Tag Archives: books

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Chamber of Secrets

By Ashley

I hope everyone enjoyed my nitpicking and caterwauling about the first book and that you’re good and ready for the second entry in my series:

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Chamber of Secrets

1. Why did Ron and Harry take the Ford Anglia when they couldn’t get onto Platform 9 ¾? This is a complete lack of foresight and logical thinking on their part. I know they’re twelve and that the whole “taking the car and crashing into the Whomping Willow and getting into trouble for it” thing sets a lot of things in motion but it’s still really ridiculous. If they had just waited 10 more seconds, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley would have come off the platform and, as responsible adults, figured out a better way to get them to school. Do they think that if you miss the train you’re just not allowed to get to Hogwarts any other way?

 2. Let’s play “What’s Going to Try to Knock Harry Off His Broom During the First Quidditch Match of the Season”! Rogue bludger, trying to pound the shit outta him. Hmm. This seems awfully familiar…heyyy, didn’t something similar happen in the previous book during the first match of the season? Quirrell cursing his broomstick, if I recall. And now, something else is trying to knock him off his broom. Can’t this kid just have a normal first match of the season?

3. In this book, we learn that Filch, the caretaker, is a Squib (someone born into a magical family who has no magical abilities). Filch spends a great deal of time complaining about all the messes the students make and how long it takes him to clean them. And then it hit me. Why the hell would they employ someone who cannot perform magic to clean an entire castle full of students, staff and ghosts? Throughout the series we see countless characters clean huge messes with a simple wave of a hand or wand. And yet the person who is employed to clean the entire school cannot perform such magic. What kind of sick, cruel joke is that, J.K. Rowling? I don’t blame Filch for being in such a shitty mood all the time.

4. Why in God’s name is an award that was given to Lord fucking Voldemort still hanging up in the trophy room at Hogwarts? Isn’t that a bit…fucked up? That’d be like going to a school in Germany and seeing a plaque there that said “Awarded to Adolf Hitler for Services Rendered.” I feel like for most people (who aren’t really young like Ron and Harry) it must be common knowledge that in his younger days Voldemort was Tom Riddle. Come to think of it, I feel like that’s the exact kind of knowledge that would be written down in wizard history books. Hermione devours wizard history books like it’s her job; why has she never come across this tidbit of information? I find it hard to believe that 1. No one at this time had ever made the connection between Tom Riddle and Voldemort (Dumbledore says that “hardly anyone” made the connection but…come on, SOMEONE ELSE MUST HAVE) and 2. That it would never have been recorded in a history book.

5. Furthermore, shouldn’t someone (i.e. Dumbledore) have revoked that goddamn award? Seeing as it’s the kid who grew up to be Voldemort and he fucking framed Hagrid and got him expelled? I mean, I know Dumbledore probably found out about this stuff way after the fact but still. It’s the principle of the matter.

6. Last year, Harry’s scar was bothering him for weeks because half of Voldemort’s face was under a turban on some guy’s head in the same building as him. In this book, he carries a piece of Voldemort’s soul around for a part of the book and doesn’t feel anything. The most he feels is an inexplicable need to not throw it away. What the fuck is up with that?

7. More irksome behavior from Dumbledore: at the end he awards Harry and Ron 200 points each for infiltrating the Chamber of Secrets and defeating the basilisk and Tom Riddle. But what about Hermione? She figured out what was in the chamber and how it was getting around the school, which enabled Harry and Ron to go down there without being completely unaware. You were all about the point-dishing-out at the end of last year, old man, what happened? What, just because it doesn’t humiliate an entire house of students, Hermione’s cleverness doesn’t need to be rewarded? YOUR METHODS ARE INCONSISTENT, DUMBLEDORE.

As always, please, feel free to leave any comments, disagreements, defenses, and arguments!


Filed under Literature, Personal

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Philosopher’s Stone

By Ashley

So I have seen the final Harry Potter movie. I laughed, I cried, I bitched about the epilogue. Harry Potter is and always will be a huge part of my life. But for me, loving the series also means seriously examining its many flaws and inconsistencies. With the end of the films, I’ve decided to reread the entire series. Reading the series through an adult lens makes the series’ plot holes, flaws and just plain weird moments all the more obvious to me. So, as I read each book I’ve decided to write and share my bitching and griping about the series! I’m writing these under the assumption that the people reading will have a more-than-cursory familiarity with the series; in other words, spoilers ahead! Also, know that this is strictly about the bookverse, no movieverse stuff (that would be a completely different series of blogs on its own).

Things That Confuse and Anger Me About the Harry Potter Series: Philosopher’s Stone

1. How could the Dursleys get away with that level of abuse? After Harry accidentally sets the Brazilian snake free, he gets his “longest ever punishment”—a month in his cupboard. Maybe I’m reading it too literally, but it makes it seem like he’s not allowed out for ANYTHING, even school; he has to sneak food in the middle of the night and by the time he’s allowed out, summer has started. No school officials noticed that this thin, scraggly, obviously abused young child is missing for the entire last month of school?

2. When Harry asks about Wizard banks, Hagrid replies that there’s “just the one—Gringotts”. Really, Hagrid? So, magical folk from Egypt, Africa, America or ANYWHERE else have to Apparate all the way to London to take money out of the bank? It’s little things like these that make me feel like J. K. Rowling loses grip on the absolute breadth of the world she’s created; she’s from Britain so it makes sense for things to be concentrated in Britain (and Scotland, where Hogwarts is). But even as the series progresses and the world expands and we’re even introduced to foreign witches and wizards we’re still lead to believe that the core of the entire magical community is Britain, specifically London, and Hogwarts. Is there really just ONE magical government, and one person is the leader of an entire world of people? And that person is Cornelius Fudge? (In book four, some of these issues with the government are, thankfully, addressed.)

3. When the little First Years are gathered outside the Great Hall, Harry and Ron are wondering about what kind of test they’ll have to pass to be sorted into their houses. Really, Ron? It’s unbelievable that this kid who has had five siblings and both parents go to Hogwarts before him has no idea about the Sorting Hat. And even if he didn’t, some other first years from Wizarding homes would know about it and would be talking about it with their peers. I get that it’s a device to create suspension for the readers but…come on.

4. This is something that’s always bothered me ever since I was a kid. When Harry and Ron save Hermione from the troll and she lies to McGonagall, saying that she went searching for the troll. What the hell, Hermione? Why not just tell the truth: you were in the bathroom, didn’t know about the troll and Harry and Ron helped you? Either way, Harry and Ron look like the saviors but in the lie she tells, it makes her look like a glory-seeking fool. I’ve never understood this lie and I don’t think it was necessary for Harry, Ron and Hermione to become friends.

5. This is a recurring theme in this book: Harry being unjustly rewarded and favored. The first major example is when Harry chases Malfoy down on his broomstick; McGonagall catches him and at first we’re led to believe she’s going to punish him (because she’s McGonagall and she doesn’t play favorites and she’s very straight-lace) but instead she rewards him with a spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team and a high-end, expensive broomstick (even though the rule is that first years aren’t allowed their own brooms). The second is a less egregious example: when Harry has spent the past three nights roaming the halls after hours to sit in front of the Mirror of Erised. This one is a little more understandable; Dumbledore finds him and reprimands him in his kind, old-man way, teaching him a valuable lesson about dwelling on dreams. So, it’s not quite as bad but the first example in the series of Dumbledore’s obvious favoritism towards Harry. But then, the doozy of all favoritism doozies, perhaps in the entire series: the end-of-year feast in the Great Hall. Due to points lost for Harry and Hermione getting caught getting rid of Norbert the dragon, Gryffindor is in last place for the House Cup and Slytherin has won for the seventh year running. However, Dumbledore unloads a boat-load of last minute points on Gryffindor house for Harry, Ron and Hermione’s actions while going after the Philosopher’s Stone. He gives the three of them just enough points to be neck-in-neck with Slytherin and then awards Neville an extra 10 points for his courage, which pushes them ahead and then win the House Cup. All the green and silver decorations instantly turn to red and gold and the rest of the school celebrates Slytherin unexpected and humiliating loss.

What the fuck, Dumbledore?

This is a huge problem in the entire series, which I’ll probably touch a lot: it’s completely confusing in its sense of morality and right and wrong. The whole series is supposed to be about good vs. evil but save for a few complex characters (Snape, Dumbledore, the Malfoys), we’re stuck with this version of black and white morality. And in this instance, the headmaster of the entire school—who is supposed to care for all his students and foster inter-house civility and camaraderie—is basically saying to the entire school, “Yeah, fuck Slytherin.”  Why couldn’t Gryffindor have come in a triumphant but humble second and then actually won another year, like with the Quidditch Cup? But oh, no, Dumbledore had to restore the points and repair Harry’s damaged reputation within the school.  Do you think any of the Slytherin students, especially the ones who have just finished their first year of school and are really excited about having won the House Cup, will ever trust Dumbledore again? Man, I wonder if this could possibly come back to fuck them over, when like, a war starts or something.

If you have some plot holes, inconsistencies or just things that anger or confuse you about the Harry Potter series or you want to try to defend the things I’ve brought up here, please feel free to comment! I’m always up for some rousing Harry Potter discussion.

Read the rest of the series as well:

TTCaAMAtHPS: Chamber of Secrets

TTCaAMAtHPS: Prisoner of Azkaban

TTCaAMAtHPS: Goblet of Fire part 1 and part 2

TTCaAMAtHPS: Order of the Phoenix part 1, part 2 and part 3

TTCaAMAtHPS: Half-Blood Prince part 1 and part 2

TTCaAMAtHPS: Deathly Hallows and the Epilogue


Filed under Literature, Media, Personal

Pictures at a Revolution: good film history and a great read

I recently finished Mark Harris’s thrilling volume of film history, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, so I’d like to write about it briefly. In his book, Harris (the husband of Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner) writes at length about the planning, production, and reception of 1967’s Best Picture nominees. (To be specific, Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Dr. Dolittle, and the winner, In the Heat of the Night.) In the process, he’s able to give a wide cross-section of a Hollywood in flux, caught between the studio system’s gradual demise, and the industry’s impending renaissance.

Harris also frames his meticulously researched history as an exciting narrative, full of characters on every end of the roue de fortune, some set at cross-purposes to each other. There are the real-life clashes between Warren Beatty and Jack Warner; Rex Harrison and the cast and crew of Dr. Dolittle; and Stanley Kramer and the late ’60s film criticism community, just to name a few. And they all build up to this greater, intergenerational conflict, in which The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde ultimately win out, aesthetically and financially.

But at the same time, Harris doesn’t oversimplify these struggles, as each major player is presented objectively through interviews, letters, newspaper accounts, and various archival sources. When uncertainty exists, as with the sexualities of Tracy and Hepburn, he footnotes it. Unlike many books which profile movie stars, he fact-checks scrupulously, giving the reader a well-rounded account. For example, he portrays every side of the layered star image of Sidney Poitier – from the viewpoints of black radicals, film critics, filmmakers (like Kramer and In the Heat of the Night director Norman Jewison), the general public, and Poitier himself.

It’s also a book that gives equal time to each part of its dense story, as the films’ production schedules are charted alongside each other. Harris uses the contrast to show how multiple types of filmmaking coexisted in the late ’60s, with intentions, production models, and end results as different as The Graduate and Dr. Dolittle. And within this broader depiction of rapid, industry-wide trends, Harris finds time for dozens of smaller stories to illustrate points about film history, like how The Sound of Music‘s success helped lead to the New Hollywood. (Studios placed their bets on other big-budget musicals like Camelot, Hello, Dolly!, and Sweet Charity, which turned out to be crippling flops.)

After reading Pictures at a Revolution, my immediate reaction is that I want a book like this about every Oscar year. Preferably by Mark Harris. Since it talks about an era of such social and cinematic upheaval, every event is investigated for historical relevance, but he doesn’t draw conclusions where there aren’t any. But when, say, Oscars host Bob Hope makes unfunny jokes about the ceremony’s two-day postponement (due to King’s assassination), there’s a clear generational divide at work. It’s a symptom of a rift, signaling that one part of (film) history is ending, and another is about to begin. It’s these little fissures that Harris diagnoses so well through what would otherwise seem like trivial anecdotes.

That may be the book’s greatest triumph: using these fascinating stories about filmmaking (which really do make it a fun, accessible read) to back up serious historical arguments about changes in the methods and substance of American cinema, and their significance amidst the broader cultural turmoil of late ’60s and early ’70s. I recommend Pictures at a Revolution both for those seeking new knowledge and understanding of beloved films (like Bonnie and Clyde‘s early history being passed around between Truffaut and Godard), and those with an interest in the greater sociocultural context. Harris provides a helpful window into one of the more intriguing times in film history, and American history in general.

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Briefly: the state of things

A few quick, random notes: I mercifully go back to school on Friday. I continue counting down the days. Things suck, more or less. The Hennepin County library system finally caught up with me (the fuckers) and want me to pay that $30. Alas. I’ve got a post about the movie Nashville in progress which will, I hope, be completed on Tuesday. Unfortunately, due to Labor Day, all the libraries are closed. Which, I think, is bullshit – I don’t see how it takes so much “labor” to keep a library going with minimal functioning. I’ve never really understood this; at Carleton, after all, we keep the libraries open from 8 am to 1 am most days of the week, and when we close, there are only 3 people working: someone at circ desk, someone at reserves desk, and a supervisor. And you’re telling me the government can’t afford 3 people just to keep the library open for one day? Goddamn Labor Day. I support the idea of not working in theory, but when hordes of other people follow through with it, it causes me some problems.

Cthulhu disapproves of Labor Day

Beyond that… I was able to buy some interesting books the other day since Half-Price Books in St. Louis Park is having a clearance sale. (20% off everything! That’s beautiful!) Among those I bought: 4 cheap volumes of H.P. Lovecraft (including The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow over Innsmouth, and more) as well as a book called Forbidden Sexual Behavior and Morality by R.E.L. Masters, from 1962. The latter book, I am surprised to learn, is by a sexologist named Masters who’s not William Masters of Masters & Johnson fame. It’s pretty interesting, though, and has given me some insights into 1960s attitudes toward bestiality, miscegenation, and homosexuality. So expect to hear more about Lovecraft and sexology in the future. For now, though, the goddamn library is closing, and I must go.

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Misspent hours late at night

It’s almost 3 am. I have to finish My Man Godfrey tonight (at least, for my cinematic conscience’s sake). I am fucked. Bed, sleep – I’ve complained about this bullshit before. For us poor people who happen to find it most convenient and natural to stay up really late, wake up at midday, and start our day then, the world basically has a message: “Fuck you.” Because it sadly doesn’t work that way, at least if we want to interact with others (that’s okay, I’ll pass) or visit businesses or take classes. It’s the last one that does it for me. Sure, some places have “night classes,” but Carleton doesn’t offer a 16a where I can head on over to Scoville at 2 am for a lecture. Although that’d be awesome. They really should start offering extra sections where they append “noctural” to the class names. If only. I guess it’d be problematic for some of the professors who live outside of Northfield. But it’s even more problematic for me! Me!!!!

There’s another topic to discuss: self-obsession. I must’ve been in, oh, 6th or 7th grade, when one of my classmates made an observation: Isn’t it natural to be self-centered to some degree? Sure, it’s good to think of others, but in the end, whose well-being determines how we feel or how our lives go or whether we live or die? Ours. Mine. At a certain point, with apologies to Spock, the needs of the one must outweight the needs of the few… or the many. (I have been, and always will be, your friend. Live long and prosper… Kirk! God, it’s been too since I’ve seen Star Trek II.) I don’t really believe in selfishness as a virtue, as every single oversimplification I’ve read of Ayn Rand’s philosophy has said she does. I’m just saying that at some level, it’s plausible and understandable to be selfish. It comes very, very naturally to us. And nature, as K-Hep says in The African Queen, “is what we were put on this earth to rise above.” Of course, she gets attacked by leeches and later tries to blow up a U-Boat, so you decide. (Another movie I haven’t seen in way too long. Aww, Robert Morley dies at the beginning! That’s so sad.) And after all, doesn’t murder come naturally, as a natural extension of selfishness? Exaggerated caveman example: “Ug want rock. You take rock. Ug strangle you and take back rock.” I wonder if any cavemen really were named Ug. And if so, did they speak in stilted English? That’d be hilarious if it was true. At least we know one caveman was named Thag. Thag Simmons, to be precise.

I’ve never read any of Jean Auel’s books. (She wrote Clan of the Cave Bear, set in caveman times, in case you’re wondering where this digression came from.) I wonder if they’re any good? I think I remember seeing them at book sales being sold as cheap paperbacks – the kind that don’t look like they’ll be good. See, I do judge a book by its cover. Because if it’s got a tacky, unoriginal, stupid-looking cover, I’ve never heard of it, and if we combine that information with the title, well, that can help determine whether or not I want to buy it. This is at book sales (or thrift stores, or other situations that contain large amounts of cheap books) I’ve talking about. In book stores, we use a whole different set of rationales. But when it comes down to it, looking for good books when you’ve got hundreds to choose from is like finding a diamond in a trash pile. Except unlike diamonds, books are worth something. (Whole ‘nother blog right there.) You have to sift through legions of shit: romance novels, cookie-cutter crime novels, bad ’80s sci-fi books, most spy novels, recent best-sellers, books that look like recent best-sellers (they suck too)… but every so often, you’ll find it. It requires a trained eye, but gaze at enough book covers and you’ll know. It has a certain aura to it that screams out, “I’m not shit!” It’s often well-designed. Sometimes it’s not. But it’ll either have some word that sticks out, or an author you know, or a picture that even by itself is really damn good, or maybe it’ll have those glorious telltale signs of age. You know, a layer of dust, yellowed pages, pages sticking out or torn, and if the front page is there, you can check the copyright date. 1930, 1920, 1895, and on backwards through printing history – you can find real treasures just by sharpening your eyes (potentially on some kind of eye grindstone?). And that’s how to build a library. Though if you don’t have book sales to go to, you’re just fucked. Just like a guy who’s not in bed yet and has class in 7 hours. Same type of fucked. Except yours is way more severe.

Speaking of poor transitions, I could not resist posting this to the blog:

This is one of the trailers for David Cronenberg’s 1983 maybe-masterpiece Videodrome, a film much-beloved of Internet morons who love seeing brain tumors spitting blood, but which is nonetheless very interesting to watch. And it’s a movie that makes the viewer think about the idea of watching, too (unless said viewer is the same 16-year-old gore-fixated would-be cineaste). Since watching Videodrome, I’ve embarked on a wacky trip up Toronto way [NOTE: I have never actually been to Toronto] trying to figure out Cronenberg’s role in the history of horror and film. He’s a master of something; whether or not that “something” should make him proud is anyone’s guess. His films aren’t always brimming with intelligence, but they do often have the same kind of curiosity expressed by the young twins at the beginning of Dead Ringers. You can visualize Cronenberg as a little kid trying to decipher what genitals are for.

I once wrote out a sentence that more or less summed up the themes of his career; I think it had words like these: venereal scientist psychic experiment sexual fluids explosion vagina. Despite adapting William S. Burroughs, Stephen King, J.G. Ballard, and others at times, he’s remarkably consistent both in theme and form. The Howard Shore scores help, too. All of his movies, I think, seem to take place in or around this quasi-mythical vision of Toronto he has (a city I’ve never been to, though I think I’d like to, and I’ve lived only a few hundred miles south of it for most of my life). It’s a city where things tend to go wrong – like the world of the Marvel alternate continuity Ruins? Except it’s that on a daily basis. The city itself contains mostly lots of dim, bland apartments and for-rent warehouses; a short drive out of town you get to the deserted rural areas containing a few farmhouses and potential hide-outs (especially when on the run from the forces of God knows what). One message Cronenberg seems to be getting across is this: Watch out for what human beings can and will do if you give them the slightest power. Especially if genitals are involved. And so, Videodrome fits pretty well along these schematics, and adds some interesting twists.

We’ve got the pathetic, ugly loner, Max Renn, who makes a deal with the devil that allows him to watch lots of kinky snuff porn. Except it’s mutating his brain (or something?), there’s virtual reality involved, a character based on Marshall McLuhan – and with that, also lots of media studies wanking material. Man, I should watch that again. Especially in the early ’80s, with the Internet just a chronological hop, skip, and jump away, that’s an interesting cultural moment in which to be pondering the evolution of media beyond TV and video. Brian O’Blivion is just a great name; what can I say? Funny names really float my boat. Or whatever phrase is appropriate. It’s 3:30 am. I need sleep. Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh. Oh, and Debbie Harry’s in it, too. Is she really blond? Oh, I guess she is. Toward the end, the movie kind of devolves into not-making-sense territory – maybe it’s been too long, but I still have no idea who made Videodrome radiation, why, or what they were trying to do with it. But I guess for me, the movie’s ultimate draw is its appeal to me as a connoisseur of culture that’s underground and keeps on digging. Whatever’s on broadcast TV at 3:30 am on a random weekday. Holy shit, I could totally go to the lounge right now and find out. Hold that thought. Sleep can wait; this is a fucking media experiment!

Well, the results of that experiment were a lot less interesting than they used to be back when I was 14 or so. Basically, flipping down through the channels, I saw infomercial, infomercial, stupid late-night talk show, infomercial, ad, news, news, PBS special on eastern European genocide. Maybe I didn’t check through as closely as I might have if I’d had a remote and there hadn’t been that girl from my one class sitting on the couch. Maybe I’ll try it again more rigorously on another date. But that doesn’t take away from my point: stranger things make it to the airwaves after the watershed (i.e., that time when kids are supposed to go to bed and almost anything goes). I’ve found this is true for radio, too. Back in the day, I got such a thrill out of sneaking over to the TV at 3-4 am, making sure to mute it the second the light switched on, and seeing just what I could find. Usually it was anime I was looking for. But sometimes there could be odd western cartoons nobody cared to publicize, or shows about the paranormal. Every Saturday night at midnight, I would watch Horror Incorporated, a local show run by first Jacob Esau (as Count Dracula) and then Thom Lange (as Uncle Ghoulie) and his compatriots. I should look them up and see what they’re all up to now. Try to make some connections? It’s never too early/late. Except at 3:45 am. It’s too late then. Sad.

My point is, I can totally sympathize with Max Renn’s fascination when he sees the bootlegged TV signal that for all he knows could be broadcasting from anywhere – and really, anytime, too. Not that I’m all for authentic violence as entertainment – what I’m talking about is the sensation of perceiving something that very, very few other people are perceiving. Watching a broadcast and saying to yourself, How many other people could possibly be watching this right now? (Or for that matter, what percentage are stoned?) Like it or not, television has warped my mind, much like Videodrome radiation. Starting when I was little, I always felt a pang of regret and loss, for example, whenever the timeslot shifted over and instead of being some entertaining, meaningful program, instead there was an infomercial, or a sports show. And you know, when I watch or listen to some broadcast that could be from anywhere or anytime, that doesn’t seem tethered down by the constraints of, oh, ratings or immediacy or topicality – that’s when I feel a sensation even akin to love. I used to listen to Imagination Theater, this radio show that broadcast on some random AM station on, hmm, every Friday or Saturday night? They’d play radio dramas, and sometimes it’d be Sherlock Holmes, other times it’d be various random mysteries or tales of the supernatural, and sometimes paranormal investigation dramas. And – well, looking it up, apparently it was broadcast on 830 AM, WCCO, a frequency I already associated with my grandparents’ house, because when I woke up after sleeping over there and walked downstairs, I would be greeted by a radio blaring their jingle: “People you know, WCC – O.” These are 4 letters likely familiar to many suburban Minnesotans. God, it’s almost 4 am, and now I’m thinking notalgically back to my childhood? I’m just screwed. Maybe I’ll spend the next 6 hours until class starts writing the blog to end all blogs.

Or maybe I’ll end this blog now. That sounds beneficial to my health and sanity (but who cares about those?). Perhaps I’ll resume writing about my emotional experiences with media in the near future. Because these issues are important to me. These are parts of the reasons I want to get involved in studying and producing media, communicating with other human beings, exchanging messages – I want to learn about exploitation films, Tijuana Bibles, border blasters, and tightening media regulations. I want to learn about the men and women who undermined the government’s authority to tell them what they could say and how they had to say it – and God willing, I want to join their ranks someday. You are what you’re told. So listen carefully.

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Filed under Cinema, Media, Personal