Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Harry Potter - Part IV

So far, in my discussion of the book, The Message Behind the Movie by Douglas Beaumont, I have covered the interpretation methods and structural elements of film, as covered by Chapter 1 - 3.

Chapters 4 - 6 equally cover a lot of ground. Instead of offering point - counterpoint, I wish to offer a quick reflection. I won't be breaking down the content of these three chapters, as I feel the reader will have plenty to think through and I don't wish to discuss too much or there would be no incentive for those reading these blog posts to purchase the book. So, as I said, I'll offer my quick reflection.


Mr. Beaumont starts by covering the topics of sex and violence in movies based on content vs. context. Then, he goes on to discuss the method of finding a film's worldview (message) through genre conventions and formulas to discover the moral of the story... almost as if it were a scientific experiment.

While I tend to break apart film and story structures with an objective process, there is a queasy feeling I get from treating movies like a frog dissection in a high school biology class. There is an art form to film, that is more fluid than concrete. And interpretation (as I've discussed in 'Cinematic Hermeneutics' and in Biblical Interpretation), which can be skewed through various individual's experiences brought to the table, is not infallible.

For example, Mr. Beaumont discusses Harry Potter as part of the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, expounding upon a few arguments made in the pro/con camps on why Harry Potter is bad, but Gandalf and Narnia are good.

I won't rehash the arguments, as they'll digress a bit from the point I'm making of accuracy to the interpretation of a story. Mr. Beaumont defines a 'Muggle' as a human 'who refuses to practice magic, and therefore is looked down upon as inferior'. [1]

In Rowling's world, a 'Muggle' [2] is a human born of no magical heritage. It's not that they refuse to practice magic, they cannot practice magic (at least not that they are aware of) and most do not have any knowledge of the Wizarding world. A 'pure' Muggle has no magical abilities within them, as they did not inherit that Wizarding gene. Much like a 'Squib' (one born in the pure Wizarding line, but impotent of magical abilities), being a 'witch' or 'wizard' is shown as an inherited trait and not simply an 'academic' pursuit (which is more about honing the 'skills' of those who have received the Wizarding gene).

And before Hermione is brought up as a counter-point, while it is true that neither of her parents exhibited any magical traits, she would've had to gain her abilities from a distant ancestor, as Hermione was classified as 'Muggle-born' by the very fact she had magical abilities. As Mr. Beaumont states that Gandalf's power was a part of his nature and not an outside influence, so is Rowling's world of abilities an innate process. It's only 'outside study' is after it's been determined that the person possesses that nature or trait. While these may be humans, they are certainly not to be taken as any abilities that can happen in reality. It is a literary device to aid the point of the story.[3]

By the use of the terms "pure-blood", "half-blood", "half-breed" (for vampires, veela, werewolves, etc.) and "mud-blood", genes are a reference to bloodline or genealogy. (This characteristic of the story is also likely a jab at the royal family of England for all its inter-marrying (inbreeding) to "keep the family pure.")[4]

So why is the distinction of genetics vs. occultist practice important? Maybe Rowling isn't using witches and wizards as occultist propagation for anyone to pick up and master. As Beaumont talks of 'background elements', this 'magical' world seems to be simply a backdrop within our world to illustrate and demonstrate the evils of racism through the creation of social, economic and racial classes.

With Voldomort and the Death Eaters serving as a backdrop to Hitler and the Nazi Storm Troopers (same name as Lucas gave to the Empire's soldiers), through the eradication of "mud-bloods" and "muggle sympathizers" (in the Second Wizarding War -- similar to our World War II), and the elevation of the "pure bloods" (master race); Rowling cannot fully separate the Wizard world from our own, lest she cloud the mirror she's holding up for us to see... that the Wizard world and our world are one and the same in all its foibles of racism and discrimination.

I imagine this might be the only reason why Rowling decided to state, ex post facto, that Dumbledore was gay. It may not have had anything to do with the plot line, but it had everything to do with Rowling's thoughts on discrimination in our present day. Dumbledore's homosexuality was sort of a 'P.S.' to a Seven-volume treatise on bigotry and genocide.

So yes, one minor detail can change the accuracy of the interpretation of a story. While interpretation can be fluid and leave more questions than answers, it is important to be accurate on the base, if one hopes to come to a consensus on the overall worldview.


Previous Entry: An (Epic) Tale of Two Epochs - Part III

[1] This is only true of those whom Rowling is demonstrating as being part of the Wizarding population in the wrong. In the case of the Weasley's and Sirius Black (who broke ranks from the rest of the House of Black), they do not make the distinction of superior and inferior beings based on lineage.

[2] "Muggle-borns inherit magic from a distant ancestor; they descended from Squibs who married Muggles and whose families eventually lost the knowledge of their wizarding legacy." -- http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Muggle-born

[3] "Gandalf the Wizard is not human; he is a Maia. The Maiar are angelic beings in the service of the Valar, who are themselves cocreators [sic] with Eru-Iluvatar, the creator-god of the universe. Thus Gandalf is not a wizard by the occult defintiion: he is not a human with magical powers. Magic for Gandalf is not unnatural or occultist. It is part of his nature. Magic for men and hobbits, however, is unnatural, and leads to their demise." -- p 68 The Message Behind the Movie by Douglas M. Beaumont

[4] To see the family tree of the House of Black, and how practically everyone was related to everyone through the generations of inbreeding (and why the Malfoy's and Voldemort were hoping to bring back the "purity" of their bloodline), the Harry Potter Wiki has diagrammed that lineage here. -- http://images3.wikia.nocookie.net/harrypotter/images/8/83/Black_Family_Tree.png

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