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Text, transformations, characterisation, the personal, and the political: 1. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Text, transformations, characterisation, the personal, and the political: 1.
It’s been – as I may have observed once or twice – an interesting few days in fandom (as, indeed, when is it not?); and fandom can be a baffling place. It appears also to be my fate forever to be finding things about which to bang on, in a fashion that is displeasingly referred to by that really quite dysphonious term, ‘meta’.

My remarks today are, I should think, of general application; but I shall earth them, as one does, in the fandom I know best (ah, HP, for all thy faults, I love thee still).

For today’s purposes, let us consider these elements in canon. The books effectively begin with the celebrations of Voldemort’s defeat (a consequence of which is, of course, Harry’s being orphaned and placed with the ghastly Dursleys); indeed, with the open celebration of what was presumed to have been Voldemort’s death. Of course, the snake is only scotched, not killed; and a second war ensues, in which victory is total as the war is, this time, total war, with no hands stayed. Afterward, Our Intrepid Hero carries on at the sharp end, eventually rising to command the Aurors: the youngest chief in the history of that Service.

We also most of us know that Oor Jo is a celebrated supporter of Labour: and a Brownite at that.

There are, I find, fen who believe that – with the centenary of the 1914 War and the 75th anniversary of the Hitler War upon us – we must not, my dear Noel, Be Beastly to the Germans by celebrating the victory; that we ought rather simply all to join together in all nations and mourn the dead on both sides. That is an argument for another time and place (and is already going on, as above); but what in the world do those holding those views do when confronted with Diggle and Crockford and fireworks and all sorts, on the first V-V Day?

It is a common belief that The Author Is Dead: wherefore JKR’s own politics are, it is argued by the believer, of no relevance to the text. Certainly any lecturer worth her salt might easily, without even wanting to think it through, make the argument – however mischievously – that the Rowling Canon is in fact best read as an analogy of the first and second wars against … Germany? No, no: Iraq. Didn’t finish the job the first time; fell to the son of a man who failed to finish the job to go back and finish it, avenging his father; sanctions and denial in the interim served only to allow the enemy to rebuild his forces for a new and severer attack…. Of course that is not my reading of the texts, which I have long argued to be quite deliberately evocative of the period from 1918 to 1945 (although I also note that those were the years in which, whilst the Tories were riddled with appeasement, Labour was utterly pacifist and was demanding that Britain disarm unilaterally, so La Rowling gets nil points for Labour on that one). I merely note that it might quite plausibly be advanced.

And of course, transformative works – and my strictures regarding the same – are, ultimately, engaged with plausibility.

Amongst the things of which I am not infrequently accused, in fandom (and there are not a few things of which I am accused, almost all of them false, all of the false ones being defamatory, and these being false accusations which, were they published, should be actionable as libels), is – gasp – Being Prescriptive. (It is of course taken as read by this lot that prescriptivism is not only itself inherently and inarguably evil, but proceeds from and signifies deep moral evil and depravity in the prescriptivist, whose sole aim is to use prescription as a Tool of Oppression.) Oddly enough, or not so oddly, those most passionate in denouncing me as Prescriptionist are themselves utterly prescriptivist. My alleged Evil Prescriptionism amounts to my saying – in, I admit, increasingly aggrieved and impatient tones (though it is always odd to see fen with certain predilections, in genre and in life, become suddenly prim, and tut at my really quite mild sweariness) – that authors who are expecting readers to read their work are morally obliged to do it as well as they can do, and that authors of transformative works are obliged to do at least enough research to make things plausible, and not wantonly to cut, or leave off, the cables that suspend disbelief. The prescriptivism of my contemnors tends to amount to their saying that anyone with a variant concept of post-canon to theirs is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong – however plausible that concept be.

After much consideration, I am forced to conclude that the root of this evil is political.

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18 comments or Leave a comment
incandescent From: incandescent Date: August 20th, 2013 09:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
After skimming your further meditations, I don't immediately see a return to the subject of JKR and the origin of HP, so I thought I'd comment here, rather than the very end.

I agree, though I'd not really thought about it before, that the entire HP story is reminiscent and quite possibly derivative of the WWI and WWII arc of time. What I'm curious about, though, is whether you think that JKR intentionally created HP with that echo in mind, or if, like I'm inclined to believe, her retelling of this quite familiar lesson was unconscious.

Once, I wrote a fic that was criticized for being derivative of Interview with a Vampire, which I'd recently read. The comment that pointed this out surprised me greatly, because such a thing hadn't occurred to me in the slightest, but when I looked back on the story I'd written, there was the resemblance, plain as day. Somehow, the novel I'd read had soaked into my subconscious and transformed my own writing without my knowledge.

I feel that something similar may have happened to JKR, but on a greater scale. After all, the World Wars weren't just a novel she read - they're a reality that she lived in, and was likely forced to revisit year after year through school lessons and living near significant locales. My question is: Do you think the parallels between HP and history were conscious and intentional, or utterly a subconscious product of modern society?
From: el_staplador Date: August 21st, 2013 06:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Not sure she's *that* old...

I'm a generation younger than JKR, but not more than that, and, while the World Wars are up there with The Tudors and The Victorians on the 'most likely to be on your History syllabus' list, I'm not sure that much would have sunk in to the uninterested consciousness beyond 'trenches, hyper-inflation, Hitler bad, Chamberlain useless, Churchill effective, Battle of Britain, blitz, Holocaust, atom bomb, the end'.

It is part of our history, of course it is, and, as with any huge event, it defines who we are and the way we think, but (to take the only experience that, to the best of my knowledge, JKR and I share) walking down the sixties concrete desert that was Exeter High Street (and, particularly, Princesshay, before they redeveloped it) one may be always thinking, 'ugh, what a mess', but one doesn't always follow through and meditate upon the Blitz. There is more to Exeter than just being the place where JKR and I did our respective degrees, yes, but there's more to it than the War, too.

With regard to your specific question - I think it has to be deliberate. I suppose it's just about possible that she started writing, noticed the WW2 parallels, and dialled them up to eleven, but something of that at least has to be conscious. Apart from anything else, there's no way the Black sisters can be an accident.
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: August 21st, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not sure she's *that* old...

I'm roughly the same age as Rowling (I think she's a couple of years older), and my experience was a bit different. Growing up WWII wasn't a subject of history, it was very much a lived topic. Despite being born nearly 22 years after the end of the war, it was the subject of inescapable stories: my grandfather's tales of flying, my grandmother's of opening parts of the house and farm up to the RAF, my father's of having boys from school begging to come home with him over the holidays because his parents had the best food. Every time we would complain about the horrors of a 70s childhood (seriously: disco was just cruel), a chorus of 'HA! WE had the Blitz!' would come in reply.

It was a very lived experience for our generation, mostly because the generations before us finally had the distance they needed to talk about it and gain some perspective on it.

Over the last 20 years, many of the people most affected have died, so this is not something your generation experienced to anything like the degree mine did. In the US, there has been a different experience thanks to the Vietnam War, and I feel certain the two Iraq and Afghanistan wars will impact in ways as yet unknown over the coming decades, though there the experience will mostly be that of military personal, support staff and families, not the national one of 1939-45.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 21st, 2013 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Ah. Fifty-one this year, I do be.

And that be how as Oi sees it, tu.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: August 21st, 2013 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not sure she's *that* old...

And then there is the Cold War, which to be true was possibly at least a little bit colder after I was born (1971) than before it, but I'm not sure those in their early twenties can really understand the relief many of us felt when the Berlin Wall came down, the USSR stood back and let the Warsaw Pact nations disassemble their dictatorships instead of re-enacting Hungary and Czechoslovakia; and it became apparent that for the first time in our lives we had the closest thing possible to a guarantee that the two sides weren't going to suddenly blast the crap out of each other and make a more-or-less successful prophet of Nevil Shute.

There is no existential threat any more, and that leads the foolish to believe there cannot ever be one again. Which is bullshit.
From: el_staplador Date: August 21st, 2013 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not sure she's *that* old...

Now, that is interesting - because, while I'm 28, my family spans a century in only three generations, and my father was born in 1942. And it just isn't a thing with us. I can point to various ways the family was affected by the war, don't get me wrong, but they are intensely personal. Whether that's the fact that my mother's side has disappeared, and my father's lot were still residually Quaker (my grandparents met through the League of Nations, and my father's one definite wartime memory is his father telling him, 'The flags are flying because it's Peace'), or everyone got it out of their system in the 1970s, or that the 1950s were worse for my family than the 1940s (polio epidemic: nuff said) or simply that I hardly knew any of my actual grandparents, I don't know.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 21st, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Not to come over all Dumbledore here -

- with his cod-Zen koans - but I do really think it both. Staps puts it solidly in her kind reply made whilst I was away.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: August 20th, 2013 09:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
But of course the First and Second Voldemort Wars are the parallels of the World Wars - why else have the Marauders, four old boarding-school chums who go off to fight together - get whittled down the way they do? Anyone who wants to draw parallels with the Iraq wars needs a very long session with the Probity Probe.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 21st, 2013 02:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Indeed, yes.

Somme enchanted evening, really.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: August 21st, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Indeed, yes.

AAAARGH! I'm not sure what's worse, terrible puns or German counterbattery fire...
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 21st, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

According to Pte Atkins T:

If the pun's your mate's, counterbattery fire is worse. If it's some damn' subaltern's and you're required to laugh, well, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: August 21st, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: According to Pte Atkins T:

If your subaltern has at least something resembling a gift of the gab, (Messrs Graves, Owen, Sassoon, Tolkien and so forth), the requirement may not be so unpleasant.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 21st, 2013 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

It ain't the larfin' I minds, sir.

It's 'aving to do it.
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: August 21st, 2013 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Absolutely agree with you about the Marauders.

As to the Iraq Wars analogy, since she wrote the first half of the series when Iraq I was just a stupid war practically no-one spoke about, it would be quite the thing for her to have managed! Jo is good, but she's hardly psychic. I do think the attacks on the Twin Towers and the media and political response inform the later books, though.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 21st, 2013 02:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

You underestimate...

... the ability of theorists to Make Things Up When Lecturing, though.

(There's a really funny bit of business in one of Crispin's Gervase Fen novels in which Fen mentions an undergraduate Eng. Lit. essay that professes to link two incredibly disparate things, and says of the student, 'That's Larkin, the most indefatigable searcher-out of pointless coincidences I've ever known'....)
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: August 21st, 2013 05:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You underestimate...

You underestimate the ability of theorists to Make Things Up When Lecturing, though.

Like the stupid twits I've heard tell about who tried to say that The Hunting of the Snark is an allegorical reference to, of all things, the atom bomb.

One can at least understand the desire to draw allegories between The Lord of the Rings and the Second World War; despite Tolkien's denials, such attempts are at least not without reason. Drawing them between Snark and Bomb, however, would seem to be a castle built on shifting (and highly anachronistic) sands.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: August 21st, 2013 05:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

I shd love to believe this is a piss-take.

Sadly, I make sure it isn't. A mad world, my masters.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: August 21st, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I shd love to believe this is a piss-take.

Shall dig up my annotated Penguin copy of Snark and try to find out who said that.
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