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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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I wasn't the only one who found Umbridge infinitely more chilling than Voldemort, who to me, seemed to be sorta useless. Harry beat him three times before his Bar Mitzvah, how scary could this guy be?

Right? The biggest, baddest wizard in the world keeps getting foiled by a bunch of darn kids who don't even know what's going on! Voldemort is the stupidest villain in history.

He really is the worst. And not even very interesting, even with backstory. Sauron looks like a bastion of subtle characterization and competence in comparison.

Book One-Voldemort hides in the back of a teacher's head. Come on, that';s just pathetically funny.

Book Two-Tom Riddle could have snaked Harry at any point. He could have had the Basilisk surprise Harry and kill him, and then gone out.

Book Four-He could have obtained Harry's blood through Fake!Moody taking some for a potion. Or heck, used a Portkey on Harry's tooth brush.

The guy is a Scooby Doo villian. "And I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for you meddling kids...."

Even Skeletor thinks Voldemort's a punk.


Voldemort commits crimes, but never gets off a major victory. And it's actually not even the Chosen One who defeats him, it's Hermione, this random girl!

Umbridge was a great villain, I wish she'd stuck around in a more meaningful way, or been more of her own woman and less of a pawn.

Well, the great thing about Umbridge is that she was a perfect exemplar about the Banality of Evil. She isn't running around marking the spot with skulls; she's a petty bureaucrat who wants power and who believes that Following the Rules and Keeping Order and Obeying Authority are important.

Yes, the whole not thinking oneself a villain thing. These are the best baddies, because they make one uncomfortable, you can see how your own worst instincts could lead you there.

Honestly I think descending into the Nazi parallel was sort of a cop out, and lazy writing. It is an obvious evil no one can argue with, that lets the audience feel comfortably superior, a wound in the British (and many other) psyche, but one that recalls great preserverance and virtue. It's Godwin's Spell.

That the main threat never evolves beyond cartoonish evil while the rest of the world gets Extra Realistic is one of the major flaws of the later books to me. Especially since it's all then resolved with a fairy tale and no sacrifice at all on Harry's part.

Heck, I wish Bellatrix would have been the Dark Lord. She got in some major victories.

She killed Sirius!

That would be letting girls stand center stage. None of that, please! ;)

I particularly like the battle in the Dept of Mysteries, when Bellatrix is constantly saying what they should do ("Torture his friends!") and she's horrible, but tactically she is proved absolutely right. Which is why I hate film!Bellatrix, who is a nutty goth, so much. Book!Bella is Voldemort's right-hand woman because she is intelligent as well as fanatical.

Sorry, HP-fandom suppressed rage coming out here!

Yes. I thought that the first movie of book seven should have slowed down a bit for the Umbridge scene. It's one of the few places in that part of the story where the protagonists get to be effective, and it is totally chilling.

Umbridge also gets that classic adage--no one believes they are a villain. Hard to think Voldemort doesn't know and believe he is, even though he thinks it's right to stamp out mudbloods, he has got to be all yeah, I'm the snake guy with the black cloaks. Am villain. Will travel.

I had an Umbridge for a teacher. Ten years later, the mere thought of her makes me break out in a cold sweat. She was a lovely little elderly woman who had a docterate and was so passionate.

Until she gave you a sadistic punishment, publicly humiliated you or pulled you aside for a passive aggressive little chat that left students sobbing.

And if you met her, she'd tell you how she was molding young minds, providing discipline, and maintaining order. She would be proud of what she did, and know she was right.

Slut shame girls? Only to preserve their virginity.

Assign sadistic punishments? Just to help them learn a lesson

She lined the road to Hell with Good Intentions.

Voldemort seems to be following a villian's handbook, almost like How to Succeed in Villainy without Really Trying.

Tom Riddle was much more frightening.

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