To my mind, the Harry Potter books began with two huge missteps.  First, the game of Quidditch, whose scoring makes no sense except as a vehicle for You Know Who to be the hero of every single match.  Second, the Dursleys, who are presented as villains, whose cartoonish abuse of Harry also makes no sense from the point of view either of plot or character.  Both have obvious story goals: they accentuate Harry’s journey from Privet Lane, where he’s the most abject of victims, to Hogwarts, where he’s a beloved hero.   But they’re both overdone in ways that can’t be walked back as Harry grows up and the later books become more serious in tone.

One the (idiot) rules of Quidditch are stated, that’s it. Rowling has lost the opportunity to make it a game anyone other than the Seeker would bother playing.  And once she’s established that the Dursleys treat Harry in a way that would cause the British version of CPS to remove him from their home and file criminal charges immediately, she can’t make the portrayal any more sensible.  Contrast this with the progression of our understanding of Harry’s ability to understand snake-talk.  Ar first, it just seems like another one of his magical talents   Later, when it’s used against him by a faction that’s suspicious of him, we learn that  it’s a power associated with dark wizards.  Still later, we find out that it comes from a bit of Voldemort he absorbed when Voldy wasn’t able to kill him, and that that makes Harry a horcrux who has to die before Voldemort can be killed.  Rowling cleverly left room to change and expand the meaning as we learn more about the characters and the story.

This is a damned shame, because Aunt Petunia’s attitude toward Harry (and magic in general)  is complicated and something we learn more about as the story goes on.  As a child, she resented it, because it meant that Lily was special in a way that she wasn’t, and was a bit repulsed by it, because the only other wizard she know was the lower-class, unpleasant Snape.  Add more resentment as her sister got a rich, handsome husband,  and then horror, because it got Lily murdered.  And then fear, as Harry came to live with her, and she knew that the danger he was in might threaten her family as well.  A subtler presentation, where what seems to be simple abuse of Harry is really a combination of denial that he’s a wizard (which would keep both him and the Dursleys safe) with complete terror whenever he does anything out of the ordinary, would have been far more rewarding.  Also, as things stand, it makes no sense that Dumbledore would allow Harry to grow up under those conditions.  He’s got bitter experience with what young, powerful wizards become when raised in an atmosphere of isolation and abuse.

To look at this another way, there’s no need for Harry’s foster parents to have been villains at all.  In many ways, Harry is King Arthur: hidden for his own safety, raised by foster parents, unaware of his true heritage, seeming to be far less than he really is until his true identity is magically revealed.   Traditionally, Arthur was raised by his foster father Sir Ector and his foster brother Sir Kay.  The legends don’t say a great deal about them, other than Kay being a bit of a braggart.  In T. H. White’s The Once and Future King Arthur (nicknamed “The Wart”), as the younger son, is slated to become Kay’s squire, and since he worships his brother, he wants nothing more.  When things change, it’s a bit of a wrench.  Here is the scene after Arthur pulls the sword from the stone:

“Sir”, said Sir Ector, without looking up, although he was speaking to his own boy

“Please do not do this, father, ” said the Wart, kneeling down also.  “Let me help you up. Sir Ector, because you are making me unhappy.”

“Nay, nay, my lord,” said Sir Ector, with some very feeble old tears.  “I was never your father nor of your blood, but I wote well ye are of an higher blood than I wend ye were.”

“Plenty of people have told me you are not my father,” said the Wart, “but it does not matter a bit.”

“Sir,” said Sir Ector, “will you be my good and gracious lord when ye are King?”

“Don’t!” said the Wart.

“Sir,” said Sir Ector, “I will ask no more of you but that you will make my son, your foster-brother, Sir Kay, seneschal of all your lands?”

Kay was kneeling down too, and it was more than the Wart could bear.

“Oh, do stop,” he cried.  “Of course he can be seneschal, if I have got to be this King, and oh father, don’t kneel down like that, because it breaks my heart.  Please get up, Sir Ector, and don’t make everyhting so horrible.  Oh, dear, oh, dear, I wish I had never seen that filthy sword at all.”

And the Wart also burst into tears.


Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.


  1. I’ve always liked White’s Once and future king. Its got a light heartedness and brightness to it that many renditions of the arthurian saga seem to want to jettison. (or fail to include as the case may be)

    Have your read HPMOR?

    • “a light heartedness and brightness to it ” – I am in the midst of a very slow re-read of TOAFK rt now – but IIRC, although it starts out as you describe, after Arthur becomes King the book assumes a more tragic tone as he ages and struggles with ruling.

      • The two main plot threads during Arthur’s kingship, the stories of Mordred and his siblings and Guinevere and Lancelot’s adultery, are anything but lighthearted.

    • I loved Once and Future King. Makes me wince, to remember how much I loved that book, for I read it often in boarding school.

      The capacious framework of King Arthur has served many generations, each in its own way. The Tudor kings drew up a vast lineage tracing themselves back to Arthur in a quest for legitimacy. Henry VII named his first son Arthur: had the boy lived, there would have been a King Arthur.

      There’s a bit of Yeats which I’ve always identified with Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table for some reason, though it’s not about them at all:

      Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
      In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
      Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
      With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
      And all their helms of silver hovering side by side
      And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
      Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
      The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

      OAFK is my emotional favourite for reasons specified and stands alone. Malory’s telling of the tale is my standard reference and it’s full to brimming with Christian references. Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, far and away the worst, slathers on even more. Arthur isn’t the only mythical figure of questionable paternity, raised in obscurity, only to appear on the stage to present a vision of justice and decency, eventually murdered and carried away, one day to return when the world needs him most. It’s a myth as old as Horus/Osiris.

    • Oddly, I’ve only read The Sword in the Stone. At that age, I had only seen the Disney movie so the book was a bit jarring with it’s differences.

      In the movie, Kay is completely contemptuous of The Wart, only kneeling at the end when Ector tells him to.

      In the book, the two have a more typical sibling relationship. When they are younger, they go on adventures together and the nickname of “The Wart” is more of a loving nickname. Even as both grow up, Kay doesn’t become distant out of contempt but out of the demands on his time from training to be a knight.

      At that age, the difference was a bit jarring as well as more reflective of my own relationship with my older brother.

      • I went through the same experience when I read the book. I was expecting contempt and hostility, but it was not there.

      • I was going to mention that Disney had fished that up, but hadn’t seen the movie recently enough to be sure I recalled it correctly.

        • I’ve actually seen it fairly recently, and yeah, they do make Kay into a boorish villain in a way that he’s not in the book. But it’s a kid’s movie, and it needed an antagonist, so what are you gonna do? IMO, I thought it was still fun and kept some of the tone.

          And, after The Wart pulls out the sword and Ector makes Kay kneel, they do make a point to show us Kay’s face – at first there’s a flash upset/indignant/angry; then that melts away and he appears to grow thoughtful, and humble/remorseful, and he bows his head.

          It’s only a brief flash of emotions on his face, but it’s there, and I think it is def. intended to soften his villainy, and imply that Kay can and will be a better person than we’ve seen thus far.

          • Or he’s just realized that The Wart can have him killed.

          • Good point. “Hmmmm….maybe all those atomic wedgies weren’t such a great idea.”

  2. While Quidditch was obviously a game designed to make one, and only one, player the G-Danged Hero, it’s also instrumental in how tough it is to come up with a game intended to be played in 3 dimensions (as opposed to a plane). (When we all do get brooms of our own, we’ll see this problem happen in real time.)

    As for how awful the Dursleys were, I think that Rowling is just picking up the whole “how do stepparents treat stepchildren?” thing from every single fairy tale tradition out there and create a counter-point for kids. “Which kid is more pleasant? Which kid will grow up to be somewhat healthy?”

    The scene where Dumbledore explains that the Dursleys have ruined their own flesh and blood was a pretty awesome moment.

    Now, if you’d like to complain that Rowling spends far, far too much time setting up nonsensical things in order to eventually have them all fall down in the service of a pretty awesome moment? You’ll get no argument from me.

    • The horrible treatment that the Durseleys subjected Harry to reminded me of how some of the adults treated children in Roald Dahl stories. In the later books, there was an explanation for why Harry had to stay with the Dursley’s. I do not remember the details, but one of the magical protections was contingent upon it.

      At least Quidditch looked pretty exciting in the movies.

      • Yes, it felt very similar to Roald Dahl to me. I thought it worked fine, generally; the books just are children’s/young adult books generally (which isn’t to say they can’t be legitimately enjoyed by adults – I still like them) and sophisticated analysis of their interactions with real-world politics isn’t what they’re suited to. There are plenty of thing that are ridiculous for the purpose of being ridiculous.

    • As Harry points out in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, simply removing the snitch would probably do it.

      • I think so. Dump the seeker position and make Harry the center forward, and he could be the Wayne Gretzky of Quidditch.

          • A true Giants fan can’t see “Honk twice if you love Jesus” without thinking “How many times for Matty and Felipe?”

    • “As for how awful the Dursleys were, I think that Rowling is just picking up the whole “how do stepparents treat stepchildren?” thing from every single fairy tale tradition out there and create a counter-point for kids.”

      In the original version of most of those stories, it was actually the parents who were the “evil” ones. Somewhere along the lines (possibly the Grimms but I don’t remember) it was changed to the stepparents because the idea of parents being evil was too disturbing.

  3. If I understand correctly, the Dursleys treatment of Harry Potter tends to be the keystone on which quite a few “Dumbledore is a Dark Lord” fanfiction treatments are made. (Complete with British CPS never showing up due to wizard memory charms and whatnot) Admittedly, Snape-assisted suicide kinda made that a harder sell, but there are also a number of ‘Potter was deliberately raised to be a martyr’ stories — which given the actual plot has Harry walking to his death in protection of world that has, in generally, been almost as crappy to him as the Dursleys, kinda has a point.

    I’m constantly amazed at the creativety, work, and tought people put into things like fanfiction.

    IIRC, the books state Dumbledore knew things were bad but felt “bad” was better than “dead” (the whole blood relative magic thingy), which leaves quite a bit of room for meddling with records and memories and people who might call the police.

  4. One could indeed have had the Dursleys change upon recognizing that Harry was going to be a wizard come hell or high water.
    Of course, that puts Harry in the somewhat difficult position of having to comfort his aunt who had been truly horrid to him.
    But, despite the monumental awkwardness, it makes for better writing.

    Even villains look better if they aren’t monochrome.

  5. The scoring system of Quidditch have always driven me insane. If all of the points are divisible by ten, then there is no reason to multiply by ten. And having a disincentive to catch the snitch depending on the current score. It’s madness, I tell you. Madness.

    • And having a disincentive to catch the snitch depending on the current score.

      That’s the only part I don’t hate, since it make the rest of the game (to some small extent) matter. And there are some similar things in other sports:

      * Up by one touchdown at the end of the game, I’d rather run out the clock than score and allow the faint possibility of the other team doing a touchdown-onside-kick-touchdown to tie it.
      * In a one-day cricket match, if the team that bats first is way ahead with little time left, it has to declare its innings closed (i.e. voluntarily declare itself out) and let the other team bat, or the game won’t count.
      * I saw this once (given the personnel, it must have been between ’93 and ’96): Down one run in the 9th, Matt Williams hits what’s probably a double, but he stays at first on the theory that if he goes to second, they’ll just walk Barry Bonds. Bonds hits a home run to win the game. (The strategy can be questioned, of course.)

      Also, all points are divisible by 10 in contract bridge. Though this wasn’t true in auction. You’d have to ask Harold S. Vanderbilt what the hell he was thinking.

      • but he stays at first on the theory that if he goes to second, they’ll just walk Barry Bonds

        Does this make any sense? Whether he’s at first or second base, walking Bonds results in Williams at second and Bonds at first. So if the opponent was considering walking Bonds, why would his initial position matter?

        Sounds to me like all he did was make the odds of a double play higher if they pitched to Bonds.

        • It’s an assumption about how the opposing manager’s mind works. When first base is open, walking a good hitter to get to a lesser one is almost automatic. Moving the tying run into scoring position and putting the winning run on-base, though, are breaking two of the hallowed cliches simultaneously. Only a very brave manager would do that, because it looks so dumb if it backfires.

          • Walking the hitter because the base is open usually looks dumb when it backfires, too. It’s just traditional.

          • So it’s based on the belief that baseball managers are too dumb to realize that walking a batter when the lone runner is on first produces exactly the same result as walking a batter when the lone runner is on second.

            I’m terribly afraid that the belief might be valid.

          • There’s a bit more to it. To explain that I’m going to introduce some symbols, so that

            1. The argument doesn’t get lost in words, and
            2. It seems highly mathematical.

            ALH is the advantage of pitching to the lesser hitter
            V1 is the value (to the offense) of having a man on first, V2 that of having a man on second, V12, that of having men on both.

            Obviously, V2 > V1. Ordinarily, V12 > V2. (The additional chance of a second run outweighs the chance of the double play).

            With a man on second, you walk the batter when ALH > V12 – V2
            With a man on first, you walk the batter when ALH > V12 – V1
            The managerial strategy we’re discussing (walking Bonds only with first base open) makes sense if

            V12 – V1 > ALH > V12 – V2

            Which isn’t an obvious conceptual falsehood, though the actual numbers may not justify it (I have no idea.)

      • “Though this wasn’t true in auction.”

        just curious, are you talking about the card game where the 5 is the highest card, then the Jack, then the Ace of Hearts?

        (I’ve never met anyone outside the South shore of Nova Scotia or their relatives that knows that card game).

        • Oh, no, I meant auction bridge, which was the version people played before Vanderbilt invented contract. The names make the difference clear. In auction, you try to buy the hand as cheaply as possible, but you still get full credit for all the tricks you take. In contract, if you want credit for, say, taking all the tricks, you need to contract to take all of them.

          I’ve heard of a game with that weird suit order, but it’s called Spoil Five.

          • yeah, that’s the ancestor, (which I just learned from reading the wiki entry) of Forty-fives, the variant of which my Canadian relatives/ancestors played they called ‘auction’ (sometimes ‘auction 45’ for a 3 handed version iirc).

    • It almost makes sense in the context of a school sport, wherin all the points scored are added to house scores for the house cup. 150 points is a 150 points, regardless of whether you won the game or not.

      10 points a goal is 10 points for your house, win or lose.

      Or course, that kinda screws the academics side pretty bad. 🙂

      • Is it ten points for the house? That would make it make more sense.

        • I…believe so. It’s been so long since I’ve read the books that I can’t remember if it was stated, implied, or I just came to that conclusion because it seemed sensible.

        • Yes, Quidditch points are added directly to the house. This irritates Harry an Hermoine to no end in HPMOR, until Snape points out that if they didn’t, none of the students would even care about house points.

          • Well, if this thread has done nothing else, my faith in the rationale of the rules of Quidditch has been restored.

      • Winning at Quidditch is the only way for the Slytherins to ever win the House Cup what with all the demerits their delinquents rack up.

        • Or having one of their own as Headmaster.

          “Thirty points to Slytherin for turning all of Hufflepuff into frogs!”


          “Oh, very well. If you would? Splendid. And thirty more points for changing most of them back!”

  6. “In many ways, Harry is King Arthur: hidden for his own safety, raised by foster parents, unaware of his true heritage, seeming to be far less than he really is until his true identity is magically revealed.”

    Or Luke Skywalker. Or every other goddamn hero that perfectly fits Joseph Campbell’s hero archetype.

        • And let me clarify to say any frustration you might have detected in that comment is aimed at Rowling’s lazy writing, not at the OP.

          • You’re right that there are lots of them. Arthur came to mind because he’s British, and because Dumbledore is so reminiscent of Merlin. (Obi-wan can do magic, but he’s much more warrior than wizard.) And, honestly, because I love that passage from TOaFK, and I wanted an excuse to quote it.

          • “(Obi-wan can do magic, but he’s much more warrior than wizard.) ”

            Not if you pretend the prequels never existed.

          • Holy cow…that is impressive…ly obsessive.

            And seriously, dude, if you (or any geeks reading) haven’t watched “Spaced”, get on that ASAP. Funny show.

  7. Arthur, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, Tarin Pig Keeper, Rand, the Dragon Reborn — how come all the heros are foundlings? Why isn’t there a hero raised by a loving biological father?

    • Taran isn’t the child of a hero, though (at least, as far as we know.) He becomes the high king because he’s earned it. Which is pretty cool.

      • That whole series is pretty cool. After we read it, we’d stop by a farm that had a few pigs, and my kids would sit there for hours grunting with them.

        But there’s some weird stuff there — at least in the stories aimed at children, most heros are descended from heros, but foundling in some way. Genetically of the past hero, but emotionally disconnected.

        • I think it’s wish-fulfillment for kids. You know those annoying people in the next room and how really, really ordinary they are? No worries. Your real mother was a princess, and your real father was a hero. That’s what you’re going to be.

          • And I forgot to tell you:

            Excellent analysis of the character development problems with the series. You see the cartoonish characterizations in many of the sub-characters, as well; they simply don’t have any room to grow beyond what they started from. Perhaps Neville and Snape are the big exceptions.

        • I think it also makes for a far less interesting story if the hero is born a hero to heroes and just heroes around with other heroes the whole time. They need to overcome some form of adversity. A broken home is an easy and convenient one.

          • That is true, but it is so common, I think it would be more interesting to have a hero born of heroes. Maybe he spends his life trying to live up to the lofty expectations of his hero family. Maybe his heroic family is too busy being heroic, so the young hero gets neglected. Perhaps when he grows up, he discovers his family have some darker secrets.

            Hmmm. . . . maybe I should make some notes in my ideas file.

          • RR,

            The thing is, most kids don’t know the archetype. So it doesn’t seem so common to them.

          • Sky High? Is that a stoner movie?

            (I know what it is, but I could not resist the bad joke)

          • “I think it would be more interesting to have a hero born of heroes”

            This is Robb Stark, no?

          • RR- this isn’t exactly the same, but the Brian K. Vaughan comic “Runaways” concerns teens who discover their parents are part of a supervillain consortium, and they have to defeat their parents and atone for their evil.

            I only read the first TPB but it seemed intriguing (I like Vaghan a lot) and Whedon picked it up for a while…keep meaning to go back and catch up.

    • Heroes, in general, are either born of trauma or come from humble roots.

      We’re all really familiar with the “Meet the new King, he’s the Old King’s Son” — it’s quite boring and still exists today (Meet your boss, newphew of your grand-boss. Meet the new harvard freshman, daughter of an alumni,etc).

      It’s part rags to riches, part Super-hero-esque, part “Guy just like you and me can make it, we can make it”, part wish fufillment.

      We’d all like to think we have the right stuff, so to speak, regardless of current circumstance.

  8. Perhaps Rowling thought that growing up in an abusive household would shape Harry into the nice boy he became. Yeah, he had everything going for him on the nature side of things, but if his ego hadn’t been beaten down for so many years he would just be another Draco. I don’t know. Following other fairy tale structures with the mean step-parents seems plausible.

    I don’t even understand the sports in real life so you’ve got me on the Quidditch thing.

    • Thing is, Voldemort grew up in a semi-abusive (or at least neglectful) environment, isolated from the wizarding world, left to discover his powers on his own, and that helped make him a monster. I can’t see wanting to repeat the experiment.

      • But isn’t that part of it? That the challenges of living with the Dursleys revealed Pottersvirtue ? It seems to fit in with the series’ somewhat disturbing and under discussed Calvinistic streak.

    • Is this plausible? One real-world psychological response to abuse suffered as a child is assumption of the role of abuser once adulthood is attained.

      Voldemont is treated badly by Muggles as a little kid and then discovers power, so he uses his power to assume the role of master so as not to be abused again. This I can believe.

      Potter is treated badly by Muggles as a little kid and then discoveres power, so he… protects the Muggles so they will start being nice to him? Maybe not quite as credible.

      • Yeah. I’m not saying Will is wrong, because I think the intended contrast is really between James, who was raised in great privilege and became a bully, and Harry, who was raised as an outcast and befriended the outcasts [1] (Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, etc.), eventually building them into an army. But Voldy is a much better parallel.

        1. Of course, the other way to say this is that he could see the outcasts as people. Because he had his mother’s eyes.

      • Wholly possible, Burt. Children (and people in general) are a combination of innate aspects of personality and the environment they interact with. It is why some folks growing up in prudish households become prudish adults and others paint the town red on a nightly basis. It’s all really very complicated with no clear equation for how much of what does what to who how and when.

        But growing up in an abusive household can cause future abuse or something else entirely.

      • Because Harry is good and Voldemort is bad. The sorting hat said so. More or less.

        • But were they born that way? If so, doesn’t that mean their childhood was meaningless?

      • Burt, I think the logic chain you’re missing goes:

        Potter is treated badly by people with power over him as a little kid and then, when he himself becomes powerful, strives to resist those patterns and instead use his power to… protect people whom he sees as equally helpless and vulnerable. Muggles have no chance against Voldemort, just as he had no chance against the Dursleys.

        There are plenty of people out there who were abused as kids, who took a similar (albeit less fantastic) path in later life. Hell, in its own small way, that’s what I’ve done, the few times that I interrupted some scary guy yelling at a woman on the street, to ask her if she’s okay or needs help. It might not be a practical, or realistic, response, but it strikes me as quite plausible indeed.

    • I always figured, absent other evidence, that either Rowling was abused as a child, or cared deeply for someone who was, and that either she or that person had found great solace in a book where a child triumphed over that abuse to become (remain?) both strong, and good. Or, you know, something along those lines: that she was thinking of the kids whose lives resembled Harry’s, and talking to them, among other things. (I know Matilda held – and still holds – those sorts of comforts for me, even though OBVIOUSLY my abusive parent wasn’t anywhere nearly that horrible. The incredibly over-the-top horribleness was actually soothing in a weird way – if Matilda could survive THAT, I could survive my far less bad things.) As for wtf was Dumbledore thinking – how many abused kids have wondered how some adult they loved and trusted could have failed to protect them from the abuse that they thought (or sometimes *knew*) must be obvious?

      While internet scuttlebutt is not worth the pixels it’s imprinted on, it still seems rather pertinent both to Rowling’s conception of her child protagonist, and her efforts to explain Voldemort’s villainy. Gossip sites are pretty unanimous that her first husband (the one she left after only 13 months, to live in poverty while raising her kid as a single mom) was emotionally and physically abusive. Heck, it’s not just gossip sites. Ian Parker in the New Yorker cites a Daily Express article: “He [Arantes] was once quoted in the Daily Express describing their last night; he said that he had dragged her out of their home at five in the morning and slapped her hard.”

      Harry Potter is a lot of things; but I think one of the things it is, is a woman’s very personal effort to understand how people make wrong decisions despite great potential; and how people make right decisions even in the face of despair.

  9. I always figured Quidditch was one of those games where the way it was played by thirteen year olds had no particular relation to its professional play.

    In my youth soccer days, each team might score 8-10 goals. But at the professional level, you do a good job when you score 2. I figure in a professional Quidditch match, the 200 points you get for catching the snitch is a nice prize, but isn’t quite as game-breaking as it is in a Hogwarts match.

    I’m pretty sure one of the books explored the idea that teams were ranked based on points scored rather than games one, so catching the snitch becomes a strategic decision as much as anything else. Though that does’t jibe with a single-game world cup final. Given the way things work, I’d expect a baseball-style series would give a better reflection of the teams’ abilities.

  10. I always thought that this was a lost opportunity for J.K. to re-imagine Harry’s remembrances of his younger years. I’m reminded of the chapter in The Deed of Paksenarrion where the Kuakgan and Paks are going through her healing phase and she remembers her childhood with her father through the lens of him not wanting his daughter to be killed or maimed, instead of him just preventing her from doing something she wanted to do.

    You’re right, she overplayed the first few books; I think because she didn’t really think she had a series that could change much, to begin with. It wasn’t until she got into the fourth or fifth book that she really started making people human beings instead of cardboard cutouts of character roles.

  11. I never quite fell into Potter-mania. The books are cute enough and I can understand why they are successful. I can’t understand why these books among all other books become hugely successful and turned JK Rowling into a billionaire and why so many adults find the books to be awesome. Here are my complaints:

    1. The whole thing about Wizards not being able to dress normally is funny once or twice but gets really tiresome after a while.

    2. Why am I the only person who seems to see that House Slytherin is a hit-the reader on-the-head analogy for the Nazis? Voldermort was at Hogwarts around the time of WWII, he and his house are obsessed by “blood purity” and want to eliminate all mud-bloods and non-wizards. Yet whenever I bring this up, adults, very intelligent adults look like I blew their minds or they get pissy at me for ruining their “I’m totally House Slytherin” fantasy.

      • People always seem surprised when I mention it. They always get a “know that you mention it” kind of look.

      • It’s pretty clear that the Death Eaters are Nazis. (Did they want to kill all the Muggles or just enslave them? Either works.) I don’t think all Slytherins are Death Eaters, though.

        • Maybe being Jewish, we pick up on these things more?

          I’ve gotten into all sorts of textual debates because of Judaism. I was directed a play that a therapist say this to her patient: “You mother was tattooed.” The patient responds “that again.”

          Any Jewish person could and did tell you the obvious implications of the sentence especially because the playwright was Tony Kushner and the shrink was named Esther and the patient Hendick (because it rhymes with Shemdrick). The mother was clearly a Holocaust survivor.

          The non-Jews seemed to miss the significance of the line and thought Kushner was just parodying his red diaper childhood and having bohemian-esque parents during the 1960s. This got into a fairly tense debate.

          • Maybe, but Burt’s not (as far as I know). Also, the fact that a different dark wizard, a German named Grindelwald, was defeated by Dumbledore in 1945, and Rowling has specifically said that their battle was associated with the end of WWII, probably throws people off a direct Voldemort=Hitler equation. It also seems to me that Voldy has some of Stalin’s attributes as well, e.g. ruling his direct followers by terror and often purging them.

            But the “pure blood” and “race traitor” stuff is pretty unmistakable.

          • I suspect it’s more than just about the Nazis. The anthropological evidence suggests humans are inherently tribal, and concepts of genetic superiority are found across time and cultures. What the pure blood mania in HP harks back to is something much more ancient than the Nazis. The Jewish scriptures show that the Israelites, too, were far from immune to the tendency. But in our era it’s natural that we would tend to fix on the Nazi’s particular manifestation as our referent for that tendency. And it’s entirely reasonable if a Jewish person is even more likely than the us Gentiles to have that referent seem most prominent.

    • Those who go a-dabbling at writing fantasy are usually eaten by the monsters of myth they find in those wildernesses, only to emerge as preachy prophet types with long scraggly beards, very tiresome all of them. C.S. Lewis was among the worst of that sort. But even he knew the problem was real enough. From Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

      “This is the island where dreams come true.”

      “That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”

      “And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.

      “Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams—dreams, do you understand—come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

      There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that ever had been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that half minute to remember certain dreams they had had—dreams that made you afraid of going to sleep again—and to realize what it would mean to land in a country where dreams come true.

    • NewDealer,
      Marketing. Marketing. Marketing. Rowling’s agent used to be a decent author, before she decided it was more profitable to represent some middling author.

      • The reactions I get were either “Now that you mention it” or a bit of pissyness because the person I was speaking too wanted to be “House Slytherin” because they are so dark and aristocratic but like most people are really decent and do not want to identify with a group that can be analogized with the Nazis.

        • Really? There are people that want to be Slytherin? Not even the contrarian in me could stomach saying that.

          • There are people out there who delight in ruining other people’s lives. Who own slaves.
            Who deliberately kill others for their sexual gratification, sometimes in strange and unsavory ways.

            The folks who “want to be Slytherin” are just pretenders.

          • I don’t think these are bad or evil people but this is a part of fandom that I don’t really get. Among a lot of Harry Potter fans, there is a whole movement about which house do you identify with or want to be a part of. And yes, there are people who want to be or identify with Slytherin. Generally gothy types but often their worse sin is excessive sarcasm and snarkiness.

          • Remember the Slytherins are about power, more than anything else. That is, the acquisition and wielding of the power. They’re more truly analogous to most wizards in the vast majority of the fantasy genre than any of the other Houses. “We do magic to do magic”, that sort of thing.

            The difference between the Slytherins and the Ravenclaws isn’t that great, really.

          • I tend to identify more with the baddies, but the baddies in HP were generally so poorly and cartoonishly drawn that I just hated everyone by the end.

          • Except Snape. Snape was pretty much the only one among the lot who had any depth of character to them.

  12. *cue the cynic*
    Maybe they were particularly disturbed because they realized the implications about what they were attracted to.

    It is not like Rowling made Slytherin a grey area. I do not recall any of that house that were not made out to be villainous to some degree, except Snape.

    • Plus, you know, “Slytherin”.

      I’ve never even READ the books, and I can already tell you they are a bunch of snakes.

      • Slytherin – snakes
        Ravenclaw – raven
        Gryffindor – griffon
        Hufflepuff – ? The name calls to mind an out of shape person running, or else the Heffalumps from Winnie the Pooh.

        • The Badger. It’s down to earth, it gets stuff done, it’s the glue that keeps the planet together.

          • When I was in HS, a sort-of-weird father-of-a-friend would often tell us, at any opportunity, that “pound-for-pound, the badger is the most vicious animal on earth.”

            Even today, I can’t ever think of a badger, or hear the phrase “pound-for-pound”, without this “fact” coming up.



          • Glyph,
            nah, that’d be the weasel. Weasel is pure psychopathic “I’m gonna kill the world!!!!”

    • I like to fancy myself Ravenclaw, but I suspect I am Hufflepuff.

      • You’re definitely Hufflepuff. So’s Jaybird, probably. He’s a tribal guy, and the Hufflepuffs are all about loyalty to the buddies.

        • Represent. The difference between Slytherin and Griffindor is that Griffindor writes the histories. I try to not say anything bad about Ravenclaw because Maribou is one.

          • I’m definitely a Ravenclaw. I can picture myself complaining that all the cute Ravenclaw girls are dating Griffyndors.

          • That one tolerable guy in Gryffindor, is my guess.

            Of course half the Internet is trying to help you figure it out.

            And by the way, Ravenckaw totally rules.

          • Heh, you’re too kind. I just took a quiz and Ravenclaw narrowly edged out both Griffindor and Hufflepuff, with Slytherin bringing up the rear. I’m sort of upset with that, for some reason. I never liked the completely un-nuanced portrayal of the Houses (yet another massive flaw with JKR) and thought I could have gone Slytherin without actually being evil.

          • You can be in my splinter sect, Glyphendor (credit to North, IIRC).

            We’re the guys who didn’t read Harry Potter but hate being left out.

          • Now I’m sorry I read (and enjoyed) the books. glyphendor is space awesome.

          • Those quizzes are heavily slated towards “if you’re an asshole, you’re a Slytherin” which completely ignores the fact that James was an asshole and he was in Gryffindor.

            Gryffindor is about bravery and honor, not nicenitude.

            I’m probably on the border between Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, myself. I’d much rather win, accrue power, and help out my buddies than be brave. If I was stuck picking one, I’d pick the Ravenclaws because knowledge = power more often than not in the Wizarding world.

          • I hated the books. Can we just be muggles who throw rocks at the wizards because they refuse to use their magic to solve real world problems like famine or cancer?

          • I understand the books got better, but I tried to read the first and found it just leaden; so, knowing that there were many more and that they were long, I made the rare (for me) decision to just drop the book without finishing.

            Sometimes I feel like I should have stuck with it, but regret is a Muggle’s game.

          • Kazzy, let me know how that throwing rocks at wizards idea works out.

            Glyph, Rowling is not a great writer in the sense of writing elegant sentences, and her characterizations are thin. But what she’s brilliant at is the little details that make the wizarding world come alive. Even when they don’t make sense–from a non-magical perspective–they just all work of a piece to make her wizarding world a thick tapestry with–unlike her characters–real texture.

            And whatever her shortcomings, she stimulated a whole new world of children’s/adolescent literature by demonstrating the profit potential. I try to look at most of what my kids are reading, and the variety and quality trumps what was available when I was a kid (which was little beyond Hardy Boys (dreck) and Homer Price (classic)).

          • James,
            you should have read Nancy Drew. That was “strut your stuff, gals” rather than punishment detail (like the Hardy boys was).

          • James – I am of course happy for anything at all that gets kids reading (even Hardy Boys!)

            But Rowling just didn’t seem to be of the same caliber as CS Lewis, or Tolkien, or Lloyd Alexander (to name 3 fantasy series authors that I really enjoyed in my childhood).

            Though I might be remembering them with rose-colored glasses, it’s been a long while since I read them.

          • James,

            What are they going to do? Cast a spell and reveal themselves as wizards?

            Seriously, the ethical issues in the story, primarily with how the wizards refused to use their magic to benefit mankind, were mindboggling.

          • Kazzy, the really accomplished wizards can cast spells without all the hand waving and verbal gymnastics. You’ll never know what–or who–hit you.

            But I’m not so sure about the ethical issues. It’s made clear that magic can’t do everything.

          • Can it create food? I’m pretty sure it does in several different instances.

            They have a magical hospital. Are there no muggles who’d benefit from its services?


          • Wait… silly me… they could only time travel that one time because otherwise the existence of the Time Turner would have rendered the next 5 books moot… so, we’ll just continue pretending that whole thing never happened.

          • No food. It’s one of the five principal exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration.

            So’s money, which is a total cheat on her part, since money has absolutely no distinct physical qualities, and is only an ordinary object subject to social agreement about its special use. Wizarding money is just gold, silver, and copper, but she never claims alchemy itself is impossible, and strongly suggests it is, or at least that wizards believe it is and have been researching it. Rowling would have been far better off claiming that the Goblins had a double secret special spell they put on money that couldn’t be matched by wizards, so that anything that didn’t have that special attribute was counterfeit. But in general Rowling was at her weakest in anything having to do with money, banking, or the economy.

            Actually, food was a bit of a cheat, too. Either transfiguration is merely a superficial disguise or it really is an elemental transformation. It seems pretty clear it’s not simply an appearance, though, so since food is just particular arrangements of molecules, special explanation is needed for why molecules can’t be arranged into something edible. Perhaps it’s because they can’t create life, and our food comes from various life forms. But why, then, not be able to make a biscuit that requires only no-longer-alive flour, and water? Especially since food can be multiplied, which necessarily requires either transforming some non-food matter into food-matter or creating brand new, previously non-existent, matter, in food-form.

            But those are some inevitable problems of trying to write about magic in the age of physics, and at some point we just have to be generous and willingly suspend our disbelief. It’s a lot more fun that way.

        • I think… I’m probably Hufflepuff. Married into Slytherin though.

          … or maybe I’m sociopathic enough to be Slytherin myself…?

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