Saturday, June 13, 2009

WWDD: Standing Up To Injustice

Book 5 is probably the book in the series where we see Dumbledore the least. Near the end we find that this was intentional on his part; fearing that the connection between Harry and Voldemort could be used in a negative way, he purposefully distanced himself from Harry as a protective measure. And since we’re viewing events through the lens of Harry’s experience, we obviously don’t see very much of Dumbledore because of this.

Order of the Phoenix is possibly my favorite book in the series (I’m wavering right now… I need a good reread of all 7 before I can pick just one fave). You’ve got one of the scariest literary villains to ever grace the page (and no, I’m not talking about Voldemort. Hint: think pink), you’ve got issues like censorship and corruption in government, you’ve got these kids going through the emotional range of puberty, from teen angst (ALL CAPS ANYONE!?!?) to first love (one very “wet” smooch below the Nargle-infested mistletoe). Lots of great stuff, lots of stuff about which I’m sure Dumbledore would have had great wisdom to share, but we don’t get to see that.

I guess I’m most interested in what Dumbledore would do in the face of someone like Umbridge, someone who’s doing their utmost to take away civil liberties and to force a regime that promotes, among other things, media control, censorship, and prejudice.

And knowing Dumbledore like I feel we all do after reading 7 books, I know he’s opposed to these things and I feel like I should be able to write with some assurance that put in a situation where he was faced with injustices of this kind he would do something to stop it.

But if you look at Book 5, what do you see?

Umbridge enacts truly cruel and abusive punishments on Harry in detention.
Dumbledore does nothing to stop this.

Umbridge bans activities, social interaction, intellectual intercourse, and media consumption.
Dumbledore does nothing to stop this.

Umbridge fires a teacher for not meeting Ministry standards (granted, she was a crazy old bat, but still…)
Here we see Dumbledore take some action. While not in a position to restore her teaching post, he does very calmly but firmly insist that Trelawney can remain to live on Hogwarts grounds even though she will not teach. Also, Dumbledore asserts what little powers he has left at Hogwarts at this point by appointing Firenze the centaur to replace Trelawney in the post. Though I’m sure Dumbledore hired him for his skill at Divination, he must also have known that due to her ignorant prejudices, the appointment would seriously bother Umbridge. I see this as a subtle way of him standing up to her.

It isn’t until Chapter 27, though, when the “sneak” reveals Dumbledore’s Army and Fudge is set to have him arrested, that Dumbledore finally stands up. In fact, it’s impossible for me to read this scene without thinking Dumbledore’s pretty badass…

“You seem to be laboring under the delusion that I am going to—what is the phrase? ‘Come quietly.’ I am afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Cornelius.”

Then he stuns them all with a flash of silver light, issues a few last words to McGonagall, and swoops off. By the end of the chapter I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the portrait of Phineas Nigellus: “You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts…but you cannot deny he’s got style…”

Still, basically Dumbledore, when faced with Umbridge and the threat of the Ministry’s interference at Hogwarts, chose to do nothing until he was placed in a situation where he was forced to act.

So what is that supposed to say to us, exactly?

Well I guess we have to look at context. Dumbledore knew Fudge was looking for an excuse to get him out of the way, being that he was so convinced that Dumbledore was after his job and so afraid to believe that what Dumbledore and Harry were claiming was true. Dumbledore wanted to stay at Hogwarts, where he could ensure the safety of the students and keep a watchful (if distant) eye over Harry. If staying at Hogwarts meant jumping through the Ministry’s hoops, then I guess he decided to grin and bear it. Dumbledore chose to be cautious in the way he stood up to injustice. He considered his position and how he might continue to do the most good as opposed to recklessly diving into the fray.

Now… this contrasts very much with how Harry chose to deal with things. Harry stood up to Umbridge blatantly in classes, declaring before many witnesses that Voldemort was still around. He was outspoken in his contempt for her and her policies, and this cost him dearly. Not only did it leave those lovely stinging words on the back of his hand, but it also caused him and his friends to become Umbridge’s targets.

So which is the better course of action when facing this kind of threat: fly under the radar so that you can stay in a position where you can attempt to influence things for good in subtle ways, or stand up directly to the threat and face the consequences?

I don’t know. I think if Dumbledore had been in a different position, he may have acted more like Harry. But because so much hinged on him, and because he wanted to protect the students by maintaining a presence at Hogwarts for as long as possible, he was forced to take the other course of action.

I think this teaches us that there is more than one way to do the right thing. Sometimes you’re forced to move more slowly or quietly or indirectly than you might like. But it’s important to consider the final outcome and your role in bringing that about when you think about how to act and how to stand up to the people who are attempting to promote injustice in the world.

Friday, June 5, 2009

WWDD: Mistakes

I’ve been trying and trying to write a WWDD post, but it just wasn’t working because as much as I tried I wasn’t hitting on anything that actually meant something to me personally. I can talk about love and hope, I can (and probably will) talk about Dumbledore’s take on tyrants creating their own enemies (because there are so many modern day examples to back that up), but for this first WWDD blog post, at least, I wanted something I could relate to on more of a personal level.

Then someone made the joking comment this afternoon that WWDD should actually be “WWDDITFSB” aka “What Would Dumbledore Do In The First Six Books?” because Book 7 is where we find out many of Dumbledore’s flaws and (apparently) that means he's no longer as good a role model.

But I’m going to be honest with you… in books 1-5 I loved Dumbledore for his wisdom, wit, and all-out weirdness, but I could never relate to him as a human being. He seemed too, well, on a plane of his own, really. Even Jo Rowling has said of Dumbledore that his "wisdom has isolated him ... where is his equal, where is his confidante, where is his partner?” I mean, who else is that freaking brilliant and wise and loving and funny and kind? Who else is such a leader and yet so humble? He was like this super-human, and as much as I thought he was an awesome character and an important part of Harry’s life, it wasn’t until books 6 and 7, when I started seeing he had weaknesses and made mistakes, that Dumbledore became real to me.

I think that among the many, many lessons Dumbledore has to teach us, this is so very important: Yes, he made serious mistakes; one mistake resulted in the death of his sister, but there could have been even larger casualties: if Dumbledore had chosen to go along with Grindelwald, his “for the greater good” / “ends justify the means” way of thinking could have led to a detrimental outcome had he attained the sort of power they dreamed about. But here is where the role model part comes into play: he saw his mistakes and he learned from them, to the point that he even turned down the post of Minister of Magic because he felt he couldn’t be trusted with that much power.

So that’s what Dumbledore taught me: we all make mistakes, but it’s what you do after that that truly counts. Do you feel remorse and try to change, or do you continue on the downward spiral? It’s up to you.

Excuses, Excuses

I was sick. I was ill. I was tipsy. I was tired.

Was I wrong? Not entirely.

Do you care? Probably not.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Don't Judge Me, Please

It's a risk. It's a risk I'm going to make, typing this here. On the one hand, I'm fairly sure no one reads this blog AT ALL. Which is a wonderful thing, because I can write something and send it out into the void, and I feel like I'm putting it out there but at the same time I don't have to deal with judgment or even mere interpretation by someone other than myself. I have come to depend on that strange dichotomy. I'm depending on it now.

Because the truth of what I'm about to say would offend many people I know. There are so many people that I've met all as a result of this one thing, and it seems like a slap in the face to say it, and I don't know how true it is (although I'm two glasses of red wine into a bottle, so the truth is starting to simmer up toward the surface a bit).

Sometimes I wish Harry Potter had never existed.

Sometimes I wish Jo Rowling had never written it. Not that I don't want her life to have turned out as wonderfully as it has; in that sense, I wish she had had the same success but without the same books. Why?

The Harry Potter books are good. Addictive. Fun. Moving. Inspiring. But they're one series of books out of thousands of millions of stories in the world. I love the Lord of the Rings. I love I Capture the Castle. I have loved many books in my day to the point of obsession, but that is what I loved: the books. But... when I needed to distance myself from them, to pull back and have a normal life, I could. Not so with Harry Potter. With Harry, fandom is a community, and with community you have a sense of responsibility. Gone are the days of lurking. I have a name and a face out there in the community now. I feel like I have to participate and be involved, when sometimes it would just be healthy for me to take a four month Harry break before coming back to the discussion.

Another thing... the question of creativity. Fans have done some very creative things based entirely around this series of books, and that's something to celebrate. But in a way, if I were to try to do that sort of thing, it would feel stunted and unnatural to me. I am not slamming the wrock bands and craft people and fan artists and fan fic writers, but I feel false somehow when I try to write a song or a story based on someone else's characters and situations. It's like saying "Be creative--within these parameters." And that's not art to me. Sorry. I mean, it is art, because who am I to say what is and isn't art? But art seems to be about expanding or ignoring limits.

No, I'm wrong. I'm saying it wrong. I don't know...

I just feel like: before HP came along, I was creative and creating stories and worlds and people that were different than anything else I'd been reading. After HP, I became so invested in a fandom focuses on one world and one set of characters that it closed off all other worlds to me.

I'll be honest, there are some things about HP I think aren't the best. For example, when I first read Order of the Phoenix and got to the end and heard the words of the prophecy, I literally said, "So what?" What I should have said was, "Uh, DUH!" Of COURSE neither is going to live while the other survives. That's the classic good guy versus bad guy result. Voldemort isn't about to put up his arms and say, "I give up! I'm sorry." And Harry, likewise, isn't about to surrendur and say, "Okay, you win. Let evil reign." So the so-called massively important prophecy was a bit of a major let down.

The other thing I despise about HP is in Deathly Hallows when Ron and Hermione manage to get basilisk venom to destroy one of the horcruxes by mimicking Harry's parselmouth sounds to get the snake to open up and let them in. I'm sorry... WEAK. You spend so much time building up how rare and special this parselmouth thing is, to the point that we realize it's not very common and probably quite difficult unless you have the gift. Then suddenly you undermine the whole thing by having it be mimick-able just so you can tie up a loose end in a very unconvincing way. Seriously, you rocked it out with the rest of the series, which is massive and awe-inspiring, but that one little detail just totally irked me.

So yes, this is an "I hate Harry Potter" post. Which, let me be honest, is very rarely my true state of mind. I will probably be horrified reading this post even hours from now. Because HP has done so much in my life in terms of me meeting people and getting involved in stuff. But I get frustrated. I want a few HP free months to chill, live life, be myself. Maybe I'd actually start writing again, and my stuff, not something with the name Weasley flitting around the back of my brain.

You know what Harry Potter lacks, that I think other things like Lord of the Rings and Narnia have? "Echoes of eternity" was the phrase that came to mind. It has important themes illustrated in moving and creative ways, but there is no isolated moment where I can say "This is it. Sam's Star. Puddleglum's believing Narnia even if there never even was a Narnia." The closest we got was when Harry walked into the forest. And maybe when I reread that book, I'll feel it.

But right now I'm just so tired. Right now I just want out.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Poem to the Void

This is for you, page,
and you, solemn square of glowing glass.
You are a window pane.
You are a scroll.
You are the moving images that define dreams.

I don't know what you are, but you have become
skin to me,
so I say it again:
this is for you.

No one else will read this.
Our little secret:
hidden in plain sight
accessible yet unnoticed
that's all.

I'm sorry, you deserve better
I cannot fill your blank spaces
and I cannot tame the glow
of the screen, cannot
keep the cursor from
out its sorry shambling dance.

But this moment,
this scrap of the nesting-doll-life
I lead (empty shell within
empty shell)--it's yours.
Do with it what you will.

I dance at the edges
but the void hates me too much
to ever dare
swallow me whole.