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Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

First things first: I loved Prisoner of Azkaban. I could not put it down. I am onto book 4. That is a big deal for me. Since I started Reel Girl, I have read the first book of many series, because I want to get a good idea of what is out there. It is rare that I keep going and going, but with Harry Potter, I cannot stop.

Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far, and I loved the first two. For me, reading Harry Potter is like being in an incredible relationship where you fall more in love everyday.

Part of the reason I was so into this book was the dementors, terrifying and compelling new characters. J. K. Rowling’s description of them is one of the scariest I have read in kidlit:

Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood.  Harry’s eyes darted downward and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water.

But it was only visible for a split second. As though the creature beneath the cloak sensed Harry’s gaze, the hand was suddenly withdrawn into the folds of its black cloak.

And then the thing beneath the hood, whatever it was, drew a long, slow, rattling breath, as though it were trying to suck something more than air from its surroundings.

An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. Th ecold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest. It was inside his very heart…

The scabby hand looking like it had decayed in water! EEK.

So are we clear, I love Harry Potter?

Not only do I love it, J.K. Rowling is the writer. She can call herself the androgynous “J.K.” if she wants to, for God’s sake. And, if she wants to create an imaginary world that is a patriarchy, it is her right to do so.

But this is what I want to write about it: Harry Potter’s world, both the Muggle one and Hogwarts, are patriarchies. Before I read Harry Potter, I was often told that the series is populated with strong females, and it is. But the females are sidelined to the males, and it’s important to recognize that there is not gender equality in this popular series the way there is in the The Hunger Games. The reason this inequality is important to acknowledge is because the imaginary world, 99% of the time, is sexist. If we cannot imagine equality, we cannot create it.

Okay, have I qualified my criticism enough?

Here we go. I am going to point out how the sexism of Hogwarts and the Muggle world that I have already referred to in previous posts is further advanced in Prisoner of Azkaban.

First, the book cover:

The cover shows Harry riding Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, with Hermione clinging to his back. How many times have you seen this image of male in front, girl behind? It’s all over kidlit, in movies and in books, and my God, its all over the grown up world. It’s everywhere on the streets when you see a guy on his bike, the woman behind him. Do you ever see a female alone on her dragon? What about a dragon that is also a female, like in for example the reverse of “How to Train Your Dragon,” which features a male rider and male beast. Do you ever see a female rider with the male behind her, clinging to her back? This gendered, repetitive image sends the message that the male drives while the female is along for the ride. It’s a powerful message and it’s everywhere in the imaginary world. I was disappointed to see it in Harry Potter.

Then there is Lupin. I loved Lupin, but he is the third male Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the most important class at Hogwarts.

Sirius Black is a great character, but also male. I loved discovering the history of friendship between Harry Potter’s dad, Lupin, Sirius, Peter Pettigrew, but they are all male. Lily, Harry’s mother, apparently hung out with the group, but she wasn’t an animagus. She was the only female.

Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Dursley are both homemakers while Mr. Weasley and Mr. Dursley have careers that factor into the plot.

Percy Weasley is the Head Boy. For a while, I couldn’t even figure out if there is a Head Girl. I have, now, seen the Head Girl referred to, but I don’t know her name or what she does. She has no role in the book so far.

The Minister of Magic is male and the headmaster of Hogwarts is male. Hogwarts was started by two males and two females 1000 years ago and that is progressive, but the two houses started by the males, Gryffindor and Slytherin, dominate the series.

Chang Cho, the Ravenclaw seeker, is the only girl on the team. Would there be a Quidditch team with only one male? Is there a female captain? So far the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor is between two male captains.

To me, it seems like Quidditch is a boy’s game in which girls are allowed to play. I feel the same way about the series.

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Yesterday, I posted about the fat-shaming of Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter series, specifically quoting from the opening of Chapter 2, Prisoner of Azkaban which I’d just read. I have since finished the chapter. So this what happens: Unable to contain his anger when the evil, annoying, and fat Marge constantly puts his parents down, Harry uses magic illegally to inflate her, making her even fatter. To readers, this punishment comes off as humorous and deserved.

I have not seen “The Prisoner of Azkaban” yet, but looking at the image from the movie pasted below, and after reading J.K. Rowling’s prose, I am wondering if there is a child who could watch (or read about) the fate of wicked Aunt Marge and not burst into laughter. Can you even look at these images and not smile? And again, if this fat-evil-stupid-comic imagery happened once in a while, it would be no big deal, but its ubiquity in kids’ media trains kids that it’s normal to laugh at fat people.

Reading  into night, I was also fascinated that Harry’s act– so far– remains unpunished. Underage wizards are not permitted to practice magic in the Muggle world, and Harry assumes he will be expelled for his act.  Yet, when Cornelius Fudge , the Minister of Magic, meets Harry on Daigon Alley, he assures Harry that he took care of the infraction, deflating Aunt Marge and erasing her memory. Harry wonders why this reaction is so different from the time when he was wrongly blamed for the magic done by Dobby, the house elf, in Book 2. At that time, Harry received a letter of warning from the Ministry threatening expulsion.

Obviously, there is some reason in the plot why Harry is forgiven, given a cozy room in the Leaky Cauldron instead of a letter of expulsion. But the subdued reaction thus far underscores the deserved punishment for Aunt Marge.

I have been trying to think if there are any fat protagonists in kidlit. Please tell me if you know of any: not sidekicks, main characters. So far I’ve thought of one: Wilbur. I just blogged about how Charlotte’s Web may be the best book ever. without even thinking about that. Could E. B. White get any more original?

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I am reading Prisoner of Azkaban, the third Harry Potter installment. Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter Two:

Harry went down to breakfast next morning to find the three Dursleys already sitting around the kitchen table. They were watching a brand new television, a welcome-home-for-the-summer present for Dudley, who had been complaining loudly about the long walk between the fridge and the television in the living room. Dudley had spent most of the summer in the kitchen, his piggy little eyes fixed on the screen and his five chins wobbling as he ate continually.

Do fat people always sit around and watch TV? Are fat people obsessed with their refrigerators? Do they eat all day long? Are fat kids spoiled and self-indulgent? Are there thin people who are lazy and addicted to television?

Before you argue that my irritation with the portrayal of Dudley means that I want to censor artists with my PC views– the fat, evil character is a cliche. It’s not original, and its ubiquity in kidlit doesn’t show imagination or innovation. You know what would be creative? Fat heroes in kidlit, showing fat characters who are good, magical, and smart. Fat characters who are leaders, not followers. Fat protagonists, not the sidekicks or comic relief.

When you teach your kid that people come in different shapes and sizes, as well as colors and genders, and one is no better than the other, it sucks to read in books and see movies where fat characters are continually derided and made fun of by the hero of the book. In most of kidlit, as well as movies, when others are teased or mocked, there is usually a lesson to be learned: bullying is bad. But fat characters are exceptions to that rule: making fun of them and teasing them is often portrayed as justified and deserved.

I just watched the movie Chamber of Secrets, the second Harry Potter, where Crabbe and Goyle, Malfoy’s dumb sidekicks are lured into a trap by cupcakes: their appetites are their stupidity.

As I just posted, I’ve only read books one and two so far. Commenters told me that Dudley redeems himself in later books, and also that Mrs. Weasley is a positive fat character.  But does Dudley’s later redemption justify the mockery? Does Mrs. Weasley just happen to be fat, or is her fat part of her character and the dilemmas she finds herself in? Dudley’s fat is Dudley.

Update: I finished the chapter: More fat-shaming in Harry Potter: the inflating of Aunt Marge

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I’ve only finished The Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, and I’m going to give you my bottom line first: I love the Harry Potter books.

The series is brilliant and engaging, suspenseful and so well plotted. Most of all, I love the characters. J.K. Rowling creates a magical world with heroes who readers can relate to and admire and also scary, evil villains who we passionately root against. Rowling does a great job of hooking the reader into these relationships. We see real friendships and rivalries form through a series of events that we were there for, that we witnessed and were a part of; that, for me, that is the most engaging aspect of the book.

So here’s my history with Harry Potter:

I saw a couple of the movies but had a hard time following them because I hadn’t read the books. Therefore, though they were beautiful to watch, I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about.

When my daughter was in first grade, I started reading the books to her. But when reading time was over, she was rushing down into her bed, hiding under her covers with a flashlight, reading late into the night. The next day at reading time, our reading time, she would be 100 pages ahead. Left in the dust, I was lost. No matter how she tried to fill me in, I grew frustrated with the fragments that made no sense to me, and I gave up. Liberated, my daughter finished the series on her own (then went back and read the whole thing again and again.)

My third challenge with Harry, I’ve written about before on Reel Girl: I wish J. K. Rowling had made a female character front and center. Hermione is a great character, but she is there to support and help Harry on his quest. There are many other strong female characters but, still, I don’t feel the total gender equality in this imaginary world the way I do in The Hunger Games. Hogwarts is run by men (don’t get me wrong, I adore Dumbledore). So far, Harry’s main rivals: Voldemort, Snape, and Malfoy are also male. Not only that, but why is J.K. Rowling “J.K.”?

One more complaint so far, fat people don’t come off so well. Poor Dudley is portrayed as selfish, spoiled, and greedy, personified by his body and eating pattern which is constantly mocked. I don’t like Dudley, of course, but I feel sorry for him getting such a bad rap because he is fat. The reason I bring this up is because making fun of fat characters happens so often in kids’s books. But so far (I have to keep writing “so far” because there are 7 long books) it doesn’t seem that in the series fat equals evil with any consistency. I LOVE how J. K. Rowling mocks the vain and idiotic Gilderoy Lockhart. She wins lots of points with me here: I am happy to see a man be so in love with his reflection. As we know, mirrors and females have a long, long history in kidlit.

So while I have some issues, finally reading Harry Potter on my own– no kids, no movies– I cannot put it down! It is as good as I was told it would be. A boarding school for wizards and witches may be the best setting for a series of all time.

Reel Girl ratings are based on girlpower and I’ve only read the first two books: Reel Girl rates Harry Potter  1 & 2***H***

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Girlw/Pen‘s Natalie Wilson asks: why are strong female protagonists missing from so many YA books? She wishes Harry’s series belonged to Hermione, or at least there were more series centered around Hermione-like characters. Wilson posts a link to my gallery of girls-gone-missing posters for kids’ movies and writes the ‘Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows’ film could’ve been included in the list. She’s right. Here’s my comment on her blog:

Thanks for this piece and posting the link to my depressing gallery. Kudos for dealing with Harry Potter. I didn’t include the poster even though, as you write, it would completely fit because it breaks my heart.

The Harry Potter series got my seven year old daughter to read 700 page books. And its by a single mom! But why not a girl wizard as the main character? And why does the writer call herself the gender ambiguous J.K.? Maybe she figured, given the total sexism in kidworld, a male hero is the best way to sell books. Maybe she figured she might not get published at all if she wrote ‘Hermonie Granger and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’ If so, given the climate in Hollywood and publishing, maybe she made the right choice for herself as a writer, deciding the world was only ready for the girl to be a sidekick– but she’d give her a really good part, make her really smart, and not the love interest of the main character.

S.E. Hinton wrote ‘The Outsiders’ about a boy gang to much acclaim. Maybe in 2011, women writers still exist in the world of George Eliot more than anyone admits.

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