Continuing in my recent spate of reading children’s books, I’ve just finished the book that was awarded the Costa Children’s Book Award last year. I bought it on the same Amazon spree that finally saw me grab a copy of Tin and, after it was recommended to me, I couldn’t resist. It sounded like a much less violent version of Lord of the Flies and, despite the fact that the violence is the whole point of William Golding’s book, that did sound quite interesting. I would have finished the book much quicker than I actually did had it not been for a particularly difficult week at work that saw me falling asleep mid-chapter a few nights in a row. Still, it didn’t exactly take months so I can feel okay about it I guess.
So it’s been quite a while since I had a good old-fashioned rant about JK Rowling, hasn’t it. But now, only a few weeks after JK Rowling and David Yates caused a stir by brushing off the controversy surrounding Johnny Depp’s continued presence in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, the Harry Potter author is pissing off her fans once again. Over recent years, I’ve sort of become disillusioned with Rowling. Yes, she does a lot of great things and has used her money to aid some fantastic causes. That doesn’t mean she can get away with anything, though. Whether she means to or not, she has allowed herself to gain a certain sense of entitlement that only goes with becoming the world’s richest author. Just look back on the moment when she acted like a victim when it was revealed she had written The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Thankfully, I was able to catch up with myself for Throwback Thirty this week. After failing to watch Short Circuit 2 after I drew it out of my jar I actually managed it for today. Yesterday I settle down and had an afternoon of Johnny 5. It’s been ages since I last say Short Circuit so I wanted to remind myself… you know, in case it was too difficult to work out what was going on! Other than reminding me of how much I adore Ally Sheedy and causing me to Google (not for the first or the last time) ‘what is Steve Guttenberg doing these days?’, my rewatch of the 1986 science-fiction film wasn’t that memorable. I remember liking this film way more than I did. I don’t even think I had much of a warm nostalgic feeling about it. It just seemed a bit shit now. Of course, it was always shit but when you’re a kid nothing with a talking robot will ever be completely terrible, right? I mean, if I’m honest, the talking robot was still pretty cool as a nearly 30 year old but I was still disappointed with the film. So, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I sat down to watch the sequel for the first time. If there’s one thing we know it’s that the sequel is always worse than the original… and I say that as a younger twin. So I know what I’m talking about.
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.