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Letters from Proxima Thule

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Dumbledore's Theory of Early Childhood Education
I was knitting and listening to Harry Potter on audiobook (I should be sleeping! Instead, not.) like a good geek girl tonight, because after seeing the final film I was filled with nostalgia for the first four books, the ones I actually liked. Stephen Fry reads them, and I gotta go with Vonnegut on this one because I was sitting in a plush chair with a glass of wine knitting azure lace and listening to a beautiful British man tell me a beautiful story and if that's not nice I don't know what is.

But it occurred to me, whilst listening to Harry's hilariously over the top horrible treatment by the Dursleys, that this whole plan of Dumbledore's really could have gone very wrong. Because while, yes, it is true that being raised by normal people (albeit awful and they did know the Dursleys were awful, it just fit into a vague handwavey wibbly wobbly timey wimey protection spell sort of thing) instead of in a nonstop fame factory MIGHT create a gentle, humble, sweet-natured boy, it could also, quite easily, create a sociopath.

I mean, seriously. The cupboard under the stairs? This is the kind of shit that makes serial killers. It's the banality of evil, and though Voldemort's childhood was impressively Dickensian/Bret Easton Ellisian, Harry's is pretty much textbook on how to break a little kid. And though many kids come out of abusive homes relatively even-keeled and stable if defensively cynical (I did) just as many come out permanently broken, unable to make meaningful connections or even understand the concept of love, and certainly unable to perform the All Important Magical Feat of Believing in Yourself, which is Required for all Protagonists. In fact, that is kind of a problem with a lot of abused children--the inability to see themselves as protagonists in their own lives and stories, since they were treated in formative personal epochs as NPCs at best, villains at worst, and usually some kind of horrible side character who needs to be put down for the good of the Real People, ie, the abusers and those they deem part of their tribe of worthies.

I certainly see that growing up famous, rich, and adored/believed to be super powerful and important by all is a great way to raise a Gossip Girl-style horrorshow of a person, and often kids who have been raised just couched in comfort and unconditional love with no chance to fail or struggle on their own can be listless and spoiled and generally the worst. Sorrow and trauma is what makes us complex and compassionate, the experience of it personally allows us to predict, empathize, wish to avoid, and desire to protect others from it, and thus most social interaction is made. But that doesn't mean that in order to make the Most Compassionate Child, the Superhero of Being Really Nice, you should just beat down and crush a kid underfoot.

Which is more or less what Dumbledore does, and everyone is horrified that he's doing it, but he is Gandalf the White and None Shall Argue. I get that he is Wise and Male and Has a Job in School Administration, but really? (Don't even get me started on the absurd importance of a single public school in that world--and I honestly think it is a public school and not private, within the wizarding world any child with magical ability can go, there doesn't seem to be tuition beyond basic supplies, and the government is SUPER INVOLVED in the running of the place. Anyway.) Seriously, that is a DICE ROLL, YO. It could have gone the other way. Harry could have made Draco look like a kitten with a daisy in his paw.

File off the names and serial numbers and this could, easily and with great tragic muscle behind it, be Voldemort's origin story.

Now, now, I know that Harry and Voldemort are meant to have a lot in common, there are intended parallels, but the fact that the Dursley Shuffle is done deliberately, pretty much to make Harry not turn out to be a shithead makes it sort of darkly hilarious to me. Yes, you can turn out Ok. I like to think I have. But Not Ok is on the table at all times with this sort of thing. It is always in play.

Because if you lock ten children under the stairs for the first eleven years of their lives, I'll bet you a Time Turner that you'll get four supervillains, three deeply wounded individuals so desperate for love they will do anything they're told to by the first person who hugs them, two completely shattered psyches incapable of meaningful speech, and one Harry Potter, a basically normal, gently dented boy who is good at sports, naturally likeable, and willing to sacrifice himself for the group of your choice.

Them's some long odds, D-man. Glad that worked out for you.

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What bothered me the most was Tom Riddle had a pretty much better upbringing in a somewhat decent orphanage. There were trips to the sea side and Mrs. Cole seemed like a decent woman as much as possible, and Tom Riddle was given a nice life. Yes, it was grim, but this is during the depression and the start of a War, I guarentee all of London was grim.

Harry's upbringing was played for lolz but as a little 13 year old girl myself reading it in London before it came to the states, I was horrified at Harry being kept under the stairs, being viciously chased and bullied, treated like a slave, mentally abused and Dumbledore did nothing to stop it.

And then you give a kid a wand and make him super powerful? I'm shocked his first summer, he didn't accidently poison them. "How would I know they would drink my deadly nightshade homework?"

Yes, I know, many kids feel like they are mistreated and identify with Harry, but that was graphic child abuse.

Yeah, the moral compasses of eleven year olds do not always/ever point due north. That he never acts out in that way (wants to but doesn't) is maturity way out of proportion to his actual age.

Heck, my effed up family was a lot less effed up than the Dursleys and 11 year old me would have likely gotten myself expelled over the things I'd have done had I had magic.

Also, isn't it just as damaging to beat a kid's self esteem down to bits and then make him a billionare celebrity? That kid would cling to power as a refuge of not going back.

Dumbledore could have sent the kid out of the country under a new name, to a loving home.

There was a whole protection spell thing about being with blood relatives thrown in in like book 5.

Then you get a magical social worker to check in. Or heck, pay the Dursleys to treat Harry decently.

There's also a thread of born bad and born good that isn't so savory in these books, and much childhood literature. Because kids haven't had a chance to develop morally, they instinctively think some people are bad and some are good, just out of the box. Many adults do not progress beyond this.

Tom Riddle was born bad. Harry was born good.

Tom's selfish mean mother died instead of living for him.

Harry's mummy loved him enough to die for him.

Lily was treasured and adored by her family, her husband and Snape.

Merope was abused by her family and Tom Str.

Kid was doomed.

Yes. Farah pointed that out in an excellent piece that I can't quite identify right at this moment, that that's not unlike Roald Dahl, and it runs in direct contradiction to Dumbledore's insistence that it's our choices that make us good or bad.

I got the impression that Harry's upbringing was played for lolz too--over-the-top bad, like (as someone said upthread) something in a Roald Dahl book. But then I felt a bit jarred, because on the one hand there were lulzy bad things, like the Dursleys, or Malfoy and his dad, but then there were seriously awful things, like what happened to Neville's parents, or the treatment of house elves, or the notion of mudbloods, and since I certainly can't just laugh off being tortured insane, I end up retroactively more horrified by Harry's childhood than I had been initially.

Yes. I think the problem is with an inconsistent tone as much as it is with anything else.

Agree on the lolz vs the seriously awful things. But, when did the seriously awful things turn up in the books? How many volumes (and our-world years) between them? The series as a whole started light and got progressively darker.

I don't see needing to re-evaluate either kind of things. Each is what it is. There's a contrast, a patterned contrast, in tone. I didn't make it through the whole series (for that reason), so I don't know whether there was some final larger design into which both fitted neatly. Or whether, like Bilbo's comedy vs the bulk of LOTR, there's an odd dissonance we never get explained (but I just savor).

I saw on your LJ that you savor that dissonance! That's remarkable to me--I have a **very** hard time with those dissonances. I think I'd like to be able to savor it; I think it would open up my reading experience. As it is, I feel a little like someone who can't understand polyphonous music or something :-P

I've gotten to the point where I can enjoy it when manga go from the pretty-and-serious art styles to the humorous-chibi art style, but for the longest time I felt jarred by that, too.

Ok. Remember in PERELANDRA where after all the 'Adama nd Eve' stuff, the First Parents of the virgin world whose choice will determine its fallen or unfallen state -- Ransome gets to the mainland and looks down on a procession of some obviously ancient civilization that has been there all along? (I'm getting goosebumps just thinking of that bit.) Remember the murals he encounters where as you step back you see that what looked lke white space is part of a larger design that puts the smaller design into a different perspective?

That's how I see these inconsistencies, these odd bits that don't fit the larger design that we've seen so far. (Bilbo, Bombadil, Father Christmas, Bilbo's freight train, whatever.) Like the Perelandra procession, they show us that we're not just not in Kansas, we're not in the Middle Earth or the Perelandra that we thought we were in either. There's more out there, there's a larger world, than we have seen or than we ever can catch up with; it will always keep expanding. There will always be new things just around the corner. New tones too. "That out of three sounds he frame,
not a fourth sound, but a star."


You're amazing, you know that? I love this way of looking at it.

Thank you!


And come to think of it, if the inconsistency was a mistake by the author -- that's even more Not in Kansas. The author's muse (or whatever) has got more that even the author hasn't got straight yet!

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