Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Hidden Wrongness of Harry Potter

These days, everybody wants to be a wizard. How could we not? The Harry Potter universe is so beautifully realised that it feels like you could walk right in, pull up a Butterbeer, and chat with the Order of the Phoenix like you've known each other for years. Not to mention that the place is freaking AWESOME in every respect, from magic wands to dancing chocolate frogs, unicorns, dragons, potions, and high school that never involves maths or science.

Of course, you have the downsides - Lord Voldemort, a variety of terrifically lethal monsters, sadistic teachers, irritating blonde enemies - but, let's face it, nobody ever looked less cool for smiting any of the above. If you don't mind the occasional near-death experience (and zombies, there are fucking zombies), then it would be unbelieveably, incredibly awesome to live in the Harry Potter Universe.

Except that it totally isn't. Some scary and seriously overlooked shit goes down in the Harry Potter universe. Stuff like...

1. Fat people are evil.

Let's play a game. First, let's have a glance at some of the heroes from Harry Potter:

The three main characters

Dumbledore's Army (the entire student resistance)

Get a good look? Now, here are some images of Harry Potter villains:

Harry's asshat Uncle Vernon...

...and Cousin Dudley

Draco's fat, stupid henchmen; Crabbe and Goyle

Sadistic, chubby torturer; Dolores Umbridge

Getting the idea? Of course, I can already hear the bitching start, "But most of the Harry Potter villains are thin! And so is Imelda Staunton and you're full of shit!" To that, I say, take a closer look at Harry Potter and you'll notice that there is not a single fat character who is a nice person*. And that Dolores Umbridge is supposed to be fat in the books, with a double chin, bitches. J.K. Rowling really seems to have it in for the fatties in her novels, but occasionally must have felt like she was pushing the envelope as she settles, now and then, on simply ridiculing the appearance of unpleasant characters. Let's take Slytherin student Pansy Parkinson - a mere footnote to the story, she is rarely mentioned without Rowling adding, with relish, that she has a face like a bulldog.

2. No sex ed. And probably, no sex.

As Harry and the gang grew up, there were more than a few clues as to their romantic awakenings. And, at first, these seemed to be right on cue. By the fifth book, Harry sneaks a pash with Cho Chang, and it's not long after that Ron spends half of an entire book sucking face with Lavender Brown. Even mousy, bookish Hermione enjoys a flirtation with Viktor Krum - at one point even hinting that she may go to visit his home over the summertime.

And then, right when everything seems to be steaming up... nothing. J.K. Rowling avoids the mention of sex almost studiously - no mean feat in novels featuring adolescent students of a co-ed boarding school. By the final novel, despite being alone, terrified and full of teenage hormones, seventeen year-old Ron and Hermione share perfectly chaste accommodation for months on end. The only hint of physical contact we are informed of is the scandalous detail that they actually fall asleep holding hands. But then, as explained by Rowling earlier in the series, women in the Harry Potter universe are curiously devoid of sexual desire - apparent in the fact that the girls' dormitories are equipped to keep the boys out, but the boys' dormitories require no such security measures.

Maybe it's a good thing that nobody at Hogwarts is getting down and dirty, though, considering that at no point are they ever seen to receive any sexual education. We readers would have really benefited from some as well, come to think of it. I have unanswered questions about wizarding contraception.

"I can't handle another unplanned pregnancy!"

3. It's all about the... *ahem*, wand.

In case you haven't noticed, it's a wizard's world out there. But I like to think that Rowling's hand was forced on this; in a climate where she was encouraged to use a gender-neutral pen name, she may have naturally (and probably correctly) realised that the series would have the most mainstream appeal if it featured a male protagonist.

"Guys, you ever get this feeling when chicks feature in books?"

Of course, Harry's best friend is also a guy. So is his mentor, Dumbledore, and his only remaining relative, Sirius. And his arch-enemy, Professor Snape. And his super-arch enemy, Lord Voldemort. There's Hermione, of course, but she's mainly there in a Lisa Simpson context; as a mobile encyclopaedia and force of temperance against the constant wand-stroking going on by the male main cast.

"Hey Voldemort! Wanna... duel?"

Aside from the scarcity of female leads, the Harry Potter universe doesn't present women particularly well. In the Goblet of Fire Tri-Wizard Tournament, we not only saw the standard ratio of three men to one woman, but a female competitor who came last in all three events, and needed to be rescued (by men) in two of them.

Life for witches in the Harry Potter universe presents some considerable drawbacks, as well. Most wizarding marriages seem to take place straight out of high school, and any suspicions we have about wizarding contraception would seem to be borne out by the fact that women like Lily Potter, Molly Weasley, and Fleur Delacour all became mothers before their twenty-first birthdays. But that's not much of an issue, so long as their children don't turn out as...

4. Squibs

For the uninitiated, a Squib in the Harry Potter universe is a child born to wizarding parents but without any magical powers of their own. Wizard attitudes to "special" children fall on the "only-just-above-Spartan" level, in that they don't merely fling the unfortunate prodigy from cliffs. However, Squibs are seen as a source of shame and embarrassment, often hidden, and usually sent into exile in the Muggle community because it's "kinder" that way. Rowling hints that a culture of Squibicide may have even existed in the wizarding world, what with widespread acceptance of the conspiracy theory that Dumbledore's sister was a Squib, deliberately done away with by the family.

Don't worry, kid, Muggle society is used to failure. You'll fit right in!

* I should also point out that Hagrid isn't "fat" so much as "retarded half-giant".


  1. JK Rowling describes Neville as "round-faced" with a short, chubby build. Pansy Parkinson described him specifically as "fat". Neville is arguably one of the most courageous characters in the books. The movies honoured this by making him wear a fat suit throughout the movies (once the actor had lost his own puppy-fat)... Right up until the last two films - for obvious reasons. I doubt any of the Gryffindor students would have managed to retain any extra body fat considering the conditions they were subjected to.

  2. This seems to actually support my point. Neville is allowed to slim down before turning into a hero - cause we couldn't have any overweight heroes, could we?

  3. In response to the lack of female leads, can we just for a minute talk about Ginny - sporty, feisty, quidditch player (in what seems to be an all-male sport)? That sounds like a pretty powerhouse female lead to me... Maybe Luna, who stands up against the Carrows alongside Neville and Ginny? Tonks, an auror, which seems to me to be a job worthy of those who are especially skilled in magic? Even Molly Weasley has kick-arse moments in the novels.
    Bellatrix also features as a powerhouse woman. Maybe you're making a hypothesis then finding facts to support it when rather it should be the other way around?
    Also, you can't really classify Dudley as a villain considering his redemption in the seventh book. And he's still fat then. Right there = hole in logic. Redemption and he's still fat.
    I also think the use of profanity in your... well, I wouldn't term it an essay, considering the horrendous structure, but whatever you want to call it actually makes this whole article seem immature and irrelevant.
    Though you do make good points, I don't think your criticisms are balanced and therefore sound to be immature and irrelevant.

  4. I would class Ginny, Luna, Molly, Tonks et al very much as supporting characters rather than leads. Bellatrix is a sidekick. Dudley never "redeemed" himself, there's even a discussion around how he didn't actually say thankyou, or sorry, or anything other than that he doesn't consider Harry a waste of space. And Rowling was at pains to point out that Dudley was getting into bodybuilding and had exchanged much fat for muscle.

  5. "Much fat" is not "all fat", if you want to get nit-picky about it all. I would also like to point out that I consider Ginny as a leading character, despite the fact the book features her less than say, Hermione. I think if you examined the book from different perspectives rather than just the way the story is told, I think you would find that you could indeed classify Ginny and Luna as leads as they both have vital roles to play at Hogwarts when Harry's having his little pity party in the woods.
    I think you will also find that Dudley's redemption is in character. Just because he doesn't say sorry or thank you doesn't mean he didn't feel any remorse - he just couldn't verbalise it due to the hyper-masculinity that is prevalent in the culture of teenage boys which says that self-expression makes one 'gay' or somehow less. Of course this could lead into a discussion of the male psyche and how they find it hard to verbalise exactly what they feel, but I fear it may be detracting from the point.
    However, if you re-wrote this article with some better syntax, grammar and less profanity, it would make the whole thing seem more credible.

  6. I feel like we could spend days on this. On the whole, though, I think you're taking the article a little too seriously. I'm a massive Potter fan, but wanted to have a bit of fun with a few issues I did perceive as somewhat perplexing. The territory we've wandered into with Dudley and the girls involves a lot of grey areas which we have perhaps interpreted differently. You say potato and I say... potato...

    Ok, that one only works when you say it aloud :)

  7. I think that many of the female characters are actually strong. I mean...
    Fleur (she does help fight death eaters)
    Molly Weasley
    Angelina Johnson
    Katie Bell
    Alicia Spinnet
    And All of the Holyhead Harpies (An all-girl quidditch team)

    Are ALL strong female characters! And I wouldn't say ron is a strong male lead. If any of the trio are being a jerk, it's him, and he's also a bit of comic relief.

    And the only reason JK Rowling didn't make harry a girl is because he came into her mind fully formed and it would seem odd to change him to a girl in her mind

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  10. @ Anonymous 5:30pm

    Ok, I'll give you the first five on your list, they are definitely strong, female characters. But then we get into some grey areas.

    - Cho is basically a plot device to show how confusing Harry and Ron find "female", "emotional" behaviour. She makes very limited appearances after splitting with Harry after crying all over the tea-shop.

    - Molly Weasley is a Mum-figure, and horribly stereotyped as such. Her mother-hen persona is amplified when she duels with Bellatrix to protect her child.

    - Bellatrix may be a strong villain, but once again she is a Smurfette in what is a mostly male coterie of Death Eaters.

    - Angelina, Katie, and Alicia are very minor characters. The Holyhead Harpies are referred to repeatedly but we never actually meet any of them or, more importantly, see them play a match.

    My intent in this article was not to state that there are no strong female characters in Harry Potter, but that the preponderance of important characters are male, and that many female characters are still relegated to cliched roles. I appreciate your response but quoting characters as minor as Alicia Spinnet you seem to prove my point.

  11. I find Bellatrix to be a strong female in this, she is
    Voldemort's right hand man (woman) so i would count her. Tonks i would alao count coz she is alwaya fighting for and protecting harry and what she believes in. Hermione is also a strong female, without her harry wouldnt have been able to do half of what he did. Ginny and luna are always fighting and being rebelious for what they believe in too.
    J.K stated that she loves her men and women were potrayed equally in the novels as it doesnt matter how strong you are ect. But yes i do agree with you, that most parts are male But i think females play a very important part too(: slughorn's fat, i love him:D
    I really enjoyed reading this and your opinions are great(: thanks for writing this, i did enjoy it. Sorry if i sounded nasty about my opinions, i hate when people only correct u and not congratulate u, so well done(: lol.

  12. I may be late, But, Slughorm is fat. And he is NOT a villian!!