In Defense of Harry: A Harry Potter fan’s response to reader resentment

Author’s note: I tried to keep this essay spoiler free, but found it hard to come up with any supporting evidence without detailing plot events. So, if you would like your Harry Potter experience to remain unspoiled, read no further.

Additionally, I’m familiar with the term “Mary Sue,” but have chosen to use “Gary Stu” because Harry is male.

“Ugh! I hate Harry! Hermione should have been the protagonist.”
“He’s so angsty and whiny! Seriously, get over yourself!”
“He thinks he’s so much better than everyone, including his best friends!”
“He’s such a Mary Sue. Seriously, he’s good at Quidditch, and he can talk to snakes, and he’s the Chosen One? What a tool.”
“I’ve never cared about Harry. He’s just a vehicle for the plot.”

I heard this last criticism at Bible study during a discussion of our favorite and least favorite films. I had to grip the edge of my chair to keep from screaming, upset without knowing why. After a few more seconds of Harry-bashing, the conversation moved on, but I was still rattled. I didn’t understand the sentiments. I was the youngest person in the group and, having grown up with the series, was admittedly biased. Even so, I wondered: how could they say such harsh things about one of my favorite characters in literature? Continue reading

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MAKE-YOU-CRY MONDAY: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Warning: Harry Potter spoilers throughout.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is my favorite book of the series. It has the wonder and light-hearted charm of the early books while transitioning seamlessly into the series’ darker elements. Plus, there’s a ball and romance and people dress all fancy.

Also, Cedric Diggory dies.

It wasn’t until the movie came out that my friends cared about him.

I wonder why.

They sobbed. For days. The pages describing his death are streaked with their mascara.

I don’t share their grief.

It’s always sad when someone dies, whether that person was connected to you or not. Harry and Cedric weren’t close, but that doesn’t make the Diggorys’ grief less valid.

As far as characters go, though, Cedric was sort of a nothing. It’s not like he was someone Harry knew and loved and wanted to spend his life with, right?

…low blow, J. K. Rowling.

I hate this death. I’m still angry about Fred Weasley and Hedwig and Dumbledore, but Sirius’ is my least favorite death in the series. When it happens, Harry has a hard time processing:

But some part of him realized, even as he fought to break free from Lupin, that Sirius had never kept him waiting before. . . . Sirius had risked everything, always, to see Harry, to help him. . . . If Sirius was not reappearing out of that archway when Harry was yelling for him as though his life depended on it, the only possible explanation was that he could not come back. . . . That he really was . . .

I have hazy memories of exactly when I read each of the Harry Potter books, but I remember Order of the Phoenix clearly:
In sixth grade, I was finishing the last few chapters of OOTP in my room before my mom drove me to school. In chapter 37, following Sirius’ death, Harry meets with Dumbledore to discuss the prophecy and ends up tearing apart Dumbledore’s office:

“There is no shame in what you are feelings, Harry,” said Dumbledore’s voice. “On the contrary…the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.”

Harry felt white-hot anger lick his insides, blazing in the terrible emptiness, filling him with the desire to hurt Dumbledore for his calmness and his empty words.

“My greatest strength, is it?” said Harry, his voice shaking as he stared out at the Quidditch stadium, no longer seeing it. “You haven’t got a clue… You don’t know…”

“What don’t I know?” asked Dumbledore calmly.

It was too  much. Harry turned around, shaking with rage.

“I don’t want to talk about how I feel, all right?”

“Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human–”

“THEN–I–DON’T–WANT–TO–BE–HUMAN!” Harry roared, and he seized one of the delicate silver instruments from the spindle-legged table beside him and flung it across the room. It shattered into a hundred tiny pieces against the wall. Several of the pictures let out yells of anger and fright, and the portrait of Armando Dippet said, “Really!”

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up the lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE–”

He seized the table on which the silver instrument had stood and threw that, too. It broke apart on the floor and the legs rolled in a hundred different directions.

“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

“I–DON’T!” Harry screamed, so loudly that he felt his throat might tear, and for a second he wanted to rush at Dumbledore and break him too; shatter that old calm face, shake him, hurt him, make him feel some tiny part of the horror inside Harry.

“Oh yes, you do,” said Dumbledore, still more calmly. “You have lost your mother, your father, and the closest thing to a parent you have ever known. Of course you care.”

“YOU DON’T KNOW HOW I FEEL!” Harry roared. “YOU–STAND THERE–YOU–”

But words were no longer enough, smashing things was no more help. He wanted to run, he wanted to keep running and never look back, he wanted to be somewhere he could no see the clear blue eyes staring at him, that hatefully calm old face.

I started sobbing on the floor of my bedroom. My mom knew I was upset when I got in the car, but she made me go to school anyway. (Author filibuster: book hangovers are a real phenomenon that are deserving of sympathy.)

Well-meaning people trying to cheer me up have said the same things to me that Dumbledore said to Harry. Caring about someone doesn’t feel like a benefit when that someone is dead, or hurting, or doesn’t care about you. I’ve said, “I don’t care,” many times only for people to respond, “But see, you do care.”

That doesn’t help because I don’t mean, “I don’t care,” and Harry doesn’t either. When I say I don’t care, I’m trying to say, “I can’t do this anymore. I feel too much and I want it to stop and if that means not being here anymore, then fine. Please, God, I want this to end.”

This is the first book I ever read that nailed how it feels to feel too much. Even talking about it breaks my heart. Harry should have been with his godfather and they were separated and it’s not fair and I hate it.

If you ever need a book that understands grief, this is it.

Need cheering up?
What if I told you there’s a Harry Potter musical starring Darren Criss that’s an affectionate send-up of the series’ more ridiculous elements?

WELL, THERE IS. And it’s really funny.

If you don’t have three hours to watch the musical, listen to this song instead, ‘cuz, baby, you’re not alone.

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Vague physical descriptions

When I’m reading a book, it’s really important for me to know what the characters look like. If I’m going to spend an entire book with these people, I’d like to be able to picture them.

Now, I’ve read books. Across the kajillions of young adult-, sci-fi-, fantasy-, and chick-lit-novels I’ve read in my 22 years, there are 5 descriptions I keep running into. As common as they are, they don’t seem to be anything other than confusing. They don’t help me picture characters–if anything, I have an even harder time. Here are the top 5 vague physical descriptions I have come across in my travels.

  1. “almond-shaped eyes” (see also “slanted eyes,” “upward-tilting eyes”)
    Sounds like you mean Asian but are afraid to say it.
  2. “shoulder-length hair”
    Oh, goodness. Is it long!? Is it short!? Is it average? Say that instead! I don’t know what shoulder-length means! Is it touching their shoulders? Is it past their shoulders? How long is their neck in comparison? People have different opinions on which length category this type of hair falls under, and I still have no idea.
  3. “olive-toned skin” (see also “olive-skinned”)
    Could be a Caucasian who tans in the summer, could be biracial, could be of Greek descent… My problem is that sometimes people say “olive-skinned” and mean white, or say “olive-skinned” and cast Alexis Bledel in the movie version, so I’m not clear on what this looks like.
  4. “auburn hair”
    This one has bothered me for a long time. I’ve always thought “auburn” meant red, or having a red tone. Very well. If you describe a character’s hair as auburn, you cannot also describe them as “dark-haired.” My hair is dark. Shay Mitchell’s hair is dark. Neither of us has red/reddish hair. Get it straight.
  5. “bronze-colored hair”
    Okay, this one’s not as common as the others. I’m going to pick on Twilight because this description has always puzzled me. I can easily picture “golden” hair. I know what “silver” hair is. Bronze is the color you don’t want to win in the Olympics, which is a bad association to have. And, like auburn, do they mean red? Brown? Orange? What are you going for? Choosing this specific color clears up nothing!

The perfect wedding playlist

So I’m single. There isn’t a wedding in my near future. But I’m at the age where it’s normal for my friends to get married/engaged/pregnant now, which continues to freak me out. When I’m not panicking about my friends’ weddings, I think a lot about my future wedding, my hopefully-cool-with-paying-for-a-DJ future husband, and all the music that will play during the reception. Music is a big part of my life, so it makes sense that it should be a part of my big day.  Whenever I talk about my future wedding, music is usually what I focus on, i.e. “This song will TOTALLY play at my wedding!”

I saw this list on the internet and hated it. The mature thing would be to say that people have different tastes and what one person has on their playlist might not appeal to everyone.

I’m not that mature. Some of the songs on that list are duuuuuumb (e.g., “Banana Pancakes.”) So I compiled my own list. My future wedding is now basically halfway planned. YOU’RE WELCOME, INTERNET. Continue reading

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Shilling

Because of life changes, my own lack of planning, and an unreliable webcam, I’m going to transition out of doing videos for Terrible Prose Tuesday. This will undoubtedly mean shorter passages, but to be honest, it will be a lot easier and possibly more entertaining. If a passage is particularly terrible, I might still do a dramatic reading, but only as a bonus.

Blugh.

Not a fan of characters with no self-esteem.

In this book, the protagonist’s issues with her family are only touched on, never explored. I don’t get a good sense of how their actions affect her self-esteem, so when other characters go out of their way to praise her talent, beauty, kindness, etc., it feels unnecessary and unwarranted.

Come on. She’s the most talented, most inspiring, most wonderful person the other characters know? Tack on “most godly,” “most beautiful,” and “most intelligent,” and you have Josh Harris’ dream girl.

The EXTREME modesty is annoying, too, i.e. “What? No, I’m awful.”

Not cute, honey. Just take the compliment.

I understand the purpose of this is to make her more sympathetic. It would be harder to like someone who was perfect and insufferable. That can get annoying really fast. But it doesn’t work to make her perfect and give the other characters nothing to do other than tell the protagonist how great she is. When so many characters feel the need to assure me of the protagonist’s greatness and I don’t buy it, that tells me the author hasn’t done enough to substantiate those claims.

MAKE-YOU-CRY MONDAY: “Tangled” and Rapunzel’s dad

You might have heard of “Tangled.”

There are three movies where, when certain scenes come on, I have to leave the room: “Revenge of the Sith,” “Up,” and “Tangled.”

There are several “Tangled” scenes I could mention, but even thinking about this one is enough of a trigger. My friend Staci makes fun of me all the time for it.

So we know going into the movie that Rapunzel is the lost princess. The tension comes from wondering when she’ll find out.

All while she’s having adventures with Flynn Rider, her parents–the king and queen–are gearing up for their daughter’s birthday celebration.

I imagine it would be hard to maintain hope of your daughter’s recovery after 18 years. That’s a long time to keep believing.

As the king and queen get ready to release their lantern, the king breaks down.

Here’s what I love about this scene:

  1. The dad is the one who cries. It’s fairly unexpected for a male character to show vulnerable emotion.
  2. The way the queen comforts him says a lot about their marriage. I love the way they support each other…and love that Rapunzel has two parents! Nice, Disney! Way to portray a short snippet of a healthy marriage!
  3. All his and his wife’s grief is expressed in 30 seconds with no dialogue.

It hurts my heart. So chill, Staci, I’m going to be in kitchen bawling my eyes out getting snacks.

Need cheering up?
Everybody loves this song! I want to hate it because people keep claiming it for their weddings/relationships/romantic moments/general awfulness…but I can’t. Precious.