Monday, August 19, 2013

HPP: Back to School, Part I

Chapter 2 of The Chamber of Secrets introduces us to a new character and, with him, a new race to populate the world of Harry Potter.  Dobby's debut comes with a warning, a revelation, and a further mystery.

Julie Baroh, Brownie, source

Our discussions surrounding Dobby these past weeks have been feisty and good-natured.  The existence of Dobby's race proves problematic for Masha.  Jenna counters, with others, that we don't know the history of the house elves--or their proper place in the story's cosmological order--and so cannot cry error per se.

The situation in Chapter 2 makes me uncomfortable.  This might be personal taste.  Many people I know adore Meet the Parents and movies, shows, and stories like it--"mean relational comedy," Jenna calls it--but I can't stand that kind of painful humor at others' expense.

"Can't anyone help you?  Can't I?" 
Almost at once, Harry wished he hadn't spoken.  Dobby dissolved again into wails of gratitude. 
"Please," Harry whispered frantically, "please be quiet.  If the Dursleys hear anything, if they know you're here--" 
"Harry Potter asks if he can help Dobby . . . Dobby has heard of your greatness, sir, but of your goodness, Dobby never knew. . . ."

I've various thoughts and feelings when reading this passage, so I'll list them below.  (In full disclosure, I saw the film long before reading The Chamber of Secrets, so perhaps my impressions would have been different had they been via written form rather than visual.)

  • Has no one ever before asked Dobby if he or she could help him?
  • What kind of society is the wizarding world, that this has never occurred?
  • Do they accept (actively or passively) this kind of cruelty toward a living thing, or are we to assume undisclosed back-story?
  • If so--if wizards don't accept it, have tried to change it, and have not been successful--is it in the very nature of the house elves to behave this way?
  • Did Rowling intentionally create a race of rational slaves?
  • Did she do so for the sake of plot and storytelling without thought to the moral and ethical problems that might arise?  (I doubt it, personally.)
  • What does that say about Rowling's world view and the virtue in and in reading her novels?  And does it matter?
  • Harry's reaction isn't really extraordinarily good, but basically human (in the healthy formed conscience).
  • Which leads me, again, to wonder why Dobby has never encountered even the slightest of human compassion.

I'm told by veteran readers the answers to some of these questions will unfold throughout the series.

Now for Mr. Weasley's fascination with muggle artifacts . . . in true keeping with Harry Potter protocol thus far, Arthur Weasley disregards and dismisses the rules.  This is a unique luxury/privilege for him, considering he is the guardian and enforcer of said rules.  Fred says plainly, "If he raided our house, he'd have to put himself under arrest."  It resembles the special allowances among police officers and other government workers, so not a situation entirely original to Harry Potter.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's marital bickering is certainly not original to Potter.  I like the portrayal of the Weasleys as normal, faulted, but generally wholesome and loving people.  Rowling's set them up to be allies for Harry but made them three-dimensional, enough to necessitate growth.  And, with nine people to a family, the potential relationship combinations create dimension for the story's backdrop.  Ginny's shyness annoys me a little, but then I was never one for teen idols as an adolescent.

Rien Poortvliet

De-gnoming the garden fleshes out Rowling's world-building.  As with the house elves, she caricatures a traditional folk being to better fit Potter's tone.  I admire her author's creativity in parting ways with tradition and making them her own, but I prefer gnomes of the garden variety (and I don't mean ceramic ones!).

I don't know what is unrelated distractions and what is the book itself, but so far The Chamber of Secrets has failed to immerse me.  I remember being satisfied after my first reading of The Sorcerer's Stone (and again after my recent second reading) but feeling no strong desire to pick up the second book.

"There is a plot, Harry Potter," says Dobby.  "A plot to make most terrible things happen at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year."  Indeed, I don't doubt it.  That's rather my thinking right now!  But I assume interest will pick up as read on.

Follow-up post for Chapters 4-5 coming within the week.  In the meantime, join the discussion here or feel free to contribute your own post reflecting on the past weeks' readings!



  1. It gets better!! And part of it might be just that it's August..who focuses on anything in August?

    I LOVE your brownie image!! I want to hear all about your interactions with them!!!

    Your points of thought about Dobby:

    1. & 2. probably not, though, the family he serves is particularly striving..but that said, there's an indication of love within the house demonstrated later that should at least have inspired some decency toward servants..but wizards seem to have serious issues viewing even non-magical people as human, why are we surprised at their utterly repellent treatment oh non-humans?

    4. As far as Rowling shows us in the series (sometimes very directly through relatively trustworthy characters) it's the nature of the elves to be that way. Which is exactly the problem with them as a race.

    5. yep. But probably not in the sense that she sat there chuckling and saying "Ooh, I want more Slaves"..which leads me to think her overall worldview is defective..Harsh, I know, but it's true..

    6. I think so..but maybe not. I think you have a higher opinion of her writing process than I do though.

    7. Her worldview..probably pretty dysfunctional..and that's the impression I get reading her series. But the series overall..every book is written by a fallible person. We all have our faults (some very extreme)..I can happily devour Camus' atheism because it's paired with hope and a love of mankind; I can't swallow Chesterton's racism because I don't like his literary voice; both of them have deep defects in their worldview, I see past one, and not the other..and I get a good deal from reading them both (when I'm honest about it), despite the flaws..there is still virtue in the series, and some people will see past the house-elves perpetual suffering, others won't. But both types of reader can possibly gain from reading the books.

    8 & 9. yeah, which is one reason I don't think Rowling has a high opinion of humanity..She doesn't expect basic human decency from any but the 'good guys' and that's not how life works.

    Just my thoughts..:) <3

  2. Love your thoughts, thanks for sharing!

    part of it might be just that it's August..

    That, and I have mild attention problems!

    My brownies are harmless but mischievous (rather like Afon!). They like mismatched pairs of socks (to the extreme; I literally have two pairs of matching socks left), pens, trinkets, and other things that are mildly important. They sometimes take pity on me, however, and will move something in my view that I have misplaced or lost, or do something for me that I had yet to accomplish. Like pay the electric bill! Or find my wedding ring. <333 Which is very nice of them, because I don't leave them offerings other than the occasional spilled food and misplaced objects!

    wizards seem to have serious issues viewing even non-magical people as human

    That's been my impression so far. :/

    5. In her defense, though, look at our modern world. We're kind of indoctrinated with a TON of rubbish, very early on when we're not mature enough to separate the wholesome from the harmful. Not everyone is vigilant and discerning enough to recognize or take seriously their responsibility in communicating truth, or rather Truth, to readers through the beauty of story. (I wish!)

    6. I think I'm actually being inconsistent here! :p I've been giving her benefit of the doubt in authorial intention, so I suppose I should continue to do so and say that she did know what she was doing and did know better. Not sure why I don't feel that way. Maybe I'm being too nice. I tend to want to give writers a little slack, knowing how painful and difficult it can be, as a writer myself. Maybe she didn't have a talented and discerning group of writing friends to run things by (winkwink)! Also, I get the impression that she was sloppy because she wasn't as concerned with the minutae of morality so much as the telling of a good story. Am I making sense?

    7. Is Chesterton's racism in The Flying Inn? I've yet to encounter it, and you've mentioned that one before. I sort of want to read it, but I'm also afraid to. . .

  3. Your brownies treat you like St. Anthony treats me..he's always stealing things to bring them out in triumph once we've prayed to him..So Frustrating, but kind of fun too..

    I see Rowling as very much a product of her culture..with the house-elves, I do think it's primarily carelessness (and from what I hear, she's not really open to a lot of critique from editors..which may not be true at all). And if she is doing the whole alchemy thing, she may be forcing aspects into a the story to make it fit that otherwise should have been cut..and because she doesn't get free will at all (more on that in later books ;) )

    The Flying Inn is essentially pure anti-Arab propaganda, so yeah, but also some of Fr. Brown..I haven't read much beyond that, so that's all I know..nothing in Thursday...I would love to know what you think about Inn..I only know one other couple that read it, they liked it, but..I respect your opinion more ;)

    1. if she is doing the whole alchemy thing

      I'll remember that for later.

      I respect your opinion more

      Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! *gushes*

  4. Yay! TWO posts!!! This will be fun. :D

    1. Masha, I don't think the indication of love within the house is enough to extend to servants, especially since it's something that blossoms under desperation and is well hidden under arrogance beforehand. It's pretty limited to one object.

    3. I think passive acceptance is the general rule, and semi-passive but meaningful aid by Dumbledore (SPOILERS) is the only thing that's been done (that we know of, at least) until SPOILER discovers the truth and flips out. Passive acceptance is sort of standard for humanity--I saw this as a realistic portrayal, not as an ideal. But as Masha has pointed out, it is of course not challenged much or really resolved in the story.

    9. Well, if you've seen the movies, you probably remember who Dobby serves, and if he's always lived in that house... the miracle is that he's good-natured; we'll get sight of another house-elf later who is as hateful as his masters. (Want to say more, but SPOILERS, of course.)

    But the great thing about the house-elf thing overall is Dobby's character arc and storyline, which is much more fleshed out in the books than in the movies. I just... I love it. We all serve something, and... yeah, SPOILERS. But it's one of the real beauties of the story, I think, although I don't know my brownie-type creatures as well as you do, so I may have a different take on what comes out as beautiful rather than merely pretty and sweet.

    1. 9. It's true, his masters are pretty rotten. :p I bet they've kept him from away from kind-hearted people. (SPOILER: the last movie/book!!!!!!!!!!!! sob!!!!!!)


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