tough but at least there’s some finality in that. Neville was left with a constant reminder of what Bellatrix and co. did to his mum and dad. He would be endlessly comparing the soulless figures he visited at St Mungo’s with the smiling and happy faces looking back at him in all their pictures. That’s gotta fuck you up a bit. Plus, we know Neville had a difficult time growing up with his grandmother. I mean the guy was terrified of her. But, you know what, it didn’t stop Neville being one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.
Then, we have Luna Lovegood. Her mother died when she was young and her father is a bit of a psycho. She grew up believing in creatures that don’t exist and being openly mocked for being weird. She was constantly bullied by her peers and was always having to defend herself to everyone around her. Yet, still Luna remained a kind and decent human being. She was always willing to go to other people’s aid and do the right thing. She never let the awful way she was treated get to her and never let it stop her being who she wanted to be. In fact, there are any number of people who have had hard lives growing up and plenty of people who have lost loved ones to Voldemort in these books. You don’t see them walking around being as much of a sanctimonious, pompous arsehole, do you?
I know being locked in a cupboard by people who hated you must have been tough and will, at least, explain why Harry struggles with fatherhood in the, apparently, canonical The Cursed Child. However, it doesn’t give him the right to treat his friends and fellow students the way he does throughout the series. Harry Potter, like so many great characters before and since, suffers from what I will call, for lack of a better term, the Chosen One Complex. Harry grew up unaware of the wizarding world until, on his 11th birthday, he was flung into the midst of it as it’s newest celebrity. He was the Boy Who Lived for fucks sake. People adored him. It’s no wonder he fell in love with the world so quickly. He went from being ignored to being worshipped. Now, if anything’s going to have fucked him up it’s that.
People thought he must have been the greatest wizard ever to be born because not only is he the only person to survive the killing curse but he ‘defeated’ Voldemort when he was just a baby. People have always assumed that he will be responsible for great things and he has always been singled out by people. I mean how many other students have had personal visits from the Headmaster when they’ve ended up in Madam Pomfrey’s care? Probably none unless Hogwarts was liable or something. Then he found out about the prophecy that basically confirmed that he had been chosen for greatness. I mean Voldemort picked him over Neville thus adding evidence to his already growing Messiah complex. It just turns him into an annoying prick.
Let’s just look at how Harry acts throughout the entire series. First off, he is lucky enough to get the chance to escape his terrible life and go to an amazing wizarding school and what does he do? Piss about playing wizards chess and ignore his homework. For the first few books at least, Harry and Ron tolerate Hermione’s increased presence in their lives because they can cheat off her homework. You’d think someone who’s alternative was St Brutus’ Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys would see how much better Hogwarts was and not squander his time their. Plus, he has no respect for the rules whatsoever and we know Harry is someone who was forced to play by the rules with the Dursleys. Harry wanders around Hogwarts like he just doesn’t give a fuck and sasses anyone that stands in his way. And what make it worse? Dumbledore aids him by giving him the fucking invisibility cloak! Harry has such a complex about his own status that he thinks he can do whatever he wants. It’s ridiculous.
He gets himself into super dangerous situations for no reason. Yes, he was the last person to see the Dark Lord before he disappeared but that doesn’t mean Harry needs to be the one to stop him. Harry goes looking for trouble because he has decided, in his grandiose manner, that he is the only one who can stop him. It’s insane. Especially when you consider that he lives in a building that houses some pretty powerful wizards. Harry needs to be special because he has spent his childhood being nobody. He thrives on sorting out problems that, most of the time, he ends up making worse by getting involved. Either that or he didn’t even need to solve them in the first place. Take his first year for example: Harry convinces two new friends, who are all 11 years old and know basically fuck all useful magic at this point, to follow a potentially evil wizard through a dangerous set of traps to find the philosopher’s stone. Does it make any difference? Not really. If Harry had’t got to the end then Voldemort wouldn’t have found the stone anyway. It’s all for nothing. The only thing Harry did succeed in was killed his Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher.
And that’s all before you even take into account that Harry, as a wizard, really isn’t that impressive. Think about it, how many of his many trials and tribulations does Harry actually get through on his own? None that I can think of. He relies too heavily on everyone around him, which is fine. I’m all for teamwork. However, Harry refuses to acknowledge that this is anyone’s fight but his. He is so self-absorbed that he gets other people to do his job whilst telling them they don’t understand how difficult his job is. He’s so infuriating and selfish. The books are from Harry’s perspective, obviously, so they do tend to present the idea that shit is only happening to him. However, there must be times when hundreds of wizards are facing equally difficult tests in order to survive Voldemort and his crew. Harry doesn’t think about any of this and only sees his sacrifice as being important. He turns every situation onto himself. He refuses to see the things his friends are willing to give up to help him. He treats Ron and Hermione like shit for the entire 7th book but they are the ones who have left their families behind. They are the ones who are always worrying that their parents will be the next to turn up dead. Does he care? Does he fuck.
This is turning out to be a really long post so I’m going to wrap it up now but, we have to be honest, Harry is the worst role model in the entire book. He does very little he should actually be proud of. He’s a whiny little tit who spends the last 3 book ranting and whining like a spoilt brat. He’s not a hero; he’s an angsty teenager. And I get it, teenagers be difficult, yo. That’s no excuse. Harry isn’t a special and gifted individual. He is a boy who was given a reputation by complete chance. He did nothing to deserve everyone’s praise and only managed to “save the day” by luck most of the time. It is JK Rowling’s love of deus ex machina that allows Harry to succeed a lot of the time. His talents aren’t what get him through his battles with Voldemort. It’s all some nonsense about wand cores and shit. Harry doesn’t deserve his reputation or his fame. He is famous for being famous. You might as well call him Harry Kardashian.
When I turned 20 I was at university and I had an epic night out with a load of my flatmates. It was a typical university style night out and we all got super drunk. It was during the days when people still took digital cameras on nights out (yes I’m super old) and I took a shit ton of photos. It’s safe to say, as the night progressed, things get less pretty and my eyelids droop ever lower. My 20th birthday was a fantastic night out but the next day I experienced my first, grown-up hangover. Literally the day I turned 20 my body stopped being able to just get up and go after a night out. I was dying. I’d never felt as old as I did that morning. I doubt Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone woke up this morning with a banging headache and feeling super nauseated but I bet it felt old. I mean I fucking do. The first Harry Potter series was released 20 years ago. I’m nearly 30 but it still feels like yesterday that I first read about the boy who lived. How did this happen? Imagine if I had another night out like my 20th birthday… I probably would die at this point. Jeez.
I have a confession to make: I didn’t read The Philosopher’s Stone when it first came out. ARGH! I know. This probably makes me less of a Harry Potter fan than you. But it’s fine. I actually got the book one year later, in 1998. My father bought me a copy of the first adult edition and I’ve never looked back. It was during the time that Harry Potter fever was infecting the nation and I vividly remember one of my teachers bemoaning the fact that I was jumping on the bandwagon. She was a massive bitch and I ignored her. Ultimately, I didn’t care because I loved the book. I was 10 years old and I’d never read anything like it before. It had everything and I read it obsessively. I’d always been involved in reading as a child but it was my twin sister who would ingest books in a single sitting. This series turned that around. I wanted to read for fun and I wanted to read for long periods. It was the first time I remember not wanting to stop reading because I was desperate to see what happened.
We didn’t realise 20 years ago that the whole landscape of literature was about to change with the release of the first 500 copies of JK Rowling’s debut. When you look at the lists of people’s favourite books ever, it’s highly likely that Harry Potter will always top, or at least be near the top, of a reader’s most loved novels. They have overtaken such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Lord of the Rings. Despite everyone being convinced it wouldn’t take off, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has reached an insane amount of people all around the world and has got so many children into reading. I have some intense views about Rowling nowadays (see my many old school rants) but I will always respect what she has achieved. She found previously unknown success through writing and has inspired generations people: young and old.
That’s the great thing about Harry Potter. It was the first time that children’s fiction also became super popular for adults. It was the first time I remember my whole family being invested in the same book. I didn’t really think about it at the time but it was a really binding experience. Every time a new book came out I would read it first and then it would be passed round my entire family. We would discuss the books and would all share in the excitement and sadness that ensued. The majority of my friends read them too and we would talk about theories together all the time. I remember writing to a penfriend and theorising over who the Half Blood Prince was before the book came out. We wrote fucking pages about the books in our correspondence.
I only ever queued up at midnight for the final book but my friends and I did it together. It was a really great night. We went to a friend’s house, got food, and messed about with our homemade magic wand (they were literally just sticks from her garden). Then we headed into town and stood in line with all of the eager kids. I admit that I was in that period where I (mistakenly) felt a little too cool to be doing it and I forced my friends to leave their “wands” in the car. However, I’m so glad I did it. The day after we’d all finished reading it I remember going out with the same friends and we all just felt numb. We genuinely didn’t know what to do now it was over. We’d dedicated 10 years to this story and it was just finished… and with such a terrible epilogue. I didn’t know what to feel. I was a mix of sad, happy and kind of angry.
Which is why I think my feelings towards the series have cooled off a bit now. You see, unlike a lot of fans out there I haven’t obsessively reread the books every year since I first read them. I think it’s partly because, after I read the final book, I was done. It took so long for me to get over the book that, when I did, I wanted that to be it. It sounds really fucking stupid but it was like a breakup. There was so much pain that when it eventually went away I didn’t want to risk getting back to that feeling. Also, if I’m honest, I’ve never managed to get all the way through the first 2 books again. They just feel so childish now. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. After all, they have shaped my life in such a massive way and in ways that I probably don’t even realise. Just as they have for so many other people.
After all, these books aren’t just fun children’s literature. They taught us all so much about life. It’s not a glossy and lovely Disney world where everyone is happy and good always triumphs over evil. This is a story where awful things happen to good people and they struggle to go the right thing. We saw discrimination at work and we saw the oppressed standing up for themselves. The thing the book’s did most of all was offer hope. It showed that, no matter how awful things get, with people by our side we can get through anything. The books don’t sugarcoat life for children but inspire them to keep going. It’s no wonder that so many studies have shown that fans of the book show an increased sense of empathy towards others. They taught us that difference isn’t something to rally against but to embrace.
What has been so lovely in the run-up to today is the amount of people sharing memories about the books. On Instagram there are Harry Potter related posts everywhere and people from all over the world are bonding over one series of books. These books are decades old and they are still bringing people together. Writing this post has forced me to look back over my time in this fandom and it’s actually been quite emotional. I forget just how massive a part of my life this was. Little silly memories come back to me and it’s wonderful. I grew up with these books and will always have a place for them in my heart. I’ve since moved on to bigger and better novels but Harry Potter is about so much more than the writing. Yes, JK Rowling wasn’t the best writer but she improved in every new book. Yes, her ideas weren’t original and she took bits from other work. That doesn’t matter. Harry Potter doesn’t survive because of the quality. It survives because of how is makes you feel. It’s nostalgic and charming but it’s also important and embracive. It’s a community that, admittedly, sometimes can be a bit brutal but is somewhere you always have a place.
I was 10 when I started reading and I was 19 when it ended. I had grown up with this series and my love had only grown deeper with each book. I dabbled in both reading and writing fanfiction. I bought merchandise, played the video game, and went to see every film. I signed up to Pottermore immediately. I’m 29 years old now and I still can’t get enough. Harry Potter was my first fandom before I even knew what a fandom was. It’s something that I am so glad to be a part of and am so grateful to my father for buying that book. I’m not trying to be melodramatic but who knows how different my life could have been. I studied literature at university and I’m pretty sure these books pushed me deeper into reading. I have made so many friends over these books and continue to make connections because of them. There’s been times when I’ve kept my love of the series quiet because I feel too old for it now. Or played it down with friends who don’t share the love. Not anymore. As I’ve already said, I’m pretty fucking old now and I’m at an age where I don’t give a shit. I’m a Harry Potter nerd and there’s fuck all wrong with that.